Hippie times around Oz

After so long experiencing winter temperatures (even though some were considerably higher than a normal British winter), it was quite a shock to the system as we walked down the plane steps at Ayers Rock airport into the 34°C heat. Actually, it was the hottest weather we had experienced since our wedding day a little more than 12 months earlier. It is always a relief when you see you based appear on the luggage carousel and this time was no different. With our bags in tow we boarded the complimentary shuttle to the resort and even managed to catch our first glimpses of the world-famous monolith during the ten minute drive. After checking in and depositing our bags in our room we hopped on the free shuttle which took us to the centre of the resort. Our first stop was the information centre so we could research how best to spend our days and quickly decided on a sunset tour to Kara Tjuta (The Olga’s) for the following afternoon and a sunrise tour to Uluru (Ayers Rock) the day after. We walked back to the Backpackers Lodge, ordered pizza and chips for dinner and then retired early – we were quite tired having had less than two hours sleep the night before and setting off to Auckland airport at 0300 NZ time (three and a half hours ahead of the red centre).

On Wednesday 28th August – 115 days since jetting off from Heathrow back in May – we enjoyed a lazy start to the day, enjoying and acclimatising to the warmth. At 1400 we were picked up and set off towards Kata Tjuta, for an afternoon of exploring the rock formation consisting of 36 domes. We did a walk along the Valley of the Winds and were able to understand the name easily as the wind was almost strong enough to blow us off our feet! Clearing the dust from our eyes we boarded the bus to the sunset viewing area and enjoyed sparkling wine and nibbles as we watched one of our favourite ever sunsets over the mystical rocks.

Enjoying sunset at Kata Tjuta

The next day started earlier as our bus picked us up at 0545 and took us to the sunrise viewing area at Uluru. We were the first bus load to arrive and so managed to get a good vantage point to watch the sunrise and see the huge monolith change colour from a dull brown to a bright orange as the sun’s rays lit it up. We then went to the cultural centre, where we breakfasted and learnt more about the local Ananū people, including a talk on tools which their ancestors used and they still use. Following this we did a short walk around part of the base of the rock, learning more about the local fauna and flora from our guide as we walked. The afternoon was spent relaxing back at the resort – even sampling the swimming pool! For dinner we partook in the Outback BBQ – where you buy the meat from a counter and then BBQ it yourself. I tried beef sausage, buffalo sausage, emu sausage, crocodile kebab, prawn kebab and kangaroo kebab. Lindsay tried the veggie burger!

On Friday 30th August we flew from Ayers Rock to Cairns, having spent the morning before our flight researching and booking a hostel for the night. The hostel picked us up from the airport and, after checking in we spent the evening researching some of the activities we might want to do as we travel down the coast.

The next morning we took the short walk from our hostel (Nomads) to the depot to pick up our home for the next month – a Hippie Deluxe camper named Gwen. We stopped back in at the hostel to collect our bags which we had left in their luggage storage room, spent a small fortune in the supermarket stocking up on basics and essentials we would need, drove out to the Cairns Coconut Resort and started unpacking our backpacks, trying to find homes for our stuff in the small camper. During our numerous breaks we researched trips out to the Great Barrier Reef, finally deciding on a trip with Reef Experience for tomorrow and booked it at the campsite reception. We had only been on our pitch for a couple of hours before two woman approached us and said “Hello Andrew!”. I was very confused by this as no one there knew me by that name – I had checked in under the name “Andy”. The woman followed their welcome with “You don’t know us but we know of you” – which only confused me further! They then introduced themselves as Nola and Cathryne and explained who they were. My aunt moved across to Australia in the early 1970s and met Nola when they were both in hospital having their first children and quickly became friends, getting up to a lot of mischief together. The remain very good friends to this day and Cathryne is Nola’s daughter. I had posted a picture of our camper on Facebook and tagged us as being at the Cairns Coconut Resort. My cousin Steph, Pat’s daughter, saw this and realised that her friend Catheryne was also staying at the same resort. She sent Cathryne the picture and they walked all around the campsite until they found us! This really showed to us the power of social media! Cathryne, her husband Paul and their two boys, Lachie and Kai were just over half way through a three month trip around Australia, and Nola and her husband Pete had flown up from Melbourne to spend the week with them. After our chat they invited us to join them for dinner the next day – a Sunday roast – after our day out at the reef.

We were collected from the campsite entrance and taken to Cairns marina for our day out aboard The Reef Experience. After a breakfast roll we set off out to the Great Barrier Reef, with a plan to SCUBA dive, snorkel and see the reef from a glass-bottomed boat. On the way out to the reef we were given safety briefings and instructions on how to snorkel and, after signing up for the free introductory dive we were put into groups and told when we would be going for our dive. We were put into groups of four and we had about half an hour to wait until it was time for our dive so we took the opportunity to go for a quick snorkel. When our time came we were kitted up and led down to the dive platform at the back of the boat where we met our instructor. He led us through some basic drills such as how to clear water from your mask as well as how to clear water from your mouth piece. Once he was happy we could each do that we entered the water and redid them underwater. At this stage the two others in our group decided that they didn’t want to continue and so climbed back aboard, leaving just Lindsay and I with our instructor, and we set off towards the reef for our dive. We found a Nemo fish and I managed to stabilise myself enough for the photographer to take a picture, but Lindsay struggled and didn’t get in a picture. We continued our dive around the reef and were back at the boat before we knew it. We took a few minutes to rest back aboard the boat before jumping back in for more snorkelling. Again time flew and we were back on the boat heading to our second reef spot of the day, where Lindsay and I partook in another SCUBA dive and some more snorkelling before it was time to head back to port. Back at camp we showered, changed and joined Nola, Pete, Cathryne, Paul and the boys for a delicious roast dinner, accompanied by a few drinks and lots of chat.

Monday was spent mostly relaxing around camp, doing washing and going for a swim. We did manage to make it into Cairns for a wander and Lindsay managed to get a replacement fake wedding ring for the one she stood on when walking the Inca Trail and then fell apart over the next few months.

On Tuesday we hit the road heading south, starting our long journey to Sydney. Our target for today was South Mission Beach, only a few hours south of Cairns. It was a wet and windy drive and when we arrived at the campsite the view across the bay to Dunk Island definitely did not look like it did in the guidebooks! The sky was grey and the sea was brown and choppy. We had hoped to get a boat across to the island for a walk the following day but the current weather conditions were preventing any boats from sailing and the forecast was not looking good for the coming days. After lunch on the campsite we drove to Bicton Hill, where the rainforest meets the reef, hoping to go for a walk during the afternoon but the rain started again as we drove there and didn’t look like letting up, so was sacked off that idea and went back to camp.

The heavy rain and strong winds that battered our little Hippie overnight convinced us that our plan to get a boat to Dunk Island was futile. However, the rain did ease during breakfast so we headed back to Bicton Hill and managed to do the walk to the viewpoint there. We were not impressed by the sign at the bottom warning that even the plants here are out to get you – a stinging tree that can poison you with neurotoxins! We called back in at camp for lunch before setting off to Tully for a tour around the sugar factory there, where the take in raw sugar cane (which is actually a type of grass) and output raw brown sugar crystals – in a process which only takes around eight hours. On the drive back to the campsite we were fortunate to see two pairs of Cassowaries crossing the road – each an adult male and a juvenile. Considering that there are thought to only be 1200 of these birds, we were very lucky to see four of them!

Thursday morning came and it was time to hit the road again, with Townsville our destination for the day. Not long into the drive we managed to get a chip on the windscreen, caused by a stone thrown up by a lorry thundering past us. We were not impressed with the Big4 – it is basically in a yard behind a petrol station on the main road! After checking in our first job was to find somewhere to get the windscreen assessed and repaired if possible. We were told that, as the chip was on the drivers side of the windscreen (albeit at the bottom of the window hidden by the wiper blade), the chip we had was 5mm too big to repair (it was only 20mm across!). We left the local equivalent of AutoGlass and headed into town. We walked along the esplanade and enjoyed the various pieces of art on display along the walk, including a rainbow tree and a whale tail made from flipflops.

Flip flop whale in Townsville

Friday morning we had an appointment at AIMS, the Australian Institute of Marine Science located about 30k south of Townsville, for a tour around the facility and to see some of the work they do. Coming back to our Hippie after the tour we discovered that the chip we had picked up yesterday had grown substantially into a large crack in the direct sunlight. Luckily the crack went along the windscreen rather than up, so our view was not obscured. From here we continued south to Airlie Beach, arriving late in the afternoon and spending the rest of the day at our pitch doing not a lot.

The following morning we awoke to clear skies and sunshine – the first time since our reef trip at Cairns almost a week earlier! We ventured into town and discovered a town that looked like Australia did in our imaginations – beautiful beach, turquoise water, palm trees and a really relaxed, laid-back atmosphere. We took a wander around the weekly market before opting to enjoy a coffee with a piece of cake as we sat at a table on the beach with the sand beneath our feet. We returned to camp for an early lunch as we had booked a massage by the pool each – my first ever massage! We were relaxing on our pitch during the afternoon, trying to decide on which trip to take out to the Whitsunday Islands, when suddenly Cathryne and the boys appeared on our pitch. Earlier in the day I had posted on Facebook a picture of a group of ducks walking in a line. Cathryne saw this picture and recognised the group of ducks as they waddled past her pitch on the same campsite! We made plans to meet them for drinks later and then booked a trip aboard Camira, an 85ft purple catamaran for tomorrow.

We were picked up from the campsite entrance at 0705 on Sunday morning to be taken to the marina. We boarded Camira, one of the world’s fastest commercial sailing catamarans, and were quickly on our way to the islands. We did manage some sailing on the way to our first stop – an opportunity to get in the water and do some snorkelling over a reef. From here we sailed out to Whitehaven Beach, where the sand is almost pure silica, white and squeaks beneath your feet as you walk. It is also great to walk along on hot, sunny days as the sand does not retain heat as per normal sand. We had 90 minutes on the beach to take a swim and enjoy the views – and play the odd game of beach cricket – before we were taken back to the catamaran for a barbecue lunch. We then spent the afternoon sailing amongst the beautiful islands until it was time to return to port. We were taken back to camp, showered and then joined Paul and Cathryne for a few drinks – a feature that is starting to become regular!

Monday morning we decided to drive just over 30km to Cedar Creek Falls, only to find the falls completely drive when we go there. We headed back to camp and spent the afternoon relaxing and swimming in the pool before joining Paul and Cathryne for dinner and drinks. They had had a minor miscalculation when in the supermarket, which resulted in them having too much food, as they were due to spend the following few days in a hotel on Hamilton island. Even after we had eaten as much food as we wanted, there were so many sausages left over it took us three days to get through them all!

On Tuesday morning we bade farewell to Airlie Beach, which was one of our favourite places in Australia, and made the long drive to Rockhampton. The campsite here was a big drop following the amazing Adventure Whitsunday Big4 campsite in Airlie Beach – our pitch was a small concrete platform and the camp kitchen didn’t even have a stove – but it was somewhere to stay the night before continuing south the next morning.

Our first stop on Wednesday morning was at a phone shop to purchase an Australian SIM card as we were fed up with paying $3+ per hour for bad WiFi. In South America every hostel had provided WiFi for free, regardless of quality. In both NZ and Australia, free WiFi was surprisingly rare! Now connected to the web, we set off to the Town of 1770, where Capt. James Cook first set foot in Queensland in May 1770. We arrived at the campsite and checked in to a beachfront pitch for the night. We walked back into town to book a trip out to Lady Musgrave Island and then enjoyed watching sunset from our pitch accompanied by strawberries and wine.

Sunset at 1770

We drove the short distance to the marina on Thursday morning as we had were booked on to a different pitch for this evening. We boarded at 0810 but had to wait just over ten minutes for the tide to come in a bit further so we would be able to make it out from the pontoon to the channel and onward into the open sea. It took just over an hour for us to reach Lady Musgrave Island, a coral island with a large natural reef lagoon. The water within the lagoon was calm and so clear you could see you could see more than ten metres underwater. We moored up at the fixed pontoon within the lagoon and took a glass-bottomed boat trip across to the island. During our walk around the island one of the thousands of birds who call the island home managed to score a direct hit on my new hat! On the way back to the glass-bottomed boat we were fortunate enough to see black-tipped reef sharks in the shallows and on the boat ride back to the pontoon we could see turtles in the distance. After lunch we jumped in the water and went snorkelling at what turned out to be the most colourful coral reef we visited. We saw lots of very colourful fish but, unfortunately, I was not able to see a turtle up close. It was then time to get back on the boat and make our way back to the Town of 1770, where we drove back to camp, had a quick dinner and got an early night as we were both very tired from doing so much snorkelling.

Friday morning arrived and we were on the move again, this time driving south for three and a half hours to Hervey Bay – which was a much bigger town than either of us had expected. Arriving at lunchtime most of our afternoon was dedicated to researching trips to Fraser Island and whale watching trips, before we eventually decided to go to Fraser Island tomorrow with Fraser Experience Tours and then whale watching on Sunday afternoon with Whalesong. Having realised that almost everyone on campsites here barbecues every day, we decided to join in and cooked sausages, burgers, pepper and onion on the barbecue accompanied by lots of salad.

On Saturday morning we were picked up at 0720 and, after picking up others from lots of hostels and hotels, we arrived at the ferry terminal at 0830. The ferry across to the island takes around one hour and, once arrived and off the ferry, we met our driver for the day. There is only around 300m of paved road on the island, with all other roads being sand roads. The company use special four wheel drive buses with high ground clearance to enable them to travel the sand roads without getting stuck. We set off across the island to 75 mile beach. Unlike 90 mile beach in New Zealand, the name of 75 mile beach here is accurate! We drove along the beach and were surprised just how many other vehicles there were. On 90 mile beach we saw one other coach and one private car. This beach is full of private vehicles – people who have come over to camp or just for a spot of fishing. Our first stop was at the wreck of SS Maheno, which came unstuck in a storm and beached here back in 1935. From here we continued north to see The Pinnacles – they were sold to us as amazing coloured sands, but they turned out to be rusty sand. From here Lindsay and I took a flight in a small plane (there were only five on board, including the pilot) for a 15 minute sightseeing flight over the island. We saw some of the large sand blows as they creep ever-further across the island, lots of lakes (including one that resembles a butterfly) and flew along the beach enjoying the turquoise-coloured waters before landing at Eli Creek to rejoin the rest of our group. Lindsay walked along the boardwalk alongside the creek while I took the opportunity to cool off a little and walk up the clear waters of the creek. Back on the bus we headed back to Eurong Resort for lunch before continuing on to Lake McKenzie where we spend time sitting on the lakeshore taking in the views. Our final stop of the day was supposed to be Central Station, where we would take a walk through the rainforest. However, things don’t always work out as they should and this was one of those times. As we drove from Lake McKenzie towards Central Station we had an issue with a hill which resulted in us spending the next two and a half hours repeatedly digging the bus out of the sand as it kept getting stuck on the hill – most of the time the bus was sat on its belly! I lost count of the number of times the Land Cruiser behind us had to ‘snatch’ us backwards to get us free, but to cut a long story short we missed our visit to Central Station as well as the last scheduled ferry service of the day back to the mainland! Once the bus eventually made it to the top of the hill we set off towards the ferry terminal. The ferry was going to make a special journey to pick us up (along with the vehicles stuck behind us on the hill that also missed the last ferry), but we had to wait for almost an hour for it to arrive – by which time is was dark. Back on the mainland we were taken back to our campsite, where it was time for a quick dinner and bed.

The wreck of SS Maheno on Fraser Island

We both enjoyed a lazy Sunday morning following the events of yesterday. Before we knew it mid-day had arrived and we were picked up from the campsite and taken to the marina for an afternoon of whale watching. It had been quite windy and, although the wind had now died down a bit, there was still quite a swell in the bay. Lunch was entertaining as people struggled to carry their plate of food while the boat was going up and down as well as rocking from side to side in the swell. It wasn’t long before we located the first of the many humpback whales we would see during the day and we spent the next few hours motoring around the bay as we spotted the whales. We were treated to quite a display as the whales demonstrated every trick in their book. We even had one whale ‘pass wind’ as it breached right in front of our boat – an action which cleared the front deck! Sadly our trip flew by and before we knew it the time had come to head back to port and our campsite. As we sat outside our camper enjoying an evening coffee, our moment of peace was shattered as someone drove by shouting ‘It’s those people!’ Paul and Cathryne had found us again! They had arrived on the campsite earlier in the afternoon when we had been out and were now able to confirm that the Hippie camper on the campsite was indeed ours. We had another of our barbecue dinners and then joined Paul and Cathryne for a chat over a drink or two

By 0915 on Monday morning we were already on the road heading south. Just over two hours into the drive we stopped at the Buderim Ginger factory, where we took a tour to see how they make sweet ginger and a talk by a beekeeper on how they make honey. From here it was only a short drive to Caloundra – our destination for the day – and we were able to enjoy the remainder of the afternoon reading our books. For dinner we cooked chilli wraps.

It rained heavily overnight and Tuesday started grey. We planned for the day to be spent doing not a lot, although we did make it out for a walk along the seafront during the afternoon. Unfortunately we had left the awning out when we went for the walk and returned to find it wrapped around the roof of the camper, broken. An inspection revealed we had been quite lucky as the damage to the awning appeared minor and there was no damage to the camper itself. Having spent most of what was left of the afternoon inspecting the awning and camper for damage, we enjoyed the remainder of our chilli from yesterday before calling it a night.

Wednesday was an exciting day as we were going to Australia Zoo. Siobhan and Chris has got us tickets, along with the Cuddle a Koala experience, for our wedding present so we had been looking forward to this for a long time. We were up early and in the zoo car park by 0830. We were the first ones there and the zoo didn’t open for another 30 minutes! By the time the zoo opened there was already quite a queue to get in and, needless to say, we were one of the first through the gates. We took a wander to see cassowaries, camels, dingoes, tasmanian devils, crocodiles and alligators before watching a talk about the giant tortoises by their keeper. After the talk we walked through Roo Heaven, where various types of wallaby and kangaroo roam free to the Wetlands area to see the numerous wetland birds, including herons. From here we walked through the Koala Enclosure where we saw baby koalas and adult koalas all lounging around in the trees. From cute and cuddly to slimy and scary, our next visit was to the reptile house to see all of the nasty-looking snakes. To make ourselves feel a bit better we took a look at the cute wombats next on our way to the Crocoseum for the Wildlife Warriers show – the centrepiece of any day at Australia Zoo. We ate our packed lunch and then took our seats in time for the show to start at midday. The show was fantastic – it started with lots of different types of bird flying around the stadium to and from their keepers who were dotted around the stadium seating. There was even an Andean Condor – one of only five in Australia – which reminded us of our trip to see them in the wild in the Colca Canyon in Peru. Following this one of the big saltwater crocodiles was brought into the arena and the keepers talked about it as well as showing how ferocious these animals are. After the show we walked down to the new Africa enclosure. On the way we even saw two keepers taking a cheetah for a walk! We saw the giraffes, zebras and rhinos before we took in the Tiger show at the Tiger Temple. Two keepers were in the Tiger Temple during the show, interacting with the two tigers, and it was amazing to seem them interact with the powerful animals. It was then time to head to the information point in time for our rendezvous prior to our Cuddle a Koala experience. After meeting the koala keeper who would be taking us for our experience we walked back to the Koala Enclosure and were introduced to Hayley – the koala we would be holding. This was the first time Hayley had been used for the experience and Lindsay kindly volunteered me to go first and see how Hayley coped. Luckily she was very relaxed but still held on quite tightly. After Lindsay held her, Hayley decided that she had had enough and she was taken back to a tree. Edna, a veteran of these experiences, was brought out and it was immediately clear that she was completely at ease – she put her arms up to your shoulders but did not grip like Hayley had done. She wasn’t even phased when I almost dropped her when she surprised me by sneezing on my shoulder! At the end of the encounter we said goodbye to the koalas and saw as many of the remaining animals as we were able to – including a komodo dragon, turtles and more koalas while we waited for our photos from the encounter to be ready. We picked them up and then made our way out of the zoo and back to an almost empty car park – it was now only ten minutes before the zoo was due to close and, after being one of the first vehicles this morning, we were now one of the last vehicles to leave the car park! It was a short drive back to Caloundra where we decided to take the easy option of fish and chips for dinner – it had been a long day and we were both very tired from all the walking in the punishing heat.

Koala cuddles at Australia Zoo

The next morning we left Caloundra and paid a visit to the Glass House Mountains – so named as Capt. James Cook thought they reminded him of the glass furnaces in his native Yorkshire. We took a walk up Mount Ngungun and by the time we reached the top we were both very hot and sticky! However, the climb was worth it as we were rewarded with stunning views across the national park, all the way to the coast we had just left. We stopped in for a walk around the visitor centre on the way back to the main road and from here continued south to Brisbane. We checked in to the Brisbane Gateway Resort and spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing before we had another barbecue for dinner.

Friday morning continued in the same vain as the previous afternoon as we lounged around camp before we took the bus into the city centre for the afternoon. After enjoying picnic sandwiches in the botanical gardens we took a walk along Southbank and the city centre. We walked all the way out to Chinatown before deciding that we didn’t fancy Chinese for dinner and ended up in Nando’s back in the city centre. After dinner we headed back to the botanical gardens and joined the queue for the free concert being put on by Queensland Symphonic Orchestra as part of the ongoing, month-long, Brisbane Festival. We spent the evening sat on the grassy hill at the Riverside stage listening to amazing music. After the third encore we made our exit, headed across the river to the South Bank bus station and took a bus back to the campsite.

As we had to wait around Brisbane until Monday morning to get our awning repaired, we took advantage of the downtime and had a relatively relaxing weekend. On Saturday morning we headed down to Surfer’s Paradise to meet Megan, who I used to share a house with in Ealing in 2009 and has since moved back to Australia. It was supposed to be a 40 minute drive to Surfer’s from our campsite but heavy traffic due to the start of the school holidays meant that the drive took almost two hours. We took a walk along the seafront before meeting Megan and afterwards wandered through the shops to find All Sorts – a sweet shop owned by the brother of Lindsay’s uncle Lea, who in turn owns a sweet shop in Auckland. Luckily we were heading against the traffic on the drive back north and it took us only 45 minutes to get back to the campsite, where we spent the remainder of the afternoon unwinding before cooking up another barbecue feast for dinner. On Sunday morning we drove out to Chandler Markets and were back on the campsite in time for lunch. The afternoon was spent reading our books and relaxing before – yep, you guessed it – yet another barbecue for dinner!

On Monday morning we were up early as we had an appointment with Aussie Traveller, the people who manufactured our awning, at 1030 and it was an hour’s drive north from the campsite. When we got there they knew exactly what the problem was and swiftly replaced the broken parts before handing us our bill… $23 which broke down as two $4 spigots and then a $15 fitting fee. This was considerably better than we were expecting as we had braced ourselves for a repair bill of a few hundred dollars! From Aussie Traveller our next stop was at the Hippie Camper depot in Brisbane to get some mould, which had appeared on the roof lining of the cab, removed. Whilst we were there we also swapped a broken chair for a new one and picked up a mallet. The mallet was to enable us to peg the awning down, hopefully preventing repeat occurrences of only a few days previously. With our Hippie back in tip-top shape we set of continue our journey south, with Byron Bay our target for the day. We pulled onto the campsite in time for lunch and, after a quick meal, we walked the 2km into town. We wandered around town and along the beach for a bit but struggled to see the attraction of the place so we walked back to camp. No barbecue today as the barbecues on the campsite were not clean – we had pasta and sauce instead!

On Tuesday we were up early as we wanted to walk around the cape and see the lighthouse before driving to Coff’s Harbour in the afternoon. The walk around Cape Byron – the most easterly point in mainland Australia – and up to the lighthouse was beautiful and it made our stop-off in Byron worthwhile. It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached Coff’s Harbour and we decided to stop in McDonald’s for a milkshake prior to hitting the supermarket to get supplies for the next few days. From the supermarket it was less than a five minute drive to our campsite – Park Beach Holiday Park. The remainder of the afternoon was spent reading and relaxing before we rounded off the day with another of our delicious barbecue dinners.

Wednesday morning we left the campsite straight after breakfast to take advantage of the cooler temperature for a walk along the seafront to Mutton Bird Island. It was a short, steep walk over the island to the viewing platform on the other side, from where we stood a while watching the migrating humpback whales as they headed south for summer. Back at camp we cooked boiled eggs for lunch and then spent the afternoon enjoying the sun on the campsite and reading our books. Our peace was once again shattered when Cathryne and Paul’s boys arrived on our pitch. They had just arrived on the campsite and were immediately dispatched to find us! It was also the first opportunity we had had to use our awning since getting it repaired – and it provided welcome shade from the sun. No barbecue today as we cooked our chilli wraps instead.

On Thursday morning we drove to the Big Banana – the original ‘big’ thing in in Australia and now well past its best. After that disappointment we drove a little further to a viewpoint looking out over Coff’s Harbour called Sealy Lookout. Fortunately this was worth the drive and offered superb views out across the town and beyond. We had lunch back at the campsite and then set off for Sawtell Beach, a twenty minute drive away. The beach was beautiful, almost deserted and the sand was really fine. The land immediately behind the beach was undeveloped was only added to the beauty. After a quick stop at the supermarket to get supplies for dinner we met up with Paul and Cathryne to walk to a bar for the start of happy hour at 1600. This was actually our first visit to a bar in Australia and I enjoyed trying all of the beers on tap with Paul. Cathryne and Lindsay had a couple of ciders each as we sat chatting about life, everything and anything. By the time happy hour finished at 1800, it was decided that we ought to head back to the campsite to cook dinner. Since Paul and Cathryne had very kindly cooked us dinner twice already, Lindsay and I had offered to cook and we served up chicken fajitas. We continued chatting after dinner with a few more drinks until Cathryne and Lindsay decided to call it a night around 2200. Paul and I continued to chat, about the meaning of life, the universe and everything until Cathryne poked her out out of their caravan door at 2330 and told us to go to bed! I got back to the Hippie Camper only to find the doors locked and Lindsay asleep inside…

Feeling slightly fuzzy when I awoke on Friday morning I could only be thankful that Cathryne had sent us to bed when she did – if she hadn’t then I would have been feeling even worse! Lindsay drove the first stint this morning and we reached Port Macquarie in time for lunch. We sat on a bench overlooking the beach as we ate our sandwiches and watched more humpback whales make their migration south. After lunch we continued south to Tuncurry, our stop for the night. We were not impressed with the campsite here. The reviews were good but it reminded us of a trailer park – and to make matters worse the pitch they put us on initially was surrounded on all sides by old, permanent caravans. We complained and were moved to a new pitch with other campers, but the best feature of the campsite was the lake front. We took our chairs and spent the rest of the afternoon sat on on the shores of the lake, reading our books and watching the pelicans.

We were off the campsite by 0900 on Saturday morning and headed to the local Saturday market for a wander. By 1000 we were on the road, heading to Port Stephens and the town of Nelson Bay. The campsite was on a small headland, with beautiful beaches on both sides. After having a picnic lunch on the campsite we headed east out of the campsite and walked along the beach to Shoal Bay and Tomaree Head. The sand on the beach was so fine that it made walking along the sloping beach hard work – by the time we reached Shoal Bay we both felt that we had done a good workout but we were not done yet! We continued the walk and made it to the top of Tomaree Head, the site of a WW2 radar station. The walk to the top was steep, but the wooded hillside provided welcome shade. The view from the top was simply stunning, as we looked out across forests and deserted white beaches with turquoise water. On the walk back to the campsite we walked in the shallows, with the waves lapping at our feet. Back at the campsite we watched the sunset and then enjoyed out leftover chilli for dinner.

On Sunday morning we took a walk into Nelson Bay for a wander along the seafront and around some shops before heading back to the campsite for lunch. We walked back into town for 1330 as we had booked a two hour guided sea kayaking session around the bay. It was a beautiful paddle and we did about 8km as we explored various headlands and beaches. Just as we were passing the marina on our way back in a dolphin suddenly appeared next to us. We spent a few minutes sat there as the dolphin continued to play around us before it was time to head back in to end our kayaking trip. We then walked back to the campsite and enjoyed the last of the sun reading our books before heading back to the beach to watch a beautiful sunset. Chicken fajitas rounded off our last day at one of our favourite places in Australia.

Taking Lindsay kayaking in Port Stephens

On Monday morning we were on the road by 0830 heading towards the final stop on our tour in the Hippie – Katoomba in the Blue Mountains. A four and a half hour drive later we reached our campsite to the almost deafening sound of the cicadas. After a quick lunch we walked to Scenic World – a big tourist attraction – that was located just across the road from the campsite. It boasts the world’s steepest railway (52 degrees!), which we took from the top of the cliff in order to do a walk along walkways in the forest below. We took the cable-car back to the top, taking in the views across to the Three Sisters as we ascended. We then took another cable-car across the canyon, from where we walked along the cliff-top path Echo Point, the viewpoint for the Three Sisters, from where we had a fantastic view across the National Park and, due to the light, were able to understand why they are called the Blue Mountains (the oil droplets given off by the eucalyptus trees of the forest scatters the light and it gives the landscape a blue tinge). We walked back to our campsite, drove to the supermarket to get food for dinner and then enjoyed our last campsite dinner in Australia – and that had to be one of our amazing barbecues!

On our last day with the Hippie Camper – Tuesday 1st October – we were off the campsite early and drove to Echo Point, the viewpoint we walked to the previous day, and walked along the path to the top of the Giant Staircase. We descended the first 100 steps (or more than 1000!) down to a rest point on the side of the first of the Three Sisters. We climbed back up the steps, walked back the car and then drove to Sublime Point – a viewpoint on the other side of the Three Sisters. As we stood on the cliff-top viewpoint the winds picked up and we decided that it was time to say goodbye to the Blue Mountains and head to Sydney. We made it to my aunt Pat’s house in Camden in time for a lunch of homemade pizzas sat in the sunshine. After lunch we parked the Hippie on Pat’s front lawn to clean it inside and out and then drove it back to the depot. It was sad to say goodbye to our Hippie – we had had some amazing times together! Pat drove us back to her house where Rod cooked a lovely barbecue for dinner.

Pat and Rod had to work on Wednesday so we spent the day sorting our stuff out, doing washing and keeping Millie and Bella – the two dogs – entertained. In the evening Pat and Rod took us out to a little Italian restaurant in Camden for a delicious dinner. Having not seen Pat and Rod since our wedding last year it was great to catch up with them.

On Thursday Lindsay and I took the 0830 train into Sydney, a journey which took just over an hour. Arriving in Circular Quays we walked around trying to locate the office of BridgeClimb – the company which runs the trips to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge. We walked around the base of the bridge for almost 40 minutes before we eventually managed to locate it! Ten minutes later, at 10.35am, our group was called through to start getting kitted up for the climb – they provided jumpsuits, waterproofs (it was raining), harness, radio and headset and various straps to attach everything to us. We then practiced climbing up and down some sample staircases, getting used to the harness on the steep stairs. We were then ready to go and walked out onto the bridge structure, beneath the roadway. We reached the steep stairs, which we had just practiced, and climbed up through the roadway to the arch above. It was then a gentle climb all the way to the top of the arch, with a couple of stops on the way to take photos and watch a replica of HMB Endeavour sail into the harbour and beneath the bridge – it even took a potshot at the Opera House and it passed! It was here as part of the International Fleet Review, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first entry of the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet into Sydney. Despite the wind and sideways rain, watching the Endeavour and the other tall ships in the harbour made the climb very special. It was 1430 by the time we had climbed back down the bridge and were back in the office in the warm and dry. Although we had brought sandwiches with us we were both cold so headed to the nearby Harbour View Hotel for a hot lunch. By the time we had finished our late lunch the rain had stopped and the sun was trying to make an appearance. We walked down to Darling Harbour, where the HMB Endeavour and some of the other tall ships had docked, before walking back to the Opera House to take some of the classic tourist photos. It was now 1800 and we were feeling tired after the day of walking around the city. We got the train back to Pat’s house, eating our sandwiches for dinner when we were back at the house. With only three days to go until we arrived in Bali, we spent the evening researching options for hotels After a few hours searching we managed to book seven nights at Melia Benoa and then climbed into bed, exhausted but pleased to finally have somewhere booked.

We made it to Sydney!

We were up early on Friday morning and popped into Camden with Pat. Lindsay got her eyelashes tinted while l tried (and failed) to get currency for Asia and got a box from the post office so that we could post some of our winter clothes back to the UK. Back at Pat’s we packed everything back into our rucksacks as we were on the move again – we were off to stay with my cousin Steph and her family in Engadine for a few days. Pat put on a spread for lunch and then it was time to say goodbye to Pat and Rod, as we would not see them again before we headed to Bali. Steph drove us to her house in Engadine, dropped me off with Glenn, the kids and Mollie the dog and went into town with Lindsay. Lindsay posted the parcel of clothes and was more successful than my previous attempt to get currency, returning with some Indonesian Rupiahs for Bali. Friday afternoon at Stephs house is ‘bubbles’ time and we spent the remainder of the afternoon drinking sparkling wine and beer in the garden before having homemade pizzas for dinner.

Saturday morning was spent around Steph’s house before Lindsay and I took the train into Sydney for the afternoon. In the city we climbed the Pylon Lookout at the bridge to get fantastic views across the harbour and the city – this time in the sunshine! After watching a massive cruise ship maneuver its way out of its dock at Circular Quays and out of the harbour, with what looked like thousands of small boats having to get out of the way, we descended from the pylon and walked into the city to get dinner. As the main event of the International Fleet Review, a huge fireworks spectacular, was taking place this evening a lot of the restaurants had put up their prices and were very busy. We ended up having a quick burger in McDonalds before walking out to Mrs Mac’s Chair, one of the recommended places to watch the fireworks from. There were thousands of people already at the lookout but we eventually managed to find somewhere to watch the show from. It was reported that the firework and light show we were waiting for was the biggest seen in Sydney since the 2000 Olympics. The show started at 1940 and lasted for more than half an hour. The navy ships in the harbour played a key role in the show, with them being used as floating platforms to set off fireworks from. Light projections on the bridge and the navy ships added to the spectacular – it really was a once in a lifetime experience for us. Once the show had finished we walked to Kings Cross station, unlike most of the crowd who headed for stations in the city, and got seats on the first train back to Steph’s house. Cathryne, Paul and the boys had arrived at Steph’s house during the afternoon so we stayed up long enough to say hello, before heading to bed.

I would like to say it was a quiet Sunday morning, but the four kids and Mollie the dog did the their best to ensure that wasn’t the case! Paul, Glenn and I headed into town to get food for lunch. After lunch all ten of us went out on Steph and Glenn’s yacht. We met Steve, Steph’s brother, at the boat and spent the afternoon sailing and motoring on the water. We even had some dolphins playing around in the bow waves for some of the trip! It was a fantastic way to spend our last afternoon in Australia – sunshine, amazing views, great company and cold beer! Once the boat was moored and tidied, we bade farewell to Steve and headed back to Steph and Glenn’s house for dinner and a few more drinks.

Monday morning was spent packing our bags before Steph took us to the airport at lunchtime for our afternoon flight to Bali. After saying our goodbyes we checked in and discovered that we were to have an unexpected visit to Melbourne. We flew from Sydney to Melbourne, where we spent a few hours in the airport before boarding the same plane to continue our journey to Bali.

We both really enjoyed our time exploring Australia and were sad to leave, but excited at the same time to carry on our adventure in our next destination.

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