We spent the last 4 weeks driving more than 5.700 km on an amazing trip in the East of Australia. We started off with a very relaxing and sunny weekend in Sydney. Exploring the beautiful Botanical Gardens and Harbour area with its iconic Opera House, restaurants and cafes in the area Potts Point where we stayed, and the surf-scene in Manly. We also took the opportunity to catch up with Carolina, an old study mate from Amsterdam who lives in Australia for 6 years now.
We started our road trip in Cairns where we picked up the camper van. After being spoiled with our van in New Zealand we were a bit disappointed standing in front of the somewhat battered Mighty van that would be our home for the next weeks. But the lady at the rental company reassured us that with 26 AUD a day we had a really good deal and an upgrade would cost us much more, money we’d rather spend on something else :).
Our plan was to drive the van towards Melbourne in just under 4 weeks. We decided to go a bit more North first before making our way south, into the Daintree rainforest where we found some beautiful remote places, just how we like it :). In Port Douglas we booked a tour to the Outer Great Barrier reef for some snorkelling with a company called Wavelength. We chose this company because of the really good reviews and the fact they take out ‘small’ groups to the reef. Although this still means you are with more than 40 other persons on the boat. We had chosen a rough day to go out with a large swell and strong wind, resulting in lots of people getting sick. Luckily we felt fine. We did three one-hour snorkelling excursions at different locations. The snorkelling was beautiful with colourful coral and a diversity of fish. Since the boat was only staffed by marine biologists we got a lot of information about the different animals and corals we saw in the water. Also the lecture about the current state of the reef with regards to climate change and pollution was very interesting. Apparently the reef has suffered the second mass bleaching event in a row, something that has never happened before. This could be seen by corals in very bright colours, which means they are in stress, or completely white, meaning they are bleached. A reef can recover from this when the conditions turn more favourable (i.e. cooler water), but it can also die which means you loose it. Luckily still a lot of healthy coral can be seen, so it is not too late, but if mass bleaching events become the norm the reef will not last long…
After Port Douglas we made our way South through the inland visiting a couple of waterfalls. One famous one is the Millaa Millaa falls. Especially because of a Herbal Essences commercial that lots of visitors try to reproduce. So Manon tried the same :P. We got the tip to go camping in Etty Bay, just North of Mission Beach, to have a good chance for spotting Cassowaries. These are very big birds of which only about less than 2200 are living in the wild in Australia. And we were lucky! We immediately spotted two cassowaries on the road close to the campsite, and found another casually walking around the camping ground when we arrived. These birds are pretty impressive, especially when you are lying on the beach and suddenly one of them stands next to you!
One of the places that Manon really liked the last time she visited the East Coast 9 years ago is Magnetic Island, just off the coast from Townsville. So this was our next stop. We visited the island on a day trip, and decided to hire bikes for the day to get around, as it is not always easy to get the amount of exercise you want when you are driving a lot. And the cycling on the island was pretty tough! There are some steep hills to climb :). We visited some of the pretty beaches the island has to offer and went to the wildlife park to get up and close with some of Australias famous wildlife. And of course a visit to the rock wallabies just before sunset could not be missed! :).
Next on the schedule would be a visit to the Whitsunday Islands. Unfortunately the weather prediction was not too good, and with trips being very expensive we decided to save our money for another excursion. So we decided to go to a small place called Hideaway Bay instead and hired a small boat to find a remote island just for ourselves :).
One of our favourite places was Agnes Water, our next stop. Agnes Water is the Northernmost town where you can surf, because more to the North the presence of the Great Barrier Reef prevents waves hitting the coast. We found a small campsite at a Kangaroo Sanctuary where the Australian owner raises orphan kangaroos that most often are found when their mother is killed on the road by traffic. It was actually the only campsite where we have been with only non-Australian tourists. Guess its not too special for the locals to stay amidst kangaroos :). We stayed here for a couple of days, surfing during the day and cuddling kangaroos in the afternoon, what’s not too like!
Since we we wanted to do more snorkelling we booked ourselves on a day trip to Lady Elliot Island. This island is the Southernmost island of the Great Barrier Reef, and only reachable by plane! So we boarded the Cessna for a scenic 40 minute flight to the tiny island. Since we only had a day on the island we had a busy schedule. In the morning we did a reef walk in the lagoon and glass bottom boat tour and snorkelling. After lunch we went out snorkelling from the beach at two different locations, the so called Coral Gardens, and the lagoon. The snorkelling was really amazing! Beautiful and lots of coral and even more fishes and other marine life like big schools of fish, black tipped reef sharks and turtles. And because you can just get into the water from the beach you don’t share the snorkelling with tens of other people. Most of the times it was just the two of us! Unfortunately the weather conditions did not allow to swim to the area where Manta Rays are often spotted. The island has a resort as well which makes it possible to stay for a couple of days, maybe next time… :).
After exploring the beautiful national park at Noosa and other empty beaches along the sunshine coast we arrived in Brisbane. Here we visited Charlotte, another old study mate from Amsterdam, who lives here with her Aussie husband Nick, son Finn and Wilson the Choc lab :). Awesome to see each other after such a long time and catch up!
Further South we enjoyed the last beach day at Byron Bay. There is also a lovely coast walk towards the lighthouse with great views on the ocean. The waters around Byron Bay are full with playful dolphins and we were right in time to see many whales passing by migrating to the North!The weather was getting a bit colder, and rainy days were predicted for the days after. This made us decide to do a long day of driving in the direction of Gosford, where we would meet up with Ralph’s family. On the way we heard a news item on the local radio about a beached whale in a town that we would pass along the way, so we went to take a look. It’s an impressing but sad sight to see such an amazing animal lying helpless on the beach. There was a large group of people monitoring and assisting the whale, while preparing for a rescue operation. Unfortunately the weather was so bad that it was impossible for them to get a boat out in the sea to attempt to pull him out, which made them decide to put the whale down after over 30 hours of lying helplessly i the surf. Really sad, but possibly the best decision.
In Gosford we met with Jacob (Jaap), Joan and their daughter Karen. Jacob is the brother of Ralph’s grandma and moved to Australia 66 years ago. Then we went towards the Blue Mountains, our next stop. Unfortunately we were not the only ones with that idea. It was a long weekend for the Australians because of the Queens birthday, which meant the whole of Sydney was having a weekend break in the Blue Mountains! Our first day was a cold and cloudy one, but we decided to go hiking anyway. A bit disappointing that we had to miss out on all the probably amazing views because of the fog, but the Valley of the Waters is still a beautiful hike along lots of pretty waterfalls. In the evening we had a couple of beers in town with Mark, the son of Jacob and Joan, and his girlfriend Kysia, who happened to be in the Blue mountains as well! Luckily the weather cleared up the next day and we got to enjoy a lot of different views on the impressive Blue Mountains.
By now time was moving really fast, so we had another driving day from the Blue Mountains towards Melbourne. We even ended up at a real truckers rest stop just next of the highway for the night! :P. We were a bit in doubt whether we would go to Wilson’s Promontory south of Melbourne, or drive the Great Ocean Road so we decided to do both.
Wilson’s Promontory is a beautiful national park and the Southernmost point of Australia’s mainland. White beaches, blue waters and lots of wildlife are the main attractions here. We enjoyed a hike along the coast exploring several of those beaches and did the short wildlife hike in the afternoon. And this walk really honoured its name: we saw tens of kangaroos, more then 20 Emu’s, and Wombats! Wombats are so cute! 🙂 We decided to stay at the campsite in the national park. This was also the most expensive campsite of the trip: 56 AUD, and not even with power! But we were almost the only ones there, and surrounded by birdlife and possums which made it worth it! The parrots were not shy at all and sat on your lap waiting for a bite during breakfast, and even a Kookaburra who dived out of nowhere trying to get some of our snacks!
Our Wildlife count this trip:
- Kangaroos: Lost count at 50 🙂 (Excluding the kangaroos at the sanctuary ;))
- Koalas: 0 😦
- Cassowaries: 6
- Emus: 22
- Wombats: 13
- Crocs: 1
Our last destination before getting back to Melbourne was the famous Great Ocean Road. We had a beautiful day while exploring a couple of its iconic viewpoints like the Twelve Apostles and London Bridge. Then it was time to make our way back to Melbourne where we would spend the last weekend.
We stayed the weekend with Mick and Ox the dog in Northcote. We enjoyed some footy, a lunch and wine in the Redhill area and a lot of drinks with Mick, Steve and Louise and many of their friends and met up gain with Liam and Hayley. A great way of ending our amazing Aussie holiday! We truly enjoyed being in Melbourne, both times. And this is largely because we could spend it with true locals, who showed us Melbourne and nice places around the city! 🙂 Lets hope the next time we see each other will be a bit quicker than after 9 years!
Now it’s time for us to go back to Europe and to see what the future holds for us!
Manon & Ralph.