This is the diary of my holiday to Queensland and the north coast of NSW at the end of October 2004. I hope you do not have as much rain on your holidays as I did.
Day 1 – Melbourne to West Wyalong
Having planned my trip away in detail (get in car, head north) I did not want to leave late like every other time I go away. So this time I packed the car the night before, just leaving a few essentials for the morning. Up at 6 am, shower, eat, just the ‘last minute’ things to do.
After packing the final few things and finding all of the ‘forgotten’ essentials, by 10 am I am ready to leave. Note to self: In future plan to leave the night before, that way there is a small chance of getting away in the morning on time. [note: after an extra four hours of packing I still managed to forget some things.]
Set off on a pleasant but cold Melbourne day. Traveling up the Hume Highway the first destination was Seymour for some lunch and the turn off for Shepparton to join the Newell Highway north.
The Newell is a major truck route and the main route from Melbourne to Brisbane. This was obvious from many of the towns that I traveled through along the way. Most towns seemed to consist of a truck stop for fuel and food (grease for both man and machine), a pub, a post office / general store and maybe a school. Coffee was instant and anything edible was fried. Some towns were ‘blessed’ with a Muck Donalds as well.
Once into NSW I reached West Wyalong before stopping for the night. As is my custom on a long drive I stayed in a Motel, which was lucky as watching the news the headline story was the flooding through out the NSW central coast with the worst affected area being Ballina (20Km south of Byron Bay) where the river had broken its banks and there were wide spreed black outs. The forecast was for four more days of rain. As this was the exact area that I was headed to I was a bit concerned.
After a quick check on the map I decided that the best thing to do was to head further north to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland just north of Brisbane, then I could travel to Byron Bay on the way back. While this would require an extra days driving, I did not have much choice as even the Lonely Planet guide was having trouble padding out the section for the area I was in and I did not want to drive into a declared disaster area.
Day 2 – West Wyalong to Glen Innes
Setting out from from West Wyalong first thing the next morning (no coffee, nothing open) I headed north along the Newell.
The first stop was the only major thing I wanted to see on this part of the journey – the Parkes Radio Telescope. While I was mainly interested in the science, since the film The Dish was release a few years ago the telescope has become a major tourist attraction. According to the sign at the visitors center, visitor numbers have trebled since the film. The coffee from the cafe was great too.
Resuming the journey north the next stop was Coonabarabran, where I left the Newell to head east to join the New England Highway. All day the clouds had been gathering. The Newell in many ways marks the border between the coastal hinterland on the east and the inland desert to the west. On the drive north I could see that there was blue sky to the inland side of my and dark brooding storm clouds on the other side. Now I was driving into these storms. Sure enough it was not long before the rain started.
I stopped at Glen Innes for the night. There was a Fifties Car convention in town and it took a couple of tries to find a Motel with a vacancy. The news was still full of stories about the storms along the NSW Central Coast.
Day 3 – Glen Innes to Hervey Bay
Setting out first thing (no coffee, again), the first stop was in Tenterfield where there was a cafe that was actually open. There were Peter Allen signs everywhere as the town was made famous in his song The Tenterfield Saddler.
Resuming the journey north I crossed the border into Queensland. Everything was going well until I reached Toowoomba which is quite a big regional city. The road signage was very poor and I ended up on the main highway to Brisbane. So after back tracking for half an hour I was heading north again.
I stopped at the information center outside of Marybourgh to find out about the area, before stopping at Hervey Bay.
Day 4 – Hervey Bay
After spending a sleepless night listening to the wind howling through the trees and the tent flapping like mad, I was sure that I would emerge in the morning having been blown all the way home. So it was some what of a surprise to find that I was still in Hervey Bay.
The morning was quite pleasant as the sky was clear and the wind continued to drop. A walk along the beach showed much debris had been washed up in by the pounding seas. Before settling down to download my photos and write my journal I found a bakery just across the road from the camping ground and had the first decent coffee since leaving home.
After three days of solid driving I just wanted to relax and get my bearings. Spent most of the day reading, though I did go for a swim in the afternoon.
Later in the day the wind picked up again and lots of clouds started to roll in from the north.
Day 5 – Rainbow Beach / Tin Can Bay
After another sleepless night of high winds with waves pounding, trees creaking and tents flapping, I awoke to find that the new day was much like the previous one, with howling winds and cloudy skies. The seas were very rough and while I do not get sea sick, just watching the boats at anchor in the harbor was enough to make me queasy, so I decided that today would not be the best day to go out whale watching! The weather forecast in the paper had a few more days like this to come, so I decided to tour some of the local area.
Rainbow Beach and Tin Can Bay are on a peninsula to the south of Hervey Bay and are surrounded by a wild coastal national park. It was a pleasant drive but not much to say about the destinations. It is amazing how excited some people can get about a view of a mangrove swamp. Both towns were very commercial tourist centers with substantial property development.
While it had been a beautiful sunny day, by the time I got back to Hervey Bay the wind was picking up and seas had become quite rough. The locals had told me that they never get winds like this and that it had only started on Wednesday (which was the day I decided to come here). At least the local surfers were having a great time in the huge seas.
Day 6 – Hervey Bay
Still here; still windy. While it was very windy overnight, by the time I had got back from my dawn run the wind was dropping and the sky clearing. After breakfast at the cafe I booked a day trip to Fraser Island for tomorrow; still way too rough to go out whale watching.
Spent the morning catching up with my travel diary and photos. It was too sunny to sit by the tent so I set myself up in the covered barbeque area. Several people who walked past had a bit of a double take as I do not think that they expected were expecting to see someone working on a laptop surrounded by electronic gadgets.
The wind had dropped to a gentle gale after lunch which was enough for me to spend a couple of hours on the beach reading.
Day 7 – Fraser Island
Overnight the wind had resumed its full assault upon anything not secured and I was being to wonder about going to out on the barge to Fraser Island, but as I had paid and it was my last opportunity anyway, I was not about to miss out.
The bus picked up myself and some others from the camping ground just after 7 am. By the time all the other passengers had been collected and we traveled to the marina it was 9 am. We then set off on the barge across to the island.
I do not know what I was expecting, I had not really thought about it. I suppose something like: Sand inland – how big could it be? (even if it is the biggest in the world). I had seen the photos of the rainforest, the beach, the lake, some dingos, but they do not really give a scale to the place. It is 20 km wide, 80 km long, and the highest point is about 400 m above sea level. It took over an hour to drive though the rainforest.
While I only had time for a day trip, it would take at least a week to see just the main attractions of the island.
Day 8 – Hervey Bay to Caloundra
Overnight the wind had dropped to the gentlest of breezes, which helped with packing up the tent.
So leaving Hervey Bay after five days I headed south to the Sunshine Coast with first stop Noosa Heads.
I vaguely remember this area from when I came with my parents thirty years ago. What remembered was sleepy little holiday villages with caravans and tents. What a change! My first wrong turn in Noosa took me right into the center of the main shopping area. It was just like I had been instantly transported to the middle of the most expensive parts of Toorak or Brighton. Full of ‘beautiful people’ being seen, luxury cars, apartment complexes and shops with no price tags (If you need to know the price, you can not afford it). And the people. While Hervey Bay was not exactly unpopulated, this was in a completely different league! They were everywhere. I got out of there as quickly as I could.
Continuing south there was one long possession of shopping centers and apartment complexes after another. Muck Donalds, JB-HI, Dick Smith, Woolworths, Coles, Caltex, Auto Barn. Pick a brand and it was represented. The only gaps between the buildings were occupied by construction sites building more shops and apartments. This was definitely not a sleepy holiday village. All of this development of course has destroyed the very reason why people came here in the first place. I recalled the line from the Joni Mitchell song: “Take paradise and put up a parking lot”. Which pretty much sums up Queensland really.
Overdevelop: adj [-ed, -ment].
The Gold Coast
The Sunshine Coast
Anywhere else in Queensland
I finally stopped at Caloundra on the southern most part of the Sunshine Coast where I had spent a day in the sun when I was last in Queensland for a conference back in 1998. The area I remember was called Dicky Beach just to the north of the center of Caloundra, but it had all changed – my only land mark was the beach itself. After five nights in a (flapping) tent I needed some walls and a soft bed so I found I nice looking motel, so nice in fact it was better than my apartment! Fully equipped kitchen, proper laundry with clothes washer and dryer, pay TV (included), separate dining and lounge areas and separate bedroom. So while the machines sorted out my dirty clothes, I cooked myself some pasta accompanied with a very nice dry white wine. I kept thinking of my friend Yvonne who likes to ‘rough it’, a camp site with water close by is luxury by her standards – she would not have been at all impressed with this opulence!
Day 9 – Caloundra to Byron Bay
After breakfast at the local bakery (excellent coffee, even if it did come in a polystyrene cup) I set off for Bryon Bay. The main highway though Brisbane, like most main highways, is pretty boring with not much to see so I decided to go ‘another way’. (Alert readers will have already seen where this is leading) This where I made my first mistake of the day.
I had learnt my lesson from last time where I got lost on some out of the way fire trail on the way to Cooma so I had plenty of very detailed maps for both Victoria and NSW. But since I was not expecting to be in Queensland, I only had the most basic of maps for this area. Following what appeared to be the correct route, after nearly three hours only took me on a very round about way to a point twenty kilometers further north from where I started. I must say it was a nice drive but as I was meant to be heading south this was not what I was expecting. At this rate I would end up in Cairns. Rejoining the main highway I headed towards Brisbane and the Gold Coast.
I arrived in Byron Bay about three o’clock. When I had left Caloundra the sky was very overcast and there was talk of storms, but by the time I had reached Brisbane the sky was clear and it had become a lovely day. On reaching Bryon Bay I found that the gale force winds had followed me. The first caravan park I stopped at was on the beach and was ‘enjoying’ the full ‘benefit’ of the wind. The manager did such a good job of convincing me not to stay there that I went somewhere else. Maybe she is paid based on the number people turned away?
By the time I had found a couple of other parks that did not look too bad the sky had clouded over and there appeared to be a storm brewing. Having recently used my life’s quota of windy tent situations I headed for a motel, which was a wise choice because as I write this there is a huge thunder storm going on with pouring rain. The forecast is for clearing rain overnight and fine weather to the weekend.
Day10 – Byron Bay
Checking out of the Motel I went into town to explore. I found a bakery that had Internet access as well so I was able to check my e-mail for the first time in ten days. All up I had 47 messages (and, No, they were not all spam).
After finding a camp site (that actually wanted me to stay) and setting up my tent, I spent the rest of the day reading on the beach.
Day11 – Byron Bay
Today I climbed to the summit of Mt Warning. This peak dominates the area and was named by Captain Cook as a landmark to avoid a reef. I nearly did not get the opportunity as when I arrived I found the car park completely packed with four wheel drives, including some double parked. Retreating to the picnic ground some kilometers away I had some morning tea while deciding what to do. I had not come all this way to go back just because I could not park my car! While having my morning tea I noticed several car head up to the summit and come back again. Eventually a car that I had not seen go up came down. Quickly heading back to the car park before someone else arrived I took the one empty spot.
I did find out the cause of the parking situation. There was a school excursion with 100 kids and 20 parents and teachers. They were all over the mountain and could be heard long before being seen. They left before me and at the end of the day when I returned to my car there were only two other cars in the now empty car park.
The mountain itself was very wild and beautiful, with lots of bird calls in the rainforest. The last hundred meters to the summit were on a very sharp incline and there was a chain to haul yourself up on.
Day 12 – Byron Bay to Port Macquarie
Over night a storm had moved in and I awoke to the sound of rain on the tent. It eventually stopped long enough for me to dry the tent down ready to pack. But like caring the car or mowing the lawn, this only caused the rain to come down in a flurries. When it did not go away I headed into town for breakfast. The Internet at the bakery was out, so I had my bread scroll with the locals watching the rain come down.
Eventually it stopped long enough to collapse the tent and throw it into the car (and I do mean throw). I had my wet weather gear on and still got soaked.
It rained off and on all day but by the time I reached Port Macquarie it had cleared to a lovely evening.
Day 13 – Port Macquarie to Katoomba
After taking some photos of the sunrise and packing up the tent, I sent off for Katoomba and the Blue Mountains.
Not wanting to go into Sydney itself, I took the Putty Road though to Richmond. This was an interesting drive with a couple of hundred kilometers of scenery similar to the Dandenongs in Melbourne.
At Richmond I managed to get a bit lost for awhile as even though I had all the maps there was a lot of road works in progress and the signs were minimal or wrong. Once through that I found a motel in Katoomba just on evening.
Day 14 – Katoomba
I had not been to the Blue Mountains before so I set off to see all of the tourist spots. It was a strange day weather wise, with brilliant sun one moment and pouring rain the next.
At this point I had a choice. I could go straight home along the Hume Highway or take the coast road and camp over a few days. The forecast was for several days of rain so I decided to drive straight home.
Day 15 – Katoomba to Melbourne
Heading for home was a long drive. I set off about 8 am and the conditions were terrible all day with rain pouring down so hard at times that I had to pull over to let it pass. I was very glad to reach home just after 8 pm.
Next time I will go somewhere it never rains and I do not have to drive.