Our first stop after crossing the border into Queensland was at our old favourite, Noosa Heads. It seems strange to talk about borders within a country, especially borders with checkpoints and permits to pass, especially in a country like Australia, but that is how the country has now become. Each of the State Governors, with the exception of New South Wales, has seized the opportunity to shut off their individual States, not only from each other, but also from the rest of the World. Australians are now not allowed to leave the country without obtaining a permit and only citizens and a very few exceptions are allowed to enter. They then have to enter a forced quarantine at a Government designated hotel. One person has already been jailed for breaking this quarantine.
From an outsider’s point of view it appears that Australia is happy to isolate itself from the rest of the World in an attempt to keep the number of virus cases and deaths to an absolute minimum. The Government is not saying they want to totally eradicate the virus but the figures suggest that they are not far from it.
So where does that leave us? Well, essentially we are no longer in Australia. We are in the independent State of Queensland!! Travel between most of the other States is either impossible or involves a long quarantine. The only exception is travel into New South Wales where we can enter but would be unable to leave easily or quickly. This situation however suits us down to the ground…. for now.
Anyway enough of travel restrictions and other inconveniences and back to Noosa. We have visited here a couple of times before and also stopped here for a couple of days with Glen back in January! We decided to stay for four days this time and take some time to enjoy the area and consolidate our plans for the next couple of months. We still have a couple of weeks left in the campervan so a steady drive up the 1000 mile coast to Cairns seemed to be the best option.
Noosa is an extremely picturesque location. Several tributaries of the Noosa river wind their way through the town into the ocean. Road bridges criss-cross the tributaries which are busy with all manner of water activities such as, fishing, rowing, kayaks and stand up paddle boards are everywhere. All of this is surrounded by lush green vegetation and luxury homes which line the river banks. Then you hit the beach with wide, golden sand and warm blue waters. The whole area is pretty good.
While we were there Social Distancing was beginning to take hold and the Police were patrolling the beach but we didn’t see anyone who needed to be spoken to as there was plenty of room for everyone and people were doing the right thing. Adjacent to the beach is a National Park with a network of tracks which climb up onto the cliffs above the beach and extend for about 7 or 8 miles or so. We did a couple of walks in the Park which had amazing views of the coastline. We went to gorgeous coves, only accessible by foot, and watched the surfers in droves doing their thing. There are also apparently several koalas in the Park but after two days of straining our eyes and getting aching necks on the lookout for these little creatures, we unfortunately didn’t get to see any. We did however see plenty of pretty big spiders and lizards along the way!!
Whilst in Noosa we also became aware of one or two shops closing for business due to the lack of custom, although most were still open and all cafes and restaurants were still serving takeaway food and drink, but the impact of the virus was definitely making itself known to the tourist industry.
We left Noosa after four days and contemplated staying longer but Cairns was still several hundred miles away and the days were ticking down. The theme of ‘staying longer’ was a reoccurring one and at every place we stayed up the Queensland Coast we could easily have extended our stay everywhere. There were locations we hoped to visit but could not squeeze them in with enough time to do them justice. This part of the World is visually impressive in so many locations.
We made a stop for a couple of nights in a place called Yeppoon. We had never heard of it before, but looking at the map it looked logistically a good location for a break. On arrival at our campsite we found the place mostly deserted and had to fill in a form at registration with details of several things including our reasons for travelling. “This is all starting to get a little serious”, we thought. Yet again our campsite was right on the beach, which was vast and empty. We had a relaxing couple of days walking along the beach and exploring the local town, which was mainly still functioning as normal with the now familiar Social Distancing!
Out next stop was the small town of Airlie Beach. This is a town that relies heavily on tourism and markets itself as the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and the Southern end of The Great Barrier Reef. Unfortunately, due to the virus, the gateway was shut and heavily padlocked!! No excursions at all were operating, the town was deserted and for the first time the virus was having a significant impact on a place that we were visiting.
We found a campsite just a couple of miles out of town and on checking in we were now faced with an even more detailed registration form, including where had been staying in the last couple of weeks, what was our reason for travel and health questionnaire. The campsite was barely 10% full but it was still in a great location and immaculately kept. The staff seemed to have plenty of time to look after all the tropical plants instead of catering for needy campers:-)
When you expect a location to be a hive of activity and it resembles something of a ghost town it can be a little disconcerting at first and this was our initial feeling in Airlie Beach. We don’t have a TV and so our news comes from one or two internet feeds we choose to read so we are not overrun with constant news channels and updates. Consequently, we were a little unsure as to what we could and couldn’t do, but that feeling seemed to be true for locals, business owners, tourists and Police alike. Everyone seemed to have their own interpretation of what was allowed and what wasn’t. It was clear to us that everyone was finding their way in the ‘New’ Australia!
We spent some time sitting back and taking stock of our position. We could still walk, run, go to the beach, get a takeout coffee, go into most shops, drive between towns in our campervan and get a place at most campsites, as long as we kept some distance between ourselves and others around us. In effect, our lives hadn’t changed that much. So that is just what we continued doing, all of the above and Sarah was still finding some great locations to stop for lunch.
Although the prospect of the marathon in Kazakhstan has now well and truly disappeared, Steve is still keeping up the running in the hope that a race may open up later in the year. One morning in Airlie Beach he went out for a run “I’m planning on doing about 16 miles”, he said as he left. As we are travelling North the temperature is also going North and so is the humidity. As Steve ran the mercury soared and it wasn’t long before it settled in the low 30’s. When he returned his clothes were soaked with sweat and he definitely looked the worst for wear “I feel like a candle that just melted”, he said as he headed straight for a cold shower!
Our neighbours on the campsite at Airlie Beach were a Dutch couple, Mark and Liza. We got chatting (from a distance of over 1.5 metres of course). They had travelled through South East Asia, New Zealand and now Australia and were in a similar situation as we were with regards to travelling to Cairns and then a little unsure about what happens then. Steve noticed that Mark had a bike squeezed into the van and it transpired he was a keen cyclist who cycles for a top level amateur club in The Netherlands. Well that was that…chat chat chat, natter natter natter, Tour de France this, Giro D’Italia that, who is better, Chris Froome or Tom Demoullin? Everyday they were at it, then in the evenings we pulled our chairs to the end of our campsite space, and they did the same on theirs, and the evenings were spent socialising with Social Distancing! Mark could speak perfect English and Liza was pretty good too so this added an enjoyable new dimension to our trip.
We left Airlie Beach after four days, with Steve even more determined to get a bike ….. especially after Mark had said they should cycle together in Cairns in a couple of weeks time. However, getting a bike was more difficult than we thought. Sarah did some great work searching ‘Gumtree’ (a website she uses back in the UK for buying and selling second hand items). Our problem was since travelling North of Brisbane the area has become less and less populated and everytime Sarah found something that might be suitable was several hundred kilometers away! It became more and more apparent that the only place with a reasonable chance of getting something was as we passed through Cairns.
We had one more stop to make on our way to Cairns and we chose to make it in a place called Mission Beach. This was definitely one of those places where we did not spend enough time. A tropical, picture postcard location which was quite out of the way of the grip of Covid-19. With a campsite right on an almost deserted beach our two day stop was way too short. We both agreed a return visit one day was a must. Mission Beach is also a breeding area for the Cassowary. These are strange looking, almost prehistoric, flightless birds which can grow to over two metres high. The local community is very protective over the Cassowary and there are signs by the road where recent sightings have been made. We were very lucky because as we drove into town Steve spotted one by the side of the road and Sarah was out of the van in flash capturing a few photographs.
We both felt a little sad leaving Mission Beach, not only because it was a lovely place but also we were starting the final leg of what has been an amazing journey both across and up Australia. We have seen so much, visited some new fantastic places as well as some old favourites, and had some great laughs along the way! Although we still had a four day stop in Port Douglas planned we had to pass our final destination of Cairns to get there.
Just South of Cairns though we had two important stops to make. Sarah had come up trumps on ‘Gumtree’ and found a couple of promising places to pick up a bike. So promising in fact that not only did Steve pick up a half decent road bike but Sarah also managed to get her hands on a mountain bike. She even managed to negotiate with the guy that he would buy it back from her when we leave! We’ll see how that one works out!
So after making a few adjustments to the interior of the van we squeezed the bikes into the back…. and sides…. and front and set off to Port Douglas!
The last time we were here it was a buzzing hive of activity. With tourists of every description, from backpackers to multi millionaires visiting second homes. This time it was deserted. Except for a few locals and a stray tourist or two there was no one about. It was approaching Easter and the Government here were really ramming home the ‘non-essential travel’ theme, no going away for an Easter break, no visiting second homes, “Stay at home” was definitely the message. This, along with the closure of the State borders, almost completely shut off tourist travel. Police were even sent out to monitor campsites to ensure only authorised people were there. Luckily we fell into the category of ‘not having a permanent home’ and so were allowed on sites.
We started doing more walking again, including along Four Mile Beach, and up to Flagstaff Hill for great views of the area. We started to use our bikes to travel the five miles or so into town and back from the campsite, and Steve started to get out on some longer routes by himself. We also noticed a significant change in the weather. It has been very warm since we entered Queensland, but now there was the added factor of the high humidity. This was just about manageable during the day, especially as our campsite had a lovely pool which was unbelievably still open. But at night, with no air conditioning, it made sleeping difficult. It seemed that every time we did anything, other than sit down, the sweat taps were turned on!! We knew in time we would start to acclimatise, but for now it was hard work.
Whilst we were in Port Douglas we had some big decisions to make. Our campervan was due back in just a few days, we had an apartment booked in a place called Palm Cove for eight days and then we had another campervan booked for 30 days before our flight home. Our main decision centered around the viability of taking on another campervan. Although it was going to be self contained, and with aircon, we had seen first hand how it was getting more and more difficult to get on fewer and fewer campsites. Being without a campervan would mean being without transport, but on the other hand we now had our bikes and so getting around locally was going to be possible as would be the occasional run to the supermarket which was close by. “Hey, we cycled from Canada to Mexico last year, I’m sure we can carry a rucksack full of food a couple of miles each week!”
So we decided to cancel the campervan and spend the next month in an apartment in Palm Cove, take our foot off the gas for a while, stop all this running around and just enjoy the location for what it is ….. a tropical paradise. So it was with a certain amount of sadness that we unloaded our belongings from the campervan into the apartment and settled down for the long haul.
It has been an amazing trip, one we never envisaged doing when we left the UK back in January. We have seen so much, from the white sand beaches of Western Australia, to the desolate but beautiful trip across the Nullabor, from the vineyards of the Barossa Valley, to the palm trees and sugar cane fields of Queensland, from the bustling cities of Sydney and Melbourne, to the numerous isolated coves along the East Coast, from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. We have driven a total of just under 9,000 kilometers, which is the equivalent distance of driving from London to New Delhi, in India, and we have loved every minute.