Back On The Road…….Again!

Well, where did that month go? After what only seemed like a few days since we were unpacking the campervan into the Clifton Beach apartment we were loading up another one and leaving, for the last time, what has basically been our substitute home for a significant chunk of the year.

We had settled back in really quickly and, other than our friends Mark and Lisa not being there, things remained pretty much unchanged. The weather was a little hotter, the humidity was a little higher, and Rosie the dog was more than a little bigger, but more or less things remained the same. The permanent residents were all keen to find out how our trip had gone and were genuinely interested in our little adventures so we enjoyed sitting by the pool reliving our trip to The Northern Territory. The people here have been so friendly towards us and we are sure we will see some of them again in the future. An invitiation to New Zealand sounds very appealing but that is probably a long way down the line from here.

Our apartment block. Spot Sarah on the balcony.

Our time in the apartment was spent in a similar fashion to our time here before with lovely walks on the beach and lazing by the pool.

It was also Steve’s father’s 80th birthday and we had a virtual party which went really well. A video call allowed us to “be there” when he opened his cards and presents. We put balloons and a banner up in the apartment and we even supplied a birthday cake with candles which octogenarian Pete blew out all the way from England!

Getting ready for the virtual party.

We also used the time for Steve to continue with his cycling and running and for Sarah to catch up on some reading and dog walking. But, if we are honest, when the time came to leave we were both ready to go. We are both finding it harder and harder to stay in one place for any significant length of time and while this is not such a problem now, we can see it could be in the future so we will have to make some adjustments as the years progress. Also, this time things had felt slightly different and the situation had a different dynamic without Mark and Lisa. We were very lucky to find a couple who were so like minded as ourselves and to spend so much time together. We are still regularly in touch and are making plans to meet up again next Spring….. virus permitting!

So with a packed campervan (not quite as luxurious as the last one, but not far off) we locked up the apartment and handed back the keys. It was a sad goodbye to John and Sheree, our landlords. We had some hugs and goodbye photos on the beach and they bought us a great present which was a huge book of camping and walking all over Australia! So with Clifton Beach in the rear view mirror we set off for a new adventure.

Saying goodbye 😪

We were already fairly well North in Queensland but it is possible to go even further North before the sealed roads run out. It is possible to go all the way to the tip of Cape York on unsealed roads and tracks but our hire vehicle is only insured for sealed roads so Cooktown will be the end of the line for us. Before Cooktown though, we decided to make a stop at Cape Tribulation and are we glad we did. What a beautiful place. We drove as far as Daintree (where we had visited before) and then caught a ferry across the river. After that the road becomes narrow and twisting as it cuts through the Rainforest, and Daintree isn’t just any old Rainforest, it is the oldest one on earth.

In the thick of it!

It was a fabulous place to drive through with incredibly dense vegetation making you feel that ten steps off the road and you would be totally lost. Every so often the road snakes back to within a few metres of the ocean reminding you just where you are. In fact, this is the closest the mainland comes to The Great Barrier Reef and the Low Isles can be seen clearly from shore. It really is a remarkable part of The World. On our first day in Cape Trib, besides all the trees, lush vegetation, usual colorful birds and regular bats we saw three cassowaries, two monitor lizards, a forest dragon and a rat kangaroo!

Hello Mr Forest Dragon.

We found a small campsite with only 15 spaces, in the Rainforest only a 20 metre walk to a huge deserted beach and only two of hours after leaving the apartment we were well and truly back into ‘vanlife’.

The Rainforest meets The Ocean.

We spent the next couple of days exploring Cape Tribulation. There isn’t a town here as such, just a few isolated properties scattered around, one or two businesses running tours in the area and various types of accommodation from basic camping to high end luxury complexes. There is also an ice cream shop, not just any ice cream shop, this place was pretty unique. It was located a few miles from any other property beside a banana plantation and surrounded by an unusual orchard. Unusual in the fact the trees in the orchard were growing fruit from all corners of the world. Some of the fruits neither of us had heard of; Wattleseed, Jackfruit and Soursap were just three that spring to mind. The people who run the ice cream shop grow all this strange and tasty fruit and then use it to make the ice cream.

I’ve no idea what it is?

The whole thing is in a picturesque tropical garden….. why wouldn’t you stop for a scoop or two, or three, or in Sarah’s case four!!

Pretty special place to get a scoop or four!
Just keep that ice cream coming!

It was so good we stopped there on both our days in the area. On the day we were leaving Steve was up bright and early as he was keen to get moving, just so we passed the ice cream shop before it opened for the day!

Cape Tribulation had been a wonderful place to stop with beautifully accessible Tropical Rainforest right on the beach and we were lucky to have had amazing weather with cloudless blue skies, but now it was time to move on to our most northerly stop of Cooktown. There is an off road track through the rainforest that links Cape Trib and Cooktown, but yet again we were restricted by our vehicle which meant it was the long way round for us. The lack of four wheel drive has been at times frustrating and has meant us missing out on one or two things we would have liked to have done. We both agree that at some point in the future we would like to return to Australia for an extended period and buy a four wheel drive vehicle and do a different type of trip and then hopefully sell it at the end!!

Cooktown, population two and a bit thousand, was a real surprise to both of us, in a positive way. We thought, because of its location, it may have been a little bit forgotten about and maybe slightly run down. But it was just the opposite. There has obviously been some money invested in the town and the place looked clean and fresh while retaining many historic buildings in the main street.

The two main themes of Cooktown are the ‘Goldrush’ of the late 1800’s when tens of thousands of people decended on the town from all over the world and walked off into the outback to make their fortune by searching for gold. The other main theme is once again our old friend Captain Cook, whose ship was almost wrecked close to here and only just managed to make it safely into the river estuary before it almost sank. He spent several weeks here in 1770, repairing his vessel and trading with the indigenous people. The town was eventually named after him (they were going to name it after the year he landed but some imaginative person had already claimed that one!). There are also museums and memorials to him and his crew all over town.

Aye aye Captain!

We camped on the racecourse, on the outskirts of town, which was a free facility provided and maintained by the council and it was a great setting. We found some walks to secluded beaches, spent some time in the botanical gardens, sat and watched the world drift by on the esplanade, walked up a super, steep hill to the lighthouse and lookout and in general had a great mixture of being active and relaxing all at the same time.

Camping on the racecourse.
The walk up was worth the view.

After Cooktown it was time to turn around and head South to Sydney…. not in one or two days though! Instead, we are going to take a couple of months to do it. We have seen so much on our makeshift trip to Oz we feel that anything else now is a bonus, so we are going to take our foot off the gas take things easy and drift South with no particular plan and see what comes up.

We pulled into Port Douglas and camped on a guy’s front lawn. There were four or five others there and it was a reasonable size lawn. We thought we might stay for a few days as we really like Port Douglas, but then we realised we had seen pretty much all it has to offer in previous trips, plus the weather was getting pretty hot and the humidity was rising by the day. We needed a campsite with power so we could utilise our air conditioning unit! So we set off again.

Steve found a campsite at Cowley Beach….”Where?”, said Sarah. “I’ve never heard of it”. “Me neither”, replied Steve “but it’s got powered sites and it’s cheap”. We arrived and booked in for a night and got a pitch almost on the beach. The next day we booked in for a second night, then a third, then a fourth….. a bit like the ice cream scoops!

“We might be here for a while”

It was a really fabulous place, right in the middle of a huge 10 mile long, almost deserted, palm fringed bay, with golden sand, blue sea and tree covered islands dotted on the horizon. It was incredibly relaxing. On one occasion we spent the entire day within 30 metres of the campervan, something we never do. The most energetic thing that happened was a walk onto the beach, where Steve took his fishing rod and threw in his line and sat down to wait. Sarah joined him ten minutes later and found him fast asleep! In the afternoon we sat in the campervan, opened up the back doors, lay on the bed and looked out to the ocean with a cooling breeze blowing through. “We are going to have to move on soon, otherwise we could still be here in a month”, said Steve. “That wouldn’t be so bad”, said Sarah. In the evenings we would cook and then at dusk we would watch the colony of fruit bats make their way from their daytime home to their nightime feeding areas which took them directly over the campsite. Thousands and thousands of these huge bats made their way across the sky in the fading light. Every so often one or two would descend into the trees next to our van. When a couple of them circle close above your head you really see how big these creatures are.

After four great days at Cowley Beach we unplugged from the air con and headed once more into the heat and humidity and back up to the main highway. “Left or right?”, said Steve. “I don’t suppose we have time to pop back to that great ice cream shop in Cape Trib do we?”, replied Sarah. “No we don’t, it’s over 300 miles away”, said Steve”. Sarah replied, “OK, no harm in asking, better turn left then!”

“Get out of the freezer. The ice cream is all gone”!

Having a ‘Whale’ of a time!

We have been whale watching a couple of times in the past and had limited or zero success. Our first attempt at Kaikoura, in New Zealand, was cancelled before it even got started due to bad weather. In Monterey, California, we managed to get out into the bay and did get to see the humps of a couple of humpbacks from a distance. We had better luck that same week while cycling along Big Sur when a pod of about half a dozen whales were visible from land but they were still too far away to be clearly seen. Maybe this time would be different, we thought.

Hervey Bay is billed as one of the premier whale watching locations in Australia, maybe even The World. The annual migration of the whales from Antarctica to the warm waters off the coast of Tropical Far North Queensland has earned the route’s nickname of ‘The Humpback Highway’. We were in the middle of the season and due to low numbers of tourists it was possible to book last minute and therefore get perfect weather. Surely with everything in our favour this time we could not fail ……. and we absolutely did not fail. What a day, from start to finish.

There are numerous outfits in Hervey Bay running tours of all sizes, from a couple of dozen passengers up to the huge boats catering for well over a hundred. When doing this type of trip we always seem to use the smaller outfits as we find that although they tend to have less facilities you generally get more of a personal experience. We chose to go with The Pacific Whale Foundation, which puts profits back into whale research which seemed another good reason to choose them.The vessel was a 12 metre RIB with about 20 passengers, and a few seats were left vacant for Covid safety.

Off in search of whales.

As we left the harbour the water was like glass with clear blue skies above. The Captain turned on the power to the two huge outboard motors and we were soon flying up the coast of Fraser Island. To be honest the trip out on the boat on such a beautiful day was worth the money itself. We had only been going for about 15 minutes when the Captain spotted a couple of whales moving towards us in front of a sailboat. She navigated us a little closer and we got a great view as they swam by about 50 metres away and then disappeared under water with their tails, or flukes as they are called in the whale world, the last thing to vanish. We had never seen the classic sight of a humpback’s tail disappearing into the depths, so already we were impressed. She then said we would move on and try to find something better. “No no”, said Steve, “this is great, the best we have seen, let’s stay here”.

This is looking like a good day.

Another blast further up the coast of Fraser Island and we came across a couple of adults sleeping. This was the first time we have actually been able to appreciate the size of these huge creatures. They do seem pretty big when you start to get close up. We watched them drift around for a while, apparently with half of their brains switched off!!, before heading off again in search of more entertainment. “Looks like there is a bit of surface activity ahead”, declared the Captain, this turned out to be the second biggest understatement of the day. We had stumbled across two adults and a calf playing and the next forty five minutes were just amazing. It felt like we were in some sort of advertisement for whale watching tours. The calf just wanted to play and the adults were more than happy to join in. Up and down, tails out of the water as they were diving, noses out of the water as they came back up, laying on their backs, slapping their flippers and their tails in a non-stop performance.

Its play time!

Then as the Captain announced it was time to leave for our return journey the adults turned towards us, lined themselves up parallel to the RIB and cruised past just under the surface, no more than a couple of metres from the boat. It was definitely a goose bumps moment. They were four metres longer than our vessel and it felt like we could have reached over and touched them as they effortlessly cruised by. Even the crew were impressed stating it was the first time they had come so close all year!

Careful , they are getting closer.

We spent the return journey reflecting on everything we had seen. The sun was dropping low in the cloudless blue sky, as we raced across the flat calm deep turquoise water with the golden sand dunes and green forests of Fraser Island acting as a fitting backdrop. What a fabulous day. “This Australia place is really quite good”, said Steve, which was definitely the biggest understatement of the day!

With the Whale watching over and done with, we spent one more night camping at the local football ground who charged campers a nominal fee to stay in order to boost the club funds. We really have camped in some unusual and great places on this trip. It was then time to move on North again. We made a quick detour to the ginger beer factory in Bundaberg (we have seriously become addicted to this stuff) before arriving at our next stop of 1770.

The Bundaberg visitors centre!

Our plan on this drive up the coast was to stop at places which were a little more off the beaten track. 1770 is one of these and unusual in the fact the town is a number! In the year 1770, after Captain Cook first landed in Australia in Botany Bay, an area which has since expanded and is now known as Sydney, he continued up the coast and his next port of call was in a small bay which (probably through lack of imagination) was named after the year of the landing.

The Headland at 1770.

It is still a relatively small, but very beautiful place with amazing views from the headland. We also discovered a great walk which took us over three further headlands and across three empty beaches before lunch time and then on the way back we took time out to watch sea eagles cruising around the cliffs eyeing up their lunch. We had planned to stay a couple of nights in 1770 but ended up staying a third and could have easily stayed longer but our fear of missing out on other great places further north forced us back on the road.

Part of our walk at 1770.

Next stop, Blacks Beach. Here we stopped for a coffee and stayed two days! It would possibly  have been more but we were run out of town ……. by swooping magpies! Seriously, we are not making this up. From Central Queensland to Victoria during the early spring the magpies start to swoop! Steve has experienced it before but to a much lesser scale. Here it was chaos! Sometimes walkers are targets, sometimes joggers, but mainly cyclists feel the brunt of the attacks. Out of nowhere they swoop down and either peck at the cyclists helmet or attack it with their claws in what can sometimes be a repeated onslaught. One day, on a two hour cycle, Steve encountered nine swooping magpies with the most persistent having six swoops. “It is pretty nice here”, he said on the third morning “but enough is enough, let’s go”.

If anyone is interested there are some good clips on youtube of these dive bombing birds, even a guy on a Harley gets a beating…. serious stuff!

We then had a few days in one of our old favourites of Airlie Beach. This is where we met our Dutch friends, Mark and Lisa, back in March. Back then the place was like a ghost town, probably the most affected place we have personally seen during the pandemic. Now it was a hive of activity again, not quite back to normal because of the lack of international travellers, but with everything open, campsites almost full and trips to the beautiful Whitsunday Islands back and available. The place was buzzing. Plus, with only minimal numbers of the kamikaze magpies, Steve was able to get out for some longer rides in peace.

Steve and an audience of ducks at the campsite.

One morning in Airlie Beach we woke up and heard a strange tapping sound on the roof of the van, so we got out of bed, got dressed and went outside to investigate. The sky was dark and something strange and wet was falling on our heads. “I think this is what they call rain”, said Sarah. “Oh yes, I remember, didn’t it do that for a few days back in June?”, said Steve. “What are we going to do for the day?”. Large areas of Australia do get rain at certain times of the year, in fact severe flooding is a major problem in some places, but it is possible to plan your trip around the country avoiding ‘The Wet’, as the rainy season is referred to. This is pretty much what we have tried to do. Having lived in the UK, we feel we have had our fair share of the wet stuff and, as such, avoid it if we can. But occasionally, like the day in Airlie Beach, it just catches up with us! We did, however, have plenty to keep ourselves busy including e-mails, the blog and the dreaded shopping. We both find it quite easy to avoid and put off shopping as neither of us, especially Steve, are that keen on it. One big plus out of this particular day’s shopping, however, was that Steve managed to pick up a fishing rod. This was also a big plus for Sarah as now he might stop annoying her on the beach while she is enjoying a good book! After a brief lesson by the store assistant, a few youtube videos and armed with equipment some of which he had never heard of including hooks, sinkers, spinners, trace wire and a slab of frozen squid, he was good to go.

Maybe I should have bought that Stand Up Paddleboard instead?

Cycling however is still Steve’s number one sport so the following day when normal service was resumed and the sun came out he was off on a long bike ride. While he was out and about he stumbled across a nice looking place called Dingo Beach. He came rushing back into the campsite from his bike, jumped off and said “Sarah, pack up we are moving on”!

Dingo Beach and the adjacent beaches of Hideaway Bay and Froggies Beach make up part of the peninsula of Cape Gloucester and what a brilliant location it is. The area had a real feeling of remoteness but was still only 40 minutes drive from the hustle and bustle of Airlie Beach. We have been on so many fabulous beaches that it is easy to get complacent, but this place was something special. It was like being on The Whitsunday Islands while still on the mainland. We could go on and on about how we loved it here but instead we will just post a few photos. Steve said if he could only go to five places in Australia this would definitely be one of them!

We had stayed so long at Cape Gloucester that we only had a couple of days left to travel the 400 miles back to Cairns. We had no plans as to where to stop so Sarah did some research and spotted what looked like an interesting location at a place called Balgal Beach. It turned out to be a great beach for a walk, but this place was all about the campsite Sarah found. Since we started in the first campervan back in February we have been using an app called Wikicamps. If you ever come and camp in Australia you must use Wikicamps. It lists almost every campsite in the country, from free basic roadside locations to the big luxury every facility included sites, with fees, reviews and photos included. It also shows places of interest, dump points and a whole host of other things and it works offline. Don’t leave home without it!

Eating again!

This time Sarah found one on a golf course, with only space for about a dozen vans, so we were lucky to get in. The site also had a bowling green. It seems every town in Australia, no matter how big or small, has a swimming pool and a bowling green and they are mad for it. After parking up and having a brew we had a lovely walk on the beach and then Steve decided to go for a run around the golf course. Now we have seen a fair bit of wildlife so far on this trip and kangaroos and wallabies have featured high on the numbers count. However, never have we seen them in such large numbers or size as around the golf course. On his run Steve tried to count them but gave in and ended up estimating he saw upwards of 150 ‘roos. Some of them were massive, well over six feet tall and quite imposing as they stood upright watching him closely as he ran past. He was so impressed, the following evening he took Sarah around the course (walking not running!) and there were at least another hundred out and about.

We decided to stay another night at the site, for three reasons. Firstly, Sarah was desperate to have a game of bowls, secondly, it was cheap as chips at A$5 (£2.50) per person, and thirdly, Steve had found a hill about half an hour’s cycle away which went up for 12 miles. He was never going to be able to resist that one! After he returned from his ride, tired but happy it was time for the bowling challenge.

This is going to be easy !

We paid our green fees of A$2 (£1) each and with the temperature rising well into the 30’s we strolled onto the green. “I’ve never played this before”, “What are the rules”, ”How do I hold the bowls?”, were all questions Sarah asked as she set up for the game. “This is going to be a walk in the park”, thought Steve. However, two hours and two games later and Steve had been thoroughly beaten … twice. What made it worse was the rest of the campers had been watching and when they found out Sarah had won Steve had to endure an evening of Aussies taking the p!$$ out of him, an activity they are pretty well practiced in! After a couple of ciders at happy hour in the bar, another great day had come to an end.

Look at that style!

The following morning we made our way up the last few miles of coast to Cairns where we were returning the campervan. We have had nine amazing weeks which far, far exceeded our expectations. From the gorges, waterfalls and crocs of the Far North, along the endless, empty roads of the Outback with it’s quirky pubs, down to the Red Centre and it’s iconic monoliths and back to the amazing beaches of the Queensland coast, we have had an absolute ball.

Now it is back to the apartment where we were before. We plan to stay there for a month or so to get a little rest and make some plans for the immediate future. This pandemic thing appears to be rising again in Europe and is having an impact on our plans once more.

Steve: “You know I let you win at bowls don’t you? And I was a bit dehydrated and dizzy from my cycle”.

Sarah: “Whatever, I played with one eye shut…. loser!” 🙂