We've been on the road now for 13 days so we're officially halfway through! It's been amazing so far, we've had some fantastic experiences, and have plenty more still to come. Unfortunately I somehow left the cable to connect the camera to the laptop at home so I haven't been able to share any camera photos. I've taken plenty of photos with my phone though and shared those on Facebook and various other social media places. Once we return and I can compile all the photos together I might do a post here with the best. I will definitely have Facebook albums in any case! In the mean time, this post is going to be photo-free and just a summary of the highlights so far, for those people not on Facebook (or Twitter).
We took it easy for the first couple of days because I wasn't sure how much driving I could handle and how well the van was going to go. We stayed a couple of nights on the Sunshine Coast and went to Australia Zoo, which was much better than I expected. I was never a fan of Steve Irwin but his passion for nature shows through in the Zoo and it was quite good. We also went to the Eumundi Markets which were really cool, and bought a neat wind ornament for our patio.
After the Sunshine Coast we stopped at Hervey Bay for a whalewatching tour with WhaleSong which was completely mindblowing. I'd never experienced anything like it before and would highly recommend it. We got to see plenty of whales that came right up to the boat to check *us* out. WhaleSong were great - the numbers were small, the food was good, the staff were friendly and helpful, and the price was very reasonable. Highly recommended experience!
We'd changed our mind about which whalewatching operator to go with, and because the tour we did left a bit later and then also ran late, we got halfway to 1770 then realised we were never going to make it before the reception at the caravan park closed. So we had our first deviation from the itinerary and went to Bundaberg instead, staying at Bargara Beach which is just out of the city. We might still do 1770 on the way back now that we don't need to do Bundaberg. We did the Bundaberg Rum Factory tour, which was really interesting (and included free rum!), and then the Bundaberg Ginger Beer tour, which was in a cool barrel-shaped building but wasn't as interesting as the Rum Factory (but also included free ginger beer!). On the way from Bundy to Rockhampton we stopped at the Mystery Craters which were overpriced and very disappointing. They had so much potential to be interesting but were just tacky.
Once we got to Rocky it was pretty late and the YHA had no beds so we splashed out on a hotel room for the night at the Criterion Hotel, a Rocky icon. The hotel rooms are period rooms and quite old-fashioned, with really high ceilings, but ours did have an ensuite with a toilet and a shower so we were set. It was actually kind of inconvenient, sleeping away from the van, because we kept remembering things we'd wanted to bring up. With the van we have everything in one spot, its very convenient. Between Bundy and Rocky we also ticked over our first 1000 kilometres and at Rocky we officially crossed the Tropic of Capricorn and arrived in the tropics!
After Rocky we had a very long drive to Airlie Beach. The Bruce Highway fatigue-busting signs are hilarious and included suggestions such as playing trivia games to keep your mind alert (they even asked the first question: what is Queensland's floral emblem?). We finally also spotted some kangaroos each, but no live ones on the road, and thankfully didn't hit one (and thus avoided carrying on the family tradition of taking out a kangaroo on Aussie roadtrips). There is a LOT of sugarcane in North Queensland, it's EVERYWHERE. It smells like molasses when you drive past even. The Airlie Beach Nomads had a deal where we could pay $5 a night each to park our van in their "caravan park" spots and use the hostel amenities. It was really cheap, but the Airlie Beach Nomads is very much a party hostel and it was pretty noisy. We didn't do anything in Airlie Beach other than chill out before moving on to Townsville.
Once we got to Townsville, we realised that the Adventurers Resort backpackers $5 a night deal was literally parking in their carpark and so we ditched that idea and stayed in a caravan park instead. It turned out to be an excellent idea, because we met this great old fella who was doing an extended roadtrip all over Oz on his Honda Valkyrie touring motorbike with nothing but a little bike trailer and his swag - and a pipe and several bottles of whisky! He'd been on the road for 4 months so far and still had a long way to go to weave his way back to Perth. It would have been awesome for my Daddy or some of my uncles to meet him, they would have had a great natter. While in Townsville we did a day trip to Magnetic Island and rented a moke for the day. It was great fun to hoon around in. We also did a walk to the Forts which was a military base in World War II and I saw a snake but Dave (thankfully) didn't. We went up to a couple of lookouts on Castle Hill and Mt Stuart which had amazing views. Townsville was a great stop and much nicer than I expected.
On the way out of Townsville we notched up 2000km and headed to Girringun National Park, our first campground and first night away from civilisation. The road through the national park to Wallaman Falls runs through a cattle station and there were plenty of the weird-looking NQ cattle (brahmans) on the road. The falls, which are the highest single-drop falls in Oz, were really spectacular and the campground was surprisingly busy and practically full. Another JUCY campa turned up which was a huge surprise also, and I'm sure it was the same trio of German backpackers we had also seen at Airlie Beach! The night away from civilisation passed peacefully and on the way back down through the rainforest we saw a wild cassowary which was amazing! There had been plenty of warning signs saying they were in the area (along with warning signs about feral cattle!), but we still never thought we would see one in the wild even though we were so hopeful. It was just such a moving experience and we were so excited.
Once back on the highway we decided to skip Mission Beach for now (because we didn't really have anything planned there) and shoot straight through to Cairns, so we arrived in Cairns 2 days earlier than planned, on Thursday, and checked in to the Cairns Holiday Park which is a very backpacker-oriented caravan park and really convenient. There's many more foreign tourists here instead of just Australian grey nomads so its a bit more interesting. So far in Cairns we've done a daytrip to Kuranda on the Scenic Railway and the Skyrail (a gondola) which was lovely (although Kuranda itself is overrated), and a self-driving daytrip to the Atherton Tablelands where we did a Skybury Coffee Plantation tour and had Devonshire Tea at Mungalli Creek Dairy. Dave is really not keen on going to Cape Tribulation so we may just do Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge as a daytrip (or trips) and stay in Cairns a bit longer before heading back south.
Stay tuned for Part II!