Aussie East Coast Road Trip Part 1- Sydney to Noosa

Itinerary: 

  • Days 1-4: Sydney
  • Days 5-9: Tasmania (Strahan, Launceston, Bicheno)
  • Days 10-15: Sydney to Noosa Road Trip (Blue Mountains, Hunter Valley, Port Macquarie) 
  • Days 16-18: K’gari Island
  • Days 19-25: Noosa to Ciarns Road Trip (Byron Bay, Bundaberg, Rockhampton, Airlie Beach, Townsville)
  • Days 26-29: Cairns and Great Barrier Reef
  • Days 30-33: Melbourne
  • Days 34-41: Alice Springs & Uluru
  • Days 42-43: Back to Sydney then flying home

RTW Trip 2014: Peru→ Chile → Argentina → Antarctica → Argentina → Uruguay → Argentina→  Chile→ England → Morocco → Spain → France → Belgium → Netherlands → Germany → Czech Republic → Austria → Hungary → Croatia → Italy → Thailand → United States → Thailand → Laos → Vietnam → Cambodia → Australia → Taiwan

Dates: October 23-December 3, 2014

Our Odyssey: 

I am dreadfully behind in my blogging- right now Tim and I are en route from Townsville to Cairns, the last leg of our road trip, and I haven’t even written about the start of it yet. I’m blaming it in part on the lack of internet on this island they call Australia. But mostly typing is really difficult while in a bumpy, bouncing, camper van…

After the grand success of our Tasmanian road trip, we had high hopes for the 2 week east coast road trip we were about to begin- heading 4,100+ kilometers (2,500+ miles) from Sydney all the way up to Cairns. To be honest, though, it was off to a shaky start and had plenty of hiccups along the way. But life is highway, right?

We picked up our camper van (which I will from now on simply refer to as a van, since that’s literally all it is) early Sunday afternoon on November 2. We were excited when the man working at the rental company showed us the tacky, floral patterned “hippie camper” we would call home the next two weeks. The front had two seats like a normal van, and the back had a table and some seating that coverted into a bed. Underneath was storage with pots, pans and bowls, and in the very back was a sink, camper stove and a fridge. We were set!

Our first order of business was buying some initial groceries, and after some confusion getting to a grocery store, we were on the road headed for the Blue Mountains, a national park two hours drive outside of Sydney. We’d heard on the TV the night before that there was a wild fire there the day prior, but it seems as though land catches on fire all the time in Australia so we weren’t deterred.

It took us three minutes to uncover the first problem with our van, because three minutes is exactly how much time passes between turning the radio on, and the radio turning itself off. That’s right, every three minutes, for over two weeks, if we wanted to listen to the radio, we had to turn it on again every three minutes. In fact, I’ve turned it on five times since starting to write this post.

Make that six.

At the time though, we were only mildly annoyed and decided we could deal with it- it wasn’t too frustrating after all.

So we drove on, and soon the city fell away behind and was replaced with rolling hills of thick green forest. Our first stop in the Blue Mountains was at a lookout to view Wentworth Falls. They weren’t falling, but the view into the valley was impressive on its own.

We then drove on a bit more to a parking area at the trail head and info center for what are called the Three Sisters, three sandstone formations made due to erosion. A commonly told legend of allegedly aboriginal culture (some say this legend was actually made up by a non-aboriginal local) holds that three sisters from one tribe fell in love with three men from a neighboring tribe. Tribal law forbade marriage, and when the men tried to steal the sisters, a tribal elder turned the sisters to stone to protect them.

I was eager to see these rock formations, and so we set out on a hike that, according to the sign, would take about an hour round trip. Pretty quickly we reached a lookout point right against the first of the three rocks. We carried on, because I was confident that if we kept going we’d get to a view point where we could see all three. Soon we got to a sign that said “The Great Staircase”, 900 plus stairs from where we stood that went all the way down into the valley. Surely the viewpoint must be down there. Tim was skeptical, but we pressed on.

Five hundred or so stairs down, we were increasingly unsure of whether these stairs were actually taking us anywhere we wanted to be. We asked some guys passing by if, at the bottom of the stairs, there was a view of the Three Sisters. One guy, a local who said he’d been to this park and hiked this trail a few times, said he doesn’t think there is actually any place to get a good view of all three.

Alright then.

So, a little dejected, we started the schlep back up the 500 stairs we had gone down, deciding to cut our losses and go no further (since the more we went down, the longer the climb back up would be). After about 45 minutes of stairs back up the top, we were exhausted and ready to just get on the road and get to our campervan site for the evening. As we walked back past the info center, I noticed something we had both managed to miss when we started the hike- hoards of people crowded around a viewing platform.

Suddenly I understood. That view we just hiked an hour and half for, half up stairs, is accessible from the carpark, for just anyone to be able to park and see. No hiking required.

So, at the end of the day we got to see the view we were looking for, but we worked harder for it than pretty much everyone else on the viewing platform. On the brightside, we did spot a blue tongued lizard, a native Australian species, along the hiking trail. Yay wildlife.

We then made our way to our campervan site, and checked in to a powered site for the night. Now, Tim and I have never rented a campervan before or stayed overnight in at an RV park. When booking sites online for our first few nights, I always booked a powered site, figuring this meant there would be outlets nearby for us to charge our electronics. What it actually means is that it is a site where you can plug your van. Not because it’s a hybrid or electronic vehicle, but because this is how it charges the lights inside the vehicle as well as the fridge.

So we checked in, requested a powered site, and then attempted to plug it in. We weren’t sure what to expect, but the sparks that flew from the cord was not it. Tim avoided electrocution, and we assumed we plugged it in wrong or something. But when we tried to charge my tablet we realized we weren’t actually getting any power.

It was quarter to 7pm at this point, and the office of the RV park closes at 7, so Tim ran to the office and caught the office guy just as he was locking up for the day (15 minutes early…). He came and had a look at our set up, confirmed that the power source was sending power, but that our cord was not transmitting it to the van.

We showed him how it sparks when you plug it in.

“Whoa, unplug that, that’s dangerous! It should never spark like that.” He then ran back to the office and got one we could borrow for the night.

We would have to go to the hardware store the next day to buy a new lead (the cord that plugs in to the van) to replace the faulty one. We were relieved that things were set for the evening, but appalled that the rental company would send their customers off on a 16-day road trip with a faulty lead.

The next morning we went to Bunnings, the hardware store chain throughout eastern Australia, and bought a new lead, and then drove on to the wine country of Hunter Valley a few hours away.

When we got to our campsite, we went to plug in our van, confident we knew what we were doing this time. But, the new lead didn’t fit into the portal on the van. Tim fiddled with it for a while, to no avail. Tim realized we had bought the wrong size (apparently these things come in sizes). So it was back to Bunnings where we bought the right size this time. Our van, with the exception of the radio, was back in good shape (for the time being anyway).

The next morning we had arranged for a group winery tour of the region, starting at 10 in the morning. When our driver arrived, he told us we were the only ones on the tour that day. Apparently it was the day of the Melbourne Cup, a horserace that basically causes the entire country to shut down and watch. No Australian would go on a wine tour and risk missing the race! So for the price of a group tour, Tim and I had our own private tour, and all the flexibility that came with it in terms of the wineries we got to visit.

The first winery was one called McGuigan’s. A knowledgeable woman named Linda was behind the bar pouring for us and shared with us many varieties from the winery. We learned about the semillon, a white wine special to the Hunter Valley region. We also tried sparkling shiraz- the first sparkling red wine either of us had ever tried. I generally like shiraz and this was no exception. Tim did not particularly like it, however.

Our next stop was Tulloch’s, another staple of the region. The land came into the Tulloch family in the 1800s when a local man gave the land to the family to repay a debt. The Tulloch’s turned the land into a vinyard and have been profiting from the land for generations. At this winery, Amy was our server, and she was also very knowledgeable about wine (and a little bummed about having to work on the day of the Melbourne Cup). We tried several varieties, including a dessert wine that we surprisingly really liked.

Our next stop was a winery called Audrey Wilkinson, where after some tastings, Tim and I ate some sandwiches we had packed. We then visited a cheese shop, Binnorie, where we sampled many delicious cheeses and left with a jar of marinated feta.

The fourth wine stop was to a bottle shop specializing in chocolate and wine pairings, followed by a stop at the chocolate shop itself. The last two wineries we visited were Tempus Two, owned by the sister of the current owner of McGuigan’s, followed by Drayton’s, which specializes in port style wines.

Upon returning to our campsite and after resting a bit, we ventured out and got Pizza Hut for dinner (guilty pleasure).

The next day, we headed north along the coast to Port Macquerie, where we visited a koala hospital that treats orphaned and injured koalas found in the area, with the goal always being to rehabilitate them and return them into the wild. We saw one koala on the exam room, being treated for ticks and an eye infection (the result of chlamydia- a lot of those little guys have it…). The guided walk and talk around the hospital included stories about how some of them came to be in the hospital, and we also saw several orphaned babies in the trees, who were scheduled to be released back into the wild the following Monday. This means that by now, they’ve been back home for over a week!

That night we met up with some friends we’ve met along the way this year who happen to live in this small town. Josh was the first person we met on this trip while hiking the Inca Trail. Jenny and her daughter Emily, who were on our Intrepid Indochina trip with us last month, also live there and joined us for dinner along with Jenny’s husband. It was so great catching up with awesome people we’ve met this year and getting to see their town!

The next day was a long and miserable 9 hour drive out of New South Wales and into Queensland. We stayed the night in the popular backpacker town of Noosa and prepped for our next adventure- a three day camping trip onto K’Gari (often called Fraser Island), the world’s largest all-sand island!

Up to this point, our road trip was moving along with mixed success. Thankfully K’Gari changed that, and we were about to embark on an absolutely wonderful three day adventure.

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