Just like the Radio Times Christmas TV guide, this is a bumper edition. So sit back get a glass of your favourite tipple and read on.
The weather has been a bit mean to us over the last few days, gradually getting worse (the worst Australia has seen in 65 years.) Did this little bit of dodgy weather spoil our fun? No we wouldn’t let it.
Here’s what happened in between the showers and the clouds as we leave the Gold Coast for a bit of nature, ecology and some beautiful mountain drives.
Fraser Island Beckons
We had been pondering a Fraser island trip direct from Broadbeach but this would have meant an extremely long day (starting at 3.15am and not finishing until 10pm). Instead we decided to hire a car for three days and try and squeeze in some self guided tours of our own into the bargain.
Our first piece of luck came in finding a car hire company that was about $70 cheaper than any others, courtesy of Tracy from Paradise Blue. The car was delivered an hour later than promised, but as compensation she upgraded us from the Suzuki Swift we had ordered to a Ford Focus and by way of an apology she knocked off a day’s rental, wonderful service. The money gods continue to shine upon us on the Gold Coast.
Broadbeach to Noosa
The plan was to drive up to Noosa (slowly) and see what we could find to see on the way. All that we had planned was to leave the Highway soon after Brisbane and meander up the coast. This went to plan until soon after Brisbane we spotted a Brown sign with a tourist route promising the Glass House Mountains. A flick of the indicator and we were off the highway and cruising up the Steve Irwin Highway.
Steve, you may recall, used to put his head in the mouths of Crocodiles and handle snakes like they were worms until tragically nature caught up with him in a freak accident with a stingray in 2006 and the road was named after him in 2007 as on it lies the Australia Zoo which he and his family run and manage.
After a pee and fag stop (and my first composting toilet) we spotted the Glass House Mountain Info Centre. In we popped and talked to the first of our many pleasant tourist information ladies of the three days. She recommended we visit the lookout for a view of the Mountains a short 15 minute detour. Who are we to argue and for our acquiescence we were gifted a most beautiful view of the seven Glass House peaks which were formed by volcanic activity some 25million years ago. They were named thus by Cook in 1770 who spotted them from the sea thought they looked like the Glass Kilns in Northern England (not very creative was he Mr Cook?)
We headed back coastward, along Route 6 toward Caloundra. A medium sized town with a small pretty beach set on an inlet. From there we stopped, en route to Coolum, at Point Arkwright. This was a lovely little find as the rest area is set up high on a lookout with stairs down to the beach. We were snapping some coastal photos when we spotted some sea eagles swooping about the cliffs in the distance. They are amazing to watch as they hover and glide, searching out their next meal. We watched them for a while and then tried to get some shots of the majestic creatures as they got closer, sorry only managed one of its arse. We stopped for lunch at Coolum Beach and while the beach was pretty, we are by now quite picky and choosy so to us it looked like a lot of other surfers beaches we had seen so we got out and headed for our hotel in Noosa.
The Anchor Hotel
We were only going to be in Noosa for one night so the accommodation wasn’t really that important. It was just somewhere to sleep before we were up at 5am the following morning to start our trip to Fraser Island. It was the cheapest we could find (as we are now realising that means anywhere from £50 – £60 a night in Australia) but had a big bonus. Free high speed wifi!!
All travel gadgets were packed for the trip with this knowledge. After our mooch around the rather delightful marinas and Noosa River views I got to work updating and uploading anything I could possibly think of. I am sure at one point I could hear the router straining.
The place was spotlessly clean but run by a rather strict couple (I saw three surfer dudes being read the riot act after they returned from the bottle shop with a six pack each under their arms, and that was before a drop had touched their lips – no party for them that evening) but it had fast internet so what did we care.
Noosa is swanky. It has swanky cafes, coffee bars, marinas and boutiques. I suppose it is where posh Queenslanders have their weekend retreats. It also has more roundabouts than Swindon. Oh and also more fish and chip shops than Blackpool. Although I have never seen Blackpool fish and chip shops sell Barracuda or Calamari with chips, so I think we have to term their fish and chip shops as swanky as well.
We were not here long enough to know but I think it is safe to say that if you want to live here you will have to have a swanky bank account too. It was pretty though and had a nice feel to it; swanky doesn’t have to mean snobby.
I Never Knew Sand Could be So Interesting
This is not a trip you can do yourselves, it requires a four wheel drive, permits and most importantly local knowledge of the tides and the sand routes. We witnessed numerous adventurous amateurs on Fraser Island stuck in the sand as well as rusted wreckage on the beach which used to be someone’s four wheel pride and joy before their inexperience and the tide decided it was in fact theirs to claim.
Fraser island is all about sand. The island is the largest sand island on earth. While you may be unimpressed by that statement, here are some facts that make it a lot more interesting
It is 120Km by 25Km in size, the sand goes over 650M down towards the bedrock
It supports enormous eucalyptus woodlands, mangrove forests, wallum and peat swamps, sand dunes and coastal heaths which all grow and survive not in soil, but in sand which has a unique funghi within it allowing it to support plant life.
It has over 100 freshwater lakes that are prevented from draining through the sand by the build up of plant matter over hundreds of thousands of years. One of the largest Lake Mackenzie we had a swim in – nice and surprisingly warm.
As well as the ecology and aboriginal history of its discovery and exploration by Cook and Matthew Flinders, the day also provided some boys toys type treats. You do the tour aboard a 14 seater 4X4 monster vehicle which for a good part of the trip has you hurtling along the miles of beach across the seashore at speeds of around 70kmph with the sea on your right and the sand dunes to your left.
Only the occasional spotting of a Dingo, Turtle or Sea snake will force the driver to stop to take a look. Alternatively, you are bumping along the sandy inland tracks at about 10kmph being bounced around like you are on a theme park ride. Both of which activities I enjoyed like any big kid should.
Sadly, we were not offered the chance to drive, although that’s probably best for the rest of the tour group.
We saw many sights and here is our tick list
• Wild horses – wondrously wild (but not on Fraser Island, they were all removed by Australia National Parks)
• Our first wallaby – alive and bouncy with its baby in tow
• A Sea Snake, thankfully dead
• Our first wild dingo – thankfully a truck window separated us from it
• A very big lizard who was too quick for me to catch a complete pic
• Bush turkeys – as ugly as Bernard Mathhews’
• 2000 year old ferns – they looked quite good for their age
• Many many varieties Eucalyptus (“Eukips” or “Gum trees” as the Aussies call them)
The final stop before home, and the 2½ hour drive back to the Gold Coast, was Rainbow Beach. It should be called Rainbow rocks actually as the beach is all the same colour, its the coastal rocks which are multicoloured. The colours run from white sand to deep red depending on the levels of iron oxide within them as they were formed. Quite spectacular but again odd that sand mixed with organic matter forms a rock which can support what sits on them above.
Drive to Byron Bay – or Not
Arriving back at our ‘home’ in Broadbeach for the evening, a quick snack, a sleep and the next morning we head South instead of North to New South Wales. The final destination was Byron Bay, we never made it there, serendipity got in the way, as did a bit more shit weather.
The plan had been to take the coast road down to Byron. This all went to plan as we passed through Tweed Heads, stopped at Kingcliff on a very cloudy yet deserted beach and then through Pottsville and Mooball (which we think was named because of a preponderance of cows witnessed on its outskirts).
We then saw another of the ‘brown signs’ as John and I now call them and decided to follow it. This led us through some striking views and countryside which we never expected to encounter on this journey as it forced us inland from the coast. We persevered and ended up in Muriwillumbah (no I still don’t know how to pronounce that even after asking in the Info Centre) where we met my favourite tourist info person. She suggested us to abandon our ‘tick off the list’ Byron Bay journey as it will be “chocca” as she termed it. We were also a little skeptical after speaking to a surfer guy, who’d worked in Oz for the last three years, who told us it was good for the surf and suggested we check out the mountains, if we weren’t surfing. Instead she set out a route which would take us through some national parks up into the mountains, via a rainforest or two, a slightly scary 20km mountain single lane dirt track (or unsealed road as they are deemed here) and a Queensland/New South Wales mountain border crossing.
We were glad we listened; it was a stunning drive with some amazing views. At times when you looked at the distant mountains and fields you could have fooled yourself we were driving through Yorkshire or the Lake district until you got closer and heard the strange sounds and looked at the unfamiliar trees, palms and ferns which made up the hills.
On the journey we saw lots of honesty box supersize fruit and veg stalls scattered along our route. It was a day when we didn’t see many other human beings, for the most part of this day we had the rainforests and the roads to ourselves. This, along with the strange birds and butterflies swooping past the windscreen, made it a very special and satisfying day trip for the two of us.
The route took us to the following places; if you find yourself in this part of Australia turn in from the coast and experience some of this most scenic Australian hinterland.
• Wollumbin National Park – stunning throughout
• Mount Warning – the rainforest in the rain - perfect
• Uki – was a bit cooky, with lots of organic and holistic fare on offer
• Tvalingum – at the end of the dirt track and we were relieved to get there
• Chillingham – very Olde Worldly
• Leaving New South Wales and back into Queensland through the Lamington National Park through Numinbah and down through to Nerang
Driving in Australia is relatively easy given its on the same side as us Poms (we have been referred to as Poms quite a bit now and I quite like it), but some of their road rules and motorway driving leave a lot to be desired.
Our final stop was a shopping trip to stock up for Christmas day supplies, and yes it does include shrimps.