Lazy Sydney

What a treat to wake up in a huge hotel bed with fancy linen rather than in a king single bed with sheets that haven’t been washed for a month. We got up and walked across the road to a small cafe with good reviews and cheap food for breakfast. Matt was getting picked up early by his boss so I found myself alone in the hotel with nothing planned at 8am. I decided to make the most of the amenities and went to the gym to do some weights and have a run on the treadmill. I was pleasantly surprised to find I can still run 4km without stopping and feeling too awful despite months of laziness. I found a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and then went for a walk to Oxford Street and got my nails done for Christmas. Matt got back from work around 5pm and we attempted to make ourselves presentable to go out for dinner with Matts boss. It was really nice to meet him and listen to them both chat about allied health. I asked a few questions as recently I’ve been thinking that nursing is not a job I’m going to be able to continue to do for the rest of my working life. When I quit in March I had burn out and despite months and months of amazing holiday the thought of going back to do what I used to fills me with dread.

The next morning Matt left early again after grabbing a take away breakfast from the nice cafe. I decided to see the sites and walked down to the Museum to look at the 2021 Nature Photographer of the Year exhibition. There were amazing images but I found myself subconsciously dragged into the rest of the museum which was just fantastic. It might be my favourite in Australia (sorry TMAG). The displays were amazing and so varied and each item was attached to a story about what it was and how it came to be in the museum.

On Friday as Matt left for work I decided to have a lazy day. In the morning I went to the cafe and did some planning and date organisation for the next section of the trip. Feeling energetic and caffeinated I popped down to the gym, did another session, and then went upstairs and blobbed around the hotel room watching movies and doing my cross stitch. That evening there was a huge storm which I watched roll in over the city.

We left Sydney on Saturday and drove south with a plan to reach Wollongong for the night. On the way we drove into Royal National Park. Established in 1879 it is the second oldest national park in the world after Yellowstone in the US. Neither of us knew much about it but we were pleasantly surprised by the variety of landscape and the beautiful scenery. We parked up at Wattamolla and walked The Coast Track out to Eagle Rock and Curracurrong Falls stopping along the way multiple times to enjoy the views off the top of cliffs and down to the raging ocean below. There was an incredible wind blowing and we turned the corner to see the falls was doing a terrible job at being a waterfall with most of it being sent hurtling back up the cliff and all over Matt and I. A reversed waterfall was not something we were expecting to see. Back in the van we took the coast road around towards the Gong stopping at the top to admire the sea bridge and have a hotdog for lunch. We found a nice little caravan park by the sea and set up for the night.

Campsite Reviews

Bulli Beach Tourist Park – Nice park right near the beach but apparently they have a lot of issues with theft. We didn’t have anything taken and had a pleasant stay. $31pn – 8/10.

It’s the Blue Mountains Jim but Not as We Know It

Travelling during COVID definitely has its perks and we discovered another one when we reached the lookout for the Three Sisters and found it almost completely empty. I’ve only visited the Blue Mountains one other time about 20 years ago and one of the only things that I remember is the huge crowds, this time I think there were maybe 5 other people. Matt and I grabbed a coffee and then as the mist began to clear walked down to the sisters for a better look. We decided since there were next to no people around we’d make the most of it and partake in the very touristy Scenic World. Entry was $50 each which gave us unlimited rides on the railway, skyway, and cableway. We decided to do the horrifying skyway first because I knew I’d psych myself out of doing it if we didn’t get to it straight away, my fear of heights is getting so much better but it isn’t there yet. I am still very proud that I got on the disgustingly high gondola (270m) to enjoy the views of Katoomba Falls and Jamison Valley. Our second activity was the enjoyable railway down to the boardwalk which has an impressive record of being the steepest passenger railway in the world. Down in the rainforest, we came face to face with a range of animatronic dinosaurs thanks to timing our visit with their recent installation. We wandered around for a while and decided to go back up, I couldn’t face another cable car so took the railway back up while Matt took the cableway.

For lunch, we avoided town and took the van out to a lookout where we made some wraps and enjoyed the view in spite of the overcast weather. It is a stunning part of the world with valleys stretching to the horizon and walls of vertical sandstone all around us. We went back to Katoomba and had an amazing hot chocolate for afternoon tea before we went back to camp for the night.

The next morning we woke up reasonably early because we wanted to get another walk in before we drove to Sydney so that Matt could attend a workshop for his job. We decided on Wentworth falls as the day was beautifully sunny and it was in the general direction that we were heading. The 1.4km hike was steep but the views were worth the slog with the valleys, cliffs, and waterfalls surrounding us. We were a bit disappointed to discover that the National Pass was shut, it’ll have to go on the list for the next trip.

The drive into Sydney was as uneventful as Sydney traffic gets and we reached the Rydges Hotel in the late afternoon and checked in. There was a little bit of drama when we realised that the van wouldn’t fit in the undercover car park but the hotel kindly let us park it in the driveway for the duration of our stay. That night we went out to a local pub with Matt’s boss which was really nice, I enjoyed chatting with him about his business and exercise physiology in general as well as sipping on cocktails and eating a delicious dinner. It’s going to be such a lovely change to stay in a hotel for a while.

Campground Reviews

Blackheath Glen Reserve – Tiny little free camp in the blue mountains with clean toilets but very limited sites. We saw so many Gang Gang cockatoos here. $Free – 5/10.

Sunshine, Glow Worms, and a Ghost Town

Thursday morning broke bright and sunny much to our amazement. We said goodbye to Sheep and his hospitality and got back on the open road. Van life is definitely a lot sweeter with a clean set of sheets that isn’t chronically damp from endless rain. Our destination was Goulburn River National Park but we went a long way around checking out the coal mining towns of Singleton and Muswellbrook. I continue to be amazed at the ridiculous number of coal mines there are in Australia, it is truly absurd. Our park up for the night was the serene Spring Gully in Golbourn River National Park. I set up my hammock and spent the afternoon lying in it and reading a booking with the sound of the flowing river soothing my senses.

Due to the horrendous weather and flooding, we hadn’t been able to make any concrete plans for a couple of weeks. We knew vaguely that we were heading towards the Blue Mountains but we had no knowledge of what was on the way or where we would stay which was a bit of fun and landed us in our first ghost town of the day in Upper Bylong. The road we picked was littered with old houses that were numbered and covered with Keep Out signage, the further we went the worse the houses looked and the rougher the road got until it was nothing but a track through severely overgrown grass. When we got phone service back I looked up the town and discovered that the entire place was bought out for a coal mine by the Korea Electric Power Corporation.  Fortunately, the High Court of Australia rejected the project due to the severe environmental and agricultural impacts the mine would have caused so the valley will remain unspoilt. That night we pulled up at Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp Campground where we did our first naughty free camp for the trip. The issue was that there were very limited campsites in the area we were travelling through, the biggest one being a national park site. I went online and tried to book but the park was coming up as full and I couldn’t reserve or pay for a spot. We decided that with the shit weather some people wouldn’t bother showing up and sure enough that evening there were so many empty sites it was a joke. We picked the worst one we could find to soothe my guilt a little and set up.

The next morning we cooked a reasonably early breakfast and then popped the van into the day use in case the park ranger did the rounds and sure enough 30 minutes later a ute rolled in and started checking all the overnighters. I rumerated about online booking systems and how much better the NT was with their first in, best dressed, cash payment system. I guess at the end of the day the people that didn’t show up or cancel still paid so the park didn’t lose out on any money but we wont be making a habit of that style of stealth camping that’s for sure. There were a few nice walks around the park and we picked the short but challenging Pagoda Lookout and then went down the other side to see the impressive Long Cave. I took my big camera lens and managed to get a couple of bird photos along the way. At the end of the walk Matt decided to go for a swim in the river to freshen up before we continued on our way to Glen Davis and then further around the corner to Newnes where we decided to spend the night.

Newnes was incredible, I couldn’t believe that I’d never heard of it before or the rich history of the abandoned town based around the creation of a oil shale mine. Construction of the main works site began in 1906 and was completed in 1911 becoming one of the largest shale oil schemes in Australia and supplying the country with crude oil, paraffin and benzene. The site closed in 1932 leaving behind ruins of the immence mining, processing, and distillation buildings as well as a huge line of coke ovens. Matt and I drove over to the site in the morning and spent a good hour wandering around the area. When we’d had our fill of shale oil we drove back over the river and then around to the Glow Worm Tunnel walk which was part of the railway used to transport goods to and from the mine. It was a bit of a hike to the tunnel through wet forest but was definitely worth the trouble as the walls were lined with little blue specs. We spent the night at a little free camp down in the valley of the Blue Mountains.

Campsite Reviews

Spring Gully Campground – A gorgeous free camp in a little known national park. We had the entire place to ourselves and camped up on a little hill overlooking the river. $Free – 7/10.

Ganguddy-Dunns Swamp Campground – If you like watersports this is an amazing place to stay. There is a beautiful river and lagoon system where you can swim, kayak, boat and fish to your hearts content. $34.85pn (or free if you do the wrong thing) – 7/10 it was nice but definitely not $35pn nice.

Newnes Hotel – Unfortunately the free camp was well and truly booked out and we couldn’t even sneak in so we forked out for the hotel campground. It was very pleasant next to a little stream with lots of birds all around but I was a bit miffed to discover our camping fee did not include showers which were an additional $5pp. $25 for one night, $40 for two, $50 for 3 and so on – 6/10.

Blackheath Glen Reserve – Tiny little free camp in the blue mountains with clean toilets but very limited sites. We saw so many gang gang cockatoos here. $Free – 5/10.

Newcastle and a Man Called Sheep

The next morning it was, surprise surprise, still raining which motivated us to pack up with reasonable speed and make the drive to Newcastle. Fortunately because it was a Sunday Sheep wasn’t at work so once we’d arrived, and settled in he took us on a drive and look around the city and beaches. I don’t know what I’d expected but I really liked the place and could see why sheep would want to live there. We went to a fantastic cafe for lunch and then went for a walk along the coast to a lookout before heading to the pub for some beers and a tasty dinner. It was a brilliant change from being wet and cold in the van. On Monday it rained some more but Matt and I spent the whole day inside doing washing and then watching the latest episode of Pat Callinan’s 4×4 Adventures which was filmed in Rainbow Valley when we were there. We were both stoked when we spotted the Egg in one of the drone shots #famous.

On Tuesday we decided to do some touristing in the Hunter Valley which we had originally planned to spend some time in but were forced to avoid it due to flooding last week. We visited a nice chocolate shop and a cider brewery which we were both disappointed by, however, we couldn’t complain about it because the woman that was working, upon discovering we were Tasmanian, did warn us that we probably wouldn’t like their cider. It wasn’t bad but it did taste more like cordial than the strong apple cider we are used to, the dry perry was the highlight but we didn’t get any take aways. For lunch we stumbled upon the most amazing cheese shop connected to the McGuigan Wines Cellar Door. The platter was made up of 5 cheeses, bread, olives, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The vinegar was so good that despite being $25 for a tiny bottle we couldn’t leave without it. In the afternoon we drove to Cessnock to visit Matt’s aunt and uncle. Along the way I kept smelling a really strong petrol smell which was the same smell had been happening for a couple of weeks. Despite several searches neither of us could locate the cause so we parked up outside Mark and Cathy’s house and put it out of our minds. A little bit later I had to go back out to the van to get something and found it sitting in a puddle of petrol with more spilling out the side as I watched. I ran back to the house and told Matt and Mark who both came out to take a look. Matt quickly got into the van and moved it up to the flat driveway which fortunately stopped the severe petrol leak. We explained to Mark that we’d just had a new fuel tank installed and he deduced that there was a fault with the vacuum in the petrol cap, as luck would have it he also happened to have a brand new cap which fit our tank and was an immediate fix. Thanks Mark! We had a delicious meal of Chinese take away for dinner before saying our goodbyes and driving back to Newcastle just in time to watch the Matildas play on Sheep’s big TV.

With the forecast looking up we decided Wednesday would be our last day in Newcastle which made it a day of grocery shopping and getting organised. Matt wanted some new shorts so we had a poke around in some op shops where he bought the most hideous Heineken branded shorts. I managed to pick up 3 new tank tops for $4 each. In the evening Sheep took us out to Drag Queen Bingo where we ate amazing wood-fired pizzas and Matt got up and had a dance with a drag queen. It was the perfect way to end a brilliant stay.

Does NSW have better waterfalls than Tasmania?

Our entry into NSW seemed to almost instantaneously coincide with rain, I swear it was sunny when we left Queensland but as soon as I tyres rolled over the border we were faced with an endless wall of water. Matt rescued a freshwater turtle off the road which seemed to have confused the asphalt with a stream, it was an easy mistake to make. We stopped in Tenterfield for a delicious breakfast in a tiny little cafe that I swear was the only thing open in the entire town, I had earl grey pancakes with berries and Matt had some kind of bacon and egg thing that also looked really nice. Even though the weather was awful we still made the time to visit the biggest cork tree in Australia which seemed to be the main tourist drawcard in the town. We were determined not to let the rain dampen our spirits so we went for a very wet bush walk to Bald Rock and punished ourselves further by hiking in the rain to witness the raging power of Boonoo Boonoo Falls. Soaked to the skin and in desperate need of lunch, we arrived in Glenn Innes where we ended up eating a pie in the servo. I’d found a reasonable looking farm stay style campground just out of town so we headed there through literal rivers of water. The roads had started to flood but I was hoping there would be a warm camp kitchen and some flat ground for us when we arrived. I’d messaged the owners before we’d left and they’d confirmed everything was good to go so I was more than a little annoyed when we showed up and the only person there was a spacey lady that was also camping. She showed us where we could park, and no word of a lie it was underwater and she also didn’t seem to understand why we didn’t want to park our van on a piece of ground with no shelter that was 10cm underwater and next to a rapidly rising creek. Realising we’d almost certainly made a mistake we drove back into town and parked up on a concrete slab in a little caravan park. We made ourselves at home in their camp kitchen, lit a fire, and got on the rums in an attempt to warm up.

The following day the rain had eased a little bit which gave us the opportunity to get back on track and do some more 4WDing. We drove down the Gwydir Highway which had, like so much of this part of the world, been significantly impacted by the black summer fires. It was still beautiful winding through the valley next to the raging river and between lush green farms. We made good time getting into Guy Fawkes River National Park, drove through a hand-cut tunnel, and stopped for lunch in the ghost town of Dalmorton. It was an unpleasant surprise to find that the Chaelundi Road we had planned to take was still closed as the result of fires in 2019 so we had to make a snap decision and change our route to incorporate Nymboi-Binderay National Park. We set up camp in a beautiful rainforest next to yet another river and set about trying and failing to make a fire with the damp wood that was available to us, it was freezing, wet, but so beautiful we didn’t mind too much. The next morning it had cleared a little so I walked around the main camp area and managed to take some brilliant bird photos including a sacred kingfisher. When we were ready to leave Matt opened the bonnet to check the oil level and found that a small possum had been sleeping on our engine last night. So cute!

The weather kept improving as the day went on and we even managed to go for a walk down to the waterfall just outside Dorrigo, I’d say we didn’t get wet but even though it was sunny the falls were heavy and we still got damp from the spray. It wasn’t unpleasant however as we both dried off nicely by the time we got to the town bakery to get some bread for lunch. As we continued along the Waterfall Way drive we experienced bright sunshine intermingled with pea soup fog, the clear patches showed us beautiful rolling hills covered in green paddocks inhabited by fat black-and-white cows. We stopped at Ebor falls for lunch and went for another short walk around the cliffs before making our way into New England National Park. Just before we got to the park entrance Matt spotted a sign for smoked trout so naturally, we had to make a detour to sus it out. After cruising down a dirt road we found ourselves at Dutton Trout Hatchery, before we’d even parked I looked over at the concrete tanks and spotted a huge rainbow trout flopping around on the grass. Matt reefed on the breaks, leapt out of the van, ran over to the flailing fish, and tossed it back into the tank. He almost strutted into the hatchery centre and proudly informed the visitor guide that was behind the desk he’d saved one of their fish. The old mate turned out to be very grateful for the fish rescue and offered to show us around the hatchery. I don’t think I have ever met someone so passionate about fish, he told us all about the insane things he’d done to get down to fishing spots including abseiling with a normal rope off a cliff, showed us all of the more exotic fish they had in their tanks, and proudly declared that he’d been trying to get the trout hatchery job for years and he’d managed to get it 3 months ago. His arms were covered in fishing tattoos and it was just brilliant to meet someone that clearly loved every second of their job, we walked out with smoked trout, dips, and new knowledge of recreational trout fishing in NSW. A little further north we came upon some of the most spectacular rainforests I’ve ever seen and an outstanding viewpoint called Point Lookout. Our final stop for the day and campground for the night was Wollomombi Falls where we briefly admired the 230m cascade before setting up camp and somehow managing to light a blissfully warm fire.

After listening to the falls range all night we decided to complete the 4km waterfall hike the next morning. We were lucky that we’d arrived when we did because judging by the rubbish all over the pedestrian bridges they’d been underwater not that long ago. It was a stunning hike around the edges of the valley with several stops at lookouts to enjoy the views. I have always been a huge fan of Tasmanian waterfalls but I’ve got to say NSW well and truly has Tassie beaten, they’re just so huge and impressive. As we made our way towards our planned stop in Tamworth Matt declared that he had a work meeting and we’d need to stop somewhere for lunch with reception. I thought that Armidale might be a good option so we parked up at the Bicentennial Arboretum and Matt got to work while I crawled around in the grass and finally got some really good photos of grass parrots. I’m glad there weren’t too many people around as I literally spent an hour and a half crawling around on my stomach on a grassed area with my giant camera. Unsurprisingly it started to rain yet again so we parked up in a little caravan park just outside of Tamworth’s CBD where we made the most of some hot showers and an undercover camp kitchen.

Campsite Reviews

Glen Rest Tourist Park – Very cute small town caravan park with a friendly owner and the most vital concrete slab so we didn’t have to step out into the mud. $24pn – 7/10.

Platypus Flat – This area of the national park has recovered so quickly from the fires if there hadn’t been information signs with photos of the destruction I wouldn’t have been believed it had been touched. Situated on the banks of the river with flat sites and free firewood you couldn’t really go wrong. $6pp/pn – 7/10.

Wollomombi Falls – Another of the brilliant NSW national parks with free wood. I really wish more of Australia had this as I feel like there would be a lot less tree vandalism in National Parks if there was chopped wood readily available. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Tamworth North Holiday Park – Beautiful little caravan park with spotlessly clean showers, toilets, and camp kitchen, The managers were kind and welcoming. $28pn – 8/10.

Perpetual Bundaberg

We didn’t plan on staying in Bundaberg for nearly a week, I like to think that no one would plan to be there for a week, but when you travel the way we do only thinking a couple of days ahead sometimes your schedule gets a bit whacky. We arrived in town on Saturday afternoon which gave us the opportunity to have a quick look around, book in our tour at the Bundaberg Rum distillery, Lady Musgrave Island Cruise, tour of Mon Repos, and then fill up our water tank in a park with some fairly illegal van manoeuvring (there is almost no free potable water in town). We spent Saturday night at the local Scout Camp and got up reasonably early to drive out to the turtle sanctuary. Unfortunately our timing for turtles wasn’t fantastic, we were a couple of weeks too early to do the evening tour to see the turtles laying their eggs but we were also too late to be allowed onto the beach after hours as the mothers had just started coming in but the Mon Repos centre made up for it. At the entry were greeted by a ranger who took us into their theatre and conducted a talk about the turtles of Australia, there was an entertaining projected display across the grounds and walls and we got to watch a turtle lay its eggs and then the babies hatch out and swim into the sea. After the lecture we were set loose in the education centre which was just brilliant. Our favourite part was seeing how we compared to the size of each of the turtle species, some of them were absolutely massive. On our way back into town we stoped at a strawberry farm and had a delicious berry ice cream and then a little further down the road we pulled into a farm gate store and bought a heap of fresh produce. That afternoon we visited a tropical wine and cider distillery and had some of the strangest cider flavours I’ve ever tried including kiwi and ginger. They were nice but we weren’t inspired enough to take any down to our campsite at Kinkuna Beach.

I woke up the next day full of excitement because we booked in to visit Bundaberg Brewed Drinks and Bundaberg Rum. I absolutely adore Bundaberg ginger beer so I was beyond happy to discover there was a great little museum and tasting room specifically for their range of fizzy drinks. Entry was $15 per head and included a 6 pack to take home. After tasting every flavour Matt decided his favourite was the sarsaparilla and I was tossing up between blood orange and Christmas ginger beer. It turned out that the Christmas ginger beer was the drink of the month (unsurprising for December) and was on sale, of course I couldn’t resist buying a case. We had a bit of time to kill before going to our rum tour so we drove to the local art gallery and had a wander through the exhibitions. The curator was a very friendly bloke and heading to Tasmania for an arty holiday so we had a chat about the best places to see. We reached the Big Bundy Bottle just before lunch time and occupied ourselves in the museum learning about the history of the factory and it’s tendency to burn down. I really liked how the entire venture was created as a solution to the waste molasses being produced by local sugar refineries and the amazing wall display of rum bottles. The tour ended up being just as interesting as the museum and we were both amazed at the 7 billion dollars of rum being stored on the site. Our guide informed us that 95% of that product was sold in Australia and 50% of that was Queensland. That’s a lot of rum! To finish off we were offered two free drinks, I had a dark and stormy and banoffee rum liquor with cream which is the first time I’ve had dark rum, I loved it. We walked out of the gift shop with 3 bottles. In the afternoon we went down to the botanical gardens and took quite a few bird photos, turns out with a few rums on board I can still take a decent shot.

On Tuesday morning we were meant to go on our tour of Lady Musgrave Island and had planned to leave Bundaberg on Wednesday; however, it was not to be as a nasty swell had brewed up and the tour was cancelled until at least Thursday. The company were really good and offered us a full refund but we were both happy to keep hanging around so we rebooked for later in the week. We’d almost exhausted things to do in Bundy so we decided to head further afield to the historic town of Childers, which turned out to be a lovely spot. Having nearly run out of clothes we found a laundromat and headed down the street to a brilliant little cafe that did a great flat white. Once our things were washed and dried we walked up and down the historic main street, stumbling upon a historic pharmacy about half way down. If you are even remotely interested in health, history, or medicine, it is well worth going out of your way to visit this amazing museum which has one of the largest displays of historic pharmacological items in Australia. Entry was $5 and included a guided tour where we learnt all about the owners, how the shop developed, and of course the insane 1800s medicines, morphine, heroin, and chloroform cough syrup anyone? Before we headed back to camp in Kinkuna we popped into the local swimming pool to do some laps and have a much needed shower.

Wednesday was a bit of a write off because we were twiddling our thumbs and waiting for our reef tour but we did visit the macadamia nut factory where one of Matt’s friends had helped them to design and implement a machine that half cut the shell of the nut enabling people to open them with a little metal tool rather than having to smash them with a mallet.

Our Lady Musgrave Island tour day broke sunny and clear with a slight wind and a bit of visible chop on the ocean. We made our way down to the marina where we were greeted by our crew. Matt and I went all out when we booked and upgraded to the VIP experience for an extra $85 per head which included access to the fancy top deck, merch, wetsuit hire, and multiple meals. It turned out to be amazing value simply because the rest of our tour was made up of a huge noisy school group who spent most of the journey being sea sick while we luxuriated upstairs with our coffee machine and one other guest. We reached the pontoon in the breathtaking coral cove and jumped onto a glass bottom boat which wizzed us over to the island where we went on a guided walk and learnt about the animals that live there. We’d arrived just in time to see the black noddy chicks sitting in their nests made from sticky leaves and poop. On our way back to the pontoon we watched some turtles having an orgy…ahhh nature. Lunch was a delicious buffet of salads, cold meats, prawns, and for an unknown reason miso soup. Matt and I asked if it was ok if we ate our lunch in the underwater viewing area which the crew said would be fine. It was surreal eating surrounded by fish in the blue light. Feeling very satisfied and full we got kitted up in our snorkelling gear and jumped into the lagoon. We’ve been snorkelling before in Vanuatu and further north in Queensland but it had nothing on this. The colours of the coral and fish, the variety of wildlife, being approached by huge green sea turtles, it was like nothing we’ve ever done before. Matt and I stayed out for the entire allocated time and explored the furthest out of all the other guests, towards the end we spent 15+ minutes hanging out with this one turtle that just wanted to swim around us, absolutely magical. Our ride back was some how choppier than the way out which was highly entertaining. We had a cheese board and drinks for afternoon tea and of course half of it went flying but we were too happy to care.

That evening our second failed attempt to leave Bundaberg came to pass when we noticed on social media a lot of our cycling friends from Brisbane were posting about how they were coming up to Bundaberg. I contacted a couple of them and it turned out there was a cycling carnival the next day. We ended up catching up with our friend Red Dog for pizza for dinner and then the next day popped over to the Bundaberg track and spent the afternoon and evening watching our friends go around in circles really quickly. A few of them were together for an Italian pursuit and I kid you not they pulled off the most outstanding race, it was just beautiful to watch. On Saturday morning, exactly a week after we had arrived we were finally let go by the City of Rum and could make our way to Brisbane.

Campsite Reviews

Wyper Park Scout Camp – Great cheap spot close to town. The amenities are pretty basic and a bit run down but it really reminded me of camping when I was a Girl Guide so that was lovely. $10pn – 7/10.

Kinkuna Beach – Situated in the Burrum Coast National Park this stunning beach side campground was the perfect place to stay for a few nights. No ammenities but it was worth it to walk down the beach each morning and enjoy the birds. $6.85pp/pn – 8/10.

Friends and the Coast

As we made our way through Rockhamton and towards Byfield National Park I reflected on our time in Australia’s interior. The past few months exploring the outback have been amazing, we’ve met brilliant people, seen incredible things, and felt like we were truly immersed in the interior of this massive country. I’ve loved the red dirt, the dry heat, and the wildlife, which was unexpectedly abundant, but it was blissful to see the coast again after such a long time and smell the salty tang of the ocean. It feels like we have started another leg of our trip, The East Coast.



Our first stop on our new journey is a little-known national park that sits slightly north of Yepoon called Byfield. I’d organised two nights in a coastal campground Called Five Rocks which I booked not realizing that a notoriously difficult 4WDing obstacle stood in our way, Big Sandy, a massive dune with sand the texture of talcum powder. I knew we were in trouble when we reached the bottom of the climb and immediately dug into the sand despite our deflated tyres. Matt pulled over and let some more air out so we were sitting at 15psi and went again. This time we maybe got halfway up before getting stuck again. We got out the recovery boards and had a go at leapfrogging our way up, I’d put down the boards, Matt would drive over them and another 2m up the hill, I’d dig the boards out, put them back under the wheels and we’d go again. We tried this about 5 times before deciding it was ridiculous, reversing down the hill and going again. The third attempt was much better and we managed to get the whole way up, it turned out the trick was instead of going up the left “up” side we needed to go up the right “down” side. After Big Sandy the rest of the drive to camp was a breeze. We spent the afternoon walking down to the beach and chatting with our fellow campers making note of the advice that the locals deflate their tyres to 8psi to get up the dune.



The next morning we took the van out on the trails and explored the national park, I was much too nervous to get into the ocean due to the slight risk of crocodiles so was very happy when we found a clear creek running into the sea reminiscent of Eli Creek on Fraser Island. Matt didn’t want to swim but was happy to walk up the creek and then watch me lie in the shallow water and wash off the sand and sweat from yesterday. We got back in the van and drove up the beach to a lagoon surrounded by mangroves and watched the seabirds fishing. On the way back towards the camp we walked to another huge orangey/red dune and climbed up for a beautiful view over the ocean. After another restful night, we made our way back to town with a few stops along the way. Our first was a lookout at Stockyard Point which is a small beach shack town in the national park, Matt made a few work calls and checked in with our friends in Yepoon to let them know we were on our way. Next, we drove back to Big Sandy, let our tyres down and I drove us to the bottom without any issues. Matt wasn’t happy about how we’d done it the first time and what a mess we’d made out of it so he decided to climb it again using the trick of even lower tyre pressure. He absolutely flew up! We couldn’t believe the difference between 15 and 8psi. There looked like a bit of weather was rolling in but Matt was keen to have a swim so instead of turning left and driving back to Yepoon we hung a right and popped into Stoney Creek for a dip, unfortunately, a storm rolled in which cut the swimming short but it was a beautiful place.



We rocked up at Tom and Emma’s house in Yepoon by mid-afternoon where we were greeted by Emma’s sister, her partner, and Emma’s mum and dad. It was so lovely to see them all and catch up with everything that had been going in their lives as well as play with their beautiful one-year-old daughter Aria. After pizza for dinner and a hot shower, we went to bed happy and clean. On Saturday morning we decided to all head to the beach for a coffee to have some fun on Emma and Tom’s stand-up paddleboard and kayak. I was very excited to have a go on the SUP because I’ve wanted to try it for ages but never had the opportunity. We had a fantastic morning splashing and paddling around and I was pleased to discover that paddleboarding isn’t too challenging and that the water in Yepoon is deliciously warm. In the evening Tom, Matt, and I went out to the Railway Hotel for dinner and then had drinks at the surf club. We got home at 11.30pm and while I went to bed Matt and Tom stayed up talking and drinking, Tom informs me Matt made an “espresso martini” for them which was a shot of coffee spirit and a shot of vodka and nothing else…hmm.

I was well-rested and excited on Sunday morning, unlike Matt who was reasonably seedy because we’d all booked on to the ferry to go snorkeling on Wop-pa (Great Keppel Island). Neither of us had been to a reef since we had a family holiday in Vanuatu in 2013. The ferry took about 45 minutes and we then walked for another 20 minutes to reach the beach where we spent 4 hours exploring the reef and lying in the sun. We saw 2 turtles which was the first time Matt and I had swum with a turtle in the wild, it was just magic. I think we spent around 2 hours in the water and were all exhausted by the end of the day, but it was absolutely brilliant and it was even better to spend it with friends.



We left Yepoon on Tuesday morning with the plan to pop up north for a few days to Stanage Bay and then head back south dropping back into see our friends the next weekend. On our way out of town, we stopped in at the local surf shop so I could buy a rash vest as despite the stringent sunscreen applications I’d managed to get sunburnt both times we’d been swimming. I ended up walking out with a surf suit which is a hybrid between a wetsuit and swimmers and should hopefully be good for both. The drive out to Stanage was surprisingly long because the road off the highway was nothing short of disgraceful, and we have been on some bad roads in the NT. It was corrugated, pothole-riddled and to make matters worse a thunderstorm had just been through and dumped a ludicrous amount of water over the road. It was late afternoon by the time we found somewhere to camp. In the evening atop our cliff we watched two storms travel either side of us filling the sky with lightning.



The following morning we woke up late and enjoyed relaxing before taking a leisurely drive around the town to check out the main sites. There wasn’t that much to see or do, no hikes, no real touristy things but there were beautiful beaches and some fun little 4WDing tracks. It was a good place to sit around and enjoy views and would be amazing if you had a boat, which sadly we do not. The day was not completely without drama however, as we made our way down a track to our campsite for the night we managed to get our 2nd flat tyre for the trip. Fortunately, we noticed it when we pulled in for the night and the side was nice and level so the change wasn’t too difficult. Unfortunately, we also noticed that the tyres are on the way out so we will have to get a new set in Brisbane.


Our last day in Stanage Bay turned into one of the very rare days where we do nothing, I don’t think we’ve had one since we got stuck in Arkaroola. I alternated between lying in my hammock next to the beach and walking along the beach enjoying all the sea critters. It doesn’t get much more relaxing than that.

Campsite Reviews

Five Rocks Camping Area – Secluded sites in the bush a short walk down to the beach (190 steps). Drop toilets, cold showers, and frogs that sounded like car alarms. It was blissfully peaceful during the week, there were maybe 3 other people there while we were camped. $$6.15pp/pn – 8/10.

Stanage Bay Road Camping – The set up at Stanage Bay is quite unusual. All the sites are free and there are heaps of them but they are all hidden along random 4WD tracks off the right hand side of the main road as you drive in. We spent the first night camped up on a hill with cliffs on each side and the second two nights in a little covered area directly next to the beach. None of the sites had toilets but they were beautiful. $Free – 8/10.

Rodeos, Sapphires, Gorges, Coal

Our evening in Mitchell was very pleasant, we caught up with one of the couples that were staying in the caravan site in Charleville. We bonded over our bizarre tour and shared a platter of cheese and biscuits while watching the sunset over the river. The next morning, we packed up and drove into Roma for a short visit to pick up some more socks because I have lost so many pairs it is getting ridiculous, and both of us invested in a pair of goggles as we have decided to try and do some exercise in the local pools that we are visiting. From Roma we turned north for the first time in a long while and started to make our way towards Carnarvon National Park. Not much further along the road, we stumbled upon an event that I’ve wanted to go to for years, a rodeo! I was stoked that the timing had finally worked out because it feels like every town we’ve been to we’ve either missed the rodeo by a few days or we have arrived a week too early. We paid our $15 entry each and settled down to watch under a shade tent at the end of the arena. Matt and I were clearly really out of place as everyone else was wearing their rodeo outfit of cowboy boots, jeans with a comically large belt buckle, a plaid button-up shirt, and an Akubra. No word of a lie Matt and I were the only people dressed differently in the entire event. We soon struck up a conversation with the families sitting around us and I peppered them with questions about the events and the rules of each one. To pay them back for their kindness I took out my wildlife lens and captured photos of their kids competing to send to them.

Eventually, we reached a point where we either had to commit to staying in Injune for the night or leave to get to Carnarvon. Matt had had enough of steer wrestling so I begrudgingly let him lead me back to the car. It was a great afternoon. By the time we reached the caravan park in Carnarvon, it was nearly dark but luck was on our side and we managed to nab the last poky unpowered site at the only accommodation place that was still open for the offseason. I was less than impressed at the $45pn we had to fork out for the tiny bit of dirt we parked the van on.

The next morning dawned clear and warm which was a bit of an issue as Matt and I had decided to complete the longest hike of our trip into the Gorge. The main gorge hiking trail is 19.4km one way finishing up at a campsite for those completing the walk over two days, because we are unable to do overnight hikes, we decided to terminate our journey at the Cathedral Cave making our hike 18.2km return from the visitor’s center. Our first stop was the beautiful Moss Garden, we were lucky to have seen it when there was a bit of water around with the lush dripping wall of ferns and the small waterfall making a lovely cool place to have a rest. We continued onwards to the Amphitheatre, which was my favourite place on the hike, after climbing up a staircase that might as well have been a ladder, we squeezed through a gap in the towering limestone cliffs which opened into an amazing room stretching up to the gumtrees far above. While we were sitting and eating a snack a little native mouse started running around our feet and trying to get into our backpack. Another kilometer down the track we reached Wards Canyon, it was similar to the Moss Garden but with more water and King Ferns. Our final two stops were both spectacular examples of indigenous cave art. I couldn’t believe the colours of the stencils and free hard drawings standing out stark against the white stone, it was just beautiful. We returned to the car park in the early afternoon and decided to walk down to the local waterhole where we ate our lunch and had a swim before heading back to the campground for a relaxing afternoon.

Because we hadn’t had enough of walking after our solid 18km the day before we picked another hike for our final day in the park. In retrospect picking a hike that we 6km long and had a 3 hour walking time wasn’t a great idea but hey hindsight is 20-20. It started off civilized enough but we were soon climbing/clamoring up ladders and rocks on the side of the cliff to reach the top of the gorge. The view from Boolimba Bluff was well worth the effort as it rewarded us with views down into the gorge where we had walked yesterday and then across the mountains on the other side. Needless to say, we were both completely buggered when we got back to the van. The afternoon was spent driving to Emerald and setting up camp under the railway bridge next to the botanical gardens. We didn’t end up having a very good sleep thanks to the road trains and actual training rumbling next to us and over us all night. Oh well.



In the morning we drove to The Gemfields to do some more fossicking. After reading a lot of information online I decided that we would be better of buying wash from one of the mining companies in the town of Rubyvale rather than digging for our own gems due to the limited time that we had. My research lead us to Armfest Mine where we met the owner and purchased our first bag of wash. He showed us how to get the sapphires out of the dirt and we managed to pick up a few good ones. We ended up buying 4 bags, 2 standard, and 2 premium, and left with over 30 sapphires that were cutting quality. Not a bad way to spend the morning. The rest of the day was taken up by putting some big miles in and heading towards the coast. We spent the night behind the pub in the coal mining town of Bluff.



Campsite Reviews

Takarakka Bush Resort – Urg where to start with this one. Ridiculously overpriced at $45 per night for an unpowered patch of dirt but to add insult to injury the park wasn’t even very nice. The showers weren’t very clean, there was no soap in the toilets, it smelt vaguely of sewerage and the camp kitchen was overcrowded. We were even more annoyed that it was our only option anywhere near the national park. $45pn – 3/10.

Botanic Gardens Emerald – You can’t really complain too much about a free camp but this one wasn’t great. There was a lot of road noise and a train went over us in the middle of the night. The botanical gardens were nice. $Free – 5/10.

Bluff Pub – Cute little pub in a coal mining town with cold beer and good food. Matt and I got the only spot in the shade which was good for us as it was a very hot night. $5pp/pn – 7/10.

Outback Queensland

Thanks to the night of cycling viewing we woke up a little bit later than planned and therefore had to get ready at speed and drive to the QANTAS Founders Museum which we were both really looking forward to. We’d decided that if we were going to do it we might as well do it properly so we booked entry to the museum, a guided walk of the airpark, and the 747 wing walk, when in Rome look at as many planes as humanly possible. We started off with the museum which was an absolutely fascinating exploration of the history of the airline. The large room was filled with information boards and artifacts that allowed visitors to walk through the creation of the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services as well as learn about the founding members, the aircraft they purchased, the issues they had with receiving government funding, and I discovered it was founded on my birthday. I’d thought that I would be bored (not being a huge fan of planes) but it was so interesting, honestly, the story was incredible and if you’re not familiar with it I’d strongly recommend either buying one of the many books written on the subject or read about it on google.

Once we had finished in the museum we had enough time for a scone and a coffee in the cafe before we were called to go into the airpark. If you only do one thing in Longreach do this! Our guide took us outside and we walked through a number of planes, they were all different from a frankly terrifying machine that carried 70 people but needed a navigator who would look at the stars through a little window in the roof near the cockpit to ensure the plane was traveling in the right direction, to the amazing 747, to a fully customised private jet complete with gold plated seatbelt buckles and a bedroom with a queen bed.

Our final activity, directly following the airpark was the wing walk, the only place in the world where you can step onto the wing of a 747. We went on the tour with one other guy and the same guide that had taken us around the other planes. Rather than going straight to the wing we were taken into the cockpit and spent 20 minutes learning about the different knobs and dials as well as the roles of the staff that would have worked there. We followed the guide back down the stairs into the main part of the plane, put on some very gratuitous safety harnesses, and then walked out and onto the wing. It was a cool experience, my favourite part was when the guide got us to all jump at the same time so we could see the flex of the wing tip.


We left Longreach in the afternoon with a plan to stop in Barcaldine for the night. We were going to drive flat out to the campsite but on the way through a little town called Ilfracombe we saw a sign for a bottle and gun display. Obviously, we were both very intrigued by this bizarre combination of items so we stopped and went into a room that was completely full of bottles, and another room that was floor to ceiling covered in guns with a Nazi flag hanging on the wall. Our last stop for the day was The Tree of Knowledge, the remnants of the original ghost gum where the 1891 Shearer’s Strike occured which ultimately turned into the Australian Labor Party. In 2006 the tree mysteriously died by poisoning but was resurrected as part of a 5 million dollar sculptural art piece that opened in 2009. Matt and I were both really impressed with how the tree had been reborn, under the glass at your feet you can view the root system while overhead hundreds of wooden planks gently shift in the breeze and clank together like the biggest wooden windchime that has ever existed.

The next morning we drove into the town of Blackall and had a look around the main street. We’ve become very slack of late with our pre arrival research so we had no idea what there was to do or where we’d be staying so naturally, our first stop was the combined information center/library. The woman behind the desk was lovely and soon we had a pass to camp next to the river, a town map, and advice to see the main attraction, The Blackall Woolscour. I called the woolscour and booked in for the 1.30pm tour, while we waited we had a coffee, some delicious food from the bakery, found the second black stump of the trip and wandered around the very pleasant little town. I know absolutely nothing about sheep farming or wool so I was quite surprised at the size and complexity of the scour when we rolled into the car park. Our tour started with a video that explained the wool boom and the phrase “Australia rides on the sheep’s back”. When that ended we were introduced to our tour guide who was in the middle of a cup of tea and not at all keen to take us, in the end, he begrudgingly got up and took us on one of the most amusing tours we’ve done. The woolscour was surprisingly interesting, both historically and mechanically but honestly the tour guide absolutely made the place for us. He was probably 75 years old and just about as ocker as you could get, his sense of humor was hilarious and we had a great time. At the end of the tour it was getting pretty warm so we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the public pool.

Our plan for Wednesday was to cruise down the road to Tambo and spend the night at their free camp but we’d woken up early and found ourselves parking up at 9am. We popped in to see the wonderful teddies and then went down to the visitor center where we picked up a free booklet that took us on a historical walk around the town. By the time we’d finished exploring we had only killed another 2.5 hours and we really didn’t feel like sitting around on our bums until night so we decided to keep on going with a new plan to stop in Augathella for the night. Well, we reached the meat ant capital of Australia and were both so uninspired we opted to keep on heading south to Charleville. We ended up finding a brilliant little caravan park on the outside of town called the Charleville Bush Caravan Park where we met the owners Graham and Deb. It was a very welcoming place and we were soon sitting at the communal fire pit, enjoying fresh damper while Graham told us all about Lake Eyre.

The next day Graham encouraged us to join him on his 2 hour tour of the town and at $15pp it was hard to say no. The tour was a bit hit and miss for me but not in a way that left us feeling disappointed we needed something to do to fill in the day and it certainly did that but the format was bizarre. We looked at things like the kindergarten, and power poles while Graham handed out photos from the last major flooding event and explained that the old people in the town were now scared of rain. He also kept stopping at houses that were for sale and asking us to guess how much they cost before telling us and then explaining all the good things about each property…Matt and I were wondering if he might have got a commission from the real estate agents if he managed to sell one. We then went to the town weir and had a 15-minute explanation on how that functioned, the tour was very strange. During the afternoon we popped into town to look at the botanical garden and some of the historic buildings that were missed while we learned you could buy a 2 bedroom house with a nice garden for $200,000. I kept an anxious eye on the weather as we’d booked in for an astronomy tour and the clouds looked like they’d be hanging around for the rest of the day. Fortunately, they dispersed just in time and we were able to take our seats at the Cosmos Centre and enjoy the million-star views. Matt and I both agreed that the highlight was looking through the telescope at Jupiter and Saturn to see the moons/colours and rings respectively, it was beautiful.

We were a bit slow to get going the next day as our slightly late night caused us both to sleep in but we had a bit of time to kill before the WWII Secret Base museum opened. Located at the airport in an old hanger the museum explained how the Australian and American forces collaborated in Charleville during world war two and hid secret technology from the enemy side. It is currently undergoing a rebuild so the first section was much more modern than the second but it is due for completion at the end of this year so hopefully if you decided to go there it will be finished by the time you arrive. Our final activity was to visit the bilby centre which my mum had recommended that we go and see months ago. It’s directly next to the visitor information section in the train station so it was very easy to find. The tour started with a presentation about bilbies, a question session, and then we were let into the bilby house where we saw a bilby family bouncing around. They were so cute!

We left Charleville and rather than continuing to travel south we turned east stopping for the night beside a beautiful river near the small town of Mitchell.

Campsite Reviews

Lloyd Jones Weir – Just outside the town this small but peaceful campground has clean toilets, picnic tables, and an excess of turtles. We were very amused by the pretend grave for “people that steal toilet paper”. There is a couple of long-term campers set up here but they were friendly and considerate. $5pn – 6/10.

Barcoo River Camping Area – Thanks to Blackall for setting up this lovely little camp. Public toilets a short walk away and free showers in the amenities block in the main street of the town. $10pn – 7/10.

Charleville Bush Caravan Park – The perfect caravan park, awesome hosts, free information talks and damper in the evening, communal fire pit, good washing machine, great showers and toilets, and really nice fellow campers. $25pn – 9/10.

Fishermans Rest – There are two campsites in Mitchell and this is by far the better one. It’s quieter, more secluded and the river is absolutely beautiful, bring your bug spray though they were thick. $Free – 7/10.

Australian Dinosaur Trail

Australian Dinosaur Trail

Rather than leaving at our usual 9am departure time from Julia Creek we decided to hang around until mid morning so that we could go to the visitor centre and see the fat-tailed dunnart be fed. Entry was $5 and it was well worth it to see the adorable little marsupial munch into some mealworms as well as learn some more about the dunnarts of Australia.

We hit the road and headed to our first stop on the Dinosaur trail at Richmond, Kronosaurus Korner. Because we’d made quite good time getting into Queensland we were actually a day ahead of ourselves and booked into visit the museum the next day so we occupied ourselves exploring the very pleasant town. I don’t know if it was the isolation of the Northern Territory or not but our appreciation of small towns has increased exponentially and Richmond was particularly nice with long wide streets lined with bougainvillea. The main highlight of the town for us was a large man-made lake right next door to the caravan park we were staying at. It was very warm again so we paddled around in the water until it was late enough to walk into town and have dinner in the pub. That night we had the worst sleep we have had on the road so far, it was oppressively hot and we had the most inconsiderate family park next to us. Not only did they pull up ridiculously close considering the amount of space available but their children were an absolute nightmare. When they weren’t getting into our campsite and going through our stuff, they were screaming and running around until well after midnight. At 1am after getting completely fed up of having the little turds shining torches directly into our van Matt yelled at them to shut up.

Despite the lack of sleep we woke up determined to enjoy the dinosaurs and walked into town to the museum. Matt jumped into the mouth of the kronosaurus for a cheeky photo and we had a second coffee in the cafe to ensure we were properly awake and ready to take everything in. Richmond is a hot spot for marine fossils so the museum was filled with the bones of huge carnivorus ocean reptiles down to perfectly preserved shells. It wasn’t a huge display with two main rooms but there were that many things crammed in we managed to spend over an hour wandering around and then watching the short documentary in the attached theater. Afterwards we strolled back to the caravan park and had a walk around the lake so I could take some bird photos before we had yet another dip, cooked dinner, and turned in early for what turned out to be a wonderful noise free sleep sans horrible kids.

The next morning I woke up early and went down to the lake to watch the sun rise, the water was so still and the only sounds were of the birds flying from their roosts and out to the bush for breakfast. We made our way to Winton through the disturbingly flat and dry farmlands reaching the town in time to grab some rolls from the bakery and make lunch in a park next to the local pool. We walked up and down the main street enjoying the art deco architecture and looking in a couple of opal shops that were more than a bit of a rip off ($10 for a piece of potch what a joke). We decided not to fork out $32pp for the Waltzing Matilda Centre but did go in to use the amazing toilets and visit an exhibition at the gallery attached to the museum. I really liked the art despite it’s weirdness, it was a series of portraits of boss drovers by Robert MacPherson  who drew them while taking on the persona of a year 4 student of St Joseph’s Convent, Nambour, Queensland named Robert Pene. They were drawn on kids sketch book paper, signed like a child, and then had “great work” and “you’re a star” stamps put all over each piece. There was also an interactive area where you were able to make your own poem using language from Banjo Paterson’s poetry which Matt and I enjoyed. That night we camped at a local waterhole and were kept company by a bunch of friendly cattle and emus.