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.

Golden Guitar, Falling Trees, and a Navy Bodyguard

You can’t leave Tamworth without a visit to the Golden Guitar so before we made our departure we popped in to see the huge instrument and visit the underwhelming visitor centre. We also swung by the local camera shop as Matt has made a couple of comments about wanting some decent binoculars to look at wildlife because apparently holding up my 3kg camera and looking through the lens of a device you have no knowledge of how to use is “annoying”, go figure. I thought that a camera shop in the country where most of the customers would be farmers would probably have some good quality binoculars that weren’t too expensive, an assumption paid off and he walked out with a great set for just over $100. Cheers Tamworth!

We stopped for lunch and so that Matt could make a work call in a small town called Walcha. While he spoke with his colleagues I had a wander around the small Main Street popping into the CWA/Craft shop and having a chat with the ladies in there as well as taking in some of the frankly bizarre art that was scattered along the road. My favourite piece was the fountain in the park where a bronze and very serious looking naked man and woman stood under a tin roof which was being showered with water by a series of bowls attached to a spiralling piece of metal. The only sign that could indicate to the viewer what on earth they might be looking at simply read “slippery when wet”…something that I didn’t think needed to be said when referring to a fountain. Just up the road we rescued and rehomed yet another horny turtle (I’ve recently learnt most of the wanderers are males looking for new women to mate with) and then drove out to Apsley Falls where we set up camp and indulged in a free firewood fire.

The next morning we completed the walking track to multiple lookouts around the plunging cascades. The falls were at full strength and it didn’t seem to matter what part of the track we were on there was a constant swirling mist around us. The falls themselves were hands down the best waterfalls I’ve ever seen both tumbling well over 50m into deep brown pools below. It made the afternoon waterfall Tia look a bit lame in comparison. That night we put up our very wet awning in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park campground called Mooraback which is the most leach infected place I have ever visited. Even with my hiking boots on and socks tucked into my pants they still managed to crawl up my legs and I found myself having to stop every 5m to shake the buggers off. That night we had another unpleasant surprise when a tree came crashing down into the fortunately empty site next to ours. I nearly pooped my pants lying in the van and hearing that horrible cracking creaking sound that I know full well comes before the earth shaking bang a tree makes, my panicked brain strained trying to remember if I’d done my usual check of trees nearby the maximise our safety, I had. On Saturday morning we woke up to yet more mizzle (mist and drizzle) and packed up our wet gear. By now we’d had over a week of almost constant rain and we were both completely over it and both constantly damp, neither of us took much convincing to give up on New England and head to the coast to spend some time in a house with Matt’s mate Sheep but we decided to make it a bit interesting and made our way there via a 4WD track through Werrikimbe National Park.

In our “Best 100 Australian 4WDs” book the track was touted as having incredible forests and views but sadly the incredible forests had burnt away and the views were shrouded in mist. We pressed on until at almost the end of the track we were stopped by a deep fast flowing creek and had to go back out the way we went in. After that muck around and then a side trip to the biggest blood redwood in Australia we realised we wouldn’t make it the whole way to Newcastle and I found what I thought would be a good rest stop in the Showgrounds in Taree. The facilities were nice, the care taker was friendly, and we immediately hit it off with an older navy bloke and his wife and dogs that were parked up on the soggy ground. He told us all about his time in the navy and the shenanigans he got up to and later that night when some drug addled blokes started wandering around the Showgrounds shouting abuse at non-existent foes he came over and offered to protect us which was beyond kind even if I was a bit skeptical that a 70yo bloke that was shorter than me could take on a raging meth head. We turned in early to get out of the rain and settled down for what turned out to be a very peaceful sleep.

Campsite Reviews

Apsley Falls – Amazing campsite next to a spectacular waterfall with free wood. Matt and I are both really enjoying the NSW national park sites. The only thing that would make it better would be a shower but I guess you can go near the waterfall for that. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Mooraback – You know a campsite is in a beautiful spot when it is raining, full of leeches and a tree tries to fall on you but you still loved staying there. I would recommend going when it isn’t raining because it was flipping cold. $6pp/pn – 8/10.

Taree Showground – Aw man, I wish I could give this place a better rating because the campsite manager was lovely but the show ground was very grim and the town was even worse. You couldn’t pay either of us to go back there. $20pn – 3/10.

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.

Girraween, The Most Beautiful National Park You’ve Never Heard Of

After saying goodbye to Brisbane we decided that we’d head inland rather than continuing the typical van life direction of south down the coast. We’d already seen so much of that part of Australia and we wanted to do something different. Initially we’d planned to revisit Condamine River Road but upon arrival we found that the road had been shut due to flooding and we were forced to rethink our route. I suggested that we head to Queen Mary Falls, have some lunch and then go for a hike. Queen Mary Falls is quite a well known waterfall in the Darling Downs region, it plunges 40m straight off a cliff and in the right light produces rainbows (which we were lucky enough to see). The most popular circuit hike is 2km of ramps down to the base of the falls and then stairs back up to the main car park. It was a great way to stretch the legs. After getting back in the van and heading down the road a little bit we stumbled upon a second waterfall with a less majestic name, Daggs Falls.

We reached Girraween National Park in the late afternoon and set up camp at the surprisingly busy Bald Rock Creek campground. Girraween’s name means ‘place of flowers’ which it certainly lived up to the next morning when Matt and I decided to tackle the hardest hike in the park and climb the pyramid. Before things turned hectic (which I will get to) the track climbed gently through eucalypt forest where we spotted wildflowers of every possible colour nestled amongst the granite boulders. Before long the plants disappeared and we faced the ridiculous prospect of the pyramid. Imagine the steepest ramp you’ve ever seen, make it a bit steeper so you almost can’t walk up it, and that will give you a pretty good understanding of what the hike is like. Climbing the front face wasn’t even the worst part, to reach the summit we had to go to the left and skirt around the side, I kid you not this rock is sloping down towards a huge drop and you’re trying to walk on it half sideways while praying you don’t slip. I was shitting myself. We reached the top unscathed and were rewarded with an absolutely spectacular view over the park. The way back down was entertaining, I worked out fairly quickly that if I leant back and trusted my hiking boots I could shuffle down no worried but there were a surprising number of people that had climbed in sneakers that were trying to scoot down on their bums and tearing their pants to shreds on the granite in the process. On the way back to camp we incorporated The Arch and a section of the Bald Creek Circuit.

Matt has been jonesing to try out the new tyres and therefore after a bit of a rest we drove out to Sundown National Park where he had a bit of a muck around on the 4WDing tracks and firmly established that we had made a great decision increasing the size. I had to agree with him when I had a go in the van, it felt much more solid on off camber surfaces and was handing the rocky tracks like a champion. Sundown National Park wasn’t very interesting to be honest, the highlight was the lookout over Red Rock Gorge where we had lunch. We went back to Girraween via a local chocolate shop and set up for our final night there at the nicer Castle Rock Camping Area.

Campsite Reviews

Bald Rock Creek – Don’t get me wrong this was a nice campsite but I think it would be really challenging to park in if you had anything bigger than our van as a lot of the sites were really sloped. The environment was cool though as it was set amongst these huge granite boulders. $6.75pp/pn – 7/10.

Castle Rock – Definitely our favourite of the two campsites, this spot had large flat grassy sites and an abundance of birdlife. It was also much closer to the trail heads which made everything more convenient. $6.75pp/pn – 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.

More Queensland Delights

On Friday morning as we packed up camp to leave Stanage Bay I decided to have a peek at the forecast and see what the weekend had in store for us. It turned out to be very lucky that I did as there were some pretty horrible storms lined up, I still can’t believe that even after living in Queensland for 4 years Matt and I forgot about the storm season. I got on the phone to Emma and asked if we could stay for another weekend, which she and Tom confirmed was fine. It worked out very well because it was also Tom’s Birthday so we’d all be able to celebrate together. Rather than head directly back to Yeppoon the way that we’d come we decided to go a little bit off course and visit a local crocodile farm. Koorana turned out to be a fascinating place to visit, we learnt about crocodile farming and the products that are made, but also about the way that the farm operates under the Australian Government’s strategic conservation program working to remove problematic and dangerous animals from the wild. Some of the crocodiles they had were absolutely enormous and even with the high fences between us they put me on edge. If I wasn’t concerned about crocodiles in waterways before we got there I sure as hell was when we left, although that didn’t stop me from holding one of their very cute baby crocs.

Back in Yeppoon we had a fabulous weekend hanging out on the beach, having birthday pizza and drinks, watching the track cycling world championships and doing some yard work. Unfortunately the weather outlook was much better by Tuesday and we’d run out of excuses to stay so we packed up and drove south with a plan to head towards Bundaberg. On our way down to our campsite for the night we stopped in Rockhampton to fill the van up with transmission fluid and then again in Gladstone to buy a new air compressor. No word of a lie it took an hour to pump the tyres up from 8psi to 40psi after we’d done Big Sandy and there was no way we were doing that again, what a waste of time. There was one more bit of drama before we got to Eurimbula in the form of a truck fire on the side of the road. Luckily we’d missed most of the traffic chaos but still slowed down to a creep under the direction of the SES as we drove past the gutted remains of the truck that had be laden with watermelons, of all things.

The next morning I woke up and walked along the beach while Matt made breakfast, I was stoked to see a group of dolphins playing in the calm water of the bay. We took our time packing up as we were just driving down the road to 1770 to spend the morning on the beach and the afternoon in the park next to it so Matt could get some work done. On our way out of town to the national park to camp we found the most amazing gelato store and grabbed a cone each, it would be rude not to! The next day we went on a morning hike up to an uninspiring lookout, drove back into town, returned to the beach, had another surf, met a great guy who also had a white Delica, ate yet another ice cream and then drove back into the national park to camp. On Friday we decided to mix things up a bit with a slightly different morning routine, while eating breakfast we watched a goanna and a brush turkey have a fight and then on the way out of the campground we were driving behind a little Suzuki that was clearly struggling in the soft sand. Unsurprisingly it got bogged so we jumped out to help the occupants, one of which was trying to get to a job interview. Despite being a 4WD no one in the car had any idea what they were doing, the tyre pressure was really high, and Matt had to teach them how to use the deflator. Unfortunately despite the lower air pressure in their tyres, the use of our recovery tracks, and a lot of digging in hot sand (entirely completed by Matt and I) we still couldn’t get them out. By this point we’d amassed quite an audience of other people that were waiting for the track to be cleared so that they could drive past. Matt went over to a likely group of lads and asked if they’d be able to tow the Suzuki out because our Delica hasn’t got any recovery points, it turned out that all of the people watching had thought that it was our car that was bogged and they were all very entertained that it wasn’t, one bloke asked Matt “why isn’t that bloke *gestures at guy that was driving the car* digging himself out?”. The guys did agree to help us tow out the 4WD which lead me to my proudest moment of the trip, I got to use my skills acquired at the 4WDing course we did in February and taught a guy how to use a snatch strap to recover a car. It was great.

Finally with the Suzuki turned around and heading back to the much harder but longer gravel road out of the national park we were all able to get on our way and enjoy our day. Matt and I decided that since we’d had a very lazy couple of ice cream days that we’d do the most popular hike in the area known as The Red Rock Trail. The track followed the edge of the coast up and then along several beautiful beaches. Walking on sand made the going quite challenging but on the way back we stripped into our undies and swam in the sea before drying off under the shade of palm trees. Back in the town and having worked up quite an appetite we grabbed some fish and chips for lunch, while we were waiting the owner came out and gave us some calamari for free which was so good! Because the fish and chip shop was in a little retail area we went and bought Matt another hat, for those of you counting at home this is his 3rd hat purchase for the trip. Hat number 1 flew off into an old railway tank, hat number 2 is still going strong but doesn’t have a wide brim for our resident ginger, hat number 3 has somehow disintegrated into thousands of straw pieces that are now all through the bed. Here’s hoping hat 4 will do the trick!

On Saturday morning we packed up our things to leave 1770/Agnes Waters and continue south to Bundaberg, on the way out we popped into the paperbark forest and walked through the trees. It was a lovely way to end a fantastic few days in a beautiful place.

Campsite Reviews

Eurimbula Creek – We were pleasantly surprised by this campsite as I thought we’d be eaten by mozzies due to the location near the mangroves. The sunset was beautiful, and there were plenty of spacious campsites in a bush setting. $6.75pp/pn – 7/10.

Middle Rock – We loved this campsite, it had great tables, fire rings, and heaps of birds and goannas. We rated it higher than Wreck Rock even though that is the spot that is reviewed as the best campground in Deepwater National Park. There is a great Little Rock pool if you walk down to the beach and head right until you reach the rocks. $6.75pp/pn – 8/10.

Wreck Rock – Unfortunately there weren’t many spots available when we pulled into stay here so we didn’t have a table or any other amenities near us. It was quite nice but not as good as Middle. $6.75pp/pn – 7/10.

Catch Up Time

Hey everyone,

Sorry that it has been a bit quiet on here recently. Matt has being doing a lot more work on the road, I mean like every night so I haven’t had any capacity to update the blog on his laptop and try as I might I can’t type it on my phone. Good news is that he bought me my own laptop for uni work which means I can also use it for the blog. I’ll do my best to catch up over the next few months, in the meantime here are some bird photos. PS: I really appreciate all the views and support I’ve been getting on here, in the first month of 2022 I’ve had almost as many hits as in the whole of 2021 which is pretty exciting.

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.