Of mangrove mud crabs and big city bar tabs, the Mighty Australian Road Trip – Part 2
Part 2: Cairns – Sydney
The East Coast. Australia’s string of endless backpacker hotspots, and we find ourselves standing right at the northern end of it, in Port Douglas. There are an incredible amount of things to do and see, so take this as a starting point.
We’ve spent the last 2 weeks driving through Australia’s Red Centre with our trusty Mighty Camper Rhino, filming for THL. 2000km from Northern croc-crazy town Darwin to the heart of the continent at Uluru we backtracked 1000km up the Stuart Highway where we took the only right turn in days and cut 2000km across Western Queensland. We hit the Pacific Ocean, could go no further East, and now saw the windy ribbon of the aptly named Bruce Highway disappear into the horizon.
Leg 3: Cairns to Brisbane
Delving straight into some local aboriginal culture, Juan Walker took us on a bush tucker walk through the mangrove forests, low tide beaches and to a spectacular swimming rock pool in Mossman Gorge. “I’ve come here since I was a kid. These leaves are great for insect bites. These ants taste of sherbet”. We try them, and to our delight, they do. We have some more.
“Oh, look, a mudcrab! Let’s catch it, it’s tasty.” Down goes the bamboo spear narrowly missing his feet and with one stab Juan pulls an enormous buck out of the sea (he’s done this before!). Cooking it up with incredible, chorizo-tasting mussels and snails we collected later, we find out he’s spot on. Tasty doesn’t even start to describe this mouthwatering meal.
Cairns is our next stop, and with its established backpacker culture we feel right at home as we join the Tusa team on a scuba diving trip on the infamous Great Barrier Reef. Marveling at an array of multi coloured fish, turtles and coral was perfectly topped off with an evening’s BBQ at Holloways Beach (just south of Yorkeys Knob. Yep, Knob.) with a bunch of new camper friends. Oh, the carefree life.
About 3 hours drive south of Cairns, the small sugar cane town of Tully has laid its mark on the map by erecting a giant, golden, 8m high gumboot, frog and all, to mark the record rainfall for Tully in 1950. Climb to the top using the inbuilt spiral staircase, enjoy the view of the sugar cane refinery and count yourself lucky to have witnessed the marvel of one of Australia’s famous ‘Big Things’. We did – it was special.
Also in Tully, locals Caroline and Doug took us on a Kayaking trip down Bulgan Creek which was an incredibly enjoyable way to find out all about the local indigenous culture and their connection to the region’s stunning jungle environment and endangered crazy animal Cassowary. Don’t know what it is? Read this.
Further down the Bruce highway we came face to face with these incredible creatures at the Billabong Sanctuary in Townsville whilst furry wild kangaroos and wallabies crowded around us waiting to be hand fed. A short ferry ride over to stunningly beautiful Magnetic Island meant we got to stay at the only van camping ground on the island – Koala Village. And it gets even better as Koala Village is one of the very few places in Australia you can personally hug a real live fluffy Koala – if you promise to pretend to be a tree.
Thanks to the Curlews keeping us up all night with their spooky wailing cries, we woke bleary eyed to a gorgeous sunrise and headed off without breakfast on the next stretch of Bruce. A big adventure lay ahead as the very next morning, we boarded the Derwent Hunter, a 1946 Tasmanian Tall Ship, to sail, snorkel and film the passengers and awesome crew in the famous Whitsundays.
Turtle spotting, lounging on coral cays and jumping off deck, we soaked up as much water as we could, as we were also preparing for our next stop, which was to be entirely different.
In the heart of the Kroombit Tops National Park, about 4 hours drive inland from Rockhampton, we left the beach, big roads and bustle behind to get deep into Queensland’s cattle territory. Owned and run by wonderful couple Alan and Carol with their (grown up) children Brent, Kerry and son-in-law Andrew, the functioning cattle station welcomes campers, backpackers, families and those in desperate need of an anti-rat-race holiday. We helped muster Queensland’s cutes… we mean WILDEST goats, learned to lasso, shoot and square dance and took a wonderful horseback ride around the stunningly beautiful countryside.
With meals cooked over an open fire and billy tea on demand all day we could have easily stayed here longer, but this production is on a tight schedule so we begrudgingly said our goodbyes and headed for Brisbane. Who would have thought a place could have such a great impact after such a short amount of time? We’ll be back.
Brisbane – our first big city! We couldn’t believe our eyes as we drove through the towering skyscrapers, public transport network and people in suits everywhere. People with mortgages, dental plans and proper jobs. We certainly hadn’t seen this since Jakarta, and that was a very different type of metropolis.
Even more surprising than the forgotten-but-familiar city-feel was how close everything was to a huge amount of outdoor activities, from abseiling down Kangaroo Point cliffs in the heart of the business district to kayaking past the skyscrapers and under Story Bridge with our guide James.
Moreton Island, the world’s third biggest sand island, is also only an hour away by boat. Whilst the clockwork-run Tangalooma resort may not be everyone’s cup of tea, they provide great facilities and access to 6 minute helicopter rides and sand boarding on the 200m high sand dunes that are comparable in size to dunes in Iran. And if that wasn’t thrilling enough, you could snorkel around a row of shipwrecks and hand-feed wild dolphins in a thunderstorm. Yes, it was that spectacular.
Leg 4: Brisbane to Sydney
Get your fake tan on, then wash it off. Get your tie die pants on. Then get your pants off completely and moon someone. Basically, do the Gold Coast-Byron-Spot X Surf Camp dance.
So close yet so culturally different and all three completely obsessed with surfing, we swam through the haze of ‘it’ girls, veneers and six packs to hippy heaven and beyond to the east coast’s quintessential surfers dream. The Gold Coast welcomed us with Miami-style shiny high-rise flats and Ibiza style nightlife along an endless beach where we shot for an afternoon and fuelled up on fish & chips whilst fending off a bunch of rogue ibis.
The next day brought the polar opposite in the place everyone seems to get stuck nowadays. We were in hippy enclave Byron Bay, where we couldn’t move without stumbling over either an organic, fairtrade, profit-share hemp café or a group of tousle-haired, guitar strumming fisherman-pant sporting 55-year-old ex-university lecturers and fresh-faced backpackers. We soaked up the incredible views from Byron’s Lighthouse (interestingly mainland Australia’s most Eastern point) as hump back whales cruised past slapping their pectoral fins. No wonder people do yoga here at sunrise.
Spot X, or Arrawarra as outnumbered non-Mojo-ites call it, brought us only 1 day’s drive from our final destination Sydney. Set on a creek mouth, the camp is anything an aspiring or laid back surfer could wish for. Empty mile-long beach, the availability of lessons for those who want to learn from scratch or improve, social dorm accommodation and at least 3 parties a week (if you’re good at inspiring them).
And then it hit us – in a couple of days we would arrive. At the end of not only the Mighty Road Trip, but our entire overland Epic Journey from London to Sydney. As we swung by Port Stephens for some somewhat rushed sand dune quad biking and later that day drove up the windy roads to the Blue Mountains, we found ourselves feeling both excited and daunted by the prospect of arriving and completing such an immense project.
Sunrise at Echo Point overlooking the gorge and Three Sisters rock formation made us inhale deeply, and contemplate the 40,000km of the surface of this earth that we’d covered over the last 9 months. Walking around Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House with Kalkani and Margret hearing all about the aboriginal heritage in the area added yet another layer to the scene we’d seen on thousands of post cards.
We were finally here. It was an incredible ending to an incredible journey. To top it off, Saxon jumped out of a perfectly good plane on his first ever skydive. But it’s not over yet. Keep your eyes peeled for our final Epic Journey post, coming soon. Off to Surry Hills, time for a well deserved beer.
Leg 2: Cairns to Brisbane
Leg 3: Brisbane to Sydney