So far on this trip of a lifetime we’ve hired Campervans twice, once for 43 days to explore the whole of New Zealand, and once to get from Melbourne to Sydney. Van life may not be the most glamorous way to travel, but damn it’s fun! Without a doubt it’s my favourite method of getting around so far (maybe a close second actually to driving a TucTuc around India), mainly because of the freedom it gives you. When we were figuring out our method of getting up the east coast of oz, we debated between flights to key spots, getting the Greyhound bus the whole way, or a van. In the end the van won, purely because it gave us the freedom we have loved so much to properly explore the place we’re visiting.
For anyone considering a journey like the east coast of oz, you need to consider a few things. Firstly, are you happy being stuck on a bus for hours on end, with limited stops, and potentially being in very close proximity with people you just don’t like (we weren’t, i’m secretly a grumpy shit). Secondly, can you afford to hostel hop constantly and eat out for potentially every meal three times a day (we couldn’t really, and I love cooking so….). Finally, are you happy just seeing the key tourism spots, cities, or hubs? We weren’t; clearly 3 weeks of van life trumped all other options for us!
So off we set again, driving from Sydney to Cairns over 3 weeks, in our new steed, Deadrie. It would be an understatement to say she’s a little rough around the edges, has clearly been around the block a few times and kinda needs some TLC, but she has done us okay so far. We’ve spent the past 9 days getting to Brisbane, making the most of van life by stopping wherever the hell we wanted! This has mainly consisted of stopping at shed loads of Australia’s stunning beaches and exploring a great variety of the coastline and surrounding areas.
Our initial plan for this chunk consisted of driving immediately to Coffs Harbour, about 200mi up the coast. We should have known though, this would never happen. We had our last supper with Kelly’s parents at Hurricanes (an absolute MUST if you’re in NSW, genuinely some of the most amazing ribs we’ve ever eaten), meaning we had literally no chance of getting that far north. We made a last second decision to cut back to the Hunter Valley, purely because it was just so bloody beautiful the last time we were there! We just about made it before the kangaroo witching hour at dusk. Sadly our camping options are somewhat restricted in oz in contrast to the amazing array of options available in New Zealand, so we opted for the cheap option at a site on a racecourse. Typically, there was a circus in town the night we arrived, so we shared the site with some rather “interesting” neighbours. Regardless, we were in the Hunter Valley, it was beautiful, and got to experience some wonderful roads in and out.
Over the next few days we aimed for Port Macquarie, another coastal town further north. Again, massively underestimating the drive, this took another two days rather than one. We don’t appear to have been very good as this estimated driving Malarkey so far… Alongside this, we took a couple of routes resulting in a two hour round trip to get back to the same spot, thanks to one way inlets, boats not running, and entire stupidity. Typical… alongside this we nearly ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere after exploring some sand dunes on a historical aboriginal site, just to add to the fun.
When we FINALLY made it to port Macquarie though, we were greeted by an awesome beachside town, with plenty to do and see. One of the highlights of Port Mac was definitely the koala hospital, a voluntary organisation set up entirely to rescue and nurture injured koalas. Sadly these cute guys are getting to the point of severe endangerment now, all thanks to humans obviously (not helped by the fact they all have chlamydia though). The work they do is wonderful and you really got a sense of the cohesion of aim from the staff members volunteering there.
Anyway….After Port Mac we continued our journey north. We are constantly on the hunt for free camp sites which often tend to lead us to some pretty weird places. Our next stop can only be described as a stereotypical hick town to be honest… we ended up pretty inland in the middle of nowhere, staying in the car park of a hotel. This hotel was literally the only sign of local economy for probably 15 miles in either direction, and was populated primarily by guests frequenting the establishment whilst donning their custom made bottle coolers, extreme mullets, and looks of bewilderment as we entered the bar for a schooner. Needless to say, we felt yet again like we were in a sketch from a league of gentlemen “you’re not from around here are you?”
This wasn’t the last time we’d feel like this on this leg of the journey. Another evening again, hunting our a low cost site (of which there are surprisingly few), we drove off track for an hour or so and ended up in a very different situation. This time, I was warned of the “feral” locals before they all arrived for the evening raffle (which we were welcome to join). Kelly with her pink hair got some interesting looks, and I got a full blown stare down from a couple who’d obviously never seen anyone like me before (and I thought I blended in okay here, but apparently not). To finish off the evenings entertainment the local village drunk (I think drunk, but might have been something else) made friends with me at the bar, just as Kelly abandoned me for the solitude of our camper just as I got a fresh beer. It probably goes without saying, but the conversation that came in tow wasn’t the greatest discussion of philosophical theories I’ve ever had the pleasure of partaking in…. The evening was topped off by witnessing a feral local battle to the drunken topple-over, over I believe who truly won the meat platter awarded in said raffle (with a bit of Trump politics thrown in). This was rather entertaining until it took a full on racist turn. I’d been told about the blatant racism which can be witnessed further afield in Oz but this was the first experience I’ve had of true racism in quite some time (probably the first time on this trip). Once the scrap was over, said rowdy feral locals stumbled into their cars and drove off (it appears drink driving isn’t a thing in feral land either). The weirdest thing is, all this end-of-night activity actually occurred about 8.30pm!!!! Ho Hum.
During this leg of the trip, we stopped off at as many of Australia’s beaches as possible, and I must say, I can definitely see what the fuss is about. East coast beaches in Oz have consistently been pretty fabulous; long stretches of sand both along the coast and towards the sea, impeccably clean, and great facilities. It’s a real shame that camping is prohibited at most otherwise we’d have a consistent spot outside all of them up the whole east coast. Ive managed to get a few good runs in along the beaches en route which has been great! My barefoot skills have definitely dwindled somewhat though; the exfoliation from the sand on my feet has made them as soft as baby’s bums after months of toughening them up from rebelling against shoes almost permanently!
Around 1500km north of Sydney, we reached the legendary town of Byron Bay. I can definitely see why this place is so popular; it oozes chilled hippy beach vibe from every pore. We ended up spending a few days here but could have easily made that weeks if we had the time! The weather wasn’t really on our side most of the time, but we got to enjoy sunsets over the beach, some great views across the bay, and the absolute highlight was the sea kayaking expedition we did! We spent a good 3 hours out on the water with our group, and got to see a pod of dolphins surfing the waves just ahead of us. Sadly I didn’t get any great photos of this (this is the best I got) but what a great thing to experience! We can also now both say we kayaked around the most eastern point of Australia. I think it’s safe to say we didn’t really want to leave Byron, but we booked heaps of fun stuff for the next leg of our trip, and there was plenty more to see further north!
We were also really fortunate to catch up with some mates we made in Vietnam, who lived in Brisbane. We met Gemma and Eric whilst out on our boat tour of Ha Long Bay, and instantly hit it off. I think Kelly and Gemma bonded strongly over their mutual dislike for the drunken northerner we had to endure on our boat. Gemma very kindly offered to house us whilst we were in Brisbane, and was an awesome tour guide too! We spent 3 days with these guys exploring the local area. The outskirts of Brisbane are pretty beautiful, you definitely don’t feel like you’re so close to a city! The city itself is tiny in comparison to others we have seen. Although we didn’t get to go in and explore the city Eric (our trusty chauffeur) gave us a quick drive through. After a day of exploring the surrounding areas, another day trying to explore the Tamborine Mountains (loads of roads and trails were still closed following the onslaught of Cyclone Debbie, donning the phrase #fuckyoudebbie for the rest of the trip), an evening playing drinking games, hours playing with their new pup Nala, walking between islands at low tide and cooking copious amounts of grub on the barbie we’d probably overstayed our welcome so continues north again. Guys it was great to see you both again, and we have to return the favour when you head to Blighty! To add to our Brisbane experience we also linked up with Kelly’s old school friend from Ireland, Marie, and her adorable family. It’s always nice to see how people live in areas we’re visiting, and this was no exception. I could definitely see myself living in a Brisbane suburb after the last few days around here.
So there you have it, over 2500km later we are only half way up the east coast! The next ten days we will be heading to Cairns, with a quick stop off en route to explore the Whitsundays, jump out of a plane at 15000ft, snorkel around the barrier reef and spend a day in a rainforest. No biggie 😳