East coast Australia part 1- Sydney to Brisbane

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 😳

Sydney- A Family Affair

After an awesome week in Melbourne with some great friends, we were off to see Kelly’s family in Sydney. They moved here about 9 years ago, and whist Kelly has seen them during that time, she hasn’t seen her mum in 3 years and her dad in 6, so this was a well deserved catch up to say the least!

But first, we had to get there….

We decided to sign up for relocation offers, which is exactly as it sounds, relocating a vehicle from one location to another. The basic premise is you pay next to nothing for the pleasure, and you’re given a time frame to drive from A to B. Simple right? Look what we ended up with! Ladies and gents, meet Bertha.

To say this vehicle was an upgrade to Leeroy, our home in New Zealand, would be a massive understatement! Bertha came equipped with a proper Inbuilt shower and toilet unit, a full size kitchen, enough space to sleep 6 people, the works! Apparently Bertha was the most expensive vehicle they had in the fleet, and would have retailer or over $200k brand new and well over $200 a day to lease. For this relocation, we paid $5 a day…

There are really two options when driving from Melbourne to Sydney, drive the short and dull inland road, or drive the considerably longer coastal road. We did the math, and worked out we should have plenty of time to drive the coastal route and still make it to the drop off on time. What’s the point in doing something like this if you don’t get to see any sites eh?

So off we set, on our 1500km journey, with effectively 3 days to do it in. 

Sadly, the weather wasn’t on our side. We spent the first day driving through some monsterous forestry and woodland areas, but also through one hell of a storm. The whole day was wet, miserable, and overcast! Because of this, we didn’t make it quite as far as expected, so ended up camping in the middle of one of said forests, only leaving the vehicle to turn on the gas, before hunkering down within Bertha. The following day we had agreed to make it to Jervis Bay, an area known around the world for having some of the whitest sand on the planet! Before we could dip our toes in the crystal clear water though, we had to drive the best part of 800km! So, we set off at 7am, and didn’t arrive until sunset. Fortunately, the weather was glorious most of the day, so we did get some pretty awesome views along the route. However, when we arrived, it became apparent our planned destination was going to cost around $90 to stay at, due to national holiday fees, said establishment being on a national park, and the size of Bertha, so we ventured further up the coast of the bay. Sadly this resulted in further rank weather setting in (and darkness, go figure), resulting in another let down! To make matters worse, we discovered that the shower was actually broken in Bertha (the sliding doors were totally knackered) and the cupboards containing ALL our stuff had jammed shut, and would simply not open! This may not seem like that big a deal, but when your whole life is in a bag, to say it’s a bit of a pain in the arse is a slight understatement!

The next morning was exactly the same; minging wet and cold, to the extent where we abandoned the planed beach walk, and continued our so far laborious journey to Sydney. The final leg should have been short and relatively easy drive up the coast. Somehow though, we only made it to the drop off point 10 minutes before the deadline at 3pm! Considering we pretty much only stopped for lunch this is still a total mystery to us.

But we made it! 1200km driven in 3 days, in about 22 hours of driving! Bertha, you were both great and a grumpy shit. Sadly we won’t be able to afford anything like that quality of vehicle again on the trip, but living the life of quasi-opulence for a few days was rather nice I guess.

So kids, lessons learned for this kind of trip like this. Check how long the route will take and add at least 20% on top, CHECK THE WEATHER before you set off, work out if you will actually get to stop anywhere en route, and figure out if you’ll actually save any cash doing it (we didn’t really). 

AANNNYWAY

The reason we did such an epic drive in such a short space to time, was so we could suprise Kelly’s parents. We had planned to arrive 3 days later, but Kelly had decided probably 7 months ago she wanted to suprise them. So after the dropping the vehicle off, we headed straght to the surgery where Angie (Kelly’s Mum) is a practice nurse. After contacting reception, getting the ladies on the desk in on the act, and basically booking a fake appointment, we eagery awaited her mum to enter the room. The reaction was absolutely textbook! The scream Angie let off was like a sonic boom, and must have scared the crap out of everyone else at the practice, but we did it! Following this, the suprise for Eugene (her Dad) followed, when we jumped through the front door of their flat. So the suprise worked; what a result! 

The next few days were spent with Angie and Eugene. We didn’t really do much, but that was great! After the best part of 6 years, there was obivously a lot to catch up on, and just spending time with each other was more important than being active. Kelly’s parents were very sweet, and had the Xmas tree up waiting for us, as we hadn’t really celebrated Xmas whilst in Thailand. To top this off, because we had arrived for Easter weekend (apparently, I had no idea of this) we had a combined Xmas/Easter lunch, and an Easter egg hunt (which I must say, Kelly took FAR too seriously). A great weekend all round really (with a little too much over indulgence on food, drink, and chocolates)…

A week of celebrations

We had quite a bit to celebrate whilst being here though. Kelly’s parents had recently renewed their vows, we hadn’t seen them since getting engaged (now over a year ago, how time flies when you’re having fun), my 30th/Kelly’s 30th (in August), and her parents 60th birthdays which sadly we’d miss. Because of this, we decided to book a few days away in the Hunter Valley, which is only about a 3 hour drive from the city.

Wow, what a stunning place! We booked into Hunter Valley Resort after finding a Groupon deal (another tip for Aus; abuse Groupon!) for a night of accommodation and a few activities. We all enjoyed the obligatory wine tasting when staying at a vineyward, learning about the vines and the history of the vineyard/surrounding area, and had some great food alongside the wonderful vino. The night we arrived, we were advised to go for a short walk away from the vineyard, as it was very common to see Kangaroos at dusk. I’m so glad we listened! Less than 1km from our accomodation was a huge group of Roo’s, all quietly hopping around rummaging for food. I said that whilst in Oz, I was adamant I’d catch them in the wild, and now I can tick that box! 

After a couple of days of over-indulgence (again), we headed back to Sydney to continue our antics. 

Kelly and I are massive Rugby fans. We were lucky enough to be at the local Super Rugby derby whilst in Dunedin, New Zealand, and as there was a match on in Sydney whilst we were there, we felt this was too good an opportunity to miss. It’s safe to say, Angie and Eugene are some of the least sports orientated people I know, and between them probably couldn’t differenciate between a ruck and a maul, try and conversion, but regardless we dragged them along as well. After an enjoyable journey to the ground with Kelly perfecting her ‘idiots guide to egg ball chasing’ we had an enjoyable match. 

To makes things even better, we met up with an old mate from uni who we haven’t seen in over 7 years! For those of you who remember Spock from Ruskin days, you’ll be glad to know he’s not changed THAT much since uni days.What was somewhat suprising though is Angie and Eugene seemed to not only enjoy the match, but actually GOT IT as well! 10 points to Kelly for exceptional describing clearly.

As mentioned earlier, Kelly and I got engaged just over year ago. Because we’ve been on the road for over 7 months now, it’s undertandable to say we’ve put wedding plans on the back burner (they never really even made it onto the burner but..) until we get home. Regardless, we wanted Angie and Eugene to have some level of involvement in the process, so booked onto the Sydney Bridal exhibition the day after arriving home from the Valley. Now, my plan was to let Kelly and Angie go off and look at dresses, whilst myself and Eugene looked at wedding cars, sound systems, and venues, but this failed completely. We spent the whole day at the show, because there was just so much to see! We even got the floodgates to open from both parents when discussing venues in Bali (seriously, there’s some stunners there that are so much cheaper than UK venues). We hadn’t planned on spending the whole day, as Kelly and I were off to the City for a night of partying with Tim and Steph, to celebrate her 30th, but we did..

We may have been a tad late for them, but this didn’t matter too much. After one of the best meals i’ve had since leaving the UK at Big Poppas in central Sydney, we spent the night partying, enjoying high class tequila with Moet chasers (yep, this is now a thing), dancing in birdcages in Gay bars, and embracing our inner youth through pillow fights and jumping on the bed till 5am back at their hotel. Needless to say, we did the 30th right, and definitly paid for it the next day. I’ve also 100% confirmed I no longer want to wear jeans or shoes. Yet again, Tim and Steph, you guys are amazing! Thanks for another amazing night, and another monster hangover.

To finish off the week of fun and frollics, we met up with Kelly’s cousins who again, we haven’t seen for 6 years! Last time we were in Sydney, we took the boys Matt and Ryan to the Ashes, but they were just kids! This time, Lauren is 19 and working full time, Matt was about to take his driving test, and Ryan was in his mid teens, and gearing up to take his GCSE equivalent! As ever, it was lovely seeing them again, and for the Sweeney’s it was a very rare occasssion having all the family (or nearly all the family) together. Annoyingly, we got so caught up in conversation we didn’t get a photo (sorry Tricia). These separate photos will have to do though. 

At this point, I thought the week of family fun was over, but Kelly and Angie had different ideas. They’d arranged to go wedding dress ‘trying’ for a day. This obviously is a proper right of passage for mother and daughter, but as we live the other side of the world this was one of the only opportunities for this to happen. However, what I didn’t expect was for them to BUY a dress! Obviously I know nothing of the details of said dress, but I do know lots of tears were shed, and regardless ofthe number of dresses tried on, this was ‘the one’. Guess we should probably start planning the actual wedding now that a dress is bought!

Fun with old friends

It feels like we have managed to meet up with people in the majority of places we’ve been, but Australia has raised the bar on this yet again, and Sydney was certainly no exception. We’ve literally dedicated a week to meeting up with people! It seems like the majority of Ireland emigrated to Oz about 6 years ago, so Kel has a few mates out here, as do I. On Anzac Day, we met up with (another) Kelly, one of her oldest friends from school. We were quickly given an introduction into an Australian past time, 2up. It’s literally a coin toss on steroids (+alcohol) that people bet on. I managed to win $20 over the duration of the day, so I was happy. Apparently it gets so heated, this game is illegal every other day apart from Anzac. We were given a tour of Bondi, and the lovely Watsons Bay, which i’d highly recommend visiting if you get the chance whilst in Sydney. 

We also got to frequent her 30th birthday in central Sydney, which came rather close to being a very long and heavy night (as I understand, this is pretty commonplace when Kelly McD is involved), but we managed to escape around 1am. We met some awesome people, and Kelly had told all her mates about her oldest school friend making an appearance, which was lovely and super welcoming. 

To add to the Irish caucus, we spent an evening with Niamh (pronounced more like neeve), another school friend from the land of the spud huggers. We spent the evening touring the Rocks, and Circular Quay, enjoying the famous sights of Sydney. Kelly and I last saw Naimh in 2005, so as you can imagine, we had a huge amount to catch up on! 

Next it was my turn to see old faces! We linked up with Lou, a (sort of) colleague from Uni days. Lou used to work for the Students’ Union when I worked for the Uni, but she was also my running buddy and (gossip fiend) whilst we worked at the same time. We had a great day at Manly doing a coastal walk, and met up again to go for a run (and gossip obviously), for old times sake.

Finally, meeting up with Spock on numerous occassions. Spock went off the radar somewhat when he moved over here, but we’ve stayed in touch from time to time via email etc. But catching up with him was literally like jumping back in time, absolutely nothing had changed, and we were all more than happy chatting utter shite like we used to all night long. We eneded up meeting up about 4 times, and finally got to meet his wonderful lady Sam. If you guys are reading this, thanks so much for such great evenings and even better company. Spock, she’s a keeper, take good care of her! It’s great to see you both doing so well and loving life so much.

So there we have it; 3 weeks in Sydney. It’s been so nice being with the inlaws, I have no idea how they put up with me for 3 weeks, but we all survived! Angie and Eugene, thanks for having us and thanks for everything you’ve done for us whilst we’ve been here. 

Now, we have another 3 weeks to explore the rest of the east coast in a camper again! If anyone has any must see places on the east coast to Cairns, let us know!