Under, over and on the waves - East Coast Oz

Trip Start Nov 07, 2009
Trip End Jun 17, 2010

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The next section of our trip took us the remaining part of the coast from Sydney to Cairns where we flew out. By now we've covered a lot of miles and seen some great things on the way. Australia is really so diverse and whilst most people we have spoken to about our trip have warned on the huge distances and long boring stretches of road; at least the routes we've been have been great as journeys in themselves and well worth the drive.
Its been quite interesting seeing the contrast between the big cities and the countryside in Australia. One thing in particular is that the countryside is much more conservative than we thought it would be. Driving through the one-horse towns miles from anywhere you often see little wooden churches straight out of Kill Bill 2 with signs outside telling you that Jesus is your life, in you, around you, under you, watching - look busy, etc...
It's a patriotic country too - its rare to buy something that doesn't have "Australia owned and run" printed on it somewhere. In one case on a packet of berries that are grown in Nepal the notice told us that the marketing department was 100% Australian. Phew.
What we would call Chavs in the UK / Rednecks in the US, they call Bogans in Australia. Its quite funny spotting them in rural Oz: generally they have a greater similarity to ZZ Top than is strictly healthy or a non-ironic mullet haircut (Business at the front, party at the back!), drive a rude pick-up truck, and are seen blocking up the drive-through bottle shops. Still, they've got nothing on Vicky Pollard!
Back to the journey...
We left Sydney heading North with the main aim of going somewhere to learn to surf. We stopped off in a few of the costal towns before arriving in Byron Bay - practically surf mecca. We found a surf school who had a "40m of stand-up surfing or your money back" guarantee and signed up! The lesson lasted a couple of hours and we did indeed stand up and go about 40metres. Result! We came back pretty pleased with ourselves and ready for more.
Byron Bay was a cool town with a great beach and lots of chilled out people so we had a great time. The only downside was that Gaby had begun to fail me as my chief line of mosquito defence. They still loved her, but there were so many that they feasted on me too. This was the only annoyance with camping: going to the loo at night would mean bringing back a swarm of mossies who would follow into the tent. Then it would be like something out of a Pink Panther cartoon where you hear one in the dark buzzing closer...closer...then abrupt silence. At which point you start bashing yourself violently around the head to try and kill it. Many nights I'd be sat up in the tent, 3am, maniacal rambo-style glint in my eye, rolled up surfing brochure in hand, hunting them down by the light of my phone! (torch still missing)
Next stop was Brisbane - with the main aim of taking a break from the driving and camping for a couple of days. We stayed in an really nice old guest house which had been in the same family for about a hundred years and still retained its old features. Including the staff. Very cosy though and 3 days passed pretty quickly catching up on reading and planning the next sections of the trip
Our original plan was then to go from Brisbane straight to Fraser Island but the Easter holidays got in the way and everything was booked up. On a recommendation from a friend (Thanks Nicky!) we decided to stop in a place called Noosa which is an upmarket holiday town just north of Brisbane set around some great coast, rivers and islands. Glad we did - really nice place. First up on the list of activities was horse riding on the beach which Gaby loved, going off with an instructor and galloping hard in the waves for 2 hours. I went as a beginner and clung on for dear life! Not pretty. 
Buoyed (ha ha) by our recent surf success we decided to go for it again in Noosa. Unfortunately the first lesson really hadn't prepared us as much as we'd hoped. First: the surf board. The thing we'd been on before was more of a boat than a board - no wonder it was easy. Secondly: the location. The first lesson was on the mouth of a river inlet and whilst the waves felt big at the time...they were actually mere ripples. I think we went out on a rough day this second time, but nothing prepared us for the 2 meter angry walls of water that bashed the hell out of us mercilessly for the next 2 hours! Just trying to paddle out was tricky enough. I'd often see Gaby paddling just ahead of me, a wave would pass through and suddenly she'd come flying back towards me, her above me, her surf board above her, then she'd disappear into a massive white foam before eventually surfacing...in time for the next wave to break on her head. It was hilarious. We could forget standing up - it was all about survival!!
Once the Easter holidays had passed we continued North and on to Hervey Bay which is one of the coastal towns you can use to get to Fraser Island. On the island you can only take a 4x4 so we hired a battered old Landrover and got stuck in. It was great fun. All of the tracks are sandy, and many of them are basically on the edge of how far you can push a 4x4. Inland it takes hours to cover even short distances, though on the beaches which are mostly flat its pretty quick.  The island is unique in that it is completely sand yet has a rain forrest. There are also lots of brilliant blue fresh water lakes, cliffs, plains, hills - pretty spectacular. Its also home to the purest breeds of Dingo in Australia. We were given a suggested itinerary by the hire company including a warning of all the really rough roads where you shouldn't go, so the latter became our actual itinerary ;-) 

Most visitors stick to the East coast of the island which faces out to the Pacific Ocean and is quite rough and rugged. The west coast however is pretty much deserted, but being the side that faces the mainland is really calm with glass-smooth emerald blue water lapping against a pure white beach. One day we were there we literally had a beach as far as the eye could see to ourselves. Just to finish off a perfect afternoon on the walk back to the car there were dolphins jumping out of the water just next to the beach - brilliant. The only problem is that you can't really swim due to terrifying list of things in the water that can kill you! 
By now we were running out of time for our flight from Cairns, so we had to pick up the pace a bit. Between Hervey Bay and Cairns are about 1600kms, the Whitsunday's, and the Barrier Reef. After a brief stop at Arlie Beach to see if we could get a trip out to the Whitsunday's (we couldn't) we moved straight on to Cairns to get to the Barrier Reef. We ended up pretty lucky by getting last minute tickets on to a trip that had a scenic helicopter flight and diving on the  reef for $220 so we splurged a bit and went for it. The diving as we'd been told in Indonesia wasn't that amazing, though it is good, but seeing the sheer scale of the reef from above was brilliant. 
That's it from Oz - our next stop is New Zealand. 
The following is a few of our learnings from the road trip so far for anyone planning to do a similar trip in Australia (so don't read if not!):
- Unless doing the relocation thing, campervans are really expensive here, and most people who hire them end up staying overnight in campsites which are everywhere and all provide great facilities: cookers, laundry, showers fridges etc. You have to pay to stay at these so no point in having a kitchen sink in the car as well. We found hiring a normal car and having a tent is all you need; nicer to drive, cheaper on fuel and cheaper to hire, you can give them back when visiting cities rather than worrying about parking and switch to a 4x4 when you need one. And you're not a giant 'break into me' sign on wheels.
- Abuse of credit card points / airmiles: They don't charge one way fees and if they don't have the locations you want, book the nearest and then call the car hire company and change it with them directly, which is free!
- Praise be to cruise control!!
- New cars have ipod sockets which really help to eat up the miles!
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