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Emily and Adrian’s Day at the Beach

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Going to the beach is no big deal, right? Wrong! Dear blog readers, in 7 years of holidays with Adrian, I have until now failed to get him anywhere near sand. He has always refused to spend holiday time undertaking such an “unproductive and futile” endeavour. However, I managed to persuade him that it would be a cultural offence to visit the Australian East Coast without going to the beach at least once and arriving in beach paradise Noosa gave us the perfect opportunity to experiment with sand-based enjoyment. This is the result …

Hey, sand is fun!

Hey, sand is fun!

Nap time

Nap time

Paddling is nice ...

Paddling is nice ...

... but watch out for jellyfish!

... but watch out for jellyfish!

Shadowy figures

Shadowy figures

Scary face in the sky

Scary face in the sky

Written by Emily

December 5, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Australian Road Trip: Part Two

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Missed Part One? Read it here!

Day 6: Finch Hatton Gorge – Rockhampton

After two glorious days of rainforest relaxation, we were feeling pretty upbeat about the remaining section of our road trip. Our optimism was, however, to be short-lived. Given that the Platypus Bushcamp was unpowered there was no possibility of booking any ongoing accommodation online. Wazza kindly rang around a few places in our intended destination (the town of 1770, where Captain Cook first alighted Down Under) but no-one had availability. We therefore drove into nearby Finch Hatton, which had a small local museum with a couple of internet-connected PCs. 1770 is a popular destination and there was very little available at short notice, so we settled on Captain Cook’s Holiday Village, which we booked through lastminute.com.au, paying in full for two nights.

Half-way there, just outside the Australian beef capital, Rockhampton, we pulled over to make a phone call to the hotel, as we’d experienced quite a few delays due to roadworks and thought we had better arrange for a key to be left for us, as we now did not expect to arrive within the reception’s desk hours. What happened next was truly astonishing: a confused woman answered the phone, and told us she did not really know how to use the computers, her boss was away, and she had never heard of lastminute.com.au. Furthermore, she said, she could not “let us stay” without a booking. Our protestations that we definitely did have a booking and had paid in full fell on deaf ears and the exchange ended with an abrupt hanging-up of the phone (her not us).

Night driving

Night driving

Unwilling to drive a further 200 kms through the night to a tiny town which may or may not have alternative places to stay, we instead decided to look for a hotel room in Rockhampton. The first listing in Lonely Planet was for an old period hotel just a few kms down the road called The Criterion, so we headed there and were pleased to be met by a friendly and helpful receptionist who was glad to accommodate us and even loaned us a DVD player free of charge. We concluded our day with a well-deserved steak dinner.

Day 7: Rockhampton

Rockhampton is a curious place. The reason we’d intended to drive through it rather than stay there was because Lonely Planet and everyone we met in Australia said there was nothing to see or do. However, when we stepped outside of our lovely hotel onto a street of gorgeous Victorian buildings lining an attractive quayside, it occurred to us they might be missing a trick. The staff at The Criterion were so friendly, and the room so comfortable we were keen to stay another night if we could find something to do. There just happened to be a tourist information office a few doors down from the hotel, which is where we learned about the Dreamtime Cultural Centre just outside of town: a museum dedicated to Aboriginal history and culture, including digeridoo demonstrations and lessons in throwing a boomerang. Far too good an opportunity to pass up!

Adrian throwing a boomerang (it didn't come back)

Adrian throwing a boomerang (it didn't come back)

After a fascinating couple of hours at Dreamtime, we headed for the local zoo to check out the crocodiles, kangaroos and koalas, and then had dinner at a local pub. Conclusion: if anyone tells you not to bother with Rockhampton don’t believe them!

Koala bear - so cute!

Koala bear - so cute!

Day 8: Rockhampton to Noosa

Having secured our refund from lastminute.com.au for the failed attempt to secure a room at Captain Cook’s Holiday Village, we checked out of the Criterion Hotel and headed for the local library where free internet and cheap food – both rarities in Australia – awaited us. Our next destination was Noosa, where we managed to book an online special for a holiday apartment near the beach. After calling to make sure they’d definitely received the booking, we headed off for some traditional Aussie beach fun!

Day 9: Noosa

We have to admit, Noosa is gorgeous. It’s the kind of picture-postcard beach resort paradise most of us dream of throughout the drizzle and cold of the UK winter. Definitely a rich-kids’ playground, Noosa is packed to the brim with plush resorts, holiday homes and marinas for yachts and sailboats. That said, it makes reasonable provision for the budget traveller, and our apartment was of a surprisingly high standard considering we didn’t pay much above hostel prices for it.

Our day in Noosa began with a swim in our complex’s pool and a soak in the hot tub before heading down to the beach. Those of you who know Adrian will be aware that he’s not really the sit-around-on-a-beach type (Emily is much more amenable to this concept!) but on this occasion he was persuaded to spend a full 10 minutes lying in the sun and enjoying doing nothing! This is such a rare occurrence that we decided to create a special picture blog all about our day at the beach.

Day 10: Noosa to Brisbane

Brisbane is only 1.5 hrs estimated drive from Noosa. Based on our experience of driving on Australian roads, we decided to allow 3 hours – which still gave us most of the day in Noosa. Unwilling to spend large amounts of money on expensive watersports, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that it was actually fairly cheap to rent a small motorised boat to self-drive along the Noosa Sound. Thus was our morning spent – and with glorious sunshine, incredible views and a clean, bright white boat, it’s hard to imagine having made better use of our time.

Boat people

Boat people

Arriving in Brisbane in the early evening, we were struck by its hills and busy streets, which seemed oddly reminiscent of San Francisco. Our hotel for the night was the delightful Annie’s Shandon Bed and Breakfast: a Victorian inn that is still owned by the grand-daughter of its founder Annie. The couple managing the inn were Jan and Murray, from New Zealand, who made us feel extremely welcome and even invited us to have tea and cake with them: a very satisfactory end to a wonderful road trip.

Australian Road Trip: Part One

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We are halfway through our ten day drive from Cairns to Brisbane, and we already have so many stories from the road that we’re going to struggle to fit them into a single blog piece. So without further delay, this is where the first five days on the road have taken us:

Day One: Cairns

A man and his motor

A man and his motor

We collected our car in Cairns: a bright red Toyota Camry which Adrian had managed to secure for us as a free upgrade from the Corolla originally booked. Car hire in Cairns is actually very competitive, presumably because the Australian East Coast is a popular road trip route. Having spent the previous day snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef (a must-do for anyone visiting this part of the world!), we were ready to hit the road.

Day Two: Cairns – Townsville

Our first proper drive was to Townsville, 345km south of Cairns, for no other reason than it was the first town on our route of sufficient size for us to be able to book a hostel online before we left Cairns. In all honesty, our road trip was a rather last-minute idea, born out of a realisation that buying Greyhound bus passes to reach Brisbane within 10 days was going to be just as expensive and a lot less flexible than renting a car, so all we really had time to plan on that first day was where to spend the night. As soon as the sun rose, we got up, got in the car, and headed for the infamous Australian Outback …

Day Three: Townsville – Charters Towers

Situated 135 kms south-west of Townsville, Charters Towers is an historic Gold Rush town. A 9-year-old Aboriginal boy called Jupiter discovered gold in the tors (hills) of Charters Towers in 1872 and before long thousands of people had flocked to the town to seek their fortunes in gold mining. The town became one of Australia’s most important gold industry centres, and was so well regarded that it was nicknamed ‘The World’. To this day, the residents of Charters Towers are extremely proud of their town’s history.

We of course wanted to learn more about the town’s gold mining history so we signed up for a tour of the fascinating Venus Gold Battery, which is best described as a outsourcing centre for gold miners. Established by the entrepreneur Edmund Plant shortly after gold had been discovered, the battery offered a service to independent miners and small mining companies where they could bring their mined quartz containing the gold fragments, and hand it over for the pure gold to be extracted, thus saving them the expense of having to construct their own processing centres. The battery remained in operation until 1972.

Peter showing us the gold battery

Peter showing us the gold battery

Our tour guide was a gentleman called Peter Bagley, who had returned to Charters Towers to be closer to his elderly parents after 37 years away. Upon his return, Peter discovered that the battery was falling into disrepair due to nobody being willing to take it on, and was in danger of being sold off or even demolished. Not wanting to see a key part of his town’s history disappear, he leased it from the state of Queensland and is now actively pursuing his goal of restoring the battery to its former glory. We were Peter’s only customers that day, and he explained that he is currently in the process of building a website and raising more funds for up-keeping and marketing the battery to attract more visitors.

That evening, we drove up to the top of Towers Hill, where Jupiter had discovered gold all those years ago, for an open air screening of the film ‘Ghosts of Gold’, which was also presented by Peter. We thanked him for giving us such a memorable day, and wished him all the best in bringing more visitors to Charters Towers to learn about the Gold Rush. It has certainly been one of our Australian highlights thus far and we would recommend it to any blog readers who are planning to visit this part of the world.

Day Four: Charters Towers – Finch Hatton Gorge

A rainforest retreat

A rainforest retreat

Our experience in Charters Towers had taught us that exploring places away from the beaten backpacker trail (i.e. the coastline) could be very rewarding. As we awoke in our lovely period room in the Royal Private Hotel in the town centre, we decided our next stop would be at Finch Hatton Gorge. Our Australian friend and travel blogger Dave Robertson had suggested we visit Eungella National Park as this was a good place to spot a platypus. Having checked the map it looked like a reasonable distance from Charters Towers, and we were further persuaded to visit by the discovery of a place to stay called the Platypus Bushcamp, where you sleep in a treehouse and shower in the rainforest. Irresistable!

This day’s drive was to teach us two valuable lessons about Australian road trips: first, just because something looks like a reasonable distance on a map doesn’t mean you’re going to get there in anything like the timeframe you imagine; and second, a GPS system is only as a good as the highway it’s used on. The minute you turn off the main road, it’s as lost as you are. After several hours of twisting, turning, and attempting to locate roads that didn’t exist, we admitted defeat, followed signs to the nearest town, and pulled over to ask a helpful local lady for directions.

Arriving in the dead of night to an unpowered bush camp can be something of a challenge, but we were spotted by a friendly fellow camper, who guided us with his flashlight through the forest path to the camp HQ. Amazingly, this fellow camper was a chap called Owen who came from a suburb in Cardiff called Llanishen – just two miles from where my parents live!

Day Five: Finch Hatton Gorge and Eungella National Park

There’s nothing quite like waking up in a rainforest tree house. Although very basic, our hut was wonderfully comfortable, and we had one of the best night’s sleep on our travels thus far. With the benefit of sunlight, we were able to explore the Platypus Bushcamp a lot more effectively than the night before, and we were intruiged by the kitchen, cookhouse, huts and rainforest showers, all hand-built by Wazza, the eccentric but charming 60-year-old proprieter, and all operating without electricity. The best part by far was the creek behind our hut, and we started our day with a refreshing swim.

A great day for a swim ...

A great day for a swim ...

... and a float!

... and a float!

The remainder of the day was spent lazing around the camp, sipping beer on the big swinging couch and pulling faces at Wazza’s two parrots, followed by a walk to Araluen Falls in Eungella National Park.

A visit to the Platypus Bushcamp would have been incomplete without at least trying to spot a platypus in the nearby waters. They come out for a swim at dawn and dusk, and despite Wazza’s strong urging to get up at 4.30am for the dawn showing, we opted to try our luck in the afternoon. After about 30 minutes of waiting still and silent at the waterfront, we succeeded in glimpsing a platypus, although unfortunately it managed to hide almost completely from our camera’s view.

Spot the platypus!

Spot the platypus!

We were joined for the evening by a New Zealand couple called Laurie and Kirsten or, to quote Wazza: “It’s bad enough we’ve got the Poms here without the bloody Kiwis turning up as well”. It was Laurie’s birthday, which worked out well for us as he kindly shared his chocolate cake and champagne with us. Our relaxing and enjoyable day in the Australian bush was rounded off with another restful night’s sleep, and considering what awaited us as we made our way further south the next day, this was fortunate indeed … stay tuned for Part Two!

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