Sparky Travels

January 31, 2010

Townsville

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We left Airlie Beach on the 30th and headed North. The remnants of Tropical Cyclone Laurence were affecting Northern Queensland and there had been lots of flooding further up the coast. People we’d met lately had all been travelling down to escape the weather but we had to drop off the spaceship in Cairns so had no choice.

As we travelled up towards Townsville the rain got persistently heavier and at a few points we had to stop and pull over due to the lack of visibility. We soldiered on and the only really hairy part was when we reached Townsville. On the outskirts of the city the floodwater had almost cut the road off completely to non-4×4s. A car in front managed to make it through so I managed to sail us across without too much trouble. It was only then that I noticed the breakdown services helping cars that had made it across but flooded their engines. We suffered no such problems and made it to a campsite for the night. We joined the other travellers (2 Germans and Kyle and Kirsten an nice English couple) in the camp kitchen for some goon and story swapping.

The Germans had been up near Cairns for the week and said the weather was atrocious. Unfortunately for them but not for us, the weather continued to move south the next day so we were greeted to a beautiful day in Townsville. The city looked completely different in the sun and dried up pretty well. We quickly toured the few sights that Townsville had to offer before continuing North again. The Perc Tucker regional gallery had art ranging from the sublime (6ft painted shields) to the ridiculous (quilted fabric paintings) and Castle Hill gave good views of the city and nearby Magnetic Island.

In the mid-afternoon we reached Big Crystal Creek which was home to the surprisingly busy Paradise Waterhole, a scenic swimming section of the creek free from crocs and other nasties. There were carloads of people enjoying the cool water on this sweltering day. Our campsite tonight was another free rest area that went from empty to packed in a couple of hours. We sat chatting to a variety of people while the numerous toads and geckos munched on the swarms of insects attracted by the lights. We even got to see a snake hiding in the rafters of the picnic shelter.

January 29, 2010

Whitsundays

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We reached Airlie Beach - the departure point for trips to the Whitsunday Islands - in time to book a one day sailing trip and swap some books at a bookshop. We’d planned to do a few days on a sailing boat but the weather wasn’t great so we didn’t risk it. We got to our campsite and opened the boot to see an unwelcome face staring at us. The huntsman spider had managed to squeeze in at the top hinge and was inside the boot!


After much spraying with bugspray and attacking with a stick I managed to coax the aggressive and pissed off arachnid out of the car and watched it scuttle up a tree. We shut up the car and went off for a quick game of tennis before dinner. After dinner we headed to the main backpacker bar to watch Andy Murray defeat Marin Cillic in the Australian Open semifinal.

We got up early for our days sailing trip and as soon as we boarded the boat (in fact a replacement boat since ours was out of action) the rain began. Our first stop was famous Hill Inlet,  one of the most photographed sights in Australia. Unfortunately for us, due to the nearby cyclone, it was the highest tide of the year and the stunning sand banks were hidden under water.

Whitehaven beach was a better sight although the picturesque-ness was slightly spoiled by natural detritus that had washed up. The sand is 99% pure silica and was used by NASA for the Hubble telescope’s lens. It is so pure that it is also perfect for cleaning silver and gold jewellery. I own none but Helen successfully tested it with her silver ring. shiny shiny. We threw our stinger suits on and had a splash and sand scrub in the water.

Back on the boat we had a lunch buffet and then a snorkel. Back on dry land we parked up at the Magnums hostel and found out that our neighbours were 4 English guys who’d been at the same campsite as us the day before. We drank with them and watched Federer destroy Wilfred Tsonga in the second Australian Open semifinal. Airlie Beach was a pleasant place with all the facilities geared towards tourists and backpackers which was a nice change from real Australia. It would have been even better if the weather had been any cop.

January 28, 2010

Central Queensland Coast

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We reached Rockhampton on Australia Day and discovered that the nearest celebrations were in the coastal town of Yepoon. The Yeppon promenade was  filled with stalls and a stage with live music, food, competitions and a fashion show. It was all a little bit tacky and low budget but it was nice to see how real Australians celebrate the day. We left before the fighting kicked off and had our own messy night of goon drinking in a motorist rest area.

We drove all day of the 27th and ended up at a campsite in the village of Seaforth, north of Mackay. The place was deserted and we had to phone up the caretaker to open the gates for us. We had a prime spot underneath a shady tree with a good breeze close to the beach. 20km or so into our drive to Airlie Beach the next day I caught a glimpse of a large insect disappearing onto the top of the car. A few minutes later we found out what it was. As we pulled up at a junction a hand-sized huntsman spider crawled right across the windscreen and disappeared from view. Thankfully it was on the outside and we spent the next few hours doing 100km-per-hour so surely it fell off at some point.

January 26, 2010

1770

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On Saturday 23rd January, we left Bundaberg and made the trip to the Town of 1770. I’d first heard about this place through finding those four digits written and circled on a page of my notebook on the morning after new year. By asking a few people what they meant and their experiences of the place I managed to build up a good idea of where it was and what to do in the neighbouring towns of 1770 and Agnes Water. With a lack of free camping sites in the area and a desire for showers and laundry facilities we checked into Captain Cook holiday village. 1770 was named to commemorate its place as the second landing site of the then Lieutenant James Cook.

We got up bright and early on Sunday for a surf lesson. At only $17 for 3 hours its the cheapest surfing lesson on the coast. It was a busy day so the amount of one-on-one time with the instructors was limited but it was still good and I managed to vary between impersonating a surfer and a spacker. I also managed to get smacked in the head and to cut my toe. We spent the rest of the day relaxing a recovering from the exertions in the pool.

The next day we went to the lookout point before joining 50 other tourist for our Scooteroo tour of 1770. The Scooteroos are scooters dressed up as choppers and we were lead by a wizened old biker along the roads of the area, spotting kangaroos and stopping by the beach to watch the beautiful sunset. It was all a bit stop-start but it was a good laugh cruising around the countryside in convoy.

We’d booked a spot for the night in Eurimbula National Park, not far from 1770 and by the time we found the turnoff it was getting dark. We’d been warned that the dirt track may give our Spaceship a bit of trouble and that proved to be the case as we trundled along the 15km of dirt, sand and tree roots in pitch black. It took almost an hour to traverse the ‘road’ with a few sections being ideal for 4×4’s and a kangaroo jumping across our path. At the speed we were going there was certainly no risk of hitting it.

We woke up on Australia day to bright sunshine and the realisation that we’d parked up within 20 metres of a beautiful deserted beach.  After dipping our toes in the water we clambered into the camper for the trip North. We reversed 5 metres and got stuck in a sand trap. We’d not seen another vehicle in our time there so we were fortunate that after a couple of unsuccessful attempts to extricate ourselves a 4×4 pulled up. The kind Aussies within helped push the campervan out of the sand and we were soon hurtling back along the track to civilization. After a detour to retreive my camera battery - which I’d somehow dropped at Captain Cook’s Campsite the previous day - we left 177o and headed towards Rockhampton.

January 23, 2010

Sunshine Coast

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Noosa is meant to be the fashionable destination on the sunshine coast. We arrived there on the 19th of January and had a stroll along the expensive shopping street before hanging out on the beach. It would have been nice to have grabbed a nice meal in one of the restaurants but the prohibitive prices ruled that out.  Our accommodation for the stay in Noosa was the beach carpark at Noosa Heads where we were able to park up and wake up looking out at the sea.

It was only a short walk away from town so we took advantage of this by going out to the bookies-cum-bar for a few drinks with a couple of Québécois/Quebecers camping near us. On their recommendation we hit Coolum Beach, just down the coast, the next day.

15okm from Noosa was our next stop, Rainbow Beach. We spent the night of the 21st at Inskip Point National Park just north of the strip and then did the sights the next day. The ‘rainbow’ in Rainbow Beach comes from the multicoloured dunes that run for a few km down the beach. We headed there first to see the ‘rainbow’ of white, yellow orange and brown sand.

More impressive was Carlo Sand Blow, a towering dune that is creeping inland and is often used as a launch pad for hang-gliders though not on our visit. It was weird to be standing on a sandy summit above the town with slopes covered in vegetation.

With the morning still relatively young we drove to Tin Can Bay where dolphins can often be seen. From there we went to Maryborough, a charming town with a small-town english feel to it and the home of Mary Poppins author P.L.Travers. It was a nice change from the beach resorts and we used our short time there to visit the Bond Store Museum which described the founding of the city and its growth then decline as an important east coast port. It was well introduced by the blinky woman working there and gave an idea of the growth of such towns in Queensland. We hit Hervey Bay next which we’d originally planned to use as a stopping point for visiting Fraser Island. Unfortunately all the tours were booked up so we had a chippy on the beach for dinner and set up for the night just south of Bundaberg.

On the 23rd we headed into Bundaberg and after a quick visit to the botanic gardens we went to the famous Bundaberg Distillery. Bundaberg rum is an Australian institution and the distillery holds guided tours every hour. The tour itself was a bit disappointing but the tasting at the end made it all worthwhile. Helen kindly agreed to drive so I got two use both of our tokens to get four ‘free’ drinks. Tasty.

January 18, 2010

North of Brisbane

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Waking up with the sun slowly heating up the campervan, we made bacon sandwiches and returned to the now familiar Brisbane Central Post Office. My driving license still hadn’t arrived and due to it being Friday we’d have to wait till Monday to collect it.

We decided to head North for a few days so that we could cover some of the coast over the weekend. The first stop on the Bruce Highway - which leads up the coast eventually reaching Cairns - was Wild Horse Lookout. A short but steep walk up to the fire lookout which gave excellent views of the GlassHouse Mountains.

We reached the southern tip of the Sunshine Coast in the form of the seaside town of Caloundra. The bay here has a wide beach with shallow waters perfect for relaxing in. This evening we stayed at our first free rest stop and made a tasty butternut squash risotto. We pitched up at the same rest stop the next day once we’d splashed around on the beach.

On the 17th we drove the tourist route right through the Glass House Mountains, stopping for a sweltering trek around the base of Mount Tibrogargan and stopping at the various lookouts.

Our desire for free rest areas took us a bit far out of the way and probably cost the same in petrol as it would have been to just pay a campsite. We returned to Brisbane on the 18th praying that my driving license had arrived. Much to my relief it had and once we’d stopped off at the Spaceships office to fill in the paperwork I was able to get behind the wheel. We took the Bruce Highway North again in the direction of Noosa.

January 14, 2010

Brisbane

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On the 10th we hopped on a bus to Brisbane, 2 hours North of Surfer’s Paradise.A minibus from our hostel (Somewhere To Stay Hostel) picked us up on its hourly run between the hostel and town. Though only a 20 minute walk to town, it was useful to get the free ride in and out on the hot days. I was glad to be in a city again where there are many things to do. We started by taking in Queensland Art Gallery where the aboriginal and reed paper art was boring but some of the sculptures were good. After that we strolled round the South Bank which is similar to London’s with the addition of a man-made lagoon to swim in.

Big balls in Brisbane

Big balls in Brisbane

Dinner at BurgerUrge was followed by a trip to the movies. We’d both been meaning to see Avatar and even more so in 3D. Its been years since I’d seen a 3D movie so I’d hoped the technology had moved on. the picture quality was excellent and it seemed to be used as an addition to the experience rather than a technology demonstration. The movie itself is long but entertaining and well paced. The CGI and action scenes were impressive though the story was poppycock.

We’d decided, given the cost of transport and accommodation, that we should hire a campervan. Our internet campervan searching in the city library on the 11th and 12th took up lots of time and produce little in terms of results. We did manage to make a tasty Massaman curry in the hostel kitchen, visit the disappointing Queensland Museum and watch Eternal Sunshine Of the Spotless Mind (**** clever movie). Helen had her first experience of a bag of goon ‘wine’ on the 11th too. She must have enjoyed it since we finished off the whole bag in one night sitting on the pavement outside the hostel with some English, Irish and Scots.

On Wednesday the 13th we headed to the Post Office to see if my driving license had arrived from Edinburgh via Sydney. No such luck so we headed to see our best hope for a campervan. This was actually a big orange people carrier with a bed, dvd player and fridge. It’s called a Spaceship and though not cheap, it was less expensive than a notorious ‘Wicked’ campervan and much more manoeuvrable. After another unsuccessful trip to the post office on the 14th we went and picked up our spaceship, our home for the next 22 days. We stocked up on supplies, collected our bags and Helen drove us out 70km West of Brisbane to Laidley. After getting turned away from one caravan park by a surly old hag we pitched up at a lovely, but deserted caravan park right by little Lake Dyer, run by a friendly woman who somewhat restored our faith in Australians.

January 9, 2010

Byron Bay to Surfer’s Paradise

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Back in Byron Bay I hung out with french guys who were staying beside the hostel in a diy campervan and tried to plan the next move. Also good guys were my new roomates Reg and Jerome, a couple of Londoners who I joined for a few in Coogamangas. We were joined by the french guys again later in the evening. Byron Bay has really grown on me and I could happily have stayed for longer if money and time permitted.

On the 8th I left Byron Bay on the Greyhound to Surfer’s Paradise. I met Helen here for a jaunt up the East Coast. Surfer’s Paradise is the big brash resort on the Gold Coast and our two nights there were probably two nights too long. After the casual, hippy vibe of Byron Bay it was a bit of a culture shock to be in a world of high-rise beachfront apartments, tourist trappings and shopping centres. Our hostel was slightly scruffy and not very friendly but had a cheap bar and acceptable kitchen. We spent the two days there on the beautiful beach (though overshadowed by the high-rises in the afternoon), getting bashed by waves in the sea and strolling the malls.

January 6, 2010

Nimbin

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I was dropped off down a dirt track in torrential rain and sprinted to the Nimbin Rox hostel. It was a pretty wee place with a cottage with annex for sleeping  set around a courtyard and view across fields.
After checking in I got a bus into town and bought some food, drink and supplies. The village is pretty much a main street with pychedelic paintwork and “celestial orb” new age shops. Filled with rapidly degenerating people. I soon returned home to the hostel and relaxed.
The rain had stopped the next day (5th) so I had a sunny walk to the village and played some cards with Italians, Austrians,  and French. Everyone headed down to hear some guy play guitar down by the pool hall in the evening. He was 2nd round xfactor good. More noteworthy was my best pool game in years, it was destructive! I quit while I was ahead, arms aloft, fans cheering.

The 6th signifies exactly 6 months travelling. Whooosh. gone like that.
I checked out of the hostel and had a last look along main st before the journey back to Byron Bay and reality.

January 4, 2010

Byron Bay for Hogmanay

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30th
After a few fitful naps on the bus I arrived at Byron Bay. The hotels were only a 5 minute walk away but for some inexplicable reason they all laid on minibuses. I checked into the Cape Byron YHA and bought some shopping from Woolworths. I made my cheese sandwiches chatting to a German girl called Catrin who’d also just arrived and we decided to head out to Byron Lighthouse. It was a pleasant but hilly walk to the lighthouse which, naturally, is on the cliff edge. This spot is also the most easterly point of Australia and I barely concealed my glee at getting to this location. 3 more cardinal points left. I wonder…
After watching surfers and dolphins out in the bay we walking back along the beach. I’d been in touch with Rich and Kev who I’d met in Sydney so we convened in the Beach Hotel for a couple of beers before I returned to the hostel to drink goon with some Melbourne guys.

On Hogmanay I played drinking games on the hostel terrace before heading down to the beach with Catrin,Tom & Dylan (two english brothers). The bells themselves were unspectacular because of a lack of fire works. Not that I missed them particularly as a spectacle but more as a signal that it is 00:00. At Byron Bay it was a wave of celebration rather than an explosion since everyone was basing it on their own watches. I took advantage of the wave and went swimming to celebrate. We got back about 3am and I fell asleep around 6am; On the balcony. I found my way to the floor and then inside and slept a sound sound 2010 sleep.

1.1.10
I Woke up in bed at 1pm, still drunk. I went to the Spar to get supplies and ended coming back with a pack of 20 ice lollies among other goodies. I only wanted one so I gave the rest out to people lounging by the pool and sitting on balconies at the hostel. They were much appreciated by all. karma +1
After some food and a power nap I was back in action and drank beer on the balcony with “Virginia” Mike, “Calgary” Dylan and a selection of other nationalities. Me and Dylan gave up drinking with the hostel strangely silent at 1:45am on the 2nd. 1 day down, 364 to go.
The 2nd day ended up being the real recovery day and the swimming pool was much appreciated. The next day was a planning day for my travels to the psychedelic world of Nimbin and saying goodbye to people I’d shared New Year with.

On the morning of the 4th, I checked out and hopped on the shuttle bus at 11am. An hour later the bus driver stopped just down from a colourful main street and announced “Welcome to Nimbin”.

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