A dreamland! The conclusion of our trip to Australia is that simple. Photos from friends had inspired us to go down under, and in the first week of our vacation we knew: This was definitely not our last trip to Australia. Everything just came together: perfect weather, exotic nature, helpful, warm people, delicious food and excellently equipped campsites.
From Cairns to Sydney in three weeks was our program, for which you could easily take three months without getting bored. We mostly hung out in Queensland because we just couldn’t tear ourselves away from the tropical north. Temperatures in September 2013 were comfortable – around 30°C but not too humid.
We landed in Cairns and from there drove north to Daintree National Park and Cape Tribulation. Thias area is extremely well developed, the hiking boots stayed after our first trip in the campervan – flip flops were completely sufficient.
If you want to see animals in the rainforest, you have to look very closely. Most creatures you can only hear. But that is a nice experience as well, because as a Europeans we have never heard many of the jungle noises before. Together with the diverse flora an overwhelming backdrop.
The northernmost point of our route was Cooktown, where there is a beautiful view of the bay from the pretty lighthouse. From there we drove inland back to Cairns, while having taken the coastal route on the way out. Even if there is a lot of sugar cane to see in this corner, the detour into the dusty interior is worthwhile, where there are not only an incredible number of anthills, but also impressively large ones.
Before heading south, we spent two nights at Ellis Beach Campground, right on a beautiful beach. Besides us, there were mainly Australian tourists, and there was a very relaxed atmosphere at the campgrounds in northern Queensland. Barbecuing in short clothes under a starry sky, sipping a delicious Australian beer and listening to the ocean surf – that’s vacation! This idyll cannot be disturbed by the noisy bush triel, a long-legged bird that mutates into a campsite hooligan at dusk.
At this point, a word about our mobile home. We can recommend the Toyota Hilux campervan without exception: with the all-wheel drive you can go anywhere and inside there is nothing missing, not even space! Although there are no showers or toilets, this is really not a problem with the excellently equipped campsites.
We used our time in Ellis Beach for a trip to Kuranda Village; since the “Skyrail” gondolas did not run to the village in the rainforest, we had to cover both routes with the historic train. That too was affordable and had its charm, especially the train stations in Cairns and Kuranda were lovingly designed in the old style.
Kuranda is a popular tourist destination, but we still had fun being surrounded by tropical butterflies in the “Butterfly Sanctuary”, which also liked to settle on clothing, heads and hands. And in the “Kuranda Koala Gardens” there was even the opportunity to hold a sleepy gray ball of fur in your arms.
We could have stayed much longer around Cairns, but three weeks is not a lot of time for a country like Australia. Nevertheless, we didn’t let ourselves be rushed, but always only decided in the evening what we would do the next day. In Australia ok not to plan a fixed route, but decide spontaneously where to stay or go. This is what the country was made for. In tourist-heavy areas, we simply booked a campsite by phone a few hours before our arrival – the cheap prepaid cards from “Optus”, which you can also use to connect to the data network, are worth their weight in gold. Considering the fact that our Australian sat nav had us driving in circles more than once, we were also very happy to have “Google” on board.
Without a concrete plan, we curved through the Atherton Tablelands, where the “Curtain Fig Tree” is probably the biggest highlight. Motivated by the sight of the imposing fig tree, we also wanted to see the “Cathedral Fig” in Danbulla National Park and State Forest. Unfortunately, a mobile home was parked in front of the sign pointing the way to the tree, so we made an involuntary detour via a 4WD dirt road. We bounced through potholes, between fallen trees and over bridges, some of which were flooded, until we finally realized that this can’t be right. Finally we turned around and found that the tree is right at the end of the paved road.
We were also pretty excited when we saw platypus in Yungaburra. Actually, we only stopped because a sign that said “Historical Village” had drawn us in. When we got out, we then saw the signpost to the “Platypus Viewpoint”; we didn’t even wait five minutes when one of the bizarre animals appeared out of the murky water.
On the other hand, we could have saved ourselves the trip to the “Crystal Caves”. Once again we were inspired by a signpost to make a detour. Instead of ending up in a cave, as we had hoped, the sign led us into the middle of a town with a museum that had a replica cave made out of PU foam. To make the whole thing look more authentic, we were given a helmet with a lamp before we could start the tour.
The following day we went to Paronella Park, of which we had discovered an inviting prospect a few days ago. Surrounded by rainforest are the ruins of an old castle built by the Spaniard José Paronella at the beginning of the 20th century. Fire, flood and cyclone left only the foundations. The entrance fee is not low, but we think the visit is worth it! Not only because the old stone walls in the rainforest have something fairytale about them, but also because of the imposing tree avenue and the noisy flocks of fruit bats.
We spent the following day mainly in the car – amused by many creative street signs along the way and with stops at Mission Beach and Gordon Beach.
After dawdling around quite a bit in north Queensland, we had to make a stretch. Because we had one thing firmly booked: our trip to Fraser Island. But before that we really wanted to stop in Airlie Beach for a day trip to the Whitsunday Islands. It is a must-have! Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, swimming and stingray spotting on Whitsunday Island and views of Whitehaven Beach are not to be missed. The are a lot of our operators in Airlie Beach, so everyone can find a tour that suits them. We were very satisfied with “Mantary Charters”.
Our trip to Fraser Island was completely different, but just as worthwhile, mainly because visiting the largest sand island in the world is a huge adventure. Our campervan stayed on the mainland where we exchanged it for a ‘Landrover’ to take the car ferry to the island. We’d been told it before, but you won’t believe it until you’re behind the wheel yourself: driving on soft sand is like nothing else. We sweated blood and water during our trip through Fraser Island at first, but ultimately we survived the wild “road” conditions unscathed. Every now and then we had to dig our car free with shovel, hands and friendly Australians, but “Getting bogged is part of the experience!”. Unfortunately there are few pictures from the tour – this shows how busy we were driving!
After the first day we had learned a lot of tricks, so that we could be much more relaxed on the second day. There wasn’t as much to see as we had hoped because the “road” to the freshwater lakes in the interior of the island was closed and we couldn’t reach our actual destinations. But at least we made it to the famous Lake McKenzie and to the beach highway in the east. We would have liked to have stayed longer! However, only with an effective anti-insect spray, because the sand flies on Fraser Island were a real plague.
Back on the mainland, the sand adventure didn’t stop there. In the Great Sandy National Park we wanted to take the beach highway from Rainbow Beach to Noosa with our campervan. We really think they could have put up a sign telling you to turn off the beach onto the Inland Track to get to Noosa. Unknowingly, we just drove off-road on the beach and ended up in front of a rock face. Until then, we had to overcome a whole series of strange obstacles. Unfortunately, this part of the journey is not documented with photographs. This is profound, because when we stop taking pictures, it means we are dealing with a serious problem. In concrete terms: getting the stuck car out of the sand before the tide washes us down the slope from the three meter wide stretch of beach. Well, we did it! And if you don’t lose your way, driving on the beach motorway is also very relaxed.
We headed for Noosa National Park because there are good chances of seeing koalas there. We didn’t succeed in that regard, however, and had to make do with the scenic beaches and pelicans at the campsite.
Our further journey led through the surfer Mecca Byron Bay. The lighthouse — which costs a whopping $7 to park at — has beautiful views of the bay.
Then we went back to less touristy areas in the Yuraygir National Park. There wasn’t much at the Illaroo North Camground, a small sink and three outhouses, but there was also a pristine dream beach. At low tide, sand crabs conjure up a large work of art on the beach in no time at all, which is then completely covered with small sand balls from which the animals have sifted out microorganisms – a funny feeling under your feet when walking barefoot.
Even though we were quite far south, the temperatures on the coast were still extremely pleasant. That changed abruptly when we explored the “spectacular waterfall way” on the recommendation of a travel guide. Halfway we stopped for the night in Armidale. If we had studied our map more closely in advance, we might have noticed that the city is located in the middle of the Great Dividing Range. At night, temperatures dropped to just below 0°C. Not exactly a pleasant experience in a campervan without heating with airy summer sleeping bags. Luckily we had our hair dryer, which we could use as a replacement for the heating. Unfortunately, the waterfalls didn’t turn out to be really spectacular – at least not if you’ve already traveled through Iceland – but at least we saw some Red-and-Blue Crimson Parakeets.
The trip to Armidale was also worthwhile for another reason. The evening sun bathed the surrounding pastures in a perfect photo light and gave us a magnificent sunset.
The next morning we made our way back to the coast very quickly. For this we took the “Lakes Drive”, which leads past a few large lakes that are not really exciting. Today’s destination was all the more beautiful: the Myall Lakes National Park. Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse and Treachery Beach were great spots for our last day in nature.
At the end of our Australian tour we stayed two more nights in Sydney. Of course, we first headed for the main tourist attractions: the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge. We felt the same about the opera as we did about the Eiffel Tower; is pretty when lit at night, but not exactly spectacular during the day. On the other hand, we liked the Harbor Bridge both day and night. We paid her more than one visit. It was particularly fascinating to see how many luminous points circled over the bridge in the dark, as if the stars were dancing. They were seagulls, their white bellies gleaming in the Harbor Bridge’s floodlights.
We found Sydney quite nice, but it didn’t make it onto our list of favorite cities. Australia, on the other hand, as a country with its unique nature and its warm-hearted people, is very, very high for us. We will come back!
Addendum September 2014:
I always believed that memories are permanent. That an once beautiful moment remains forever as a positive experience in our mind. But that’s not the case.
When you hear a faint whimper, while being on a journey somewhere far away from any civilization, and you find an injured and emaciated stray dog in a hole in the ground, pull him out, dress his wounds and share most of your provisions with him, than this experience is only going to be a wonderful memory until that dog jumps in your face and, out of sheer greed and selfishness, makes off with the rest of your rations.
You can forgive this mutt. Animals act mostly instinctively and outside of our moral values. That distinguishes them from us humans.
In September 2014 I discovered Julia’s true colours. The person she was pretending to be had very little to do with her true nature.
Since then, I no longer consider this blog post as a record of my favorite memories of Australia, but only as a reminder to never forget that it is not important whether you share a beautiful moment with someone, but with whom.