14 days down under

Wow! What an exhilarating and exhausting experience we’ve had so far on the east coast of Australia…

After landing in Cairns on the 4th, bleary-eyed and apprehensive following a 20 hour journey across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, we arrived at our home for the first night – a shabby but endearing little hostel just outside of town. We enjoyed our first meal in Aus, pizza and beer, before a much-needed sleep.

The next morning, it was time to pick up our campervan. Panicky glances were exchanged when we were led to a teeny tiny van, but we’d soon to come to love its dinky interior as we made it our home over the next few days, hanging our hats off the luggage hold and pumping our favourite driving songs through the speakers.

Our first stop with our new home was Mission Beach, one hell of a drive for the both of us, but when we turned up at the first campsite, we knew it had been worth it. We had a beachfront powered site with a pool opposite and a big camp kitchen.

It didn’t take long to realise that Aussies are friendly people when we got talking to staff and the families that were renting cabins at the site. We also learned that Aussies like to refer to us Brits as poms – “small and soft”… take that as you will.

We had another long journey ahead of us, so after a stroll on South Mission Beach and some breakfast, it was time to hop back on the Bruce Highway and make our way to Airlie.

The camp we pulled into after a tiring but surreally scenic six hour drive (through bushfires one minute, torrential downpours the next) was even better the last, and we couldn’t wait to explore the local area.

Our first booked tour of the Whitsunday Islands was cancelled due to a hardcore cyclone off the coast, which meant we had time to recuperate after our journey. We used the day to stroll into town, picking up a $5 bottle of red on the way home. With full bellies and drunk heads, we went to bed looking forward to the slow-paced week ahead.

Friday came around quickly: time to visit the Great Barrier Reef! As we boarded the boat, we were warned that the journey to the reef was rough, but it couldn’t have prepared us for the carnage that commenced when we entered the shipping channel. I’ve never seen so many poorly, pale people in my life. I pitied the crew, running around with sick bags and disinfectant. It was apocalyptic! Thankfully, we escaped memberships of the barf brigade but were relieved to arrive at the pontoon.

Keen to get in the water, we donned stinger suits, snorkel gear and flippers before delving into the depths of the Coral Sea to find Nemo and friends weaving in and out of the swaying coral. It was such a beautiful experience, hearing nothing but the movements of the ocean as we swum over the reef. Needless to say, we did our best to avoid the dropoff and only touched the butt when entirely necessary.

We’d rebooked our Whitsundays trip for the next day. It was an insanely fast thrill of a ride on the inflatable speedboat to our first destination – a part of the reef off the coast of Hamilton Island. We enjoyed another unreal snorkel taking in the beauty below the surface, though there were a few too many jellyfish for my liking.

Our next stop was a lookout above Whitehaven Beach. I’ve honestly never seen anywhere more stunning. The sand was whiter than white, the water turquoise. And as if the day could get any better, we caught a cracking tan from the reflection of the sun on the sand.

It’s so gorgeous there that it’s a very costly offence to steal sand from the beach, despite its tempting benefits as an exfoliator and jewellery-cleaner. We could see why it was voted the second most beautiful beach in the world in 2018!

On Sunday, we finally left Airlie. Five hours later, we had set up camp at Cape Hillsborough National Park. What a change from our previous surroundings! Camp was swarming with wallabies and kangaroos. The sound of crickets, birds and the ocean kept us company as we sat and relaxed.

We also had a strenuous walk through the park, encountering (or rather enduring) more insects than I’d like to remember and loads of fast-moving little lizards. It’s safe to say that the Aussie sun and lush rainforests help the wildlife flourish, but it seems the horseflies here are supplementing with steroids!

No rest for the wicked – another lengthy trip down old Brucey landed us in Rockhampton where we spent two nights enjoying the pool, water slide and ‘kangaroo jumper’ like children.

It was nice to have a day or so to sunbathe and stock up our little home with food and necessities, which for me mainly consists of every insect repellent under the sun. The midges here are relentless.

On our journey further south, we called into a sleepy little fishing town called Agnes Water, and were finally able to go for a swim without fear of the deadly stingers. It was a worthwhile little detour and a good opportunity to stretch our limbs.

Eventually we got to Bundaberg. It seems like a pleasant town but the less said about the campsite the better. Picture rusty caravans, a brown-tiled bathroom and a view of a large grey factory.

We’d gotten used to nice swimming pools and lively camps with a good vibe, so it was a bit of a shock to the system. Both of us looked forward to our next destination, Hervey Bay, and weren’t disappointed by the camp which would be home for the next three nights.

On our third Friday of the trip, it was time for Fraser Island. After a long bus and ferry ride to the world’s largest sand island, we arrived in paradise. Known for its 75-mile ‘highway’ along the beach and the many often vicious dingoes that live there, the island was like no other place we’d been to before.

We boarded a huge truck-like bus and had a very, very bumpy ride through the rainforest to take us to the first spot – the shipwreck of SS Maheno.

We also got to explore a mountainous area of naturally-coloured sand and walk along beautiful freshwater Eli Creek, surrounded by what felt like hundreds of kids who were floating lazily around in inflatables – we missed a trick there!

We enjoyed watching two tiny planes picking up passengers for a brief flight over the island before landing back on the sand, and drove past tonnes of 4x4s on our journey up and down the beach highway.

After a huge buffet lunch, we toured another crystal-clear creek, but on reboarding the bus, found that the AC had stopped working. Our crazy driver Dave, who had been giving us a massively rough ride along the island’s tiny sand tracks, found that he couldn’t get the engine going after trying to restart the air con, which sadly meant an hour wait for another bus.

But finally, we made it to our last spot, Lake McKenzie. It was stunning, the water was warm, and we could swim without fear of the many sharks and stingers that have gained notoriety along the Fraser Island coast.

It was a wonderful way to end our first fortnight in Australia. We’ve had an incredible time so far and can’t wait for the rest!

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