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  1. #1

    Default The ups and downs of life in a camper van!

    I don't know what it is with us Brits - maybe there is some sort of chemical imbalance - but we do seem to have a strange desire to hire a camper van when we travelling around Australia. I don't like to play up to a stereotype but, here I was, Pacific Highway... in a camper van. I wasn't trying to be ironic or predictable - it just didn't make sense not to. It all started when I decided to head up to the Gold Coast for the Indy 300 race weekend at Surfers Paradise and, having booked my race tickets, I was shocked to discover the average room rate in town was running at around 500 bucks a night whilst the race was in town. Being the tight arse that I am, I wasn't prepared to pay that and frantically scoured the internet for alternatives. I soon discovered that I could get a camper van for three entire weeks for less than the cost of two nights in a hotel in Surfers. It was a no-brainer.

    I was keen to end my first day on the road nice and early so that I could get used to the evening set-up routine whilst it was still light. After brief photo stops at the Observatory, on the Northern Shore and at St Kilda's Luna Park, I found myself heading towards Wyrrabalong National Park out on the coast. It wasn't that there was anything in particular there that I wanted to visit - in fact I don't think that there actually was anything to visit - it was simply the right distance out of town and, well, I had to stop somewhere. I decided to forego the tempting prospect of a visit to the Australian Reptile Park and instead headed straight to Dunleith Tourist Park in the wonderfully named town of The Entrance. I was sure glad not to be sleeping in my tent that night as the most spectacular electrical storm blew up and I have no doubt that both me and the tent would have floated off into the sea in the rain which followed.

    It had been suggested that an inland route along the New England Highway was the best route to take up to Surfers Paradise - it was said to be far more scenic than the Pacific Highway - and the following morning saw me heading out through Singleton and Muswellbrook to Tamworth where I had planned on spending the night. For some reason, having arrived in the self-proclaimed Nashville of Australia, I felt compelled to press on a little further and ended up in the small country town of Armidale. It was a pleasant evening - I cooked a nice meal and had good neighbours in the form of Brad and Pammy from Coffs Harbour who suggested a couple of places to check out as I made my way north - and I went to bed happy.

    All that changed the next day when, just a couple of kilometres out of the campground, the camper ground to a sudden and abrupt halt and refused to restart. After trying everything that I could think of - including swearing at it - I decided that I really had to phone for some assistance and called Dirk at Keen As Campers. He apologised profusely and called out the NRMA (the Australian version of the RAC) who arrived quickly and broke the news that the problem wasn't fixable by the roadside. Soon a wrecker arrived and towed me off to a nearby workshop which was staffed by the most disinterested bunch of monkeys that I ever had the displeasure to deal with.

    It took the entire day for them to diagnose the problem but the news wasn't too bad: it was a simple matter of replacing the ignition coil. The problem was, due to the remote location, a replacement would take another 48 hours to arrive. Now Armidale wasn't a bad town - I had walked right around it, twice - but I really didn't want to be stuck there any longer than I absolutely had to be. Especially as it was bitterly cold and, unseasonably, snowing (the TV news reported that it was the coldest October day for 45 years) but I didn't seem to be in much of a position to argue. It wasn't all bad news though: Dirk had bought the ‘Gold' option when joining the NRMA and I found myself with a rental car and put up in a nice local hotel for a couple of nights. I'd much rather have been on my way to Surfers Paradise but as I sat in my nice warm room, with the miserable weather outside, I did wonder if being confined to barracks wasn't such a bad thing after all.

    Determined to make the most of my ‘lost' day I headed off to check out a few local national parks the following morning. When I say a few what I really mean to say is, well, five! Oxley Wild Rivers NP, New England NP, Cathedral Rock NP, Guy Fawkes River NP and Cunnawarra NP were very scenic but, in reality, they would be called State Parks in any other country (later that evening I discovered that New South Wales has over 200 National Parks within its borders!) so they were pretty limited in options and were quickly ticked off the list. I headed back to the workshop just before it closed and was delighted to discover that a new coil had been sourced from elsewhere and we were back in business. I dropped the rental car back, collected the camper and headed for my second night in the hotel. I could have headed off a couple of hours down the road and in any other country I would have done just that but this isn't any other country. In Australia it is not advisable to drive at night as the local wildlife has a penchant for wandering (well, hopping) into your path as drive along minding your own business. And that is really going to ruin your day - just as much as theirs - when they are quite as bulky and unpredictable as they are.

    The drive to Surfers Paradise was around 500 km and would take much of the day so I checked out and headed off early on Friday morning. My route took me back along the Waterfall Way (the route that I'd travelled the previous day) before turning on to the 106km back route from Ebor to Grafton. I hadn't realised just what a tricky proposition this section would present - particularly the section through Nimboi-Binderay National Park - and would have given anything to be in a well prepared Lotus rather than the lumbering beast that I was driving! But I made it to the end and turned on to the Pacific Highway to complete my journey north.
    Shortly after passing Byron Bay the exhaust note started to deepen and sound a little more ‘manly'. But there was no stopping me now - I had to get up to Surfers Paradise before the end of day (I had missed two days of the meeting already) - and I'd worry about this new problem in a couple of hours once I'd arrived. Life is never that simple, of course, and it would take me more than a couple of hours to get there as going up a hill, with huge road trains bearing down on me, the van started to misfire and the engine died. I managed to re-fire it for long enough to drag it to the top of the hill from where I was able to coast down the other side and roll into a rest area before it died again. My attempts to re-fire the van were starting to draw a crowd and, realising I wasn't going anywhere quickly; I hit the steering wheel with my head. It didn't help. One of the spectators wandered up - smoking something which in most countries will get you arrested - and lent me his mobile phone to call Dirk again. He suggested a couple of things to try but we had no choice but to resort to calling the NRMA.

    The guy arrived quickly enough but his attitude wasn't helpful in the least: when the van re-fired on the first turn of the key he shrugged his shoulders before announcing, "seeing there's nothing for me to fix I might as well get going." Gee, fella, thanks. I pressed him for suggestions and he eventually settled on the idea that the hot gasses from the leaking manifold were causing the fuel in the system to evaporate and the engine to cut out. It seemed plausible - especially as I was now underway again - and I headed off with the passenger seat (which doubles as the engine cover) cranked open to aid airflow to the engine. The noise and the heat were pretty much unbearable but I eventually made it to my destination. The looks from pedestrians were mildly amusing but the looks from the police as I drove through the centre of Surfers Paradise were less so. I think I was quite lucky to get away with that one!

    I finally pulled into my home for the next four nights - Broadwater Tourist Park - around four hours later than planned. To celebrate, I headed to the liquor store across the street to pick up a bottle of Jack. In deference to the sponsors of the DJR team, I decided to change the habit of a lifetime and picked up a bottle of Jim Beam instead. After such an epic effort to get there, it went down an absolute treat!

    Raceday came and I was somehow less than excited about the prospect. I'd spent the previous day up at the circuit and I was soon to learn that it was no Bathurst when it came to viewing possibilities. I was relieved that I‘d booked a grandstand seat - something that I very rarely do as I like to roam around the circuit - otherwise I wouldn't have stood a chance of getting so much as a sniff of the cars much less actually being able to see them. Of course, if I hadn't been able to see them, I wouldn't have been so disappointed in the procession that played out in front of my eyes. Still, after such a run of great racing experiences, I shouldn't be complaining. And, despite the lack of action on-track, we did get the odd bit of entertainment such as Fabien Coulthard running off the road in front of us and causing a log jam of cars whilst the officials did a laughable job of sorting the problem out.

    The best bit of the day? It was tough to decide between the unbelievable pre-race air display, the crazy Red Bull motorbike stunt team and the lump-in-the-throat when they sang the national anthems. But the winner was... the return to what I would know as Australian weather - and it was about time after the cold, rain and snow of recent days!

    The weather just got better and better for the next couple of days which is more than can be said for my mood. Dirk had booked the van in to a local garage for 8am on Monday morning to have the manifold fixed but I didn't get it back until 4pm that afternoon. I'd decided that morning, as I drove across town to drop the camper off, that I would take the bike that I had rented and explore town but, having done a couple of laps of the Indy circuit - now re-opened to traffic - the wheels came off that idea. Actually, it wasn't the wheels; it was the pedals. Yes, believe it or not, the bloody pedals fell off the bike and I was forced to walk back to the garage and wait it out. Eventually I managed to persuade the Neanderthal that was charged with fixing it to, erm, fix it and I headed back across town to the campground in blissful silence and sat on the beach to soak up the sun for the last few hours of the day.

    When I woke on Tuesday morning I was in a far better frame of mind and hurriedly packed up the van and headed north towards my next destination: Australia Zoo. This was one of the first places on my ‘must visit' list when I decided to come to Australia so I was happy to put the mechanical disasters behind me and be finally heading in that direction. Besides, overnight I had received an email from Dirk apologising again for all the problems and offering a $500 discount on the rental. I was very happy with that - he didn't have to offer anything at all - but he was really looking after me as he had all along. I admire that. As I said in my reply to him, "the true mark of a company is not that these problems never happen, it is how they are dealt with", and he dealt with them admirably every time.

    20km down the road the unbelievable happened: I broke down again! Dirk called out the RACQ and, sensing my frustration, he also sent a mobile mechanic to make sure the problem was fixed once and for all. The guy from the RACQ determined that the problem lay with an intermittent spark and, as the guy0 from the NRMA had before, announced that there was nothing that could be done at the roadside and that I would have to be towed in to the workshop again. I could have cried. With that - like a knight in shining armour - the mobile mechanic arrived and quickly spotted the problem. Unbelievably it went back to the cretins who fitted the replacement parts back in Armidale who, despite having the thing for two days, neglected to tighten two electrical terminals properly. My heartfelt thanks must go to Graham Betts Holden of Armidale for making such a tits arse of what should have been a simple job and ruining four days of my holiday. Regardless, I was now on the road, and I felt mighty relief at that.

    As I hit the road again, with the van now running better than ever, I suddenly felt an overwhelming feeling of freedom. I continued north but, as it was now too late in the day to head for Australia Zoo, I stopped at a visitor centre to seek their advice on what I could do for the rest of the day. A visit to Glasshouse Mountains National Park was suggested and, although never having heard of it, I was suitably intrigued to go and visit. I was very pleased that I did as the collection of 20 million year old volcanic cones presented a stunning sight emerging as they did, Jurassic Park style, from the flat green surroundings. I was able to get a little bit of proper hiking in and it felt good to take out my pent up aggression on the hill!

    I am sure that we've all seen Steve Irwin's appearances on TV and most of us will have felt that we knew him to some degree - me included - so it was a fantastic feeling to finally drive through the gates of Australia Zoo. The Irwin family have built up an amazing facility and, even though I don't normally like zoos (I don't like to see animals caged up), this one was very well done. All of the animals were very well cared for and had plenty of room to roam around and live as natural a life as possible. Some of the enclosures - though not the ones containing the Bengal tigers or crocs, for obvious reasons - were open for the public to wander through at their leisure. Push through a big metal gate and you suddenly find yourself in kangaroo country. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience; even though I kept imagining I might bump into Steve as he went about his business. I felt sad in the realisation that it was something that was never gonna happen and I only wish that I had been able to visit a couple of years ago. Wherever you are, Steve, you did those animals proud.

    Before I headed off from Australia Zoo I sat in the car park for some time looking at my travel guide and my road atlas. I really wanted to push on north to visit the Great Barrier Reef but the reality was starting to sink in: with the lost days, it was simply too far. I couldn't make my mind up which direction to head and, eventually, settled on closing my eyes and pointing to a random point on the map. When I opened them again, my finger was sat right in the middle of Hervey Bay - four hours away - so off I went. Energised by my day with the animals I completed the drive in one sitting and arrived on the Happy Wander Campground just as the office was closing for the evening. Even though I had delayed his departure for the evening the guy was happy to stop and chat as he checked me in. When I mentioned that I fancied heading over to Fraser Island, he even offered to call and book me a slot. His enthusiasm was infectious and I knew then that I was gonna enjoy my stay in Hervey Bay.

    Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity

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    Last edited by UKCraig; 05-18-2009 at 05:48 AM. Reason: formatting

  2. #2

    Default The continuing adventures of life in a camper van

    My first day in Hervey Bay was very leisurely and mainly consisted of sitting doing absolutely nothing whatsoever other than enjoying the sun. Suitably rested, however, my second day was far more constructive as I'd signed up for a trip over to the nearby Fraser Island. I was collected from outside the campground and, after a trip across town to pick up my fellow passengers, we headed off to Urangan Harbour to board the barge which would carry us and our big 4wd truck across the bay to the 120km long UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had chosen a tour with the imaginatively titled Fraser Island Company and our guide for the day was the ever-so-crazy German, Henning who explained, as we crossed to our arrival point at Moon Point, what was on the agenda for the day.

    We arrived on the island with the engine running, as if arriving in France in 1944, and roared off the barge-the moment the ramp was down. Throwing up plumes of sand as tore across the beach, we made straight for a gap in the mangroves and lurched onto a narrow track. With trees rubbing along both sides of the truck we headed off through the wetlands, past an American wartime folly where they repeatedly attempted to construct an airstrip (they finally gave up three years after the war ended) and out to the shores of Lake Allom. Fraser Island may be the world's biggest sand island but the diverse ecology took us through a quickly changing landscape of wetland, sand dune and rain forest. Despite the constant rolling and pitching of the truck - which was making me feel a little queasy - I couldn't help but marvel at the beauty of the place and smile at Henning's amusing, self-effacing commentary.

    The drive from the beach to Lake Allom was the longest (and toughest) piece of driving that we would do all day so it was great to be rewarded with the sight of dozens of freshwater turtles swimming in its red waters on our arrival. The lake takes its colour from the trees growing around its shore and the entire scene, like much of the island, painted an other-worldly picture. A couple of the guys decided to go for a dip but I preferred to keep my feet on dry land and, a few photos in the bag, I wandered back to the truck to discover that Henning had laid on tea, coffee and muffins to welcome us back. As we awaited the return of the swimmers, the rest of the group excitedly chatted about what they'd seen already but Henning, knowing there was much more to come, simply smiled before wandering back to the truck and re-firing the engine - our signal that it was time to move on.

    You can cross to Fraser Island from several points on the mainland but we soon learnt that, having crossed on the Urangan - Moon Point barge, we would have to cross the island at its widest point. We would have to content with many miles of slow and trying sand roads before we would reach ‘the widest highway in the world' - Seventy-Five Mile Beach. I initially greeted this news with disappointment but, in the end, I actually think the crossing of inland Fraser Island was vital in offering us an insight into the real insight into the diversity of the island. That's not to say that our arrival on the soft sand of Cathedral Beach wasn't a welcome moment and it was a real luxury to be able to tear along at 100km/hr.

    After a stop at The Pinnacles - a section of coloured sand cliffs where many photos were taken - we turned into Dundubara where a feast of steak, fish and other goodies was being prepared for our lunch. Henning finished this on the barbeque whilst we tucked into nibbles, drank beer and wine and got to know each other better. It was a good group and the conversation flowed but soon our lunch was ready and we all tucked in with abandon. To round off the meal a number of kangaroo steaks were cooked, cut into strips and passed around. For the first time there was no-one turning their nose up and trying to make you feel guilty about enjoying the taste and I'm pretty sure everyone tucked in.

    After dinner was wrapped up and packed up we all hopped back onboard the truck and headed back through the dunes towards the highway (or, should I say; beach). Our path back through the dunes was blocked by an embarrassed driver who had got his car bogged in the sand and we were forced to use the truck to put an end to our temporary incarceration. As we watched his girlfriend gave him a serious ear-bashing from the passenger seat we all concluded that they could only have been English. A very amusing moment but one which, according to Henning, is becoming a real nuisance on the island as it becomes more popular and visitor numbers increase.

    Also increasing on the island is the size of the dingo population. This is something which, following the death of a nine-year old Brisbane boy at Waddy Point in 2001, has been worrying parents and park rangers alike. After the fatal mauling, the rangers overreacted and panicked; going on the warpath - as if they were playing a part in a dodgy Hollywood movie - and massacring a large part of dingo population. Eventually, after an uproar, they saw sense and admitted their mistake but it was too late for the poor dingoes that had been on the island for thousands of years. It is always a sad event when someone dies - more so when it is a child - but, at the end of the day, they are wild animals and, when we go into their domain, you must take adequate precautions such as keeping your kids under direct supervision. In the case of the poor lad on Fraser he had been left to play on his own and, when the dingoes approached he panicked, ran and then tripped. The natural instincts of the animals kicked in and the result was never in doubt. I don't buy in to the ‘dangerous dingoes' tag which flashed up on news bulletins around the country - if I'd have been the editor I would have run with ‘irresponsible parents' - what the hell were they thinking? I wonder if, on a visit to an environment inhabited by bears, would those parents still let their children run loose? Sadly they probably would.

    It's not just kids that can come to grief on Fraser. The passenger liner S.S Maheno was once said to be more luxurious than Titanic but, in the period following the Great Depression, there was a lack of passengers for the crossing of the Tasman Sea where she plied her trade. Her owners, in an attempt to stave off financial difficulties, placed her up for sale. There was just one interested party - a Japanese scrap yard - and she was decommissioned and the keys handed over. As she was being towed to her final resting place a huge cyclone suddenly blew up, the tow line broke and she was washed ashore on the east coast of Fraser. A party of salvagers arrived from Japan with the intention to refloat her but they took one look and declared that she wasn't going anywhere. They removed anything that had any salvageable value - holding an auction right there on the beach - and then left. In the war years she was used for target practice by the Australian air force (not their finest moment as, if rumours are to be believed, 200 bombs were dropped with just two actually being on target) but she was left in peace afterwards to slowly rust away. The rangers estimate that there are another five or ten years left before the once great liner is gone. Whilst she survives she makes a striking sight sat on the beautiful white sand whilst trucks straight from the Paris - Dakar Rally roar past at 100 km/h and flightseeing planes take off mere metres away.

    Eli Creek - a fast-moving crystal-clear torrent delivering millions of litres of freshwater each hour into the ocean - was our next stop and, after a paddle down it's fast moving (and icy cold) waters we headed to nearby Happy Valley for tea and cakes and to warm up. It was then time for the long trudge back across the island which we break halfway with a walk through the rainforest area. Everyone is fascinated by the contradiction of rainforest and sand dunes within such a small distance but Henning does a fine job at explaining how this could happen. Of course, with so many different nationalities within the group, it took a little time to explain such a complex situation and, by the time that he had, we were pushed for time if we were to make the 5pm deadline for us to board the barge which would return us to the mainland.

    Confident that it will not go without us - there are three trucks from the Fraser Island Company going back to the mainland and only one of them had successfully arrive back at the barge - and we carried on at a sensible but not particularly urgent pace. Suddenly the situation changed and, as we were passing through the wetland area, Henning pulled the truck to an abrupt stop. He handed back a bottle of insect repellent - surrounded by swamp, we couldn't have stopped in a worse place for bugs - before jumping down from his cab and leaping into action. Losing a tyre wasn't a rare occurrence, he explained as he worked furiously to remedy the situation, but it usually happened at a more opportune moment. It was obvious from the way he was going at his task - he wouldn't have looked out of place if he was wearing Prodrive Subaru overalls - that he had done this a hundred times before but, despite digging down, he just couldn't get a patch of ground which would support the weight of the truck.

    A huge roar could be heard approaching from behind - it was the third and final truck heading for the barge - causing the passengers milling around in the road to jump out of the way. As he pulled to a stop behind us, the other driver was already calling back to base on his satellite phone to alert them and then he too leapt from his cab and started working furiously beneath our truck. It may have been a nervous moment for some - talk was turning to missed dinner reservations that evening - but it was fantastic to see these two guys working as a team to get us back home.

    We eventually made the barge - arriving twenty minutes late - but the vehicle ramp was already up and we had to abandon both trucks on the beach and run onboard. Once we were all aboard, and the boat was backing off the beach, we asked Henning what would have happened if we'd missed the barge. He explained, when they'd missed it in the past, the company had chartered the 100km/hr whale watching boat ‘Awesome' to get everyone back home in time for tea and, on one memorable occasion, had three planes land on the beach to ferry the passengers home. Our expressions must have turned from relief to have made the boat to downright disappointment right there but then, if we'd been sped back to the mainland, we'd have missed out on the fantastic sunset to which we bore witness: a beautiful end to an amazing and thoroughly memorable day. The Fraser Island Company is a small family concern but their attention to detail and customer care was second to none - I only wish that I'd signed up for the two or three day trips so that I could have spent more time with them.

    My final day in Hervey Bay saw me heading back to Urangan Harbour to meet up with the Perry family who would be taking us out on ‘Awesome' - the insanely fast boat that we almost got to ride the previous evening - to go find some whales. Everyone had been telling us that the whales had gone but the Perry's insisted they could find us some; or they would give us a full refund. Despite this guarantee there were just nine of us on board as we slipped out of the harbour and opened up the four 300bhp engines. We were soon tearing past the two big green 4wd trucks that we'd abandoned on the beach and pressed on into deeper waters as went in search of the Humpback whales. The whales stop off annually in the sheltered waters of Hervey Bay whilst returning home from their annual migration to the warm waters of Northern Australian waters where they mate and calve. I don't know about you but if I was halfway through an 11,000km swim back home to the Antarctic I would probably fancy stopping off for a rest too.

    Around twenty minutes out of the harbour we spotted something in the distance and Sarah - our skipper for the day - swung the boat round to the left. Within seconds we were upon them. She cut the engines and we sat there, bobbing up and down in the water, wondering what was going to happen next. We would soon find out as a whale leapt clean out of the water - scaring the life out of most of the passengers who leapt backwards from the side of the boat - before it spun around and crashed down with huge splash just metres away from the boat. It had been one hell of an entrance and everyone was waiting for the next act: but nothing happened! Sarah explained that the pod was beneath the boat and turned up the sound on the hydrophone so that we could hear them singing. It was a magical sound but one which was suddenly interrupted by another pod of Humpbacks fifty metres away.

    Suddenly, as if trying to outdo each other, the two pods put on a stunning performance - one which was worthy of an Oscar at the very least. After almost an hour of tail slapping, breaching and singing under the boat, it was one which no-one on board will forget in a hurry. That included a beaming Sarah who, despite shrugging it off as being ‘all in a day's work', was as excited as the rest of us. She may not have been hanging over the side, camera firing away like a machine gun, but she was as moved as everyone else at the amazing show. We would eventually see five pods before our time was up and we had to head back to the harbour. Just after we sighted the mainland Sarah came forward and asked "is everyone up for a bit of fun?" We weren't quite sure what she had in mind but we agreed anyway.

    We were instructed to hold on tight and this was followed by a 1200bhp roar from the engines as the throttles were thrown wide open. We thought that we'd been travelling pretty fast up until then but instantly we were flying along at what seemed like an impossible speed, passing everything on the water. Once we'd cleared all the other boats she started to pitch the boat from left to right to demonstrate just how stable it was but then, suddenly, the noise stopped and we sunk back into the water. Surprised - thinking she'd broken the boat - we turned round to discover that someone hadn't been holding on very well at all: he'd banged his head on the side of the boat and almost toppled overboard! He'd scared himself (and Sarah) silly and it put a sudden end to our fun but it was a memorable (and somewhat amusing) end to an amazing morning. As we were returned to our accommodation our driver - Sarah's mum, Jill enquired with a straight face, "so, everyone's been telling me the whales have all gone...?" If they really believed that then they must have had a bang to the head.

    I spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sun on the campground and reading my Lonely Planet. Originally I'd planned to spend just one or maybe two nights in Hervey Bay but, by the time I checked out the following morning, I had been there for four. It was just one of those places which somehow drag you in.

    Way back when I was planning the trip from the comfort of my armchair I had nonchalantly decided to drive all the way up to Cairns (according to my trusty UBD Atlas of Australia Cairns is 2395 km from Sydney). I knew that it would be a push to get there and back in the time that I had available to me but I was determined to give it a go. I wasn't helped by losing those four days to mechanical breakdown but the reality of it was that, in the end, I just didn't see the point - my attitude had changed from a tourist - intent on zooming around seeing everything - to a traveller happy to go with the flow. I made it just about halfway but wasn't too fazed. It simply gave me another reason to come back again!

    I was supposed to visit Brisbane ‘on the way up' and plans were afoot to meet up with Dan and his parents for a meal but I never made it due to the mechanical gremlins. I made it this time around but didn't arrive until late in the afternoon and, having spent two hours driving from campground to campground in a vain attempt to find one with a TV room (where I could watch the Grand Prix that night), I ran out of time to do any sight-seeing. Eventually I checked myself into a cheap motel for the night and vowed to check out the city the following morning.

    I got some odd looks from the other guests at the motel when I drove up in a camper van but I wasn't gonna miss seeing the race just to save a bunch of curtain-twitchers from having to put on their best confused look. As we all know now, Lewis finally (that sounds insane being it was only his second year in the job) became World Champion. It was worth getting up at 3am to see him achieve his dream and become the youngest champion in history (did you see the look on Alonso's face?) and the fact that it was all decided at the final corner of the final lap of the final race of the season made it all the sweeter. I am sure those confused faces were in evidence again when, just before 6am, I could surely be heard throughout the block jumping up and down on my bed and shouting at the top of my voice. Sorry guys.

    Early on the Tuesday morning, proudly wearing my McLaren shirt, I could be found heading south to the workshops of Dick Johnson Racing where Cam had kindly offered to give me a tour of the facility. Unfortunately, some time before I arrived, the team and cars had departed for their next race in Bahrain which was most inconsiderate of them, I have to say. I had to console myself with checking out the team's small museum instead before heading inland to the renowned Lamington National Park where I had arranged to camp for the night. The drive up the mountain would have been a spectacular drive if it had not been for slow campervan what I was driving so I had to content myself with admiring the view as I rose up into the clouds.

    I did a number of hikes before - in the middle of the rain forest, would you believe - the heavens opened and I had to don full waterproofs and make my way back to the camper as quickly as I could to avoid being washed out to sea. I spent the remainder of the afternoon huddled inside the campervan before emerging, when the rain had finally subsided, to go and admire one of the most abundant collections of wildlife to be found anywhere in Australia. Wallabies were to be found hopping around in huge numbers whilst flocks of rare and colourful birds flapped overhead. It made quite a spectacle.

    Once the sun went down I was able to spend time admiring the clear night sky - Lamington NP is one of those rare places unaffected by light pollution from our towns and cities - and marvel at the stars on display. The following morning I was surprised to awake to heavy clouds which stopped you from seeing more than a couple of metres and, with it looking set for the day, it pretty much brought a premature end to my visit to Lamington and Tamborine National Parks. I decided to head instead for Byron Bay but, as I got closer, the weather was still poor and I carried on driving instead before I finally stopped for the night just outside of Coffs Harbour.

    Now ahead of schedule I found myself driving off the campground the next morning with no idea of where I was going. I stopped for petrol and got chatting to a bunch of guys who were heading north who recommended a campground where they'd spent the previous evening. It was about five hours away which meant a nice short day and about the same amount of time to kill before I needed to arrive. Nothing jumped out at me on my map as a likely place to stop - even my trusty Lonely Planet failed to come up trumps - so I figured I'd just drive and see what happened.

    Halfway between Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie I spotted a sign pointing off the highway to the wonderfully named Hat Head National Park. Before I had time to digest the name - or what it may mean - my indicator had come on and I was turning off the main road. I blindly followed the road for 20km with no idea where it would take me before I eventually emerged at an area known locally as The Gap. There were beautiful views of the ocean and I knew that I had to explore. First I trudged down to Conners Beach then, 50 photographs later, I decided to try the 3.2km Korogoro Walking Track. It was very ‘up-and-downy' so you had to sing for your supper but, footstep for footstep, it had to be the most rewarding hike that I have done in Australia; maybe even on my entire trip. It was utterly beautiful and worth every drop of sweat which, given the changeable east coast weather had swung back to 30-degree plus mode, was a lot.

    It was rewarding too to realise that, even when you have no idea what direction you are heading, things have a habit of working out for the best if you keep your eyes open and go with the flow. I will try very hard to remember that when I am back in the UK; cold, fed-up and jobless! As someone very wise once said: everything happens for a reason!

    Despite all of the problems in the early part of the trip I was really gonna miss the freedom of the camper van and it was a sad moment when I handed the keys back to Dirk and made my way back to the station for my trip back into Sydney. It had been a disastrous start but, against all odds, it turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the whole of my trip. It also marked the end of my pre-planned itinerary so, for the final 45 days of my trip (how did that happen?), I'll be winging it like a proper backpacker... watch this space!

    Originally published on - and Copyright retained by - Boogity, Boogity, Boogity

    Previous: The ups and downs of life in a camper van
    Next: Unfinished Business: Return to Canberra and Melbourne
    Last edited by UKCraig; 05-18-2009 at 05:46 AM. Reason: formatting

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    South of England.

    Default Blown away.

    That was fantastic !

    turned out to be one of the most memorable parts of the whole of my trip.*
    I have to say I have enjoyed all your reports, but half way through this one I was already thinking WOW !, this is probably the best yet. An unbelievable few days and the sight of that ship wreck on the beach is one thing but to have those whales come out and perform for you like that, brilliant.

    All that rounded off with the most dramatic end to an F1 season ever and an English world champion, YAY !

    Oz was down here v on my dream wish list but it now sits up here ^ Thanks.
    Last edited by Southwest Dave; 11-10-2008 at 06:11 AM. Reason: Typo

  4. #4

    Default Thanks

    G'day Dave
    Thanks for the comments. I'm glad that you enjoyed reading the update and that you found it the best of the trip. In a funny way the problems contributed to making this one of the most memorable few weeks yet. It was only afterwards when I realised how quickly those three weeks passed by that I realised how much I enjoyed it all!

    I'm now driving the Great Ocean Road on my route from Sydney - Canberra - Melbourne - Adelaide and, I have to say, this is one awesome awesome road. It sums up what I love about Australia perfectly. But you'll have to wait for the next update to hear why!


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