For over three months now, a white 1996 Mitsubishi Express van has been our home here in Australia. We bought it in Melbourne off a French couple and after saying our good-byes to our Workaway family, at the end of the June, we set off on our Down Under adventure.
Our ‘bus’ has it all: comfy queen size mattress, lots of storage, kitchen at the back and an inverter to charge our electrical goods. It certainly gives us freedom to go wherever we want and at whatever pace we choose, without too much forward planning.
Since June in the south of Australia was pretty cold, we decided to head up north, where endless summer is a reality. Following the beautiful east coast we crossed through Victoria, New South Wales and are currently around the Cairns area, which is known as ‘far north Queensland’. You may think that Australia indeed is a large country, but you can put all of Europe right in it and still have half of the country left over! So to travel from south to north would take you a while and if you were travelling with us, it would take you even longer. True, that it is pretty much one beach after another, but what beaches they are! And as we have already figured out, travelling in Australia isn’t really about sightseeing – it’s about relaxed and slow living, day by day, enjoying yourself and the sun.
And of course the wildlife. Kangaroos are a-plenty, but in some parts you see more of them than in others. They are super cute. Hopping around with their two tiny front paws and two massive back legs, plus a tail! We were lucky to see some of them dining, relaxing, and even boxing. We also saw mummy roos with tiny joeys poking out of the pouch. That really was something.
In the beautiful Kangaroo Valley apart from loads of roos, we have also seen wombats. What funny creatures they are – looking like small bears or massive hamsters, wandering around and at the tiniest hint of danger they quickly run off and hide in their burrows. While at night they dug some more holes and actually shook our van with us inside. Each time the shaking happened we giggled like two little girls.
We have also seen whales, dolphins, seals and turtles. We fed a friendly possum at Tooloom Falls and spent a few hours following our platypus friend, ‘Bill’, in Eungella National Park (they are way tinier than we expected them to be!). We discovered that the ‘monkey noises’ that we hear in the mornings are nothing else but chatting kookaburras. Other noisy but beautiful birds are lorikeets.
We took hundreds of pictures of pelicans, which right next to Toucans are our favourite bird. We spotted 16 koalas, either snoozing or munching away, on gumtrees on Raymond Island, Victoria. We had brief encounters with an echidna, an emu, a cassowary and a fleeing snake. A palm sized spider landed on our car windscreen, at a campsite, and I was scared to get out in fear of one of them jumping on my head. We saw a couple of big iguanas, hundreds of cute little newts and lizards and Geoff saved a few huge frogs that decided to reside in public toilet bowls. Not to mention all the mesmerising fish we swam with whilst snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef – our absolute favourite had to be the ‘Lunar Wrasse’, who flapped their tiny little fins just like birds do. Each and every one of those encounters felt amazing – they were right there, minding their own business, all those creatures we have previously seen only in pictures or in the zoo. And it did not matter that we saw kangaroo number 315 – it was still a cute Skippy to us!
And then there are the aforementioned beaches – gold sand, white sand, rock fringed, cliffy – with nearly 50,000km of coast and over 7,000 beaches you are sure to find it all in Australia. Top it up with sapphire oceans and some palm trees and you get a picture of paradise. So it really shouldn’t be a surprise that if we happen upon one of those beaches we seem to forget that the real world exists, and we spent a few relaxed days (or weeks) nurturing our tan, reading book after book and cooling down from time to time in the 26 degree waters of the Coral Sea.
But coming back to reality, what we are doing over here is bread and butter for many retired Australians and young European people. And there is a whole network enabling such adventures – across the whole of Australia there are numerous rest stops, where travellers are allowed to stay a night, or a few, if they so wish. Some of these rest stops are very basic, but most would have some toilet facilities. And there are some that are situated in a lovely area away from the main roads, sometimes even with showers, where you just want to stay for a bit longer. Another common feature of Australian life are countless public barbeques. Any more popular spot would have a few along with some picnic tables, and as long as you can throw something on those hotplates, you’re going to have a good time and a yummy meal too. Although the more popular the place, the more people want to use them and a few times we had to find barbeques further away, as the ones we had hoped to use were ‘booked’ for the day. Booking a barbeque involves, piling out as many boxes and food items onto the barbeque and picnic tables as possible, so others are aware that this is your spot and you’re not to come near! Once we were delicately bullied out of one of those picnic tables, but ‘the bullies’ gave us enough beers for the whole incident not to matter.
As long as you travel along the coast, most beaches would have showers. Some are indoors, but most are outside and have only cold water of course – but in these temperatures, who needs a hot shower anyway. After a while you even stop caring if a few people are sitting watching you lathering up and washing your hair…
The one downfall of travelling in Australia is the cost of pretty much everything. You can find cheapish basic food in supermarkets but things like fruit, vegetables and seafood – something that Australia should have in abundance, aren’t as affordable as one might expect. We tend to pick up some occasionally from fruit stands situated along the main roads – they are cheaper and usually taste better, apart from the 8kg of oranges we got one time that had very rummy taste to them. But the cost of accommodation and tourist attractions are pretty much outrageous! For an unpowered spot in a caravan park you would have to pay between $20 and $40 per night. The very cheapest, most basic backpacker room would set a couple like us back an easy fifty bucks and that’s with a shared bathroom, or between $80 and $100 for a motel room. We are talking no frills and out of season. And since we have had no luck with couchsurfing here either, we won’t be getting a break from our van anytime soon.
The tourist attractions cost an arm and a leg and possibly your other leg too. Entries to zoos, museums and most National Parks (with a few exceptions and all of Queenslands National Parks) cost a lot of money and sometimes quite frankly are not worth the money at all. There are loads of fun activities such as: Great Barrier Reef cruises, whale spotting tours, snorkelling, diving, paragliding, hover boarding (Google it), bungee jumping, jet skiing, fishing trips or basically anything you can possibly think of, but they are almost entirely reserved for those with hefty wallets.
We did splash out on one of those cruises to the Whitsunday Island and we did have loads of fun. We covered three islands: Hook Island, Whitsunday Island itself and Daydream Island. Just being on a boat was fun, but then a couple of hours snorkelling on Hook Island exceeded our expectations. All sorts of amazingly colourful corals covered the ocean floor and loads of brightly painted fish were hiding in their nooks. We were literally surrounded by hundreds of fish, who didn’t seem to care that we were there and were occasionally bumping into our masks in search of food thrown from the boat.
After that, while heading towards Whitehaven Beach, one of the top ten beaches in the world, we were served some lunch. The beach was indeed dreamy – the sand was as white and as soft as flour. It felt amazing under our feet. In fact it’s so fine, that it was used in the mirrors of the Hubble Telescope. And being 99.8% silica, it never gets too hot, which has been one of our most recent problems when the sand gets too hot that we really can’t walk on it.
So this magnificent spot is where Geoff chose to pop the question. I said ‘yes’ and that’s how Whitehaven Beach will stay in our minds and hearts forever – as a place where we got engaged.
Now we have another thing to look forward to. At the end of October, Geoff’s parents are coming and joining us for a month. They are getting a campervan of their own (if only a little fancier than ours) and together we will travel from Alice Springs to Port Augusta and then west to Perth. Once we are on our own again we will head back to Melbourne and decide what’s next. These are the plans, but as always, who knows what life will bring.