In all honesty, after travelling through Asia for six months, we were looking forward to a bit of Western comfort. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we love Asia. The vibe, the people, the stunning volcanoes, marvellous beaches and – off course – the delicious food. However, it is also nice to find similarities to home every now and then; not having to negotiate about every bus ticket, tour, shirt or apple you buy, being able to communicate with everyone or finding products you’re used to in the supermarkets. We figured we would be able to get all of that in Australia, our next destination of this trip.
View over Cairns
After enjoying a couple of days in the relaxed city of Cairns, where we were amazed by all the free facilities the city had to offer (free barbecues, free, clean (!) public bathrooms and showers, free city WIFI, free outdoor swimming pool, free sports classes), the real fun part started. We were about to pick up Betty, our old, colourful home on wheels.
Our happy hippie camper Betty
The Road trip
After a few adjustments to our first, very ambitious, plans, we had set up quite a nice itinerary for our road trip. Starting from Cairns, we were going to make our way down along the East-Coast, towards Sydney, then further towards the Great Ocean Road, where we would end our trip in Melbourne.
Our seven weeks on the road turned out to be everything we expected it to be and more. We had an incredible feeling of freedom, being able to do whatever we wanted to do, when we wanted to do it. We didn’t have to consider bus-schedules or hostel bookings and didn’t have to decide in which restaurants to eat three times a day. And besides that, it felt so good to walk through a regular supermarket again!
During the first couple of weeks it felt like we were hopping from one island to the other. All of the islands are very different, the only thing they have in common is that they’re all absolutely beautiful. We saw exactly one koala at Magnetic Islands, gazed over the beautiful sandy beaches of the Whitsundays (under cloudy skies) and witnessed giant lizards fight over our food during lunch. But our favourite island? Fraser Island. By far.
The lady at our campsite reception had sold us an, what she called, adventure, and she could simply not stop talking about it. She proved us to be absolutely right; we were flown into Fraser in a small plane, making a scenic flight over the island before landing on the beach. Right before we landed, we could see our vehicles for the rest of the day waiting for us on the beach: three big, white 4×4 Landrovers. Not bad. Feeling all VIP, we hopped in our car and started driving over the highway. Which was essentially just the beach. It’s a completely new way to drive, slipping over the loose sand, being thrown in every direction on the bumpy ‘roads’ through the dunes, and it was so much fun! It was probably one of the best days of our time in Australia or even of our trip in general.
Let the adventure begin!
One thing we’ve learned during this trip is that we turned out to be nature-loving people. Don’t think we’ll be running outside to hug some trees now, but we love to hike, climb mountains and enjoy beautiful views (but then…who doesn’t?). We got our fair share of nature in Australia, with highlights being the hikes in the Blue Mountains and the Grampians and the beautiful landscapes along the Great Ocean Road.
The Razorback cliff at the Great Ocean Road – doesn’t it look a lot like your screensaver?
Not a bad view for breakfast at the Blue Mountains
A beautiful view after a short but intense hike at the Grampians
It seems like every single animal we know in the Netherlands is replaced by another animal in Australia.We hadn’t seen any of the animals we ran into in Australia before. In Cairns, we had seen pelicans along the Esplanade and trees full of flying foxes. At Cape Hillsborough we watched kangaroos hopping over the beach at dawn, and we watched dolphins joining the turtles for a swim at Turtle Point in Noosa.
At our campsite in the Grampians, we were joined by Emu’s and fighting (yes, boxing) kangaroos. When exploring more of the area, we even saw an Echidna – an animal that we had never even heard of before getting here!
Proof that it actually happened
An Echidna – Have you ever seen something like this?!
After getting lucky at Magnetic Island and spotting one koala, we were stunned by the amount of koalas we got to see along the Great Ocean Road, around Cape Otway and Lorne, where we even had to call Animal Rescue for one of them. The poor thing was sitting in the grass, head bound and not responding to anything. It turned out it probably had Chlamydia – a common disease among koalas.
The poor thing
It got to a point where the sight of yet another possum or brush turkey or the sound of the laughing kookaburra didn’t even surprise us anymore – though it was still nice to watch and hear.
If you don’t know what a Kookaburra sounds like, google it, it’s funny!
(Un)fortunately, we didn’t get to see any of the deadly animals Australia is famous for (although, a crash with a kangaroo can have a deadly outcome as well), but we did get to see two very impressive, alive snakes.
As you might know, we’re both not the biggest animal-lovers on earth, but we had a lot of fun discovering all of these ‘new’ species.
Besides the city of Cairns, which has a real small-town-vibe, we’ve visited a few other, bigger, cities in Australia. We’ve visited Brisbane, where we visited one of Ferdy’s friends. We cycled around the city, took a (free) ferry over the Brisbane River, relaxed at the beautiful pool at Brisbane’s Southbank, walked through the beautiful Botanical Gardens and visited the highest mountain in Brisbane, Mt. Cootha.
Brisbane – as seen from Mt. Cootha
Sydney was our next big city on the list. We spent only two days in this metropolis, but we had a blast. We joined a free walking tour, which might have been the best one we’ve joined so far, walked over the beautiful Harbour Bridge, took a ferry to Manly Beach and watched the sun set at the Opera House.
The sunset at the Opera House
Since Christmas was coming up, we were lucky to join some outdoor Christmas celebrations at St. Mary’s Cathedral. There were Christmas carols and a beautiful display on the church, but still; sitting outside in a T-shirt does not contribute to feeling very Christmas-y at all.
Getting into a festive mood at St. Mary’s Cathedral
After saying goodbye to our beloved Betty, we had three more days to spend in Melbourne. Another free walking tour, cycling along the beautiful beach of St. Kilda, visiting the Queen Victoria market and hiding from the rain in the beautiful State Library. That was what Melbourne was like.
One of Melbourne’s landmarks – Flinders Street Station
Remember how I wrote about how much I missed wine, when we were still in Asia? Except for some shitty wine in Myanmar, we haven’t had one decent glass in 7 months! We had already made up for that, but the real fun started when we got to some of the wine regions of Australia. As you might know, Australia is the fourth largest exporter of wine, with vineyards in almost every state.
Our first wine-tour took place in Hunter Valley, just north of Sydney. Since we (obviously) didn’t want to drive ourselves, we decided to go on an organized tour. While we were waiting for our pick-up, we started to doubt whether this was the best idea… What kind of people would join this tour? Maybe only elderly people who take wine very, very serious? Would we be the only young backpackers joining and would we have fun anyway? When the minivan pulled up, the first thing we saw was white haired heads. And it was true; we had joined the tour with three elderly couples, who were spending their holidays together. However, we had so much fun that day! We had lunch at a brewery (oh, the irony…), visited a couple of vineyards and a cheese factory. The more wine was ‘tasted’ the merrier things got and the more wine we bought. It was a good day.
‘What did the grape say when it was crushed?’ ‘Nothing, it just let out a little wine…’
Rutherglen is a much lesser known wine region, located in Victoria. We were still figuring out our itinerary to get to the western end of the Great Ocean Road, when Rutherglen caught my eye. When I read about the water tower which they had transformed into a big wine bottle, things were clear: we had to go there!
As mentioned, Rutherglen is not the most visited wine area. Therefore, there are not a lot of organized tours available. What’s even better though is that the wineries are all located pretty close together. We opted for the ultimate relationship test and rented a tandem bike, to explore the vineyards on our own. A totally different experience, but also a lot of fun! We’ve visited about 5 wineries, bought some delicious wines and saw bits of the beautiful Rutherglen surroundings as well.
Not only does Rutherglen make great wine – they are funny too!
Australia definitely soothed our wine-cravings!
The perfect day on the road
We feel like we didn’t visit big highlights or must-sees, it feels more like a nonstop concatenation of small highlights, gorgeous little towns and beautiful views. Besides our visit to Fraser, one of my favourite days was when we drove from the Blue Mountains towards Kiama. It was simply a regular day on the road, but somehow so perfect…
Hiking through the Blue Mountains
We started out by a hike through the Blue Mountains, passing a beautiful waterfall and impressive rock formations. We hopped into our campervan, and drove the 180km towards Kiama, where we witnessed the ocean spraying water about 20 metres in the air at the Kiama blowholes.
The road to Kiama led us by the Sea Cliff Bridge; an impressive piece of architecture, and an amazing scenic drive as well.
When we got to the free campsite we had found for the night, we found out that there was a public pool right next to it – and it was free too! Since it was still 30°C+ we hopped into the pool, before cooking some delicious burgers for our dinner, which was accompanied by the setting sun…
We had such a good time in Australia and loved every minute of it. I didn’t even mention the brilliant sunrise we watched over Byron Bay (where Ferdy got all grumpy for his early wake-up call…), the special cookie we tried in Nimbin (didn’t work, drank wine instead) or the lovely airport-employee in Cairns, who made the busdriver take a detour only to pick us up (we were waiting at the wrong place). It’s hard to put everything of our 7-week road trip into one post, but I hope this will give you a good impression of how much fun it really was!
Ferdy & Christina