After a short drive we arrived at Port Stephens, it was school holidays and this was the closest we could get to Nelson Bay. For the most part we have not booked ahead and haven’t had any issues, always being able to still get one or two nights, but this time we ended up 40 mins away from the bay we wanted to visit, so we decided on one day trip. At the caravan park we took Esther swimming in the pool, I practiced my Physio stretches (as my Sacro-iliac Joint was playing up, newly pregnant) and Esther discovered she has her own table and bench seat:
Tomaree Mountain Walk:
At the recommendation of our friends from Newcastle we went and did this walk in Nelson Bay, it had beautiful views as you’ll see below.
Lake Macquarie: (Apparently there are sharks in the lake… but no crocs!)
In late 2006 I volunteered as a missionary for my church and was in this area. I met loads of people and was able to catch up with a lovely couple and their family while we were there. We also went looking for the house I used to live in, in Toronto. I showed Daniel “the” house.. 3 times until I finally found the one I actually lived in. Turns out 11 years on things are not as familiar as they used to be.
It has now been almost 12 months since we left. I would love to finish the blog before we get back, but I have also picked up 2 units at uni and uni should probably be prioritised over the other…
We left Perth on 21st April, 2017. It was a busy time after welcoming our Esther only 7 months prior, packing and renting the house out, preparing the caravan, tying up loose ends at work, as well as catching up with friends and family one last time before we left, including this farewell, what an awesome cake (thanks Tamara). Although we still have a few more things to see on the map next time, (Yes, we plan to return to the road to see Tasmania and South Australia sometime after the next baby arrives).
We have definitely seen crocs, drove past the big pineapple at least 30 times while Dan was working on the sunshine coast (although never got a photo). We saw the big banana in Coffs Harbour, but while towing a caravan didn’t stop for a photo. We saw Dolphins in Byron Bay and Dan just recently saw a penguin washed up on the beach in Apollo Bay, (does that count?). We plan to visit Ayers rock next time and hopefully we’ll catch the whales migrating in the Bight.
Our set up:
New Age Oz Classic, with a very luxurious ensuite and our Ford Ranger.
Our very first night on the road, Seven Mile Beach:
It felt pretty amazing to leave town. It may have taken a few extra hours than planned to pull out of the driveway but we did it. This was a dream of Dan’s for almost 20 years and after much debate we decided on a caravan over a camper or pop top. We looked at caravans on Gumtree for at least 3 years, before we bought one and then needed a car capable of towing it. Dan liked the Ford Ranger and we couldn’t afford a landcruiser 200 series. I found one (an XLT) on Gumtree that had low kilometers and all the accessories Dan wanted already fitted (UHF, Suspension upgrade, long range tank, bullbar, spotlights and trailer brakes).
I researched every port-a-cot available trying to find one that would fit into the gap between the couches, only to convert a couch into her bed a few days before we left. We still took the port-a-cot and it has been well used for camping, playing and visiting any friends or family along the way.
So when we pulled into this free campsite just south of Geraldton, using WikiCamps for the first time it was quite the feeling. It was even Romantic! Living the dream! There were only 3 other vans at the site with front row parking still available. We weren’t sure what the etiquette was but took the risk and parked up. Perfect views.
It was so nice. We had many lessons ahead of us, including one we learned the next morning. We left the fridge running in the boot of the car and it drained the car battery, So we needed a jump start. From then on (until we got solar on the car and a dual battery system) we kept the fridge in the caravan when we were parked up.
Esther trying Black Sapote for the first time after we visited a store front with fresh local fruit for sale.
We were impressed with Tom Price, so much greener than we thought, the town was clean and there seemed to be lots of young families. We met a few couples at the caravan park who were headed in the same direction (clockwise) and we have seen 3 of them since, some in Cape York, another in the Northern Territory and just recently another couple in Canberra, it has been great to catch up and share stories as well as get further recommendations on places to visit.
We had a short stay in Coffs Harbour, with a warm welcome from these resident rabbits at the caravan park:
A visit to the harbour for fish n’ chips and then off again the next morning, via the Carob factory (Carobana) at Daniels recommendation where they also make fresh honeycomb. They are a small family business that have been around since 1982, it’s great to see them still afloat, they do well with most of their honeycomb bought commercially to add to other confectionery. They were all super friendly and had plenty of taste testing!
We then headed off with the van to Dorrigo National Park, beautiful spot known for its waterfalls, for a hike. It was so great to see the wildlife too:
Hike through Dorrigo National Park:
We then headed south towards Port Macquarie, finding a free camp along the way. Nice looking quiet spot, next to the Nambucca river, called Macksville Lions Park. There was a parking area dedicated to 24-hour stopping for caravans and motorhomes, opposite a residential area, a few other vans were there. Worst sleep EVER.. ha ha, all night trucks and trains rattled over the bridge then at 5:30am someone started their generator and playing country music quite loudly, then early morning road workers rocked up to dig a trench alongside the carpark, a deep trench, one that would be impossible for a car and caravan to cross.. So we had to pack up quick and ask them to stop briefly so we could leave before they completely blocked us in for the rest of the day! Drove to Port Macquarie and found a great caravan park close to the beach and set up. We ended up staying 3 nights I think, had a great time exploring the different beaches, the koala park, the strawberry farm, going to parkrun along the “breakwall”, a small food truck market, buying Esther her first pillow at her request, stocking up on fresh food and produce and digging for pippy’s at the beach.
Port Macquarie Koala Rescue Park:
Tacking Point Lighthouse, Port Macquarie:
Port Macquarie Town Beach:
Since having Esther, I would often take her into the water but wouldn’t go diving into the water with as she has yet to learn to hold her breath, but oh how I’ve missed that feeling of diving under a wave, so while we were here Dan watched Esther while I went for a walk out into the surf to swim. It was so refreshing that feeling as you dive under and the rush of water over your body! ah.!
It was a relaxing stay in Port Macquarie before we headed south to Port Nelson.
People say “flying with toddlers is a nightmare”. Yet when we flew home to Perth, Esther was a dream, as she did a lot of it! Flight was at 8:30pm, she was asleep in my arms after take off and then she enjoyed the 2 spare seats between Dan and I to sleep for the rest of the flight. On the way back to Brisbane I came to understand that saying, we took a red eye (midnight) flight back to Brisbane… This is her at 2:00am Perth time, 2 hours into the flight. She loved the view of all the passengers from her little cot (which she just fit into).
She did sleep for the last 2 hours of the 4.5 hour flight (after the cabin lights were finally dimmed), she then woke up as we were preparing to land and screamed the whole time because she didn’t want to be strapped to me for landing or taxiing. We were exhausted to say the least when we arrived in Brisbane! Got a taxi at 6:30am to our caravan, then after a bit of a wait we drove… all the way down to Kingscliffe, had a beautiful breakfast at about 10:30am on the beach cafe strip, then we all went to bed for 3 hours! Which thankfully kick started us all back into the East Coast timezone.
We loved the NSW North Coast. With the convenience of a major city (Brisbane) near by when required, a real country relaxed feel and beautiful coastline. We think it would be a great place to live. Kingslciffe was so nice, a small surfy town south of Tweed Heads. We went into Tweed Heads for some shopping and a short swim in the bay. After a whirlwind visit to Perth, it was surprisingly nice to be back together in our van and on the road.
Natural Bridge, Lamington National Park Border QLD/NSW:
We took a day trip out to the Natural Bridge and did a short hike through the rainforest, followed by a visit to an icecreamy on the way back to Kingscliffe. A must visit as advised by a worker at the Tourist Bureau. Turns out his wife worked there! Any excuse for fresh icecream though right?
After Kingscliffe we headed south along the coast for Ballina, where we stayed at a great caravan park near Shaws bay, they had a toddler play room and a toddler water playground, as well as easy access to the shore.
We went for a day trip up to Byron Bay (beautiful town but super busy) and did the hike around the lighthouse, with magnificent views as you can see below.
Known as Australia’s most famous hippie destination. We ventured out, I expecting something a bit more out of the ‘fairy shop’ but Dan thought it would be what it was. A little bit of a run down town that had its hay day when it hosted the 1973 Aquarius Festival. The weather was a little unpleasant the day we visited, 38 degrees celsius and humid, so walking around town wasn’t exactly enjoyable! The drive out there on the other hand through lush farmland and forest was gorgeous. Unfortunately no photos.
Ah Brisbane… Well we drove straight through the heart of the city with a caravan in tow, arrived safely at the dodgiest caravan park we have been to in alllll of Australia so far. I actually voiced that opinion on Wikicamps and you know my rule, it has to impress to bother typing.
It was rainy and I was still dealing with morning sickness, so again, not fond memories of the place. Plus.. we received a very heartbreaking phone call and made quick reservations to fly home to see my uncle before he passed. We made it and I am so grateful for the short time we were able to spend with him and extended family. We were also very grateful for those who helped store our car and caravan and who put us up and put up with us back in Perth.
So here are some of the highlights of Brisbane, although my camera lens died shortly after these photos so there aren’t many! Missing are photo’s of a reunion with a lovely family I initially met in Newcastle, NSW who had us over for dinner, we bought some ice creams for dessert to share and Esther insisted on going around to each person for a lick of their ice cream!
This was an awesome place to visit and great for kids. We don’t have anything like it in Perth (that I know of). In the photo Esther still has a hold of a frangipani flower she picked!
It pretty much rained the whole time we were here!! ha ha. We think we might call it the Rainy Coast instead.
I’ve found it really hard to write about our time here, I feel nauseous just thinking about it. We were here a total of 5 weeks. We arrived a few days before Dan started work and initially we were staying at a caravan park by the beach in Maroochydore. It was nice, but I wanted more space for the longer stay, with Dan coming and going from work, juggling pick ups, showers and cooking I searched desperately for something else and stayed in a granny flat in Nambour, a hilly green region, 20 mins from Dans work.
Anyway so the amazing good news is we’re pregnant with number 2. After a long wait for Esther, with help from IVF, to have this surprise was so exciting and week 5 of the pregnancy was my favourite time. After having a positive pregnancy test I was on cloud 9!!!
Little did I know my plans to cook wonderful dinners, bake wonderful snacks and spring clean the caravan were spewed straight into the toilet! Not just metaphorically. So I don’t exactly have fond memories of this place. I purely went into survival mode and managed to keep my toddler fed and alive for this period, hanging out everyday until she had her naps so I could lay down, often succumbing to just laying on the couch while she played. It was hard. I take my hat off to all those mum’s who have gone before me. Sorry I didn’t come and take your toddler out for the day. Sorry I didn’t bring you a smoothie so you actually ate and sorry I didn’t make dinner simply so you didn’t have to. I just didn’t understand! I was sick with Esther, I vomited until the day she was born but I think work was a distraction. I’m also very aware many have it much worse and many who would put their hand up to have it much worse, just to be pregnant (Wait a minute, what about me and all the fathers out there who also battle through this period! I worked all day, only to come home, listen to my wife complain, entertain my manic house bound child and cook dinner).. that was Dans two cents.. but he was wonderful to us!
Mons French Playgroup:
Being in the one spot for a few weeks I sought out a playgroup and found a French one. It was great. I was very welcomed and it helped get me out of the house each week. Esther loved the interaction and had a few firsts including painting and I met some wonderful mothers. Great location too.
Didn’t have a change of clothes that day!!
Views of the beautiful Hinterland Region:
We also visited the Eumundi Markets, after discovering them on a short holiday here in 2015 and we still think they are Australia’s best!
Buderim Ginger Factory:
Esther learning the pogo stick! Well after learning to walk it’s only the next step right?
Raining all the way from Tannum Sands, we pulled into a soggy caravan park near the town centre of an industrial looking Bundaberg. We were over it after a long day driving (from Moura) and finally pulling in was a welcome reprieve. Although it became a mexican takeaway night with an Esther ready for bed and no real time to prepare food. Sometimes it feels like a mad rush and with Esther sleeping in the kitchen (well the caravan, it’s all one room) its not a viable option to feed her, put her to bed, then cook our own dinner. We only spent one night in Bundaberg, a visit to church the next morning where I was made to feel so welcome and spoiled by experienced mothers who had cool trinkets for Esther to play with, (what I did bring didn’t seem to keep her entertained). Lunch in the van outside church and off again.
With recommendations to visit Fraser Island we headed to Hervey Bay. Close to our budget limit and lovers of the Barefoot Investor, we had put some money in a “Smile” account before we left (although our whole trip warrants usage of the smile account) which we had used for things that didn’t quite fit in our budget. We found a package deal for 3 nights accommodation including breakfast, taking us and our car over on the ferry, which was too good to miss. What better time to use our “Smile” money to celebrate our birthdays so we made the booking.
This place is stunning. The clearest water, whitest sand, but chilly! It is a perched lake, so only filled by rainwater. Where the water changes from clear to blue in the photo it drops off quite deep, Dan and I went over with some snorkel masks to check it out and it was kind of scary as the floor disappeared into a blue abyss (apparently only 8.5 m deep, so visibility must’ve decreased because you couldn’t see the bottom).
SS Maheno Shipwreck (1935):
Sandblows & Lake Boomanjin:
In my mind I was expecting something different, so when we hiked in the heat to see a sand dune I was utterly disappointed ha ha. Lake Boomanjin (the red lake) looked like it had rusty water lapping up on the shore, supposedly discoloured by the tannin from the Tea Trees.
Driving out of the forest back to the beach we found this very still turtle on the track. Not sure if he was dead or alive we pulled over. At first he didn’t move much, but he was a good 100m from a water source. Dan put some gloves on and picked him up, put him in a reusable shopping bag and took him home.. nooo.. took him to the lake we were passing. After thrashing and tearing holes in the bag when Dan released him he seemed very happy to swim off.
Things to see and places to visit on the island are not that far in distance, but seem to take forever 4WDing. The track was boggy sand with roots so unless you want whiplash you needed to take your time going up, down, over and around. Except for driving along the beach, it was difficult to get any speed up.
It was a little overcast when we finally made it to Eli Creek, packed with people enjoying such an awesome spot on the beach and a shallow running creek you could float down. The water was a little cool so Esther didn’t enjoy it as much as anticipated and the weather was cooler as we got there later in the day than planned due to the lack of speed 4WDing in the forest.
A few months prior we sent off some resumes and emails introducing Dan to some Mower shops on the East coast offering a few weeks to a few months worth of work. We got a fantastic response and were now ready to pursue some of the leads. Unfortunately for us the shop owner in Mackay met and liked Daniel but wanted him to stay on until Feb, 2018. We wanted to be in Sydney for Christmas so that wasn’t going to work, we declined and continued to the next follow up. So in answer to people’s question is it easy to get work on the road? I think it is if you are flexible. If you have a shorter time frame, save some more money before you leave and don’t worry about working, or if time is not an issue you will have many options. Mackay was the last place we found coconut palms. Oh so sad!
Bundoora Dam: Free Camp
As I’ve said before, these free camps have such a different vibe to caravan parks, we love them but haven’t used them enough. We’re currently in Victoria typing this so if anyone has any suggestions for the rest of our trip home (back to Perth) please send them my way. No unhooking the van, so an easy pack up the next morning. Generally more remote so less reception and no power therefore choices for cooking/entertainment options are simplified. This was such a gem that I even commented on Wikicamps. We put our net in for red claw over night to no avail… but a lovely couple felt sorry for Dan and generously gave him some of theirs that they had collected out on their tinny in the middle of the lake. Maybe all this lack of catching is just an opportunity to appreciate everyone else’s generosity and remember that, when we finally catch something!
A place on Dan’s must see list. A place to channel the inner treasure hunter. I don’t have any photo’s of Emerald. hmm. We weren’t there long, Dan went out for the day to Sapphire and Ruby to fossick, he had no luck finding anything but he did find some cut sapphires at a great price that Tom has agreed to make into earrings. I managed to find my first playgroup walking distance from the caravan park. Esther loved it. Thank goodness for technology it is as easy as googling playgroups and you will see a list of locations and times to attend. This was also the case for library ‘Rhyme Time’ and have attended a few different libraries around the country when the timing has worked out, such an awesome free service.
Entrance to Carnarvon National Park:
We heard lots of wonderful things about Carnarvon National Park, but we will now have to keep it on our bucket list. We headed out there (60km detour one way), knowing that the day before the road had been closed. Although not that high, the water was flowing fast and there was more rain due that evening, We did watch others cross and survive but we decided to not risk getting flooded in when we only wanted to stay one night in order to head to the next job offer before time evaded us. We found a free camp (donation to APEX who maintain it) on the way to Gladstone called ‘Dawson River Rest Area Moura’. It was a busy spot with a little playground, toilets and apparently hot showers for a small fee.
Tannum Sands: Canoe Point Park
We pulled in for a lunch stop not sure if we would stay, but with the weather as dreary and wet as you can see we kept driving. A few of the roads were closed along the coast, so we missed out on going to 1770 which we hear is beautiful. As you can see Esther had an absolute blast playing in the sand and mud.
It was so nice to see my cousin James, his wife Liz and their children again. We were able to conveniently park at the rear of their home, which made enjoying meals together a breeze. Boy were those meals delicious. Liz spoiled us with good home cooked food the whole time we were there, from scones to muffins (PS I still need to get that recipe off you), smoothies, a quiche bake-off, what a machine! Even treating us to her famous lasagne. It was delish! Disappointingly for everyone else, one night the enchiladas fell to the ground being brought out to the table, but it wasn’t the gluten free ones it was the glutenous ones, so I still got to enjoy dinner!! A rough week for them with kids home sick from school, they still managed to accommodate and spoil us. Introducing us to the “train game”, post cyclone home reno’s 101, where the hip hang out for some casual dining and the best places to fish.
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Esther loved playing with new toys and her new friends. She even got to take some of the toys with her, including a Wiggles guitar! Which we’ve heard a few times now.
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Thanks to James we were also treated to a flight with Air Whitsunday over the Great Barrier Reef and Whitsunday Islands, something I had only dreamed of doing. It was amazing and I would highly recommend it. To see the reef from that perspective, the colour, the patterns and how long it extended on the horizon was amazing. I saw some sharks and Dan saw some turtles. It was truly stunning. Here are some photos, although not sure if they do it justice.
Liz kindly watched Esther for the morning and looking at these photo’s I don’t think Esther even knew we were gone (Note the bracelet):
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Airlie Beach Lagoon:
If we hadn’t been spoiled enough already Esther got her first ride in a small boat, although at times it was questionable as to whether she was enjoying it. James spotted turtles and showed us some of the devastation from Cyclone Debbie with a few boats still stranded. On the way we picked up a bag of ice from a vending machine, to keep our catches cool, not sure if we have any of those in WA! Meanwhile, I think James luck was about to change with us on the boat! Nothing again!
What else do you do with a camera case? Shoe?
So sad to say goodbye, but all the better for the time spent together. Looking forward to our future adventures on Kangaroo Island, or when they come to visit us in Perth. Beautiful family, glad we’re related!
This is a short post so I thought I would delve into a bit of our style of travelling. Once we have packed up and are in the car we head in the direction we want to go and I look up places to stay on WikiCamps, read reviews and call ahead to check availability and pricing. If we are not committed to a particular location we just drive, then when Esther wakes up we might stop somewhere for lunch check it out and decide to stay or keep moving. This has been one of the enjoyable, adventurous things about our travels, getting in the car and not knowing where we will stay next.
We had a few things we needed to do in a big town so in this case we were already committed to Townsville. We left Perth with the new fancy and expensive Hema HX1 (thanks to an abundance of BCF vouchers for our birthdays and Christmas from family), which died on us after our 2nd town, Hema Support were helpful and we were able to collect another one in Tom Price. Unfortunately this one died when we were in Cape York, it wouldn’t charge. By this point we were looking for alternatives. In the end Dan chose a 7inch tablet where we uploaded the Hema maps app and iGo app, working just the same as the Hema but costing half the price (WAIT: There is more to this story than Felicia is willing to tell, after three nights researching bloggs and Satellite Navigation manufacturer websites, I decided a 7″ Samsung tablet with the right software would be more suitable, They have a long battery life, a great screen resolution, faster processing speeds, work with GPS and GLONASS, plus I would also have a tablet to use instead of borrowing Felicia’s. Apparently I was wrong in my assessment and had made a poor decision. Felicia felt very strongly against this solution and gave a number of very feeble reasons as to why… after seeing the error of my ways we bought a Garmin from Harvey Norman. The sales assistants assured us that we could install the Hema Maps…. Turns out they were wrong and we then exchanged it for the Samsung tablet and it has worked wonderfully ever since. Dan).
We attended a school fete with food trucks, went to some markets early the next morning and had our first spiral potatoes on a stick! We took Esther to the foreshore water playground in the afternoon where they also had another fair with food trucks and rides. Lots happening in Townsville!
Lunch stop @ Bowen:
The town seemed dead when we passed through but the coastline was stunning!
An unexpected detour led us first to a Nudist caravan park.. ha ha, no mention of this minor detail on wikicamps, it was only when I called after we couldn’t locate it and mentioned we had a 1 year old he said it wasn’t for children and it was a nudist camp!
So off to this caravan park: Conway Beach Caravan Park, so full of character, especially suited to families with children, (or the big kid in all of us). They had a train that did laps around the caravan park twice a day (for free), as well as a nice pool with a slide, toddler waterplay area, 2 sizes of jumping pillows and an American styled “diner”, but my favourite was the painted cabins and toilets, the yellow lighting didn’t do my photo justice but the colour was fantastic, a really bright friendly place to stay.