(Gary Blake and Wendy Johnson, marine photographers who live in England, spent two weeks touring Queensland, Australia, in a motorhome.)
After two months of planning and Googling, we set off in our rented motorhome on a 1,250-mile “trip of a lifetime” along one of the world’s great coastal roads, from Brisbane northward to Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef.
We made the trip in a KEA four-berth motorhome that was well equipped for the Queensland climate, which averages 77 degrees and 95 percent humidity in November. Our motorhome had air conditioning, fly screens, a flat screen TV, a cassette toilet, hot water, shower, a stove, microwave, refrigerator, an under-vehicle locker for tables and chairs, storage for fishing rods, and, thankfully, a wind-down sun awning.
Australia is about the size of the 48 contiguous United States, but with a population of only 27 million, all living on the edges of this continent. Nowhere in Europe could this sense of space and adventure be found.
With the air conditioning on and Top Gear’s “Seriously Cool Driving Music” blasting on the DVD, we squinted through dark sunglasses and tinted windows as we drove down the Bruce Highway. Comfortable in our captain’s seats, we set our satellite navigation system for the Australia Zoo.
The roads had good asphalt and signage, but were not designed for speed. These main highways were not freeways, but just extra-wide, two-lane roads, and hence we could not easily and quickly cover the huge distances you need to travel in a big country.
All went well at first, but about 18 miles out of Brisbane, I was asleep at the wheel! After our 22-hour flight, jet lag had kicked in at 3 in the afternoon.
A driver change and we were soon at Australia Zoo one day late for the 10th anniversary of its opening by its founders, the late Steve “Crickey” Erwin and his American wife, both passionate conservationists. But we were still in time for the daily crocodile feeding at the 5,000-seat Crocoseum— a spectacle not to be missed. This is the real McCoy to see these indigenous and dangerous species and also have a chance to cuddle a koala, or feed the wallabies on their grounds.
Then it was on to Noosa Heads near nightfall for an early bed to be ready for the 4×4 Discovery Tour of Fraser Island, which at 710 square miles is the largest sand island in the world. Through a forest shortcut, across sand dunes to a barge, then along beaches and up sand hills, we buckled and skittered along. As we rushed up sand hills in the rain forest in low gears, we used the route loggers took in hauling out the huge rot-resisting Satinay trees by buffalo in yesteryear.
At Fraser Island, we could drive on beaches for miles or swim in one of 200 fresh water lakes bordered by the snowiest of white, soft sand. At nearby Rainbow Beach, we could ride for miles on the tide line below colored sand cliffs and the towering Carlo Sand Blow.
On the next day, avid travelers of the Australian bush escorted us around Noosa’s headland on a nature board walk—so well organized and typical of the Australian bush walks. It is here that botany and wildlife lovers would be in their element: crimson rosellas, bush turkeys, pandanus palms, fruit pigeons and possums.
We found campgrounds in Australia to be better than in Europe. They are spacious, offering shade, outdoor kitchens and recreation areas. Some of the ablution blocks (buildings with toilets, wash basins and showers) even had baths and exotic potted plants. There were private shower units at some campsites, and many campgrounds also offered air-conditioned cabins and motel rooms.
As we embraced Australia with the 5 a.m. starts and allowing for the downside of the absence of a pint of beer in a local pub, we got used to the vast distances between interesting places, calculating the arrival of each new destination by GPS.
Our journey next took us to a headland named Town of 1770, which was the second point of landing for Captain James Cook’s voyage to Australia. The town is a departure point for reef cruises and fishing charters to the outer Great Barrier Reefs. So ended a long but exciting day. On our “should haves” list we put a detour through Bundaberg, home of the famous ginger beer. And had we arrived earlier in November, we could have seen the migratory humpback whales from Antarctica in Hervey Bay. They can be seen from late July until November.
With inroads of only a few inches made on the map, there was a lot more asphalt and country to discover.
(The story of this motorhome trip continues next month.)
Our KEA Motorhome, based on a 2.4L turbo-diesel Ford Transit, was well equipped with a good sized shower and toilet together with a fold-down basin, air conditioning that could run on campsite power, and a safe for storing important documents and cash. One problem was the location of rear bench seating behind the rear wheels. Trying to work on a laptop on the table en route proved impossible. I never hit the right keys once. It was bumpy.
The four-berth motorhome was comfortable and spacious for two people. We slept over the cab to save making the rear double bed. Maneuvering our 22-foot motorhome was no problem in Australia with its wide roads, angled parking and roomy campsites. For information on KEA motorhomes, visit keacampers.com.
Food seemed expensive because of the strength of the Australian dollar to our British pound. The popular takeaway food was hot meat pies.
Some helpful websites: exploroz.com and queenslandholidays.com for travel information and jasons.com/guides for maps and guides. Campgrounds charge for Wi-Fi, but you can find free spots at wififreespots.com/aus.html. McDonald’s roadside spots were packed with Wi-Fi users in their motorhomes and cars!
Fuel stations took all credit cards, but were sparsely located in some areas. The GPS unit was useful as we could scan ahead for petrol stations.