(This is the second half of the story of a motorhome trip in Australia taken by Gary Blake and Wendy Johnson, marine photographers who live in England. They traveled 1,250 miles along the coast from Brisbane to Cairns.)
As we continued our motorhome journey on the east coast of Australia, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn at Rockhampton. Darkness was falling and there was no way we could reach our intended campsite, so we camped in the wild, listening to the surf breaking under palm trees. This is what motorhoming is all about—to be free as the wind, to wake up early and stroll along a deserted beach (or a forest glen) at 5 in the morning, before the searing sun gets a grip.
Our rented KEA motorhome was a perfect roadrunner on the flat Queensland coast road. The satellite navigation system was a great asset and the supplied Henna Australia Road Atlas and Jason’s Australian Guides were all we needed to go anywhere.
Lots of towns in Australia are RV friendly with welcome signs offering dump points and fresh water. The publication “The Wanderers Mate” has listings.
The cruise control was a joy over long distances but we were on guard for the sudden bends and took heed that Greyhound bus drivers and truckers pulling multiple trailers (an Australian road train) are instructed not to deviate from a “straight driving line” when Eastern Grey Kangaroos nibble the grass that verges on the Bruce Highway. It is thought that swerving to avoid an animal will often cause more damage than hitting these large but harmless creatures. I counted 140 dead kangaroos on the side of the road during a 50-kilometer stretch north of Rockhampton.
Our next stop on the road was at Sarina Beach, where there are turtles whose main diet is box jellyfish—loved by turtles, hated by mankind. In Sarina, you’ll find the Sugar Shed, where visitors can see the processing of sugar cane from the surrounding plantations and also see the cane toad statue—an effigy of a most hated creature that was brought in to Queensland to control cane beetles but soon ignored those and instead devoured the native wildlife.
We detoured to Cape Hillsborough National Park. The landscape opened from the local style of sparsely spaced Eucalyptus trees to a more English type of countryside with vivid luscious greenery, albeit with volcanic hills, and to complete the illusion, a Devonshire clotted cream teashop.
The end of the road was Seaford and our campsite at the Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort, a haven nestled in the forest. It is surrounded by the beautiful Cape Hillsborough National Park and Robinson Crusoe Beach, where kangaroos dance at dawn on the beaches. The campground is one of the few in a national park.
In want of a swim on the Great Barrier islands, we took a Fantasea Cruise to Whitehaven Beach, which is set in a National Reserve and voted the Best Beach in the World. It has white sand that is stunning, but is so fine it is guaranteed to wreck cameras. Pristine white sandy beaches line these islands while the jungle-clad interior is home to unique flora and fauna. Underneath lie the crystal-clear waters of the Great Barrier Reef. We donned head-to-toe Lycra “stinger suits” to protect us from the box jellyfish that visit the inner Great Barrier reefs in summer. We marched across the cool mica sand (which doesn’t absorb heat), erected our Telly-Tubbies sun pods and then had a swim. We concluded that Queenslanders are sensible people and know how to live in this land so we gave up the idea of swimming in the sea from then on. The salt-water crocs were yet to come, too.
The days rolled on, and we traveled past cane fields and across railway tracks that crisscross the Bruce Highway to transport the cane to the mills. We came to the tropical growing areas with mango and banana plantations, and thanked KEA for our air conditioning as we turned it up a few notches.
In our travels we were always looking for the “old Australia” and suddenly we came across some interesting old buildings at Prosperine Historical Museum. We strolled around them, pondering on the hardships endured by the early settlers with wooden houses ripe for the termites to eat and houses on elevated piles to catch the coastal breezes—no air conditioning then.
The roadside signs became a source of amusement. For example, just as you get overheated on a long drive, a sign would announce “Fuel 15 kms. Cool Beer 15 mins.”
At Bowen, a billboard said, “Baz, Hugh and Nic loved Bowen and so will you.” Director Baz Luhrmann used Bowen as a stand in for Darwin in his epic movie, “Australia,” with Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman. We made Bowen our camp stop and spent the next day as tourists spotting buildings used in the film.
I climbed rocks above a road to take a picture of our motorhome parked next to Bowen’s Horseshoe Bay. The first shot was hurriedly taken on the tripod as the sun was going down when I felt a nip on my bare elbow. I took 10 more shots before I reminded myself of Bowen and its snakes! “This is where they wrap around car tires at night to keep warm,” I was told. And was that painful “biter” on my elbow a vicious mossie or a snake bite? I showed the tiny wound to a passerby for reassurance! Although semi-reassured, we did enter the motorhome through its side door that night, well away from the wheels.
After a long day driving in the searing heat, the comforts of the town camping became more appealing with the full facilities of the washing machines, showers and air-conditioned chalets for hire. The flat concrete pads for our table and chairs (which on our first encounter we’d mistaken as stands for the motorhome itself) kept us away from the crawling nasties that seemed to be Queensland’s daily topic; I suppose that made a change from the Brits’ obsession with the weather.
North of Cairns we headed to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree rain forest that was the pièce de résistance. It is a hinterland of ancient palms, Buttress vine trees, the scary estuarine crocodiles (salt water crocodiles), cockatoos, cassowaries, the obligatory kangaroo, of course, and other flora and fauna in abundance.
The Great Dividing Range runs parallel to the sea along the whole east coast. It narrows at the top of Queensland, pinching the flat land into the sea. This point where the reef meets the rain forest is picture book Australia.
We made a welcome detour up the river to Mossman Gorge, away from fresh-water crocodiles, to have a refreshing dip in the rock pools, and then continued on a ferry barge across the Daintree River, with more “true” croc stories from the ferryman. Crocodiles are a protected species since 1978.
Once across the river, we meandered along the sealed road up to the end at Cape Tribulation, where the jungle descends down to white sandy beaches, palms, mangroves and a beautiful turquoise sea. It was so easy to conjure up images of Captain Cook assembling his exploratory shore trips from here as he repaired “Endeavour” after the ship had grounded on a coral reef and he sought a way out of the Great Barrier Reef back home to England.
Our final stop was at Palm Cove, where cooling sea breezes drifted into a luxury resort. I had a surprise for Wendy, a spa tub in our hotel room, together with a bottle of champagne waiting for her birthday.
We turned in the motorhome at Cairns. We had been surprised by the comfort and ease of driving the motorhome. Fuel was cheap compared with the UK (although higher than in the U.S.), campsites were to die for, and the dawn chorus that is a delight when camping was even more so in Australia. Before our motorhome trip, we spent two days touring attractions in Sydney and then wound up our trip in the Northern Territory at Darwin and Kakadu venturing into Crocodile Dundee territory.
Even though we touched only a fraction of Australia, nevertheless we think we felt the pulse and the excitement of this incredible country.
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