This month’s diary takes us further south along the coast with primary destination Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world and the only place where rainforest grows on sand.
Prior to that though, we had the Covid lockdowns that managed to catch up with us while in Mackay. Although we were not in actual lockdown within Mackay, the news that our destinations further south were, made us reconsider.
During our time here, we also completed the two years on the road margin, something that definitely makes us proud for what we have managed to achieve, despite the difficult times but also made us feel for the first time “the road fatigue” that all long term overlanders go through at some point. As mentioned in previous posts, all the constant moving at some point gets you! Especially when you slow down and get comfortable as we did in Mackay. Our solution to that? Once again a positive and open mind thinking that didn’t allow our morals to drop. It had actually the exact opposite effect, it allowed us to reestablish our course (for one more time in this trip) and focus on the open road that lies ahead of us.
We spent more than a week in Ann and Bob’s place in Mackay, which despite its attractive tropical beaches and art deco buildings doesn’t quite make the tourist hit list. Instead, this country coastal town is fine tuned to cater primarily to agricultural sugar-cane fields and mining industries. For us, Mackay was more of a convenient base, in order to refocus our energy on our trip, while getting inspired from our great overlander friends and look ahead.
With our energy and focus back, we said “see you later” to Ann and Bob and hit the road south. Later that day, we reached pretty little Yeppoon, a small seaside town with a long beach, a calm ocean and an attractive hinterland of pineapple farms and grazing lands. The quiet streets, sleepy motels and beachside cafes kept us busy and made our time here a pleasant surprise as none of us had in mind to stop here. We consider ourselves lucky as all these places feel up with vacationers in regular times but with the current lockdowns around the country, we had most of the places to ourselves. Up next were the twin towns of Agnes Water and Town of 1770 that are among Queensland’s most appealing and least hectic seaside destinations.
The tiny settlement of Agnes Water has the East Coast’s most northerly surf beach. You can feel that as soon as you drive in, as every second person walks around town with a surfboard under arm. As you already know, none of us two is excited about surfing but that didn’t stop us from finding alternative ways to enjoy places like this. This came in the form of bush walks through raised platform in the woods found by Rochelle in Instagram as the picture to take! After a couple of hours well spent in the bush and as soon as mosquitos made their appearance, we moved to the even tinier Town of 1770. This so called town basically is an extended marina, with some small cafes and a view point that marks Captain Cook’s first landing.
With the caravan parks of the area all booked out, that night we picked to camp further in land, in a small one street settlement (I don’t even remember the name of it) and in the back of its local pub. As you can imagine, just that fact was an experience on its own. The next morning, we headed to the city of Bundaberg, where Australia’s famous rum under the same name comes from. Despite boasting a sublime climate and waving fields of sugar cane, “Bundy” is still overlooked by overland travelers. When we asked around to find out why, many people mentioned that the beach hamlets around Bundaberg are much more attractive than the town itself that is located next to the river from which the water to create the rum actually comes from.
Rochelle had decided that we would be undertaking the touristy distillery tour, so that was our first stop in the town, although it was still too early in the morning for a booze tour. During that well organized tour and to our surprise, we were told that despite the massive production, only 10% of their rum makes it outside the country and most of it ends up in areas that Australians usually pick to take their vacation. They must either be very loyal to their home brew or drink a lot. Ha, ha!!! I think the second, since the next statistic we learned was that from that rest 90% left from the total production the 70% never makes it even outside the state! Queenslanders most like their rum!
After the necessary rum tasting (we needed to try out some of this rare stuff), we moved to Harvey Bay which charms are supposedly difficult to resist. This place is blessed with a warm subtropical climate, long sandy beaches, calm blue ocean and a friendly chilled local community. If you add to that the chance to see humpback whales playing with their newborns in its bay, it’s easy to understand how Harvey Bay has gone from sleepy fishing village to high end tourist hotspot. After securing a spot in one of the waterfront municipality run caravan parks, we started our exploration on foot. There is a labyrinth of well maintained paths that have been created all along the coast, giving the chance for walkers to enjoy their time away from the busy road that runs parallel to the waterfront. Although not planned, we ended up spending some extra time here exploring, before we moved about 150km further south, to the tiny town of Rainbow Beach, at the base of the Inskip Peninsula. This town, except friendly local community, relaxed vibe and white sand beaches, is also a convenient access point to Fraser Island that is a 10-minute barge ride across the narrow channel. After a quick overnight in one of the beachside camps overlooking a magnificent sunset, we were off to explore one of the best places we came across in this trip, the Heritage–listed Fraser Island. Except being the world’s largest sand island, as mentioned above, this place has its own special ways to seduce its visitors. The giant sand dunes, the ancient rainforests, the luminous lakes and Australia’s purest strain of dingoes (wild dogs) create an environment that someone can instantly fall in love with.
The aboriginal people call it K’s Gari or “paradise” and there is a good reason for it. Sculpted from winds, this long, thin stretch of land, covered by sand, surf, blue freshwater lakes, crystalline creeks and lush rainforests, forms an enigmatic island-paradise unlike any other in the world. In the center of the island, the vegetation varies from dense tropical rainforest to wetlands, with “sand blows” (giant dunes over 200m), mineral streams and freshwater lakes opening onto long, sandy beaches. The island is home to a variety of all sorts of bird life and wildlife, including the Australia’s iconic dingo, while offshore waters create an ideal home for dugong, dolphins, sharks and migrating humpback whales. Access to all roads on the island is via sand tracks that sometimes can be really soft, putting our driving skills to the test. No, we did not get bogged; I even bought a T-shirt stating just that.
The majority of the island is protected as part of the Great Sandy National Park and therefore all types of permits are required prior to your arrival, in order to drive or camp on the island. Although this fact originally seemed like a negative thing, speaking for myself, when I got there, I understood exactly the reason why. There is an ever-increasing volume of 4WD traffic (most of them young, first time drivers) on the island, tearing down the beach and the sandy inland tracks that the authorities try to control by introducing the permit system.
In our case and because of the Covid lockdowns that were still in place, we were lucky to get much fewer crowds as pointed out by a ranger that we talked to. Usually this time of the year, in a regular season, Fraser would be giving the feeling of a giant sandpit with its own peak hour and congested beach highway. We spent in total eight days here in Fraser and drove a shocking 500km on its sand tracks, taking in as much of its beauty as we possibly could handle. For one more time we were not alone. We shared our experience with “the Finches gang” that we feel like we have moved them out of their relaxed easy going life (we keep on calling them telling them to meet us up) into our crazy overland adventure. What a great team to visit one of the most spectacular destinations in Australia! See you down the track, Ann and Bob!
Upon our return on the mainland and after a necessary car wash, in order to remove the sand and salt caught on our vehicle, we took the road to Noosa Heads. Before that though, the time had come for us to do our Covid vaccines. Till today we have been delaying it as the constant debates around the matter were mixed up and misleading, putting us off it. Not knowing what to believe, we kept it on hold for as long as we could. But now, at this point of our trip, if we even wanted to consider continue travelling, this would be the number one reason to open up borders for us. Therefore we picked Gympie, a country town that Rochelle discovered online, where the process was straight forward, without many questions asked about the where and what we are doing. Surprising enough, even for me that I am a foreigner here, Australia supplied a free vaccine proving that the mindset here, in order to get on top of this, should be to fight it all together. Well done, Australia, on this one!
Just like that, we drove into Noosa, with the first dose done and the second one already booked. Noosa is a fancy resort town, with an impressive natural landscape of crystalline beaches and tropical rainforests. Designer boutiques and concept restaurants draw sophisticated crowds, while the beach is still a mismatch of glammed fashionistas, surfers in thongs and board shorts and local workers in their high visibility vest. A street show really that is worth watching over a coffee and a cake!
This place was undeniably overdeveloped for our standards but walking through it, we still discovered that it somehow manages to keep its charm with low-impact condos and chic manmade landscape, without losing the simple seaside town pleasures. When it comes to the Noosa Heads National Park, it is a pure joy with easy walks, stunning views and lots of wildlife watching. Numerous well signed paths take you all around it, while most of them end up in a jaw dropping lookout or beach front. As we had in our plan to be back in Noosa on our way north, after a couple of days in our beachfront campground, we moved further south.
The Sunshine Coast was next, Australia’s most famous part of 100 golden kilometers of glimmering coastlines and great surf spots. If your question is how that worked out, we both admitted that it was not as impressive as we originally expected. A bit over populated and with more retail shops than empty space on the beach to enjoy, we picked not to stay any time longer but to rather do a drive by.
With that done, we reached our most southern destination, the city of Brisbane, our last stop southeast as decided.
Further south, Covid lockdowns are stopping us from entering either New South Wales or Victoria. Therefore we will be turning back inland with destinations on Queensland’s outback. That eventually will bring us back into the Northern Territory and from there our plan is to get back to Western Australia’s northern part. More details about all that though on our next diary. Keep safe and keep on traveling the world. On the road…The journey is yours. Enjoy each and every step of it!