In our previous diary, it was all about the adrenaline pumping while undertaking Cape York. Well, after all that intense off road driving, it was time to regroup and so this diary will be all about chilling and our sophisticated approach to pursuit of Traveling Happiness.
Most of our friends back home, as well as people we meet on the road while traveling, make the fast conclusion that living on the road like we do will almost guarantee that…TRAVEL HAPPINESS! With that taken as granted, unfortunately we come across people that end up disappointed, as Overlanding didn’t prove to be what they had in mind.
We try to keep a realistic approach while managing our expectations. Social media is a great source of information about where to go or what to do, but setting your expectations according to what you see can be disappointing. Don’t let your expectations get too high. If Covid has taught us anything is to be flexible and ready to adapt to any change. Plans do change quickly. This lifestyle is not very different to a normal life and therefore changes as well as downtimes often occur. Things do go wrong no matter how well you have thought your trip through, especially at the start of it. Traveling is not sitting on a beach all day like when you are on vacation, that is a big misunderstanding. It involves a lot of moving, exploring, as well as the normal household daily jobs like cooking, cleaning, shopping, washing etc. All this can be overwhelming. Exploring can sometimes be tiring and it’s ok to have some downtime. Watch a movie, have a nap, read a book or have a nothing day, as we often do.
“Alone time” is also well needed and therefore, we have mastered the bubble technique. When in need of “alone time”, we get lost in our own bubble zone while still sitting next to each other. It really works! As a conclusion to this paragraph, traveling overland can be an awesome experience, and we are so grateful that we get to do it even at these difficult times. But, just like in normal everyday life, it’s all about finding the right balance within.
Enough with the sophisticated pursuits though and let’s get back to our day to day diary. Between the two different time periods that we needed to return to Cairns, in order to repair and replace parts on our vehicle, we managed to sneak five nights back in chilled Port Douglas where “the getting rid of the red dust” task started. On our way back to Cairns, we took the alternative route via the Atherton Tableland. This area is the fertile food bowl of the far north with its country towns, eco-wilderness lodges, green hills and pockets of rainforest. There is plenty to be explored around here and our time away from the coast brought us through picturesque sleepy towns with helpful locals that go out of their way to help you. A unique and unexpected experience (it was not in our plans to come this way) with far less crowds than the busy Cairns.
After a couple of beautiful days camping by a manmade fresh water lake created by an artificial dam, we were back in Cairns. It took us another six long days of cleaning in order to bring back the car in its regular condition. The red dust seemed to have found its way into everything we owned! A good car wash only managed to scrub the surface and therefore a more detailed, down to our knees, cleaning had to be done. Even to this day we still find red dust in parts of the vehicle. GRRR!!! (angry)!!! Then there was the Cape York aftermath, with the bill of the damages done. When you drive a 16-year old car through these conditions, you should expect that car parts, which under different circumstances would fail after a year, will fail straight away.
So our rear shocks gave in, our bushes and both front and rear brake rotors needed replacement and finally our AC condenser had to be ordered and replaced, since it had ended up with a hole from some sort of impact from a rock or a branch. Exciting news for our budget, as you can imagine! Expected? No, but that is part of the long term overlander’s life when things don’t go as planned! After four days, we drove out of Cairns with a 2000 euro damage in our budget, but happy that our vehicle was back in good shape.
Moving south and just 80km away from Cairns, sitting pretty we came across laid-back Innisfail, a textbook example of a country town and the turning point towards the coast in order to reach the beach community of Etty Bay. This unique bay comes with its rocky headlands, tropical rainforest, a basic but full caravan park and the star attraction of the wandering Cassowaries. Cassowaries hold the title of the most aggressive and dangerous bird in the world, but here they seem used to being around people, so most of the time you can see them having a stroll around the beach in search of leftover food. We grabbed the opportunity and we were able to film them from close range, while still keeping a safety distance from them just in case they changed their mind.
At this point we came to realize that this time of the year, it is school holiday in Australia and almost every second Australian that wants to escape the cold in the south heads north to Queensland. The result of this massive exodus was that every place we came across and attempted to camp, was packed. Unfortunately, free camping on the beach is only allowed in a few designated areas in Queensland and if caught anywhere outside those areas, you are faced with heavy fines. So after a couple of attempts in various beach camps along the south, we reached Mission Beach area.
Here the rainforest extends right to the Coral Sea, creating a palm-fringed stretch of secluded inlets and wide empty beaches that give you a feeling of a tropical island escape. Collectively locals refer to this whole area as Mission Beach, which includes the small laid-back villages of Bingil Bay, 4.8km, Mission Beach (sometimes called North Mission), Wongaling Beach, 5km south and South Mission Beach, 5.5km further. You might think now what a perfect place to spend some time, right? We thought exactly the same and so as soon as we secured a spot, we booked in for four nights in the only RV Park we could find available. To cut the story short, there was nothing like our guide stated “…in Wongaling Beach you have the chance to undertake beautiful long beach walks and get the feeling of seclusion…”
For us it was a completely different experience, since besides the crowds that where expected, we were also caught in a four day constant rainfall, that caused our campsite to flood and us to be walking in a thick layer of mud every time we went in or out of the tent. It is here and under these circumstances (our set up is not made for hard rain) that all the above about “Travel happiness” conclusions and deep thoughts came to my mind and so I added it to this post. Refund was not an option, so as soon as we walked up the forth night and still under rain, we packed everything, still dripping, and planned to drive till we saw blue skies. After 200km and just outside Townsville in Saunders Beach, we finally saw sunshine! As soon as we set up camp, we had 50% of the car’s interior spread out all around the park to dry. Not the prettiest sight but definitely needed. Thank God, we didn’t get into trouble from any ranger passing by, as this was one of the designated areas for free camping as I mentioned above and therefore under rangers’ restriction.
Then there was Magnetic Island, off the coast of Townsville and only 30 minutes away by ferry. A tropical island with uniquely located bays and well signed trails all waiting for us to explore. “Maggie’, as the islanders call it, is divided in two sections.
One part is the ‘real island’, with permanent residents that live and work here and plenty of tourist infrastructure, while the second half of this mountainous, triangular-shaped island is an untouched by humans, national park. Our time here included daily scenic walks ending in inviting beaches, with top views over the granite boulders full of wildlife, hoop pines and eucalyptus trees. Just off our campground, the local residents of the gum trees, wild koalas chilled in the canopy, offering a free show and a chance for numerous photos to all of us underneath. On the way back, we spent a couple of days in Townsville itself, where Rochelle had a catch up with some old friends from the travel industry. It has always been in our top experience list to hang out with locals and this was no exception. Two nights later, we were back on the road heading south.
Next up was Airlie Beach, a love-or-hate kind of place that is loud and busy but also the main gateway to the Whitsundays. This is clearly a resort town and a total contrast to the tranquil ocean starting just meters off shore. Despite Airlie’s backdrop of jungle hills and its proximity to natural wonders, those of you in search of serenity expect to find it only once aboard one of the many yachts departing Airlie’s port for a day out in Whitsundays (or even more than that, if you can afford it).
Purely by luck, we drove into one of the caravan parks that are located a bit off the main road and therefore away from all the hustle and bustle of Airlie Beach’s main party scene. We caught up with a couple of fellow travelers that we met back in Atherton, Caren and Philip. So time went by very pleasantly, while undergoing an extended research on our options for the islands. After a couple of days and although our budget was limiting us to day cruises only, Rochelle’s research paid off as she managed to strike a deal that got us a day cruise around the islands as well as a scenic hour flight over them.
What a bargain! We were off to explore the magical Whitsundays for a couple of days. Although we didn’t manage to fulfill the five-star experience that Rochelle was expecting, the combination of flight and day tour more than fulfilled our expectations. With all the boxes ticked in Airlie Beach, it was time to leave the coast and head inland. After a free overnight in Proserpine, we reached Finch Hatton and the Broken River Bridge.
This whole area is known for its many waterfalls and their unique inhabitants, the tinny platypus, a small animal that can only be found here in Australia. After a couple of days exploring the area and taking pictures of almost every platypus that lives here, we headed over to Mackay, where our travel buddies “The Finches” (Ann and Bob) live. Catching up with special friends and fellow overlanders will always be such fun. This time was no exception although it had been only two months since we saw them last in the Cape. Thank you, Ann and Bob, for your exceptional hospitality. We are looking forward to meeting you again back on the road! After lots of stories and a couple of bottles of wine later (actually about a week later), we hit the road again.
But this is where another of our diaries will stop for now. Stay in touch and remember. During these difficult times that the whole world is going through, the most lost day in your life is the day you don’t laugh. Till our next diary, Safe Travels!!!