After staying at rotten hostels in Sydney and along the Great Ocean Road, I would have done anything not to have stayed at hostels along the East Coast for a couple of reasons;
1. It would be about 15 degrees hotter - most hostels have fans and not air conditioning, so dorm rooms with 8 bunk beds would just become like saunas with teenage boy smells escalated to a whole new level
2. The East Coast is a huge party for most backpackers travelling along it and I don't care if I sound about 45 but I just know I couldn't put up with pissed up teenagers coming in at 4 in the morning and bonking underneath my bunk or chatting loudly and putting the light on
a big fat NO!
So, we braced our credit card and booked a campervan for the month! Yipeee, I was over the moon not to have to face the dreaded hostels!
Ater doing a few days of research we found the cheapest company you could rent a van from, called 'Wicked Campers', it worked out about 54pounds per day, so not bad at all. The vans, as we found out, weren't top of the range, but it was cheap and the engine worked - just!
Dawn kindly drove us down to Brisbane from Toowoomba on 6th Jan. When we arrived at the Wicked Depot, you should have seen my face drop, Dawn was laughing, the van's were like old pieces of junk, I thought there is NO way one of those pieces of rust metal are going to get us around!! Plus, I'm not sure if you're familiar with Wicked Campers but the thing they're most famous for is the artwork on the sides on their vans, each van has a different design. I was just hoping and praying that we didn't get the one with big bums spray on! There was also another one that said 'Pussy Wagon' hahaha!! Luckily, after an hours wait I was put out of my misery and we were shown to our 'Aloha' designed van, we definitely got off lightly compared to some other couples that day. One couple drove off with skulls and camoflauge all over their van... a bit dreary.
Here's some bad ones we saw:
Along the way we saw quite a few other Wicked vans and there were some really cool designs, we spotted one that had Scarface on the side that said 'Say Hello To My Little Friend' and another with Jimi Hendrix on, and another with the Beatles Abbey Road on - also there was a great Aboriginal designed one, think thats the one I would have picked if I could have. Oh and when we saw another Wicked van coming towards us on the roads, them and us would flash our lights and give each other the thumbs up :-)
|we loved this design we spotted|
So we jumped into the van and headed out of Brisbane towards Tamborine Mountain, the mountain/rainforest area just behind the Gold Coast. Not sure it was a good choice for the first day in the van as some of the hills were bloomin steep and we ended up going up some of them in 1st gear, Roberta (our name for the van) didn't like the hills at all - plus, we quickly discovered that Roberta didn't have power steering, so you had to have muscles of steel to do a reverse park or U-Turn and also, we kind of guessed beforehand, but, we didn't have air conditioining, so our windows were wide open the whole trip!
We explored the Tamborine Mountain area for the rest of the day, which was really pretty and all over this area you could buy Avocados and Mangoes at the side of the road for $1 each! We did a walk to a waterfall, which was gorgeous, but there were quite a few walks that we wanted to do, but couldn't as the floods had cut them off.
After Tamborine we were heading south for Byron Bay, but it was about 8pm, so we found a little Rest Area off the Pacific Highway. We'd done some research before setting off and discovered that Australia has plenty of Rest Areas (large laybys) off their motorways that truckers, people travelling long distances, stop off at to stay overnight, most have toilets, only a couple have showers, all of them have streetlamps and most are set back a way from the motorway so you don't hear too much noise. Some of them have something called 'Driver Reviver' where local people volunteer to serve free tea and coffee to drivers to give them a break, Australia has a low crime rate, but a VERY high rate of car accidents, mostly caused by people driving long distances and not taking a break, or by drink driving. They have probably 5x more advertisements for road accidents through their media and also around Christmas time they give people double points on their license if they're caught drink driving or not wearing a seat belt. I don't think Martin and I really comprehended the size of Australia until we were in the van driving around, we spotted a postcard that showed a map of Australia and Europe fitting inside it.
Funnily enough this rest area was named 'Sleep Hollow', but luckily nothing scary happened to us while we stayed here overnight, we drew our little curtains, pulled our duvet over us, popped our ear plugs in and had a really good nights sleep.
The next morning we quickly brushed our teeth by the side of the road and then started the van and drove down to Byron Bay to our campsite. Our campsite was at a place called Flat Rock Tent Park, a council run park, so it was a lot cheaper than the privately owned ones. The campsite had a little shop, really clean showers and loos, a camp kitchen that had BBQ plate, kettle, toaster and sinks for washing up and had a little walkway directly onto the beach, was perfect!
|bush turkey alert!|
Once we arrived we went to a nearby supermarket and did a 'big shop' and then got back to the campsite and I cleaned the van inside! haha Monica from 'Friends' or what! I was spraying and scouring, it was pretty grotty to be honest, and felt so much nicer after I'd given it the once over with the Mr Muscle. We did a bit of organising and put things in their little places in the van. The van itself is pretty basic, you have:
a wooden platform with 3 foam cushions for your mattress
you could turn your bed area into tables and seats but we just kept it as a bed the whole time, so much easier
2 fold out chairs
1 fold out table
1 camping stove
1 coolbox (an Esky if you're an Aussie)
1 frying pan
2 sets of cutlery
a sink with a little waterpump
and that's it!
We were fine with everything in the van, the bed was surprisingly comfy (even if we were BOILED at night), the stove worked fine, we had curtains in the van to stop the sun from waking us up, but the one thing that bugged us was having the coolbox. If there was one thing we could have changed it would to have had a little fridge, as we bought milk for our cereal or tea and by the morning it had gone off beacuse of the heat, and buying ice from the garage was fine, but that had also melted by the morning - luckily some campsites had fridges so we made the most of them when we had them.
Although, we made ourselves laugh, because we started to develop 'Campervan Envy!' if anyone has camped around Australia, you'll know what I mean. All the campervans that were parked next to us, we'd have to have a nosey at and say 'ooh they've got this, or they've got that' haha. We met one couple who must have been about 19yrs old, just finished their A Levels, from somewhere posh in Gloucestershire and Mummy and Daddy had paid for them to drive around in a massive Winnebago for 6 weeks in Aus, my face was literally green, they even had a shower, big lounge chairs and had a bedroom with a massive double bed down the hall from the kitchen. argh
Plus my family have camped/caravanned all their life, so I'm used to having the best bits and bobs to camp with, so this was definitely roughing it compared to what I was used to, Mum and Dad even have a little flat screen TV in their caravan!
The weather was warm the next day so we drove into Byron, laid on Clarkes Beach in the sun for a few hours until it started to rain a bit. Then we had a little walk into Byron itself, I've been to Byron 3 times already and I love it there, it's so chilled out and relaxed. I loved showing Mart the art galleries and nice little hippy shops and cute restaurants - not that we could afford to eat there, we got a pie from the pie shop instead! haha. By the way, Australians love their pies... every single town or even garage you stop at has a pie shop! You can even get these things called 'Floaters' (sound appetizing don't they), it's a pie floating on top of gravy and mashed potatoe... Mart had one, I didn't as I remembered I still needed to be in my bikini for another few months and Christmas had definitely left me with a few extra pounds!
We came back to Byron the next day and drove up to the light house, but it was so windy and rainy that our trip up there that day really didn't do the view justice, especially as I'd seen it a few times before and even spotted dolphins swimming around the bottom of the lighthouse a few years ago, the sea was just too choppy to see anything like that today.
Here's a pic of how it usually looks:
Here's how it looked the day we went :-(
That afternoon, we were a bit stuck for something to do, and I remembered that there's a little cinema just outside of town called 'Pighouse Flicks' and they have big comfy cowprint seats/beds to lie on whilst you're watching the film, so we bought a ticket and watched 'The Social Network', thought it was a good film, interesting to hear the story behind Facebook.
The next day was pretty miserable weather so we drove the van into the rainforest hinterland that sits about an hour inland behind Byron Bay. It's a really beautiful, lush valley, that has a lot of rich rainforest running through it.
Most of this area is pretty alternative, with hippies, VW Campers and communes very much the norm in this self nicknamed 'Rainbow Region' . At the centre of the region is a town called 'Nimbin' which is famous for live music, crafts, new age therapies but MAINLY for marjuana. We were offered it about 6 times whilst we were in the town! hilarious! We found a little herb shop which offered everything from incense sticks, 'happy' chocolates and natural cures for almost everything (even fridgitiy..see below!)
|Clavo, for lovers... Aphrodisiac for both women and men, also impotency and fridigitdy. Can be used for pain, fever, toothache, effective treatment for sore muscles|
Nimbin is also very well known as the site for the famous 'Aquarius Festival' that launched Australian hippy culture in 1973.
After we drove out of doped up Nimbin we wanted to explore some of the rainforest walks and waterfalls, however, only one walk was open due to the floods. So we spent a couple of hours walking around Nightcap National Park, it's said to have platypus swimming in their creek, but we didn't see any :-(
|Marts platypus impression|
That night we got a call from Dawn in Toowoomba and the worst floods had just hit their town! Around 2pm on January 10th, without warning, a huge wall of water (some people called it a mini tsunami) hit the city centre of Toowoomba, pulling cars and people down the streets, people were hanging onto lamposts, bodies were dragged off with the current and bashed against bridges and lamposts, many people that were in that area that day lost their lives. The story that touched us the most was about a young mother from Toowoomba. She had her baby tied to her by a rope and was hanging onto a lampost whilst turbulent floodwater was all around her, upto her waist, the baby slipped out of the rope-tie and into the water, the mother could just see her babies head bobbing along in the current, she was screaming out for her, but as soon as she saw the baby's head go under, the mother released herself from her rope and let herself drown in the water, so sad. A few days after the floods had hit Toowoomba, 11 people were missing and unfortnately most of these people were found dead, some were 80km's away.
Click here for a video of the Toowoomba Flooding
Dawn and Tam were in Toowoomba, but they, and their house, were safe, the water crept to their back door, but didn't come any further.
Hundreds of animals were stranded, kangaroos with nowhere to hop to, horses resting their heads on the gutters of peoples houses to keep themselves afloat and cows running to higher ground.
Floods were beginning to hit the whole of South East Queensland and by Tuesday 11th January areas of Brisbane were asked to evacuate, on Wednesday 12th January Brisbane river broke it's banks and hundreds of suburbs in Brisbane were flooded. So the message from Dawn and Tam was to STAY PUT and don't go anywhere. We were booked in for 3 nights, but we ended up staying there for 6 nights.
Each day we'd listen to the news on the radio and hear heart breaking stories. But we also heard some amazing stories of people pulling togther to help rescue their fellow Australians and their animals.
On Saturday 15th, Brisbane began their clean up operation and it was massive, volunteers from around the city turned up to volunteer centres and were sent out on free buses to flooded areas. They arrived to houses that were covered in dark brown mud and their belongings ruined, the jet washers were on and skips pulled up outside to collect the destroyed possesions. Seemed like people did an amazing job, but many many people in Queensland don't have insurance that covers them for floods (but hey, why would you when your state has been in drought for the past 10 years,you've been on strict water restrictions and even have compulsory specially designed shower heads in each house to save water and tanks in your garden to collect any rainwater in order to hose your cars and water your garden!)
Video of a Brisbane resident walking around, showing some of the damage and the clean up operation - click here
As you can guess it rained for the next few days so we just sat tight on the campsite, read our books, watched movies on our laptop, went for walks on the beach and listened to the news to see when it was safe for us to get back on the road again!
Mart & Ems