Saturday, 17 September 2011

Australia Part 3 - The East Coast

The clock is ticking, again. We knowingly bought Clive the Commodore with New South Wales registration (as that’s where we were heading). The consequence of this was that we either had to re-register the car for Queensland (wrong move for several reasons) or get to a Vehicle Registration Office in NSW within 14 days of purchase. So with a long jouuney of almost 2000km, and a google estimataion of 24 hours on the road we set off. So this was our new goal, but on Cam's advice, we took a bit of a roundabout route south of Cairns to avoid road closures due to the omnipresent floods.

So, after packing up Clive and saying our goodbyes, we started our 2000km journey to the closest NSW town: Tweed Heads. Our first stop was Kuranada and the Barron waterfalls. A mighty powerful sight and sound indeed and nice to get out of the car and cool off as the Air Conditioning didn't work. It was a good few km along tree-bound boardwalks which hugged the side of the mountain before arriving at the rather majestic falls.

Windows down, our next stop was Mareeba and "Coffee World" where even I had a decaf coffee to go with a delicious Ginger and pumpkin cake (might have to try and recreate that one when I get home) Tim enjoyed a slice of yummy cookies and cream cheesecake with a full caf coffee.

Our first night's destination was to be Mission Beach, although many people had told us not to bother as it had been badly hit by the cyclone and there wouldn't be anything thing to see. Undeterred by this we set the sat-nav and off we went. And you know what? People were wrong, ok, so there was lots of cyclone damage and yes the first campsite was closed as it had lost most of its grounds but when eventually we found an open site it was very welcoming and pleased to see some paying guests that weren't the cleanup crew from the council.
We found a site and set up one of our 3 tents, blew up the airbed and ventured out to find food. Not that difficult as only 1 place was open. So all fed we walked back to the site passing a hostel that had a "cyclone special" sky dive advertised: 14,000ft for the price of 11,000ft... bargain (I think). After a quick chat to the owner we were signed up for a morning jump. Just like that!
Our first night camping did not go down well, as it rained quite hard and it would seem that tent #1 leaks resulting in an uncomfortable night of not sleeping. Anyway we packed up and moved to the hostel that gave us free accommodation with the jump.
With anticipation we waited to be collected and walked to the jump centre. At 8am we we're collected, checked in, buddied-up with Des for me and Ralph for Tim. These were guys in their 50s and very cool. It felt like you were with your dad (even for Tim). We we're given a run through of what to do, signed our lives away on the paper work and before you knew it we were whizzing our way in the back of a mini bus to the airfield. Our trip through the countryside gave more of a glimpse of the devastation brought by the cyclone; trees and telegraph poles ripped up, metal roofing scattered across the landscape, plantations wiped out.

At the airfield, Des asked me if I wanted to jump first or last, I opted for last meaning first in last out, now I noticed that out of the 5 of us jumping, Tim was the last in (the significance of this hadn't dawned on him). Up we went looking down at more cyclone mayhem, huge oil containers had been dragged through fields, smashing up homes and barns. All very sad to see, but Des and Ralph weren't upset by the cyclone, they have the attitude that," well, no one died" and apparently as long as you have good insurance you're ok and it’s just a fact of life around here.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, we were 14,000ft up and the door was slid open. A few seconds later, I watched my husband being thrown out and free-falling for 60seconds before the chute was pulled. 1, 2, 3, 4 go, then my turn next. And what a rush. Quite literally...the adrenaline and the air. That 60 second of free fall I screamed and laughed it was awesome. The sound of the air rushing past my ears was so loud but then as the parachute was pulled; thank you Des; all was silence, we were gliding, looking down over the great barrier reef.
Amazing amazing amazing, a graceful landing on the beach with a big grin on my face greeted by Tim with matching grin and the words, "can we do it again?" Unfortunately our budget wasn't going to let us this time. Never mind once was amazing.
Thank you mum's and dad's for our Christmas and birthday money that let us throw ourselves out of that little plane. Back to base and t-shirts given out as a memento we had the rest of the day to chill. Tim caught up on the lack of nights sleep while I walked the long walk of Mission Beach, all to myself.

The following morning I was up early for a run along Mission Beach, I got along was down when I came across a large river opening, which had been a lot smaller yesterday, as I stood wondering if I could wade across a nice chap in a small tin boat sailed past, I asked if I could get across, he offered me a lift but said I would have to go around the road to get back, when I said I would wade across he pointed out that there were crocodiles in there and it wouldn't be a good idea! Crocs (and I’m not talking footwear)!!!! Needless to say I thanked him for the offer but decided not to cross and ran back along the beach.

Leaving Mission Beach we had to head to Ingham to collect the credit cards for our Aussie bank account. Our intention was to collect cards and carry on with our journey. What happened next is in true Travelling Marsh's mayhem. Ingham is a small town, somewhere you drive through - maybe even stop for fuel if you’re desperate - but nothing happens here. When we got there, the whole town appeared shut, everything including banks. So we realised we'd be there for two nights until the bank opened on Monday. Not so bad I guess. We found a campsite which was a strange kind of hotel, guest house maybe even a restaurant, who knows?
The whole town was plain weird.
We put the tent up and it started to rain, Tim had moved the computer and himself into the dance hall of a dining room, again no one around. While I was aware that the rain had been getting heavier, I looked into the tent and moved it onto a veranda under some shelter but unfortunately the rain had leaked in and the bedding was already wet. So resigned to the fact that we had paid for a night of camping we settled in for the night in Clive. It wasn't a great night’s sleep. And to top that the only place we could find open on a Sunday in Ingham for food was McDonalds. On the plus side it had free wifi and it was dry.
Spending a day in Ingham in the rain isn't fun. There is diddly-squat to do. We felt as if we were being held hostage; it resembled Bill Murray’s 1993 classic Ground Hog Day.
What we decided as the rain wasn't letting up was that we'd abandon trying to camp and just "camp out" in Clive so finding a rest stop be huddled down for the night only to be disturbed moments later by a police man with a big gun, he asked we planned sleeping there, "yes" we replied he advised us as the rain was coming down hard maybe we should move to another site 5km up the road as this one floods quite quickly and he wouldn't want us to be flooded out of the car. So off we went up the road to find the site already under about 2-3 ft of water, never mind we'll head back to where we'd come from.

Now bear in mind we had only left that site about 15mins ago, when we went to pull into the original site it was very much flooded, just like the friendly police man had said it did flood quickly. Looking at it, it would of been up to our windows had we'd of stayed. So once again we found ourselves driving through the very familiar Ingham town, where no hotels or bars were open. Until Tim stopped a slightly drunk man in the street and asked if there was anywhere open to stay. He said we could sleep in his garage which was awfully nice, but thankfully he also mentioned a hotel, which may or may not be open, you see it had its roof blown off in the Cyclone. So through the ever more torrential rain we found, The Station Inn, which was indeed sporting a tarpaulin roof. Tim popped in and before I knew it we were checked in.
Going up to the room was interesting as the centre where the roof once was now a patchwork of corrugated metal and tarpaulin. Our room was charming in a kind of 1960's hammer house of horror feel. With a 4 poster bed with ye olde mosquito netting draped round it. With faded pictures of kittens on the walls and a good old fashion ceiling fan which we feared would fall and slice us up if we put it on too high. We didn’t mind it was dry and it was ours for the night.
So with our evening booked in we ventured down stairs to our first Ozzie pub, and were greeted by Keith (who looked remarkably like my dad) and Barbara his wife. A lovely old couple, they were very apologetic for the state of their place. They even showed us pictures of what was a lovely roofed building before Yasi decided to whip it off. The clientele was very "local" and it would seem that we were somewhat of a tourist attraction for the evening. The locals were very friendly and at one point a lady went and got her stuffed crocodile from the boot of her car where it had been since the floods...we had photos taken with him, apparently he's over 80 years old, and he was quite dusty!

The following morning I went for a run in the rain, and then back to find Tim. We had our picnic breakfast at the bar then off to get our much waited for credit cards from the now open bank. I thank you the National Australia Bank. Also what we did find out was that all the roads were shut off by the floods, I say all the roads; there was only 1 road we could take to get us the hell out of Ingham and it was several feet under so after booking another night at the Station Inn we headed off to try and find internet, again ending up in McDonalds.

By lunchtime we were quite despondent and almost resigned to the fact that Ingham had us, but then we over heard a police officer talking to the lady behind the food counter say he had been on the road out of Ingham directing traffic carefully through the flooded roads, we jumped at this information and asked if we could get out? He said if we were quick as more rain was on its way. With that we rushed out and unbooked ourselves from the Station Inn, and off we went.

When we got to the road, it was just by where we were due to camp the following night, it was indeed deep. We slowly cruised through the murky water hoping Clive would at least float with not too much leakage. And bless him he did well and thankfully we were at last free of Ingham, never to return...

And with a hop skip and a jump from Ingham to Townsville. Not a lot to say about it, nice beach to see. Sure it would be lovely if it wasn't raining. Ideal for an over night stay.
Then in the morning off again with a run to the sun. We’d made it to Airlie Beach where the sun was indeed shining on us. We found a lovely campsite with a nice little spot under the trees. We had invested in a tarp to put up over leaking tent #1. With this erected between said trees we hoped for no more rain.
We had come here to go to the Whitsundays. If you have ever seen any advert for the Whitsundays you would have seen the beautiful white beaches with the softest of sand and the clearest of blue sea, well that’s what we were after. We managed to book a trip for the following day, again another Cyclone special.
The rain had held off in the night and we had an almost good night sleep. It was an early start for our trip to be welcomed with the news that the boat had been cancelled. A quick call around and we were re-booked onto what turned out to be a brilliant fun packed day with Ocean Rafting. The boat was a big yellow inflatable safety vessel, with a brilliant sound track and lots of whizzing around. A bit worrying on the way, we came across what can only be described as the remains of a smashed up boat. Stuff everywhere, but we were reassured that as there were no life jackets in the water, it was safe to say that the crew would of been ok.
We got a spot of snorkelling over the Great Barrier Reef on our way, which was beautiful. Arriving at White Haven beach it was indeed one of the most beautiful beaches we had set foot on, the write up correct, so very white and so very smooth. I even gave myself a body scrub in the sea with the fine sand; I came out as smooth a baby. We were then served a delicious lunch from the boat, which we had to wrestle with the seagulls for. A brisk walk to the view point to see the surrounding beaches and it was time to hop back on board and head for home.
The following day it was time to move on; it was raining again so we packed up all the wet things and headed off towards Hervey Bay. The rain was once more relentless and by the time we had got to Hervey bay we had decided that it was time to head to a hostel, also we had noticed that Clive was leaking through the back windows. So with the cheapest room being a dorm we moved in, to be greeted with a laptop with some pretty x-rated porn going on, and the sound of the shower coming from the bathroom. This was to be our "room mate" for the evening.
Thankfully by the time we got back to the room after sorting out Clive with containers to catch the rain the laptop had gone as had its owner.Before the light went for the evening I went for a run along the coast, with the rain in my face once more. It’s always nice to see a bit of where you are and I find running around helps. What I could gather from what I saw of Hervey Bay is that it would be lovely in the sunshine. A nice little sea side resort place, with the obligatory Irish bar on the sea front.What Hervey Beach is also all about is selling us tourists Fraser Island, but not for us. We know it is beautiful etc. but it is also expensive and hammering down with rain.

The following morning after our roomy had come in late and left early, we packed up once more and headed for a long drive to Brisbane via Rockhampton for an overnight stop
A long drive but eventually we were there. We booked into the Yellow Submarine hostel, not a great hostel but close to central business district (CBD). We had a walk into town over the bridge.
Brisbane is a really nice city from what we saw, with a lovely river walk similar to the south bank in London but with a beach. There’s some beautiful architecture about and the people seemed very nice. As we were only staying a night, I was up early for a run along the river, this time in the sun shine, such a nice change. The man made beach was under construction but it looks like it would be great. What I did also notice is that people in Brisbane like to keep fit; it was the busiest run I had been on for some time. So back at the hostel to find Tim, he was making the most of the free high speed wifi, which is unheard of in Australia.
Leaving Brisbane we headed to the LOne Pines Koala Sanctuary where we got to see many Koalas. Now then, we know not to call them Koala Bears from our time spent with the lovely young Noble ladies in Sydney. You see Koalas don't like being called bears because they are not bears, they are marsupials don't you know?
We also got to feed Kangaroos, get eye to eye with Emus and a huge snake. My best part of the day was when I got to hold Crumpet the koala; she was so very sweet, she has a brother Bagel and a sister Crumble who you could also get a hug with. Soon it was time for Tim to peel me away from my new fluffy friends, and head for Tweed Heads where we still had to register Clive.
Getting to Tweed Heads, we found a very expensive, nice campsite and put our tent up with the tarp once more. As we were only staying for one night to register Clive in the morning it was OK. The following morning once all the paper work was signed, dated and paid for we could relax a bit. So we decided to stay around the area as it was sunny and close to the beach. We went across the bridge to very cool Coolangatta, we found a new campsite at Kirra.
As the sun was shining it was about time to get the surf board off the roof and to get wet. So off we went to the beach. Surf board under my arm. We used tent #2 our many tents for a Timmy Sun Tent. I left him in the shade with his ipod. After asking the life guard where was safe, I tried to surf. It was very funny but also very frustrating. I just couldn’t do it. A lesson was definitely in need.
We stayed for a couple of days, it was very clean, had a great camp kitchen, free wifi and not very busy at all. Why would we leave?. I went for some great runs along a beautiful running path that stretches the length of the beach, where actually the Ripcurl surf competition had been the previous weekend. Typical Travelling Marsh’s timing we had missed it.
Next stop Byron Bay for a much needed surf lesson and hopefully some serious surfing. Now Byron Bay is a beautiful place to be. It has a very laid back vibe. Obviously it is also full of young folk all heading to the many bars on the main street. This coincidentally is also home to what was Paul Hogans very pub (he of Crocodile Dundee fame, youths ask your parents), until it was sold earlier this year for millions of $’s. Apparently lots of people come to Byron and never leave. I can see how that could happen.

We managed to find ourselves a place to stay, the Light House Campsite; right by the beach. After setting up our camp we went off to cool off in the sea. I tried to surf once more but still couldn't get up. So the following morning after a fantastic run up to the light house, past many beaches and surfers with some magnificent views, I got back and signed up for a afternoon lesson with Black Dog surfing.
Which turned out to be a great surf school. When I told them what board I had, and that it wasn’t going well, Scottie; my instructor from California explained that it was too advanced for me and no wonder I couldn't stand up on it. So with a giant foam board and the patients of Scottie I got to surf standing up in no time, I surfed into the shore several times with a big grin on my face. Unfortunately not without some pain, as I got stung pretty badly by blue barb jelly fish on my legs, especially behind my knees and arms.
Evil Jellyfish...
Now if you have never encountered these stingy beasts they hurt. And not just the initial sting, but give it 10minutes or so and the sting travels into your glands. So after my lesson I felt as if someone was ripping out my ovaries, I was almost doubled up in pain. Not pleasant, apparently it’s pretty painful for you chaps too. Thankfully the pain went within a few hours after a very hot shower; but it was very uncomfortable. Note to self: keep away from jelly fish especially the blue ones!

That evening we walked over to Waitego Beach, a quiet little beach off the main drag; to watch the sunset and the surfers bob about. We finished off our evening in Mongers for a delicious Fish & Chips dinner. A bit of a treat for us, we hadn’t been to a restaurant for ages. And McDonalds doesn’t count, no matter what the advertising says.
When we got back to our site we noticed that Clive had a big dent in his front wing. Not quite sure how someone could of it hit him, with such a large area around where he was parked. Oh well nothing we could do about it now.
The following morning it was rainy and grey, thankfully the tarp had done its best. And the only thing to do after my run was to go a test my new surfing technique, you can only get so wet after all. I hired a big green foamy from the campsite shop and went for a splash. Tim came and had a go too. It was a fun morning, if a little tiring with the weather. Soon it was lunch time and after we had warmed up with noodles I decided to head back in; Tim was staying in the dry and warm of the camp kitchen.
So with big green foamy under my arm, well almost, off I went. Catching my first wave I jumped up, crouched down and then I’m not quite sure what happened next, but I was tumbling in the surf and smashing my face against the beach. When I up turned myself up the right way, I was helped out of the wash by a young woman who had seen my surfing display, she looked quite concerned, and rightly so as I had blood coming out of my mouth. Honestly blood just seems to “bleed” on wet skin.
Feeling a little embarrassed and quite teary I left the beach, dragging green foamy board behind me.
Game over!
I painfully got myself back to Tim who when he saw me thought I had got beaten up by another surfer rather than the surf itself. I did look quite a state with a split lip, bruised swollen chin, black eye and cricked neck. Feeling very sorry for myself I got in a hot shower while Tim took the board back. This here would be the end of my “surfing” least for now.

That evening when I was feeling very sorry for myself, applying Elizabeth Arden 8 hour cream on my battered face. We were visited by our camp neighbours,no not that kind of camp,they were actually an old ex pat Essex couple who had come to admitted to driving into Clive. Apparently their new big people carrier is much larger than their other car when reversing it. So with a little chit chat about "home" they went back to their tent. We left it with the agreement that they would leave us there info. etc. so they would reimburse us for the damage they did. The following morning when we packed up to leave they had "gone out" already in their big car. So with me looking like a battered wife we headed off, asking the campsite manager to give the Essex man our details. Obviously we've never heard anything from them. Gotta love those Essex folks?!
 So with that we left lovely laid back Byron Bay on a wet rainy day, ready for our new adventure into the outback with a new Helpx family. Hoping it would be sunny there.