Our evening in Mitchell was very pleasant, we caught up with one of the couples that were staying in the caravan site in Charleville. We bonded over our bizarre tour and shared a platter of cheese and biscuits while watching the sunset over the river. The next morning, we packed up and drove into Roma for a short visit to pick up some more socks because I have lost so many pairs it is getting ridiculous, and both of us invested in a pair of goggles as we have decided to try and do some exercise in the local pools that we are visiting. From Roma we turned north for the first time in a long while and started to make our way towards Carnarvon National Park. Not much further along the road, we stumbled upon an event that I’ve wanted to go to for years, a rodeo! I was stoked that the timing had finally worked out because it feels like every town we’ve been to we’ve either missed the rodeo by a few days or we have arrived a week too early. We paid our $15 entry each and settled down to watch under a shade tent at the end of the arena. Matt and I were clearly really out of place as everyone else was wearing their rodeo outfit of cowboy boots, jeans with a comically large belt buckle, a plaid button-up shirt, and an Akubra. No word of a lie Matt and I were the only people dressed differently in the entire event. We soon struck up a conversation with the families sitting around us and I peppered them with questions about the events and the rules of each one. To pay them back for their kindness I took out my wildlife lens and captured photos of their kids competing to send to them.
Eventually, we reached a point where we either had to commit to staying in Injune for the night or leave to get to Carnarvon. Matt had had enough of steer wrestling so I begrudgingly let him lead me back to the car. It was a great afternoon. By the time we reached the caravan park in Carnarvon, it was nearly dark but luck was on our side and we managed to nab the last poky unpowered site at the only accommodation place that was still open for the offseason. I was less than impressed at the $45pn we had to fork out for the tiny bit of dirt we parked the van on.
The next morning dawned clear and warm which was a bit of an issue as Matt and I had decided to complete the longest hike of our trip into the Gorge. The main gorge hiking trail is 19.4km one way finishing up at a campsite for those completing the walk over two days, because we are unable to do overnight hikes, we decided to terminate our journey at the Cathedral Cave making our hike 18.2km return from the visitor’s center. Our first stop was the beautiful Moss Garden, we were lucky to have seen it when there was a bit of water around with the lush dripping wall of ferns and the small waterfall making a lovely cool place to have a rest. We continued onwards to the Amphitheatre, which was my favourite place on the hike, after climbing up a staircase that might as well have been a ladder, we squeezed through a gap in the towering limestone cliffs which opened into an amazing room stretching up to the gumtrees far above. While we were sitting and eating a snack a little native mouse started running around our feet and trying to get into our backpack. Another kilometer down the track we reached Wards Canyon, it was similar to the Moss Garden but with more water and King Ferns. Our final two stops were both spectacular examples of indigenous cave art. I couldn’t believe the colours of the stencils and free hard drawings standing out stark against the white stone, it was just beautiful. We returned to the car park in the early afternoon and decided to walk down to the local waterhole where we ate our lunch and had a swim before heading back to the campground for a relaxing afternoon.
Because we hadn’t had enough of walking after our solid 18km the day before we picked another hike for our final day in the park. In retrospect picking a hike that we 6km long and had a 3 hour walking time wasn’t a great idea but hey hindsight is 20-20. It started off civilized enough but we were soon climbing/clamoring up ladders and rocks on the side of the cliff to reach the top of the gorge. The view from Boolimba Bluff was well worth the effort as it rewarded us with views down into the gorge where we had walked yesterday and then across the mountains on the other side. Needless to say, we were both completely buggered when we got back to the van. The afternoon was spent driving to Emerald and setting up camp under the railway bridge next to the botanical gardens. We didn’t end up having a very good sleep thanks to the road trains and actual training rumbling next to us and over us all night. Oh well.
In the morning we drove to The Gemfields to do some more fossicking. After reading a lot of information online I decided that we would be better of buying wash from one of the mining companies in the town of Rubyvale rather than digging for our own gems due to the limited time that we had. My research lead us to Armfest Mine where we met the owner and purchased our first bag of wash. He showed us how to get the sapphires out of the dirt and we managed to pick up a few good ones. We ended up buying 4 bags, 2 standard, and 2 premium, and left with over 30 sapphires that were cutting quality. Not a bad way to spend the morning. The rest of the day was taken up by putting some big miles in and heading towards the coast. We spent the night behind the pub in the coal mining town of Bluff.
Takarakka Bush Resort – Urg where to start with this one. Ridiculously overpriced at $45 per night for an unpowered patch of dirt but to add insult to injury the park wasn’t even very nice. The showers weren’t very clean, there was no soap in the toilets, it smelt vaguely of sewerage and the camp kitchen was overcrowded. We were even more annoyed that it was our only option anywhere near the national park. $45pn – 3/10.
Botanic Gardens Emerald – You can’t really complain too much about a free camp but this one wasn’t great. There was a lot of road noise and a train went over us in the middle of the night. The botanical gardens were nice. $Free – 5/10.
Bluff Pub – Cute little pub in a coal mining town with cold beer and good food. Matt and I got the only spot in the shade which was good for us as it was a very hot night. $5pp/pn – 7/10.
Rather than leaving at our usual 9am departure time from Julia Creek we decided to hang around until mid morning so that we could go to the visitor centre and see the fat-tailed dunnart be fed. Entry was $5 and it was well worth it to see the adorable little marsupial munch into some mealworms as well as learn some more about the dunnarts of Australia.
We hit the road and headed to our first stop on the Dinosaur trail at Richmond, Kronosaurus Korner. Because we’d made quite good time getting into Queensland we were actually a day ahead of ourselves and booked into visit the museum the next day so we occupied ourselves exploring the very pleasant town. I don’t know if it was the isolation of the Northern Territory or not but our appreciation of small towns has increased exponentially and Richmond was particularly nice with long wide streets lined with bougainvillea. The main highlight of the town for us was a large man-made lake right next door to the caravan park we were staying at. It was very warm again so we paddled around in the water until it was late enough to walk into town and have dinner in the pub. That night we had the worst sleep we have had on the road so far, it was oppressively hot and we had the most inconsiderate family park next to us. Not only did they pull up ridiculously close considering the amount of space available but their children were an absolute nightmare. When they weren’t getting into our campsite and going through our stuff, they were screaming and running around until well after midnight. At 1am after getting completely fed up of having the little turds shining torches directly into our van Matt yelled at them to shut up.
Despite the lack of sleep we woke up determined to enjoy the dinosaurs and walked into town to the museum. Matt jumped into the mouth of the kronosaurus for a cheeky photo and we had a second coffee in the cafe to ensure we were properly awake and ready to take everything in. Richmond is a hot spot for marine fossils so the museum was filled with the bones of huge carnivorus ocean reptiles down to perfectly preserved shells. It wasn’t a huge display with two main rooms but there were that many things crammed in we managed to spend over an hour wandering around and then watching the short documentary in the attached theater. Afterwards we strolled back to the caravan park and had a walk around the lake so I could take some bird photos before we had yet another dip, cooked dinner, and turned in early for what turned out to be a wonderful noise free sleep sans horrible kids.
The next morning I woke up early and went down to the lake to watch the sun rise, the water was so still and the only sounds were of the birds flying from their roosts and out to the bush for breakfast. We made our way to Winton through the disturbingly flat and dry farmlands reaching the town in time to grab some rolls from the bakery and make lunch in a park next to the local pool. We walked up and down the main street enjoying the art deco architecture and looking in a couple of opal shops that were more than a bit of a rip off ($10 for a piece of potch what a joke). We decided not to fork out $32pp for the Waltzing Matilda Centre but did go in to use the amazing toilets and visit an exhibition at the gallery attached to the museum. I really liked the art despite it’s weirdness, it was a series of portraits of boss drovers by Robert MacPherson who drew them while taking on the persona of a year 4 student of St Joseph’s Convent, Nambour, Queensland named Robert Pene. They were drawn on kids sketch book paper, signed like a child, and then had “great work” and “you’re a star” stamps put all over each piece. There was also an interactive area where you were able to make your own poem using language from Banjo Paterson’s poetry which Matt and I enjoyed. That night we camped at a local waterhole and were kept company by a bunch of friendly cattle and emus.
The drive to the Australian Age of Dinosaurs museum took about 20 minutes from our camp and even though we left quite early by the time we reached the Jump Up (a sort of mountain think above the flat farmlands) it was already pushing 35 degrees. I was feeling very glad that I’d booked one of the first available tours at 9am. Our first stop was the dinosaur laboratory where we saw the volunteers preparing numerous bones found on digs throughout the local area. We also met Kim, a fellow delica owner who contacted me through instagram and asked us to make sure we said hello. He was working on the sacrum of a sauropod dinosaur and explained what he was doing inbetween chatting about our vans, great guy! Our next tour was in the main museum area and was more like a lecture in that we sat in a theatre area and were shown a documentary about the area and how the fossils were found. After the video one of the guides explained each of the fossils that were particularly special such as Matilda (Diamantinasaurus ) and Australias most complete carnivorous dinosaur (my favourite) Banjo (Australovenator wintonensis). The final tour was of the dinosaur foot prints housed within a specially designed shed at the top of the museum site. We learnt how the slab of prints were moved from their original location when they were deemed at risk of deterioration and how they were put back together. After the talk we were set free to wander the area and enjoy the dinosuar sculptures.
It was early afternoon by the time we’d finished but we decided to make our way towards the Dinosaur Stampede at Lark Quary because our tour the next day was booked for 9am and it was a 110km drive. About 80km in I realised that I’d made a significant mistake believing that we’d be able to spend the night in Opalton before driving across to see the footprints. It turned out that there were two roads, completely seperated, one went to Opalton and the other went to Lark Quarry, they were 40km apart as the crow flies, 130km away by road. Bugger. We decided to go to the conservation area anyway and ask the tour guide if there were any campsites near by. Our misfortune was quickly turned around when he gave us directions to a spectacular spot overlooking the valley below. The following morning we were able to get ready at a leasurely pace and cruise the 500m down to the stampede, we were confused when we arrived as there was no one around and nothing was open. After sitting under the shelter feeling puzzled for 15 minutes I realised that both of our phones had changed over to daylight saving time and we had arrived 90 minutes early instead of 30 minutes early. We occupied ourselves by going on a bush walk until we were forced back to the centre by the unbelivable heat, it hit 35 degrees at 8.30am again! The tour of the stampede was nothing short of outstanding from the enthusiasm of the guide to the shear spectical of the hundreds of footprints, we both agreed that the 220km round trip was 100% worth it to see the only record of a dinosaur stampede on the planet. Amazing.
The rest of the day was boring, we drove back into Winton and then on to Longreach stopping for the night in a hot and dusty free camp on the side of a river. We set up our laptop and watched the Paris Roubaix cycing race into the early hours of the morning.
Lakeview Caravan Park – You know it is a good caravan park if we fork out for a two night stay and still enjoy ourselves with a sleepless night. Perfect location, lovely shower block, and really well priced. $20pn – 8/10.
Long Waterhole – Dusty site under the trees next to a waterhole. Aparently the locals swim there but after watching a seemingly endless herd of cattle wade in and do their buisness in the water you couldn’t pay me to go for a dip. Nice spot though and we enjoyed the friendly cows walking through our camp in the afternoon. $Free – 6/10.
Jump Up Lookout – I actually had the pleasure of popping this site on WikiCamps which is a first for our trip. It had clearly been used before with a couple of sites and a fire pit already there. Amazing view down off the Jump Up and the perfect spot to visit the footprints. $Free – 8/10
Apex Riverside Park – Grim, just so grim, but there were limited options in Longreach and we wanted somewhere cheap for the night. On the bright side it was quiet and the toilets were clean. $5pn – 5/10.
I wasn’t planning on writing about Fraser Island before we left but as I lay in the bath this morning looking out the window at the cold grey sky I found my thoughts drifting to the tropics which inevitably led to contemplating our visits to the world’s largest sand island. It’s unlikely that we will be visiting on our lap and I therefore thought that I should write a post about our experiences on K’gari before we head off (in 50 days!!)
K’gari (pronounced gurri) is a word in the language of the Butchulla people meaning paradise that comes directly from the creation story of the island which you can find transcribed from one of the elders here. Fraser Island is a habitat to large numbers of vulnerable plants, birds, and marine life and has the second highest concentration of freshwater lakes in Australia (behind Tasmania). Of the lakes on the island 40% are perched, meaning that they are formed when sand is cemented together with decomposing organic material making a barrier that prevents the water from flowing away. There are 80 known perched lakes on earth making K’gari the perfect place to see (and swim in) these watery wonders. It is the ideal destination for travellers that enjoy 4WDing, camping, fishing, wildlife, bushwalking, and swimming.
Places to Stay The accommodation options on Fraser vary significantly in both location and price. I can only speak in confidence about the places that we have stayed/experienced but I’ll also outline the other options that are available to travellers.
Kingfisher Bay Resort On our first trip we spent 4 nights at Kingfisher Bay Resort. Because it was the off season (June) we got a fantastic deal which included accommodation, breakfast, drinks, and our ferry tickets. The resort will often have promotions and seasonal packages available on their website.
Kingfisher Bay is a very interesting place to stay. Some of the reviews online describe it as dated but we felt that the older architectural style and fittings added to the charm of the resort. The atrium is incredible, the staff were friendly and helpful, and the layout of the grounds and cabins makes you feel like you are a part of the wilderness.
We participated in several of the activities offered by the resort including the ranger guided bush tucker walk, where we learnt about and sampled food growing in the area, the ranger guided night walk, that included a trip down to the jetty to look for rays and the disturbing information that spiders eyes reflect torch light, the guided kayak paddle, and the brilliant Bush Tucker Talk and Taste. Needless to say we were never bored during our visit.
Private Accomodation There are a number of communities on Fraser such as Orchid Beach, Second Valley, and Happy Valley. In these areas you can find houses and units that can be rented. If you are planning to go to Fraser with a large group of people and weren’t camping this would be a great option. Find them by searching for “Fraser Island” on airbnb
Eurong By far the biggest town on Fraser Island is Eurong which makes it a very convenient base for holidays. The main place to stay is Eurong Beach Resort. We’ve never been into the building but we have looked jealousy at their pool (which is amazing). It’s cheaper than Kingfisher Bay and a bit more basic however the rooms appear bright and roomy and it would be a great place to stay on a budget.
Campsites Most of our time on Fraser has been spent camping so we can offer some advice on where to stay if you are roughing it in a tent or campervan.
Central Station Campground – My personal favourite campground on the island it is situated in the middle of the rainforest and has the added bonus of being the closest site to Lake McKenzie. It has drop toilets, $2 showers, and massive flat sites for cars, vans, or tents. We left this site early in the morning and drove to the lake where we spent an hour enjoying it all on our own.
Wathumba Creek – An absolutely stunning site for a campground but be warned, do not try and camp there in summer! We set up for the night but ended up leaving in the dark because the midges were horrific. I literally have scars on my legs from the bites. The other issue was that a lot of dingos (wongari) were in the area and they were much too friendly. I had to shoo a couple away several times.
Add: I’ve just read that in early February this campground was closed due to issues with the wongari interacting with people. Good decision by QPS.
Dundubara – This wongari safe campground is a quick walk inland from the beach. There are open areas, grassy areas, and hot showers available. There is also a ranger station and phone reception next to the building which is handy. We really enjoyed our stay at this site and it was nice to spend a night where we weren’t being constantly followed by dingos.
Northern Beach Sites – We ended up staying in one of the Northern Beach camping zones after being chased out of Wathumba by the bugs. In the evening while we were cooking dinner I had a feeling that something was watching us and sure enough there were a couple of wongari poking their heads around the dune behind our van but they didn’t bother us. The sunrise the next day was spectacular. There were no facilities available at this site it was simply a cleared area on some dunes.
Eurong Beach Campsites – Just north of Eurong there are a number of beach campsites available. We chose one back from the main drag in some she oaks. It was very pleasant in the evening but unfortunately during the day we were hounded by sand flies. I ended up cooking dinner while Matt supervised my legs and swatted the flies off with a thong. We killed about 50 and still they came. After this trip we ended up buying an awning tent to avoid these kinds of situations in the future.
We really enjoyed camping on K’gari but struggled a lot with the number of biting insects. I think winter would be a much nicer time to be outdoors or bring a heap of insect repellent with you (and buy the strong stuff aeroguard didn’t work).
Transport K’gari is a mecca for 4WDing but if you don’t own an offroad vehicle don’t despair. There are numerous 4WDing tours you can do including the huge and impressive 4WD bus tours, self drive tours, and guided tours.
On our first trip we hired a 4WD for a day from Aussie Trax 4X4 (which is next to Kingfisher Bay Resort). The price was absolutely obscene, from recollection it set me back $400 without the additional cost of paying for petrol. Matt really wanted to do it for his birthday and there weren’t any other hire options where we were staying so I forked out for it. It would seem from the Google Reviews that the owner may have changed since we were there and I therefore wouldn’t recommend using this company any more. For us at the time it was a good option and the man that talked us through the hire and basic 4WD safety was friendly and fun.
Matt had basic 4WDing experience when we first visited but if you don’t I’d definitely steer clear of hiring and take one of the coach tours around the main sites on the island. The tracks aren’t very challenging but it there are a lot of potential hazards, especially along the beach, and if something goes wrong it would become a very expensive issue very quickly.
The second time we visited (in January this year) it was part of our trip to bring Egg down to Tasmania and we therefore had our own 4WD to get around in. It was absolutely brilliant and we saw so much more of the island in the 5 days that we were there. The inland tracks and beach were very soft but we didn’t have any issues with getting bogged or stuck. Another great thing about 4WDing on Fraser is that if you get into trouble there is always someone around to give you a hand. Before you leave the mainland don’t forget to buy a vehicle access permit to drive on the island. The Queensland Parks Service has two options:
1 month or less = $53.65
More than 1 month (up to 1 year) = $270.00
Ferries There are a number of ferries that service the island with two departure points: Inskip Point near Rainbow Bay and River Heads just south of Hervey Bay. These will either drop you at Kingfisher Bay Resort, Wanggoolba Creek, or Hook Point. We’ve taken the ferry on foot from River Heads to Kingfisher Bay and have taken van on the barge from Inskip Point to Hook Point. Be warned, Inskip Point is notorious for vehicles getting bogged while trying to get to the ferry and there have been a couple of incidents of sinkholes appearing.
Price varies depending on the service and vehicle being taken. In January we paid $130 for a return ticket with our van on the Manta Ray barge.
Fuel We filled up twice on our January trip, once at Happy Valley and once at Kingfisher Bay. Both places were $2.10-$2.30/L which is pretty normal for the island. I’d recommend bringing a couple of filled jerry cans along on any trip just to cut the costs down a bit or even better get a long range fuel tank. We used our 20L of spare fuel pretty fast.
Food If you are going to buy supplies or eat out on Fraser Island expect to pay a premium for it. The most cost efficient meals will be those that you cook on your own equipment with food that you have brought over from the mainland (there are big supermarkets in Hervey Bay). If you do want to eat out we’ve been to several of the options on the island and can recommend the following:
Kingfisher Bay Seabelle Restaurant Currently closed for renovations this high end restaurant is a fusion of modern Australian cuisine and traditional indigenous foods. Matt and I had a very memorable dinner there and I had an outstanding chili crab dish. It was also the site of the Bush Tucker Talk and Taste experience where I tried crocodile for the first time.
Kingfisher Bay The Sand Bar The most relaxed dining experience in Kingfisher Bay this friendly bistro is a great place for a quick meal and a couple of drinks. The pizzas and the burgers are great.
Kingfisher Bay Sand and Wood We only had breakfast here however it was sooo good it is definitely worth a mention. I’m often skeptical about buffet breakfasts as they don’t often represent good value or quality but this place was just great. The variety of food was brilliant and everything was delicious. No powdered eggs here! Yum.
Eurong Bakery Another budget friendly option especially for lunch, here you can find everything that you’d expect in a bakery. We had a sausage roll and a pie, both were very nice.
Orchid Beach Trading Post and Driftwood Bar This pub/store/bar/museum was a great stop on our way to the northern end of the island. We popped in for lunch, Matt had a burger and I had the most fantastic squid (pictured below). Again really good prices and look how fresh that salad is.
Things to Seeand Do Nothing can really prepare you for the beauty of Fraser Island as it is truly like nowhere else on earth. Expect rugged coasts fringed with colourful sand cliffs, pristine lakes, dunes, and awesome rainforest. Our favourite places include:
Central Station There are so many interesting things in and around Central Station it is definitely worth taking an hour or two and exploring the area thoroughly. The original town was built to service the logging industry on Fraser Island which began in 1863. Other area highlights include Wangoolba Creek with water that is so clear it almost seems like it isn’t there at all, King ferns which only grow in one other place in Queensland and the Satinary tree which has the hardest timber in the world and was used for the construction of the Suez Canal.
Boorangoora (Lake McKenzie) Undoubtedly the most famous place on Fraser Island is Lake McKenzie and it isn’t hard to see why. Leaving the car park and walking down to the lake you are greeted by perfectly white sand and turquoise water surrounded by forest. It’s not only my favourite place on K’gari but one of my favourite places in Australia. I feel truly blessed to have been able to visit twice in the last couple of years and in January to have had it to myself for over an hour.
If you would like the lake to yourself your best bet is to camp the night at Central Station and then get up early in the morning and drive over. We left the camp ground at 6am, got to the lake at 6.30am and had breakfast before swimming and exploring from 7-8am. The other things in our favour were, COVID-19 has prevented international travel and Fraser had only just opened to tourists again after a large fire shut the island.
Lake Wabby Come and see this place while you can. Adjacent to Hammerstone Sandblow this beautiful emerald lake is slowly being eaten by the dune and will disappear entirely in the next 100 years. It currently provides a habitat to 13 species of freshwater fish that live in its 12m depths. The walk from the carpark is around 40 minutes each way, make sure you take plenty of water as it gets very hot on the exposed sand.
Lake Allom Our second favourite lake on the island is Lake Allom. Named after a forestry surveyor in the 1900’s called Noel Allom the lake is one of the only rainforested lakes on K’gari and is filled with friendly turtles that swim up to the viewing platform. There is a circuit walk around the lake offering different viewpoints and additional turtle spotting opportunities.
Champagne Pools This natural spa changed a lot between our first and second visit as the result of the tides and therefore I’d recommend visiting with a higher tide rather than a lower one. The large rock pools are one of the only safe places to swim on the eastern side of the island and are very popular.
Eli Creek Another great spot to hit early in the morning to miss the crowds this creek is the largest on the island and has a flow rate of 4 million litres of fresh water per hour which makes the current perfect for cruising along on an inner tube.
S.S. Maheno The S.S. Maheno had an interesting life as a ship. It was built in 1905 and worked as an ocean liner between Australia and New Zealand until 1915 when it was commandeered and used as a hospital ship in World War I. After the war it was returned to New Zealand finishing its life as a commercial vessel in 1935. In the same year, as it was being towed to Japan the tether attaching it to the tow ship broke and the S.S. Maheno washed up on the Fraser Coast where it has remained.
Wathumba Creek Wathumba Creek is off the beaten track and therefore missed by most tourists to K’gari. Matt and I spent so long swimming here we went all pruny and only got out when the water was so low we were sitting on the bottom. Unfortunately due to wongari interactions the campsite and the beach are currently closed and will remain closed until the end of June or later. We experienced several issues with the wongari here which in retrospect I’ve learnt we should have reported to a ranger. When it reopens we’d strongly recommend a visit.
Lakes Birrabeen and Boomanjin Two of the lesser known lakes are Birrabeen and Boomanjin. Birrabeen is an almost exact copy of Lake McKenzie just much less popular with tourists. It has the same pure white sand, crystal clear water and surrounding forest. Boomanjin was the only brown coloured lake that we visited. The colouration occurs as the result of the feeder creeks passing through a wallum swamp, collecting the tannins, and tinting the water.
Sand Unsurprisingly the biggest sand island in the world has a lot of different sand. There are sandblows, sand dunes, sand cliffs and coffee sand. There is sand of every colour texture and shape. If you are a sand lover or passionate about sand Fraser Island is for you! On the other hand if you are like my dad and hate sand I’d probably give it a miss.
Wildlife K’gari is a paradise for animals particularly birds, reptiles and marine life. There are beautiful creatures everywhere you look. Of course the most famous inhabitant of the island is the wogari. Said to be some of the most pure dingos in Australia these wild dogs can be seen along the shores and in the forests. Unfortunately due to tourists attempting to feed and take photos with dingos they are becoming increasingly bold and changing their behaviour which has resulted in several dingo attacks during the past decade. If you visit please ensure that you read the information booklet on wogari and give them the space and respect that they deserve.
I hope that this quick guide to K’gari has been helpful, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to send us and email and we will be more than happy to provide further information. It is a truly wonderful place to visit and a must see for anyone completing a lap around Australia.
I’m lucky with a lot of things in my life, I have a great job, caring husband, house to live in and never have to worry about food on the table but the one area where I lucked out on a bit was my health. I’m one of the 1 in 10 Australian women with endometriosis. Yay! Bit of a TMI but I’m telling you this because if I didn’t have surgery and end up taking too much leave I wouldn’t have been able to go on this van trip so there is a silver lining.
For something different and because we were both on leave we left town in the middle of the week after I’d finished catching up with my dietician. We drove out to Main Range National Park picking up some firewood on the way and set up camp at Poplar Flat.
Despite the recent slicing and dicing I felt really good in the morning so we headed out on a bushwalk on the 6.5km Cascades Circuit Track. It was a beautiful hike with multiple creek crossings, ferns, and tropical palms stretching into the canopy. I was particularly enthralled by the huge birds nest ferns up in the trees, make sure you look up!
After a rest in the campsite and a bit of lunch we took the van out for a short drive to the Mount Castle Lookout. Certainly worth the 900m of steep walking track to peer out across the valley and towards Brisbane.
Back at camp we spent a lazy afternoon lying around in the hammock, reading books, starting a fire, and discovering the wonders of getting flat breads to crisp up over flames (delicious).
On our way out the next day we stopped in at Lowies for a pizza snack. Lowie was an absolute character, he’d built his fantastic cafe/restaurant entirely from scratch with his sons help. I could have spent hours there talking to him and going over the amazing details of the building and the odds and ends scattered around. Matt ended up buying a book which amused me. In the entire time we have been together I think I’ve seen him finish two books which he has now outdone in the few months that we have had the van.
Heading towards Brisbane we decided to swing by the Spicers Gap 4WD track for a bit more off roading. After a quick bit of research most sites rated it as easy so we figured that we would be fine. Oh my word I do not know on what planet that road is ‘easy’ but it certainly wasn’t this one. The track was rutted beyond belief, like lose-the-side-of-your-van if your wheel slips into it ruts that I think would have been up to my waist if I found the urge to stand in the mud at the bottom. When the road wasn’t rutted it was unbelievably steep and rocky, or was littered with woah-boys that had a side-step-scraping gradient if you approached them on the wrong angle. Absolute madness but to Matt’s credit he handled it like a complete legend, and to Eggs credit they made it look easy (I contributed nothing apart from being nervous and getting out a few times).
We stopped at the top and took in one final lookout view from Governors Chair before slowly making our way back to Brisbane.
Add: Turns out Spicers Gap road nearly caused the transmission to fall out of Egg. We took it to the Delica Garage for a service and 3/4 mounting points were broken…eep.
Poplar Flat – Another lovely Queensland National Parks campsite and as the name would suggest pretty flat. There were lots of really nice spots and we were very happy with our area hidden away in the trees. There were drop toilets but no showers. $6.15 per person per night 7/10.
I’m really starting to fall in love with the feeling of freedom and relaxation that I have each time I get into the van and this Friday was no exception. After an earlish finish at work I met Matt at home and we took off towards Esk. We stopped in town at the first pub for dinner (on the slightly cryptic advice from a police officer that breatho’d Matt). What a great pub! The food was awesome and well priced and the place had a strong community vibe. We ended up singing happy birthday to at least 5 locals and bought some meat tray tickets to raise money for the Esk school.
Post dinner Matt got to put his newly installed light bar through its paces and boy did that thing shine. We don’t plan on doing a huge amount of night time driving on the big lap due to the kangaroo hazard however if we need it it’s there. We arrived at Crows Nest National Park unscathed, set up camp, took a moment to look at the stars and then popped into bed.
The next day started off with a crunch. When we bought the van it came with a couple of single burner gas stoves, nothing fancy just the $20 ones from bunnings and those little lock down gas canisters. I’m really paranoid about gas in confined spaces and will not sleep in the van with the canisters or stoves inside so each night I take them out and pop them underneath the van. This morning they met their demise when I didn’t want to get out of bed and asked Matt to drive closer to the picnic table so he could make me a coffee. We both forgot about the stoves and so Matt drove over the top of them crushing them beyond recognition. Fortunately for us Crows Nest had gas BBQs for us to cook our breakfast on.
Following all that excitement we went for a bushwalk down to Koonin Lookout. Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this or anything else until about 10am on Saturday morning because someone (it was me) forgot to charge their camera battery. Of course because I am a passionate landscape and wilderness photographer and particularly enjoy taking photos of birds the universe rewarded me with a stunning kingfisher which spent 30 minutes diving in and out of Bottlebrush Pool 5m away from us. I spent the first 5 minutes kicking myself for my lack of camera but the little fella was too entertaining for me to stay angry.
On our way to Toowoomba to pick up a new camp stove we stopped in at Crows Nest and had a wander about. We were pleasantly surprised to find a cute and pretty town where, despite the early hour, people were getting out and about. Interestingly Crows Nest is reportedly the only town in Australia named after an Aboriginal, in this case a man named Jimmy Crow that lived in a hollow tree. We stumbled upon an amazing factory that was making fizzy drinks and syrups and had been since 1903. The owner went out of his way to show us how the drinks were made and talked us through the carbonation process (the water is sprayed into pressurised CO2) which was basically the opposite of a sodastream. We spent way too much money there on a variety of technicoloured beverages for the road.
In Toowoomba BCF I ended up buying the Coleman Fyreknight Hyperflame Camping Stove, it was a pretty expensive piece of kit but it’ll be the stove that we take with us on the big lap. I’ll do more of a review of it when we’ve had more time to get to know each other but so far I’m really impressed!
We drove out of town and on towards the Bunya Mountains where we would be spending the night. The countryside was flat and dry which was nice in it’s own special way. The Bunya Mountains seemed to pop out of nowhere and suddenly we were climbing into the hills. Matt absolutely nailed the timing and we arrived right on golden hour. It was breathtaking looking at the country spill out below us with the occasional Bunya Pine poking out of the forest.
There are 3 campgrounds in Bunya Mountains National Park, Dandabah, Westcott and Burtons Well. Burtons Well is by far the most scenic however only Dandabah allowed campervans so the choice was made for us. We set up our spot and relaxed in the sun where we were joined by some of the adorable red necked wallabies.
The next morning we woke up to frost…in Queensland. It got down to -1 which is a record for the 4 years we have lived here. We packed up the van and drove down the road to the Burtons Well camping area where we started our hike up to Mount Kiangarow to see the view and the grasstrees. Mount Kiangarow is the highest point of the Bunya mountains and is definitely worth the effort. The forrest was full of birdlife (including Australia’s smallest bird, the Weebill). We caught up to another couple of walkers/twitchers who were searching the trees for the elusive Paradise Riflebird .
Rather than walking the whole way around the ridge and then having to walk back up the road to the van we drove down to Westcott and started the walk out to Koondail lookout. Around 15 minutes in I saw some movement in the tree up ahead and a flash of blue sure enough it was a paradise riflebird searching for lunch. I was beyond excited but I could not get a good photo of him (see bird butt below). The rest of the walk was stunning, filled with beautiful views, a swooping peregrine falcon and for some odd reason huge numbers of prickly pears.
Back in the little town of Dandabah we made a beeline for The Bunyas cafe and a much needed afternoon coffee. Open between 9am-8pm on most days this cosy little spot served up a great flat white and their dinner and lunch menus looked fantastic. We spent the rest of the afternoon relocating our campsite to the slightly sunnier side of the campground and then sitting in the warmth reading books and enjoying the wallabies.
On the way out of the national park the following day we came upon a group of 3 blokes next to a broken down car. They’d been working on a farm out near Crows Nest and had borrowed a car to drive up and camp for a few nights. Unfortunately the car was a dud. One of the guys thought if he could get a part in town he might be able to fix it so him and one of his mates jumped on the bed in the back and we turned around to Dandabah. Matt dropped me and the less mechanically inclined fella back at the campground and I spent the rest of the morning sitting with our neighbours, chatting, and drinking the coffee they made me. The man whose name I have forgotten is the owner of a Townsville pineapple farm and his partner runs the servo and a caravan park. They gave us a brochure so we will try and pop in an visit some time.
While Matt was away the camp ground was visited by a satin bowerbird, king parrots, a bush turkey, and a couple of crimson rosellas.
With car part in hand Matt returned, we made our farewells and then got back on the road and headed quick smart back to Brisbane to get ready for the work week to come.
Crows Nest National Park – I quite liked this small camping area (13 sites) but I couldn’t see myself staying there for any longer than 1 night. There just wasn’t that much to do. Facilities were limited but it was neat, tidy, and quiet. $6.55 per person per night 6/10.
Dandabah – This camp was made up of a open grassy area with vehicle access to sites. It was very close to a restaurant, cafes, and a small general store which made it super convenient. All our fellow campers here were really considerate and there was a huge variety of wildlife. The shower block and toilets were well maintained and hot showers were free! $6.55 per person per night 9/10. Loved it here.
It is proving to be a bit of a challenge fitting trips in around both of our jobs so we have decided to get the most out of it we will leave on Friday afternoon post work and return on Sunday giving us two nights of fun rather than one.
On this Friday Matt picked me up from work in the van which gave me an opportunity to show it off to my boss. We drove up the coast to spend the night in Hidden Valley Camping at Grow Mad Plantations, an active macadamia farm. Glen and Sharon (the owners) came out to greet us and sold us some great firewood (we have quickly learnt there are big differences in firewood quality). Our campsite was down in the gulley surrounded by rainforest and away from the main camp area. It was a little bit boggy because of the recent rain but was otherwise perfect. We quickly became very grateful for the firewood as the temperature dropped to a chilly 5 degrees.
We packed up early the next day after a breakfast of bacon and eggs and continued to drive north making a quick pit stop at a random Saturday market somewhere around the glass house mountains. I bought some fresh fruit to have as snacks for the rest of the trip.
When we arrived in Noosa we needed to fill the van up which is a pretty standard activity but as we drove away I noticed a really strong smell of petrol. At first we thought that Matt must have got petrol on his shoes but the further we drove the stronger it got until it was eventually unbearable and even worse when the window was down. 3km down the road from the servo we were forced to stop and low and behold Matt had forgotten to put the petrol cap back on and left it behind. With all our fingers and toes crossed we turned around and made our way back to the petrol station where a kind soul had handed in our cap (whomever you are thank you so much).
Petrol cap firmly back in place we paid for our vehicle access permit ($26.40 for two days), camping permit ($14) and ferry ticket ($7 one way).
On the other side of the river we were greeted with sand and lots of it, which made sense as we were now in the southern end of the Great Sandy National Park aka the Cooloola Recreation Area. The word Cooloola comes from the local indigenous word for the sound the wind makes as it whispers through the branches of the coastal cypress pine tree.
Our route of choice was the 60km Cooloola Beach Drive which would take us to our camping spot for the night on the far northern end. The going was not overly challenging with minimal wash outs and generally hard packed sand with a few softer areas. We were entertained by hundreds of whales breaching and various birds of prey gliding over the cliffs (brahminy kite pictured).
We stopped for lunch in a shady camping area where I also had a bit of a nap in the back of the van prior to moving on to our next attraction.
Almost the entire length of the coast is lined with stunning multi-coloured sand cliffs in every shade of cream, brown, orange, and yellow that you could imagine. The Aboriginal legend of how they came to be is that “way back in the dream-time there lived by the beach a beautiful, black maiden named Murrawar who fell in love with the Rainbow who came to visit her every evening in the sky. She would clap her hands and sing to this lovely Rainbow.
One day Burwilla, a very bad man from a distant tribe, stole Murrawar for his slave wife. Often beating her cruelly and making her do all his work while he sat in the shade admiring his terrible killing boomerang. This boomerang was bigger than the biggest tree and full of evil spirits.
One day Murrawar ran away and as she hurried along near the beach, which was then all flat, she looked back and saw Burwilla’s boomerang coming to kill her. Calling out for help she fell to the ground to frightened to run. Suddenly she heard a loud noise in the sky and saw her faithful Rainbow racing towards her across the sea.
The wicked Burwilla attacked the brave Rainbow and they met with a roar like thunder. The boomerang died instantly, and the Rainbow shattered into many pieces, which fell to the beach forming the coloured sands cliffs which are still there to this day.” https://www.rainbowbeachinfo.com.au/visitor-information-centre/
Of all the coloured sands Red Canyon was the most impressive. The intensity of the dark orange sand against the pale white of the beach and the blues of the ocean was just stunning. We carefully climbed around this beautiful place taking in the views. Before making our way up the final stretch of beach to our camping site for the night.
Although the day was sunny and still the weather forecast was suggesting a night time storm influencing Matt and I to opt out of the clearly very popular beach campgrounds and move inland to Freshwater Camping Area. We parked up, set up camp, and did the 1h walk to Freshwater Lake through the impressive scribbly gum forest. While climbing on a log I managed to disturb a little snake into the water and as we sat enjoying the view a pale-yellow robin joined us.
Back at camp we sat around, did some reading, extracted a huge green katydid from our bed, had dinner and went to sleep.
After a restless night of rain and wind we woke to find that our gross, mouldy, orange awning had not survived the night. Neither of us were very upset about this as it is a truly filthy thing however it was a bit annoying when after breakfast we had to pack it away (in the rain), and couldn’t because the pole was so bent it wouldn’t lock back into the van. Matt used his brute strength and the crook of a tree to straighten it just enough so that it would fold away.
Freshwater Rd was the most direct route to Rainbow Bay so we took it deep through the forest and fog and back to civilisation.
Matt and I were feeling a bit under the weather due to a lack of sleep so we popped into a cafe at Rainbow Bay for a couple of flat whites. The weather was still pretty miserable and the beach was unappealing swaying our decision to opt out of more 4WDing and hike to Carlo Sandblow instead.
The Carlo Sandblow is a 15 hectare mass of sand created by the wind and dunes. We didn’t spend much time there as the rain kept rolling in however it was an impressive sight and one that I’d be keen to visit again in better weather.
On our way back home we stopped twice. Once to take some photos of what I can only describe as a fogbow and a second time in Lake Alford Recreational Park.
Hidden Valley at Growmad Plantations – A beautiful site run by a lovely couple. I actually wish we had had more time to spend at this camp, make use of the facilities and meet more of the animals but it wasn’t to be. $37 per night per couple 7/10.
Freshwater Campground – Despite the horrible weather we experienced at this site and the damage to our awning I actually think this was the best spot we’ve stayed at thus far. The environment was beautiful, the sites were big and flat, and there was heaps of space that gave a very secluded feel to it. The hot showers were a huge bonus and cost $1 for 4 minutes which turned out to be more than enough. There are also free gas BBQs in the day use area. $6.55 per person per night 8/10.
Condamine River Road is a 20km 4WD track through the center of the Cambanoora Gorge near Killarney in SE Queensland and it is where we headed next for a day trip to test out the river crossing capabilities of the Delica.
Our first stop for the day was the Ipswitch Nature Center, a cute little wildlife park in nearly the center of town. Entry was a gold coin donation but we ended up giving a bit more, both being animal lovers, and both of us being really impressed with how well looked after all the critters were. If you have a spare 30 minutes – 1 hour I’d strongly recommend dropping in.
The drive out to the gorge was absolutely spectacular. Matt was not in a stop-for-Annie-to-take-a-heap-of-photos mood so I did my best shooting out of the window. The area is predominantly used for cattle farming with some forestry also present.
Next came the river crossings. There are 14 along the 20km stretch which is why the area is so popular with 4WDing. On our way in we were given 5 minutes of entertainment by a bloke in a mercedes AWD trying and failing to get across the first shallow crossing…probably don’t drive the road unless you have a high clearance vehicle.
The crossings are (in order) First, Second, Double, Mawhirts, Bullocky, Flaggie, Rocky, Mill, Reis’, Heywood’s, Billy John’s, Andrew Evan’s, Long and Watson’s Crossing. There were two that were a bit challenging (Second and Long) but Egg handled them all like a pro. We stopped for lunch of cheese, dips, and bread next to one of the crossings and watched the traffic roll through.
And just like that we had a van. Matt decided to hit the ground running and get some 4WDing in ASAP so a few days later I found myself bumping along the road feeling like a queen looking over every other car in sight. Delicas are bloody tall!
The Egg, as I previously mentioned is a 2005 Mitsubishi Delica Chamonix. It was built in Japan where they are predominantly used to ferry people up and down ski slopes. Ours came complete with a snow melting window and an internal fan that it routed over the top of the engine (I’m sure this is great in cold places but not in Brisbane). It is also a 4WD and when I say 4WD I mean a proper high clearance, low range, take it on a beach and over rocks 4WD, not a 4WD that can manage some slightly rutted gravel. This thing is the real deal.
The Germans had spent an unbelievable amount of time and care converting the van into a touring machine. The bed is huge as Karl (the boy German) would have easily been over 6 feet tall, and sits on top of the draw system which has a full kitchen area and storage, fridge, table, and yet more draws for storage at the back. Behind the drivers side chair there is a battery that hooks up to the solar panel which is mounted to the roof. The windows are covered in home made curtains with a pattern comprised of happy jellyfish in purples, blues, and pinks. Karl was stung by a blue bottle the second time he went to an Australian beach so they made them for him to remember that lovely event (German humor).
Anyway enough about the van and back to the trip. The drive out of Brisbane was pretty dull but we stopped at the edge of Lake Samsonvale for lunch which was lovely. We made our first meal of ham rolls with tomato and cheese and sat on a picnic table in the sun watching waterbirds and listening to children shriek. Matt wanted to make our way through D’aguilar State Forest via 4WD and then down through the Glasshouse Mountains to our campground for the night so we headed off into the hills and to my first ever experience of 4WDing.
I have got to say as a 4WD virgin I found the entire thing to be seriously nerve wracking and a couple of times I had major misgivings about the entire plan. I imagined myself accidentally tipping Egg off a ledge or getting wedged between rocks without another human for miles. But it all worked out well. The only thing that nearly brought us to grief was a log that had fallen across the track. Not an issue for literally any other type of car but a big problem for our 2m+ van. Matt managed to sneak under by lining up into a ditch on the right hand side and carefully easing it through.
With the sun going down we had to call it early and get back onto the asphalt. We arrived at the campground just as it was getting dark which gave us enough time to unsuccessfully attempt to light our first fire (Matt blamed the wood).
The next day we got up and I eagerly started cooking our first camp breakfast. Bad news we forgot a spoon for stirring the eggs in our non stick saucepan, good news I made a replacement out of the lid from a tupperware container. As Bear Grylls always says, improvise, adapt, overcome. We were joined for a while by a pair of friendly kookaburras.
After breakfast Matt wanted to go for a walk up the creek. The water was murky and still which resulted in some really beautiful reflections. There was an abundance of bird life, beautiful plants (which I took too many photos of) and you could be certain the river was full of fish.
Post walk we packed up the van and started to make our way back to Brisbane via the back roads of the Glasshouse mountains. On one particularly rough gravel number in the middle of nowhere we stumbled upon a woman in a van stopped on the side of the road so we checked on her to make sure she was ok. Not only was she fine she gave us a CD of her great music and a sticker, perfect #vanlife moment. I’ll let you know her name when I can find the CD…it’s somewhere in the van.
Overall we are both beyond stoked with the Delica and our first little trial and have already started working out where we are going next. I can’t wait!
(I’ll try and write up a bit about each campground we stay in)
Coochin Creek Campground – Located in the Beerwah state forest just over an hour out of Brisbane (or 4 hours if you go inland and start mucking around on 4WD tracks). As far as campgrounds go it was really lovely. The place was really busy because it was the Mother’s Day weekend but the spaces were a reasonable size and it still felt like we had a lot of room. There were clean toilets (that ended up all getting blocked on Sunday morning), fire pits, electric BBQs and a launch for kayaks. We both really liked the creek setting but apparently the mozzies can be a nightmare (not an issue for us). $7 per person per night 6/10 (not terrible, not amazing).