So the Great Barrier Reef blew our minds and really felt like the ultimate climax of our Australia leg, but it wasn’t over yet! We had to make it the 400km back to Brisbane, plus a couple of trips from the highway over to the coast to see the infamous beaches of the Sunshine Coast. We had two days to get back to Brisbane, a day to spend with our friends in Brisbane, and then that was it for Australia.
We ended up sleeping in the same quiet rest stop at Wallum Reserve after alighting from the Lady Musgrave Experience and enjoying another nice quiet evening there.
And a glorious sun set too. (Have we mentioned the sunsets in Australia yet? They are beautiful blue to lavendar to vermillion to crimson affairs each night without fail.)
The next morning, we get up early, enjoy our usual breakfast of muesli, milk, honey and strawberries, and hit the road – now going south for the first time on the trip. We have to backtrack on the same highway which I always hate doing, but we do scout out a couple of beaches with inspiring names such as Rainbow Beach and the Great Sandy Strait we decide to visit. With only Google maps for our guide, we decide to take an inland road off of the highway to get to Rainbow Beach. We think it might be about a 10-20 km detour, but it turns out it’s at least 50km and the majority of it is on a road so gravelly and contoured that it takes much longer because the entire van and all of its contents (including the dishes that sound like they might shatter at any second) are vibrating at such a frequency that we can’t go over 20km/hour. We lose heart and, when we finally hit a paved road, we decide that Rainbow Beach will just have to remain forever elusive to us.
One of the lessons we have learned on this trip is to just be OK with all the many things you aren’t going to be able to see or experience. The endless pursuits of the traveller/tourist breeds a chronic state of FOMO (the fear of missing out) that you constantly and actively have to fight against. We are getting good…better…at this.
Christian came up with the very apt description for the kind of traveller we aren’t able to afford to be with the limited time and money we have on this trip: The Checklist Tourist. We are not on this trip to see everything and do everything and check all the places we’ve ever wanted to go off our lists, but rather, to really appreciate and savour all the things we do get to do. So when we don’t get to check out a beach that we don’t even know all that much about, we are never going to know what we are missing out on anyway and it’s easy enough to just let go of it and move on to, say, Sunrise Beach instead. We are fortunate for every single beach we get to go to, so what is one beach we don’t get to go to? (And believe me, there are many of them!)
So, we keep driving back to the highway and decide to cut inland at the northernmost end of the Sunshine Coast, Noosa Heads. This area comprises beach community after beach community, the majority of them being pretty-upscale with parts inaccessible because they are multi-million dollar waterfront homes with private beaches. That doesn’t mean we don’t get our fill of Sunshine Coast beaches, however. We check out Noosa Beach but end up spending more time eating lunch in the shade of our camper van than at the actual beach because the sand is too scorching to even stand on. With sandals, you have to walk deliberately and slowly to prevent the burning sand from getting caught underneath the soles of your feet. And then even sitting out in the sun for more than 5 minutes is unbearable.
The ocean is also a bit too warm to completely cool you off so we learn our lesson and try to avoid the midday beach experience. We then head to Peregian beach and Coolum beach, and by the time we have a bit of a snack and wander around the shops, the sun has created a nice shadow we can sit in and enjoy the beach at the same time. We don’t want to leave it too late to find a campsite so we pull up our app, find a free spot away from the main highway and towards the mountains, and head there for our final night sleep in the camper van.
It ends up being a park with a parking lot, and it is full of other vans so we end up having to take the last flat spot which is also closest to the road. Not ideal, but it gets dark quickly and we are both too lazy to make dinner (we had had a late second lunch) so we drink some beer, play ukulele and read until it is time for sleep.
The next day, we plan on making it to Brisbane by mid-afternoon, so have a bit of time to check out our last beach of Australia which we decide should be Mooloolaba with a pretty chic little beachfront and a nice sheltered area you can get out of the sun under. We swim and frolic in the waves for the last time, relax in the shade, grab some lunch and get back on the road to Helen and Francis’ place in Brisbane.
We met Francis on our first day of school at the Langley Academy in England, back in 2011. While we were both pretty nervous (and majorly jet-lagged because we’d only landed the day before from Canada), Francis was also starting that day, but had the cool, laid-back attitude of an experienced teacher who couldn’t be plussed by a thing. He remained this way for the entire year, and stayed two more years after we left. The three of us were quickly close with the other expat teachers there and ended up having a pretty hilarious social life outside of the daily rigours of teaching a bunch of poorly behaved rugrats. Francis, Christian and I were fast friends and we even went on a road trip to Wales to climb Snowdon in February together. We had met Helen when she arrived fresh out of nursing school from Australia the month before we left, but only really got to know her better when they both visited us in Vancouver. So it was great to see them both again and be hosted by two of the most hospitable, travel-savvy people we’ve had a chance to hang out with on this trip.
When we arrived, sweaty and tired at the Breslin residence, we were taken care of in a way that only other travellers know how to take care of each other: first offering cold drinks, then showers and laundry facilities. All the primary needs of the stinky traveller who has been living in a camper van for two weeks without these luxuries were dealt with so we could get on to the catching up and seeing Brisbane part which was then to follow.
Francis had decided to switch from careers as a science teacher to a doctor and was now in his final year of medical school. He had just finished the day at school and we arranged to meet up on the Southbank, a very cool area of Brisbane right on the river (well, most of Brisbane is on the river) but with its own artificial pool and lots of lush gardens and shady spots with trees. This was out first real glimpse of Brisbane, and we were both instant fans.
Brisbane very much reminded me of London, especially the parts of London that are along the Thames: the many bridges spanning the river, the theatres and galleries, the little shops and cafes. It was a very warm and tropical version of the British capital and I really liked it.
We found a nice spot to catch up in the grass and had a little picnic of fruit and beer, and then wandered along the river to take a sunset the ride on the commuter ferry along the river to the university.
They then took us up to a lovely viewpoint for some photos and back to the house for a delicious dinner where we talked and caught up late into the evening.
The next day, Francis had to go to school, but Helen had the day off and offered to show us the sights. We started with a delicious breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and cereal, Christian called his niece Evelyn to wish her a happy fourth birthday, and we got prepared for a day of sightseeing. Helen had decided to take us for a nice long drive up into the mountains of Lamington National Park to see O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. But first, on our way there, we got to see a wild wallaby on the side of the road! They are amazingly cute and with the most beautiful long eyelashes.
Here, we went on a walk through the rainforest, up ladders to platforms in the canopy and along suspension bridges above the forest.
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We then got a chance to feed the Crimson Rosellas.
They landed all over us and Christian was a real champion about getting his $4 worth of bird seed for the experience, ending up with a very scratched-up arm, but some good photos.
And some video too…
Back at the house, we needed to start thinking about getting ready for our flight the next day. Although our bikes were still in pieces, we still had to organize new bike boxes and then make sure we could get them into the van the next day without completely blocking the back window. Lo and behold, Francis and Helen had two bike boxes in their garage, and they both fit our bikes!
The next day, we discovered that they also fit into the van because the one box was much smaller than the one my bike had originally travelled in. After some early-morning goodbyes, repacking and trying to stay in the house and out of the heat as long as possible, it was time to head to the airport. Christian dropped me and all our stuff and then the camper van without any problems, and it was so long, Australia! It had been a great two weeks, but we were totally excited for Indonesia!
Musician, teacher, traveller. Currently on a year-long journey around the world. Bronwyn is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com.