Byron and beyond

Before we hit Byron Bay, for a much anticipated holiday with my parents to celebrate their 46th wedding anniversary, we spent 3 nights on the Gold Coast. This was a strategic decision on our part when ‘selling’ the idea of travelling for 2 months to our son.

Child  in a blue kombi

Yes, you guessed it. Theme parks! You see, the Gold Coast doesn’t just glitter for the glamorous, it also boasts a boisterous array of kid-heaven-stuff.

But before that fun stuff happened, the repetitious but rather necessary assembling of our home on the road had to take place. The drudgery of this procedure was lightened considerably by the fact that we were staying in the beautiful surrounds of the Big 4 Gold Coast Holiday Park.

Camping with a mob of kangaroos

Heated resort-style swimming pool with licensed cafe, tick. Huge camp kitchen with all the mod cons AND an aquarium, tick. Having so much fun that you have no time to take photos, tick!

So our 3 nights were a lot of fun. We spent a day at Movie World and another at Wet n Wild. It wasn’t a peak period but it was still surprisingly busy. An afternoon riding our bikes around and then lazing by the pool was very welcome after the colourful chaos of the theme parks.

During the ‘pack up, take down, move on’ scenario of our final morning, we had a spring in our step. We were heading to Byron to stay at the most delicious holiday home hidden under a canopy of vibrant, tropical foliage, surrounded by a bedazzling, heated swimming pool.

Fireside at Byron Bay Retreat

I celebrated New Year’s 1999-2000 in Byron. It was a very different town back then. It’s still beautiful, bold and full of energy but now there is so much traffic! We had camped in a friend’s backyard right in town. That little beach shack is long gone, replaced with boutique accommodation for its perpetual influx of visitors.

Whale watching at Cape Byron Lighthouse

This time around, my family and I enjoyed Wategos Beach, did the Cape Byron lighthouse walk, hit the town one night (thanks for babysitting mum and dad), caught up with old friends, swam everyday, played some serious table tennis and chilled out in front of the open fire at night.

Cape Byron Lighthouse, New South Wales

I’ve never known a town to truly embrace its motto as much as Byron Bay does. So next time you visit remember to Cheer Up, Slow Down, Chill Out

Till next time Byron!

 

 

Queensland’s Capricorn Coast

After our adventurous sailing trip around the Whitsunday Islands, it was time to turn south. Homeward bound – well, with a few planned stops along the way of course.

To break up an arduous drive to Yeppoon, we plonked ourselves at the surprisingly fabulous Potter’s Oceanside Motel. This place, and its manager/owner, is seriously cool. He was very accommodating, giving us extra room to park our camper trailer and even driving Cam to the supermarket to get supplies. Sometimes it’s just the little things, a laundry to wash your clothes, airconditioning, a balcony to watch the sun setting over Mackay, and a story-telling ex-publican playing ‘host with the most’.

The rugged Australian outback

Kinka Beach, slightly south of Yeppoon was our next destination. We camped right near the Causeway and spent 3 days exploring Yeppoon, Kinka Beach and Emu Park. The weather was so beautiful and the view across the ocean to the Keppel Islands, just stunning. I’ve been to Great Keppel Island twice, so we avoided it this time, but if you ever get the chance to visit you won’t be disappointed. There are so many hiking tracks and you can find yourself on a deserted beach with not a soul in sight.

As the sun sets the moon rises over Great Keppel Island

Yeppoon itself is a gorgeous town to visit and it offers a unique water park right on the foreshore called the Keppel Kracken.

Yepoon foreshore

A notable mention of our time here was the Centenary of ANZAC Memorial Walk in Emu Park. It takes in enviable views of the beautiful Southern Great Barrier Reef and the Keppel Islands. The artwork pictured is strategically designed to blend in with the horizon so that it looks similar to the morning of the Gallipoli landing.

ANZAC memorial at Emu Park

For those of us whose relatives have served, it is a moving tribute and a sobering lesson in world war history.

My suggestions for any time spent here would be:

  • Ride your bikes around the area, especially Kinka Beach, it’s so flat and the scenery and fresh air is awesome.
  • Go to Great Keppel Island for a day trip or even for a night. The ferries leave from Rosslyn Bay daily.
  • Treat yourself to some ‘straight off the boat’ seafood! The seafood co-op in Rosslyn Bay is the best ever!

So, once again it was time to pack up our tiny home on the road – me leaving behind another hose connection on the tap in the caravan park – and set our sights on the glitz and glamour of the Gold Coast.

A beginner’s guide to sailing the Whitsundays…with kids

You’ve all seen the advertisements right? Calm, azure waters, sun drenched sails billowing in the breeze. Ah, the allure of sailing the Whitsundays. Wouldn’t it be relaxing. Stop. Right. There.

Welcome to Whitehaven Beach, where the wind is a fierce 25 knots, the waves are smashing against the catamaran, the kids are taking it in turns to vomit over the side and the toilet macerator has broken down. Yep this stuff can happen. There can be a mixed bag of weather conditions, including strong south easterly winds in winter, so be prepared to be unprepared!

To give some background to this tidal tale, we thought it would be a fabulous idea to hire a catamaran and barefoot sail around the Whitsundays. No biggy! We have a boat – no sails though – and Cam sailed when he was a teenager – does windsurfing count?

Sailing in the Whitsundays on a catamaran

It wasn’t until we were at Abell Point Marina, boarding Ruby Sunday that I realised that I really had no idea what I was doing and neither did our intrepid crew which consisted of 3 adults and 2 kids. Our dear friend Amanda, who was supposed to be sailing with us, was suffering from a serious case of 8 month pregnancy-itis and had to stay in port, for most of the time, at Airlie Beach.

After spending our first night on the boat in the marina, we had half a day of training. There was a lot to learn but, amazingly, Mike (our instructor) was happy to leave Ruby Sunday in our (somewhat sweaty) hands. Cam, Ant and I all looked nervously at each other as we powered out across the Whitsunday Passage.

All crews need a grounding force, a capable commodore that will take the lead, Captain Cam was our saviour. His only worry was berthing the cat at the Hamilton Island marina while dodging multi-million dollar vessels, but of course he sailed through the challenge (pun intended). It was happy days for him there on in.

Hamilton Island in the Whitsundays Queensland

Now, it is true that I’ve been known to add a touch of drama to my tales, but that could be because I’m a worrier. Just like my mum and her mum before her. It goes down the line. I think we could safely say we’ve mastered the craft of anxiety riddled thoughts. So imagine, my precarious predicament during our second night at sea when we were moored in Tongue Bay. I woke up to pelting rain, howling winds and what felt like the spin cycle of a washing machine. Yep, we were spinning. Round she goes.

I had always thought I could live on a boat and master the art of sailing the seas, but a salty dog I am not! That storm, which apparently was considered minor, and that everyone else slept through, nearly broke me but the good news is, I got over it and ended up absolutely loving the adventure.

Nara Inlet

This adventure was like an organisational team building exercise on steroids. There was a lot to do and it took a team to do it. We had morning and afternoon radio calls with Mike to track our position, get weather updates and plan our itinerary. There were navigational charts to decipher, tidal times to monitor, sails to tame and everything else that it takes to sail a catamaran.

Our intrepid crewThe beautiful thing about the adventure is the fact that the kids were so cruisey. Their biggest concern was finding the best coral to snorkel around, so they clearly had an inflated sense of confidence in our abilities. They would laugh and scream while lying down on the trampoline mats while the water splashed onto them, dress up as pirates and defend our boat from invisible foes and stare in wonder at the amazing marine life we were sharing the water with.

No pirates here

Here is my list of ‘must do’ things while sailing the Whitsundays:

  • Go to Nara Inlet and visit the Ngaro Cultural site.
  • Hire a stinger suit for piece of mind AND go snorkelling.
  • Keep your eyes peeled for whales, turtles, fish and bird life.
  • Berth for a night at the Hamilton Island marina. It was around $120 and is a good mid-point break where you can use all of the resort’s facilities, stock up on supplies, have a hot shower and do your laundry. Also, hire a golf buggy and whip around the place like a character out of Fantasy Island.
  • Watch the sunrises and sunsets.
  • When you actually get those sails up for the first time, play Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ on the stereo.

 

The sails are up and we are actually sailing the catamaran

I guess the obvious question is would I do it again? That is a resounding yes! This is bucket list stuff people and is so transformational in terms of personal growth. So if you do get a chance, go for it!

Note: This article was commissioned by BIG4 Holiday Parks and appeared in Kidspot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Airlie Beach

When I was a child my parents took our family to Airlie Beach. It was the 80s – Bob Hawke was Prime Minister, neon colours and shoulder pads were in vogue, and indulgence seemed to be on the national agenda.

Boats, catamarans and yachts at Abel marina, Airlie Beach
Airlie Beach

Airlie was booming! We stayed in town at a schmick new holiday resort. Everything was shiny and new and there was a buzz in the air.

Flash forward 15 years later when I’d just returned from backpacking around Europe and wanted to explore my own ‘backyard’. Airlie was a very different place – all of those lux resorts in the 80s were now budget backpacker digs. The town seemed totally transformed.

A decade later, and in the wake of Cyclone Debbie, I again returned but this time with my family. I had mixed feelings about staying in Airlie after the much publicised devastation caused by Debbie but I had nothing to worry about. Airlie is recovering! Yes, the trees aren’t as luscious as they once were but they, like the town, is regenerating.

Tropical oasis in Airlie Beach

Taking a trip to Shute Harbour, which bore the brunt of the storm, is a different story. Here you can see the devastation unleashed by the cyclone. The clean up process is still happening here. The reality of living in paradise clearly has some risks but many would argue it’s worth it.

Cyclone damage with catamaran in the trees

We camped at The Big4 Whitsunday Adventure Resort and it was brilliant. They were in the final stages of building a huge waterpark, which I hear is completed. Nightly movies were screened at the outdoor cinema and it was a great place to chill out and get prepared for our barefoot sailing adventure. We were able to store our camper trailer here for 8 nights while we sailed around the Whitsundays on a catamaran.

There was one particular night when the breeze was so balmy, the setting sun coloured the sky in amber, a crescent moon hugged the horizon and the stars lit up the night. It was just beautiful.

Crescent moon against the pink sky at sunset

 

 

Fraser Island by 4WD

When I was in my 20s, I was lucky enough to visit Fraser Island. For those of you that don’t know about Fraser, it’s a World Heritage area and is the earth’s largest sand island. Interestingly, its Indigenous names – K’gari or Gari – which means ‘beautiful place’ have recently been ‘made official’ by the Government.

Sunrise across the sea

During that late spring trip (in my 20s), I spent 3 days on a 4WD bus tour with 15 other travellers. It was a beautiful and busy adventure with dingo and brumby encounters, sizzling sand dune hikes and cooling fresh water swims. Lake Wabby was a curious highlight as there were little fish that nibbled on your skin.

This time around, we decided to hire our own 4WD and tour the island. It was a completely different experience. We used Hervey Bay as our base and organised to pick up the car on the island. Catching the earliest ferry over to Fraser was fascinating as many of the island’s workers were doing the crossing too.

The beauty of leaving so early in the morning and going to Fraser in the winter months is LESS PEOPLE. It was so quiet and peaceful – like the whole island was just waking up itself. We bounced up and down over hills and gullies as the sun rose higher than those towering eucalypts.

Eucalytus trees

Fraser Island isn’t just beaches and lakes. There is a diverse array of flora that grows here. Above is the Eucalyptus haemastoma, known as the scribbly gum, it’s an Australian eucalyptus that looks like it has scribbles written all over it.

There’s a lot to explore on Fraser. Once we got to Seventy-mile beach – yes a beach highway – we drove as far as permitted, all the way to Champagne Springs. Just around the corner is Indian Head, where the views are breathtaking.

Fraser Island coastline

You can’t miss the Maheno Shipwreck – literally – it’s right on the (sand) highway.  The Maheno ocean liner is Fraser Island’s most photographed long term resident. What is left is a shell of its former engineering mastery, its opulence and its saving grace as a WWI hospital rescue ship.

Taj searched for ghosts that are said to haunt the Maheno, but he found none. He was caught up in the former majesty of the ship, and its history. It’s my second visit (after 17 years) and my feelings remain the same – who wouldn’t want to run aground and rest in this piece of paradise.

The Maheno on Fraser Island

We gazed up the coloured sands of The Pinnacles and followed the crystal clear waters of Eli Creek which weaves its way down to the ocean. I didn’t brave the cold waters of Lake McKenzie this time around but instead watched the rippling waters that were a deeper blue than the sky above.

We had to pull over as a plane came in to land on the beach, saw very experienced drivers get bogged and marvelled at how a sand island can sustain such life. But it does and it’s extraordinary.

Lake McKenzie on Fraser Island, Australia

I still loved the trip in my 20s but this one was so special because it was just the 3 of us and we didn’t have to follow an itinerary. If you do one day find yourself stranded on a desert island, this ‘beautiful place’ is where you’d want to be.