Saturday, April 24, 2010

A day in Byron Bay keeps the blues away

Byron Bay  - Wednesday 14th April 2010

So I realise that I’ve left the story dangling somewhat... but the best of Byron Bay became apparent as the sun came up on the aptly named First Sun Caravan park the next morning.

During the night it had poured down rain and I got up at some point to wind the hatch down on the caravan. I was hoping that the rain wouldn’t stick around as I had hoped to get about and take some photos of the lighthouse before heading back home.
I awoke, as I always seem to do on the road, at sunrise. A quick peek out the window of my cosy new caravan-abode revealed sunny skies. Yay! So I snuck out quietly and left Trent sleeping grabbed the camera and took the back gate onto the beach to catch those first rays of yet another new day. And what a beach! The perfect semi-circle of the distinctive bay stretches out as far as the eye can see in both directions. I’m thinking: “Wouldn’t it be great to gallop a horse along here!” and of course; “Bas would love this!” I'm still missing him heaps...

Unlike the murky post-cyclonic snarling swells of the north Queensland road trip, the ocean at Byron Bay glistens like a turquoise jewel. Early morning surfers did their thing with large pods of playful dolphins as healthy joggers with toned and taught bods smiled and said hello as they jogged along the sand.

After taking a bit of time to soak it all in, I went back to the caravan and woke Trent up and suggested a pre-breakfast walk to the lighthouse.

The walk took us along the main beach, up the wooden stairs up the side of the rock that reminded me of Lion Rock at Piha to a lookout.

Then we went up and over the hill to the eastern most point lookout where the waves smashed into the rugged black rocks and the blue of the clear sky was the same colour as the crystal clear water. Just beautiful!
There it was – that iconic white and blue Byron Bay lighthouse. High up on the hill with its turrets and whitewashed stonework it looks like a castle, like it’s been there forever. I challenge Trent to a guessing game to see if we can work out when it was built. I say 1880, he says 1830. As we get to the top of the very last set of what really are a lot of steps the sea breeze is a welcome relief. At this point I start thinking about breakfast and realise that it’s about an hour and a half in that direction! I notice that the numbers above the impressively large door frame of the lighthouse read “1901”. I choose to see that as a win for me.

A beautiful day in a beautiful place that I am putting high on my ‘must-visit-this-place-again’ list. And yet another happy caravanning adventure under my belt and even more desire to have more of them...

From Byron Bay the few hours drive home to the Sunshine Coast seemed a breeze. That night I slept soundly in my own bed again and dreamed of long road trips, cute retro caravans and white sandy beaches...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Blissful Byron Bay

Byron Bay - Tuesday 13th April, 2010 9pm

Today's trip was from Tuncurry, NSW to Byron Bay - I am now only about 3 hours from home and feeling tired but a lot better for being here.

Today was fun - I picked up the Viscount and she is a little beauty! Driving during the day I got to see all that I had missed out on during the trip down in the dark. The scenery was beautiful and it was the perfect day for driving - clear blue skies, a slight cool breeze. Nice! We crossed many rivers and narrow bridges as we headed back North from the lakes district and back into banana and sugar cane country.

Of course, continuing on my theme of "the van with the big..." series of photos - I had to stop (and park illegally mind you!) for the compulsory van-with-the-big-banana (Coffs Harbour), and van-with-the-soon-to-be-decommissioned-big-prawn shots (Ballina) before we headed off the Pacific Highway and onto the Coast Road through Lennox Heads and into that sumptious, lush wildnerness that surrounds Byron Bay.

After settling into the most conveniently-placed "First Sun" Caravan Park right on the beach in the heart of Byron Bay it was time to enjoy a long hot shower, some electricity and to take in the nightlife of Byron on a Tuesday night which is, surprisingly, quite vibrant! We just came back from having a pasta meal and a glass of wine and a taste of some local live music at the funky "Railway Friendly Bar". Tired now, so I'm going to crawl into bed - Trent has already crashed out and he wasn't even the one driving!

Tomorrow we'll have time for a quick swim in the surf and I'm hoping to get some nice photos of that famous lighthouse - then it will be back on the road for the homeward journey - back to life - and back to reality!

But I am pretty sure there'll be many more adventures to come from now on...

On the road again...Direction: South

Tuncurry, NSW Tuesday 13th April 2010 9am

Like that old song says...
Back on the road again.

Mad road trip number two: Maleny to Tuncurry, NSW (750kms).

There was no point stopping on this one – Once I had decided to hit the road again, I was off. I had one last job to finish up before I could send an invoice off and get back on the road; that place where my thoughts seem to take a somewhat more linear tack, kind of like the road ahead, you just keep going somehow.

I am really upset at Bas’ decision to not come home to his Mum this time. He’s decided to live with his dad. I spent a full 24 hours crying before I realised that moping about in the house was not going to make the pain go away. I keep having flash backs of the awesome caravanning road trip we shared only two weeks ago. I will treasure that experience and those memories we made more than ever now.
So, back to the road it was, and where Bas and I were last happy together is where I wanted to be. Overcoming my natural urge to want to ask one of my kids if they'd share this one with me, I hesitated - there was this lingering fear of being made to feel ludicrous somehow - the worry of not being who or what they expect a mother to be. I decided I needed it to be OK to be me right now and so instead I phoned a friend.
"Road trip?" I asked.
"Sure!" was his reply. (Thanks Trent - you're a legend mate!)
So now I had back-up should the saddies hit too hard and to help ward of any potential tragic events such as unexpected mishaps and breakdowns (to both the car or myself!).
I picked Trent up from Brisbane at 6pm and we then hit the road straight away.

Having just done the Northern Queensland run, this time I was heading South. Driving at night is great, there’s less traffic on the road and time and landmark towns seem to slip by so much quicker. As the halfway point came and then went, it seemed another 100ks was too easy to do. So I pushed on through until 2am when I finally arrived at my destination; Tuncurry - to take delivery of the sweetest little 1965 Viscount Duravan, the latest addition to my caravan family and an irresistable bargain. A quick phone call to Tuncurry Beach Caravan Park earlier int he day had made me aware that they were definitely not open to taking late check in, so I parked on the beach for the night and we slept in the car.
I woke up this morning at sunrise as I seem to do when I'm on the road. I love the feeling of waking up somewhere completely new. I went for a quick wander to snap a few pics only to discover this sleepy little lakeside town a buzz with senior activity; bather-clad grannies were already swimming laps in the rock pool while other oldies were walking their fluffy little dogs around the edge of the lake in the early sunrise glow. Yachts and fishing boats moored along the shore and Norfolk Pines thrust their arms out to embrace the new day. What a gorgeous spot!

I just made us breakfast on the beach and we are about to pick up the caravan - then it's off to Byron Bay for a night before heading back home on Wednesday.

Still missing Bas terribly, I find myself going over and over what could have been done or said to make it all better.
Fill those anguished moments with new memories and adventures - that's all I know how to do...

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Homeward bound

MALBOROUGH (ROCKHAMPTON) TO SUNSHINE COAST - Wednesday 31st March 2010 (650kms)

Waking up in a truck stop surrounded by Trucks and bleak bushland couldn’t have been any further from the bliss of waking up to that first sunrise of our trip at Bargara beach.
We awoke to the sounds of trucks moving on and while Bas tucked into a full bacon and eggs truckies breakfast inside, I organised the window repair job with the onsite manager of the truck stop. As rough and gruff as they were, the truckies were all well-meaning enough and not so scary in the light of day and the boss Bill turned out to be quite a saint. With his bunged-up and braced knee he hobbled around the back yard  filled with old signs and a dilapidated old caravan and various other pieces of junk and scrap before finally settling on a brand new piece of ply from inside the storage room at the back of the shop. Having cut it to size, I held the board in place while he screwed it into the framework.

It was at this moment that APN Online called via conference call to interview me for a community editor’s position.
“Is now a good time?” they ask
“Not really”, I say, “Would you mind calling back in half an hour?” with one hand on the ply wood and the other holding the mobile phone. Not a good first impression I am sure! But they did ring back and the interview was going really well, right up until the point that the phone reception cut out and I lost them again. And this time they didn’t ring back.

Fuelled up and ready to drive all the way home, and relieved to have only been charged $25 for our emergency window repair, we stopped off for a visit to Capricorn Caves just an hour away on the outskirts of Rockhampton. For $33 for the two of us we were taken on a guided tour of the awesome caves which was well worth the stopover.
I also bought a very kitsch and tacky souvenir T-Towel for the caravan from the gift shop with a map of Queensland on it and marvelled at how much of the map we had actually covered.

Hitting the Bruce Highway again we headed even further south and just after lunch and yet another petrol stop we detoured off the main drag for a visit to the coastal town of James Cook’s discovery of Australia – The oddly named Town of 1770 and for a quick swim at Agnes Waters beach. Then we just drove and drove and drove from the back road to Bundaberg and on to Harvey Bay, Maryborough and Gympie until finally the road opened up, street lights began to appear and we were home, back on the Sunshine Coast at last. We arrived home in Maleny at around 8.30pm completely exhausted, a little bit stressed and eagerly anticipating the long-awaited sleep-in in our own beds.

So now it’s all over and we are slowly getting used to being home again. Of course, we’re still recovering and it’s still amazing me how much of Queensland we managed to fit into one week, but despite the glitches I think that overall it was a successful trip. It was an adventure with a whole lot of memorable moments and adventures don’t always go to plan. But, hey it’s a story! And after all, what is life for but the creation of stories...
Thanks Bas for being the bestest travel buddy ever!

What goes up must come down...


Once again the heading of this entry was supposed to read “Townsville to Bundaberg”. But our run of good luck had run out some time last night until it seemed that the further down the coat we went, the worse things got. Having said our goodbyes to our kind and Valiant saviours we set off for the second to last leg of the journey with the intention of pushing on through past Bowen to our very first stopover Bagara Beach in Bundaberg as we had planned to do after Bowen anyway. It was as easy as making up the 200km difference between Townsville and Bowen and we would be still on schedule to arrive back in Maleny on Wednesday as planned. From Bargara beach it is only around three hours to home, so it would be nice to wake up on that lovely beach one last time and have a relatively cruisy ride home.

Ah, the best made plans...

About ten minutes down the highway and just after the turnoff from Townsville to Ayr and “BOOM! CRASH! SMASH!” – A large semi-trailer truck whizzed past us and the side windows towards the front of my caravan literally exploded out sideways. I pulled over as soon as I could. There was no way we could risk driving the 1,000kms home with two missing windows. With no other options available, I embarrassedly phoned Shane and Melissa again. They said of we drove back to their place they would ply up the windows for us as Melissa is a cabinet and kitchen maker. So we did, and they did, but I really felt we were pushing the very new friendship by this point, and I think they probably did too. More copious thanks and praise and we set off once again. Determined to make up for lost time, I stocked up on the energy drinks with the intention of driving the crazy 1100kms and drive most of the night to get to Bargara as originally planned for that day.

From there it was straight past Mackay and through Sarina and into the “badlands” that long, long stretch of nothingness that is the Mackay to Rockhampton stretch. No houses, no mobile phone reception, no petrol stations, no nothing. Just 350 kilometres of absolute desolation. I had filled up just before Mackay, so I expected that we should have enough to get us through to Rockie. I was wrong. Things started to get precariously low at around 9pm one hundred kilometres from Rockie in a place in the middle of nowhere called Malborough so when a truck stop and petrol station finally loomed ahead I gladly pulled over.

It was then that I noticed that we were once again missing a window. The ply Mel had screwed in had come lose and this time it had taken the whole aluminium window frame with it. The truckies warned me against driving on without a window. Bas was not keen to stay at this wild desolate place and I must admit I wasn’t feeling super secure about it either, but at least a couple of truckies had stories to tell of exploding caravans who had literally disintegrated before their eyes on the highway because a bit of air had got into the vans. Not willing to risk that possibility I took up the truck stop owner’s offer to park the van around the back for the night with the promise that he would ply it back up for us first thing in the morning.

I cried myself to sleep that night – a truck stop in the badlands was not the beach stop in Bargara I had hoped for and I wondered what else could possibly go wrong.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Expect the unexpected – or how loving a Valiant saved my ass

CAIRNS – TOWNSVILLE (Monday 29th March 2010)
The heading of this entry should have read ‘Cairns to Bowen’. Well that was the plan anyway. But with an absolutely perfect run so far, I guess we almost had to expect that something would go wrong eventually. Still, as far as things going wrong go, I’m still pinching myself over the uncanny nature of this particular “hiccup”.
After a pancake breakfast and pineapple juice at Cockie’s Cafe and a quick chat to our camping neighbours at the idyllic Palm Cove Caravan Park, we hit the road at around 11am yesterday. The neighbour had recommended we make the 10km detour on the road heading south of Cairns to check out Josephine falls. Bas was also keen to hit up the Cairns skate park again so we decided to head into Cairns via a bike repair shop to get a new tyre and tube for the BMX so he could get his last dose of the awesome park before the long trip home.
We set off from Cairns at around 1.30 pm and planned the 550km trip with a couple of stop overs at Josephine Falls and Mission Beach to have us in Bowen by around 9pm.
Josephine Falls were incredible, and the ten minute walk through lush dense rainforest to get to them was a welcome break for our car-bound legs. Recent flooding and cyclonic rains saw the waterfall become a raging torrent with the power unlike anything I had seen since my trip to Niagara Falls back in 1990. Even so, the water ran crystal clear and I regretted not bringing the water bottles to grab some of that living vibrant water for later, but I did scoop as much of it as I could into my hands and made sure I drank my fill.

Off again the next detour was the link road to Mission Beach – about 30 km off the Bruce Highway. Once again, a detour well worth making. Mission Beach was everything I’d heard it was; long stretches of white sandy beach, coconut palms lapping at its’ edges and rainforest all around.I stopped for plenty of photo opportunities – the van at the Mission Beach sign, the van at Clump Point with Hinchinbrook Island in the back ground, the van in front of the big Cassowary. Bas was not so impressed...

Finally it was back onto the Bruce for a planned run all the way through to Bowen. The time was 3.30pm. By 7.20pm we were about 20km out of Townsville and about 200km away from Bowen and looking good. By this stage the fuel was getting precariously low so I was relieved to see a Mobil petrol station up ahead. Got back in the car, turned the key and – nothing! The car has up and died completely, no lights, no spark, no central locking – nothing. I sat there for a few minutes praying to the vehicular gods and goddesses, Saint Christopher and did a hoodu voodoo dance around the car and stroked her and pleaded for mercy. I regretted not taking out roadside assistance with RACQ before I left and pondered my options. It was clear we were not going to make to Bowen tonight.

“Who can I call?” I thought and then it struck me. I’m just outside of Townsville. The couple with the gorgeous silver Valiant Station wagon who had so kindly invited us around to their house and offered to fix my car’s clunking lived just North of Townsville, so I gave them a call. It turns out that Yabullu petrol station is their local servo, and we are only ten minutes from their house. Shane and his neighbour Murray drive around with jumper leads and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s a flat battery. And, as luck would have it, the Yabullu Mobil just happens to carry new batteries. Murray and Shane take to the tools and five minutes and much thanks and praise later, we are back on the road.
By then it was 8.45pm and it was clear that driving the extra two hours to Bowen was not a good idea, so Shane said we might as well park the van at their place, and get a good start in the morning. I say copious prayers and thanks to all the powers I had called on and my doubt that there ever really was a thing called coincidence has been blown out of the water once and for all.
Of all the places we had stopped along the way; of all the remote, out of the way dingy little petrol stations I had filled up at and all those random off-the highway detours we had made, we broke down here – ten minutes down the road from a couple of Valiant-collecting rev heads with a shed full of tools and cars in various states of restoration who just happen to have given us their details. All this because I stopped to admire one gorgeous 1966 silver Valiant Station wagon on the side of the road on Friday night.

Now that’s synchronicity...