Over the long Easter weekend we decided to take a trip north from Sydney, and begin to explore a new state – Queensland. We knew it would be a long journey, as a previous trip we had taken into Northern NSW had only taken us a fraction of the distance we wanted to cover this time, so I took an extra couple of days off work to allow us to make the most of the lengthy drive. We collected the rental car and set off from Sydney after work on the Thursday evening, and although we hit some of the holiday traffic we made it to our hotel for the night at Port Maquarie just before check-in closed. It had been a tiring 400km drive, so we decided to head straight to bed so that we could be up early with time to explore before pushing on towards Queensland.
In the morning I was up bright and early for a quick morning spin on the bike before we left the hotel. I initially rode out along the coast road south of town in the direction of Laurieton, but after around 20km of flat and fairly boring cycling I decided to cut my losses and explore the area of Port Maquarie itself a bit closer. Sticking to the coast and heading initially for the headland at Lighthouse Beach I was rewarded with some challenging climbs as well as amazing views and a much more interesting end to the ride. The view from the lighthouse was particularly impressive, with the added bonus of some impromptu dolphin watching. After returning from the ride we headed out to grab some breakfast and also to explore Port Maquarie a little. First stop was back at the lighthouse in the hope the dolphins would still be there playing in the surf, but unfortunately they had moved on for the day, so after walking up to the lighthouse and enjoying the view in the morning sun we moved on to the Sea Acres Nature Reserve. This is a small area of rain forest located at the edge of town and just in from the coast. After taking a short walk through the forest we decided to stop in the cafe there for some breakfast before hitting the road north.
After a long drive we made it into Queensland, and our first stop there Caboolture. Caboolture is a town of about 50000 about 50 km north of Brisbane. Other than driving through it on our way north, we decided to skip Brisbane on this trip, possibly leaving it for a city break at another point, but instead make the most of having a car and get out into the Queensland countryside. We decided to base ourself at Caboolture for a couple of nights as it placed us well for two of the main places that we wanted to visit during the trip – Australia zoo and the Glasshouse mountains.
The next day we decided to head to Australia zoo, made famous by crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, and reported to be one of Australia’s finest. It was a hot and humid Queensland day, interrupted by the occasional heavy downpour, but turned out to be a highlight of our time in Australia so far. The zoo lets you get up close to some of the wildlife Australia is known for, with large areas devoted to kangaroo and wallaby that you can walk amongst, and lots of Koalas lazing amongst the branches for good measure. We even had a slightly closer than expected encounter with a slightly more slivery member of Australia’s wildlife – a wild snake that had found it’s way into the park and was quickly guided into the undergrowth by some zoo employees! Another aspect of the zoo are the shows that are put on in the main arena area – we went to the main one for the day where you get the chance to see and learn more about the crocodiles as well as seeing them being fed.
The next day I had another encounter with some kangeroos – this time wild ones when out on an early morning cycle ride. I had to double take when I passed them – they were spread through the residential streets of the sleepy town of Toorbul. This day we were planning on making the journey onwards to Hervey Bay via some time exploring the Glasshouse mountains. They are made up of a collection of eleven peaks, which rise in dramatic fashion out of the low-lieing coastal plane. We were keen to fit in a bit of a hike, so we chose to set off up Mount Ngungun, and after a short-sharp climb we were offered fantastic views of the rest of the National Park and surrounding area.
We were staying in Hervey Bay for two nights, with the main reason for the trip there being to take a day tour of Fraser Island. Hervey Bay is a large sprawling seaside town, and didn’t seem to have much of interest other than it’s proximity to Fraser Island (and also being a good whale watching spot, although it was the wrong time of year for that).
The next day we were up bright an early waiting at the rendezvous point for our Fraser tour. The main ferry crossing to the island was twenty minutes or so drive at Rivers Head, where we transferred to ferry for the short crossing. Once disembarked we would be spending the rest of the day exploring the island on one of the many four wheel drive bus tours. The first stop on our tour was to be at Lake McKenzie, and as the bus bounced it’s way along the dirt track towards the centre of the island, it became clear that there was a lot more to the island than the coastal scrub-land that greeted us as we dis-embarked the ferry. Fraser island is one of the largest sand islands in the world, but large areas of it are covered in dense rainforest. It was this forested area that we spent most of the journey travelling through, with the bus winding it’s way through the hills and ravines and finally reaching the side of the lake. The hilly nature of the island was something we had not expected, and Lake McKenzie itself is actually at an altitude of around 100 metres above sea level, with the highest point of the island at 244 metres.
After a swim in the crystal clear waters we returned to the bus and set off to continue our tour. We had lunch and a break at Eurong – the only settlement of any size on the island, located just off 75 mile beach. The buffet lunch or the resort area where we ate wasn’t a highlight of the day, but it was nice to have a break off the bus after descending from the hilly centre of the island along the very bump tracks. 75 mile beach serves as the main arterial route throughout the length of Fraser island, with the hard sand being the closest to a smooth road that the island has to offer. At times it appears somewhat chaotic, with cars passing in both directions and charging along the waters edge. Areas of the beach were also closed off as runways, with small planes landing and taking off at a steady rate as they whisk tourists on 15 minute aerial tours of the island. Amongst the chaos we saw two 4x4s pulled over in the middle of the beach, and as the bus whizzed by it became clear we had just missed a high speed pursuit, as one of the 4x4s were police. According to our guide, even here on a beach far from civilization it’s still common to see police speed checks!
As inviting as the water looked we were advised to save our swimming for Eli Creek, as the water on this side of the island is known for sharks, strong currents and sometimes during summer saltwater crocodiles who have been known venture this far south from their usual habitat much further north in tropical Queensland. We didn’t need any more convincing, so after a quick stop at the shipwreck of S.S. Maheno we reached our final stop, and second swimming opportunity of the day at Eli Creek. It was a nice place to finish the tour, you can follow a path up the creek a little way, and then part drift, part swim your way back down to the beach.
We had an amazing day on Fraser island – the day tour had proved to be a great way of exploring given the short time we had available, although it would be great to return some time and explore at our own pace. We saw many people camping out along 75 mile beach, and whilst enjoying the sunset as the ferry made it’s return trip to the mainland it was tempting to begin planning a return trip here already.
It had been an amazing first visit to Queensland, but the next day we had to begin our return journey home to Sydney. On the way back we decided to spend the night in the town of Bellingen on the mid-north coast of NSW. We planned to use our last day to explore Waterfall way, and Bellingen is a good starting point for this. We arrived late in the evening, with the plan to spend the next day travelling along waterfall way and visiting some of the amazing waterfalls along it’s length. We got up early and headed into town for breakfast, and it soon became apparent that Bellingen would be high up the list of places to plan a return visit too for a weekend away from Sydney. It’s a bustling little town which just seemed like a nice place to spend some time. The amazing breakfast at 5 Church Street didn’t have any part to play in our desire to return.
Fuelled for the day we set off along the route of Waterfall way, and immediately the road began to climb into the hills that dominate it’s length. The road climbed for what seemed like forever and eventually we came to the plateau and were surprised how green the landscape was. The views were spectacular and if we had stopped at every viewpoint we would still be on the road. At times the rolling hills of green pasture could have been in Dorset (although at times we were in the New England National Park!) and then minutes later the landscape changed to dense forest and mountains.
One of the viewpoints we decided to stop at was Point Lookout along a dirt track off the main road. We drove down and didn’t see another person. It was a short walk from the car park and the view the was beautiful, visibility that day was good and we could see for miles, it was breathtaking. We re-joined the road and carried on to our last stop of the road Wollomombi falls, where another high lookout gave impressive views out over the valley and across to the waterfall.
As the road continued further inland towards Armidale the steep forested valleys and towering lookouts gave way to rolling hills and farmland. It was at Armidale that our journey along waterfall way would come to an end. It had been a really great finish to an amazing few days away. We hit the highway south towards Sydney, what better time to start planning our next adventure.