The Newell Highway stretches from one end of New South Wales to the other. Over 1000km long, it is the quickest and most direct way of getting from Victoria to Queensland. This national highway is among one of the most beautiful and scenic roads in the world with so much to stop and see along the way. NOT!
I love Australia. I love it’s beauty, it’s vast and varied scenery. I love the outback, the city and everything in between. I can tell you so much about this amazing country and all of the thousands of places you should put on your bucket list. The Newell Highway is not one of them! Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad stretch. In fact, it’s a perfectly nice road, that passes through lovely open countryside and some very cute and modest country towns. It is just extremely long and basically, boring. Especially for children (and child like adults desperate to get out of a car full of restless children…….).
We were heading off on our next adventure. Heading north to warmer weather towing a caravan/camper which we recently purchased to enable us to travel with more freedom and flexibility when at ‘home’ in Australia. Our drive from Victoria to Queensland stretched out over 4 days. We drove over 2000km and had 3 overnight stops in West Wyalong, Narrabri and Kumbria before arriving in Hervey Bay 72 hours after heading off. We had originally planned for it to only take 2 days, but I think realistically we knew, with 5 kids, that that wasn’t going to happen!
We didn’t head off until midday on the first day. I’m not going to tell you what time we had planned on leaving……….. This was a fun drive. We were all excited, I had a bag full of entertainment for the kids and we drove through familiar and interesting places. It went so well in fact, that we decided that instead of stopping in the early evening to set up our caravan, we would drive into the night and stop much later at a budget hotel where we could just fall into bed and leave early the next day without hassle. Everything went to plan and after a quick dinner stop we drove until about 10pm stopping in West Wyalong at a caravan park with cabins. We were very happy with our budget cabin which only cost $68 for all 7 of us.
The plan was to leave at the crack of dawn the next morning, so of course we slept in! We left the cabin park at 8:30am and after a quick supermarket run for breakfast and snacks, we were back on the road. On the Newell Highway! We drove and drove and then drove a bit more. And then some more after that. The kids were still upbeat, kept entertained alternating between iPads and DS’s and activities from my bag of tricks. It was Mum and Dad who were fed up. It felt as though we were just driving the same stretch of road over and over again. We needed a break. And one that involved something more than pushing a child on a swing! And we found it…….
About 25km past the town of Parkes in NSW is the CSIRO Parkes Observatory, home of ‘The Dish’. The Dish, an icon of Australian science, is a 64 metre high radio telescope. Operating since 1961, the telescope is revered by astronomers the world over, and stands at the forefront of astronomical science and discovery. It was this telescope in fact, that was the prime receiving station for the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969! It was also called upon to aid the Apollo 13 emergency in 1970. Over time the dish has undergone many upgrades and is now 10,000 times more sensitive than when it was first commissioned.
The Dish was made (more) famous by the release of the Australian comedy/drama movie “The Dish” in 2000. The movie tells the story of the Parkes Observatory’s involvement in the Apollo 11 mission and how the telescope helped deliver the live television broadcast of man’s first steps on the moon. It is a fictionalised story for the most part, however it does encompass some of the real life events and facts surrounding both the mission and the ‘Dish’ itself.
It was an extremely misty day when we visited The Dish. Normally, being as large as it is, it can be seen well before you drive into the carpark. Not today. This mist however, added to the mystery and intrigue of this mammoth, supernatural looking structure and our kids thought it was just amazing. We spent a while admiring the sheer size of it and of course, taking lots of photos. We then headed inside to the Visitors Discovery Centre. Admission is free and there are many number of displays and exhibitions showcasing the telescope’s involvement in some of the most significant space missions in history. There are several interactive displays for kids to have fun with while learning about the wonders of space as well as a gift shop selling all manner of space related toys and souvenirs. There was also a separate room showcasing a collection of award winning astrophotography images. Our eldest girls especially enjoyed looking at all of these amazing photos.
Out the front of the visitor centre is two small satellite dishes positioned, facing each other, about a hundred metres apart. These are used to demonstrate the way sound waves travel from dish to dish. If you whisper quietly into the centre of one dish, it can be heard loud and clear in the other. Our kids found this incredible and had so much fun mucking around whispering stuff to each other from so far away.
We spent most of the rest of the afternoon driving. In the early evening we stopped at Narrabri and set up our caravan at the showgrounds. If we are just stopping overnight in a town and don’t want to free camp, we often check the wikicamps app to see if there is a showground offering powered sites. They are a great alternative to caravan parks as they are remarkably cheaper and still have power and toilets. We only paid $18 for our site and in the morning the kids got to watch the horses being trained and exercised.
Another day of driving. Driving, driving, driving. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “When are we at Hervey Bay?” I could have just flown us there in our own private jet! We stopped occasionally. We ate. We used public toilets. We pushed kids on swings. And that’s about the extent of it. And poor Peter got to experience all of this excitement while in total agony. He had had 2 wisdom teeth removed the previous week and now had dry socket in both holes. For pretty much the whole drive he lived off custard, coffee, kids fruit pouches and a concoction of pain killers!
By mid-afternoon we decided to look for a free camp. We could have kept driving for another 3 hours and arrived in Hervey Bay in the evening but finding and setting up in a caravan park would be a lot easier and less stressful in daylight the next day. We found a small free camp in a cute little town called Kumbria. We got the last available site which for us was the best as it was right next to a fully fenced playground. Besides a quick dinner break, and a bit of school work for the big girls, the kids played happily in there until bedtime.
We headed off at the crack of dawn the next morning, eager to finally get to our destination. We drove straight to Hervey Bay only stopping twice. Once for a toilet stop and once to look in a funky hippy shop in Maryborough, 30 kms out of Hervey Bay.
The drive there had been so long, so epic, that in my head, as we drove into Hervey Bay, there were people holding up welcome banners, tv crews and showers of confetti, all in celebration of the fact that we had FINALLY MADE IT! In reality it was quite the opposite……We inquired at caravan park after caravan park looking for a site, only to be told each time that they were fully booked. Interestingly one park which told us they had available sites suddenly ‘remembered’ they in fact didn’t have any once we mentioned that we had five kids…….. But it was all meant to be! At the very last possible caravan park we tried we hit the jackpot. Not only did they have a site for us, but it was the king of all sites. It was literally 10 metres from the beach! We were all extremely happy and relieved to jump straight in to the beautiful, sparkling waters of Hervey Bay. Suddenly the last 3 days were all completely, totally worth every uncomfortable, boring, tiring minute!