In June 2013 we packed up, put all of our belongings in storage and joined the Grey Nomads. Well, kind of……… We bought a 26 foot caravan and spent the next 8 months exploring Australia. Anna was 7, Elyssa 5, Korey about to turn 2, and Lucy 7 months.
We began at the Gold Coast in Queensland where we stayed in a holiday rental for 3 weeks while searching for and purchasing our caravan. We made the decision to do this upon discovering, after much research, that there were a lot more caravans available for sale in Queensland than there were in Victoria (where we were living), and therefore we had more choice as to the specifics of the caravan. In addition to this, we also found the prices in Queensland were generally several thousand dollars cheaper.
Once we had found a caravan that suited our needs (large, several beds, equipped kitchenette and toilet/shower), we headed to the Sunshine Coast where we stayed in more holiday accommodation for a further 3 weeks. We used this time to organise and prepare the caravan and make several adjustments. These included installing a washing machine, 2 televisions, storage solutions including drawers and cupboard inserts, new custom made curtains throughout as well as converting the 2 existing bunks into 3. The kids stuck posters and photos on their walls and once we had unpacked our clothes and toys and filled the kitchen cupboards, it really felt like our little home… The house on wheels!
The day we headed off with caravan in tow was extremely exciting, however I did spend the first hour characteristically freaking out. Our rig was massive and towing it on the motorway on a windy day was very nerve-racking, for me anyway. Peter, the driver, was pretty much his normal, calm and focused self. Although he was concentrating very hard, not saying much, and checking his mirrors every five seconds.
We had decided to head north first and spent our very first two nights in Tin Can Bay, a fishing town approximately 200 kilometres north of Brisbane. We found a small caravan park near the water and were given their very last spot, which to me appeared way too small and awkward to reverse in to. As several campers watched on in anticipation, Peter reversed the massive van straight into it in one go, as if he had done it a thousand times before. Smarty pants! A neighbour later told us it had taken him half an hour to get his much smaller van into that same spot earlier in the year.
That night we had a barbeque dinner, walked along the water and went to bed on a massive high. The next morning we rose early and made our way to a section of the bay where for $10 we were able to hand feed wild Dolphins who visit early each morning. It was incredible, a memory the children will cherish forever.
Over the next two weeks we slowly made our way to Cairns. We spent a relaxing week in Airlie Beach where most days we just lazed by the pool. We did venture into the beautiful tourist town a few times, visiting the local market and playing at the huge lagoon by the beach. We also took an amazing hike up Mount Rooper in Conway National Park. It was about a 6km round trip, which was a decent work out, especially for Peter who, for a lot of the time, had Lucy on his front in the carrier, and Korey on his back in the back-pack carrier! At the top, the 180° views of the Whitsundays including Hamilton Island and surrounds, were breath-taking.
We free-camped a few times along the way. At first we found this a little daunting (well, I did). No power, no ‘security’, but it was actually great and something we now highly recommend to fellow travellers/campers. Not only did we save money by not paying site fees but we met some really interesting people and stayed in some very memorable places. A family of six, complete with highchair and baby bouncer, cooking a barbeque dinner in a truck stop outside a service station on a busy highway, definitely attracts some puzzled looks!
Arriving in Cairns we felt a real sense of achievement. We had towed our new home all the way to Far North Queensland! We stayed in Cairns Coconut Holiday Resort as a bit of a treat for the kids. The resort is a huge family caravan park complete with its own water park and several pools and play areas as well as the biggest jumping pillow in the Southern Hemisphere. There is also a host of activities available including outdoor evening movies, mini-golf, pedal cars, water aerobics classes, a fully equipped gymnasium and more. The place really is amazing and has to be seen to be believed! The kids made lots of friends in the week we spent there and to this day claim it as their favourite caravan park of all time.
We didn’t spend a lot of time in the city of Cairns itself, but did enjoy visiting the Lagoon on the Esplanade several times. Entry is free to the Lagoon, a 4800sqm salt water pool, which was built to provide tourists and locals with a lifeguarded swimming facility, safe from stingers and crocodiles. Another place we frequented was the amazing Cairns Botanic Gardens. The gardens are huge and filled with spectacular tropical flora and there are several amazing trails and rainforest boardwalks, a must see if you are visiting Cairns.
The highlight of our time in Cairns was the day-long Great Barrier Reef cruise we went on. The little kids loved the glass bottom boats and viewing windows on the pontoon, where they could see so much amazing and colourful sea life. The older girls and ourselves were able to snorkel the reef, which was unbelievable! All different varieties of tropical fish everywhere you look, beautiful corals, and the star of the show, a giant Maori Wrasse (fish).
After Cairns we travelled inland to the Atherton Tablelands where we stayed on a farm in a small town called Mareeba. The property was called Ringer’s Rest and we found out about it by chance while chatting to a local at the information centre. We ended up staying for 12 days as it was so cheap and such an authentic Australian experience, with livestock all around the sites, and great local bush walks with an abundance kangaroos and wallabies. The facilities were fairly basic, with the option of non-powered sites or powered (by hooking up to the owners shed for an extra $2 per night) and a basic shower block with a long-drop toilet. In the mornings we woke to the sound of hot air balloons above us and friendly horses wandering by our caravan.
We spent several days exploring the Tablelands. We visited the gorgeous town of Kuranda known as the Village in the Rainforest. Famous for its vibrant art and craft culture, the town is full of quaint and unique little markets. Nearly 2 years on I am still wearing the anklet I bought from a little indoor stall there!
Our most memorable and exciting experience in these parts was a day like no other. In one day, not once, not twice, but three times we were lucky enough to experience the natural beauty of Australian native fauna up close. First, near a town called Malanda, as we walked through an area of rainforest, we saw a tree kangaroo up high in a tree. These endangered animals are very elusive and we could not believe we had actually spotted one. Shortly after, we found a stream filled with the cutest little turtles we have ever seen. There were so many, all different sizes, and the children spent ages happily watching them swimming around. Our third encounter was the most exciting. We drove to another area of rainforest hoping to spot a platypus. As we walked towards the river, a disgruntled man told us that we needn’t bother looking for a platypus , and that there were none there and they were as elusive and impossible to spot as a tree kangaroo. We chose not to tell him we had already seen one of those today! We wandered along the water for a while, expecting not to spot any, then Peter suddenly pointed one out. Then two, three, four, five, six……. We watched in awe as they darted around each other. They were beautiful and amazing to watch. We headed back to our site feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves that day!
Our next stop was Port Douglas, about 70kms north of Cairns. It is an absolutely beautiful, tropical town. The beach there is stunning and the water, well, WOW! It was as warm as a bath! Amazing! We swam for hours each day, not wanting to get out.
During our week in Port Douglas we also took a crocodile cruise where we were very excited to spot several crocs, not to mention slightly scared (yep, that would be me again……). We took an amazing drive up through the picturesque Daintree. We attended a country music muster where Anna won a dance competition and scored a family pass to a crocodile and wildlife park. On our visit to the park we took a boat ride through croc infested waters, and watched on in amazement as our guide held out sticks with meat on the ends and crocs jumped up right next to us to feed. Such an experience! We also fed and patted kangaroos and wallaby’s and Korey was thrilled to be able to pat a Koala.
Well, we had so many amazing experiences on our trip that even my ‘brief summary’ requires two parts! Click here for Part Two……