I began writing this sitting on the patio of a “Caravan Park” just north of Newcastle, New South Wales (Australia) – Myall Lakes National Park. The night before we were hit with a huge storm that was apparently the tail of Cyclone Debbie that hit the Australian coast north of Brisbane (Bowen to be exact). We were almost 2000 km south of where the cyclone hit and I have never experienced such winds and rain. Over the next 12 days, we were travelling from Sydney to Townsville (2200 km) in a campervan (that Bruce has named the Mighty Quinn – I understand its a song from the 70s 🙂 – quite the adventure!!!
I will come back to a Sydney post, but with the cyclone in the news, I thought this might be more interesting. Since everywhere we stayed had very limited or no internet, it was difficult to keep up and especially to post pictures. I am now finishing this as we sit on the balcony of a lovely condo in Townsville. We survived 🙂 Here is the story.
If you haven’t seen it already, Bruce’s video version is at the link below. He has played rather loosely with the names of places and the order of events but its a good story.
Grabbing Cyclone Debbie by the Tail
Day 1: March 28th (Sydney to Bouddi National Park)
We took the bus in Sydney to the Mighty location to pick up the campervan. It is a very simple van (bed and fridge) but that is what was affordable since we have it rented for the 10 weeks that we are in Australia. After doing all the paperwork and getting an overview of how things worked, we headed out with our GPS on a hair raising trip (standard and driving on the left) back to our apartment in downtown Sydney to pick up our luggage.
All good, we headed north out of town to Bouddi National Park, just an hour north of Sydney. It was awesome – the kind of set up that we had hoped for – simple sites, not busy, beautiful beach. We went to sleep to the sound of the waves and all was good.
Day 2: March 29th (Bouddi National Park)
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day and after a leisurely breakfast we went on a coastal walk. It was stunning with really interesting rock formations called “Tessellated Pavement”. We met a group of retired people that called themselves the “Frigid Digits” They swam the length of the beach in the ocean every day of the year. Several had done extensive camping in Australia. One lady owned a van just like the one we were travelling in. An inspiring group!
We sat on the beach, read, went swimming in a lovely calm cove (after Annique consulting several locals about safety – no jellyfish, stingers in the sand, rip tides). As the day went on, the temperature climbed and by 2pm it was 36 degrees – too hot for the beach and a stinker for sleeping. Oh dear! And in Australia it is suppose to get hotter as you go north – not good.
We drove to a mall for air conditioning, to stock up on camping supplies, and to hopefully get some internet ( 2 out of 3 – not bad).
Day 3/4: March 30th/ 31st (Bouddi to Myall Lakes National Park)
It was raining when we woke up so we got up early (well early for Annique 🙂 and made our way to Myall Lakes National Park – about 3 hours drive north. The last stretch (15 km) was on gravel roads that had been quite washed out by rain – quite nerve wracking in our little camper. We arrived in the rain to a lovely spot with nice facilities and very few people. We cooked our dinner in a great “camping kitchen” with kangaroos and kookaburras all around.
It gets dark around 7 pm so we did some reading in the van. Around 9 pm, the wind picked up and so did the rain. For the next four hours we experienced the worst wind and rain that I have ever seen. Apparently it was the tail end of the cyclone. Oh my! Now roads were closed between here and Brisbane and no one knew what was going to happen in the next few days.
Everyone in the campground was a bit shell shocked the next morning. Not a lot of damage anywhere but lots of water and everyone was talking about the wind. We met a couple (Sam and Reiner) over “breakfast” that were our age, from Brisbane and had been travelling in their camper for a month. We had a lovely chat and decided to have drinks together after dinner. It was so fun! We had so much in common (except that they have pythons living in their roof to keep mice and other critters in check – Oh my!!! Apparently, they don’t bother humans. Hmmm! We learned alot about camping in Australia. We drank too much wine and stayed up too late but it was great! They have invited us to visit when we pass through Brisbane on the way home – not sure about sleeping in a house with pythons.
Day 4: April 1st (Myall Lakes to Coffs Harbour/Emerald Beach)
We woke up a little foggy but headed off to try and get some kilometres behind us. We headed for Coffs Harbour and stayed at a little campground just north of there (Emerald Beach). It was a long day of driving and we hadn’t booked anything ahead – not my preferred method but highly recommended by our new friends.
Large expanses of beach with lots of wind and big waves was something we saw right up the coast. Apparently the stingers and crocodiles are not really an issue until a couple hours north of Brisbane so we had fun playing the waves and watching surfers at the various beaches.
Halfway through the day, I realized it was Bruce’s birthday – Oh my! That is terrible. It is really hard to keep track of the days and times when travelling this much. Poor guy – long drive with a bit of a hangover. We stopped for a nice dinner but were not impressed at all by Coffs Harbour. We ended up choosing Mexican – nice but not exactly special. We’ll have to make that up at some point.
Day 5: April 2nd (Emerald Beach to Bundjalung)
We couldn’t face another 5 hour day with unknowns at the end so we drove about 2 hours to Bundjalung National Park and got a camping site. We were wondering why there were so many families camping on a school day and found out that it was the beginning of the Queensland school break. Hmmm. We headed into the little town and found a great little cafe “The Laneway Cafe”. There was great internet, great wine (and an owner who loved to share about Australian wines), a server who was headed to the jazz festival in New Orleans as a jazz singer (Cieorgina Chorley). Hung there until the 4 pm closing and then back to our campsite overlooking the ocean – a good day!
Day 6/7 April 3rd/4th (Bundjalung to Noosa Heads)
We drove from Bundjalung to Noosa Heads. Noosa Heads had been highly recommended by several people. The main beach in Noosa was very busy but we made our way to the National Park campground on the North Shore. It was spectacular and probably our most idyllic spot on the whole trip so far. We got a site right next to the dunes with hardly anyone else around and although the wind on the beach was quite strong (i.e. The sand hurt on your skin as it was blowing when you walked) we had a great time swimming in the waves. Not exactly suntanning whether but very memorable!
We drove 300 km from Noosa to here since several people had told us what a lovely place it was to camp. Unfortunately again, becuase of the school holiday, the main campground was jammed – not at all our cup of tea. We had really begun to relish our quiet camp spots. We looked for another place in the area and found something. It had a 20 minute walk to the beach but we preferred that. Another beautiful open beach where we played in the waves. Unfortunately, we both got some kind of bites that showed up the next day and lasted for almost a week. Someone said sea lice. Who knows. It seems there is a lot here that can bite you.
Day 10: April 7th (Seventeen Seventy to MacKay)
Big driving day (600 km). Started out with the hope of making it through Rockhampton which was completely flooded out. Luckily, they had enough roads that had been built at a higher elevation and they were able to reroute people through the city. It was quite unbelievable how much water there was everywhere. I guess the people of that town were not only having water issues, but lots of snakes and crocodiles were “floating in”. Oh my!!!
We stayed at Black’s beach just north of MacKay. Lovely tropical beach but beware – we are in crocodile and jellyfish territory now! No one swims outside the stinger nets.
Day 11: April 8th (MacKay to Townsville)
Last stretch (400 km) to Townsville. Drove through the areas where the eye of the cyclone hit. Lots of houses without roofs and structural damage, especially in the Proserpine area which is near a big tourist area – Airlie Beach and Whitsunday Islands. Apparently lots of tourists got stranded whiteout water or hydro and much of the area was still without power a week later.
We arrived in Townsville and, although we had a great adventure and really got to see the east coast of Australia, we are happy to be in a nice condo for the next 4 weeks and just enjoy being in one place, having our own bathroom and cooking meals in a kitchen 🙂
Cheers from Bundjalung National Park and the windy surf on Australia’s East coast!
Last week I started my 6 week stint at James Cook University (4 weeks in Townsville; 2 weeks in Cairns). The next post will be about that.