14th May to 20th May
Bundaberg to Bowen
After refreshing from our first bit of work in a long time, we spent the start of this week prepping for an epic road trip. The plan was always to finish the East Coast by the beginning of June. This meant that we had two weeks to make it up to Cape Tribulation, two hours past Cairns.
In honour of passing its service and ahead of a long drive, we treated our van to a wash. It was nice to look at the van and think, wow you’re pretty decent. Now the van sparkled like an expensive van should.
So, with the van cleaned inside and out, we set off on the Wednesday with the following stops in mind:
- Town of 1770
- Airlie Beach (Whitsundays)
- Cape Tribulation
This week we only managed as far as Bowen but that was 810km and nine hours worth of driving! Tiring to say the least.
Town of 1770/Rockhampton
Our first stop was only a short hour and a half drive from Bundaberg. The Town of 1770 is one of the first places Captain Cook stopped to come ashore on his jaunt up the East Coast. Interestingly, it is the only town in the world with a number for a name.
There wasn’t much worth seeing so we made lunch and decided to head straight to Rockhampton. For those that have never heard of Rockhampton (I hadn’t either), it’s Australia’s beef capital. It would be wrong not to eat steak and watch rodeo, right?
A further two and a half hours later, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn in Rockhampton. This is one of the three imaginary lines that cross the globe you learn about in school. I think this one indicates the most southerly point on earth where the sun still appears directly overhead at noon. If that’s not right, please give me a lesson! Other than that, it marks the start of the tropics. There are no longer the four seasons as we know them, it’s just the wet and the dry. There are now however saltwater crocodiles!
We drove straight to the Great Western Hotel. Not only could you eat great steak and drink their own Great Western lager, you could head out the back to watch guys cling on to crazed bulls for eight seconds.
We had intended to arrive at Rockhampton on Friday so luckily the rodeo was also on on a Wednesday and, best of all, it was free! Most of the customers and audience were wearing cowboy hats, shirts tucked into blue denim jeans and boots with spurs. The music accompanying the rodeo was also brilliant with such classics as Cotton Eyed Joe and She Makes My Tractor Look Sexy. I’m being deadly serious.
I honestly had one of the best nights in a long time. Disappointingly, a power cut sent the whole of Rockhampton into darkness and sent us off to our free camp for the night. I’m sorry I couldn’t get any photos of the rodeo as there were no photography signs everywhere!
Our next stop was a four hour drive through dry, brown and desolate lands. Not quite the outback but this was the Australia I’d imagined. There wasn’t anything of note between Rockhampton and Mackay so we just cranked the music and settled into the drive.
Mackay probably isn’t somewhere a tourist would normally stop to visit. It’s another couple of hours up to Airlie Beach; where the Whitsunday Islands are situated and most would drive on.
The wind had picked up significantly by the time we arrived in Mackay so we spent the afternoon watching the kite surfers make their way up and down the shoreline.
The next morning was more exciting. Just above Mackay is the Cape Hillsborough National Park where you can watch sunrise and kangaroos eat their breakfast on the beach. Sounds perfect.
We woke up at 5am and arrived at the beach just in time for the sun to make its appearance above the horizon. Except, you couldn’t see the sun, there was only a grey blanket of cloud. It did eventually clear but I was hoping for something a little more dramatic.
I didn’t expect this beach to be so popular especially at this time. There were already about twenty people on the beach grouped together. We wandered across to find a few wallabies and two Eastern Grey Kangaroos.
I guess it was quite unique, but it wasn’t what I thought it would be. Whilst the tourist brochures and social media paint a picture of an empty beach and kangaroos galore, it doesn’t show the streams of people poking their selfie sticks in the kangaroos faces.
Not only that, because of the high influx of tourists (me included I know), the wallabies and kangaroos are now fed on plates placed on the beach behind yellow cones. The two kangaroos were actually hand-raised by the caravan park so if you’re looking for a ‘wild’ wildlife experience, this doesn’t come close.
I did still enjoy the experience as its not something you see every day but it’s a shame tourism has previously driven off the majority of wild animals there.
Airlie Beach/Whitsunday Islands
We arrived in Airlie Beach late in the afternoon so we didn’t have too long to look around. It was quiet, very quite, for a Friday night in what’s supposed to be a party town. It felt like ‘holiday’ and every time we get that feeling we need to remind ourselves that we’re not on holiday. No beers for us unfortunately.
The next morning we woke early for our day trip to the Whitsunday Islands aboard Lady Enid; a true sailing boat. You can read all about the trip here.
Back at the campsite, quite a few travellers huddled around the huge outdoor flatscreen TV to watch the Royal Wedding. Yes, I admit we watched a bit of it and, as with most people, what sticks in my mind is the speech by Bishop Michael Curry. Not traditional at all but great to see at a Royal Wedding; if not only for the awkward faces on the Royal Family.
The final day of this week was spent watching the sunset in Bowen. However, before we arrived there, we took a detour from the highway to check out Hideaway Bay. We went then purely because of pictures we’d seen with palm trees pointing horizontally towards the ocean. We spent a good few hour driving around this remote part of the Queensland coast (along dirt roads too) and we just could not find what we were looking for.
Eventually, we just chilled out at Dingo Beach and had lunch overlooking the turquoise waters. The colour of the sea was so nice that I had to send the drone up for the first time in a few weeks!
Up to Bowen next we stopped off at the Big Mango next to the highway for some mango sorbet. It was horrible, enough said.
Bowen itself is known for its abundance of fruit and backpackers normally stay here for farm work. However, it seems this year there’s so few work opportunities and the town was pretty quiet. The backpackers we did see were fishing from the pier.
One of the town’s claims to fame is that the film ‘Australia’ was shot here. I remember watching that film back in University in 2008 with some friends. We all fell asleep so I think that sums the film up. I’m going to watch it again though just to see whether, ten years on, I’ve changed my mind about it. The tourism brochure showed the Australia set in all its glory so it wasn’t fantastic to find the site was actually just a brown field in the middle of town. The sort of field that the circus would set up on.
We drove out of town up to the northern beaches where the 11th best beach in Australia is. The beaches were great mind and some of the only ones on the East Coast where you can watch the sunrise and sunset!
We cooked tea on the small cliffs before settling in for the best sunset we’ve seen so far! It was beautiful. Far better than watching TV.
We carry on the road trip up to Townsville and eventually Cairns. We’re so close to the end of our East Coast journey.