Monday 9thto Wednesday 11thApril 2018
My apologies blog fans for the lack of posts over the last few days but it is due to a combination of the fast pace of living and a lack of connectivity out here in the bush. I will bring you up to date with our Commonwealth Games Experiences later on, but for now we are hard on the heels of royalty.
After he subscribed to my blog, I thought it only polite to respond in kind and follow his, so for the last week I have been following PrinceCharlesblog.wordpress.com and saw what a great time he had in Bundaberg. What better recommendation could a place have than five stars from HRH? Wendy needed no further persuading so on Monday we packed up Anthony and Katy’s ‘surf wagon’ and headed north.
A quick note about the surf wagon; Anthony is a man for a project and our imminent arrival down under was all he needed to buy an old VW transporter van and kit it out for our use. I know he worked hard at it for a couple of months, weekends, evenings and the odd day off. The finished article is a work of art, not bad for an accountant, self-taught by YouTube, eh? It’s got a cooker, fridge, plumbed-in sink, romantic LED lighting and lined with pine panelling. Mechanically it is as sound as a bell (apart from a slightly wayward second gear) and it has air-conditioning too for when we are driving and a fan for when we are not.
Our original plan was to head further north, possibly to Carnarvon Gorge or to Seventeen Seventy (blame Captain Cook) and to drive slowly back down the coast to Brisbane by Friday, but a very long night on the Gold Coast watching the swimming and packing taking longer than planned, meant that we had a late start and only had six hours of daylight ahead of us so we headed straight for Burnett Heads Lighthouse campsite just outside Bundaberg. We keep forgetting it is dark by six o’clock and just had time to park up and ask for directions to the super market and somewhere to eat. After buying a torch (no street lights in the outback!) we made our way to the Burnett Heads Hotel. This was a typical Aussie pub. It was a big, sprawling property, brightly lit with fluorescent strip lights, Formica tabletops and packed with ‘pokies’ (slot machines). It even had a bookmakers in the corner of the main bar. I had the thickest and most succulent BBQ spare ribs I have ever had.
We got up around seven on Tuesday morning to go for a stroll and see some of the area we had missed in the twilight the night before. Just as we stepped over the knee post that separated our campsite from parkland we froze. Just fifty metres away from us were three kangaroos, two adults and a younger one, just happily grazing on the grass! These are our first wild kangaroos (not counting the road kill we had seen yesterday).
We didn’t see any of the wildlife we hoped to at our first stop of the day. Following the advice of a guy we had met on our walk we were heading for Mon Repos, only 6km away. Mon Repos was originally owned and named by a local sugar cane baron in the 19thcentury but the land is now managed by the Queensland National Park Service; and a very good job they are doing of it too. The beach is the major egg-laying site for marine turtles (known as a rookery). We had arrived a couple of weeks too late to see any of the action, as the egg laying and hatching season is December to March. There was a great interpretation centre though that explained the precarious future our turtles face and a number of boardwalk trails through the beaches and the neighbouring forest.
Mon Repos beach is also famous as the site of the first flight of the most important aviator no one has heard of! In 1912, at the tender age of nineteen, Bert Hinkler made is first successful flight in a glider he had built himself in Bundaberg transporting each piece to Mon Repos by bicycle. He went on to fly aeroplanes in the twenties and was a contemporary of Charles Lindbergh, becoming the first person to fly solo from Australia to England and the first to fly solo across the Southern Atlantic. He died in 1933 when he crashed into the Apennines in central Italy attempting to break his record for the Australia to England route.
The real reason we were in Bundaberg was because of the ginger beer that bears the town’s name. The factory is on the main road through the town and has an excellent visitor’s centre. They are proud that they only use locally grown sugar (Bundy is surrounded by sugar cane plantations) and their own ginger (grown hydroponically to avoid disease).
In Australia, ginger beer is Bundaberg’s second most famous product. It’s first, and the reason Charlie had visited a couple of days earlier, is rum. In the late nineteenth century a group of sugar cane farmers got together to tap into the Australian’s legendary taste for rum and to find a use for the molasses produced as a by product of the sugar refining process. Until then the molasses was either poured into the river or on to land, polluting both. The first rum was distilled in 1888 and 130 years later it is Australia’s favourite. 95% is sold in Australia and most of the rest is exported to places where Australians like to holiday, like Bali and New Zealand. Now that they have saturated the dark rum market at home, they are looking to expand internationally by producing more expensive rums, so look out for the ‘famous’ Bundy Bear trademark.
We were heading for Hervey Bay that night, but due to Wendy having to use up my free rum tasting tickets we were late again so we stopped at a little fishing village called Burren Heads. Our campsite had a great location on the riverbank, but it was a little tired and shabby to say the least.
A great feature of Australian campsites is the camp kitchen. This is an area where you can prepare, cook and eat your meal. The best, like the one we found at Burnett Heads have sinks, gas barbeques, hobs, microwaves, cutlery and crockery – you just need to bring the food. The most basic, like at Burren had just a barbeque and a sink. The showers were not great either. However, what it lacked in charm and basic amenities, it made up for it by the company. Next to us was a young couple who invited us over for a game of cards. It turned out that Claire and Reuben are a couple of teachers from just south of Brisbane who were camping for a few days to do some fishing and meet up with some friends. We were a bit embarrassed as we hadn’t been able to find a bottleshop in Burren and had run out of wine. They had a fridge full and were very happy to share it. We finally said good night at a quarter past midnight and hadn’t played a single hand of cards; instead we had talked and talked and talked.
The village was also the roosting place for a flock of thousands of lorikeets; these are grey and red parrots that make the most incredible din and aerial displays at sunset as they prepare to roost. We were warned that they reprise their choral performance at sunrise too. Thanks to the insulation Ant has installed we didn’t hear a thing.
We drove on to Hervey Bay for breakfast and a bit of a look around. Hervey Bay is a transit point for tourists heading for the Great Barrier Reef or for Fraser Island, the world’s largest sandy isle. Perhaps we will come back here next time to spend a couple of days doing Fraser Island justice?
We drove on towards the Sunshine Coast and Noosa, where the beautiful people go to party – well Anthony and Katy do. Unfortunately it was lunchtime on a lovely sunny day in the last week of the school holidays and so Noosa was officially full! We cruised every car park and sat in every traffic jam the town had to offer. It is a very swish looking place, but so popular the pavements couldn’t cope with the number of people strolling along and they were spilling into the roads. Another place to visit next time and so we drove on to Coolum Beach.
This was more like it. Only a few kilometres down the coast, a great town with a long, silver sand beach and a campsite right on the shore. It is so close; the lifeguards keep their quad bike in a garage opposite our pitch.
What is more the campsite has free Wi-Fi. In fact the lovely thoughtful people on the Sunshine Coast Council provide free Wi-Fi throughout their towns. That means I can finally post this long overdue instalment.