Byron Bay to Bundaberg

Saying farewell to Brisbane, we collected our Mitsubishi Express campervan and set off south. We got five minutes down the road when I noticed the radio didn’t work, the first of many ‘quirks’ on this  van.

Reluctant to spend a month driving around Australia without music, we turned around and got it fixed.

A list of ‘quirks’ belonging to Gino Di Camper (named after the celebrity chef) include but don’t end with the passenger door not properly closing, the passenger window having to be closed by pulling it up with your hands, the radio turning off with every pothole hit, dodgy electrics and most inconveniently, the locks getting stuck when we’re inside!

Our first stop on the trip was Nimbin, an infamous town in the mountains near Byron Bay where the locals have decided the law doesn’t apply and that cannabis is legal. I had an image in my mind of lots of hippies and rainbows and free love and reggae but in reality, we found the town to be seedy, edgy and not very inviting.

The locals all look unhealthy and paranoid and the shops play psytrance not reggae. After being stopped and offered pot a few times and with the illusion of a free society shattered, we left after about 15 minutes.

Using Google maps on my iPhone isn’t going too well, it is unreliable and we first realised as much when we got lost in the mountains surrounding Nimbin. Finally we found Noah’s hometown of Lismore and importantly Noah himself.

Staying in Noah’s flat that night we avoided the cold for one last evening and made use of the hot shower, kitchen and electricity that we would soon be leaving behind. 

To save money I proposed Anna give me a haircut, her fake confidence was impressive, the result wasn’t so much..

The next morning we set off in convoy towards Brunswick Heads, a sleepy little town just north of Byron Bay.

We parked next to a creek for lunch, our first in the campervan. One of the amazing things about life in a van is that you can eat wherever you want, something we take advantage of a lot, especially when we discover a good view.

After lunch, we carried a couple of Noah’s kayaks to the clear water and went out on the river, even seeing a sting ray glide effortlessly underneath us.

The creek meets the ocean and so is subject to tide changes. We had to fight them on the way back to shore which resulted in burning arms and an unexpected workout.

We had a wander around Brunswick Heads after a swim in the extremely cold water before heading to Byron Bay and the Arts Factory, a hostel which epitomises the town with its mixture of hippy and hipster tenants.

Our friend from home, Zoe, was working here so we parked our van in an out of town rest area (Byron council do not take kindly to those who prefer not to pay for their camping) and Noah drove us in.

We had a few beers with Zoe and Noah and after a while we left to spend our first night in the van. Unbeknownst to us the van was parked under a huge ‘no camping’ sign. We hadn’t seen this until the cover of darkness lifted and we wearily stumbled out of the van the next morning.

Going via Brunswick Heads again and using the free (cold) showers at the park we decided to go and have another wander around Byron Bay.

We visited a huge pristine beach a ten minute drive from Byron and couldn’t believe how quiet it was. We were two of only 7/8 people on this multi kilometre long stretch of sand.

Just like the last time we visited Byron, we couldn’t resist staying another night and this time we paid to park at the Arts Factory.

Having met Zoe again, we took up the option of a free bushtucker walk with a local character named Cockatoo Paul. Imagine a mix of Steve Irwin and Ray Mears with the bad language of Shaun MacColl carrying a live cockatoo and you are pretty close to this guy.

Despite his quirks, he knew a lot about the bush and led us around a small area of swampland showing us edible plants, some of which were extremely tasty. The nectar from one tasted just like caramel ice cream topping.

The tour finished at Byron Bay Brewery where everybody got a free beer, a clever marketing tactic as we didn’t stop at that one beer.

Everywhere you turn in Byron, there is live music, we ended up going to a few bars, each one showcasing extremely talented musicians.

The next morning/afternoon we took the van into the Hinterlands and visited Killen falls, a ten metre waterfall with a huge cave behind it. This provides the unique opportunity to stand behind a waterfall and gain a perspective of the power of nature.

Having taken this in, we set off towards Rainbow Bay on the Gold Coast.

We met Ben and Liv here and they were kind enough to take us out for dinner.

Ben is Anna’s brother’s wife’s brother and Liv is his wife. Anna’s family never seems to stop expanding!

The view is amazing from here, the skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise just visible across the ocean and with the setting sun comes the illusion that these buildings are floating on the water.

Tweed/Rainbow Bay is also on the border of Queensland and New South Wales and as such, two different time zones. Within ten steps of the border line, you could watch the clock on your phone change back and forth an hour which was bizarre.

Deciding the skip Surfers Paradise, and with Anna having drunk half a bottle of wine over dinner, I was left with the task of driving to find somewhere to sleep that night.

It turned out to be a long drive and at around 10pm, we arrived in a free campsite near Woodford and the Glasshouse Mountains.

We were impressed with the facilities at the free site, clean toilets and running water were readily available. We are also impressed with how comfortable the van is, I put it down to Anna’s bed making skills personally.

We rose early the next morning and drive to Mount Beerburrum.

The path to the top of the 450 metre mountain is paved but still bloody steep. The hike combined with the shop run on my skateboard before our ascent had me knackered before 10am!

Although we shared the path with a few treesnakes, it was worth all the panting as the views were incredible.

The mountains jut dramatically jut out of an otherwise flat landscape. You can see for miles in every direction with Brisbane and Moreton Island both visible in the horizon.

That afternoon we drove the short distance to Pomona and went for a beer at the Pomona Hotel. I recognised it straight away from the stubby coolers at Anna’s Mum’s house as they had visited here around 20 years before. Anna even recognised the inside which left her feeling nostalgic.

From Pomona we went to Pinbarren and parked up at Allie’s (Jim and Tim’s auntie) house where we were joined by Jim, Tim, Annie and the kids.

The weekend was spent eating too much food, relaxing, drinking around the bonfire and watching the Australia vs France game. It’s a shame that the World Cup is on whilst I’m travelling, usually I would be glued to the TV all month but instead I’ll just catch certain games when I can.

Sharing the beautiful old house with a python and a couple of huge Huntsman spiders, we were glad of the van when it came to bedtime!

After our final farewells to the family, we set off on our own towards Noosa.

That day was a bit of a write-off in the end as we got lost twice, due to Google Maps being simply awful here, and ended up finding a free campsite out in the bush.

We shared the space with some… interesting folk and despite their barking dogs, funny haircuts and loud music, we had a pleasant evening and a good sleep.

The following morning we got up early and drove south to visit a couple of mountain towns called Mountville and Maleney.

They started of much the same as Nimbin, made popular by “alternative lifestylers ” but what was immediately obvious upon arriving is that ‘normal’ folk moved here too, the places both benefiting from this.

The towns have kept their quirky charm, the highstreets have more crafts stores than cafes, more organic food shops than supermarkets and are full of impossibly friendly people.

After wandering around and doing a bit of shopping we drive just out of town and noticed a sign – ‘Mountain View Road’.

It sounded promising so I turned left and pulled in at a lookout with breathtaking views of the Glasshouse Mountains.

Deciding this was a good a spot as any for lunch we unpacked our kitchen and set up to eat.

Once satisfied, we packed our portable kitchen back up and drove north towards Bundaberg.

It was a long drive through vast open spaces and farmland, arriving just after sunset we checked into our first paid campsite as the van’s secondary battery and water tank needed charging/filling.

The spot next to us at the site was taken by a nice Australian couple – Emile and Georgie – who were a quarter of the way through a one year road trip around the country.

We sat and had a couple of glasses of ‘goon’ with them before I got an early night in order to wake up at 4am to watch England take on Tunisia in the World Cup.

We have resorted to drinking goon, a cheap cask wine as it is about 5 times cheaper than beer and popular with travellers here for that reason. It tastes like shit at first but you quickly adapt to it!

Fortnately England won 2-1 thanks to a last minute goal so the early start was worth it.

Before leaving Bundaberg, a large but eerily quiet city, only really famous for it’s rum and soft drinks, we visited the soft drinks factory (it may have been a different choice had it not been 9am). 

You may have heard of wine tasting but probably not soda tasting?

We were approached by a staff member while choosing a bottle to buy and offered the chance to taste all 17 flavours they produce and learn about each one.

Mostly delicious, we left with a huge sugar rush and 6 bottles of pop!

Next stop Agnes Water.

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