East Coast Road Trip
Day 1 – 29th November: Day one saw us leaving the lovely Mission Beach on the 5.20pm greyhound (after working a shift at the hostel of course!) I was sad to be leaving as it really had become the closest place we had come to that we could call home. However it really was time to go after 10 weeks of being in the same spot.
Saying goodbye to Gareth was practically unbearable though – he had done so much for us and organising a thank you present was near on impossible. What do you get someone who has treated you like a best friend for two and a half months – cooked us meals, bought us beers, let us stay at his charming house, took us on a private reef trip. He deserved an island, not just a crate of beer.
We stayed at the loveliest little hostel in Cairns aptly named, ‘Travellers Oasis’. It is quite far away from the centre of town but it was so homely there I really didn’t mind. Cups of tea all round!
Day 2: 11am was Sarah’s Bungy jump and we were picked up by a cool guy who blasted rap music so loud. We picked up a collection of fearful travellers from a multitude of hostels in the area and drove out of town to the Bungy tower. Sarah was very brave indeed – I certainly couldn’t do it, nor would I want to for that matter. After we were dropped back (Sarah was alive!!) we didn’t do much, just wandered around the city and otherwise chilled out at our lovely hostel.
Day 3: Uncle Brian’s tour! Fun, Falls and Forest. I had organised to go on an all day tour of the famous Atherton Tablelands. To be honest, I didn’t have much clue as to what to expect or where we were even going for that matter. I immediately made friends (back in Kindergarten again!) with a girl named Emily who was also staying at Travellers Oasis. I had the best day with these guys – a girl named Linzy was driving Gus the Bus and came to pick us up. She really was a bit too much at the start – I remember thinking ‘Oh God, here we go, an over-enthusiastic, crazy tour guide who won’t shut up for the duration’. But actually she was lovely and made us feel at ease throughout the day. Our first stop was at a place named Babinda Boulders – roughly a 40 minute drive from Cairns. We made our way up to the look out point and then headed back for tea and biscuits and a swim. The water was pure and lush and deep and up ahead there was a rock on one of the riverside banks. Linzy and some others jumped off and I decided now was a perfect opportunity to do something a bit scary. So, I made my way up and was confronted by a rather large drop. I embarrassed myself by not jumping even though I had basically the whole bus cheering me on. I don’t know why I couldn’t do it but like the total whimp I am I climbed down from the great height and am yet to redeem myself for that mis-adventure. Onwards and upwards though, our next stop was a B E A Utiful place called Josephine Falls. It was seriously stunning. Very over-crowded and as a result over-whelming at times but it was still magnificent. We jumped in the large rock pools and made our way up the rock hill to the waterfall we could slide down. A very fun time was had by all and we had a chance to talk to each other then and so make some new acquaintances too.
Next stop was lunch at a little tearoom in the middle of bloody nowhere haha. We had chicken casserole and salad – bit of a weird combo but we dealt with it.
Next was the beautiful Milaa Milaa Falls. The water was a lot cooler up here because we had started to scale a tableland mountain at this point. Apparently this was where the herbal essences advert was filmed where the woman flicks her hair back from the water. We had a lot of fun swimming under the waterfall and climbing up on the rocks to view the scenery from behind the cascading water. We spent time taking turns flicking our hair over our heads to get the perfect camera shot, some more successful than others. Even some of the lads had a go to prove it could still be done without a mop of hair.
Next stop was one of if not my definite favourite – Lake Eacham – a crater lake formed thousands of years ago. It was 65 metres deep and boasted a gorgeous, azure colour. Pelicans were in the distance and you could swim out as far as you liked. There was a nice grassy patch that allowed you to view the entire lake and we sat and had hot chocolate and muffins on that pleasant afternoon, talking about our exciting day. On our way back, we stopped to do some platypus spotting and to pop into a hostel in Yungaburra to get our hair flicking photos uploaded! After that we took a winding route back down the mountains and got dropped back, thoroughly exhausted but content at my hostel by 8pm. Not one to choose to go on tours much – I don’t particularly enjoy sharing experiences with 20 others as I feel it becomes so impersonal and unoriginal. However, this was an exception and of course a great way to explore the area if you are not in possession of a car.
Day 4: Lilypad brekkie of course – a cute little cafe we found last time we were in Cairns – I had exactly the same as before – Lilypad’s speciality pancakes! We picked up the car and got on our way. Today we were heading to Townsville, although we made a quick detour to Mission Beach to pick up my purse which I conveniently left behind. Silly Rachel. It was weird to be in Mission again even though it had only been a couple of days since we had left. It had started torrential raining on our way and we were concerned that it might stay that way for our whole east coast. Luckily that wasn’t to be, this is Australia after all! So anyway, we arrived in Townsville, or Brownsville as it is commonly known from a bit of Lonely Planet research. I immediately felt a bad energy in this place. The place had no character, or if it did then certainly no character I wanted to be surrounded in.
We were due to stay at a couch surfing house which I had organised for us. I figured it was going to be nice staying at stranger’s houses because we could save money at the same time as immersing ourselves in local’s lives. Sabine’s house was more than comfortable and helped make up for the lack of substance in Townsville. I got chatting to Sabine in the morning about her travel experiences and also her small business of making jewellery. Sabine inspired me to start making some of my own art – I hope to get back into it once I’m in Melbourne.
Day 5: Day 5 for us saw the rise of Maggie Island as it is affectionately known by most Aussies. The ferry port for the island is just a short drive from Townsville centre, hence why we were staying at Sabine’s. Whilst researching my East Coast trip, a lot of travellers suggested going to Magnetic. They said the Island was beautiful and there was many must-do cool activities to keep you occupied. With that in mind, I was really looking forward to the trip.
The day did not begin well because I had a HANGRY Sarah to deal with. After we handled that with a large sandwich and a muffin, we were ready to catch the ferry ($35 return each). Upon arrival, I did not hold much affection for the Island at all. It was dusty and busy and oh so hot. The bus took 25 minutes to do a 5 minute journey (it had to stop all around the houses) and dropped us outside XBase Hostel, where we would be staying. The hostel is massive so I wasn’t exactly expecting a personal experience, however the staff barely made eye contact whilst checking you in and the place was just party central, full of young, inexperienced, Facebook loving adults. I know I sound all high and mighty when I say this, but it really wasn’t my kind of place. The sleeping arrangements however were pretty special as each room was an independent beach hut (8 beds in each) and the bar did have a fabulous view of the sea, so not all bad but I did become dreadfully homesick that first night for the first time since I’d arrived in Australia. I put it down to not feeling comfortable in my surroundings so that says a lot.
I had arranged for us to go horse riding the next day, so that was something I was really looking forward to. Sarah was worried because I had put her down as an advanced rider even though she is not. I assured her that all advanced riders would be doing was cantering but I think she thought we’d be on thoroughbreds, jumping over logs and high fences!
The ride came to a stop along the beach where we unsaddled the ggs and went swimming in the sea with them. They didn’t seem to mind at all! It was one of the most wonderful experiences and something I will never forget.
Afterwards, whilst waiting for the bus to take us back, I took the opportunity to have a dip in the ocean (inside the stinger net) in the early evening dusk. There were many boats floating peacefully in the harbour and I remember it being very tranquil and serene. I floated around on my back and felt very alive, until I had to run for the bus that is! That day was by far the most pleasurable on Magnetic.
Day 7: Today signalled our departure from the Island, and guess what? I was happy to be leaving! After the short ferry ride back, I drove us the 100kms or so to Airlie Beach where we stopped for lunch and checked into our hostel. Sarah and I didn’t spend a lot of time together here – after being with each other constantly for 6 months it was nice for both of us to find somewhere we could go our separate ways for a little while.
Airlie Beach is a small, buzzing, touristy, party town with heaps of restaurants, shops, walks and beach spots so we both did our own thing for a bit. I spent time at the lagoon, sun basking and reading and at a local Sunday market.
The day after was the turn of our Whitsunday tour – the ultimate reason why we came to Airlie Beach. Again, we had heard many wonderful things from backpackers about this particular stop on the East Coast, some even saying that it was their favourite part of Australia. It had a lot to live up to therefore but it really did rise to the challenge. I got the impression though that most of the travellers I spoke to about this trip had a WILD time. Most spoke of bring booze onboard the boats, crazy nights on the beach and boozing as the sun went down. Some found love aboard, other life long friends. With this is mind, I was excited about what the cruise would hold for us, however as usual, we didn’t exactly get a ‘normal’ backpacker experience, but it was still lovely.
I had booked a 1 day cruise, so I knew we weren’t going to be camping on the beach, but I didn’t think we’d be the only two under the age of about 35. Joining us were a newly engaged couple, a family of four, a Chinese couple and a married couple. It seemed like everybody must have thought that we were together as well.
The day began with a pick up from The Port of Airlie, then a cruise to the main islands to pick up more passengers – Dreamtime island, Hamilton Island and lastly a drop off at the famous Whitehaven Beach. The first thing you notice is how bloody clear the water is. Then once you get closer, the amazingly white, soft sand hugging the forest beyond. It was like walking through flour. Those on a full day cruise (us) got herded into a smaller boat and off we went to Hill Inlet, a lookout at the bottom of Whitehaven Beach with SSSTUNNING views over the multicoloured azure ocean. We got to swim in the sea and after, we had a picnic on the beach. It was sublime.
Our next luxury was getting to snorkel at a nearby island and seeing some very exotically coloured fish, and on our way back, we were treated to an afternoon tea spread of melon, muffins and tea.
From start to finish, it really was a beautiful day and it didn’t matter that we hadn’t met the love of our lives or drunk until we peed ourselves. It was just nice to be there.
Day 9: After our come down from the totally wonderful Whitsunday’s tour, we stayed overnight again at Airlie, and then made our way to a small town called Mackay. It was only an hour’s drive so we had time to spare before heading to our couch surfing spot outside of town.
Mackay is a very industrial, boring town and there wasn’t much to do. We decided to head to the cinema and watch the newest James Bond. It was so nice to have a small break from travelling and do something ‘normal’ like you would do at home. It was a nothing day but it was also an everything day, if that makes sense.
After James, we made our way to our couch surfing house for that night. Our host was called Leanne and she had a lovely little home, full of paintings, Buddhas, plants, hippy blankets and two cats. Totally my kind of place. I cooked us all dinner and we stayed up chatting to her and her lovely daughter Maddy and watched Friends with cups of tea. Time spent there was wonderful and just the recharge we needed after a busy week. I am looking forward to the time when I can repay the favour by having guests in my own home, wherever that may be.
Day 10: We headed off to a place called Yeppoon on the coast for a spot of lunch. I was hoping it would be a quirky little beach town but it was pretty boring too. We were going to stay, and may have done if it had more going for it, but we decided to head on to Rockhampton which was down the coast and inland a bit. We checked into the YHA there, which was a funny place – some reception shack in the middle of a dirt path and then a block of buildings in the bushes which were the rooms. It was fine though, and actually quite cute the longer I was there. I chilled out with a cup of tea and watched the colours in the sky change beautifully as the sun went down. It really is the little things! After dark, we went to a local rodeo show which was a pretty weird experience. Got a beer and sat down to watch guys get chucked off raging bulls for fun. It was very well attended and full of locals. We may have been the only English there.
Day 11: Arrived in Agnes Water! Lovely little town – so quirky and different and actually had some character! We stayed in a lovely hostel named Southern Cross Backpackers where we got our own room which we were very pleased about. The hostel was very hippy and bohemian and had a very South American feel to it. There were dogs wandering around and the receptionist staff were so friendly and helpful – always a pleasure!
It was pretty roasting whilst we were there and there was no air con so that wasn’t all that pleasant but it cooled right down when it got dark so that we could actually sleep. Whilst we were in Agnes we went surfing at a local surf school. There was probably 40 of us in the class so we didn’t get much hands on teaching but it was fun to just practice in the waves by ourselves. I got badly sunburnt AND I stubbed my toe so hard it took a month to heal (actually it still hurts even now!) haha but I loved it and even half stood up on one of the waves. Result!
For lunch that day we went to an adorable cafe that served quiches and salads and teas and cake. We sat around and read books, whiling away a few hours which was just lovely.
Day 13: Stayed another night in Agnes Water and then touched down in Hervey Bay in the afternoon where it was raining. We had a funny lunch at an Irish Bar – Sarah was in her element. We checked into another YHA and got excited for our trip tomorrow morning. I had arranged for us to see Fraser Island with a company called ‘Cool Dingos’ who would take care of everything from picking us up, to food, accommodation, travel, site-seeing and dropping us back. It was nice not to think for a while, and just enjoy what someone else was paid to organise.
The tour was good and made all the better by our fantastic tour guide, Dingo Dave. He was a proper Aussie lad with a massive beard and an even greater sense of humour. I don’t think he stopped talking for the entire two days we were with him but that was okay because I liked the sound of his voice and he gave us loads of interesting information on the nature and history of the amazing sand island.
The days were jam packed and included hiking through the rainforest, watching the sunset (👌), driving along 70 mile beach, seeing Indian Heads, swimming in Champagne Pools, diving into Lake Mackenzie, floating in Eli Creek and of course bouncing around in the sand constantly in the gigantic pink tour bus we were rocking.
I would recommend the tour but I would have also liked to have had a go at driving a 4×4 myself around the island and also camping on the beach to gain a more authentic experience, At times it was hard to see past everyone on the bus and it was very cramped. The view whilst driving on 70 mile beach looked sensational but I was viewing it from the back of the bus which was not ideal.
Day 15: NOOSA BABY!! Loved it here, so glam and sophisticated and expensive! We stayed at Flashpackers which was recommended by Holly, a friend we met in Mission. We spent time strolling along the sweet lanes full of expensive designer clothes shops and snazzy burger joints, took a drive to the well known Eumundi markets, where I purchased a collection of rings, necklaces and had a wonderful market stall lunch.
We also took the time to head to Noosa’s national park and do the coastal walk, where we found the Fairy Pools that Indi had insisted we see. It is an azure ocean rock pool that is about 3 metres deep and has coral and fish in it. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen!
I would have liked to have visited the Everglades whilst we were in Noosa but there just wasn’t enough time. My visions of gliding along the riverbanks will have to wait until next time.
Day 17: Back in Brissy! From the moment we arrived, there was something in the air that said our night out was going to be a good one, or at least one to remember! And it certainly was! We met up with our old pals who were STILL in the hostel after 4 months since we were last there and of course went to good ol D’under Bar in the City. Safe to say that it was a pretty funny night.
Day 18 – 18th December: HANGING. Last day of our East Coast trip and we spent it completely hungover at an airport. It was a funny day though and nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for heading to Melbourne – we had heard so many good things about this city and I was so looking forward to seeing what it had to offer. I also had seeing Jonny and Dad to look forward to which I was absolutely thrilled about.
So after seeing a lot of the East Coast I feel I can collate this list:
Must see East Coast spots according to me: (between Cairns and Sydney) ⇒ Cairns ⇒ Mission Beach ⇒ Airlie Beach – Whitsundays ⇒ Agnes Water ⇒ Hervey Bay – Fraser Island ⇒ Noosa + Everglades + Glasshouse ⇒ Mountains ⇒ Brisbane ⇒ Byron Bay ⇒ Yamba ⇒ Sydney.
Everything else you would do well to miss out, unless you reaaally want to see how the other half live. But you really aren’t missing much, and it’s a very boring drive between all the boring brown towns.