Saturday 12 May: Finch Hatton Gorge reveals its Wheels of Fire

Author: Mrs A

Location: Finch Hatton Gorge

An early morning cycle was in order, so we jumped on our bikes for an explore. It was another blue-sky day as we pedalled out of the showground. The air was fresh and cool (for Queensland) – around 16 degrees centigrade as we set off, but soon warming up.

We are in sugar cane growing country, and the valley is full of small farms, gentle rolling hills and river crossings. All around us, the peaks of Eungella National Park make for a spectacular backdrop, taking our breath away with every corner turned.

It was just a short 9km ride, concluding with a wade across the knee deep and quickly flowing Cattle Creek behind the showground, returning us to Finch Hatton for breakfast.

Once again, Miss Tassie felt adventurous and set off with me in tow for a walk around the farm equipment and empty bull cages – so many enticing smells and interesting nooks and crannies for her to explore.After she’d had her exercise and adventure, it was our turn again, jumping into the car for a short 20 minute drive up into Finch Hatton Gorge itself.

We set off through the rainforest on our hike up to the Wheels of Fire waterfall, named after the spectacular blooms of the trees surrounding the falls, not the falls themselves. It was an uphill hike, and so we were quite warm by the time we arrived (though Mr A’s feet were cool after having slipped into the creek rather than balance over the stepping stones!). We decided to jump in for a swim – whew! It was icy cold – you certainly knew you were alive!We hiked back down and finished off with a diversion to Araluen Falls, recognising them from a hike on our honeymoon. Still warming up after our initial swim we decided not to jump into these.We drove back via a local organic cafe for a late lunch – delicious food, if very slow service…we were ready to eat our own arms off by the time it arrived – just over 5km under our belts, but 25 floors of climbing!We drove back the scenic route, returning to camp for a relaxing afternoon, fresh tagliatelle with bolognaise and a couple of glasses of Shiraz. A fine end to a great day.

Sunday 29 & Monday 30 April: Embracing the Woodgate serenity

Author: Mrs A

Location: Woodgate Beach, Queensland

Sunday – Distance walked: 7.5km

We are joined only by one other caravan here at the Woodgate Beach Hotel, making for a very serene campsite. The whole village is extremely quiet, especially now the weekenders have disappeared back to work.

Despite the beautiful blue sky days reaching into the mid 20s, the strong southerly wind has continued the blow, putting us off swimming and preventing exploration by Packraft. So Sunday morning saw us head off on foot to explore the beach, heading north from where we are staying.The tide goes out a long way, leaving mirror-like reflections across the sand, and a surreal feeling you are walking amongst the clouds. We walked barefoot, splashing through the warm waters at the edge. For the most part, there was not another person on the beach.There were many little blue swimmer crabs, most of which ran in their dozens for cover when they spotted us coming, burying themselves in the soft sand. And birds, huge flocks of cormorants, terns and gulls, resting on the sandbanks. In the distance we could see four whistling kites, two of which were constantly fighting and swooping – probably juveniles, jostling for top spot.We reached the mouth of Theodolite Creek, wishing we had our Packrafts to allow us to cross, but instead enjoyed the peaceful ambience a while, before ambling back to camp, into a headwind this time, a little harder going.

We had a relaxed afternoon, I did a little painting while Mr A read, before having a final explore on our bikes as the sun set.Mr A got talking to a local resident, an elderly man who had purchased his dream retirement home on an estate here. Our exploration of Woodgate had revealed there are no shops – just the pub where we are staying and a cafe and takeaway near the caravan park.

The nearest grocery shops are 45km south of here. There are also no hospitals or doctors nearby, no police or services – a very pretty yet isolated place to retire, particularly given this resident’s wife has since taken ill and is now receiving care elsewhere. I think he is now regretting his decision to stay. It’s a beautiful place to visit but we wouldn’t want to live here.

Monday – Distance paddled: 3km!

Another beautiful day dawned so we decided to head up to Theodolite Creek to see whether it was sheltered enough to do a little paddle in the Packrafts. We could see a couple of people fishing from kayaks, so decided to give it a try.We paddled upstream, feeling like we were on a treadmill, constantly battling the outgoing tide. Once we had reached a particularly shallow area full of stingrays speeding along just under the water’s surface, we decided to just roll with it, and put our feet up and let the current take us back. There’s not much more relaxing than that – an extremely meditative experience of just watching shapes in the clouds, drifting with the stream.

After all that exertion (ha ha) we returned to camp to commence packing up. We head off tomorrow, briefly to Bundaberg to complete some tasks, then start our move inland. This will be our last glimpse of the ocean for a couple of weeks.

Friday 27 & Saturday 28 April: Goodbye Hervey Bay and hello Woodgate Beach

Author: Mr A

Friday

Our last day in Hervey Bay, we decided we should at least take a look around the surrounding area as we hadn’t left the town. We drove up the coast to the picturesque (well relatively so by Australian standards) fishing settlement of Burrum Heads. Mainly holiday rentals and a caravan park, the river was pretty broad and would have been fun to explore if we had our big kayak with us. The brisk southerly that had blown up meant getting the packrafts out would have been a struggle.

Saturday

It was time pack up and head up the coast, actually as the crow flies just the other side of the river, but we had to do a big circuit inland to get there as there was no bridge across. Oh to have an amphibious rig. I did Google “amphibious motorhome” the other day and its quite amazing what’s out there already. If you have the money of course.

But back in the real world, by lunch time we were pulling up at the Woodgate Hotel. We had heard good things about the spot from a fellow Zoner so thought we would give it a try. The small campground behind the pub was really well laid out. Power and water all nice and convenient, and a brand new shower and toilet block. We decided to put up the fly screen tent, not that the flies were about, just to give us some extra space and a bit of a novelty.After a lovely salad for lunch, it was time for a read for me, quickly followed by a nap, I’d had another 5am wake up this morning.

Our usual bike explore was called for, along the path by the beach. A beach that actually scored in the top 10 “best Australia beaches”. It did look pretty lovely, even with the fresh southerly still blowing up the normally calm waters of the bay into white caps.There are some pretty swanky houses here, a mix of holiday rentals and retirees we would guess by the demographic of the residents we saw.Just over 10km. under our belts, Ms Tasmania decided to take a pre-dinner stroll – returning at full gallop to the “safe Zone” once the magpies and minor birds had spotted her and let their feelings known shouting “Cat! Cat! Cat!” (or so it sounds like to us!).For dinner we decided to test out the pub’s very predictable menu. We shared a plate of oysters. I asked where they were from which threw the kitchen into a hubub – apparently no one has asked that before. For main Mrs A had a nicely done Red Emperor with chips and salad, and I had the locally caught Barra. Very nice…even though the pub has all the atmosphere of a bus shelter. Nothing unusual about that of course – situation normal in Australia.

Thursday 26 April: Ticking off tasks & a night out

Author: Mrs A

Location: Hervey Bay, Queensland

Dave from Battery World was over bright and early to fit our new AGM batteries in the caravan, and to confirm how many amps the new folding solar panel was pumping in. We’ve bought the solar panel discounted as a demonstration model, so it had a little wear and tear which he promised to fix up.

Other tasks were ticked off during the morning, new gas for the BBQ, some storage boxes, a new iPad charger, other bits and pieces. Mr A had a brief doctor’s visit and collected a parcel we had delivered to a post office in town.

The parcel was a replacement air pump for our Packrafts. Our original rechargeable pump had malfunctioned within warranty, and we had exchanged it while we were in Brisbane. Unfortunately Mr A didn’t notice until we went to use it (hours from Brisbane) that they’d provided the wrong one. Thankfully the guys at Anaconda had been very helpful, and sent out a new rechargeable pump to Hervey Bay for us, and will allow us to drop the incorrect one at the next store we stumble across, probably in Rockhampton.

We did a short 15km cycle along the mobility corridor – a paved pathway linking all the suburbs of Hervey Bay, all off road, some alongside main roads, but much running alongside parklands behind housing. We saw evidence of Hervey Bay’s ageing population with numerous elderly men whizzing their way along via mobility scooters. Most of them were also smoking as they went – I wondered whether this was a contributing cause of their predicament. At least they’re not trapped at home I suppose.

After showers, we dug out our fancy clothes from under the bed and strolled down to Coast, one of Hervey Bay’s top restaurants. It had been highly recommended by my hairdresser on Monday, as well as being #1 on TripAdvisor.We chose an interesting wine from the Eden Valley, absolutely delicious, and recommended by our sommelier who clearly knew her stuff. The Alejandro Saperavi was initially fruity on the palate but had a lovely dry finish, complimenting our menu choices perfectly.Our food commmenced with bite sized steamed buns containing fried chicken, sriracha mayonnaise and pickles, followed by a shared dish of fresh locally caught snapper with beetroot, apple, raddish, smoked almonds and pork scratching. Finally we shared a small portion of sticky beef short ribs with coconut and ginger caramel. All this came with two sides – triple cooked fat cut chips with a rosemary aoli and pan fried broccoli topped with chilli, garlic and anchovy oil. All dairy-free! Delicious, every bite.

Mr A concluded this feast with pumpkin cheesecake, honey spiced milk gelato and candied walnuts while I enjoyed a palate cleansing scoop of blood orange sorbet.

We stumbled home, had a great chat and giggle with some friends in Sydney over FaceTime (we have pretty good wifi in this park!) before falling into a blissful food coma for the night!

Wednesday 25 April: Anzac Day in the Bay

Author: Mr A

Location: Hervey Bay

Last night I had gone to bed thinking “I really should get up and go to the dawn service, that means a 4.50 wake up”, but drifted off without setting the alarm. At 4.50am precisely I woke up – I took it as a sign to get my bum out of bed and on the bike. Mrs A stirred and decided to come as well – excellent.

It was a dark ride down to to the park where the service would take place and we were running late, so again fate intervened and we arrived just as the first strains of the Last Post cut across the waking calls of the noisy rainbow lorikeets waking up for another day. I am ashamed to admit this is our first dawn service. Something has always got in the way, but not this time. I’m glad we went.It was a little window into life in Hervey Bay. It’s an economy based on whale watching tourism, although the biggest employment sector is healthcare. Perhaps this is reflective of what seems to be an older demographic. The town is experiencing a significant population boom, and is one of the top 10 fastest growing areas in Australia. Let’s hope there are jobs for those who want them.The rest of the day was spent pottering along the bay on our bikes, and a little siesta went down a treat. We are really enjoying the quiet pace of life in this friendly little town.

Tuesday 24 April – An expensive day in Hervey Bay

Author: Mrs A

Location: Hervey Bay, Fraser Coast, Queensland

Distance cycled: 22.25km

It was a perfect washing day, so that’s how our morning commenced, ticking off blankets, towels and sheets which needed their weekly freshen up. Mr A dropped off the car at Battery World so they could do an in depth investigation into why it was not charging the caravan properly. A staff member dropped him back at the caravan park and we prepared for a bike ride exploration of Hervey Bay.

An off-road cycleway follows the coast for several kilometres, commencing at Urandangi Pier to the south and leading to Point Vernon in the north. We’re staying in a suburb called Torquay (now where have I heard that name before?!) so we started there and headed north. It’s the first time in a long while (since South Australia) that we have seen flat water along the coast, the islands and reefs offshore calming the waves. The beaches are pristine and empty – it’s like a little paradise, a long way from the Hervey Bay I remember. I first visited this town 19 years ago as a backpacker – it has changed substantially since then, becoming more of a destination in its own right than just a hopping off point for Fraser Island.The pathway winds its way along the coast through picturesque scenery, through parklands and bush, along cliff tops and past mangroves. We had a small diversion to a bike shop on our way so Mr A could check out a strange clicking sound on his bike. The bearings had worn down and needed replacing. He later found someone to do the job on the spot for $55, for a 45 minute job. Certainly not Sydney prices!The expensive part of the day came later in the afternoon – our faulty plug and under-spec wiring in the car was replaced, we had to purchase three new batteries for the caravan (replacing the ones which had been damaged and no longer held a full charge), and a 160 watt portable solar panel…more than $2k in total spent – gulp! At least we are back on track again for getting off the grid without sleepless nights worrying whether our fridge will still be running in the morning.

Miss Tassie had a good explore of the caravan park this afternoon, her favourite locations tending to be my least – ie the dusty, dirty areas behind and under cabins, apparently all smelling intriguingly of mice and lizards. A sunny supervisory spot on a cushion was her preferred place of rest, as Mr A and I ran around servicing her needs and cleaning her palace. Oh what a life it would be to reincarnate as our blue Burmese Princess!

Wednesday 18 April: The conquest of Mount Tinbeerwah

Author: Mrs A

Location: Cooroibah, Sunshine Coast, Queensland

Despite a forecast of showers, we decided to head out on the bikes today and explore some of the local area on two wheels. Cooroibah is literally surrounded by the Noosa hinterland’s forests, reserves and National Parks, with many well maintained mountain bike trails, ranging from easy, through intermediate and up to black – the most challenging.

The rain held off for the first half an hour, but then came on in showers, mostly torrential, cooling us down on a still 27 degree centigrade day.We rode down Gyndier Drive, a locked gate road winding up through the forest. The route is used as part of the Noosa triathlon and twice a year the site for road and race cars which enter the Noosa Hill Climb, with 14 corners to race through – just us there today though, on our private road.

As we came out of the end of the drive we could see that ahead was Mount Tinbeerwah which had a lookout I was keen to climb up to. Mount Tinbeerwah had always been in our sights the past few days down in Noosa, looming to the west like a giant pyramid. We cycled along the access road, catching a glimpse of the lookout appearing very high and far away.

My first thought was ‘I can’t get up there!’…and then my stubbornness kicked in and I was determined to make it. Everything seemed to be against us, as the rain fell down as hail, and then in ridiculously heavy torrents. The road was mostly unpaved and the orange mud ran down in rivers, making the surface sticky and slippery as well as it already being extremely steep. We kept on going. Finally, we reached the carpark with some relief, and the rain stopped!We left the bikes leaning in the car park, hoping nobody would steal them, and hiked up the final kilometre to the summit, with fabulous views over Noosa Heads and the next rain shower heading our way.We enjoyed the view, then retraced our steps (wheels?) a short way before heading through the forest along an ‘easy’ route.I’m certain it is easy when dry, but the wet conditions had us slipping and sliding sideways down the tracks, thankfully staying upright. It was a short way from the end of this track back to our caravan, with just over 20km under our belts. Boiled eggs & Marmite soldiers burned off I think!

After a bite of lunch and hot showers, we headed off into Noosa so Mr A could successfully buy some swimming goggles, and then to the Noosa Yacht and Rowing Club to catch up with some more friends who live in the area.

Brian and Caroline used to live near to us in Sydney, before making the move to the Noosa hinterland back in 2009. Almost a decade later, they’ve brought up two gorgeous children and are very happy in the area. It was so nice to see them and hear how things are going.We headed back to camp for a relaxed evening. We move on from here tomorrow…

Sunday 15 April – Captain Sandbank to the rescue

Author: Mr A

Location: Noosaville, Queensland

Sunday is market day in Noosa, so off we set on the bikes, a great level ride on cycle paths for 10 minutes and we were in the middle of one of the best best farmer’s market we have been to in Australia, outside of Sydney and the Margaret River. Every stall had such gorgeous looking fruit and veg, local artisan breads, meats, olives, cheeses and everything else that was yummy!It was sensory overload, and bike panniers were filled at a rate of knots. We tore ourselves away and cycled back, to find Ray and Wendy cooking up a storm of a breaky with their friends Sue and Chris who were house sitting in the apartment downstairs. The nitrate free bacon was definitely the tastiest I can ever remember.Catherine and I then jumped on the bikes again to explore around town, finding ourselves on a network of shared paths and ending up at the stunning main beach at the river mouth.We headed back through a packed out Hastings Street. Sunday would be a day to avoid coming down here, especially with a car, but we cruised past the traffic jams on our bikes of course.

No sooner had we arrived back than we were heading off again out on the boat, this time with a full load of folk, and a dog!Ray negotiated the sandbanks today very carefully, and pulled us up on the other side of the river mouth where the water was rapidly draining out, making for some fun fast floats with the current. We watched kite surfers racing across the water in the stiffening breeze, what amazing skill – it looked exhilarating.Sea eagles again soared overhead. What a place.

On the way back, a boat stopped in the channel called out to let us know they had engine trouble, so Captain Ray came to the rescue and we towed them back to the boat ramp.

Yet another fabulous dinner ended the day, with 8 of us demolishing plates of nachos covered in fresh veggies, a broccoli salad that was so tasty, roast potatoes and some really lean, tender lamb, all from the local market that morning. Wine flowed, laughter followed. What a night!

10-11April: Bye bye Bli Bli – Hello Zone RV!

Author: Mr A

Location: Sunshine Coast, Queensland

Tuesday

Try saying “Bye bye Bli Bli”…right…tricky. Well before we had to say it we headed off for a ride along the Maroochy river, and ended up in Mooloolaba – all one cycleway. The Sunshine Coast really seems to be getting behind providing cycling infrastructure. Great to see. A nice spot of lunch and back we headed to our caravan park.

And what an end to the day, Mrs A produced for dinner the most amazing Thai basil chilli stir-fry. It was just so delicious. She knows just how much heat we like, all the ingredients are made up from scratch, and there’s been many a Thai restaurant I’ve been to over the years that have turned out a lot less tastier food. Mmmm

Wednesday

It was a 7am getaway for a day we had been planning for months – our Zone was getting some warranty work and mods done at the factory in Coolum. We were warmly received by the team – we had met some faces before, but others had just been a helpful voice on the phone, so great to meet them in person.

The company has been growing fast and trying to keep pace with customer demand, hiring new staff and training them up. A quality problem to have! What an Australian success story, winning “Best Off Road Caravan” award in the first full year of producing that model. Now they have launched a “semi off-road” series that is also winning accolades.

The service team cracked through the work while we toured a few local lookouts and eventually parked up down a quiet road and tried to keep our adventurous cat amused.

Late afternoon and we were back at Zone with all the jobs having been ticked off.It was almost dark though as we headed off to find our camp for the night on a property north of Noosa. We pulled into the farmyard and there’s another Zone! Fellow Sydneysiders as well from the northern beaches enjoying their “gap year” travelling around Australia. We are looking forward to hearing their stories in the morning!

Saturday 7 April: Biking around Landsborough

Author: Mr A

Location: Landsborough, Sunshine Coast Hinterland Distance cycled: 17km

Rain again last night was pattering on the roof, but checking the weather forecast this morning it looked good for a bike ride. I cooked us a sausage, egg and bacon heart starter, loaded the bikes on the car and we were off.

We drove down into Landsborough and parked just outside of town on the edge of the Dularcha National Park, then headed off into the eucalypt forest. It was a great trail, with a 100 metre old rail tunnel to ride through, then a big push up a hill to find a quagmire of a trail churned up by horses.We retreated and headed back and headed off through town on the bikes to the next ride. This thankfully was a lot drier and we had a great ride round part of the reservoir.The bikes have been so well used on this trip already, I couldn’t imagine doing a trip without them. We love walking, but cycling the bush is just a very different experience. You can cover so much more distance, and there’s the thrill of the ride when its a bit bumpy :). The downside is that we don’t see as much wildlife, especially when I am in front, the big old Surly crashing through. When we are walking I’m not allowed in front as I block the view! We did see a large lace monitor today though – can you spot it up the paperbark gum? Not the best disguise…!

Back at the car and bikes reloaded, we headed back to camp on a different road. Little did we know what an amazing road it would be. Single track in places, very steep, but with these incredible views.This hinterland is really stunning. I can see the attraction in living up here, a little cooler in the evening, plenty of big blocks.

Back at camp it was bike and rider clean up time, then a lovely glass of an old Woodcutters Shiraz (2008) with a Goan chicken curry courtesy of the Anderson Fine Dining Zone (that would be Mrs A).