Nikki's last blog saw us staying with Maggs and her dog in Rockhampton halfway up Queensland. We still had to make it all the way up to Cairns by the 27th of February for a flight back to Brisbane.
Our next stop after leaving Maggs was in Mackay, a few hours drive up the coast from Rockhampton. We stopped at a random rest stop sign posted from the main road and found a cool beach with mangrove trees – you never know what you'll find. I spent almost an hour taking photos, while Nikki got bored waiting in the car [I also ate all the crisps we'd saved as a boredom snack, whoops – Nikki].
Eventually we arrived at our next Airbnb and had a late lunch before meeting our host, Karen, and heading out to explore Mackay. We ended up driving around in circles, taking random turns around the town before ending up at the harbour and going for a walk along the breakwater [It was a LOT longer than either of us had expected! I thought it would be 20 minutes return, it was more like an hour but it was still nice – Nikki].
The next morning we headed out for more of an explore, this time on foot and we went for a walk along the beach at the end of Karen's road. A large expanse of sand, with a strong ripple pattern, stretched out a long way until it met the incoming tide. I pranced around for a while taking photos, until the tide started to creep up behind me and I decided I'd better move off the flat sand that would soon be underwater.
In the afternoon we drove to a free swimming pool called Bluewater Lagoon and didn't expect it to be all that great before we arrived. When we did get there though, we couldn't believe it was free! It was better than many pay to enter pools. It was clean and though not all the pools were open there was more than enough space for everyone. We spent a few hours relaxing in and out of the water before heading back for dinner.
After dinner an epic thunderstorm rolled in and rain lashed down while lightning struck all around, including one bolt that was so near and so bright it lit up Karen's back garden like daylight. We survived the storm and the next day we hopped back in our hire car to make our way still further North. Our last stop before Cairns was another two night stay, this time in a place called Townsville. Which has, I think, the most awesomely generic name.
Not awesome though was the stone that flew up from a lorry on our way to Townsville and put a generous chip in the windscreen. UGH. The chip was deep and it soon grew legs. Our hearts sank, wondering how much this was going to cost us.
We arrived in Townsville and pulled up outside our Airbnb, which had a nice but normal looking exterior. But when our hosts, Kym & Linda, opened the door – wow. A pair of waterfall walls greeted us in the hallway and we were shown through to our bedroom through simple but beautiful decor. We couldn't believe our luck! The house was huge and felt luxurious, and to top it of our hosts were super friendly and made us feel welcome.
We talked into the evening and they plied us with various bits of home made and local food, plus a glass or two of wine for Nikki. Plus a totally new to us fruit, called achacha. It's difficult to describe the flavour but they're delicious.
I emailed World Nomads, our travel insurance company, that evening to see if we'd be covered for glass damage, having not taken extra cover through Hertz because we checked the policy documents for World Nomads and understood them to mean they would cover any excess charges from Hertz. Their reply several days later said essentially "no, you're not covered – for anything to do with a car". WHAT?! I checked all the documents I could find again and again and found the same information about saying that we are covered while driving a hire car. I emailed back a rather terse response saying essentially "what the fuck, your own policy document says that we are covered and doesn't have any exclusions or whatever". After a bit of back and forth with the guy over several days we worked out that actually we were covered as expected but his initial reaction was to say we're not actually insured as in proper car insurance without adding that yes we were covered for excess charges. Which lead to a lot of undue stress on our part as we thought we would be on the hook for the whole excess amount of over $5000AUD if something happened, plus the fact we'd booked two more vehicles in New Zealand and America based on the fact we were covered with World Nomads. We're still in the process of sorting it out.
Anyway, back to Townsville.
Thursday the 22nd of February started, for us, with a swim in Kym and Linda's pool. It was lovely. Not so lovely was having to ring Hertz because the chip in our Hyundai Elantra's windscreen had grown overnight, the woman in the call centre assured me that someone would ring back in the afternoon to sort out a replacement. We popped out to Otto's Fresh Food Market on the recommendation of our hosts and found an unassuming building that you'd drive straight past if you didn't know what it was. Inside was a sixties era shopping mall that had been done up and filled with various local shops. Mostly variations of Otto's, with a bakery, butchers and small food shop all having the Otto's name. It was busy when we arrived in the early afternoon and it was nice to see people evidently appreciating their local businesses. We picked up a yummy pie and sausage roll and were almost finished when our Airbnb host Kym turned up and found us! He works there part time and had to swing by to sort something out, which he did after picking up a pie for himself.
Having devoured our own pie we took a look around a craft/gift/homeware shop filled with locally made items and found a few bits we plan to try to buy when we're back in the UK. We found some cool prints from and some pretty jewellery and kitchen stuff from . The weather hadn't been on our side for a few days, so we didn't feel inspired to do much else while we were in town but thought we'd head up to Castle Hill as it was an easily visible landmark.
Hertz still hadn't been in touch by the time we got back so I rang the branch in Melbourne directly as the woman from customer services said the branch we got the car from would arrange the new vehicle, which seemed weird at the time. They were confused but helpful and told me to ring the nearest branch to me, which luckily was only 5km away. So we rang that branch and they said "oh, yeah just come straight down". So we could have just gone straight there and sorted it out in the morning – typical. Eventually we drove away in a Toyota Corolla but much to our disappointment it was nowhere near as nice as our beloved Elantra.
We spent our last evening with Kym and Linda chatting outside all evening again, this time accompanied by a book of Australian birds and a short lesson about the birds in their garden. We were sorry to leave the next morning, having enjoyed both Kym and Linda's home and their company. We definitely recommend staying with them if you're in the area.
We got on the road for the last driving leg of our Australia trip with our bellies full of Kym's cooked breakfast (seriously, these guys are amazing) and drove out of Townsville toward Cairns. We stopped for ice cream at Frosty Mango, on the recommendation of Kym and Linda, even though it was only about 10am and we each got a delicious locally made ice cream, with many of the fruit flavours having their respective fruit grown on site.
As a testament to how varied Airbnb properties can be the next place we'd booked was worlds away from the one we'd just left. It wasn't horrible in any way, but instead of being a nice room in someone's house it was a collection of four rooms underneath their house and it felt like a mini hostel. We stayed in Cairns for four days, which felt like three days too many. There isn't really much to do within the town itself, you either head out on a boat trip over the reef or out of town into the mountains to the north. The one thing we did do while we were in Cairns was a day trip to the reef, which Nikki has written about in a separate post. Other than that all we did was cook & eat dinner, read our Kindles, watch Netflix and do laundry.
The last leg of our journey in Australia was a flight back down to Brisbane and a short stay there before flying over to New Zealand. Our luck ran out while checking in to our flight and my (normally way overweight) hand luggage got weighed but thankfully we'd heeded the warnings about Jetstar being particularly hot on weighing hand luggage so we paid for a checked bag! Phew. A fire alarm with an unknown source caused some worry while we waited for out flight to depart, as did the storm that delayed boarding.
We arrived in Brisbane safely though and got an Uber to our Airbnb. I've been in an Uber vehicle booked by someone else before but never used it myself – it's really weird just summoning a car from an app on your phone and then getting out without paying.
Our new hosts, Robert and Alec, were nice and we chatted about their upcoming trip to England while eating and gazing out at the view of Brisbane from their apartment window. Thanks to a misunderstanding about how many days February has we had only one day to explore Brisbane (we arrived on the 27th and flew back out on the 1st of March). So we used the next day to visit numerous museums and pick up some more shampoo from Lush and generally wandering around town.
Our road trip along the East Coast of Australia took us over 3000km up, past amazing beaches, chill surf towns, busy cities, lots of wildlife and some pretty wild weather. Before visiting Australia I always thought it was hot everywhere all the time and so the rain in Melbourne in our first week caught me by surprise. As did the torrential rain in Mackay. For the most part it was roasting though.
We both always try to pay attention to things that are around us, but we were amazed at just how much wildlife we saw on our journey up. We saw kangaroos, koalas, emus, butterflies, countless birds and many other creatures. We didn't even see snakes, crocodiles or, to any real extent, spiders. We're both keen to see what else we can see on the rest of our trip as well at home.