Tuomas: Road tripping to Noosa Heads and heading back south
Alstonville, New South Wales
Towards Noosa Heads
After having spent two nights in the lovely town of Maleny trying to rid our station wagon of unnecessary bugs we were ready to move on again. We headed north towards Montville and continued northeast on small tourist routes which were very scenic. We had a fairly late start and didn't reach Noosa Heads until after two p.m. After a quick stop at the town's tourist information center we drove to the entrance of the Noosa national park where we visited another tourist information to pick up a map and hear the latest koala sightings. They advised us to take the route number 2 through the forest until it reaches route 4 on the coast and come back that way. The whole way was about 6.7 km long and should take two hours, which was perfect for us since we wanted to reach the local campsite before dusk. The first tourist information had provided us with a map of the city and a table of different campsites close by.
The national park was great, we got to see a lot of different scenery from rain forest to the rugged cliffs of the coast. We failed to see any wildlife though, even though we had an idea of the general area where there had been a koala sighting that day. But seriously, we were looking for an animal about the size of a human baby sitting still in a tree. There were a lot of trees… And we still haven't quite figured out which are the eucalyptus ones.
The walk was nice and we would definitely recommend it for others visiting Noosa Heads. We didn't have much time to spend there but the town seemed like a place where you could stay a while, there was a nice beach and apparently good surfing too. We headed out to the campsite we had planned for the night but as we got there the place turned out to be closed because of a large scout gathering. The caretaker advised us towards a different site out of town and we started in that direction deeply aware of the fact that it was getting dark. Our rental place didn't look kindly on accidents happening in the dark, especially hitting wild animals. We took off anyway, in the general direction of Cooroy, but never found the campsite. At Cooroy we stopped to look at the map and found a nearby town to have a showgrounds campsite just like in Maleny so we continued there. It seemed like a long drive through the utter darkness of just before six p.m. but luckily didn't last that long and we made it without hitting anything. Once in Pomona we had to stop by a petrol station to ask for directions before finding our way to our destination.
The Pomona showgrounds was of course closed by then but there was a nice Australian-New Zealander couple who told us to just park anywhere and to pay our $20 in the morning. In the end it said pretty much so on the notes on the bathroom walls, but not on the window of the office. We picked a spot under a street light and once again took out everything we had in the car to spray it for bugs. It took us a lot less time than on the previous night since we skipped going through everything and just set our things in the communal kitchen that no-one was using.
We'd had nothing but a couple of pieces of toast to eat since breakfast so by the time we were getting ready to cook some dinner we found ourselves to be desperately hungry. We used the communal grill in the kitchen, or rather the gas stove part of it to make an adequate meal of pasta with corned beef and tomato sauce. It seemed to take ages. Luckily the same couple who helped us before had ordered pizza and found themselves unable to down it all and donated us about one half of a frutti di mare pizza! I'm not much of a fan of clams but by then it didn't matter anymore and it tasted great. We finished the Italian meal with our own version of pasta Bolognese and the wine we'd bought earlier. The four liter bag seemed a whole lot lighter than it had a couple days before…
Tasting some more wine
We slept in the tent once more, still afraid of going in to the station wagon with the bugs. The night was warmer and dryer than the two previous ones but it rained a little in the morning, forcing us to take out our rain gear for the first time on this trip. It was about time, I guess. We talked about our options for the day with the same couple who'd helped and fed us earlier and decided to head towards Kenilworth through the scenic small roads. It wasn't as pretty as the day before but that might have been partly because of the weather which remained somewhat bleak. As advised by the elderly couple, we stopped at Kenilworth by the local cheese factory and had a free tasting of their products. They had all kinds of different cheeses there, as well as some yoghurts and mousses, all of them good. Sadly we had no way to store them so we didn't buy anything. From Kenilworth we continued south back towards Maleny and stopped to do a "Fig tree walk" at a nature reserve park. Not surprisingly, there was a large fig tree there. More interestingly there were also big trees with heart shaped leaves that could cause severe pain if they came in contact with the skin. Even dead leaves were painful to touch. We managed the short nature walk without getting a deeper understanding of the pain ourselves though, as I assume anyone can by wearing shoes instead of sandals.
Returning to Maleny was nice since we already knew where everything was. We stopped by at Woolworth's to pick up some more insecticide and to get something to make into our lunch. That we had in the park next to the library, shamelessly taking advantage of their free wifi for one last time. After a good meal of make-do-Tex-Mex which consisted of Lebanese bread, salad and the remains of last night's pasta sauce, we got back in the car and headed southeast. We stopped at Maleny Mountain Vines vineyard to have a wine tasting. For $5 each we could sample five different wines of their selection. We shared our glasses too so in the end we had tried almost all of their wines. I was driving and figured I could manage just fine with the alcohol which added up to about one normal serving, or possibly even less since I let Sini sip a little more than me.
We had visited the Australia Zoo on our way north from Brisbane but hadn't had time to go to the animal hospital which is located behind the parking lot of the zoo. We stopped there on our way back south and paid the additional $2 per person for a "sneak peek" in the premises. In the end it was a little of a letdown since we couldn't actually enter the hospital and only got to visit one room where we could look through a glass wall to the emergency room they have there. The triage board was empty and so were the beds, neither was there surgery being done behind the other glass. On the walls they told us that they had 80 koalas getting medical attention after encounters with mostly dogs and cars, but there were none to be seen. We did get a glimpse of a baby opossum being fed, but that was it. It might have been worth the two extra dollars, but perhaps not stopping for a second time.
It was slowly getting dark once more and no surprise, since we'd been driving on small roads, tasting cheese and wine, walking in a national forest and watching an opossum sucking honey through a hose, all in one day. We had planned to go back to the same campground we'd been on earlier just south of Brisbane but realized it was getting too late for that. Instead we made our way to Caboolture Showgrounds because so far the communal showgrounds had been cheap and fully adequate. So it was with this one as well, for $15 we got a non-power site and good toilet facilities. They seemed to have some strict rules there though, one of them emphasized in capital letters in numeral places: no tents allowed. We had planned to sleep at least one more night in the tent to make sure all the bugs were gone from the car but decided otherwise. We did spray the station wagon once more with a different insecticide but after that had mostly vanished we lowered the back seats and got settled in. No bugs disturbed us that night, except in our dreams… One thing I can say for the station wagon, it keeps the moisture out a lot better than the tent. Also, it reduced the noise from the nearby train track so that we had no need for earplugs.
The Gold Coast
The showgrounds office at Caboolture had closed already at 3 p.m. on the day we arrived and stayed closed the next day, which was a Saturday. They had envelopes for cash payments and a hole to put them through but we had no money and had to go get some before continuing our trip. Neither of us had slept very well and this additional detour didn't improve our moods much. Grumpy and quarrelling we took the M1 south past Brisbane and filled our tank for the first time. Either it was not full when we got the car or then we had used 11 liters per 100 kilometers. They had promised us low fuel consumption… We had been driving 500 kilometers mostly on small roads and hilly areas though, so I guess it was OK.
We stopped again at the Ikea in Logan, to wait for half an hour to return a 99 cent dish brush. We did use the time for planning our route over the free wifi. We also ate some more meatballs and bought three more blue Ikea bags to organize our things a little better in the car. Then it was time for the road again. We continued on M1 for a while until we turned east to the Gold Coast Highway, to see the famed coast. In the end it wasn't really a highway, rather just a 50 kilometer stretch of busy street. We stayed on it all the way until route 20 which we took back to the motorway. The rest of the day went by pretty fast, staying on M1 we did good time and made it to New South Wales by about three p.m. Once in the other state we thought we'd try out free camping for once and turned to road number 40 for Stotts Island Nature Reserve. We found it easily enough, but weren't quite sure if we liked it or not. First of all, the nature walk we'd read about was closed. Secondly, there were no showers (which we knew already) and the toilets smelled pretty bad (which we had guessed they would). And then there were the mosquitoes. A LOT of mosquitoes. We ended up staying anyway, since it was free.
We're that cheap…
Back to the small roads
The night in the free campsite was very hot since the mosquitoes didn't let us keep the doors open in the evening. We cooked our usual porridge but skipped the tea in the morning to get rid of them as fast as we could. After returning on the road we drove a little back north to reach the tourist drive towards Kingscliff. The road was marked somewhat loosely and we found ourselves wondering if we were still on it a few times. Going straight when nothing else was indicated seemed to be the right way to go at it. We passed some wonderful looking campsites facing the ocean, scornfully remembering the insect ridden night we had had just to save some money… Other than that the coastal tourist drive was actually mostly more towards inland areas, where we did pass some nice farming scenery. We stopped at Pottsville for a Sunday market just to get a feel of the place. It seemed like a nice town but we didn't stay for very long.
We continued south on the Tweed Coast Way until it suddenly stopped and turned into the same road number 40 we had started our day by. Our map, which here in New South Wales was so inaccurate that on it the width of my thumb measured up to about 40 kilometers, had given us no clue of this. So we continued that road instead, and the roads that followed, all the way to Byron Bay, where we stopped for a longer while. We parked next to the long stretch of beach and got out to explore. Like usually on our travels, we had no idea what there was to see. I looked Byron Bay up on the travel app Triposo, which suggested a walk to the lighthouse on Cape Byron where the easternmost point of Australia's mainland lies.
So walk we did and a good thing too, since it turned out to be a nice trip. We saw a couple of beaches along the way and climbed up the hill for great views of the bay. We also got to visit the easternmost spot, which was great considering the name of this blog (Finnish Terra is a mockery of Finisterra, the westernmost spot on mainland Europe). The path leading to the lighthouse is steep at parts but not too strenuous for the average person. A hugely fat Indian guy who was following his family up the hill did look like he was going to need some medical attention shortly though… Maybe he opted for walking because driving up would have cost $7? Once on top we walked around the lighthouse and visited the free museum inside but didn't climb to the upper deck because they had only guided tours for that and we would have had to wait 45 minutes to know if we would happen to be among the first ten people to get in or not. The walk back along a different path was nice as well, partly because we happened to see four dolphins surfing the waves and later also a wallaby (a small kangaroo) browsing in the bushes. No koalas there either, sadly…
We drove on along the small road following the coast south until Ballina, where we turned west to seek out yet another Showgounds, this time in Alstonville. Like all showgrounds, it was easy to find and cheap at $16 per night. They had the oldest groundskeeper in the world there taking care of business, it took him several minutes to walk the few meters from his trailer to the office to give us our change from $20. Only then he brought back two 20 cent coins and insisted it was right. I had to carefully explain that the correct change would be $4 and finally he agreed. We felt a little bad for him…
We picked a spot under a large maple and had a small lunch while listening to the strange sounds produced by at least two different types of parrots in the tree. After that we went to explore the town which on a weekday could have been quite charming. The only places that were open were Domino's pizza and a Coles supermarket. We almost got the $5 pizzas Domino's was advertising but found something better at Coles instead: 300 grams of kangaroo meatballs for $4! To make a meal out of them we also got some instant mashed potatoes for $1.20 and instant gravy for 99 cents. We cooked the meal on our single burner gas stove and loved it. Out of all the things we had cooked in Australia so far this was the first meal that actually tasted like real food. We even had some wine left still and enjoyed it in the candle light on our foldable table and chairs.
Things are actually pretty OK down here…