Mike: Day 8: In the morning we wake up early in the van with rush hour traffic pounding the highway next to us. The first thing that greets us is a strong smell of last nights curry still unwashed in the back of Bertha.
We decide to be on the safe side, pack up our stuff and head off without any breakfast. We make an hour or so back track to Nymboida to get an early half day canoeing on the go. We get there around 8:30 and are actually met by the caretaker. He then explains that there is some work happening on the Dam up the river so they haven't had any water to canoe on for 7 months. "Where was their sign explaining this?" I couldn't help but feel. 7 months is enough time to scribble a note on some paper or tell the local info office. So we have breakfast and head back up the same road (again). Our destination is Lennox Head which not only is a nice costal town, but houses a large lake, Lake Ainsworth. We arrive to the town mid morning, find a parking stop right next to the lake and set up for the day. The lake is surrounded by tea trees which apparently makes it great for the skin, to me though it just looked like a freezing over-sized cup of PG Tips. Alicia is keen to keep at her swimming with the Great Barrier Reef approaching rapidly. So we change into our swimming stuff (goggles an' all for Alicia) and take the dip in the lake. It was freezing. We shared the lake with some people in their own kayaks, some one standing up on his surf board and paddling around in a wet suit, ducks and some lily pads. We have a swim around in the shallows for a bit before it gets too cold and we head out to warm up. We set up the tables and chairs and make lunch, and sit there in the sun for the next few hours. We have a little look round town for a bit see an ice cream stand and decide to treat ourselves. 2 scoops is $5.50 which is expensive but not for Australia. As we go to order ours we notice you can get a tub for $12, the tube is about a litre of ice cream so we figure between two, it'd be rude not to. We head back to the lake with our litre of rocky road and set about the task of eating half a tub (saving the other half for tomorrow in our fridge/freezer. So, half an hour and an entire tub later, we are sitting there stuffed and now a little cold justifying it by saying "it wouldn't have survived till tomorrow in our fridge anyway". We hang about as late as we can because tonight we hope to stay in another rest stop we read online is overnight friendly. The stop is about an hour down the highway and we find it pretty difficult to find, we have to backtrack a couple of times and when we do finally find it, we are greeted by a big sign saying "absolutely no camping or overnight - fines apply". Another Winnebago has done the same thing as us but isn't staying, so we decide not to risk it. We head to Byron a day early and check into our first "Jucy Stop" which allows us to stay at a hostel in their campground or car park with use of their facilities for a small fee. Our stop is "The Arts Factory" for $5 each a night. We are happy for somewhere pleasant to stay and eat our jam
Sandwiches, and after finally harassing enough Jucy people, we found another Jucy van with DVDs to swap. The bad news is their selection is worse than ours, a made for Canadian TV film with Kim Catrell, a Marilyn Monroe film and an 80's thrilling about Gymnasts. They aren't interested in our films. We watch the 80's gymnast thriller that we find freezes about 2/3's of the way through then we attempted to watch an episode of "The Beverly Hillbillys", it's very old (in black and white) and is pretty bad, I'm up for watching a second episode though, Alicia is having none of it.
Day 9: We thought a Sunday would mean it would have been quiet, apparently the opposite applies. The car park was heaving. After a nice lay in, we are for the first time woken up by the heat in the van. I start the day by hassling all the other Jucy vans to see if they have any more DVDs they want to swap. Nope. We follow it up with a walk into town, and stroll over to the local i-site for info on attractions, on the way we randomly bump into the couple we saw the Sydney Fireworks with and it turns out they are staying at The Arts Factory too. Small country after all.
After walking around for a bit we go into a travel agency and talk about WhitSunday and Fraser Island trips. We manage to get the price down to $730 (from $1,000+) all-in with a 3 day camping and canoeing trip through the swamps of Noosa included. After a lot of debating we decide to go for it. We knew it'd be expensive but not that expensive! (I later check around a bit and I'm not sure we got a great deal...we'll see what the trips are like). This unfortunately took up most of the day, but at least we have that major part of our trip booked, so not a day wasted. We also have a full day planned for tomorrow.
We get some shopping in and use the hostel kitchen to cook some food.
In the evening we meet up Andy and Jackie for a drink in the hostel, we sit around and I drink my "stubbies" of Carlton beer. We are joined by another couple from England (Mark, Policeman and Becky, Physio), it was a fun evening and we head to bed around midnight.
Day 10: woken up by the heat in the car again today, but that's ok because we had a lot to do. The plan was to go for a walk up to a lighthouse which we were told is a great, but difficult 1-2 hour trek. I want to do some surfing, then snorkel with sea turtles, then we want to head back to a brewery tour.
In the morning we hear about a free Yoga lesson. We join in with that for an hour or so, just reaffirming how hilariously inflexible I am. About 12 we head out for the walk. The car doesn't start. The battery is completely dead (just like when we picked it up). Strange as all the lights, DVD player and other stuff we use on a night runs off its own separate battery. We ask the yoga instructors for a jump but it doesn't work. Not even close. I ring Jucy and wait in the hostel reception an hour or so for a reply, when none comes, I rang again, but only get a "they'll ring you back" response. More waiting ensues. We find another person to try and jump us, they seem to know what the are going. That jump doesn't work either. Just by random luck a breakdown vehicle arrives, it's not for us though, it's for some people who have lost their car keys. He kindly agrees to give us a jump from his jump pack and that, thankfully does work. We proceeded to randomly drive round town, we found ourselves at the lighthouse and we do some drive-by photography with Alicia jumping out, taking pictures and running back to the car. Parking was $7 and we couldn't stop the car.
We got back at just gone 3, still no word from Jucy, and head over to the brewery/bar/nightclub that is directly opposite the hostel (they even share the carpark we were sleeping in) for a tour and a $10 taster tray. It's nice to finally do something that we planned to. It kind of felt like a wasted day. Jucy ring about 4:30 and she explains there is nothing she can really do until her boss, who had just left for the day comes in tomorrow. Lucky we weren't stranded for real!
After sampling the free cheese and wine given out by the hostels tour agency, we cook dinner then head back to the van. We had planned to meet Andy and Jackie again tonight but we are tired and have found someone with a Scrubs boxset, so we decide to do that instead.
Day 11: We wake up late and the first order of the day a quick swim in the hostel pool, followed by a drive round town for 45 minutes to stop the battery going flat again. Later I head out to do some surfing with a Canadian guy we've met, John. He had been surfing already that day so we head to the beach he suggested. I pick up a free surfboard from the travel agent we booked the tours with which is a handy perk. When we get to the beach we are met by a women in her late 50's and her ancient father. They ask for our help collecting sea water into a bottle as she drinks it believing it to be healthy. Conversation strikes up and I explain to her that apart from a brief time in Ecuador I hadn't been surfing before. She then proceeds to tell us about all the sharks and shark attacks there have been just off of the beach that she has seen and heard about....brilliant. When we do get into the water, for some reason I'm not overly keen on going out too far. Just as well as the tide is wrong and there is no surf. Closer to the shore I manage to catch one or two waves. The last one tumbled me over some rock and I retreat from the water, bleeding and hobbling after 40 or so minutes and head back. I meet Alicia in the travel agency (using their free internet), she had been looking round town. As i regale her with how awesome I was at surfing we walk around the shops and finally see a bit of Byron.
We cook steak that night! We found an Aldi that does cheap steak, half the people in the over crowded kitchen are also cooking the same. We sit out on the balcony and watch a talent show the put on which is of a surprisingly high standard.
Day 12: We pack up and leave Byron today, not before I shop around some of the many travel agencies to get a good deal on my diving in Cairns trip, and a good deal I got. Some agencies said they wouldn't beat the quote I had and in the end another one was negotiating over $5's at a time to try an better it. I leave poorer, but happy.
We finally leave Byron about 12 and head towards Brisbane. On the way we travel inland to hippy central, Nimbin. It's residence arrived in the 60's for the
Aquarius hippy music festival and never left. It's like stepping back in time. There are people in tie-dye and peace symbols everywhere, a museum dedicated to how good Weed is, bongo drum circles in the local daycare centre and pot-dealing grannies. We stop off at the Nimbin museum and tour the organic candle factory. We leave feeling very "square" man. Another few hours drive back to the Pacific highway on the way back we work out budget and it turns out that with all the early nights, free campgrounds and minimal ingredients in our food, we are due to come in under budget! Great news.
In order to get another free night we head up to a rest stop called "Stotts Island Reserve Rest Area" and although it's just off the motorway it's pretty pleasant. There is a river next to the stop, picnic benches and a proper toilet block (although still a long drop loo). We share the area with a chap in his car, a guy who has been living there in his Winnabago for 3 months, 2 gangs of Cockerels and a few others.
Before it gets dark we cook Lomo Saltado with the last of the steak, talk to the guy in his car for a bit and call it a night.
Day 13: the rest stop is a nice place to wake up in the morning with views of the river. All goes according to plan until we go to start the car, nothing. Again! I use one of the guys phone to call Jucy they explain that they couldn't be sure what was causing the battery to keep dying and unless it needed replacing they would charge us a call out fee of $150. Although I was nearly 100% sure it wasn't something we had done, we couldn't take the risk on paying that money. The guy in the car next to us offered to drive me into town to look for some jump leads (the van didn't come with them. Previously we borrowed the hostels ancient, rusted leads). Alicia stayed in the car to continue with her toucan cross stitch (started in Ecuador and still no where near completed).
After trying a couple of shops we find some leads for $20, I chuck the guy $10 for his help and when we get back he manages to jump us. The cars starts and I begin to doubt whether or not it is the cars fault.
Finally back on the road we head for Surfers Paradise on the way to Brisbane. Just enough time to sit of the beach and look round. I try to rent a surf board, but in a place called Surfer Paradise, I couldn't find one!
We head on to Brisbane and arrive at another Jucy stop. This one is $10 a night and although the carpark is secure, it's packed, making parking a bit of a squeeze.
The day had been a bit of a pain in the ass and neither of us could be bothered to cook. So we decide to treat ourselves to some food out. We head into town with some German girls (our neighbours in the carpark) as we hear there is the Brisbane Festival going on at the time. We look out over the river and about 8:30 they start a laser light show set to music. It uses water, lights from a big barge in the middle of the river and lasers set on the surrounding skyscrapers. It's really enjoyable (and free!). After we walk along the harbour side and through the gardens. Everything is lit up with various instalments along the way (including a giant ball made out of mirrors with changing coloured lights shining on it and a huge Chinese pagoda). With all the bars and restaurants it reminded me a little of Bristol harbour front and lead me to wonder why everyone we have met told us not to bother visiting Brisbane.
Day 14: Friday today and today is the day we get Bertha fixed. We drive through Brisbane which is a bit of a pain as they have a ton of one way roads. When we do finally reach Jucy we join the queue of people collecting there vans. Whilst queuing we take this opportunity the swap our DVDs we end up with Adjustment Bureau, FHMs comedy competition (although we later we discover it has Interview with a Vampire disk in it) and Man on the Moon with Jim Carrey. I wanted Hunt for Red October as well, Alicia really didn't. Slightly better selection. After a long wait we see someone and they explain to us that Bertha can only be fixed on Monday, as we can't wait we need to swap Bertha. We need to wait until a new van is cleaned which takes a couple of hours. We wander around the nearby China Town until the car was ready. We transfer all our stuff from Bertha into the new, predominately green Jucy van (dubbed "Freddo" by Alicia because it's the same colour as the Freddo chocolate bar) and head off. Our main stop of the day was about 14km outside of Brisbane called the Lone Pine Koala Santuary. The main goal of Alicia's trip was the hug a Koala and initially we thought we would do this in Australia Zoo, but it was $60 to get in and another $40 to hug a Koala. Lone Pine was $33 entry and although you could hug a Koala for free, if you wanted a picture it'd cost you $16. But we had a voucher to get a free reprint.
When we got to Lone Pine we found it had all kinds of Aussie animals, I got to talk to a black Cockatoo though a series of squawks and head bangs, we saw a Platapus , Dingos, Tasmanian Devils, Wombats (which are massive) and hand fed some Kangaroos during a brief rain shower and of course the star of the show Koala's. It was hard to contain Alicia's excitement. We eventually held 2 Koalas. 1 was a small baby (called Khyber) and 1 was a female. They had quite wiry fur and we had to hold them with our hands together by our stomachs and the Koalas placed on top, we were told it was to simulate a tree. In the gift shop it had all the celebrities that had held Koalas there, so we joined the likes of Mariah Carrey, Marilyn Manson, Slipknot and The Pope.
In the evening we head into Brisbane centre to take in more of the festival. Bill Bailey was playing in the river fromt theatre, we tried our luck at getting cheap last minute tickets but after a bit of running around, no luck. We have a drink in a lantern lit outdoor bar where we finally find a decent cider (James Squire). We have a few drinks and before we head home we check out music in Wunder Bar. There is a funky band playing called a French Butler Called Smith. They were a really good, high energy band with brass instruments, funky bass and a drummer that uses bongos instead of Toms. We decide to stay for a bit longer and by the end of the night we are up dancing with the rest of the crowd. A great end to a good day.