The plan was to visit Wet 'n' Wild waterpark on the day we left Brisbane (John and Kath had even given us some discount vouchers) but we hadn't banked on the fact that it was still the school holidays for some states, so although all the kids in Queensland were back at school those in New South Wales were still around. Wet 'n' Wild was so busy that there wasn't any point in going in as we could see the queues for the rides were insane. So change of plan we headed back to Surfers Paradise, where we had spent a lovely week with Mum, ate our sandwiches on the beach and then booked into a motel room and jumped into their rooftop super deluxe spa in the afternoon which was moulded to be really comfortable and had jets positioned so that they massaged your back really well. It was still wet but relaxing rather than wild and although we were disappointed with not going to the theme park it wouldn't have been good fun waiting for hours in queues for 30 second rides with thousands of kids.
Next day we went for a midday brunch at one of the lovely cafes on the Esplanade that we'd been to with Mum. Fantastic breakfast with doorstop toast and then it was back to the hotel for another spa, well we had just finished work so we needed to do a bit of relaxing.
In the evening we went on a tour of Springbrook National Park which didn't turn out to be a great success as it depended on two very unpredictable entities, the weather and wildlife. First stop was Springbrook Observatory built by an astronomy enthusiast, a real labour of love, over twelve years with his own money (and donations) with just the telescope itself costing $30,000 (Australian - about £11,000). Unfortunately it was quite cloudy and it seemed that the objects that the guy wanted to show us were the ones blocked by cloud. We did get to see Alpha Centauri and when we saw it through the telescope we could distinguish that there were actually two stars there (but we can't remember what the other one was - beta or proxima). He showed us some fantastic photos that he'd taken but he seemed a bit miffed that it was cloudy and didn't really explain much about the nightsky in the Southern Hemisphere which is what we'd been hoping for. We went into his homestead and were served Yowie burgers. The Yowie is the mythical creature around here (like the Yeti) and at the next stop we were attacked by a shaggy creature that bounded out of the night - it could only be.....a big, red, curly haired, lumbering, very friendly watchdog - possibly related to a Yowie.
We walked though the darkness to a dark, damp place where a colony of glow worms live (along with funnel web spiders, the death adder and tiger snakes - all very venomous so no poking fingers into dark holes). No torches allowed because the glow worms glow to attract their prey and that works best when everything around is dark so they would have turned their lights off so as not to waste their energy. The glow worm is the larval stage of an insect and it uses the biochemical light it can produce to attract it's prey. The prey fly towards the light and get caught on sticky strands (like a spiders web) that hang down. The glow worm then goes down the strands and gobbles the prey up. Of course, they are difficult to spot during the day because they are so small but at night they turn their lights on and we could see a small colony, perhaps 50 lights. The colony of glow worms looked the same as staring up at the stars in the sky and our guide commented how amazing it was that they looked the same and yet the difference in scale was huge.
To end the tour we went on a night drive around the national park, to a lookout for a great view of bright lights of the Gold Coast and then just around the lanes to try and spot some wildlife. We were told there was a good chance of seeing snakes and kangaroos and we might even see a koala. No chance. We did see a couple of birds of prey (the tawny frogmouth which looks like a scruffy owl) and we saw some odd little wallabies called pademelons but we could only just make them out in the dark and whenever we spotted them they scampered away.
The next day we went back to the hinterland and Tamborine Mountain, beautiful scenery similar to the Glass House Mountains and views of the Gold Coast. There are endless walks to do in the area, we went on a short rainforest walk to Curtis Falls, another waterfall with only a trickle of water going over it. That night we stayed at The Bearded Dragon, a nice country lodge where, coincidently Janet and Jamie had their wedding reception. Lovely place with our first real duvet (as opposed to a quilt) since arriving in Australia - small pleasures! Great pub dinner and perhaps the best part of the evening was that I beat Richard three times at pool.
The next morning we went back to Springbrook National Park to see another waterfall, called the Natural Arch, you could walk right underneath it, where another colony of glow worms live. The sun streaming through the arch and sparkling on the waterfall was very beautiful.
The famous Byron Bay, Hippy and Surfing Mecca, but we didn't think it was all it was cracked up to be. Interesting place, yes, it has a beautiful beach and headland (the Australian mainland's most easterly point), it is vibrant with trendy shops, bars and restaurants but there are hundreds of beautiful beaches in Australia and, frankly it was well overpriced just because it's the trendy place to be. The rich trendy people rub shoulders with the hippies and the complete down and outs who arrived in Byron twenty years ago and have been living on the streets since. People spout poetry in the middle of the road, others plead with you to listen to your conscience and donate to environmental charities but not with cash, only your credit card details will do, people are dancing and playing the digeredoo and the drums on the beach and in every park in town but is it all real?
On a bracing walk around the headland this cute echidna walked across our path in the forest. Echidna's look a bit like hedgehogs but are actually marsupials like kangaroos and koalas and we were lucky to see one in the wild - it didn't look like this for long as the flash on Jo's camera went off and it rolled up into a ball of spines for a while before running off. We also saw a few dolphins and lots of surf dudes catching the really long waves around the headland.
For 'full on' hippiness, making Byron look very tame, we headed to the little inland town of Nimbin where lots of people live life in communes, living off the land and smoking copious amounts of dope quite openly in the cafes down the main street - freaky.
Three places we visited on the way to Sydney. We spent two nights in Grafton, a pretty little place which prides itself on the number of Jacaranda Trees they have which have this beautiful purple blossom, so many trees that the blossom carpets the streets when it falls. Over the next couple of days we saw a lot more lovely rainforest, and some more waterfalls as we passed through Dorrigo and Taree on our way to Sydney.
Our second visit to Sydney and yet again we headed straight for the beach. First we went to the famous Bondi which was packed with people and more rundown than we expected. I guess it was one of the first beaches to be developed. We tried to find somewhere to stay there but it was just too expensive to stay in a hotel and there didn't seem to be many apartments around. We tried a couple but they didn't have phones so no good for getting online. So we headed to Coogee Beach which is further south, much quieter and smaller. We stayed at the Coogee Beach Hotel right on the front, there was a choice of 'heritage rooms' over the pub or boutique rooms but the heritage rooms were half the price so we wouldn't even let ourselves look at the boutique rooms as we find it impossible to refuse a nice room. The heritage rooms were quite nice but because they are above the pub they can get noisy on weekends, but we were there during the week so it was ok. It was still expensive but it was a nice place to stay and the pub and beer garden was really nice and relaxed and had a cook your own steak on the bbq restaurant. After a few days of R+R it was time to start our epic road journey - we estimated it was 12,000kms from Sydney to Adelaide going via Alice Springs in the centre and along the coast of Western Australia.
....it's Murray Walker. He was signing copies of his autobiography, 'Unless I'm very much mistaken' in Sydney so we had to pop in. It was a chance to buy something special with the Australian book tokens that Ange and Steve had very cleverly managed to obtain for Richard's birthday before we left the UK. It was fun to be there for the signing with hundreds of other people, no doubt stocking up for Christmas presents. The staff at Dymocks bookshop were well attired with t-shirts which claimed, 'Murray Walker drives me wild' above a photo of the man himself and 'Unless I'm very much mistaken' below. Unfortunately Murray wasn't as obliging as his good natured manner in interviews had led us to believe, and we were quite disappointed when Richard asked Murray to dedicate the book 'To Richard' and he replied 'I'm only signing them'. Thanks mate - we could have bought a signed copy of the book for less money down the road!!
It was now time to start our road trip around Australia. The first leg took us from Sydney in New South Wales to Coober Pedy in South Australia.