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Mark and I do like a good road trip. The driving bit itself is a lot of fun. You see something interesting, you stop and have a look. Although actually you don’t do that as much as you would think when you’re trying to do a lot of miles, but it’s fun. The radio stations go in and out of signal and you’re left with whatever you get. When we’ve road tripped in the USA before, all we found when we got far away from the cities was that you could only get Country & Western music. Well that is just mighty fine for a road trip let me tell you! Oddly, I wasn’t expecting to find the same here – for some reason one of the channels we seemed to get everywhere was a religious country and western channel. Not so great, being on the religious side, but entertaining from time to time.
There was also, for some reason a lot of 80s music on the radio station. Mark, of course was in his element there. There was also an alarming amount of Fleetwood Mac. I’ve never really gotten Fleetwood Mac, apart from the odd tune, I’d prefer not to hear them quite so much – but there she was, every few hours on the various channels, old Stevie – warbling away.
We managed to sort out the issue with the ventilation in the van by fashioning a solution involving a cut up mosquito net and lots of gaffer tape. It must have been watching the A-Team and MacGyver. We were very proud of it, unfortunately it kept raining so hard we couldn’t open the windows much to get all the air in. But hey ho. A useful tip for other Jucy camper van victims, erm, I mean ‘customers’.
There were breaks in the rain from time to time and we did see some cool things along the stretch from Sydney to Brisbane.
The Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie was a charity run little place where they nurse back to health injured Koalas. The things that make the Koalas sick are varied, but generally fall into the category of Bush fires, road accidents and dog attacks (they come down from the trees and roam about/move trees at night which is when these two occur). A lot of them also suffer from a form of chlamydia which is due to their shrinking habitat as there’s not enough wide spread breeding. Some of the stories of the Koalas were heart-breaking. Particularly the bush fire victims. It was also sad how often the same koalas returned time and again.
Another place we stopped, purely for a much needed toilet break, was the small town/village of Chatsworth. This is a little loop off the main road and runs by a large river, (there are so many rivers in australia and they are massive). For some reason here they have developed the ‘Thong Tree’ which clearly travellers have added to over time. There is also another tree with a collection of toothbrushes and some other oddities such as garden gnomes and an ironing board. Strange.
The farther north we got as it got a bit more tropical, there was lots of growing of Bananas (Coffs Harbour is famous for it) and sugar cane – with the aptly named Sugar town.
We got to Byron Bay, where I’d planned we would stay a while but with the weather as hideous as it was, there was just not much we could do. Our campsite was only 10 minutes walk from the centre but it was tipping it down and our umbrella had broken with the constant bashings of the rain. As we sat in the van with the rain pounding outside – with me sat in the passenger seat with Mark sat in the back as there really was only room for one person at a time in the back – we hit probably our all time low. What were we going to do for the evening. What were we going to do if every night continued to be like this.
After an hour or so there was a lull in the rain – it didn’t stop of course. We made it into town had a drink and a bite to eat and made the decision that we were having a fairly miserable time and it was also costing us a huge amount of money (we’d not looked that closely at our budget for a while and it was lower than we had thought – my fault as I am the spreadsheet/banker girl). We had been surprised that life on the road wasn’t particularly cheap. You were looking at 20 quid a night absolute minimum but much higher than that in popular places like Byron. With over 20 days of the trip planned this was going to be a fair bit of money on top of petrol and general expenses and to be spending that money when you were having a sucky time seemed crazy. We had flights booked out of Cairns where we were eventually headed, at the end of March, to go to Alice Springs and then onto Perth and we’d then fly out of Perth to Bali. We decided to ditch the van early, see what we could cancel and get out of Oz as soon as possible. It was in one way a relief to make that decision so we didn’t have the constant nag of how much we were spending each day but also having come all this way, to think Mark wouldn’t dive the Great Barrier Reef and I wouldn’t get to go the Red Centre – things we’d dreamed of, was a tad depressing. But it was good to have made the decision and with the weather not looking like it was going to improve we decided to get to Brisbane, ditch the van and move on to wherever. As if someone was looking down on us, we did manage to walk back to the van that night without getting rained on but 5 minutes after settling down, the most almighty, night long downpour hit us. We’d made the right decision.
The next day was actually much brighter and we decided that we’d make the most of having the van and visit some of the places on my list rather than charge straight to Brisbane.
First stop, through some amazing scenery was the small town of Nimbin. This is a small place but is a popular tourist destination as it’s somewhat unique. In 1973 a music festival was held in this small, half abandoned dairy town and basically the hippies never went home. So this town is all peace and love and tie-dye and hemp (etc) and anti-establishment. I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to the hype but it so did. A very cool place. Wished we could have stayed the night. Of course, lets be honest, some of the hippy values are negated by the fact that the town probably keeps going from the fact it’s a curiosity for tourists and the tourist dollars they bring. But it was great to see the older guys who had clearly come and stayed and the younger ones who’d dropped out to come live there. And for anyone who wanted to partake, there was lots of polite offers to ‘help you out’. Rather gentile in fact.
The museum was mix of the towns history and an amazing gallery with all these mind blowing bits of art covering every corner. It had a fair bit of stuff about the history of the treatment of the indigenous aboriginis which had been missed out from more main stream museums.
It was by donation only and here is the ‘guide’ we got when we went in which I think sums up the nature of Nimbin.
“While you are here now please walk the Museum Rainbow Serpent path throughout he dinosaur, aboriginal, pioneer and hippy eras of this piece of earth we now call Nimbin.
The Museum is a volunteer run community venture that was begun almost twenty years ago by local artists as a place for visitors to meet locals. More ar than museum perhaps, the ‘legal trip’ starts on the footpath outside and follows a million years of Nimbin history.
The journey begins with the Aboriginal Dreaming story of the Creation among the local dinosaurs which then lead into the Bundjahlung era. Aboriginal people lived sustainably on this land here beneath our feet for thousands of years with an intimate knowledge and understanding of the natural cycles. They had a culture which could have taught us so much but the whitefellas who arrives here only 150 years ago cut down the forests, brought in cattle and worked very hard to make it look like where they had come from.
In the Pioneer Room the Rainbow Serpent loses its colour as the trees disappear and Christianity rules until the Hippies arrive in 1973 for the Aquarius Festival.
They eat the magic mushrooms growing in the cow pats and get a dose of enlightenment. Colour returns to the path as the new settlers move out of the cities and into their communes. ‘It’s a dream of harmony between the tribes, between the planets and its people.’
The Forest Walk hallway leads to the Rebirth Cave where you may discover, ‘what you need is here already!’
Out of the cave you can enjoy a coffee (with a cannabis cookie if only it was allowed) and a game of chess in the Museum cafe.
The final room on the path is the original HEMP Embassy (now across the road) and devoted to ending the illegality of the hippies sacred herb, cannabis. Nothing has made the alternative lifestyle efforts of the pioneers more difficult than the outlawing of this herb which not long ago was the most popular plant on the planet. It nearly is now again and we believe the ‘war on drugs’ is breeding disrespect, as bad laws do.
The path then leads back into the front room completing the circle. Visitors are welcome to to photograph and film and touch, but please donate in the can.
We need over $100 a day just to pay the rent and electricity, which we often struggle with. Meanwhile, love one another best you can, eat whole food, consume as little as possible and recycle by leaving this paper here unless you want it! ” www.nimbinmuseum.com
Oops – forgot to read that last bit and took the paper with me. I always want to be a hippy but just can’t do it when push comes to shove. But hey, what’s so funny about peace, love and understanding?
After leaving Nimbin and traveling back to the coast through some more amazing scenery, we visited the complete antithesis of what Nimbin stood for, the vegas-esque Surfers Paradise.
Now I thought I wouldn’t like it at all but thought I had to go and have a look. I was actually quite surprised that I quite liked it. It’s got probably the most beautiful beach ever with a backdrop of sky rise blocks of apartments. It is what it is really. It’s not as cramped and claustrophobic as I had thought – the tower blocks don’t seem oppressive and unlike many seaside resorts, there isn’t a main road next to the beach chocca with cars. The area is pleasantly walkable and there are bars and restaurants aplenty. Yes there’s a big Maccas (the fab aussie name for McDonalds) but then there is on many seafronts in Oz.
Mark was very happy to see the Surfers Paradise Meter Maids. These are a couple of scantily clad ladies who go around and top up the parking meters of un-suspecting tourists who’ve overrun. It all started back in the 60s and we’d seen it on some UK documentary program a while ago. Very strange, probably rather sexist but is just part of the history of Surfers Paradise and you’ve kind of got to love the tackiness of it all.
Highlights of our roadtrip included us seeing our first Kookaburra. Me seeing my first wild Kangaroo (Mark missed it).
The signs for the person who was running for office in Brisbane, who’s name was Grace Grace.
The lowlights were the van and when we very nearly ran out of petrol and some stupid iPhone app took us on a wild goose chase down some dodgy looking road to a non-existent petrol station. We luckily found a pleasant chap, photographing his suped up car, who pointed us in the right direction and hearts in throats we made it and vowed to never let it get much under half a tank again as the distances between petrol stations could be very long.
We got to Brisbane and checked into a basic Formule 1 airport hotel which seemed like the absolute lap of luxury after the van. We still had the van for a day or so, which we were going to use to go into the city and pick up our macbook which had been shipped up from Sydney for fixing. We realised on the first evening there that parking in the city might just be an issue as we tried to park in one of the underground carparks only to find it was about $11 per hour. Luckily, we found somewhere out of town where you could park 2 hours for free. It was then just a real walk in the humidity to get into the city centre.
We also discovered that $11 an hour was a bargain as another one we tried was $14 – jeez. On the whole Brisbane seemed to be the most expensive place we have visited and also the least inspiring. Admittedly we didn’t do a whole lot of exploring but the city really was a mass of big new buildings and fly overs. In fact big and brash is how I would describe Brisbane in general. But it does the job and has so many amazing things right on it’s doorstep – it’s a fantastic gateway to such a variety of things – bush, rainforest, beaches, rivers. We decided to move on pretty quickly though – basic as it was that hotel was costing a bomb. We spent most of the time there organising our next steps. Turns out we couldn’t leave Oz as soon as we had intended as we couldn’t change or cancel most of the flights very easily. What we decided to do instead was to stick with our original plan but just do it all much quicker. So rather than a long, leisurely drive up to Cairns we got cheap flights straight up there. I was made up that I was still going to get to the places I’d really wanted to go – even if it would be on fast forward.
Our only other venture in Brisbane was picking up our new macbook. The insurance company had finally conceded that rather than paying the same price to fix ours as a new one,that a new one made more sense. So, we headed out to the faceless and overly huge Westfield mall out of town to pick one up at the Apple store. As I may have mentioned before, I hate shopping malls. I’d been pleasantly surprised by the swanky one in Sydney but I think that was a bit of a special one off and was on lots of floors rather than a spralling mass. Once we’d got our purchase I decided I needed to get out of there asap as was just feeling so claustrophobic so headed for the nearest door, just figuring we could walk through the car park rather than the mall. Well this place was big and we walked and walked and we got lost – in the car park of a mall – ridiculous – and we wasted a good 20 minutes trying to find our way back. I concede that this really was my fault in my hurriedness to get out. I hereby apologise publicly to Mark.
My strange highlight of Brisbane was when we went to the post office to post back the broken mac to the UK. By the way mum, if you’re reading this, I forgot to tell you – you’ll be receiving a package in about 3 months by sea mail!! Sea mail – what a romantic notion eh? Anyway, the guy serving us in the (very swanky, modern) post office was from Ireland and he had moved over just before the Irish financial crisis and the aussie dollar went crazy – good timing eh? Well we had a good old chat with him about stuff and as we left, unbeknownst to me (Mark had twigged earlier and was feeling uncomfortable), a rather large queue had formed and were glaring daggers at us with their eyes, clearly wanting us to shut the hell up and move on. I can imagine in their position I would have been less than happy – especially as it wasn’t that long until it was due to close. I don’t know why when I think back on this it makes me giggle, but it really does. I think it’s just the idea of how much those strangers hated us so, in those few moments where our paths crossed. Hee Hee.
Next stop, Cairns (in the wet season) …..