2004 VW Golf R32
The second part of my trip up the Australian east coast in my 2004 VW Golf R32 started on 14 January 2019 when I arrived back in southeast Queensland. You can read about the first part of my east coast of Australia road trip here. A good friend offered to store the car for me whilst I was back in the US. I flew into Maroochydore, picked up the car and headed to Broadbeach Waters where I often stay. This gave me time to sort a few things out, having been out of Australia for about six months.
The progress north started at the end of January with a stop at Rainbow Beach. Even with the Mark IV R32 being all wheel drive, I didn’t bother to take it on the beach. Don’t really understand why people feel the need to have to drive on a beach when it’s basically a regular beach. Sure, with some of the more remote beaches, it is a way to move around. The driving all you stuff on to the beach rather than carry just the essentials is the weird part.
Next was a catch up with friends in Bundaberg and a couple of nights in Agnes Water. Plenty of accommodation options and close to 1770. Yes, that’s the name of the town. Technically it’s Seventeen Seventy, however, Australians love to make the English language a bit easier, hence 1770. It is the location of James Cook’s second landing in May 1770.
I try not to spend all day driving and prefer to split it up a bit. Plus, by the time you stop a few times to eat, grab photos or any other reason, the driving time is a lot more than Google Maps estimates. Mackay is a good stop part way to the Whitsundays. It’s a typical Australian township. I haven’t really seen much other than the hotel I stayed at on the way up and way down, plus the main street for food options. Oh, the beach is pleasant enough. Then again, most beaches keep me happy.
I had previously been to Airlie Beach on a school trip in 1982. My one and only visit to very popular tourist place. Plenty of backpackers and older tourists as it’s a launching pad to the Whitsunday Islands. It rained most of the time and that turned out to be a major problem because a bit further north it was raining a lot more. The highway north was close in many places, included just north or Airlie Beach. That mean I needed to wait it out for another ten days. I found an AirBNB in Woodwark which is just out of Airlie Beach in a rural setting. It was ideal, except for the rain.
I did manage to poke around the area between showers and towards the end the weather was fine, it’s just the roads were still closed. Dingo Beach and Hideaway Bay, or Hydeaway Bay, were nice. Worth the trip out there if you’re in the area. Away from the tourists and places like that remind me of visiting small beachside towns when I was a kid.
Oh, I did save a life whilst in Airlie Beach too. Without going into the details, a couple of young girls staying in the same place asked it I could take them to the local emergency room. They were up on holiday from Sydney (I think) and no car. Without going into the gory details, it turned out fine and I might be stretching the truth a bit saying I saved a life. Technically it could have been life threatening, however, not likely. Still, another one for the road trip stories file.
Townsville took a big hit and when I was finally able to make it through, driving along the road near the river showed just how high the water had risen. The Bruce Highway also crosses a few rivers and creeks and they also had risen significantly.
Next stop was Mission Beach as I was now getting up into the northern Queensland part. Stayed in a nice eco lodge right on the beach. The whole crocodile thing was starting to play on my mind though. All this was new to me as the furthest north I had been before was the 1982 trip to Airlie Beach. Mission Beach struck me as a bit of a weird place though. It’s sort of spread out and before you know it, you’re in the next town. I was there during the off season which probably made a difference.
I then had a couple of nights in Palm Cove. A place I had heard so much about because when I was younger my grandparents which tow a caravan from Tasmania up there and spend the winter months. Now having seen the place I still can’t imagine my prim and proper English grandmother staying in a caravan park. I liked the town and with the lack of high rise buildings it helped to give it the sleepy beach town vibe. Still plenty of accommodations, cafes and businesses to cater to the tourists. It’s a place I would visit again due in part to the design. beach, street buildings works so much better than beach, buildings, street. The nice grassy areas between the beach and the street really makes a difference. Rather than only having a few places to access the beach because of all the buildings. The US east coast is a perfect example and buildings ruining the beach vibe.
Cairns was a bit of a non-event for me and happy I went through to Palm Cove instead. I did do the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway out of Cairn though. Catch the cableway up to Kuranda, spend a few hours there and then hop on the train back down. Well worth the day trip for some great views. I walked along the Barron River and as usual the crocodiles were on y mind. I was on a proper walking trail and a couple of people were in front of me. I say animal footprints and thought to myself that crocs wouldn’t be this high up. Anyway, I made sure to walk on the side of the trail furthest from the river and hoped the people in front would be taken first… Later I was speaking with people on the train who did a short boat trip and they spoke about seeing a croc. I’ve always joked with people overseas that the crocs only get the stupid tourists. I guess I was one of them that day.
My next stop was the Daintree Rainforest and that required a short trip on a ferry across the Daintree River. Everyone else seemed to be in 4WDs and I was in a very low hatchback. Had visions of the Top Gear episodes where they get their sportscars stuck between the ferry and dry land and cause all types of mayhem. All good though and had to be satisfied with a few strange looks for my vehicle choice. I stayed at a a cabin across from Thornton Beach. Sign at the beach said a person had been killed by a croc a couple of years earlier, so watch out. They also ran croc watching tours from a few hundred metres down the road. Because it was the off season, most of the stuff at Cape Tribulation was closed. So I had to be satisfied with been that, didn’t do that much.
The Daintree Rainforest is a unique part of the world. It is part of the Wet Tropics of Queensland Rainforest, the oldest continually surviving rainforest in the world. It is home to many species of animals other than just crocodiles. If you aren’t a fan of insects then the fact it is home to about 12000 difference species then it might concern you. A small price to pay when seeing some of the most important parts of the world for our continued survival.
The owner of the cabins told be about a particular watering hole where there were no crocs if I wanted a swim. Even though it was quite hot and humid, I didn’t take the risk of getting the directions wrong. Beaches in northern Queensland are also off limited from swimming, except for the areas surrounded by netting. The jellyfish will give you a nasty sting. It’s why you will see bottles of vinegar at many of the beaches to help ease the pain. This is why I don’t really understand people living in northern Queensland. For me a beach is just an annoying sandy thing if you can’t swim or go in the water.
My time in the area was coming to a close I I couldn’t go any further north. Well I could backtrack a bit, go inland and then make it to Cooktown, however, I had had enough. The shorter route requires a four wheel drive and still, not the smartest idea during the wet season. So a couple of nights in Port Douglas was in order. A touristy place that I didn’t fall in love with. Perhaps the solo bit didn’t help. A mighty hill with good views did make for a good workout as part of my morning run.
I was over the travel by now and whilst it had only been a month, I was ready to turn south. I made it back to Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast in a couple of days. I stopped in at Mackay for a night and then Bundaberg to stay with friends. Nearly had to stay in Mackay longer as a cyclone was approaching. Delayed on the way up and nearly delayed on the way down. Mooloolaba was the first place I stayed long term when I started permanent travel back in 2009. I like the location near the beach and I settled into the routine of a run along the beach and swim in the morning, a bit of work and then a walk along the beach at sunset. Those types of days a perfect.
I did have an issue with the car whilst there. I did a couple of nights down in Brisbane and on the way back the alternator failed. So every electrical thing was turned off and a slightly stressful drive back up the motorway. Made it to my accommodations and then the following day to a local European car specialist. New alternator and water pump and a a smaller bank account and all was good. Photos were taken and a for sale ad was put up online. Almost had the car sold and then the buyer had to back out.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I had to extend my time in Australia. So back down to Broadbeach for five and a half months with a trip to see family in Launceston for a few days and then a few weeks in Byron Bay. I had time to fill in and was going to revisit some of the northern NSW coastline. I stayed at Kingscliff, Cabarita Beach and then Byron Bay. I lucked upon great accommodation there at a reason price (rare for Byron Bay) and ended up staying there. Days similar to Mooloolaba with a run and swim in the mornings, a bit of work, then a walk in the evening. Swims were getting a tad chilly as it was now the beginning of June and winter time in Australia.
In the end I was able to leave the car at Broadbeach with the intention of heading back there in after a quick visit back to the US and then a few months in Europe. I ended up returning in mid December 2019 and a plan to stay until the end of March 2020. Then Covid hit… Because of border closures and my personal circumstances, I couldn’t really travel much. I stayed until late November 2020 and sold the 2004 VW Golf R32 just before leaving.
UPDATE – Next road trip was in a rental car because it wasn’t worth getting the Porsche GT3 out of storage for two weeks. Read about the road trip in a Toyota Camry.