|All aboard Wicked Wanda (again!)|
Wicked Wanda rolls us steadily northward through a brief and (ultimately) friendly run-in with an Aussie highway patrolman. You have to watch the gas on the Pacific Highway though – the road is well-maintained, clear and (for the most part) un-crowded, but compared with European speed limits you are expected to go excessively slow. Wanda spent a couple of restful nights at Byron Bay while I surfed a wave that I had long heard about. Then we took to the hills again on a beautiful looping drive to Nimbin. The vibe in Byron is pretty much chilled to perfection but nearby Nimbin – Hippy HQ – seems to be trying just a touch too hard to maintain its laidback reputation.
We head on northwards, cruising through some long driving days up to Coolangatta, Surfers Paradise and Burleigh Heads. We stayed in campsites almost every night so that we had the freedom to barbecue. Kangaroo steaks are probably better even than beef on a barbecue and over the course of the next week we did our best to help out in a small way with Australia’s over-population of ‘roos. Then, near Surfers Paradise, we arrived late at night. Too late to check into a campsite. So we found a spot for Wanda near the beachfront and were soon moved on by a police patrol who were, nevertheless, as friendly as they could be. In poorer backstreets – away from the million-dollar beachfront mansions – it is apparently fine to sleep in a van.
The coastal strip right up to – and past – Brisbane is built up these days and it was a relief when we finally got far enough north to start seeing semi-wild coastline again around Maroochydore. We camped in the burnt copper glare of a spectacular sunset on the banks of the Maroochy River and char-grilled another few hunks of ‘roo. Then it was another run up to Noosa Heads for a last Aussie surf session before the dash to Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island. By now Wanda had earned a rest and we abandoned her at the Colonial Village YHA campsite in Hervey Bay while we temporarily shifted our allegiance to a Hummer for a 4x4 tour of the world’s largest sand island (see www.fraserexperience.com).
Rejoining Wanda we were soon on the Bruce Highway. This was a harsh land when Cook first explored this coast and it is still a region where the elements occasionally wreak serious havoc. Near Mission Beach we would drive through the devastation that had been left by Cyclone Yasi just a couple of weeks before. We veered off the highway again to visit the town of 1770 (perhaps the only town in the world named only with numerals). 1770 was the year that Cook landed on this spot but like his visit ours was necessarily a fleeting one. We still had a long way to go before Cairns and we hit the road early and drove until dusk watching the kilometres clicking over as we pressed on still farther northwards towards our last stretch on the Captain Cook Highway. The Wicked Camper ‘rule book’ is fundamentally against night-time driving in the Aussie bush: “Nights are for lovin’” they say.
By the time Wanda’s tired tyres hit Townsville tarmac we had done a lot of mileage (when we finally reach Cairns the trip-meter will be topping 2,500 miles). Even so by Townsville the great open spaces of the Outback were beckoning and it was a serious temptation to swing the steering wheel westwards towards the bubbling tarmac and mirages of Mount Isa and the Northern Territory. But that’s for another trip. For now both Wanda and I are in need of a rest. But I’ll be back so watch this space!