Driving Up the East Coast of Australia: So Many Wonderful Memories – by All of Us!

Here are some of the highlights from our month long trip up the east coast of Australia:


Visiting the lighthouse and walking out on the rocks at Norah Head



Watching movies on the big screen at several of the campgrounds


Spending time on some amazing beaches, boogie boarding and swimming


 Playing on the bouncy pillows at the campgrounds


 Swimming in some of the parks amazing swimming pools (especially the one with the cabanas!)


Going Dolphin Watching in Port Stephens on an incredibly windy, wavy day!

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Sand boarding in Worimi National Park

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Learning about Koalas at the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie



Spending an afternoon finding our way out of Bago Maze

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Learning about Bananas and flying down on the mountain coaster at the Big Banana

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Boogie Boarding at Kirra Beach & Maroochydore Beach

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Watching the Australia Outback Show in Helensvale

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Learning about glow worms in the glow worm cave at Tamborine Mountains


 Trekking in the tree tops on the Tree Top Challenge Course in Tamborine Mountains

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 Catching crabs on a “catch a crab” tour in Tweed Heads

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Eating steak in the “steak capital” of Rockhampton


Celebrating Caleb’s birthday with fish and chips at Airlie Beach


Driving pedal carts around our campgrounds

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Enjoying the water park at our campground in Cairns (Coconut Holiday Resort)


Learning all about the flora and fauna of the Great Barrier Reef at our Reef Teach lesson


Learning how to snorkel in a free lesson at our Cairns campground


Exploring crocodiles at Hartley’s Crocodile Farm


Playing Caleb’s Escape Hunt game that he designed for us, for us our cabin in Cairns


Snorkelling at the Great Barrier Reef


Watching a Magic Show at the Reef Casino, Cairns


Learning about the rainforest on an Army Duck Tour at Rainforestation, Karunda


Trying to throw a boomerang and watching Daddy do the aboriginal dance at Rainforestation


Surviving lots of rainy days and nights snuggled in our little camper van


Good bye! We love you, Australia!

Port Douglas, Australia: Hartley’s Crocodile Farm – by Caleb

Today we planned to go Hartley’s crocodile farm and learn about many different animals, including crocs. When we first entered the farm, we went to the cassowary talk and feeding. A cassowary, for those who don’t know, is a large flightless bird, kinda’ like an ostrich. It is the third largest flightless bird in DSCF1239the world. The cassowary is a very cool but complex creature, thus making it tough to explain, but I shall try my best. If you imagine an ostrich, then you are off to a great start. A cassowary looks a lot like an ostrich, except the body is a very deep black and covered in feathers that resemble hair more than feathers. Another great way of explaining it, is it looks like a black pillow exploded and glued together by someone with very poor eyesight! Only, the pillow was filled with human hair rather than feathers. The neck is a nice, solid blue with huge wrinkles on it similar to an elephant leg, or a chunky grandmother. The head is the most complex of the body parts. The eyes are very distinctive. They look like big marbles with DSCF1800over-cooked onion rings incased in them. They have a long black beak with lots of teeth. They only grow teeth when they are older. They also have a big black hump on the top of their heads. It is kind of weird because no one knows exactly what they us the hump for. Some say communication; others, who aren’t as experienced say that they are just there. It almost sounds as if it’s hollow. You just kinda’ hit it and “tonk” it makes that noise. Any who, I hope you now have a good idea of what a cassowary is. If not, read this again and again until you do!


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When we arrived at the feeding, all we did was sit there and take photos. Pretty exciting! Finally our guide, who was going to tell us about the cassowary and feed it, arrived. The cassowary is the most dangerous bird in the world and can reach up to 40 kph. That is another reason people say they have that hump on their heads: it acts as a helmet! Makes sense; if we ran that fast and then ran into a tree we wouldn’t even know it ‘til a month later when the doctors told us! Despite being the deadliest bird alive today, it is a fruit eater like my brother. It also is becoming extinct due to humans chopping away at the rain forest. The way we can help save the cassowary is to raise money, or reduce the amount of garbage we produce, because our trash is poisoning their environment.

After feeding the cassowary we made our way down to the crocodile farm. Our guide at the farm, whose name was Matt, told us the many rules we needed to follow before seeing the crocodiles. His number one rule and my favourite was, “Just be wary of the lagoon we’re about to cross. There are no big crocs in the lagoon, in theory, but there is a black swan who isn’t ultimately friendly.” We crossed the lagoon and saw neither a croc nor a black swan.


After we crossed the lagoon, we stopped in front of a massive cage, swaIMG_0682rming with crocs. Matt said, “Do NOT put your hand over the cage walls because crocs can jump quite high and if you do put your hand over top, you’re going to have a very bad day!” The cage was filled with green water that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for months. There was also a small artificial land area. Alongside the massive crocodile swarm, he showed us the nests, and their breeding program. We were luck enough to be able to touch a baby croc, which in my opinion, felt a lot like a small living piece of mosaic art.


After the amazing experience of touching a croc, we went on the tropical boat tour. This was pretty much a tour that shows you through the rainforest by boat. Also, the boat keeps you from being eaten alive by the many 4 meter long crocs. Our guide on the boat tour, named Mario, showed us many different crocodiles and how they naturally jump to catch their food as seen below.

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What Mario did was tie a dead bird of some sort to the end of a pole and start swinging it about two meters above the water. A crocodile, named Clockwork, continually jumped up at the bait even though Mario kept pulling the bait away. After a few minutes of fun and hearing the jaw slap, we made our way back to the dock, still in one piece.

After that, we had lunch, which was delicious, then made our way to the salt water crocodile pen where the crocodile feeding was going to happen. Matt, who was our previous guide, also did the feeding, with his partner Mario, our boating guide. The whole show demonstrated how the crocodiles can jump up out of the water to a great height. There were many crocs they were feeding, all of them salt water crocs. The biggest crocodile they fed was a croc they named Spartacus. Spartacus was four meters long and over a hundred kilos! His jaw slap was incredibly powerful! It was literally the new Big Bang!



Of course, the walking, humidity and heat was pretty much a recipe for exhaustion. Dad and I returned to the van for a rest ‘til it was time to see the snake show. The snake show happened at two o’clock and was pretty interesting. The keeper who showed us the different snakes was humorous and very good at giving out information. He showed us pythons, the most deadly snake in the world, aka the King Brown, and many others.

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But the real reason we came, was to see the show after this, the Crocodile Attack show. The Crocodile Attack Show here is apparently the best croc attack show in Australia. The guy doing the attack show was named Lee. It is really hard to explain what happened in the show but the photos below should give you an idea!

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Overall, Hartley’s Crocodile Farm was a great experience and something that you should see if you are around the Cairns or Port Douglas area in Australia.

Tweed Heads, Australia: Fishing on the Catch a Crab Tour – by Connor

On the boat of catch a crab, we went fishing and I was very excited. Our guide told us to just take a fishing rod from the back of the boat and take the bait, which was shrimp. Of course there were lots of Korean and Chinese tourists! They just pushed their way to the back of the boat leaving Caleb and I behind. DSCF1760After everyone got a rod and bait and started fishing, Caleb and I were still getting the rod and putting the bait on it. There was a little hook on the end of the rod and I had a lot of fun putting the stupid little thing on it! I gave up and asked my mom for some help. Then I felt very bad because my mom put it on easily and I couldn’t.

Finally I got my line into the water and waited, and waited, and waited. I was thinking that fishing was pretty boring! Finally I felt a tug and I pulled my line out of the water and… it was sea grass. After all that waiting I get sea grass. I thought fishing was pathetic! So, I put the sea grass back in the water and then I realized that the bait was gone. Now I really didn’t like fishing. So I got another piece of bait and stuck it on the hook. I didn’t have any problems because I was so mad.DSCF1763

I put my line back in the water and waited. Then I realized that everyone else’s line was sinking and mine was not. I pointed it out to my mom and she said it would sink with the current. I waited for it to sink, but it never did. So I just had to deal with it. I waited for some fish to come along and bite the shrimp. While I was waiting, my mom told me to not catch a fish when she was gone, because she had to run to the washroom. Of course, I finally did! (And it was a big on too.)

I asked Caleb DSCF1768for his help, so now both of us are tugging on the fishing line. “FISH! FISH!” I yelled. My mom and dad rushed around the corner of the boat; my dad was holding his huge Camera. The captain helped Caleb and I hold the fish in place for a picture. After a few pictures had been taken, the captain took the fish off the hook and let it go. At first, Caleb thought it was dead. Then it vanished under the water.

This was an amazing experience with Catch a Crab. So if you ever want to go to Australia, visit New South Wales and have an amazing time with Catch a Crab.

Tweed Heads, Australia: Catch a Crab – by Caleb

Today we went on a saltwater river cruise called catch a crab. Catch a crab is a company that organizes crab catching and other water activities for tourists like us. We happened to be on the largest crab catching boat in the world! We did three water activities including crab catching. We did yabby catching, crab catching (who would have guessed!), and bird feeding.

DSCF1738On our first activity, the yabby catching, our guide for the morning (who happened to be quite fun and humorous) showed us what the heck a yabby is before we went out to collect them. A yabby looks a lot like a miniature shrimp. For those of you who don’t know what a shrimp is, I’m sorry I can’t help you! Our guide showed us a few holes in the river bottom, where yabbies live. Then he laid a floating sieve on the river. After the sieve had settled on the water, he grabbed a metal pole and pierced the mud about two feet below the surface. Finally, he tied the sieve to the pole to keep it from floating away. He went back on the boat to retrieve something and returned a moment later with a device that looked somewhat like a machine gun. As it turns out, you use this more like a large air pump than a weapon. He explained that this pump we would be using was actually a yabby catcher. He gave us a demonstration on how to use it. He plunged the silver metal tube into the mud where a yabby hole was. As he did this, he pulled on the handle to suck in the dirt and hopefully a yabby as well. Overall, he did this in one smooth motion. Then, he pulled the pole out of the mud as if he were pulling up a pile of dirt with a shovel. Once he lifted the yabby catcher out of the water, he turned it sideways, and slowly pushed down on the handle of the so-called “pump” which slowly released the mud onto the sieve. Then he shook the sieve to see if he had caught any yabby. He told us we had to do this five times in the same hole and then move on to a new hole if you don’t catch anything. We had half an hour in the warm river water to try to catch a yabby.

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Connor, mom and I went up and down the river unsuccessfully trying to catch a yabby. The most exciting thing we caught on that stop were a couple of tiny, tiny crabs and a lot of sea grass. As it turned out, no one else caught a stupid yabby either! We decided that the two possible reasons why, were because yabby are really stubborn or, we were completely and utterly hopeless.


Upon returning to the boat, our guide went around asking for volunteers to pull up the crab traps. Connor and I volunteered and we were the second people to pull up a crab trap. As we started to pull up the trap it became quite easy, which for us happened to be quite a shock. However, things did not remain easy, for a moment later a massive tug seemed to pull on the rope we were holding. Connor and I struggled to have the cage reach the surface but we eventually succeeded in pulling up the cage. For a second, Connor and I did not see anything in the cage but then we noticed an enormous crab rolling around in it. A few Chinese ladies shrieked behind us. The guide opened the cage and grabbed the crab. Then he brought it to who knows where. For all I know, it could have been lunch. Many other people did what we did later, while we sat inside and talked to the guide.


Ten minutes later the guide brought out a bucket of fish and placed it on the deck. People came from upstairs and down onto the front deck without the guide even having to call them. The smell gave it away! He grabbed a chunk of fish and tossed it up in the air. Then from the middle of nowhere, a pelican swooped down and grabbed the fish from mid air just like that. Next thing we know a whole flock of pelicans had gathered in the water in front of the boat. A swarm of gulls also appeared above our heads. Also, among these two kinds of birds, we spotted a hawk that wanted to join the party. We threw fish in every which direction with out one piece ever touching the water.

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When the excitement finally died down, we returned inside and the guide showed us the power of a crab. He explained that a crab is actually very strong when aggressive. To prove this he showed us a carrot. “This is your finger,” he explained. He hit the crab a couple of times with the carrot and then put it in front of the crab.


The crab grabbed it with its pincers and snapped it in half with ease. He explained the difference between the male and the female and then handed us a fishing rod and we went out and fished. Connor caught a nice big fish and I helped him reel it in. Then the captain told us what kind of fish it was and released it. Apparently if you keep a fish that is not big enough, there is a five thousand dollar fine.



Once the cruise was over we hit shore and many people got out of the boat. But low and behold we didn’t have to! We got to have lunch on the boat so once people left we were served a whole cooked crab, a whole cooked chicken, and four cooked pieces of ham that happened to be gigantic! Alongside that we got an “all u can eat buffet” that had bread, salad, coleslaw, rice and soup. We ate and greatly enjoyed our delicious meal, and then headed upstairs to get a better view of the river. The captain took us on a quiet, peaceful river cruise for twenty minutes before docking and letting us off the boat. This was an amazing experience and a ‘must do’ if you happen to be in New South Wales on the east coast of the amazing country of Australia.


Tamborine Mountains, Australia: Tree Top Challenge – by Connor

While driving in our camper van, my mom said that we were going to a place called Tree Top Challenge in the Tamborine Mountains. I thought it sounded fun, until my mom explained what it was. She said that it was a ropes course in the trees, and it had many other obstacles. I have only done one other course in my life, so this was going to be the second. I was very nervous but excited too. I have never zip lined before and this course had zip lines in it.

We drove to Tree Top Challenge and booked a spot for after lunch. We finished eating and walked to the challenge course. We put on our harnesses and gloves, and we were shown how to use the safety gear. I was already pretty nervous!

After that, we walked onto a bridge and walked all the way to the start of the course. The first challenge was to walk along a cable (like a tight rope) with another cable over our heads to hold on to. The cable that I crossed was about 10 feet above the ground and the next challenges got harder and higher – up to 30 feet above the ground. I was actually quite scared at first because I am afraid of heights! Once I got the hang of it though, it was fun!



I seemed to be good at the challenges, probably because I really persevered and I was enjoying it. That was until we had to pull ourselves backwards. You had to sit in your harness, putting your head in the direction you were going and pull yourself across. I found this difficult because you had to pull your own body weight across the cable. It can hurt your back if you don’t hold your legs up high.

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Then there were the zip lines; you have to sit down in your harness, feet first and fly! The first one I did was very scary! You really fly across but I didn’t quite make it to the other side, so I had to pull myself the rest of the way. Once you get the hang of it though, the zip line are much more relaxing than the other challenges!

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One of the harder challenges for me were the free-hanging rope ladders. First you had to pull down a 5 kg weight that was attached to the safety line and then attach your harness to it. Since I’m quite small this took my full body weight to pull it! Your carabineer gets attached to a ring and you climb up or down to the next platform. The rope ladder is not attached at the bottom so it swings around every time you take a step. This made it very difficult for me but I made it through slowly but surely.

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After this experience, I would like to try other rope and treetop course to compare them. I felt this helped my fear of heights and it turned out to be a very fun day!

Coffs Harbor, Australia: Visiting the Big Banana – by Caleb

Half way through our 3-hour road trip to Queensland, we came across a plantation called the Big Banana (they’re a banana harvesting attraction if you couldn’t have guessed). Alongside the plantation, there was a mountain toboggan (mountain coaster), a 36 hole mini golf course, a waterpark (the largest waterpark between Sydney and Queensland), a theater with a self guided tour, a café, a candy making shop, ice skating (indoors of course or else it might not be ice skating any more), and laser tag. We got a package that included 2 toboggan rides, and 1 theater pass.

We decided to begin with the theatre experience. You traveled through 3 different theatres as part of this self guided tour. We began in theatre one which had a dome like screen that wrapped around you. Behind the translucent screen were large wax figures, such as an elephant and farmers. While the movie played the lights focused on these figures at the appropriate times, to make the move 3D.

We learned about the history of banana farming and how it came to Australia. After about 15 minutes in the first theatre, we moved into the second, in which there was a glass case with a diorama of a small town. When the movie began 2 digital people appeared in the town and began chatting to us about bananas and their importance to mankind.

From here we moved into the banana plantation that was rife with banana plants. We even got to eat some!

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We saw how the banana plants were harvested and how they grow up the hills.

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Finally, we entered the warehouse and had a chance to try lifting a banana bunch and saw how the bananas were packaged to take to the supermarket.

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Our tour dumped us out into the banana café where there were bananas on a stick (covered in chocolate), banana ice cream, banana crepes and lots of other goodies!

After a light lunch we headed over to try the mountain coaster. This was similar to one we had done on the Great Wall of China. This one was shorter but still a fun ride!

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The Big Banana is worth a stop, especially if you’d like to grab a banana treat! The water park looked like a lot of fun as well, but we had to continue on our way, since we still had a number of km to cover.

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Coolangatta, Australia: Riding the Waves – by Connor

The sand squeaked under our feet as we walked along the beach, back to our camper van to retrieve our boogie boards. We quickly changed into our swimsuits, grabbed our boards, and jumped into the ocean. The water felt even warmer than the air and the waves curled up to my chest. I walked out further DSCF1178from the shore, going deeper and deeper, until I reached a sandbar where the water only went up to my knees. Past the sandbar I went, out into the humungous waves. Two big waves were coming toward me, one right after the other. I lay across the boogie board on my stomach and my dad gave me a big shove. I kicked my legs. One wave crashed, going on ahead of me. The other wave crashed and pushed me into the first wave! Then a third wave came, pushing me further ahead, then a forth….until I was pushed all the way back to the shore!



The whole day was great fun. I did get a little cold because after a while the sun started to go down and the air cooled off. Australia and its beaches feel like freedom! I love being in the water and I especially love the crashing of the waves.

6 Lessons I Learned While Camping in Australia – by Clay

We had a wonderful time in Sydney with my parents (as outlined by Barb, Caleb, and Connor in other parts of this blog) but now it was time for us to head off on our own and do the camping thing as we travelled from Sydney to Cairns, some 2419km to the north in Queensland.

Let me state right now that we are not “backpackers”. We used to be backpackers but Barb informed me that we no longer belong to that sacred designation. We are now “flashpackers” which means we are willing to spend that extra $2 to have hot water in our little A-frame hut. It also means we will dine at a restaurant more often if it’s more convenient and helps with our schedule of activities rather than cooking in a shared kitchen. Having children as part of the equation also means we are much more concerned about personal (family) safety than 20 years ago.

We rented a “campa” from a company called Jucy, which reminded me of the old VW camper vans, and this was in reality a modified Nissan Quest. Because of the camping modifications we learned that our Loss, Damage, and Collision coverage through our MasterCard did not cover us for this type of vehicle. The Jucy rep was sharp enough to draw our attention to this possibility and once I Googled and read through the policy – sure enough, she was correct. So, unfortunately, we ended up paying an extra $30/day for their offered insurance. Lesson #1 learned: always read through those silly, tedious, legalese-filled policy documents to know what you get and what you don’t.


The top popped up to make a cosy spot for the two boys which was called “The Penthouse”. Once the bed was set up with the provided sheets, pillows, and comforter we could just leave it made, even if we had to close the top to drive around to various activities. Barb, the every practical and organized one in our group, bought 4 small laundry baskets to hold each of our belongings instead of keeping everything in the communal duffel bag for easier access. Inside the van the bench behind the front seats lowered flat to butt up against the back seats to form the inside bed for Barb and I. She found it quite comfortable but I, being 6 feet tall, could not lie down flat and slept with my knees bent. I suppose this is keeping in line with the backpacker spirit of being frugal though. We could have rented a larger van – but at double the cost! It was also painted a bright purple and neon green. Guess we won’t be robbing any banks and using this as a getaway car.

My contribution to the purchase list was getting a 30m power extension cord, a dozen bungee cords, and a butane lighter to start campfires. It turns out that ALL of the campgrounds (at least the ones we stayed at) did not allow campfires at your site, unlike Canadian campsites, so the butane lighter only got used once. And that was to light a propane cooktop in a camp kitchen whose built-in sparker seemed to malfunction. The bungee cords were much better used as we tied down the boys’ boogie boards at night to keep them from blowing away and attached our clothes line to our van and various trees throughout the duration of our trip. The crowning glory was the extension cord which we used every single day to recharge our devices (whoops, back into “flashpacker” territory here). Ultimately useful, the extension cord became like a good and reliable friend. When it came time to leave behind some of the items we couldn’t carry with us to our next country I asked Barb, “Guess what I regret having to leave most?” and she said, “The extension cord” and gave me her “you are SO weird” look. This just shows that Barb knows me. She just doesn’t always understand me. Lesson #2 learned: buy the cords and skip the lighter. To quote Meatloaf, “two out of three ain’t bad”.

As we worked our way northward, staying at various campsites along the way, we discovered that there were two main campsite companies: Top Tourist Parks (which has now been rebranded as “Top Parks”) and Big4 Parks. We stayed at both of their offerings and found the sites and amenities to vary greatly. It seemed to me a little like the Holiday Inn brand of hotels – you could stay at a fabulous property in Atlanta but a less-than-desirable one in Podunkville (my apologies to my friend Mark – I don’t know if HI actually has properties in those cities, it was just an example). Barb found an app called WikiCamps Australia that allowed us to choose filters for the specific things we wanted to have (powered site, laundry facilities, wifi access, and showers) and had user ratings and comments. This was probably the most useful tool in deciding where we would stay. They even had a function to let you look up directions to the campground via Maps.Me or Google Maps. The app cost $7 on the App Store. Lesson #3 learned: get WikiCamps Australia, it’s worth it!

We decided to do a day of hard driving in order to make up for time we spent doing other activities (many of which are outlined in other parts of this blog) and we left Maroochydore for Rockhampton.  I saw our gas tank was just over half full so I, foolishly, did not fill up before we left. This particular stretch of road seemed to be very sparse in terms of civilization. Granted, we did see several signs for various towns 9km to the east or 24km to the west but nothing to speak of directly on the M1 road. That meant gas stations (or “petrol stations” as they are called in Australia) were few and far between. It got to the stage where I thought we were going to run out of gas right there in the middle of nowhere. I asked Barb to Google petrol stations from our current location but we were in such a remote area that our phones couldn’t get a tower signal. So we couldn’t even call for help if we did run out. Eventually, we did pull into a town while running on fumes and filled up. I almost bought a jerry can to carry extra with us but Barb put the kibosh on that idea. Lesson #4 learned: fill up when you can and don’t let the tank get below half, especially in this particular stretch of the M1.

The further north we went the temperature rose from the comfortable 22C/14C highs and lows of Sydney to the more tropical 35C/26C of Cairns. With it came the humidity and we found ourselves sleeping more and more with the windows and doors open (so much for increased safety concerns). The camps we had been staying at all seemed very family-friendly and the culture was everyone looked out for each other and their kids. Keep in mind that we were also in the low season a month before Christmas break so there weren’t very many people in the campgrounds to begin with. We were staying at a Big4 campground in Cannonvale near Airlie Beach and just as I was about to turn in for the night with all the doors and windows of the campa wide open due to the heat I see a faint shadow of what appeared to be a very large cat shuffling towards the van. I shone the flashlight out and saw this creature:


It seemed even bigger when lit. He stopped and stared at me for a moment and continue to shuffle towards me in the open side door of the campa. So i picked up one of my flip flops and shied it at him at which point he turned and ran for the trees. “That takes care of him,” I thought. As I checked e-mail before going to bed I heard a scuffling noise outside. I shone the flashlight again but didn’t see anything. Suddenly, a head popped out from under the van – it was the creature again!


“Shoo!” I said, loud enough to scare him away, hopefully, but not loud enough to wake up Barb. He wasn’t scared away. In fact, he started to climb into the van! I growled like a bear and he stopped. Slowly I reached for my other flip flop and threw it at him. Again, he took off in a hurry and I decided to sleep in the sweltering heat with the door closed. So much for increased family security. The next night I kept a mini golf putter handy in case he came back but didn’t need it. My bear growl must have been effective. Lesson #5 learned: know how to growl like a large animal and have a handy supply of flip flops to chuck at the local wildlife.

Overall, our camping experience in Australia with the boys has been an excellent adventure. Would I do it again? Yes, of course! But with a slight modification. Although the Jucy campa was a lot of fun and a great way to see a good chunk of Australia’s East Coast I found the transitioning from driving mode to sleeping/camp mode a bit wearing and tedious. Yes, we had it down to a pretty smooth system after the first week or so but with the campa there is no way to divide the labour/chores/errands as easily. Next time, I’d like to get a car and tow a camp trailer (called “caravans” in Australia) so we could park it at the site.


One of us could set up the trailer (with awning, we really needed an awning) and the other could run to the Woolworths or Coles for groceries and supplies. It would also allow us to leave our gear in a relatively secure place while we take off for the day to do some activities like visiting the Great Barrier Reef or Hartley’s Crocodile Farm and not have to pack everything up first. Barb said that when we retired we’d get a camper van but she has since changed her mind and said a camping trailer would probably be a better option. Yes, we’re showing our flashpacker leanings here but I’m OK with that. Lesson #6 learned: go for the car and caravan option over the campa. You’ll fit more of what you want to do into your day.

East Coast, Australia: Maintaining our Sanity in A Mini Campervan for 26 Days! – by Barb

I’m all about “systems” – finding a system/routine to make things work as smoothly as possible. Now that we saw how tiny our van was I knew that we would need a system to help us manage the space on a day-to-day basis. The “penthouse” had to be raised for the boys to sleep in it and lowered every time we moved. The bench seats had to be converted to a bed, which required the front seats to be shoved all the way forward. Basically every time we moved we would need to convert the van for driving and once we camped we had to prepare it for sleeping.

Our answer: baskets and buckets! I found 4 laundry baskets for $3 each at Kmart, and a couple of plastic pails for $1. We also bought some clothespegs, a dish towel, and extension cord. We were ready!

Each of us now have a laundry basket for our clothes and we put these across the bench seat when driving and put them in the back window when sleeping. We already had a length of rope to use as a clothes line and we can attach it to the van and a tree to hang our wet towels on. The campgrounds have kitchens with BBQs and sinks for our cooking, although we could use the cook stove on the back of the van in a pinch. Our groceries fit in the paindexils. After a few nights everyone knew how to complete the “switch” from driving van to sleeping van and we could get it set up or taken down in about 15-20 minutes.

Several of the campgrounds we visit have sitting areas – some of them indoors, so we can go there if the weather is bad. It has been quite warm as well, so even on rainy days we can usually manage to be outside, with our rain gear on. All in all, it’s been quite manageable.

I used to think I’d want to buy a campervan when I retired but now I have changed my mind! I think it would be better to have something that you could drop at your campsite and leave there while you drive around town. On several occasions Clay and I said that we could have split up – one of us go to get groceries, and another set up the site, but that’s not possible when you have a campervan.

East Coast, Australia: Bumpin’ Up and Down In Our Green & Purple Camper Van – by Barb

The day had arrived! It was time to pick up our Jucy Camper Van! I had booked this several months before our trip  and was very excited to do some camping in Australia. Clay and I love camping. He proposed to me on a camping trip, we camped in both Australia and New Zealand a few years ago, and we have taken the boys camping several times – but always with a tent. It would be fun to have a camper van!

Since the rental place was only 4 km away, I decided we could be very ‘frugal’ and walk there! This, of course, ended up taking forever, and our breakfast of bread and peanut butter (a cheap breakfast we could keep in our hotel room!) had long since worn off, since it was now nearing noon. However, we finally arrived and got through the paper work for our van. The girl at the rental company ran us quickly through how everything worked: button for roof pop-up here; overdrive here; stove here; convert the bed like this….. I am always completely amazed at how, after a 3 minute walk-through they can hand you a set of keys for a vehicle and trust you with it! I just assumed Clay would want to do the driving so I let him get in the driver’s side (Once we remembered which side that was! The steering wheel is on the right side of the car in Australia). I don’t remember either of us hesitating for a moment last time we were in Australia – when we were in our twenties! Now, we were both looking at each other like, “What are we doing?!”

Fortunately, there was a big sign on the dash that kept reminding us to “Keep Left”! Using the GPS on our phone, and our memories of where we’d walked, we started to make our way back to the Holiday Inn. Clay was rather nervous driving, and I was rather nervous “passenger-ing”! Needless to say, by the time we arrived back we were both hungry, cranky, and not the best of company. Clay’s parents were standing there to greet us, along with their friends, with whom they would be visiting for the next week. We made quick introductions and then began transferring our gear into our “new” set of wheels.IMG_0465

I had thought I would be clever and rather than packing everything back into our duffels, I put it in piles in our hotel room, so we could transfer it straight into the drawers and storage cupboards in the camper van. The only problem was, there were no drawers or storage cupboards! Nope, not a one! In fact, aside from the bench which faced the back seats, there wasn’t much space to put anything! This was going to be tricky!

They boys were over the moon excited and offered to help us “load up” the van, as did Clay’s dad. I had to quickly revamp my plan and started shoving things back into the duffel bags. Plan B. I needed a plan B! I squeezed our backpacks under the seats, put our 2 roller duffels on the seats, shoved the 4 campchairs and table they had rented us in the back window, and decided that it was best just to get the stuff in the van, and I’d have to re-organize at our first campground.

Our plan was to stop at a Kmart outside of Sydney to pick up a few supplies and then go to a campground not too far away (80 km). We said farewell to Clay’s parents, thanked them for 2 ½ wonderful weeks together, turned down the offer to go for lunch with their friends (the thought of driving around Sydney lookIMG_0467ing for a restaurant in our green and purple camper van was just not appealing at this point!) and off we went.

Clay decided that between hunger and nerves, it was best that he not drive, so it was my turn! While driving a camper van for the first time and driving in the middle of a big city could have been a recipe for disaster, we managed just fine and in about an hour pulled into a Kmart parking lot. After eating a long overdue lunch and purchasing a few groceries, and camping items, we were on our way again.