A campervan trip to Noosa – the place to be

Ah campervan – how we have missed you! It’s been a rather eventful year so far and somehow four months have passed since we last enjoyed a camping mini-break. Noosa, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and a couple of hours north of Brisbane, is one of our favourite spots and was the perfect place to quench the drought.

Campervan Converts - Noosa beach

Campervan Converts - Noosa National Park

Miles of white powdery sand and perfect rolling waves, a national park with spectacular coastal views and koalas playing in the trees, and a main street lined with little boutiques and critically acclaimed restaurants.

This is where the beautiful people hang out.

Which I must admit can be a little stressful: it’s hard to completely ignore the boot-campers on the sand next to you reaching their hundredth press-up as you’re tucking into a(nother) bag of freshly baked apple danishes. Or the swishy-haired locals sprinting past with strollers as you’re stopping to catch your breath on the scenic boardwalk’s slight incline.

Campervan Converts - Noosa beach

Still, our long weekend was wonderfully relaxing. We camped at the Noosa River Holiday Park next to the river and spent our days wandering along the beach (dodging all organised fitness activities), café-hopping and generally enjoying the last warmth of summer.

As usual this was liberally interspersed with a bit of photography.

Campervan Converts - Noosa River Holiday Park

Campervan Converts - Noosa River Holiday Park

Campervan Converts - splash

We’ve always seen some amazing sunsets in Noosa and were lucky again this time. Campers and pelicans alike assembled in pockets along the river bank as the light changed.

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Campervan Converts - Noosa pelicans

Campervan Converts - Noosa pelicans

Using varying methods to catch dinner…

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Campervan Converts - Noosa pelicans

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Campervan Converts - Noosa sunset

Just a few hours after the sun set on our last night, we were chasing the sunrise a few miles down the coast (for reasons which seemed entirely logical at the time). I will save the pictures for my next blog!

Campsite review: Top of the Town Tourist Park, Stanthorpe Qld

The signs and billboards around the Granite Belt advertising Top of the Town certainly give the impression it’s the place to be in Stanthorpe. We stayed for two nights just after Christmas while exploring the national parks and wineries in the area.

This review is just our impression of the site. For full details about facilities and prices, check out the website: http://www.topoftown.com.au

Top of the Town, Stanthorpe

Top of the Town, Stanthorpe

Facilities

Top of the Town is a large, pristine park with roses around its reception and fantastic facilities for families: a swimming pool, open air movies and a games room, as well as good kitchens and bbq areas, and a huge laundry and drying area.

Not that we used any of these during our two-night stay but a park with extensive facilities has usually invested in its washblocks as well, and that’s certainly the case here. Hurrah! More in line with European amenities (thankfully retaining Australian-style loos) the washblocks were large, light, airy and spotlessly clean with loads of hot water. A relief given so many parks seem to focus on caravanners travelling with their own facilities.

The pitches are quite orderly and regimented, not huge, but there are good pockets of shade around. We had to move from our designated pitch because it was so far away from the power box, our cable didn’t reach. We found a handy Mitre 10 in town for an extension lead.

Top of the Town, Stanthorpe

Top of the Town, Stanthorpe

Top of the Town, Stanthorpe

Location

We thought ‘top’ of the town meant the park would be in the thick of things, as much as that’s possible in sleepy Stanthorpe. But despite the park’s website claiming it’s ‘centrally located in town and walking distance to all shopping’, we found it a long walk from anything. It must be a 30-minute walk into town. There is a small regional museum next door, but we drove everywhere else. Having said that, it’s probably closer to town than any other caravan park.

Top of the Town, Stanthorpe - happy campers

Verdict

We’d stay here again. Lots of things going on, washblocks are the best we’ve seen.

Campsite review: Queen Mary Falls, Killarney Qld

There is a big choice of campsites and caravan parks around the Granite Belt. If you plan to visit Queen Mary Falls and the neighbouring waterfalls, this caravan park is in a perfect spot opposite the entrance to the falls and surrounded by national park and wildlife. You can walk a short distance to a lookout or a longer loop down to the base of the waterfall.

We stayed for three nights just after Christmas – note that they often operate a minimum stay at peak periods.

This review is just our impression of the site. For full details about facilities and prices, check out the website: www.queenmaryfallscaravanpark.com.au.

Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park

Visitors and residents

The site is popular with families and is a real draw card for nature lovers. We had wallabies playing next to our pitch and koalas and kookaburras in the tree above. There are all kinds of tropical birds swooping through the site and a feeding station by reception where you can hand feed king parrots and rosellas. The only creatures that were less welcome were the flies, who were prolific at certain times of day, although to be expected when you’re camping next to a field of cattle.

Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park - koala

Queen Mary Falls - kookaburra

What’s the site like?

The area for powered sites and cabins is fairly small but there is a beautiful and spacious grassy field for unpowered tents and vans, which was only sparsely populated. There are loads of spots for campfires which were well used at dusk, and helped to keep the flies at bay. They sell firewood at reception. One of the best things is the onsite café/restaurant/shop offering cream teas and light meals; it was always doing a roaring trade when we were there.

The washblocks let the park down, being a bit smelly and dingy with no hot water in the basins – not somewhere you’d want to linger longer than necessary.

There was no Optus phone reception in the site or surrounding area and Telstra was very sketchy.

Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park

Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park

Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park

Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park

Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park

Queen Mary Falls Caravan Park

Verdict

A short drive from Warwick and just steps away from Queen Mary Falls, the caravan park is in a great spot for exploring some of the best bushwalks and waterfalls in the Granite Belt. Nature lovers and bird enthusiasts will be in their element.

Queen Mary Falls

Happy campervanning!

I love campervans and all the associated memorabilia. But there are only so many caravan cards you can buy for other people before they think you’re a bit obsessed. How could I resist this one though? It has gingham – and bunting! So I bought it to hang up anyway.

Caravan birthday card

Happy weekend everyone!

Taking the road less travelled – a week of waterfalls and wineries

So with a week off over Christmas we deviated from our well-worn route to the coast and ventured inland, for our longest trip away in the campervan. We spent our time circling Queensland’s Granite Belt, 3 hours south west of Brisbane, staying first at Queen Mary Falls near Warwick before driving down to the orchards and vineyards of Stanthorpe.

Our campervan was only designed for mini-mini-breaks, but it coped well with the extended trip. The fridge held enough food for a week (mostly leftover turkey and cold chipolatas), and our narrow shoe cupboard found its true calling as a wine cellar! So we redistributed the shoes and stocked up on some of Queensland’s best vintage. (Which was better than we thought!)

We coped well with the longer stay too. Or, we were coping, until Paul announced on the fourth morning that we were entering unchartered territory, at which point I suddenly began misjudging the low ceiling height and my back decided to give way in protest at the unsprung mattress cushions. Still, two mild concussions and the price of a heat pack were a reasonable price to pay for a week’s holiday.

Queen Mary Falls are part of Main Range National Park near Killarney and the border with New South Wales. Also nestled in the same rainforest and accessible from that stretch of road are Browns Falls and Daggs Falls, providing lots of lookouts and photo opportunities.

Queen Mary Falls, Killarney

Daggs Falls, Killarney

Our campsite was right opposite Queen Mary Falls, where you can walk a short distance to the top of the falls or around a longer circuit to the base. Or you could abseil, of course.

Queen Mary Falls, Killarney

The walk to Browns Falls was more challenging, requiring a few leaps over precarious stepping stones and a bit of tarzan swinging around trees. Not one for wheelchairs or pushchairs, although while I was psyching myself up for one of the river crossings, we were overtaken by two elderly ladies, so maybe I was being overly cautious.

As you’d expect, the area is teeming with wildlife and perfect for birdwatchers. For us, it was a peaceful antidote to the rush and excitement of the previous Christmas weeks.

Kookaburra, Queen Mary Falls, Killarney

Colourful bird

Dragon lizard

Campervanning

After three days we drove south to Stanthorpe, along the very bumpy New England Highway. There is loads to do in the area. Actually even more than we realised, as I discovered back at work when my colleague said:

‘Did you go to the jumping police dogs academy?’

‘Oh but you must have seen the giant granite frog?’

‘I can’t believe you didn’t even visit the famous maze!’

Hmmmm. We did, however, visit lots of wineries.

Armed with our Granite Belt vineyard guide, it was recommended we head to some of the 5* wineries just north of Stanthorpe first. That didn’t provide the most auspicious start though.

Boireann Winery was first on the list:

Boireann Winery

Followed by Summit Wines:

Summit Wines Stanthorpe

Which was very pretty, but these storm clouds burst just as we left the campervan, so we dashed back inside and made a cup of tea instead.

Thankfully things cheered up as we drove south, helped by the appearance of the sun and the much prettier landscape. The frequent cattle grids on the back roads attest to the vast number of cows and horses in the surrounding farmland – some of the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen.

Horses

Farm

The only other wine region we can compare the Granite Belt to is Margaret River in Western Australia, which produces world-renowned wines and is generally a much wealthier region. It seems unfair therefore to rank Stanthorpe (whose wines are largely unknown outside Australia) in the same category, and the wineries are certainly smaller and less luxurious than in Margaret River, but they’re friendly and welcoming and we were pleasantly surprised by the quality and variety.

We tasted lots of wine (although not nearly as much as was offered), we bought lots of wine (thanks to our shoe cellar) and we took lots of photos of wine and vines.

Ballandean Winery

Winery

Wine barrels

Grapes on vine

It’s not all about the wine; as the region implies, there is plenty of granite around and in Warwick you can do a short walking tour of the historic granite buildings.

DSC_5160

Warwick

The best evidence though is in the very impressive Girraween National Park, which features huge granite boulders and ‘the Pyramid’: a steep, rocky cliff-face which is not for the faint hearted, but affords panoramic views at the top. (So says Paul anyway, I found the views panoramic enough at the bottom. It was 35 degrees!!)

Girraween National Park

Girraween National Park

Girraween National Park

Girraween National Park

Back on the highway and there are plenty of other treats to keep you occupied if you need a break from hill climbs and wineries (and can’t find the giant granite frog): lavender farms, olive farms, cherry farms, apple orchards, soaperies and gourmet produce outlets. It’s the perfect location for a foodie escape.

Apples Stanthorpe

Mangoes Stanthorpe

Lavender

Campsite reviews of Queen Mary Falls and Top of the Town at Stanthorpe coming soon!

Campsite reviews – Mapleton, Qld

The scenic drives and rolling hills around the Glasshouse Mountains make it perfect caravanning country, but campsites are few and far between Montville and Maleny. Drive a few kilometres onto Mapleton though and there are a couple of lovely sites – both within walking distance of the best pub in the area. The Mapleton Tavern sits at the top of a hill alongside a smattering of shops, and the panoramic views from its wraparound verandah stretch across the Blackall Range to the twinkling lights of the Sunshine Coast.Mapleton Tavern

DSC_0509

Maleny Qld

Maleny Qld

Maleny Qld

We stayed at both Lilyponds Holiday Park and Mapleton Cabins and Caravan Park.

The reviews below are just our impressions of the park. For full details of prices, visit their websites!

Lilyponds Holiday Park: www lilyponds.com.au

Amenities
The only campsite I’d read about before travelling to Mapleton was in a review for Lilyponds, which gave particular praise to its showers for being able to ‘fit most European males, even those over 1.9 metres tall’. We thought that was a rather good endorsement (and do like a nice shower) so arranged to stay there first. When we arrived I immediately sent Paul (as the only European male in our party, albeit a bit shorter than 190cm) to inspect. He reported back that the showers were fine, although not particularly noteworthy. The ladies were okay as well – a bit tired and dark, but clean.

How about the pitches?
We were staying in an unpowered section next to a couple of tents; it was a pretty and spacious grassy area with space for campfires. There is a large bbq area as well but it was commandeered by a large group of families (with multiple toddlers and puppies competing for the airwaves) for our entire stay. It would otherwise have been a quiet and peaceful spot. The rest of the site is taken over by permanent mobile homes (oxymoron of the day), some of which do look rather run down.

Highlights
Guacamole fans – look no further! Many of the pitches at Lilyponds are surrounded by avocado trees absolutely laden with fruit, so bring your tastiest recipes and a large bag of Doritos for early evening snacks.

Avocados

Avocados

Lilyponds Holiday Park

Lilyponds Holiday Park

Mapleton Cabins and Caravan Park: www.mapletoncabinscaravans.com.au 

What’s the site like?
This felt like a much smaller site set in bushland; it does stretch a long way back but the land starts to slope uphill, which makes it less suitable for pitching a tent. We parked on a concrete slab and had a small but shady grassy area next to us. The grounds were meticulously kept and again, the staff were very friendly and helpful.

Amenities
The wash blocks are basic, but they were clean and functional. Males over 1.9 metres might need to stoop…

Location
As with Lilyponds it’s a really easy walk down the road to the Mapleton Tavern. It’s also right on the edge of Mapleton National Park, with an abundance of bush walks and scenic lookouts.

 Mapleton Cabins and Caravan Park

Mapleton Cabins and Caravan Park

Mapleton Falls

Verdict
The staff at both sites are incredibly friendly and although the washblocks were in need of updating, we liked the pitches at each. Free avocados in season is a definite perk at Lilyponds.

Maleny

Maleny Wines

Maleny

Gourmet camping meals – finding a balance

I read a post a few weeks ago about the brilliant spontaneity of campervanning, and the romantic freedom it gives you to drive off into the sunset at a moment’s notice.

It is possible, that the post appeared on my own blog.

I haven’t yet managed, 100 per cent, to put my very useful advice into practice.

Keeping a separate set of camping cutlery, I can do. Remembering to fill the water tanks the night before – fine. The one tiny step I fall down on is ‘throw some food in the fridge and you’re off’.

The trouble is, we’ve been so excited to go away in our campervan that we’ve treated every trip, even if we’re only staying down the road, as a mini holiday. Equally every meal that we can eat outside on a rug instead of at a dining table has become a picnic.

Of course, holidays and picnics are wonderful. But the reality does come with its own stresses.

Who wants to eat their every day cereal on holiday? It’s a time for treats! Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. Grilled mushrooms on sourdough. Blueberry pancakes with maple syrup. Mmmmmm. And as soon as a packed lunch becomes a picnic, your rather pedestrian tuna sandwich and a KitKat are replaced with wicker hampers overflowing with wild rice salad and honey-glazed chicken.

But this was requiring an inordinate amount of planning and food preparation every Thursday before we left. The spontaneity was disappearing in a flurry of lists and pre-chopped crudités.

I once spent the night before frantically flicking through a recent issue of Gourmet Traveller for some inspiration. (I know Gourmet Traveller’s reputation isn’t founded on the quality of its camping recipes but who’s to say you can’t be more adventurous than a tuna sandwich just because you’re staying in a field?).

Anyway I thought I’d struck gold with the first article: a twist on the humble toastie. Perfect. The photos looked simple yet sophisticated. I started scribbling notes for the first recipe.

Unfortunately there is nothing humble about a Gourmet Traveller toastie.

Step 1. You will need to start this recipe two days in advance.

Two days??

For a toastie? Doesn’t that contradict the whole principle of toasties?

Maybe that was the twist.

It was the final straw and from then on, I decided to be very strict. For the next trip, I threw a few basics in the fridge and transferred our usual box of pantry ingredients into the campervan. There were no lists. No pre-mixed spicy chickpea burgers. No homemade organic lemonade. And the whole experience was much more relaxed. Almost spontaneous! Paul’s happiest moments of the whole weekend were when I produced cornflakes for breakfast and he found out lunch was a cheese and pickle sandwich.

As it happens, I am now writing an article for a magazine quite similar to Gourmet Traveller (similar in that it’s about travelling, dissimilar in that it’s about travelling in caravans), and the article is focused on quick and easy camping meals. So I am looking for inspiration.

Fellow campers, caravanners – what are your tips for your favourite camping recipes? Meals that don’t require too much forward planning and can be rustled up with just a few basics? I’ve already got cheese and pickle sandwiches!