Here comes the sun

Living on the east coast we’re treated to some amazing sunrises at this time of year.

So I understand anyway, they do happen very early.

The day we left Noosa after our long weekend, a marathon was due to close the road outside our campsite between 5am and 2pm. Which was a great excuse for a long lie-in and a lazy bbq brunch by the river before heading home in the afternoon. Definitely a better option than creeping out before dawn to beat the traffic.

You’ll notice none of the photos below are of a lazy bbq brunch.

I can’t deny we did miss all the traffic though.

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

So having set off rather sleepily in the dead of night, we drove ten minutes down the coast and parked overlooking Sunshine Beach. Where just a hint of daylight bouncing off the sea indicated the imminent sunrise.

Well, we thought it was imminent; the sun chose to rise behind the largest cloud in the sky and didn’t appear until two hours later. But I dragged Paul down to the beach (he had already gone back to bed in the campervan) and we braced the very chilly sea air until it was fully light.

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Sunshine Beach is a beautiful place to wake up, and watching the sun rise – particularly having seen it set the evening before – was a special experience.

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

By 7am the car park was bustling with surfers and dog walkers, and we were glad we’d reserved the best spot to enjoy our cornflakes.

Campervan Converts - campervan brekkie

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

Campervan Converts - Sunshine Beach sunrise

I’ll review the site in Noosa where we stayed in the next post, it was a good ‘un.

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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 review: Calypso Holiday Park, Yamba NSW

We did a lot of research into the best place to stay in Yamba. The Calypso is one of a few caravan parks scattered along the banks of the river, but it’s the one closest to the action. We were staying for three nights and wanted to set up camp for the whole weekend without having to move the campervan and all its paraphernalia whenever we ventured into town. Dismantling our awning is not for the faint-hearted!

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


Location, location, location

The location is ideal. Whether you’re in Yamba for surfing, fishing or simply exploring the coastline, the Calypso’s position next to the river is quiet, peaceful and within easy reach of the main attractions. A path runs along the river at the back of the campsite down to the beach, and then up to the lighthouse and Yamba lookout. There’s a handy Spar and a couple of takeaways at the front of the campsite, or it’s just a couple of minutes’ walk into the little town. Once you’ve exhausted Yamba, the campsite is right next to the ferry jetty and you can catch a boat to nearby Iluka several times a day.

How was the site?

It’s quite an orderly, regimented site hemmed on one side by regal looking lego trees and on the other, by the river. By late afternoon a sizeable crowd had gathered with a glass of wine to watch the sun set over the river – all very civilised. The pitches were a good size, although we didn’t get any natural shade. The washblocks were fine and usually empty. There were also some ensuite washrooms which didn’t seem to attach to a particular pitch, or if they did, there were a lot of people sneaking in.

Dining options in Yamba

It’s still a novelty cooking on gas in our campervan so we mostly celebrated the end of the salad era by serving up some hearty stews and soups.

There are a few takeaways near the site though, including the classic ‘Chick Inn’, and our caravanning neighbours cruelly wafted some pizza boxes under our noses as we sat and enjoyed our delicious… stew.

There’s a small strip of restaurants a short walk away opposite the Pacific Hotel, which were packed on the Saturday night we were there. We had a really nice dinner at the Yamba Bar & Grill which we’d definitely recommend – especially the desserts.

The food is meant to be good at the hotel as well; we had drinks there one afternoon. The views over Yamba are great, it’s just a shame you have to sit behind a glass wall to see them. Given Yamba (apparently) has the world’s best climate, a large outdoor terrace would be so much nicer than the current indoor seating area, which kind of reminded me of an old village hall – albeit with lovely views.

Who goes there?

We were traveling with two silver nomads so we fit in quite nicely, although we still shrank the average age somewhat. I think the other caravan parks in Yamba are more geared towards families with children so you might find the Calypso a bit quieter.

 

What about the mozzies?

Ah, yes. Mosquitoes like Yamba too. Most of the campsites pride themselves on being close to the river, so you’ll inevitably have to share your romantic sunsets with a few hundred buzzing locals. It wasn’t unbearable and I’ve been to far worse places along the east coast, but don’t forget the aerogard. And a fly swat. Or fish slice.

Verdict

There isn’t a lot to do in Yamba, but it’s good for fishing, surfing and chilling out – and all of that is very handy from the Calypso. The site was well maintained and the atmosphere was friendly. Next time we’ll take some rods and bait and try and put that fish slice to better use.

A tale of two campervans

It was a weekend of firsts. The first time our campervan had ventured out of the local suburbs. The first camping holiday with my in-laws. The first outing for our new whistling kettle! (The gas had finally been installed).

Destination? Yamba. A small town around four hours south of Brisbane on the northern New South Wales coast, it was one of the first places we’d earmarked to visit when building the campervan.

Not only is Yamba consistently rated one of Australia’s favourite towns, CSIRO has declared its climate to be the best… in the world. Well that all sounded very nice. It was also a good spot to meet up with Paul’s parents, Jean and John, who were driving up from Sydney in a rented motorhome. It looked like a family holiday was on the cards.

We took our time driving down to Yamba via the coastal route, stopping first at the fabulous Seven Mile Beach at Lennox Head. Famous among surfers for hosting one of Australia’s longest warm water surf breaks, the main attraction is unsurprisingly its stunning white beach and huge crashing waves. After dipping a toe in the water, we parked up and watched a group of beginner surfers and some French national juniors sharing the waves, while locals and tourists dropped in (to the car park – not our van) to take in the dazzling view and inhale some sea air. The whole place was buzzing.

And it was the perfect place for our inaugural cup of tea, made all the more exciting because last month I was the very proud recipient of… a Valentine’s whistling kettle! Isn’t she grand?

As morning tea threatened to roll into lunch we tore ourselves away from Lennox, and continued on to Bangalow, a little country town in the Byron Bay hinterland – deceptively close to the highway and an easy place to stop. Full of quirky shops and cool cafes selling gorgeous local products, along with a range of galleries and antique stores, I could have spent a whole weekend just meandering from one end of the strip to the other. Concerned that I was about to spend our weekend’s food budget before we’d actually got very far, Paul was starting to glance at his watch, so we bade Bangalow farewell. We arrived at our campsite in Yamba as the sun was starting to dip, and set up camp next to Jean and John.

Unfortunately, their trip north had not been quite so leisurely.

Planning to drive the 700km over a few days, they’d had a less than auspicious start in the Blue Mountains, which was suffering its worst flooding in decades. Having successfully navigated their unfamiliar motorhome around windy roads in torrential rain, they were relieved to arrive unscathed – albeit a little damp – at their first caravan park, and spent the evening contentedly listening to the sound of rain lashing the windows. That was until one dubious ‘splosh’ sounded a bit closer. Followed by another…

The van was duly replaced the next morning before it flooded completely and they reluctantly left the raindrop-bejeweled eucalyptus trees for the tranquility of the Hunter Valley. Unfortunately they had been pipped to the post by Rod Stewart and a few thousand of his closest friends, who had arrived for his concert the day before and booked out every last pitch. Sadly forgoing the promised winery tour, they ploughed on to the seaside resort of Port Stephens. With no rock stars or groupies in sight, they could finally start to relax, and almost see the amusing side of their disastrous first few days. This is the beauty of campervanning! The ability to be flexible and spontaneous, rather than a slave to the guidebook.

This new-found optimism dissipated rather swiftly the next morning when they awoke to a defrosted fridge and what turned out to be a major electrical failure. Trundling only as far as the local breakdown garage, the flexibility and spontaneity were starting to wear thin. Seven hours later and buzzing from a day’s worth of vending machine caffeine, they made their way north to Coffs Harbour, where the van played its final trump card. As they pulled into their fourth caravan park in four days on a steamy late summer’s day, the air conditioning wheezed one final sigh and went to sleep.

So when they made it to Yamba, hot, tired and a slightly jaded from their first motorhome adventure, they were desperately hoping for three days of uninterrupted relaxation. Luckily, we were staying in one of our country’s favourite places, and it didn’t disappoint.

This was only our second trip in the campervan, and the first time we’d had the gas connected, so I’d been excitedly planning our first hot meal on two rings. So what did we have on our first evening? A Greek salad. No need to rush these things.

Look at that head height though – hardly any stoop!

Our campsite, the Calypso Holiday Park, was in a great spot on the banks of the Clarence River and within easy reach of the beaches and shops. We took our new kayaks out for a spin, watched dolphins playing in the ocean and retreated to the Pacific Hotel for afternoon beers overlooking the beach.

Look, you’re not going to going to sneak past me

We did have one longer-haul trip and caught the ferry across the river to Iluka, which, surrounded by the estuary and national park, is a haven for anglers and bush walkers. We didn’t manage to partake in either of those activities, and spent most of our time walking several kilometres in the searing midday sun to the beach, which turned out to be almost adjacent to the one we’d walked to in Yamba the day before. The ferry trip was lovely though, and isn’t this the nicest op shop you’ve ever seen?

 

Yamba is a very peaceful village; it looks after its local residents and its refusal to succumb to the commercialism so familiar along the east coast draws holiday makers back year after year to enjoy its seaside charm and unhurried pace. It was the perfect place to do not very much at all.

By our last night, after three sunshine-filled days (CSIRO might be on to something there), we watched the sun set over the river and really did feel relaxed and rejuvenated. So much so that when Jean and John’s kitchen tap fell off the following morning, they hardly batted an eyelid.