The mist swirled up the valley and hung in the trees above where we were camped. The fern canopy and dense green undergrowth was damp and eerie. Had we really just left the sun drenched beaches just a couple of hours ago? As we headed out of Byron Bay the sun was shining and we were thinking we should have stayed an extra day. This feeling was reinforced after we crossed the state border into Queensland and started climbing up the hills into the sub tropical rainforest. Our destination was Lamington National Park set amongst dense rainforest and where we were planning on spending three days hiking. On arrival it was certainly living up to the rain part of rainforest and a hike looked out of the question that afternoon. Still there was a great adventure playground for the kids to play on. The next morning the weather had cleared a bit so we set off on a hike into the rainforest. It was dark in amongst the trees with shafts of light coming through the tree canopy. All along the way there were massive ferns and mosses as well as glimpses into the valley below. We spent two days walking and it was really beautiful in the forest. The weather kept changing, one minute we were enjoying great views and the next the mist came rolling in again. As we stopped for lunch one day to enjoy a view we were joined by an inquisitive skink who seemed to want to share some of our lunch! At the end of the last walk we headed to the nearby cafe to enjoy a well earned Devonshire cream tea. It was time to head to Brisbane as the truck had an appointment at the garage. Some work had been identified when it had had its service done in Sydney but parts had to come from Germany so we were having the work done at the next convenient spot. Fortunately most of the work was been done under warranty. We were lucky as our three year warranty expired in just over a week. The main work been done was replacing the rear hubs where a seal had started to leak. The garage in Brisbane looked after us really well carefully going through everything with me and even giving us a lift to the station to catch the train into Brisbane. As the work was going to take a couple of days we had booked into an apartment in central Brisbane. We loved the apartment, really modern, near the centre and with great views from the 24th floor over the Brisbane river and of the bridge. Brisbane is a modern dynamic city with a lovely setting on the Brisbane river. We could imagine that with the weather it would be a great city to live and work in. It does not have the "big", must see sights, though of say Sydney. Either that or with all our travelling it takes a lot now for us to regard something as "must see". Nevertheless we spent a pleasant couple of days wandering around. The botanical gardens were lovely as was the South Bank where the kids loved the big adventure playground. We also visited the Brisbane Museum. Alisha is now studying the medieval period in school and the museum had an exhibition on the Medieval Ages so she and Gilly headed to that. The exhibition had come all the way from the British Museum so it was strange seeing it in Brisbane. Lucy has become fascinated with dinosaurs and is studying these in school so I took her off to the dinosaur part of the museum. There are lots of great restaurants in Brisbane so we had a couple of good nights out. We must be already thinking of Asia, as we ate Szechuan and Indian food. The garage kindly picked us back up from the station when we left Brisbane and took me through all the work they had done. Everything looked good. Hopefully we are now good for the Outback and even Asia without any more major work needing to be done. We headed out of Brisbane to Noosa. Noosa is a beautiful area set along the river banks leading through a small National Park to a wonderful sandy beach. It is different to Byron Bay in that it has a much more upmarket feel to it with some wonderful houses along the river and beach front and an array of trendy shops and cafes. As we took a stroll Gilly and I could really see why people moved here to live. We were here in summer and it was warm but not too hot and we are told in winter it is sunny and drops to a dreadfully low temperature of about 20 degrees during the day! Mmm.....food for thought. That evening we were met by a couple who had done just that, moved to Noosa. Rhys, a Kiwi and Jane originally from England had been living in Sydney but had moved up to Noosa. They had been following our blog and had got in touch as they are keen travellers themselves and are also planning doing a lot more travelling in a vehicle around the world. We spent a lovely evening with them down by the river, drinking wine as the sun went down. The riverfront was a riot of noise with all the birds coming home to roost. There were thousands of beautiful rainbow lorikeets and then after the sun set the most amazing massive flock of flying foxes (fruit bats) took to the sky. Once it was dark we retired to a lovely Thai restaurant (see the Asian theme is continuing) to continue chatting. It was great to meet a couple with similar interests to ours and we could have talked and talked until late in the evening but the girls were tired from all the swimming they had done in the pool earlier that day so we needed to head back to the truck. Hopefully we will meet them again, perhaps on their travels.
80 % of Australians live within 50kms of the coast and much of the population density is between Sydney and Brisbane, with that in mind we were wondering if we would find any quiet places to stay on the beach. However, Steve our master planner, thought he could find a few potentially quiet beautiful places from the map. The first spot for lunch was just north of Newcastle, It didn't look to promising to start with as we drove past the large city's coal port. It didn't look too dissimilar to its namesake city in England with its heavy machinery and piles of coal, it was just a lot, lot sunnier. However just a few kilometres away was the expansive golden sand dunes of Worimi Conservation lands. Further north we pulled into a sweet camp tucked behind the dunes in Myall Lakes National Park where we spent a couple of nights. We had the beach to ourselves as we jumped in the waves and played in the sand. I am not an early morning person, so it was with reluctance that I dragged myself out of bed for sunrise but I was rewarded by a pod of dolphins frolicking in the surf. Sheltering in the heat of the day gave us extra time for science experiments in school and sewing projects. To leave the park we had to take a tiny chain ferry across the river. 3 hours north Steve had picked another beauty, Racecourse Headland in Goolawah National Park. Because of the weekend the small campsite had a few people in it but as it was on a massive beach people soon spread out. With its golden flat sands and gentle waves in the shallow waters, it was great for the girls. As we've been heading north we've noticed that it has been getting more tropical with palms and other trees. Skipping inland we made our way into a section of rainforest left from the Gondwana times. This little pocket of forest is in a hilly area known as the Waterfall Way. The whole area is full of creeks, rivers and falls, it was a lovely area to spend a couple of days exploring. Steve got a bit more excitement than he bargained for on a relaxing stroll when he almost stood on a 2m long red-bellied black snake. It didn't move away and we knew it was poisonous. As we pulled into the show grounds for the night in the farming town of Dorringo, was saw there was some sort of cow herding/gymkhana competition in its final rounds. We have no idea what was going on but the girls and I enjoyed watching the dusty riders at work. It even stayed around to get its photo taken before it slid of at lightening speed. We were a bit worried that Byron Bay might be a bit crowded and busy for us. It's known as a bit of a hippy, surf town popular with backpackers. We knew our only camping options was a caravan park, not ever our favourite option. However we were completely charmed by its beautiful beach, relaxed population and it was quite nice to have a little town on our doorstep for a change. Walking up to the lighthouse we were surprised to see how much thick forest there was just outside town. We also came to the most easterly point we will be on this trip at the lighthouse, from now on we will be pointing north-west until we hit "home", in about 18 months or so.
While the fog had lifted above the town of Katoomba the mist was still swirling around in the valley below. It was the third time in the last few days that we had stood at this point in the hope of catching the magnificent view of "The Three Sisters", a rock formation in the Blue Mountains National Park. They were only a couple of hundred metres away but were still shrouded in dense mist. It was not going to be. After a wonderful week in Sydney it was time to collect the truck from the garage. The service had been completed but the garage had found some other issues that needed to be fixed. They had managed to fix some of these but for a couple they needed parts from Germany. As tempting as it was to hang around longer in Sydney while waiting for these we decided to push on and made arrangements to have the work done at a garage in Brisbane. The good news was that this work would be undertaken on warranty. Not bad timing since our warranty only had one more month to run. We were headed to the Blue Mountains just outside Sydney. The park gets its name from the bluish hue that comes off all the gum trees. Whilst the route into the Blue Mountains is a well trodden tourist route, parts of the area is still an amazing wilderness area. It's less than 100kms from the centre of Sydney as the crow flies but much of it is deep wilderness. People get lost there every year. We were looking forward to doing some hiking and enjoying the scenery and the views. It was a lovely day when we drove in and we found a quiet little camp spot in the woods for the evening. I say quiet. It was when we arrived, but as evening rolled in more and more people arrived. In fact there were so many vehicles there at the end we had to get someone up the next morning to move their car so we could get the truck out. The next morning the weather had also changed and there was a thick mist in the valley. As we drove up to Katoomba to see the views the mist turned into dense fog. We thought it would clear so decided to do school but it did not get any better and the forecast was not good. You couldn't see anything from the viewpoint. We then decided to head to Jenolan Caves. The most extensive cave complex in Australia. After all you did not need good weather to do a cave tour. We had been warned that the road down to the caves was extremely narrow and twisty however we knew that coaches drove down so thought we should be fine. However the coaches go down at a set time of day when they make the road one way only. We thought great, we will go down at the same time so went down when it was one way. We were glad we did. The road was very narrow at the end and we were glad we did not have to worry about other vehicles coming up. Right at the end we had to drive through a massive cave to get to the car park. There were lots of caves to visit but other than an easy self guided tour they all could only be visited on a guided tour. We booked ourselves on the tour of Lucas Cave. It was an amazing cave that took us over an hour to walk through. There were lots of crystals and stalactites and stalagmites and some amazing large caverns. We were a little concerned Alisha and Lucy may not like it as they don't like the dark but they absolutely loved it and were fine even when the guide switched all the lights out to show just how dark it was in the cave. From there we headed deeper into the National Park and found a quiet camp spot for the night. The next morning the weather had improved so we drove to the end of the road to do a walk at Karanga Walls. We walked along the plateau of sandstone cliffs with wonderful views into the valley below and across to some waterfalls. From here you could really see the scale of the park and its wilderness. It was hard to believe we were only 80 kilometres from Sydney. From there we headed deeper into the National Park and found a quiet camp spot for the night. The next morning the weather had improved so we drove to the end of the road to do a walk at Karanga Walls. We walked along the plateau of sandstone cliffs with wonderful views into the valley below and across to some waterfalls. From here you could really see the scale of the park and its wilderness. It was hard to believe we were only 80 kilometres from Sydney. From there we headed deeper into the National Park and found a quiet camp spot for the night. The next morning the weather had improved so we drove to the end of the road to do a walk at Karanga Walls. We walked along the plateau of sandstone cliffs with wonderful views into the valley below and across to some waterfalls. From here you could really see the scale of the park and its wilderness. It was hard to believe we were only 80 kilometres from Sydney. We decided to head back to Katoomba as we hoped with the better weather we would now be able to enjoy the views. On the way back we pulled down one of the many tracks in the forest to camp for the night. The next morning the weather was looking ok but as we climbed up to Katoomba it got cloudier and cloudier until again it was foggy. We thought ok let's have the kids do school and then it will clear. Well, it didn't clear, instead it started to rain. When the girls had finished school the rain had lightened to drizzle but it was still misty. Undeterred we still decided to do the cliff top walk. After all we have not used our Goretex jackets much recently. As we passed the Three Sisters viewpoint we still could not see anything. The walk took us right up to the side of one of the Three Sisters and whilst we could see the sheer sandstone wall in front of us we could not see its top. From there we descended the 900 steps down into the valley below. Of course having had to walk down after a few Kms in the valley floor we had to walk back up. It was a pleasant damp walk which I am sure would have been spectacular in better weather. We headed a few Kms out of Katoomba to some viewpoints facing down into the opposite valley. Here we were more lucky. Whilst it was not clear there was no mist so we could enjoy the fantastic views. We were going to leave the area but as we found somewhere to camp nearby decided to stay for an extra night in the hope the weather would be better in the morning. We woke up to some sunshine so decided to head back to Katoomba. The weather was fine until we entered the town when the mist descended again. When we reached the viewpoint the mist had lifted above the town but was still swirling around in the valley just giving fleeting glimpses of the valley floor and those elusive Three Sisters. This time it really was time to go. We headed along the road that connected the Blue Mountains to the Hunter Valley, another famous wine growing region. Along the way we camped at the Grey Gum cafe. The cafe is a well known stop on motorbike rides from Sydney but it closes at 5pm so it's a quiet free night stop over. It opens early and as they had let us stay for free it only seemed polite to enjoy the huge full English breakfast on offer the next morning. We headed to the uninspiring town of Cessnock which is at the heart of the Hunter Valley. As regular readers of our blog will know we have been doing a pretty comprehensive tour of the Australian wine regions. This was likely to be our last, heading North the weather would become more tropical, not conducive to making good wine so we were determined to enjoy it. The Hunter Valley is famous for its Semillion wine as well as its Shiraz. As our wine stocks were running low in the truck we thought it appropriate to do one final stock up. The plan was to spend the day driving between a number of vineyards. They are all located very close to one another so there was not much driving. Still with being the driver, Gilly again got to do most of the tasting. As it was likely to be our last wineries visit we felt we really needed to do it justice so we managed to visit four separate wineries. Fortunately for me the last one was right next to where we camped for the night so I could fully enjoy it. We also found time to visit a chocolate factory and "The Smelly Cheese Factory" where we picked up some wonderful cheese. Fully stocked, it's time to head for the beach.