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From Wine Country to Country

This might be a bit confusing because I’m going backwards now.Well, going backwards to Australia and then forward in time. I realize we didn’t post that much about what we were doing then other than that we picked some grapes..Here is an attempt to catch you up. I will add pictures as I can but because the people of Oceania have MB caps on uploads, it is kind of a pain to get pictures up. Mostly becuase it costs money and after spending $1/hour for internet in Thailand, we have a hard time paying $5 for 50MB…or like 10 pictures.

Here we go…

You saw we picked grapes one day, right? We picked a couple tons of cabernet and Shiraz. Just a heads-up, Cab Sav is a lot easier to pick because the vines aren’t so thick. I always thought you needed a lot of heat to grow Cabernet but it turns out you just need a lot of heat to grow GOOD cab. It doesn’t get that hot in the Granite Belt and so maybe that is one of the reasons their cab doesn’t taste as good? I mean, they’ll tell you it grows great there but I’m not sure I believe it. The grapes were sweet though and we ate bunches while we picked.

After we finished, we grabbed our free lunch and a couple bottles of free wine and headed north. We were shooting for Rainbow Beach, which was maybe 500 kms away. Looking at google maps now I see we could have shaved 70kms or so off the drive had we driven back through Brisbane, but who wants to do that?

It was hard to leave Stanthorpe, it has a pretty cool vibe going on there with lots of homemade foodstuffs, local farming and ranching and a relaxed way of life that is pleasant to be around. But we had to get this campervan to Cairns (a good 2000kms away) in 9 days so we couldn’t stand to be sitting around there any longer. It is too bad too because Stanthorpe would end up being our favorite part of the campervan experience.

Field of Sunflowers on the Way

Field of Sunflowers on the Way

So after buying sme local sausage, cheese, tapanade and wine, we headed out of town and started driving. It was about 5pm. At about 8pm we were getting hungry and at the same time coming to the realization that basically nobody lives in Australia if they don’t live in a city. I mean, it is dead out there. You can drive for 100kms and not see more than 3 or 4 cars. And everybody tucks in early too. Everything seemed to be closed. It also means that the only food you’re seeing is McDonalds, Hungry Jack (aka Burger King), and Red Rooster.  We finally came across a “hotel” (for some reason they like to call their pubs “hotels” in Oz. Even when they aren’t actually hotels. Go figure) and stopped in for some fish and chips and chicken shnitzel. There weren’t many other options.

Chicken with Gravy

Chicken with Gravy

It was pretty unremarkable (as many meals would turn out to be, though the chicken did come with gravy!) and we kept moving on. An hour or so later and I was too tired to drive anymore. The “rest stop” turned out to be in the middle of a small town – literally in the parking lot – and we pulled in for the night. It was perhaps the worst rest spot in all of Australia and we heard semis drive by all night long while we wondered whether the morning workers would pass by us wondering what possessed us to camp out right on the main drag. I don’t think Kelly liked the free toilets either.

Not getting much sleep, we left at about 6am and got another hour away when we discovered a glorious rest area in another town, covered in trees and quiet. We pulled up alongside a few other campervans and got a few more hours of sleep. We were even able to score some local boiled peanuts (something I have often missed after moving out of Alabama) and while they weren’t fresh, they were still pretty good.

It took another 3 hours or so to make it to Rainbow Beach and we drove through rain for most of it. We pulled into a campervan park and quickly signed up for a Fraser Island tour for the following day.

Fraser Island is one of those “must see” tourist highlights that everyone mentions if you tell them you are going to the east coast of Australia. The largest island made up entirely of sand in the world. It is interesting because this sand island hosts a very large rainforest, clear-water lakes and is only accessed by barge without any permanent harbours.

Rainbow Beach, by the way, wasn’t entirely special. It was your run of the mill beach – we’d see a lot of them before leaving OZ. We walked along it for a bit but retreated when the rain started again. K made ratatouille for dinner and we went to bed pretty early.

Rainbow Beach

Rainbow Beach

We paid a lot of money to take the “tour” of Fraser Island. This involves getting into this very nice, bus-like 4×4 vehicle orginally designed for granite quaries. They drive on the beach a lot on Fraser Island (there aren’t many roads) and through the water and so a specially designed vehicle is required.

If you haven’t noticed yet, K and I don’t take a lot of tours. They tend to be expensive and you have no control. Add in a big chunk of cheesy, Aussie silliness along with a constantly moving itin and you have yourself a whole bunch of time spent in a bus. The problem with these tours is that you really just want to hang out on the island and go the famouse Lake McKenzie, which really is a spectaculer lake with extremely fine white sand, amazingly clear FRESH water and a postcard perfect beach, but instead, so they can rationalize the whole thing as a “tour” and charge you like $160 Aussie Dollars, they drive you all over the island to see the “sights”. In the end we were exhausted and wish we had just rented our own 4×4 and tent, but I’m sure that would have been expensive as well and would have suffered from a host of other problems.

The Stunning Lake McKenzie

The Stunning Lake McKenzie

Tour Truck

Tour Truck

Final advice? If you have the time to do a proper camping trip to Fraser and you have a bunch of friends along, by all means go. It would be blast and that’s what the Aussies do. It is basically a big, eternal spring break out there. I would have a really hard time recommending a tour.

I have to say we felt pretty beat after this tour. Between the Bridge Climb in Sydney and the Fraser Island Tour, we spent a ton of money and neither of them lived up to the hype. We felt like we had just wasted a bunch of money.

Because we still had so many kms to cover, we hit the road after our Fraser Island adventure. We tried to take a quick shower at our campervan park before leaving but we were busted trying to use the facilities while no longer being a guest in the park and ended up having to take a shower at this ghetto-ass landromat where we shared the 5 minutes of hot water between the two of us.

That night we got as far as Gin Gin or Miriam Vale (I can’t remember) before we so tired that we needed to find a place to sleep. We pulled into a Rest Area alongside a few other overnight campers and after a beer, passed out.

The next day we woke up and met a few nice Aussies in the rest area. It was Easter Weekend and so the roads were more crowded than normal (meaning that there was a car every few kms – not exactly what we’d call traffic in the states). Because of this, the volunteers were out manning the Driver Reviver stations with free coffee, tea and biscuits. We spoke to an older couple who informed us of all the free camping spots along the route north. There’s a book you can buy in OZ that lists them all and if you do the campervanning thing there, I highly recommend it. While the campervan parks are nice and you need to charge the van up every once in awhile, they are packed with other campervans and a little impersonal. The free campsites, on the other hand are much quieter, generally have much better views of the ocean or countryside and are, well, free. We wrote down a few on our map and went on our way

More to come…


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