Our Antipodean Adventure

G’Day mates! You may recall from Sophie’s post on Bali that we didn’t fall in love with the place. In fact, we kind of hated it, to the point that we changed our flight, and so we found ourselves in Cairns, Australia on the morning of the 12th April, a week earlier than planned. After probably the least comfortable overnight flight we’ve experienced so far on this trip (thanks, JetStar, for your comfy seats, complete with steel bar that digs into your back and makes sure you don’t get a wink of sleep), we cleared immigration, got our bags, and emerged bleary-eyed into the bright sunshine of this tropical city tucked away in the northeast corner of Australia. We had booked accommodation through the Hotwire website, and were given a family room at the Comfort Inn, which was more like a motel than an inn, but it would suffice for the few days we wanted to spend here.

Power nap at Bali airport

We dumped our bags and went off to grab some breakfast in town. We chose a trendy coffee shop downtown, and were confronted with sticker shock for the first (and not the last) time in Aus – four modest breakfasts, including drinks came to A$65. Our DAILY food budget is C$50! Clearly, we had some adjusting to do if we were to survive here for the next three weeks…

Our plan for the next few days was this: book a reef snorkeling trip, and find a campervan to drive down to Brisbane in, preferably a relocation. Sounds simple, right? Well, we managed to find a 4X4 truck relocation through a Kiwi website that specializes in this, requested it for the following day, thinking that we could use it in the evening or something. Then we went off and booked a reef trip also for the following day. We were feeling quite proud of our day’s achievements, and headed back to the comfort of the Comfort Inn for a nap. On arriving, I checked my emails and found that we had been accepted for the 4X4 vehicle, and that I had to call the rental company before close of business that day (30 minutes time) and provide my details to confirm the pickup.

This is where our plans became unraveled. When we asked if we could collect the vehicle either early the next day, or after 5 pm (when our reef boat returned), we were given a flat NO to both options. Okay, I said to the guy, we will collect it the following day. Then he says, “I’m sorry mate, but we will be closed Friday and all weekend for Easter.” I turned to Sophie and said, “We’re screwed!” which was about the size of it. No exceptions allowed, apparently, so we had to cancel the vehicle (rather than cancel the reef trip, of course!).

We were to learn an important lesson – Australians take Easter very seriously. On Good Friday, pretty much everything is closed. So, good luck finding any kind of rental car, van or bicycle. We were stuck here for the next few days. Since we could not find any land transport, the decision on how to get to Brisbane was an easy one – take the plane. We booked yet another JetStar flight from Cairns to Brisbane, leaving on the Saturday following Good Friday. We were supposed to stop in to visit some distant relatives of mine who live in Townsville, and so I was a bit disappointed that we would not be able to see them, but I’m pretty sure we will be back here in the future, so it’s just taking a rain check.

The lagoon at Cairns

We spent the remainder of our time in Cairns strolling around the (mostly empty) streets, looking at the unaffordable restaurants and cafes lining the esplanade, and trying to find free things to do to entertain the kids. Even the weather was against us – it was cloudy and rainy, and only on the last day was the weather nice enough to go for a dip in the artificial lagoon (couldn’t swim in the sea of course due to the stingers and crocs).

We weren’t too disappointed to leave Cairns, having done what we came there to do (see the reef, which was amazing, of course!). Our flight to Brizzie was 2 hours long (that’s a LOT of driving we avoided), and was unremarkable, apart from the severe case of tinnitus that was brought on by the 110-decibel screaming of a tiny 2-year old girl that was sitting right behind me. I have never heard a sound so loud come out of something so small.

We decided to try and get an Uber to take us to our accommodation, but due to my confusion as to the pick up location, we ended up wandering around the quite large airport for at least 20 minutes until we found the right place. Again, we had sticker shock – a 30 minute Uber ride cost over A$40! But it was a nice, comfortable ride though. Brisbane is a very neat and tidy city that has grown quite large, well over 2 million residents now. As we drove through the streets, I knew we were going to enjoy our time there.

Downtown Brisbane

We got to the flat, dumped our bags, and headed straight out of the door to find a grocery store that was still open. According to Google, the Coles Supermarket at the nearby shopping mall was open until 6 pm, and it was just before 5 pm when we set off on foot to get there. After 15 minutes’ walk, we found the shopping mall – it was huge, and very, very quiet. There was nobody about, but we ventured inside nonetheless and followed the signs to the Cole’s grocery store, only to find that it had closed at 5 pm and not 6 pm, as Google had confidently advised us. We had gone all that way for nothing! I silently cursed my dilly-dallying at the airport, that easily cost us 20 minutes, and we headed back towards our flat empty-handed. On the way back, we came across a hotdog joint that was open, and we went inside. How much could four hotdogs and a side of fries possibly cost? Before we get to that here’s a fun fact: in Australia, on holiday weekends, the restaurants kindly add an extra 15% to your already substantial bill, and all with a wide smile. So…. our measly meal cost A$37. I was not happy ☹

Lookout view of the city

We spent Easter Sunday & Monday exploring the city on foot and on the CityCat fast ferries that ply the waters of the Brisbane river. The weather was just perfect, around 26 degrees and sunny, with no humidity, it was just lovely to wander about and explore! We visited parks where the locals were our pick-nicking on the lawns, playing cricket, frisbee, and throwing rugby balls about. We strolled along the river, where cyclists, dog-walkers and joggers were out in abundance. The Aussies are such an active bunch, and who can blame them, with weather like this? We also visited the botanical gardens (with FREE entry!) and climbed up to a lookout point to get a nice view of the city.

Koalas at Wildlife HQ

Our accommodation in Brisbane was in a quiet suburb, surrounded by forest, which was nice but the flat itself was cramped and quite bare-bones, with breezeblock walls, and rooms with zero plugs in. The carpet also smelled a bit rank, so we were happy to hit the road after three nights there. We rented a car and drove the 120 km north to our next destination: The Sunshine Coast. It sounded lovely, but we really had no idea what to expect. It was going to be another voyage of discovery!

Coolum Beach, Sunshine Coast

We arrived in the small seaside hamlet of Coolum Beach early in the afternoon, and were very pleasantly surprised to find the place to be picturesque, with a lovely beach and boardwalk just over the road from our apartment. After we had checked into our huge and nicely appointed 2-bedroom flat, we went for a walk into town along the boardwalk, with a great view of the ocean from the clifftop. The town was not too big and not too small, but just right, as Goldilocks would say! This being the end of the season, the place was quite sleepy, but not dead. There were people in the shops and cafes, and on the beach too (the waves here are BIG, and the surfers were making the most of them). We bought a few bags of groceries and headed back to relax in our lovely flat.

Playing on the beach at Coolum

The next day, we decided that we liked the place so much that we wanted to stay longer. We managed to get an extra three nights at the same rate we got for the first two nights, despite the fact that we were heading into yet another long weekend (ANZAC day, April 25th ). There was a nice pool in the complex, with a small spa too, which we made the most of. The nice lady at reception had a huge selection of DVDs we could borrow to watch on the giant 50 inch TV in our flat, so the kids were very happy campers. We watched a bunch of films, including “Father of the Bridge” starring Steve Martin, along with the sequel. I am happy to report that the kids are now staunch Steve Martin fans, LOL! We also had a nice, fully furnished kitchen, so Sophie and I could cook some nice meals for a change (and keep within our budget!).

Storm approaching Rainbow Beach

Our five nights in Coolum Beach went by really fast. We did a bit of relaxing as well as a bit of exploring the area. We conquered the mighty Mount Coolum (203 m elevation), went to see some strange Australian fauna at Wildlife HQ zoo, and made it up to Rainbow Beach, near Fraser Island, where we climbed a 120 m sand dune and walked along the beach until the rain set in, and we had a picnic in a park.

As I write this, we are about to spend our last night here. Tomorrow we hit the road again, down to the Gold Coast, for two nights in a supposedly “luxury resort”. Should be interesting… Stay tuned for the next update!