I’ve slept outside by a campfire and I’ve camped in tents before but in pretty heavy duty tents made for 10 people, yet it felt like a bit of an adventure to set up a tent in a free campsite and certainly something I was new to in terms of a regular way of sleeping whilst on the move. You can feel a bit inept and uncertain about what to do but like you are learning something and going back to basics. In no time at all our tent was up, blow-up beds inflated (*cough* with an electric pump…) and essentials inside (with our main bags left in the van). It was certainly cosy, but pretty soon I was fast asleep. That is until it started raining in the night and our botch job of putting the cover over the tent meant the water started dripping through the mesh “window”, soaking my sleeping bag, mattress and pillow. The rain was too heavy for me to go out and run the cover, so I just sucked it up and accepted being wet; we would learn the best way to do things as we went and it’s all part of the experience (what you always say when things don’t go to plan or fall apart). The rain continued into the morning, with 6 of us huddling under the raised door of the boot whilst having our cups of coffee after an early morning wake-up.
We eventually left Rotary Park campsite around 8:45, despite planning to leave at 8, in the direction of Mission Beach, but on the way Toby spotted a sign for the Josephine Falls (part of the Waterfall circuit not far from Cairns, for which you can pay $120 for a day tour, or £72) so we veered off for a spontaneous waterfall trip. After parking up it is a 5-10 minute walk through the forest until you reach the base of the waterfall, which is the part you can swim in (refreshingly cold and deep enough to swim) and also has a “rock slide” where you clamber up a huge rock part way down the falls to then slide into the water below; incredibly slippy to the point you have to slide along your bum at parts to reach it, but fun (especially when 4 of you go down at the same time holding hands…)
Back on the road for Mission Beach, we arrived at Shrub bar at 11:30am and stopped for a cider (it’s acceptable to justify morning drinking with “I’m on vacation” for an entire year, right??) and a game of Darts (which I naturally lost, and I’m not at all competitive when it’s something I KNOW I am terrible at and have no chance of winning). We then found a spot alongside the beach to park up and cook lunch – a meal of noodles, fried veg and balony (what else?!) It’s hard when you are in a new group and don’t want to step in any toes or cause offence by offering to do something or making suggestions whilst wanting to contribute and not appear lazy. It can take a while to get used to each other, adjust to the dynamic and establish roles. At the same time I’m not shy about putting forward a different way of doing something if I think it might be better or of being honest if there is something I feel strongly about. I’m also happy to sit back and let others take the lad so I don’t have to make a decision.
After lunch we washed, cleaned and packed away before spending a couple of hours on the beach. Due to the things in the sea that can kill you it wasn’t at all packed and most of the action is above you as skydivers descend onto the sand in their parachutes – I don’t think I have ever been on such a big beach with so few other people on it. But it was nice to just sit and soak up the sun and play football as a group on the fairly hard sand. After the pouring rain in the morning it was lovely to be under a blue sky and bright sun.
Around 4pm we set off towards Townsville, stopping at a Woolworths (devastated to discover this was not the same as the now-deceased chain from the UK, but delighted to be inside a supermarket wandering down food aisles once again; such a whirlwind of emotions for a Friday afternoon) to pick up food for dinner. Six people sharing a meal, with one of us a vegetarian (not me, in case you were alarmed), can make this a tricky process but we got there in the end, deciding it might be better for a different person each night to dictate what we eat and lead the process.
Then we were back on the road, driving down national speed limit roads lined with trees and surrounded by mountains. I don’t know why but I hadn’t expected so much of a rural, mountainous location along the coast and it is all so beautiful. We made another spontaneous stop (the freedom and discovery with driving yourself compared to taking a bus is such a wonderful experience), this time at a lookout with misty views of the mountains and creeks below – it felt eerie and mysterious. Finally we made it to Townsville and parked along The Strand to have views of the sea as we prepared and devoured dinner of pre-cooked roast chickens, salad and rice; removing meat from the carcass is one if my favourite things to do and fortunately the others gladly passed this greasy task onto me.
After eating we found a nearby bar to enjoy a beer or two before driving to a campsite for the night – the first two we found didn’t allow tents so we didn’t reach our home for the night until gone 1am and by the time Tiia and I had set up our tent and pumped up our air beds it was 2am by the time we got to sleep. A much drier night than the previous, we woke around 9am to a sunny day and extremely stuffy tent – two very opposing nights in the tent so far!
After a breakfast of porridge oats with cinnamon and cooked apple, and following a much-needed shower, we packed up and drive back to The Strand to spend a couple of hours by the Rock Pool; a public man-made pool with salt water from the ocean. A relaxed, lazy afternoon in a town that, for me, didn’t have much character and felt a bit lost – one of my highlights would even be grabbing a coffee from a Kiosk, delighting the child in me whose ideas of Australia come from Home & Away and Neighbours. I should say now that the coffee I have had in Oz has been really good so far, from the creamy Chai Latte I had at Sydney airport when I first arrived to the deliciously foamy and seriously strong latte at this Townsville kiosk. It makes a welcome change to the shitty instant stuff I’ve been having in hostels and the camper!
Mid-afternoon we started our journey down south towards Airlie beach, stopping at Coles to pick up food and drink for our evening at a campsite just one hour from Airlie. A more eventful journey than expected, I was tapping away on my iPad in my own little world when all of a sudden we were pulling over on the side of the road as apparently we were speeding and were being stopped by the police. Tiia and I sat quietly in the back – with my humble smile to the police officer not being gratefully received – while Matthieu was being questioned on where we had come from and where we were going. Well, I suppose it’s another thing to add to our road trip experience (and we’ve been gently mocking Matthieu since, of course – I’m convinced he was trying to make a point to Toby, whom had just told him he drives too slow…)
Once at the campsite Tiia and I set up our tent whilst the guys prepared dinner, Rasmus taking charge of cooking our barbie. After eating it was time for drinking games, starting with beer bowling on camp chairs and then advancing to classic card games that quickly escalated to include punishments such as climbing over the campervan and looping the campsite. Catchphrases from the evening are “its not a beer!” and “just like anal”, so you can see it was a really mature event.
We eventually went to bed at 1am after singing in Rasmus’ birthday, were woken up by the morning heat at 8am, and then it took 3 of us (myself, Tiia and Matthieu) to discreetly prepare Rasmus’ birthday pancake while he was being strategically distracted by Toby. It was a bit of a slap-dash attempt at a banana and Nutella pancake stack, but I’m convinced it was his best birthday cake to date. A slightly gluttonous start to the day before we packed up and started our drive to Airlie Beach…