A Queensland Odyssey

Week One

By Karen Johnson, for Out of the Kaje #4 (June/July 99)

Day 1 Ė Melbourne to Gundagai

This was our longest dayís drive, but it didnít take as long as we thought it would, even though we left way behind schedule. I actually got up at 5.45am (shockingly early for me, or for anyone sane!) because Heather was already awake and running around doing final packing things. I hate to think what time I would have had to get up to leave at 7.30am Ė probably before I went to bed the night before! Anyway, we made it without leaving anything vital behind, which felt like quite an achievement after all the messing around in the morning (checking tires, water oil etc. Ė Heather wasnít going to go anywhere unless she was sure the car was going to at least make it to Gundagai.)
Gundagai is a very pretty place, but it is built on top of a flood plain. When the Settlers first arrived in the valley, they built next to the river, and there they stayed for 50 years, until the whole town was washed away in a massive flood one night (surprise, surprise!). They moved uphill to where they are today, but they didnít build a bridge across the flood plain for another 60 years. We saw the old bridges, and they are amazingly long. You can walk right across one of them if youíve got 30 minutes to spare, but we didnít. It was getting late, and time to find our first motel.

Day 2 Ė Gundagai to Sydney

Before we left Gundagai we had a look at the ĎMarble Masterpieceí, incredibly elaborate miniatures built by an Italian marblesmith named Roconni.  Roconni spent almost 50 years building the two models on display Ė a baroque cathedral, and a replica of an altar from somewhere famous. There are 20 different types of marble in each piece, and it all came from NSW. I didnít know there were so many different colours and patterns in existence! One black one even has fossil shells embedded in the stone.
We had a look for a bakery to get some breakfast, but there didnít seem to be one in Gundagai. I donít know what they do for bread?! While we were looking, we found a road sign saying ĎMt Parnassus Lookoutí. Itís not actually a mountain, only a hill, but there was a surprisingly good view from the top. We also drove around to South Gundagai, because you can drive on the end of the old bridge. The drive across the flood plain gives you a great view of the two bridges from the underneath.  Thereís a lookout in South Gundagai as well, with a lovely view, but it was raining (or just about to, anyway) so it was too grey for photos.
The rest of the day was taken up in driving to Sydney. I would have liked to take the time to drive through the centre of town to see the Harbour Bridge, Opera House etc. but we didnít need to, as we were staying with my fatherís sister in Blacktown, an outer suburb. Sydney is a much bigger place than I realised, and the diversion would have added hours onto our day.

Day 3 Ė Sydney to Taree

Not a terribly brilliant day today. We had brought a pair of blow-up pillows with us because we thought they might be handy, and this morning we realised that we didnít have them anymore. They hadnít even been used yet, but they must have been left behind at the motel in Gundagai. The other unpleasant happening was getting a big stone chip on the windscreen when a truck drove past us at lunch time.
On the other hand, the weather was lovely, and we got to see some good scenery at Port Nelson. Itís a long way off the beaten track, and thereís only one way to get there, but itís a beautiful place. It would be well worth going there to stay some time, just to enjoy the scenery.
After the windscreen got chipped at lunchtime, Heather was really worried that the little star-shaped crack might spread too much to be patched, but fortunately that didnít happen.
We didnít go on the coastal drive that we had planned to, because Port Nelson took all out spare time. Instead we drove straight up the Pacific Highway to Taree. There is a really winding stretch just before you get there, but it is very pretty too. You drive through a forest of trees with white trunks, and there are occasional sub-tropical patches of palms, which look rather out of place in New South Wales.
Taree is a very quiet place, especially on a Sunday night. Everything was closed up for the weekend, including the windscreen repairers. There was only one convenient place to get dinner Ė the KFC across the street from the motel. Disgusting!

Day 4 Ė Taree to Grafton

The drive from Taree to Grafton isnít particularly long, but it seemed to take a very long time to get to where we were going. This section of the coast is heavily built up, so the speed limit is 60km all the way. We drove straight down the highway because we thought we didnít have time for diversions, but it might actually have been quicker to take the longer back roads out of the traffic.
We reached Coffs Harbour at 2pm, and stopped for lunch. We were looking for the beach, but then we saw signs pointing to the Botanical Gardens, so we ate there instead. The Gardens are very pretty, and full of exotic sub-tropical plants. They deserve a whole afternoon to themselves, but we could only afford to spend 15 minutes walking around, because Coffs Harbour is only about halfway to Grafton, and Heather hates to drive in the dark. As it was, we left at 3pm, and drove into the full sun for the rest of the afternoon.
Grafton is famous for its Jacaranda displays, but it was the wrong time of year. I suspect that when theyíre flowering, Grafton is a very pretty place, but in September the streets were lined with grey skeletons. Not that we had time to worry about this. All we saw on our overnight stay was the motel and the bridge into town. This is a very unusual bridge, because itís double storied with bends in it, and trains go across underneath the cars.
According to the brochures, the best Chinese restaurant in NSW is in Grafton, but Heather was too tired from all that driving into the glare to even think about going there. Thereís a Heritage Walk around the historic buildings of the town, but we didnít do that either. Our motel didnít run to a restaurant (rather surprisingly, because I thought all Australian motels provided dining facilities) but there was a KFC next door. Faced with the prospect of KFC for dinner again, we made do with leftovers from our late lunch.

Day 5 Ė Grafton to Canungra

We got away from Grafton at 8.30am, which I thought was pretty good, but Heather decided was far too late. We stopped at a shopping centre in Tweed Heads (just south of the Qld border, but still part of the Gold Coast and definitely hot enough to deserve the title) for just long enough to get a drink and a couple of postcards, and crossed the Queensland border (finally!) at about 2pm.
The Gold Coast area is full of theme parks (Movieworld, SeaWorld, etc), which are great to visit if youíve got a family with you, and itís also home to many other tourist attractions. I would have liked to stop at the Currumbin Bird Sanctuary, which is reputed to be extremely good, but Heather was concerned that we didnít have time. Canungraís tucked away in the hills behind the Gold Coast proper, and she thought that it would take a long time to get there. As it was, the road turned out to be very good, and we arrived at 4pm. We almost went the very long way around to get here though, because we accidentally missed the turn-off to Canungra. We were driving down a very steep windy road to nowhere before we realised we should have turned right several miles ago. We hadnít noticed we were going the wrong way, because thatís what we though it would be like. Actually, the road is in excellent condition, probably because of the military camp just outside the town. All the soldiers go there for training, and there are signs alongside the road for miles, warning that youíre driving next (or sometimes through) a firing range so you mustnít stop or get out of the car, just in case.
The accommodation at Canungraís only motel was very basic, as could only be expected so far out of the way, but well maintained and very comfortable, which was really more important.

Day 6 Ė Canungra to Binna Burra

+ Day 7 Ė Binna Burra

Canungra is so close to Binna Burra that it only took 30 minutes to get from one to the other, and we arrived at 8.30am! That was probably good, because it gave us a really early start. We walked around in the rain forest for two hours, and showed up at the Lodge at 11am. It was the first time Iíd ever seen a real rain forest. It was very wet, but Heather was a bit disappointed because it was much less lush than she thought it would be.
Lunch was yummy and we got there barely in time. Everyone gathers around the door at about 10 to 1, and when they ring the dinner gong the mob races in to get a good seat. We were a little late, so the horde had descended already and there wasnít much left for us.
After lunch I sat on the balcony and read my book while I listened to the birds and watched the butterflies. There was a little butterfly garden just outside our window, and it had attracted masses of beautiful light green butterflies. A little after, we strolled around the lodge to explore. There is a path called ĎThe Circuití that runs about 100m away from the buildings, but thatís 100m straight down! Itís cut into the side of the hill, which is so steep itís basically a cliff. Heather didnít like it very much, but I thought it was quite interesting. We also walked around the ĎSenses Trailí, a short rainforest walk designed for the blind. There is a rope guideline all along the path, and Braille signs wherever thereís something interesting to smell or feel.
After dinner we retired to our cabin, until Heather went out to the car to get something that she had forgotten. When she came back, she said there was a bush fire burning far across the valley, so we went outside to look. The activity coordinator was out on the lawn with many other guests, and they said it was actually deliberate burning off and not a wildfire. One of the kids said heíd seen a tiny wisp of smoke rising from the area at breakfast time. It burned all night as far as I know, and we watched it for ages. You could see the flames flickering dimly while the orange glow reflected in the smoke cloud. After a while we noticed dots of torchlight around the edge, which was the fire brigade coming to check it out.
In the morning I tried to see where the fire had burned, but it was too far away to show up.
A camera crew had come up to Binna Burra from Channel 7 to shoot a segment for the Holiday Show. They eagerly filmed the hand feeding of a group of possums (soooo cute), but for some reason they didnít want to shoot the distant fire. I wonder why?! At breakfast time they feed the lorikeets, rosellas and parrots and the camera crew got some really close-up footage. I meant to photograph the birds myself, but I didnít get around to it before they finished eating and flew away.

The second day we were there, there was an abseiling adventure course, and if you walked to the bottom of the falls you were supposed to be able to watch them come down the cliff. It was supposed to be a very easy walk to get there, but we made a BAD mistake. I thought that the start of the track was close enough to the Lodge that we could hike down the hill to it reasonably quickly, but we walked down the road in the sun for at least an hour before we found it. That lost us a lot of time, and in the end we turned back about halfway along the trail, because we never would have got to the falls in time (that is if there even was a falls Ė by that stage we had severe doubts.) Neither of us had anticipated the scorching heat, and as we walked back up the road to the information centre in the boiling sun, we almost cooked! After a rest in the shade, we were just starting to consider starting back up the hill (actually a mountain) when a pair of good Samaritans rescued us. They gave us a lift in their car, and we ended the morning by sitting on our private balcony and eating our delicious pre-packed picnic lunch while watching the butterflies.
After dinner some people were discussing how many kilometres theyíd walked that day, and positively gloating. Iím not sure why Ė I thought the aim of going on a holiday was to lie back, relax, and unwind, but these people seemed to see it the opportunity for some sort of competition. Strange! I guess they had to do something to entertain themselves in a place with no television, radios or phones.

Week One / Week Two / Week Three / Photo Pages

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