A Queensland Odyssey
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 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
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
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.
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