It Doesn’t Look Too Far – On A Globe

Melbourne to Cairns Road Trip

While enjoying our week in Tasmania, I had been keeping an eye out for special RV relocation deals on the internet. The idea is that if hire companies need one of their vehicles moving to a different depot, then you can volunteer to do the drive for them and in return they give you the vehicle for $1 per night.

This sounded too good to be true when I first heard about it, but after much searching I found a deal that worked for us. For less than the cost of a coffee, we’d be the proud, temporary owners, of a 6 berth RV. In return, we simply had to move the vehicle from Melbourne to Cairns. We had 7 days.

Looking at a map of Australia, Melbourne is at the extreme bottom and Cairns is very close to the top. A quick google search revealed that the shortest driving route is 2,944 kilometres, with a best case driving time of 32 hours.

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Coming from the UK it’s hard to comprehend this distance. The furthest we’d contemplate driving at home is maybe 4 or 5 hours in any one direction. Beyond this I’d be booking flights, or else we’d be driving into the sea.

My maths brain kept reassuring me that 32 hours over 7 days was only 4-5 hours driving per day. But it still looked a reasonably long way on the map.

Fresh Tin Can

We arrived feeling fresh at the Melbourne Maui depot at 10am. This is where we’d been instructed to pick-up our vehicle, rather than a random sightseeing trip.

I half expected to be presented with a ten year-old wreck that was being sent to a retirement home in Cairns. Instead we were handed the keys to a freshly minted RV, with its cutlery still in a plastic wrapper, making its maiden voyage to warmer climes.

We felt like campervan pros after our 12 nights in New Zealand, so after a quick inspection we were off. After 0.5 kilometres we stopped for supplies. This took over an hour as the kids were hungry and needed feeding. At this rate, it was going to take us a lot longer than a week to get to Cairns.

After a late start, we stopped off in a caravan park just before sunset, at a bend in the Murray River called Tocumwal. We were only 300km outside of Melbourne, but given the abundance of Australian wildlife littering the roads, I was keen to avoid night time driving unless it was absolutely necessary. It’s hard to see a kangaroo in the dark and I didn’t fancy the job of scraping a dead one of the road.

Instead, I thought we could get an early start the following morning, with the goal of reaching Dubbo by afternoon, which was 500km away.

At 6am it was still dark and a heavy mist covered the ground, with icicles hanging from the wing mirrors. I was starting to question the wisdom of setting off so early. I couldn’t see more than ten feet ahead and visibility was probably worse than if it had been the middle of the night. At least the road was mostly straight and there wasn’t too much in the way of traffic.

Conditions improved as the sun rose and we made Dubbo in reasonable time. After starting to exhibit early symptoms of cabin fever, the kids were ecstatic to find that our campsite had a swimming pool and waterslides. The day had warmed up nicely and I was equally pleased to open a cold beer while notionally standing on lifeguard duties.

Glancing at a map, I was pleased to see that we were now north west of Sydney, which felt like reasonable progress. Cairns was still off the map though, a very long way away. I was starting to formulate a back-up plan in my mind, involving Anja and the girls catching a flight from Brisbane, while I bravely drove the lonely road to Cairns.

A Typical Day in the RV

We reached Moree on day 3, after a relatively short day because we didn’t set-off until gone 10am. The kids wanted one last go in the swimming pool and I was happy to take a break after yesterday’s early start.

Our standard routine was getting pretty well drilled, with a couple of hours driving followed by a rest stop, preferably somewhere in the vicinity of both a playground and a bakery. The bakery was mainly for my benefit, so that I could top up on fresh coffee or grab a pie for lunch.

Two or three spells of driving each day would theoretically be enough to get us to Cairns.

We’d stopped un-making the beds each day to save time and effort. This left us with one small table in the back, where the girls sat during the day and where we could all eat dinner.

Family gap year

Sunset was around 5pm, so by the time we had found a campsite and eaten, it was pitch black and we were all ready for sleep.

Nearly Half Way

Rather than stick to the inland route all the way to Cairns, day 4 saw us heading towards Brisbane. This wasn’t technically in the right direction, but Anja wanted to catch up with some friends from a previous visit to Australia.

Brisbane looked about half way to Cairns on the map, so I was happy that we could afford the diversion and still leave ourselves 4 days up the coast road.

It was lovely to meet our Australian friends and get out of the campervan for a few hours. We were greeted with food and beer, the kids had toys and a few lizards to play with. Everybody was happy.

Australia Zoo

Having come this far, we decided that we couldn’t miss a chance to visit Australia Zoo. This was the home of Steve Irwin.

I’m sure there are videos on youtube if you are not familiar with Steve’s work. He used to be on TV at home quite often, wrestling wild crocodiles and catching ridiculously dangerous snakes. He was killed a few years ago by a stingray, but his legacy lives on.

Australia Zoo contained all the standard wildlife that you’d expect to see, including cuddly koalas, cute wallabies and brick shaped wombats. But we only had eyes today for the crocodiles.

Two crazy Aussies jumped into one of the crocodile pens. This was a planned event that a crowd had gathered to watch, not a spectacularly stupid suicide mission.

RTW family at Australia Zoo

Crocodiles are stealth hunters, evolved over millions of years to sneak up on their prey, before crushing their unsuspecting victim with the most powerful set of jaws in the animal kingdom. Our crocodile man was standing within striking distance of the water with some raw chicken in his hands, which didn’t seem the brightest move.

The show was good fun and the crocodile appeared well accustomed to aiming his teeth at the raw chicken rather than the human surrounding it. But even from the safety of our vantage point, it was still a touch unnerving to be so close to such a dangerous killer.

RTW family at Australia Zoo

Australia zoo contained plenty of other treats and we happily spent the day wandering back and forth. I was surprised to find tigers and rhinos complementing the usual line-up of Australian marsupials. We could have stayed longer, but the zoo was closing up and the road was beckoning.

Night Driving

Is it a good idea to drive around Australia in the dark, in an over-sized tin can that requires a decent amount of advanced warning before coming to a halt?

I think the answer is probably not, and I’m pretty sure the official answer is not.

But there was no way we were reaching Cairns without some night driving, especially after our day at the zoo. So I set the sat-nav for a distant camping spot and tentatively steered a course through the darkness.

It turns out that it is possible to spot kangaroos in the dark, but only at a distance that makes it impossible to stop if any of them decides to cross the road. My driving speed dropped from a steady pace to a slow crawl and we inched into our roadside camping spot, ready for bed.

Life in a Lay-by

After experimenting with driving in the dark, we also discovered that the majority of campsites closed up for the night around 7pm. This left us with two options. Carry on driving, or park up for the night in a designated rest stop just off the highway.

I used our campsite app to locate a potential rest stop ahead, expecting to find little more than a deserted patch of tarmac and an overflowing waste bin.

It turns out that highway rest stops are, in fact, thriving spots of tourist activity. I was actually pleased to find that we would have some company. Safety in numbers. But I was surprised that so many people had decided, purposefully, to spend some of their holiday camping next to a major road.

Having survived our first experience of life in a lay-by, I decided that I quite enjoyed the fact that we could camp for free, surrounded by fellow travellers sharing a simple need for rest.

I could get used to this I thought. Many of our fellow campers appeared to be grey nomads. Caravans attached to their 4x4s, drifting around Australia as the mood takes them. Not a bad looking life.

By this point in the trip, we had dispensed with all but the basic essentials of human existence. We had no need for fancy shower blocks or flushing toilets. We were at one with nature. Focussed only on reaching Cairns in one piece, no matter how bad we all looked.

We Need A Wash

As we edged up the north eastern coast of Australia the temperature started to climb. After leaving Melbourne feeling distinctly cool, we were heading up into the tropics, and officially crossed over the Tropic of Capricorn in a place called Rochampton.

As the weather grew warmer, so the roads became lined on all sides by sugar cane fields. Narrow train tracks weaved around the giant plantations, with toy trains ready to help with the harvest.

Our roadside stops did not surprisingly come with en-suite bathroom facilities, and it was a non starter trying to take a shower in the campervan. The shower enclosure was so small and in such close proximity to the toilet that it would have been easier to take a bath in the kitchen sink.

So I decided to treat the family to a shower.

At Rockhampton we headed for the open air pool and washed, then swam, then washed again just to make sure. Having enjoyed our wash so much, we decided to repeat this process for the next few days. Breaking our journey at whatever municipal swimming pools we could find, in favour of taking playground stops.

RTW family road trip

You Have Reached Your Destination

We didn’t have time on this trip to explore the coastline in any depth, or visit numerous attractions, but we did get a sense of the scale of Australia and an idea of life between the big cities.

Towns that we had never previously heard of are now at least slightly familiar, and we learned about many other places that we would like to visit again.

It was, however, a great relief to reach the Cairns motorhome depot at bang on the agreed time of 2pm, almost exactly one week after we had pulled out of Melbourne.

RTW Family

Next Time

No more driving. We’ll sit still for a week in tropical Cairns and hopefully get out to see the Great Barrier Reef.

72 Hours in Melbourne With Kids

Melbourne is a culturally vibrant city. Some might even say it’s the cultural capital of Australia. There are lots of really nice, fancy looking restaurants, and plenty of interesting looking architecture.

RTW family in Melbourne

But when you’re travelling with two kids, not much trumps a fun fair, and Melbourne can deliver on this front too.

Luna Park, St Kilda

Luna Park in St Kilda is over one hundred years old, but I suspect they’ve upgraded a few of the rides more recently.

RTW Family in Melbourne

You can enter Luna Park for free, but that wouldn’t be much fun because they won’t let you go on any of the rides unless you pay. So then you have a dilemma. Pay $10 for single ride tickets and set a strict limit on how much fun can be had. Or spend $40 and get unlimited rides for the kids, all day.

I couldn’t face a whole day shelling out fresh $10 notes for individual rides, and I was hoping we could get value for money from an unlimited ticket, which the kids unsurprisingly agreed with.

The dodgems is about my limit for adrenaline, so if the kids wanted to go fast then they would need to find some self-sufficiency.

RTW family in Melbourne

Or rope their mum in.

Family gap year in Melbourne

Luna Park had just the right sort of rides for our two kids, at ages six and nine. It might be too tame if you have older kids or are adrenaline junkies. I also liked the rather old fashioned surroundings, which kept me entertained while the kids queued.

Melbourne Zoo

We were clearly feeling benevolent during our time in Melbourne, because having exhausted our appetite for getting dizzy, we decided to treat the kids again with some time at the zoo.

Subconsciously, I may have been softening them up for a week sitting in a campervan, but more on that next time.

Melbourne Zoo had more than enough to keep us entertained for the day, and we didn’t manage to cover half of it.

Lexi was very fond of the giraffes.

RTW family in Melbourne

I preferred the elephants. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to see their cousins in the wild very shortly.

RTW family in Melbourne

Free Trams

We managed to accomplish multiple loops of Melbourne city centre, not to mention our trips to Luna Park and the Zoo, all via the miracle of Melbourne’s tram system.

RTW family in Melbourne

Firstly, the trams are free within the city centre. Absolutely free. What a brilliant and generous idea.

If you want to travel outside the city you need to buy a ticket, but there’s something novel about jumping onto a clean, quiet tram, and bypassing all of the city’s traffic.

Really every large city should have a tram system. It’s much more civilised than going underground every time you want to move about, and you still get to see everything going on, rather than being buried in a tunnel.

The only downside I could see, and this may be an issue, is that because of the predominance of tram lines, Melbourne has developed a very odd system for controlling car turnings. If you want to turn right in your car, rather than sitting in the middle of the road waiting for a gap, you need to pull off to the left and wait there. Otherwise you’d be squashed by a tram. They seem to have got the hang of this in Melbourne, but I suspect it would cause multiple pile-ups if you suddenly launched this concept anywhere else.

Next Time

We’re off to Cairns, but not by taking the sensible option of hopping on a plane for 3 hours. Oh no, that would be too easy and miss out all the good bits in between. Instead, I’ve found a bargain and got ourselves a campervan relocation deal. Let’s see how that works out.

Best Place To See Dolphins In Adelaide

A two-hour river cruise for $8. Something didn’t feel quite right about this. You can only just get a beer for that price. This cruise was also holding out the possibility of us seeing some dolphins. For $8.

There is only one sailing per day on the Port Adelaide Dolphin Express. We arrived at the harbour just in time for the 11.30am departure.

Family Gap Year

We were blessed with a beautiful blue sky and no hint of wind. These were ideal dolphin spotting conditions. At least that’s what the man said who was taking our tickets as we walked down the gangplank.

Family Gap Year

We were poised to jostle for a prime dolphin watching spot at the front of the boat, until we discovered that there was only one other person waiting to challenge us. Nearly all the other passengers had decided to sit inside to be served their lunch. It was $20 for a cruise and lunch, so we’d been ultra-frugal and made our own sandwiches – cheese surprise as normal.

As well as the extra cost, I couldn’t see the point of coming on a dolphin cruise only to sit indoors and eat fish and chips. The cruise was two hours long, so I don’t think anybody would have starved if they’d skipped lunch and enjoyed the view.

Port River snakes its way out to sea, flanked by industrial buildings and grain stores. Container ships were swallowing their cargo whole, fed by enormous steel cranes.

It didn’t look the most promising spot for wild dolphins.

RTW Family

But within fifteen minutes of leaving dock we were flanked by at least three dolphins. They appeared to be racing us, starting out on the right side of the boat, disappearing for a few seconds, before magically reappearing on our left. Or, as the ship’s captain put it, they started on starboard before heading to port. I think that’s what he said anyway.

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We hung precariously over the front edge of the boat to get the best possible view. I told the kids to hang on tightly while I took some photos, safe in the knowledge that they’re both good swimmers.

Family Gap Year

The cruise had already been a success as far as I was concerned, but we continued to spot dolphins for the next couple of hours. Some of the groups kept their distance, with just their fins visible above the water, but others came close, leaping into the air just metres in front of us.

Family Gap Year RTW

It was incredible to see these animals in their natural habitat, powerful enough to easily out pace our leisure cruiser.

At the Port Adelaide maritime museum, we learned about the ongoing risk to these wonderful creatures, posed by river pollution and general human carelessness. Let’s hope that Adelaide remains home to the largest group of city dwelling dolphins in Australia for a long time to come.

RTW Family

In case you’re interested, here are five interesting dolphin facts gleaned from our trip to the maritime museum:

  1. Dolphins descended from four legged land mammals and still have two little bones suspended under their spine. These are all that remains of the pelvis.
  2. Dolphins can’t breathe through their mouths, which allows them to eat under water.
  3. Dolphins have a brain as large and as complex as humans.
  4. Dolphin skin is very sensitive to water pressure. They can feel somebody is trying to touch them even when the hand is 10cm away.
  5. Dolphins can see equally well above and below the surface of water.

Sisters’ Adventures So Far!

Hi, I’m Lexi. I’m 6 years old. I like travelling.

I haven’t liked – Dubai. I didn’t like it because it was too hot. I also didn’t like burritos, which we tried in New Zealand.

I have liked –  Lanzarote. I liked it because it was sunny and had a swimming pool. I also like Australia and Thai food.

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I had to go back to have an operation on my hand and it was quite scary. I had to go on a wheelie bed down to the operating theatre. The doctors got a special tube that had a big spike at the end that went into my veins. Then they put some special medicine into my veins that put me to sleep. When I woke up I had a massive bandage on my hand, which I called stumpy.

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I also really like climbing rocks and we found a beach with loads of rocks and jellyfish.

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Hi, I’m Kiera and I’m 9 years old.

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At the start of the trip I didn’t want to come. I don’t know why, I just didn’t want to. I wanted to stay at home. I also wasn’t sure about changing house or school. We had to leave our dog called Hugo at home. He was a Labrador. Me and my mum and sister didn’t want to leave him, but dad doesn’t like animals as much so it didn’t really bother him too much.

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I haven’t liked – Dubai and Kuala Lumpur because it was too hot and humid. I also haven’t liked driving around for too long because it makes me feel sick. I didn’t like the 12 hour flight to New Zealand, but it was worth it in the end.

I have liked –  New Zealand, Lanzarote and Australia. I also like seeing new things and doing new things. In New Zealand we went to the luge. You went up the top of the mountain and then went down in a go-cart.

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In New Zealand we also stayed on a farm and I loved it! I helped look after cows and I saw how they milked the cows. The baby cows were about 9 months old and the older group were about 2 years old. It was in Waikite Valley and there were thermal pools. Some were really hot and some weren’t too hot.

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That was my most favourite place so far on the trip. We also got to pet the cows after we saw how to milk them. Also in New Zealand we were on a drive and saw a big swing bridge and we all had a go and it was really good fun.

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In Australia we first flew to Perth. In Perth we stayed in some apartments that were really near to Kings Park. Kings park was 900 acres. There were three different parks and we went to two of them. They were really good fun! Next we went to Adelaide and stayed with daddy’s Auntie and Uncle and we went to a big rocking horse.

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We stayed there for a week and went on a Dolphin cruise and saw lots of Dolphins.

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We are now staying in a hotel near Melbourne that has a swimming pool and a trampoline park. After Melbourne we are going to Tasmania.

The Great Southern Road Trip, WA

The Brig Amity brought the first European settlers to Albany in 1836, setting sail from Sydney with 61 men to prevent an expected French settlement in the region.

Lying 400km south of Perth, on the bottom left edge of Australia, Albany is the oldest permanently settled town in Western Australia. An important port for mail ships heading from London to Sydney. At least until the mail was re-routed to Freemantle in order to reduce travelling time to the new WA capital in Perth.

The Great Southern museum was a perfect, free way to spend a few hours with the kids and brush up on our local knowledge. It’s always hard to tell how much they are listening as we walk through any museum, but it can be a pleasant surprise in a few weeks’ time if they suddenly mention something that we’ve learned on our one of our “educational” day trips.

If nothing else, the girls absolutely loved playing teacher in the old-fashioned village school.

Round the world with my family in Albany

RTW Family Albany

There is also a replica of the Brig Amity alongside the museum. It didn’t take long to look around every nook and cranny, twice, as the ships accommodation only stretched to a few cabins for the officers. Our expectations for old ships are set quite high, coming from the home of the SS Great Britain, but the Brig Amity was a workhorse with few frills.

I try to imagine what it might have been like for one of the crew on this journey. The baker brought along to help feed the new settlement, or the bricklayers required to build a town from scratch. It seems like an almost overwhelming task to build a town from scratch, in a region so remote, with hardship almost certain. But the sense of opportunity and adventure must have been exciting enough to get men onto the ship, unless you were a convict and simply had no choice.

National ANZAC Centre

Round the world with my family in Albany, WA

Albany is notable as the launching off point for thousands of ANZAC troops in World War One. The National ANZAC centre is located on a hill overlooking King George Sound, where the troop ships gathered for departure. The scene looks peaceful today, but a hundred years ago this bay was filled with troop ships, ready for departure.

Family travel blog, Western Australia

After taking the kids through the Gallipoli exhibition in Wellington, at Te Papa, I wasn’t sure if the ANZAC centre would hold their attention. We ended up staying the day, following the individual stories of soldiers, officers and nurses, sent thousands of miles from home into unimaginable danger.

The ANZAC centre provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices that were made on our behalf. One in every three soldiers that set sail from Albany never returned home. Of those troops that made it home, most were deeply scarred in some way by their experiences on the front line.

Great Southern Coastline

The coastline around Albany contains some stunning natural scenery, and would be an ideal place to cool off in the summer.

Little Beach at Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve appears like a scene from the movies. The sea was bright turquoise and the sand was so soft that it felt like fresh powdered snow.

Family travel blog in Western Australia

We arrived in late May, and had the luxury of having this place almost to ourselves. The temperature was hovering in the low 20’s celsius, which in my mind is a perfect temperature for sitting on the sand without melting.

Round the world family trip, Australia

Some blue jellyfish had washed up onto the beach at the last high tide, so we tentatively approached the water to see if we’d be able to swim. The water was as clear as a mountain spring and appeared free of poisonous sea creatures. We dived in, or at least we tentatively put one toe in the water and then very slowly edged in, while all the time keeping a sharp eye out for anything that might eat us or sting.

RTW family trip, Western Australia

There are sharks along this stretch of Western Australian coastline, but I kept reassuring the kids that I didn’t think sharks could swim in water that was only half a metre deep. Or at least that if they could, we’d hopefully see them coming in clear water.

Family gap year

The Gap and Natural Bridge at Torndirrup National Park is a sensational viewing point, with a clifftop formed of rocks that used to be joined to Antarctica. We’re talking a few years ago, when Australia was part of the same super continent as Antartica.

Family travel blog

The good people of Australia decided that the natural wonder of this place wasn’t quite enough. So they decided to stick a metal platform into the side of a cliff and suspend it out over a sheer drop to the sea.

Once the kids had tested the platform to make sure it was safe, I ventured on for a few quick photos.

Family gap year

Greens Pool at Williams Bay is near the small town of Denmark, around 50km from Albany. A wide expanse of golden sand, with a lagoon of crystal clear water formed by a line of massive rocks offshore. This was another great spot to take a dip in the ocean and let the kids enjoy one of their favourite pastimes of clambering over rocks.

Valley of the Giants Tree Top Walk was an opportunity to suspend ourselves 40 metres up in the air between some bloody big trees, as the name suggest. The idea of walking in the air is to help preserve the forest floor and to prevent damage to tree roots, but the main benefit has to be the views.

Family gap year

Whaling Heritage

Alongside its wonderful natural scenery, Albany is also blessed to be home to passing groups of whales, visiting the sheltered waters of King George Sound. The whale watching season runs from June to September and cruises run daily from the town harbour. We missed the season by a few weeks, so we’ve added a return visit to our ever growing wish list.

The presence of whales has always been a source of income for the town, but not always in a nice way. As late as 1978, whales were being hunted along this coastline, prized for the oil contained in their blubber.

The Whaling Museum at Frenchman’s Bay provides a disturbing, but very informative tour of the former whaling station. Massive silos stand at the entrance of the whaling station, formerly used to store industrial quantities of whale oil. The oil was used in the manufacture of products including soap and candles.

The stench of whale oil is still faintly detectable, and images of the slaughter in progress and a collection of whale skeletons, vividly captured the horrific nature of what happened here.

Family gap year

This dismal business has now been stopped across most of the world, although Japan, Norway and Iceland do still hunt whales for their meat.

Busselton

On our way back from the Great Southern region to Perth, we called in at the seaside town of Busselton.

We made straight for the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere. How could we not.

RTW Family in Busselton, WA

The jetty is 1.8km long, originally built to handle cargo ships, carrying away the regions vast reserves of timber. The jetty had to be built so far out because Busselton bay slopes very gently out to sea, only reaching a depth of 8m at the very tip of the pier.

After a four-hour drive to reach Busselton from Denmark WA, we were ready to stretch our legs, so set off to walk the mile or so out to sea. A tourist train also runs up and down the jetty, but the walk was invigorating and the kids raced up and down the wooden platform.

The cargo ships stopped arriving here in 1972, which threatened to bring the jetty to the end of its natural life.

But the entrepreneurial people of Busselton built an underwater observatory at the end of the jetty in a bid to raise funds for its ongoing preservation. We took a tour of the underwater observatory, and our guide gave as a very helpful 30-minute introduction to the marine life that exists at different depths beneath the waves.

RTW Family in Busselton, WA

It was fascinating to watch life going on all around us from the calmness of the viewing platforms.

Family round the world trip

We finished our day in Busselton with a lovely meal at the The Goose. I felt bad after seeing so much interesting sea life, but the prawn risotto was simply too tempting and delicious.

Next Time

We have a few days back in Perth and then we’re heading to Adelaide to meet up with my Aussie family.

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