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Queensland, Australia: A driving holiday along the Gold Coast

By: Rebecca Bisset

It all started with Scoot ads for cheap flights from Singapore to the Gold Coast. I’d only seen that part of Australia out of a bus window many years ago – and it rained constantly. I’d also only seen the Great Barrier Reef in torrential rain. My youngest had been nagging me for years about doing a campervan trip; she’d read a book when she was younger called Are We There Yet? It’s about a family who travels all around Australia in a campervan. Seeing as the girls only have a few years of school left, I started making a plan for a similar adventure – only with the compromise of a bit of luxury at the end of it!

PLANNING
Google Maps is brilliant for working out trips. With its help, I created a spreadsheet with travel times and soon realised that the farthest we could drive north from the Gold Coast and get back in two weeks was Airlie Beach. Trying to get to Cairns and Port Douglas was unrealistic. I did play around with flying one-way to one place and leaving from another at the end – probably a better way to go… next time.

TRANSPORT
Scoot was fine: we had enough space; I hadn’t pre-booked the iPads and we nearly missed out – do book them beforehand if you’re keen ($22 each). There isn’t a huge selection of movies, but it was enough. We also managed to have a nap for an hour or two. We’d eaten before we boarded so we just bought drinks rather than meals.

Queensland
Queensland

I had booked the campervan online and the company came and picked us up at from the airport at Coolangatta which was great. However, when we inspected the inside of the campervan, we were very disappointed. The “double” beds were tiny; the bottom one which was supposed to be bigger than the top was really only a large single and I was unsure if it was even long enough for my eldest. The campervan people assured me this was what I had ordered and as I didn’t have the printout with me and I was tired from the flight, I didn’t argue.

Queensland
Queensland

 

GOLD COAST
The Scoot flight to the Gold Coast was overnight, so to make sure we were rested before we set off in the campervan, we stayed nearby at Broadbeach. I had booked Meriton Serviced Apartments online; two one-bedroomed apartments were $200 and they were fantastic – very new and modern, with every kitchen and washing facility. I would suggest for a family to book a one-bedroom and adjacent studio apartment as they share the same entrance. Not only were the girls way down the passage from us, but we didn’t need a whole second apartment. That’s the downside of booking online. Would definitely recommend these apartments though.

THE JOURNEY
We set off in the campervan to a constant rattling sound but soon sorted out the source: a few cups sitting on top of the stove. The campervan comes with towels, sheets, cutlery, crockery, washing-up liquid and sponge. Everything works off the battery while you are driving – everything except the TV, that is! But the girls were happy enough to read and snooze most of the time.

We arrived at Noosa (in the rain) and had a lovely but expensive lunch at Sails. I couldn’t believe that a few mouthfuls of beetroot and goats cheese could really cost A$23. It’s a lovely setting, though – right on the beach, and the stalwart surfers were out there even in the rain and relative cold.

Later at the clean and organised campsite – we’d made online bookings at Big 4 Campsites at Noosa and Airlie Beach – we got out the awning and outside table and chairs and made our first cup of tea and a very basic meal. The birdlife was fascinating, including beautiful coloured parrots, Rainbow Lorikeets, which were a novelty for us foreigners but are apparently very common.

Then we settled down to sleep, giving the girls the larger bed at the top while we had one of those nights where you can’t move from lack of space and where different parts of your body go numb at different times!

The next morning, we headed north again. The scenery in this part of Queensland is interesting and varied. The TomTom GPS (also supplied with the vehicle) took us practically off road in one place – when we hit the dirt, we realised we had to turn around. The detour had used up fuel and we held our breath as we passed two closed petrol stations before finding an open one. Lesson one in Australia: fill up when you see a station, even if the tank is on half!

We had some lovely days in Rockhampton staying with cousins, including a trip to a (rather rundown) animal sanctuary, a tour up to the nearby hills and some off-road dune riding – no, not in the campervan! On the way to Airlie Beach, we took a deliberate detour to Serena to experience some of the incredible beaches of the area. We just wished we had come when it was a bit warmer.

Queensland
Queensland

 

Airlie Beach was not at all what I expected: quite quaint with lots of backpacker places but also with more modern developments including a marina complex. We arrived at our campsite in the dark after a lovely meal on the high street; cooking in the campervan all the time isn’t practical because, although there’s a fridge for groceries, the battery only lasts about a day. That night we put the girls in the smaller bed, head to toe. Bad plan – even less sleep was had. But we needed to be at Shute Harbour by 7.15am for the boat collection so it was a short night anyway.

Queensland
Queensland

 

POT OF GOLD
The sun was shining and the water looked amazing as we sped through the Whitsundays to our reward, half an hour off the coast. Hayman Island Resort is an Australian classic. It sits on its own island with the hotel around a bay. The white buildings against the blue of the sky and the sea give it a beautiful Santorini feel. The reception area is large and modern – it recently went through a multi-million-dollar upgrade, so the décor is contemporary chic with some exquisite art works.

We were so excited when we saw the rooms: Pool Suites, each with two ensuite bedrooms on either side of a living/dining room. The balconies from all these rooms have steps leading down to the pool, across from which is the stunning sea. There’s a range of other rooms available including suites with a lagoon view and beach villas. I really loved ours though, and could have lived in quite happily for years.

FOOD
The food at Hayman is excellent and the prices aren’t extortionate. Breakfast is included and is very good – the pancake-maker was a big hit. It’s available until 10am but you can get coffee and pastries until midday. The first night we ate at Fontaine and had freshly harvested fish and delicious steaks. The vegetables were perfect and the desserts heavenly. The second night we ate at the Italian restaurant, La Trattoria, and had probably the best antipasto buffet ever; one that puts the large hotel buffets in Singapore to shame. After living off pies and chocolates from the service stations along the way, we appreciated it even more.

ACTIVITIES
Guests have the whole island to themselves, so we went for a long walk up to the top where they are building some private houses and looked out over the sea with a glimmer of reef below. Later we took the route up the other side of the island to see the sun set. This way goes past the wedding chapel perched on the side of the hill, complete with it’s own Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. They pull out all the stops!

We made good use of the tennis courts, squash courts, chip-and-putt course and the gym. The water was really too cold for our Singaporean-adapted bodies, which was a pity. We did manage a kayak, though. (All sea sports are included.) We also booked a snorkelling trip but it was cancelled because of the wind. The helicopter trip worked out to be pretty expensive if you wanted to go right to the outer reef and they couldn’t guarantee great views as the water was quite disturbed by the weather. Once again I wasn’t going to get to see the Great Barrier Reef in all its glory.

We really didn’t want to leave Hayman – everything is done so well there, with 400 staff for a maximum of around 500 guests. But the luxury boat trip with champagne helped make things easier.

Back at Shute Harbour, we climbed into the van once more for the long haul back to the Gold Coast.

FUN ON THE GOLD COAST
When we returned to the Gold Coast at the end of our trip, we stayed nearer to the airport as we needed to get a taxi early in the morning. We ended up in a two-bedroom apartment, Currumbin Sands. This was after getting a call from the one we had initially booked at the fabulous looking Wyuna at Burleigh Heads, to tell us that the booking.com had booked it even though it was not available.  Currumbin Sands was right on a fabulous beach, but with pretty dated décor and in a less desirable area. However, the managers were lovely and we were able to book tickets from there to one of the region’s many theme parks. Dreamworld islotsof fun. It was a bit rainy when we were there, but the rides are really good. Movieworld is probably a better option if you have younger children – or are afraid of heights.

Travel Tips

I would recommend a campervan if you’re only a couple or if you have children who are under 12 (or very short!). It’s definitely a nicer way for them to travel than sitting in the back of a car. Otherwise, hire a car and stay in motels off the beaten track. But definitely treat yourself to Hayman if you can.
Don’t push yourself to travel too far in Queensland. We had a couple of eight-hour drives which were okay but we didn’t manage to see a lot of the coast as this would have meant more long detours. So, perhaps a one-way trip with a flight from the other end is the way to see more.
The July weather was quite cold and wet. Apparently Easter and September are better times to visit (mental note for next time). The sea really isn’t warm enough to enjoy in winter either – no matter what people say. Stingers aren’t a problem on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, but they can be bad further up the Queensland coast, especially around Christmas

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