Ever dreamt of going turtle? Setting off on the open road, stopping at will, meandering at leisure under your own steam complete with bed, lounge and shower? We think you may find these first-hand accounts from like-minded spirits enlightening; they report on The Grand Pacific Drive and share their plans for The Great Southern Touring Route and Winery Havens.
Route 1 - Cairns to Sydney / The Grand Pacific Drive
The Hampsons had returned to Australia to explore the east coast by road. They hired a maui motorhome; I wanted to know what made this trip so special.
|Age Group:||40 - 50|
|Vehicle:||Maui twin berth|
|Route:||Cairns to Sydney|
Can you tell me where you picked the camper up in relation to the airport?
We got a taxi from the airport to the camper hire place just outside of Cairns.
Did you drive straight off the plane?
Well we landed in Brisbane had 4 hours sleep then got on a flight to Cairns. It arrived at lunchtime and we went straight to pick the van up and drove – to be honest it wasn’t ideal and I’d suggest staying in a proper bed in Cairns for one night.
As a general rule when did you do your driving?
We only drove during daylight hours – there can be wildlife like kangaroos on the roads, which are difficult to see in the dark. We tended to do our driving in the early morning – because of the time difference we were usually awake early so we’d get 2 or 3 hours in then enjoy spending the rest of the day in our new destination.
What inspired you to take this route?
We’d flown over the area on a previous visit and wanted the freedom to drop in where we wanted; we’d heard so much about the famous Pacific Highway and of course we wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef a little closer-up!
Did you have a clear route planned?
Sort of! We knew we wanted to finish in Sydney and there were a few places along the route where we definitely wanted to stop but we did have some flexibility.
Did you book your campsites in advance?
We did book a few. Some sites have ‘Ensuite’ pitches where you get your own private shower and toilet next to your van – we did book these as availability is very limited. It’s a real treat too.
When you picked up your van was it all you expected?
More! It was all so clever the way things fitted in. We had the Maui Ultima 2 Berth and although it could not get TV channels there was a TV to watch movies, we took a collection on memory sticks. We particularly loved the little pull-out barbecue on the side – it was warm so we used this to cook on pretty much all of the time.
Where was your first stop?
We intended to go initially to Cooktown in the far north – just for the sake of getting right to the top of country but unfortunately we got lost so ended up in Cape Tribulation! The pitch here was fantastic as it was right on the edge where the bush meets the beach. The barbecue was used on the very first night!
And where to next?
Port Douglas – friendly and chilled. We had our first Aussie Potato wedges and chilli sauce at the Court House Hotel.
Townsville, Airlie Beach then Rockhampton – we stayed at the centre of Kinka Beach just outside the town and drove in – we could have walked but it was too far for us in the evening. Good selection of bars, shops, restaurants and a chip-shop.
And on to?
Hervey Bay – we took a day trip to Fraser Island from here.
Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast, Byron Bay (check out the lighthouse – it is the most easterly point of mainland Australia), Port Macquarie & Forster.
Did you always stay on Camp sites?
Although the van really was super comfy we did treat ourselves to a hotel on a few occasions. Our first was Thala Beach Nature Reserve in Port Douglas – huge plush bed, spa and fabulous walks. They were happy for our van to be parked here. We were able to visit Hartley’s Crocodile Farm where you are encouraged to feed the crocs with chicken attached to a LONG stick!. In Sunshine Coast we booked into the fabulous Peppers Noosa Resort & Spa and made our way to the beach to watch a surf competition – totally Aussie!
Did you make friends along the way?
We could always find people to talk to at the campsites if we wanted to; at Mission Beach there was a huge public barbecue area so we trundled along with our ribs and burgers and joined the throng of camper-chefs. There’s nothing like communal barbecuing to sample unusual relishes!
Large or small place stops?
A mix really – we did stay in Townsville but that was mainly to visit the Billabong Wildlife Sanctuary which was within walking distance of the campsite – the town was not on our list of attractions but it had a good shopping centre so we did a little retail therapy in air-conditioned comfort.
If it’s cloudy don’t relax the sun protection – we burned with factor 30!
Tell me about the culinary highlights
I guess we relaxed into campsite mode so ate simple Aussie fare most of the time. That said the wood fired pizzas at Mangrove Jacks, Airlie Beach were uber-yummy, cold beer and calamari definitely hit the spot at Bayswater Hotel in Hervey Bay whilst in Byron Bay we were treated to a free salsa lesson whilst eating tapas at the Ginger Pig! Often our pitches had fabulous sea views so staying ‘at home’ was a treat – and the local takeaways often make deliveries – the Italian at Port Macquarie is one I remember well.
I guess the islands are right up there; Fraser Island, a rainforest set on sand, was awesome, we did the ferry crossing which takes you there in the morning then back in the early evening. We took the optional half hour flight which at £75 each was well worth it as was the fun 4x4 tour on the world’s largest sand island, the stop at Eli Creek and Maheno shipwreck. The interior Lake Mackenzie, has water that is so blue you’d think it was a painted film-set - our photos look fake!
How friendly are the locals?!
We often had to stop and ask directions or find a camp site and we found everyone super-helpful. There are several surfer towns which were almost hippy too like Airlie Beach, Hervey Bay, Gold Coast and Byron Bay and I’d say it’s one of the easiest places in which to travel – chilled, welcoming people who seem to genuinely want you there.
How were the major Cities?
Brisbane was refreshing and although we didn’t stay long we did head to the riverside for a fine dining; the city is a far easier drive than any European city I know – useful when you are manoeuvring a large van.
We arrived in Sydney – we took our Motorhome back as soon as we arrived – it is much easier to get around Sydney on public transport besides we wanted to stay in a hotel whilst there so it made sense. We found it easy to get a bus/train from the airport drop-off point to the city even with our luggage.
Route 2 - Great Southern Touring Route
So what is on the cards for your next trip?
We plan to take the Great Southern Touring Route from Melbourne.
Why this route?
Definitely because of the changes in scenery, the walks, the chance to drive tantalisingly close to the ocean and the constant switch of altitude from sea-level to mountain top.
Are you looking to do this as a circular route?
Yes, that’s the plan we want to take the train over to Perth at the end so will just hire the Motorhome for this section of our holiday.
How long do you think it will take you?
We plan on taking a good 9 days largely because we are big walkers and intend to take a couple of days in the Grampians National Park to do several of the recommended trails. We love challenging terrain and are used to fell-walking at home so the rocky terrain and steep sections of some of them quite excite us! The views look staggering especially the Mt Sturgeon (Wurgarri) Walk.
What are you looking forward to most?
Aside from the views which we believe will have us gasping literally from start to finish it has to be the Ballarat Wine Region. We have a healthy interest in grapes – especially crushed, fermented and bottled ones!
Have you made any special preparations?
We have looked at possible sites and planned one pampering night in a hotel. We’ve located walking maps as well as winery maps and we’ve checked opening times. For the walks we have also looked into whether the weather is likely to affect any we’ve chosen as increased rainfall can make some unsafe. That said there are some waterfalls which become even more spectacular after a downpour – every cloud.....
Route 3 - Winery Havens
And after that?
Whilst we researched our time in the Ballarat area we felt that we could make an entire trip of vineyards and walking so we’ve selected a tour of Victoria’s Winery Havens.
Intensely fruity, intensely buttery, intensely aromatic...... yes it is! But seriously, we see this as a tour of our passions; wine, food and walking, in jaw-dropping, beautiful countryside.
Difficult to organise?
Not at all. Maui have deals with several vineyards set in glorious landscapes. We simply select our vineyards from their list, and book in – we will get our overnight stay in an exclusive location as well as a gourmet hamper (including wine of course!) and usually access to the winery’s vintners. The sweeping views over fields of vines and the chance to actually sleep amongst the grapes, waking up to take breakfast amidst the estate that will be featured on the bottle we’ll be drinking that day – bliss.
To be honest we don’t need too much to distract us but we’ve threaded in several trails along the way and the vineyards themselves make great walking country too. The area is renowned for its innovative restaurants and farm to table food; from our research so far we’ll have to eat much more than three meals a day to visit a fraction of them!
Touring in a motorhome can be addictive, aside from the freedom and flexibility that it brings you will also enjoy a superb elevated viewing position ideal when you are almost constantly bombarded with dramatic scenery.
Maui’s motorhomes are compact and clever and come perfectly equipped to create a cosy and comfortable holiday home. Further journeys well worth putting on your list include:
- Melbourne to Sydney (Winery Havens can be slipped into this)
- The Great Tropical Drive – Cairns to Cairns 12+ days
- Nature’s Way – Darwin to Darwin 5+ days
- Western Wonderland Perth to Perth 6+ days
- Island Adventure – Hobart to Hobart 6+ days
- Southern Cruiser Adelaide to Melbourne 7+ days
Look out for more motorhome posts in both Australia and New Zealand – there are miles to explore!