The Whitsundays has to be one of the most popular destinations in Australia. I’m rarely impressed with beaches (damn my unrealistic expectations!) but it was quite spectacular out there. It is a collection of 74 islands off the coast of Airlie Beach, the main hub for visitors to explore the region.
Did the day tour with Cruise Whitsundays which seem to be the largest operator. The tour visits Hill Inlet, a lookout point at the end of the famous Whitehaven Beach on the Whitsunday Island (the main island). It is one of the most picturesque spots on the Whitsundays and the view is really quite amazing up there. It is actually overlooking Betty’s Beach, which I think is prettier than Whitehaven Beach, though it lacks the length that Whitehaven Beach has. Both beaches has fine white sands which is 98% silica, which doesn’t heat up under the sun, pretty cool.
After the Whitsundays, it was days of driving down the Pacific Highway on the eastern coast of Australia to Sydney. The major stop would be an overnight tour in Fraser Island from Rainbow Beach. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island with unique vegetation including rainforests, a number of lakes, sand dunes and miles and miles of beach.
Other than these two places, the rest are not very interesting borderline boring. I meant, it was beaches after beaches, and I’m getting sick of it. Did think about getting a surfing lesson around Byron Bay but there were too many sharks sightings around so will do that later in Sydney area. Here’s a journal of towns/places I stayed in or stopped by between Cairns and Sydney.
Townsville – stopped by for a dinner en-route to Ayr. Quiet. Not much action. The drive from Cairns to Townsville quite nice though.
Ayr / Alva Beach – stayed a night above the dive shop to dive the SS Yongala wreck. Ayr actually looked interesting and has good seafood.
Airlie Beach – stayed 2 nights at Getaway Holiday Park. Mainly for Whitsundays. Small city centre, can walk on the waterfront. Lots of restaurants.
Mackay – stopped for lunch. Quite a big town. Went to Canelands Shopping Centre. Massive. Lots of the shopping centres in Australia are just massive.
Rockhampton – stayed 1 night at YHA. Supposedly it’s an old cowboy town and known to be the beef capital of Australia. Wasn’t impressed with the food.There’s really not much around.
Gladstone – stopped by for breakfast. Main coal region in Queensland. Along the way, saw some very familiar name in the map that’s relevant to my job. After all, this part of Queensland is the world’s largest producer and exporter of coking coal used in steelmaking. Gladstone is quite thriving, no wonder, with LNG project in Curtis Island, the Wiggins Island Coal Export Terminal (WICET), Rio Tinto Alcan aluminium plant, to name a few. First time seeing coal train in action. I counted the train must have about 100 car, and with 10,000t in car, the whole train is carrying 1Mt of coal at one go!
1770 – stopped by. It was recommended visit on guidebook, but again I was disappointed. There’s nothing there!
Bundaberg – stopped by for lunch. is more interesting. Bigger, some stuffs to look at in the city centre. I even had my haircut done (for A$17, scored!). I think it’s worth staying a night, which can be combined with a night visit to turtle sanctuary in Mon Repos beach, about 30 mins out of Bundaberg.
Hervey Bay – passed through. Actually looked a lot more interesting than Rainbow Beach. I think worth staying a night here and do the Fraser Island tour from here instead of Rainbow Beach.
Rainbow Beach – stayed 1 night at Dingo’s backpackers. Quite nice but I got there late, so there’s not much to see after dark. It’s really just a transit for my Fraser Island overnight tour.
Sunshine Coast – stayed 2 nights at Ramada Marcoola Beach. Spent a day driving around to Noosa Head, then inland around Mapleton, Montville and Maleny and Mooloolaba. Visited the Australian Zoo which was pretty cool. Marcoola is dead. Should have stayed at either Noosa Head, Maroochydore or Mooloolaba. Mooloolaba would be my first choice. Went to the cinema to watch the Martian (see how bored I got?)
Brisbane – passed through. Fucking parking in the city is just impossible to find, and cost 2 limbs and the left nut. An hour of parking was about USD25. Like seriously fucked up. I was so angry I refused to see anything else after a catch-up lunch with a friend and left the city after a short walk around Queen Street area.
Gold Coast – stayed a night at YHA Surfers Paradise. Initially planned to stay 2 nights, mainly for the theme parks but then realised they’re mostly roller coasters and I hate them! Surfers Paradise is cool. It’s the first place in Australia that I visited when I first came to Australia in 2008. I think the beach is a lot nicer than most places. Very well maintained. Reasonably easy to find parking. Lots of restaurants, shops. Worth staying longer and perhaps I should have taken my surfing lesson here.
Byron Bay – stayed a night at YHA Cape Byron. Went to the lighthouse which is the most easterly point of Australia. Walked around town. Hang out at the main beach. Caught up with a friend I knew from the Fraser Island trip. Having a travel buddy actually quite nice.
Grafton – passed through. Small town. Not much to see aside from the big mall. Not interesting.
Coffs Harbour – stayed a night at YHA. Really just passing through and didn’t plan to do much. Went to watch Spectre. Not a very good Bond movie huh. Perhaps it’s well known for the Big Banana… see for yourself!
Port Stephens / Nelson Bay – stayed a night at YHA. Was contemplating if I should go straight to Sydney or stopped by, but then was attracted to the sand dune! Did a sand dune quad bike tour which was interesting but actually not as fun as I thought. The drive from Coffs Harbour to Port Stephens is quite nice with some green sceneries, hills, rivers, along the way.
Weather been terrible in this part of Australia ever since Fraser Island. Thunderstorms and rains. Spent 2 nights in Sydney catching up with a couple of friends, walked around the city and even went to see the Hamlet at the opera house. Starting the Grand Pacifid Drive tomorrow!
P.S. Finally google maps has added feature for multiple destinations on the latest update this week. Hallelujah!