Great driving holidays – Maroochydore to the Outback (Qld)

By Australia / Queensland /

AS sad as it was to leave Maroochydore, it was time for some Outback fun!

We headed north to Bundaberg, the home of the world famous Bundaberg Rum and I couldn’t wait. The drive up there seemed to take forever, even though it’s a great road to travel on, as I was so excited about our distillery tour that afternoon. Sheree wasn’t so keen … I wonder why?

After unhooking our vans and setting up, we headed in the direction of the birthplace of the big White Polar Bear (yep, you know the big fella from the Bundy advertisements on TV?). And there he was, right inside the door waiting to greet us. They make some awesome things in that place, not to mention the liquors – they went down very, very easily, if I might say so myself!

Next was the Mysterious Craters on the outskirts of town on the way to Gin Gin. That’s the town everyone claims is UFO hotspot with regular visitations reported. And I am not joking! We went and filmed locals in the street and they are fairdinkum about these UFOs. So much so, that only two days earlier one had apparently crash-landed and partially burnt down one of their houses! So off we toddle out to the farm to see it for ourselves and, lo-and-behold, there it was! I still don’t know what to think of that. The fact that the place had been burnt was very real and we saw it with our own eyes – for obvious reasons the main part was all cordoned off, but we could still see where it had burnt and the owner confirmed that it started from something crash-landing from outerspace … that’s when we high-tailed it back to Bundaberg!

Couldn’t sleep a wink that night waiting for ET to knock at my door.


Catch The Great Australian Doorstep on the How To Channel on Foxtel


Great driving holidays – Maroochydore (Qld)

By Australia / Queensland /

It was time for a great week on the Sunshine Coast.
Maroochydore – here we come!
Staying at the Big4 Maroochy Palms is just out of this world – it’s a 5 star resort. With so much to choose from to do, we decided to go simple and hire bikes and take in our new surroundings – definitely a place I could live.
We rode up and down the foreshore on the bike track and the kids had a blast. Then it was off to the Ginger Factory to enjoy in another awesome family attraction. Boston loved the train so much we couldn’t get him off. We think he did about 10 laps! Anais and I took a boat ride, which was very entertaining as they have a pack of sheep doing the haka – very fitting, I thought!
Then a day was spent just relaxing at the Big4 park. Honestly, this is the best park we have ever stayed in. Anais wanted to do something extreme, so it was Top Shots Theme park next on the agenda. Anais and Sheree did the vertical trampoline and I tried to go for a ride on a helicopter with Boston … but that didn’t quite work out.

maroochydore2PETER “SPIDA” EVERITT
The Great Australian Doorstep is now showing on the How To Channel on Foxtel

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Great driving holidays – Ballina to Toowoomba (Qld)

By Australia / Queensland /

IT is an easy drive from Ballina to Toowoomba, especially with the new highways making driving your campervan a lot more pleasant experience around the Gold Coast and Brisbane. It’s just the last steep haul up to the top of the mountain that can be hard going. Mind you, it wasn’t until we left that we realised the problems that it caused – those damn brakes again!

Toowoomba is world famous for its amazing gardens and even though I wouldn’t normally look sideways at a garden, these have to be seen to be believed. It is just awesome to see the local council putting so much time and effort back into something that everyone can enjoy.

Next on the agenda was Sheree deciding to experience the local Ghost Tour. It’s a self-drive option but the problem was she was too scared to get out of the car and film it (for The Great Australian Doorstep)! She still swears that there was a ghost in the schoolgrounds! I had to stay at home and babysit.

One of the original Cobb & Co museums is also in Toowoomba and, boy, you can spend a great day in there. So much for the kids to learn, and adults for that matter! Toowoomba is definitely very under-rated. It’s a great city, easy to get around and tons to do.

Catch The Great Australian Doorstep on the How To Channel, Foxtel


Surfers Paradise and 2 Theme Parks in 2 Days

By Australia / Gold Coast / Queensland /

So, having relaxed on the beaches of Far North Queensland we headed for a slightly different pace of life, south to Surfers Paradise and the Theme Parks.

Flying into Brisbane we picked up another Avis Car rental at Brisbane Airport. We’d make the booking with DriveNow back in August and one point that really came through was how much cheaper it was to book in advance. That may sound like a sales pitch however the reality was that it saved us $60 on a 3 day rental. It does pay to book in advance particularly in peak periods such as Christmas, Easter and School Holidays.

Perhaps we were lucky with our timing but we had bags and hire car collected and were on the road within 35 minutes of landing.

We drove south to Surfers through the road-works on the Gateway Motorway (why in Australia do we refer to some roads as Motorways and others as Freeways? Aren’t they the same thing?) and on down the Pacific Motorway past the soon to be visited Theme Parks.

Surfers Paradise seems to take people one of 2 ways; either it’s a blot on the landscape, a gaudy, mishmash of towers blocking out the afternoon beach sun, or it’s endless beautiful beach and surf with hotels, restaurants and all the city mod-cons we love together in one of the best Australian climates. Either way it’s unqiue and we reckon take it as it comes and enjoy, after all as one of Australia’s fastest growing regions it has to be one of the most popular destinations around.

We arrived during the AFL Grand Final so the streets were quieter than usual and with the up coming Gold Coast Indy 500 race due in October this was a God-send as there were saftely barriers, temporary stands and other road changes to navigate around and challenge the newcomer.

crown-towers-surfers-paradiseWe’d booked a 3 bedroom apartment at Crown Towers on the recommendation of a friend. This towering Resort certainly had everything within its 39 floors.

Downstairs there were 2 pools, the outside beach-like pool was surprisingly cold at 16 degrees and despite the warm weather didn’t appear to get any warmer during our stay. Fortunately we had the sea and the indoor heated Pool and Sauna at 26 degrees were a popular fall-back.

Other facilities included, bar, restaurant,  popular Thai Restaurant, internet access (note if you wish to do a Qantas online check-in the security settings don’t let you print your boarding passes as we found out! Fortunately we discovered an internet café down the road that we were able to use), Tour booking desk and free underground parking. Include the central location, complete security and this was an ideal spot for families to set up base in. You get to choose either to remain within the resort which had everything on tap, or venture out to the beach or Surfers itself.

For those looking for immediate thrills and spills the Resort sits beside Adrenaline Park, a mini theme park in the middle of Surfers. This had the aptly named Vomatron (giant propeller) which I was reliablly informed revolved at 120kph (not for me thank you), Sling Shot which propels you 72m skyward at 160kph (ditto) and bungy jumping into or touching water (your choice). Fortunately there is mini Golf, dodgem cars and bungy trampolines to keep sane people entertained.

We only had 2 full days for the Theme Parks and the kids had settled on Wet ‘N’ Wild and Warner Bros Movieworld. We’d booked in advance on the myfun.com website and grabbed a 10% discount on our Escape passes (2 parks in 3 days) – a hidden bonus in doing this was that we skipped the ticket queues at both parks.

Both parks were a hit with the kids, although the parents were a little hesitant (in one case VERY hesitant) in jumping on the rides.

As plenty has been written about the Parks I’ll keep my observations to the following tips:

  1.  Pre book your tickets on myfun.com (you need to sign up but that’s a 20 second job). You get the 10% discount and avoid queuing at the parks.
  2. Get there early! Aim to arrive around 9.15am – doors open at 9.30 or so and rides commence around 10. You’re looking at 50+ minute queues for popular rides later in the day, arriving early ensures you can experience your favourite thrills more quickly. Alternatively visit the park outside School Holidays.
  3. Wet ‘N’ Wild have a no Commercial Food allowed through the gate Policy – but home made sandwiches and bringing your own drinks was fine. This seems a sensible approach – we took our own and also purchased onsite from some of the many outlets as well. An obvious thing to note – Glass and alcohol are both no-no’s.
  4. Movieworld take the Food Policy to a bit of an extreme and allow no food or drink onto their premises at all with the exception of Special Dietary requirements. They have security guards at the entrance to check bags. A bit of a draconian measure I assume to encourage you to purchase at onsite food and beverage outlets.
  5. Your Kids will have a complete 100% ball of a time! And guess what? So will you. The Parks have everything set up to a tee and it genuinely was Family fun at its best. To be honest – so what if you have to queue – so does everyone else, relax and enjoy, it’s all part and parcel of being at Australia’s most popular Theme Parks.

surfers-paradise-beach-walkSurfers definitely has something to offer for everyone and is conveniently within 2.5 hours flying of Australia’s large cities as well as being a popular destination for overseas visitors. With events such as the Indy 500, the forthcoming Aussie Rules Football team franchise to be launched in 2011, a potential bid for the Commonwealth Games, Australian University Games, The Theme Parks, Iron Man and other Surf Competitions, there really is always something to do and see on this vibrant coast.

Next year I am reliably informed we are back for Dreamworld and something called the Drop – which I’ve been assured will be heaps of fun. Having seen it from the freeway I’m not convinced, perhaps it’s Mum’s turn to try that one! Sea World will also be on the agenda and sounds tamest of all – gotta love those Dolphins, Polar Bears and Sharks!


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Port Douglas – 1 Car Hire, 2 Bags, 2 Kids, 2 Parents and a Blissful Break

By Australia / Port Douglas / Queensland /

Weathermen were redundant for our week in Port Douglas. I mean, how difficult can it be to forecast blue skies and 30 degrees? Sheer and utter bliss. For that’s the only way to describe our week in September up North.

Departing a grey overcast Melbourne and with the obligatory (and brief) Sydney stop-over we arrived into Cairns to find the airport in a somewhat chaotic state with extensive renovations underway. To be fair looking at the impressive Qantas check-in area the chaos will be worth enduring.

We’d booked ahead through DriveNow (no surprise there!) and organised an Avis Corolla car rental at Cairns Airport which was perfect for 2 large bags, 2 excited children and 2 parents hoping to spend at least a little time relaxing in peace on the beach, book in hand. Glad to report that no one was disappointed.

Heading up the Captain Cook Highway we did ponder about taking the Karunda Skyrail – this unique Rainforest 7.5km Cableway takes you up from Caravonica over the McAlister Ranges to Karunda and is well worth a visit – however for us the kids had but one appointment in mind and that was poolside 80 minutes north!

Once past Palm Cove the road clings to the coast for 25kms as it winds up the Coral Sea. The scenery is simply stunning, palm-fringed beaches with the Cassowary Ranges as the perfect backdrop.

port-douglas-rendezvous-reef-resortWe had booked a 2 bedroom villa at the Rendezvous Reef Resort around 4 kms from the centre of Port Douglas.

It came with DVD player, Digital TV, Sound system with iPod port, in fact everything to keep the kids happy during any down time. Air-Conditioning in the living and bedrooms ensured a comfortable escape from the heat. Most importantly the kids had 3 pools to choose from!

The kitchen had all the essentials including dishwasher but one thing to note the cooker consisted of a 4 ringed hob and microwave but no grill or oven (I guess the thinking is who wants to use an oven on holiday and in such a warm climate). Perhaps other villas were configured differently.

For those without transport there’s a minibus shuttle into town every 15 minutes for around $4 a pop. For young families this had everything and was a great place to stay. If you have older teenagers who are looking to party then the resorts are probably not going to meet every expectation.

Other resort highlights included the reasonably priced, good quality restaurant with kids eating for free, BBQ facilities, complimentary Tennis and Pitch ‘n’ Putt. Staff were great, mostly UK, Irish and Canadian backpackers working their way round the best of Australia.

As for the beach. Well, nip across the road, take a 10 minute stroll through some of the world’s oldest tropical rainforest and emerge onto 4 mile beach. Endless sand and sea water that is actually warmer than the pools. I suppose if I was to describe a disappointment it would be that the waves churned the sand so the shallows were’nt crystal clear, but hey that’s being pretty picky, this is not a place to miss.

port-douglas-4-mile-beach-stinger-signAlthough September is towards the end of the dry season there was no need to worry about stingers despite the rather novel (for southern and overseas visitors) beach warning signs. Swimming in the sea in Far Northern Australia between November and May is a real no-no – box and the more recently discovered Irukandji Jellyfish (no bigger than your thumbnail) can cause lethal stings. And whilst we’re on dangerous animals, avoid swimming in estuaries where salt water crocodiles may be present. Don’t be put off by these animals, after all it’s their habitat that we have encroached on, the simple rule is ask and follow the advice of local authorities as to where and when it’s safe to swim.

Once we had stocked up at Coles we quickly settled into a routine – the kids spent the entire day(s) in the water up to their necks, mornings were dedicated to pool water, afternoons to sea and then it was back to the pool again for a last late afternoon dip. With 6 and 9 year old water-babies this holiday was never going to be pre-occupied by excursions – water activity around the resort & beach was the popular theme allowing everyone to relax, unwind and enjoy.

This routine quickly became the norm with a couple of minor exceptions – an excursion to the Rainforest Habitat Centre (all of 3kms up the Port Douglas Road back towards Captain Cook Highway) . This was fun – plenty of wildlife much of which you could reach out and touch and all set in a great environment.

Sunday is obligatory Market Day at the point off Wharf Street. Whilst much of the wares were of the ilk found at markets elsewhere, it’s not often you can buy a freshly picked (or should that be ‘dropped’) coconut and then watch the husks being chopped off, drink freshly squeezed cane juice (try it with lemon – heaven) or catch a glass of freshly cracked Pineapple juice. A Frenchman selling the most amazing bird whistles and 15 minute Portrait drawings by a Melbourne migrant were other stand-outs. However we quickly returned to the water!

port-douglas-rendezvous-pool Port Douglas caters for the widest range of budgets. Accommodation includes the luxury Coconut Grove, Peppers Bale, Sea Temple and Mirage Restorts through to Backpacker hotels. There’s plenty of mid-range accommodation as well. Eating out is equally diverse with pub grub, Italian and European Restaurants and we found several places offering early diners ‘kids eat free’ deals which proved to be hugely popular. On a practical level there’s 2 large supermarkets, Chemists, banks, Book stores, Internet Cafes, Post Office – in fact I’ll not go on here – you have everything you need – so don’t worry about packing the kitchen sink!

If you’re looking to hire a car in Port Douglas (use the Show All Locations option), Thrifty, Avis and Budget all have offices up here, Thrifty on Macrossan Street and the other 2 just around the corner in Warner St at the Wharf Street end. For those taking the Cairns Campervan rental option, Panadanus Holiday Park on Port Douglas Road in Port Douglas is 2 kms from the town centre and has pool, kitchen and powered site facilities. A quick scroll (10 mins max) across the road and through the rain-forest will see you emerge onto 4 mile beach.

It was our first visit that far north and we found everything needed for a great family break away from a rather wet and cold Melbourne. Certainly included in our plans for 2010 for a revisit during the winter months.



Driving holidays – the Outback (Queensland)

By Australia / Queensland /


As winter approaches, my thoughts don’t turn to snow-capped mountains and log fires, but rather red dirt plains and wide blue skies. The cooler months are the ideal time to explore Queensland’s outback, and hitting its dusty roads is the only way to get to fully appreciate the scale, complexity and beauty of this rugged, wild and bizarre landscape.

After flying into Mount Isa, we pick up our four-wheel drive camper and despite the kids’ pleas to don hard helmets and mining suits and venture underground (my idea of hell!) we press on, keen to embark on the first 300 kilometres of our journey. Signs stating “G’day” and “Welcome to the Min Min Byway” announce the theme of our journey; ahead lies a long flat stretch of tar, disappearing into infinity with nothing but scrub and red dirt on either side.qld4

This is hauntingly beautiful country; massive outcrops loom from nowhere, red boulders stacked randomly as if by aliens; mesas reminiscent of thed Arizona desert catch the afternoon light, turning spectacular shades of red, russet and indigo; while wedge-tailed eagles hover in the thermals above, reading to swoop on roadkill.

The town of Boulia appears quietly, unassumingly, 300km south of Mt Isa. There’s not much to see in this sleepy outpost – a cobweb-covered collection of old farm machinery and dinosaur bones serve as a labour-of-love museum, there’s only one pub, and once a year a couple of camels plod around a dusty racetrack.

But what Boulia does have is a mystery – and a great one at that. The town is home to the legend of the Min Min Lights – inexplicable glowing balls of light that, over the past 150 years or so, have terrorised locals and passers-by. So widespread is the interest in this phenomenon that Boulia has created its own theatrical attraction, the Min Min Encounter, a $2 extravaganza incorporating animatronics and fibre optics that pays tribute to the art of Outback bullshit. Up to 200 people a day visit this museum – not bad considering there really is no other reason to come to Boulia!

To further explore the legend of the Min Min Lights, drive a further 73km east on the road to Winton to the site of the original Min Min Hotel, a ruin consisting of a couple of decrepit graves and a bottle dump.

Legend has it that this was once a roaring shanty, a den of iniquity so notorious for its murders and rapes that it was burnt to the ground in retribution. It was not long after this act of vengeance in 1918 that the strange lights began to mysteriously appear, chasing unsuspecting passers-by who chanced upon the ruins.

While this makes a fascinating stop-off on the way to Winton, we don’t have time to stick around to see if the lights make an appearance. Winton is still another four hours’ drive away; though stop-offs at Cawnpore Lookout (fabulous views across the rugged countryside) and Middleton Hotel make the journey pass quickly.

Winton is home best known as the home of Waltzing Matilda – it was here that Banjo Patterson wrote the famous song we all know and love. A museum dedicated to the song is a must-see attraction in Winton, as is the Qantas Museum, where you can learn all about the history of our national airline and even tour inside jumbo jets. Make sure you do the Wing Walk tour – it’s a fantastic experience and one your kids willqld10remember for years.

The final highlight of our outback drive is a visit to Lark Quarry, the site of the world’s only known dinosaur stampede. The kids’ eyes light up as they hear the tale of the chicken-like coelurosaurs, who, as they were drinking at a lake, were chased by a hungry theropod, leaving a chaotic mess of footprints in the mud which have been preserved by time.

As well as being able to see the whole drama played out in the fossilised footprints, we also get the chance to hold real dino-bones and rocks bearing the imprints of the prehistoric creatures.

Lark Quarry is 110 km southwest of Winton – a day trip in itself. While you can do the trip by two-wheel drive, it’s pretty rough going on mostly dirt roads, but the journey is worthwhile to see a fascinating and under-appreciated part of Australia’s long history.



Boys weekend – Gold Coast (Queensland)

By Australia / Gold Coast / Queensland /

The sun, the surf, the sights … the cheese. Ah, it’s what boys’ weekends are made of. The Gold Coast, Australia’s answer to Las Vegas minus a squillion casinos and bright neon lights, but certainly ample gambling opportunities, bands, great pubs and clubs, sunshine and sand – and that’s not desert sand, but the soft, powdery kind plonked right at the feet of some of the most spectacular beaches in the world.

Oh yes, then there’s the bikini clad babes wandering around here, there and everywhere. And plenty of buff male torsos for the ideal eye candy for a girls’ weekend, mind you.

The journey

But down to business, boys’ weekend business, of course. Do something a little different and fly into Brisbane rather than Coolangatta, where we snapped up our DriveNow bargain basement Mitsubishi Lancer, and take your time looking around this sunny city before cruising down the Pacific Motorway for an hour or so. We had lunch at the superb Cha Cha Char Wine Bar & Grill in Brisbane, beaut river views and awesome venue to tear into a juicy char grilled steak. This recharged the batteries for an afternoon of surfing action on Main Beach on the Gold Coast. Then we checked into the mighty Crowne Plaza and set up base for the rest of the weekend which included a day at the races, and a big night at Jupiters Casino.

On the Sunday, a hangover couldn’t stop us from letting rip with some adrenalin-pumping fun at the Wet N Wild fun park – can’t avoid Surf Rider, Kamikaze and extreme Tornado for a real buzz and to set the real men apart from the boys. Take note: this kind of activity is the perfect hangover cure! It allowed us to fire up, head back into town for another tilt at the nightlife, this time minus Jupiters which would have continued to clean out our wallets, no doubt. This time we did the rounds in the heart of town in Surfers Paradise, namely Orchid Street after about 10pm. No shortage of great night spots, food and beautiful people.


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Driving Holidays – Cairns (Qld)

By Australia / Cairns / Queensland /

The old adage “it’s a big country” certainly rings true in Far North Queensland, where distances between sights are great and the only way to experience them is by road. But that’s what makes the region north of Cairns such a great place for a driving holiday, with the open highway a journey of discovery and wonder.

When you’re deciding on a vehicle, keep in mind that the further from the Big Smoke you get, the rougher the roads – you may require a four-wheel drive if you are venturing north of the Daintree or up into Cape York.

The journey

After settling on Toyota Camry from Budget at Cairns Airport we began our trip north to Port Douglas on the Captain Cook Highway. This 68 kilometre stretch of road must be one of the most scenic drives in Australia, winding its way through Cairns’ beautiful northern beaches, with great vantage points at Rex’s Lookout and Yule Point back down the coast.

A couple of detours kept the whole clan happy – a visit to Hartley’s Creek Crocodile Farm had the kids awestruck at their first sight of massive saltwater crocs; while I was relished a coffee break at Palm Cove, an exclusive resort destination 25 minutes from Cairns.

Port Douglas is a great place to base yourself if you are exploring the north, with plenty of accommodation and a great central location. Stylish and sophisticated, Port Douglas glistens like a modern oasis, its al fresco restaurants and cafes beckoning travellers to stay and linger.

A rainforest to remember

But we had World Heritage listed rainforest on our mind, and once we’d settled into our accommodation, we hit the road again for the Daintree National Park.

Believed to be the oldest rainforest in the world at around 135 million years old, there are plenty of ways to explore this diverse and beautiful eco-system. A one-hour river cruise on the Daintree River is the perfect introduction and a safe way of seeing crocs up close; take a self-guided walk with interpretive signage providing a feast of information; or visit the Daintree Discovery Centre for an overview of the region.

Adventure lovers can ride a horse on the beach at Cape Tribulation, or dive off the coast where the Barrier Reef meets the rainforest clad hills. But arguably the best way to see the rainforest is on a zipline tour – the new Jungle Surfing Canopy Tours will have you literally flying through the trees, an unbeatable natural high!