Pages

Living the Good Life in Hervey Bay

There aren't many places that make me wake up at the crack of dawn and run outside just to see the sun rise...

Hervey Bay is one of the few!

I was fortunate enough to spend a few weeks in Hervey Bay for work over the past year and fell in love with this peaceful town. I would argue that it is one of the most relaxing places I've visited in all of Australia.

Apparently others agree, because this sleepy coastal town is having a moment - many retirees and holiday seekers are moving here - and I can certainly see why.

My view from the Oceans Resort in Hervey Bay
Located 3.5 hours north of Brisbane, Hervey Bay is nestled next to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. These calm, protected waters make it an ideal pit stop for whales on their annual journey south to Antarctica.



Despite it's coastal location, the beaches in Hervey Bay aren't the pristine white shores you find further south in the Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast, or even just a few kilometers away in Fraser Island...in fact, they are lovingly referred to as "mud flats" :)

When the tide is high, the beach looks pretty inviting, but when the tide is low, the water recedes and an expanse of muddy sand mixed with smelly algae stretches for 100 metres towards the bay.

The beaches of Hervey Bay at high tide


Thanks in part to the mud flats, Hervey Bay hasn't been developed into a holiday mecca quite like the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast, but I think that's part of the appeal!

View of the Hervey Bay Boat Harbour at sunrise
Although I spent most of my time in Hervey Bay working, Ed and I enjoyed a very relaxing weekend here in October. Our first stop was the harbour where we hopped on a boat and ventured about an hour into the bay to see the real star attraction...whales!

A mother and baby whale swimming side by side


October is towards the end of the annual migration, so there were not as many whales as peak season, but our boat captain did a great job of tracking down a mom and baby whale for us to observe. We even got to see a few breaches!

A whale calf putting on a show for us


You can book full or half day whale watching excursions - we went with a half day tour which felt like just the right amount of time.



Back on land, we soaked up more coastal views with a walk down the Urangan Pier. If it looks long to you, you're right - it's 800 metres long!


We thought we were alone, but someone was keeping an eye on us :)





Another area we explored was the 14 km long Esplanade that stretches from the far edge of Point Vernon all the way to the boat harbour - perfect for long walks and bike rides.



Combining a whale watching excursion with a relaxing walk down the pier and Esplanade was a perfect way to spend a weekend away from Brisbane.



I could certainly get used to this kind of good life... ;)
Read More »

10 Lessons Learned on Our Campervan Road Trip

You might be able to think of more romantic ways to spending an anniversary weekend, but for us, piling into a campervan and hitting the open road sounded like a great time!



We knew we wanted to celebrate our anniversary with a little adventure into the great outdoors, so we decided to explore the Outback and drive 9 hours to Carnarvon National Park.



I'm sure some of you are wondering - why rent a campervan? :) Here are a few of the top reasons:
  • Since we don't own a car, we'd have to rent a car for a road trip anyway, so why not rent one that we can sleep in, too?
  • Paying for an unpowered site at a caravan park for about $30-$60 per night ends up being cheaper than staying at hotels or private cabins.
  • Sleeping in a campervan is better than sleeping in a tent because it provides a soft mattress, more protection from the bad weather, and we don't have to worry about middle-of-the-night rat invasions!
In case there are others out there who are considering renting a campervan, we wanted to share some tips and lessons learned from our first experience. We hope it inspires you to get out and explore the world in a campervan!

1. Campervans can come well-equipped with everything you need!

Source


We've only rented a campervan from Jucy so far, but we were pleasantly surprised by how much gear was included with our rental. Not only did our van come with fresh sheets, a duvet and pillows to make the bed, but the trunk contained a sink, refrigerator, gas stove and storage area with pots, pans, dishes, cutlery, and much more.

You can find the full list of everything included on Jucy's website. Basically, all we had to bring with us was food and clothes!

2. We didn't really need all the fancy features in the campervan.

We rented the "Jucy Crib" campervan which is slightly more expensive than the "Jucy Sleeper" model. The main difference between the two models is that the Jucy Crib contains a refrigerator and DVD player.

The DVD player seemed like a nice touch until we remembered that we don't have any DVDs that work here due to regional restrictions! For entertainment, we just used our iPad mini.

The refrigerator also seemed like a good idea, but we found out that we needed to unplug it at night so it didn't exhaust the secondary car battery. We had hoped it would retain some of the cold overnight even when it was unplugged, but when we opened it the next day it was completely room temperature inside.

Knowing that, we'd probably rent the cheaper "Jucy Sleeper" model next time and just bring food that doesn't need to be refrigerated. If we come across a grocery store and buy fresh meat or produce, we'll only buy as much as we need for one meal so we don't need to depend on a refrigerator.

3. Pack light and consolidate.

Even though campervans seem really spacious, we learned that storage can still feel limited. When it comes time to prepare the bed at night, all of the stuff you have stored in the backseat needs to fit in a narrow storage area underneath the bed or get stacked up in the front seat on the driver and passenger side.

It felt like quite an upheaval every night when we'd have to empty the contents of the back seat and move everything to the front!

Source


Next time, we'll try to keep it simple by just sticking to one suitcase each. Besides two small suitcases we had other random bags with camera equipment, food, etc., and having so many separate small bags made it complicated to rearrange and find what we wanted.

Also, since the van didn't have a storage console between the driver and passenger seats, I'd recommend bringing along a small plastic container to go between the seats in the front for holding snacks, maps, cell phones, and other accessories.

4. Make sure everything in the campervan works before you leave!

It wasn't until we were 4 hours from Brisbane that we noticed a few problems with our van. For one, the passenger side window didn't roll down. Secondly, our auxiliary radio input didn't work well. This wasn't a big problem on our short road trip but would have been an inconvenience on a longer road trip.

We did call Jucy and let them know and they were extremely apologetic and gave us a discount on our next rental. Still, when we rent a campervan again, we'll check a few of these key features before we leave!

5. Bring small cloths or paper towels to cushion the dishes, pots and pans in the back.

When we first picked up our van and rolled onto the busy streets of Brisbane, every small bump or pothole we hit made us feel like we were driving a tin can full of marbles. We couldn't believe all the rattling noises that were coming from the trunk!

Fortunately Ed came up with the good idea of putting paper towels between the plates, pots and pans so they didn't rattle as much. Once we got onto the highway it was smooth sailing into the Outback.

6. Don't overestimate the amount of petrol (gasoline) in the tank.

Petrol stations are few and far between in the Outback, and we got a small taste of this on our road trip.





Carnarvon is a 2.5 hour drive from the nearest major town, Roma, so we thought we might be able to get there and back with one tank.

On the drive back, about one hour from Roma, we cruised through the small town of Injune and saw one small petrol station with unlisted prices (read: expensive). We had about an eighth of a tank left, so we decided to risk it.



Sure enough, just a few minutes later, the warning light on the dashboard went on. We sweated through the next 70 kilometres, watching the fuel gauge wobble and dip below "E". We thought for sure that we'd be pushing the van or hitch-hiking those last few kilometres.

Fortunately we made it to Roma on fumes and were able to fill up, but the stress was not worth it! We've learned that it's worth it to pay extra for a few litres at an expensive, remote station so we don't have to worry about making it to the next major town.

7. Watch out for kangaroos!

In the last hour of daylight before we reached the caravan park, we saw dozens of kangaroos. We even spotted a few daring ones hopping across the road ahead of us. Dawn and dusk are the most dangerous times to drive because kangaroos are likely to hang out near the road.


Besides the live kangaroos, we saw far too much roadkill to even count - a harrowing reminder that we needed to be extra cautious.

8. Sleeping in a campervan is actually really comfortable!

As we crawled into bed the first night, slammed the sliding door shut and observed our cozy surroundings, a funny feeling crossed over us. The best way I can describe it is that we felt like two giddy kids in a home-made fort!



The mattress (which was really just the back seats folded down flat) was more comfortable than we expected and we had a great night's sleep.

It was also surprisingly quiet and peaceful - the walls block out a lot of the outside noise you might normally hear whilst camping, like other people, noisy birds or even kangaroos hopping around.

The temperatures at night were perfect - chilly enough to need a heavy blanket, but still comfortable. That said, we would not want to do a campervan road trip in the middle of summer. We can only imagine how miserable sleeping would be!

9. Be sure to park in an open area to get a full view of the stars.

It wasn't until we were all settled in for our first night of sleep that we looked up and realized we had a moon roof above our heads in the backseat. We pulled the shade back and saw an unbelievably beautiful expanse of stars above us.

Source


This has got to be one of the greatest perks to renting a camper van - you can really sleep under the stars! The night sky was so clear in the Outback that we could easily see the Milky Way.

The second night we made sure to park in a similar clearing away from trees so we had another full view of the night sky above us.

10. We really enjoyed roadtripping in a campervan! 

Overall, we had such a great time exploring Outback Queensland at our own pace in a campervan.

Perhaps this is the most important lesson of all...now we know we definitely want to rent a campervan for more road trips in the future. :)



Have you ever done a road trip in a campervan? What other tips would you add? If you haven't used a campervan before, what questions do you have?

          
  
This week we're participating in a "link up" with some great travel bloggers - check out the hosts to read more interesting travel tales! 

Read More »

5 Things We're Still Getting Used to in Australia

For the most part, the move to Australia has been pretty easy. There aren't any difficult language barriers to overcome or really surprising cultural differences here, but there are a few aspects of life that take some time to get used to. Here are five thing we're still adjusting to after 8 months!

Cuddling koalas - now that's something we could get used to!


5) The Time Difference

Brisbane is about 14 hours ahead of the US and 9 hours ahead of Spain, but with daylight savings changes and difficulty doing basic math in my head, I still have to think for awhile to remember what time it is around the world.

The time difference makes watching live major sporting events almost impossible, so it's a good thing we're not big sports fans. Just check out what time the World Cup games were broadcasted down under!


Yeah...I'll just find out the score when I wake up :)

Although we live half a day "in the future" over here, we don't feel the impact of the time difference much except when we try to coordinate times to talk to our family and friends back home. I still use this World Clock Meeting Planner to figure out the best times to talk on Skype.

4) Higher Prices

Our jaws have dropped more than a few times due to the higher prices in Australia. Besides our monthly rent nearly tripling for a similarly sized 1 bedroom apartment, our grocery bills sky-rocketed and eating out at restaurants can lead to major sticker shock, too.

Decent BBQ sauce? Almost $8!
We've cut back in our budget in a few ways, like not eating our beloved salmon very often (at $27 per kilo, it's a bit of a splurge) as well as not eating out at restaurants very often. Paying bills was painful for the first few months, but we're getting used to it slowly but surely!

3) Different Jargon

Australians may speak English, but there have been plenty of times that we've felt like foreigners due to the accent and unusual slang used here.

It took me at least a month to know how to answer the question most commonly asked by Australians: "How Are You Going?" Hint: The answer is not "by car" or "by ferry". The answer is "Fine" :)

We've discovered all sorts of unique Australian-isms, like saying "Macca's" instead of McDonald's, "arvo" instead of "afternoon", "ta" instead of "thank you", and too many more to name!

Source
I still see blank faces whenever I accidentally ask for a shopping "cart" at the supermarket instead of a "trolley", or when I ask for my fast food "to go" instead of "takeaway". But, learning a few Australian phrases is a whole lot easier than living in a country that speaks an entirely different language, so we're thankful for that!

2) Walking on the Left Side of the Footpath (a.k.a sidewalk)

We've already written about driving on the left side of the road, but would you have guessed that Australians are strict about walking on the left side of the sidewalk, too?

For the first month after moving to Australia, I found myself in a lot of awkward run-ins with strangers during my daily walk to work...something like this, minus the dancing:


Eventually I stopped fighting the peer pressure to walk on the left and just accepted it. Now I have these types of awkward run-ins much less frequently, but when I do, it's the other person's fault for walking on the right - and I know it's probably someone else who just arrived in Australia and hasn't learned the ropes yet ;)

There's more reason to walk on the left than just avoiding awkwardness - it's a safety issue, too. Bikers ride on the left side of sidewalks, so getting in their way could be very dangerous.

When you come to Australia, remember to be safe and walk in the left!

1) Opposite Seasons

The months of December, January and February will always equate to snow days, winter coats, and hot cocoa in my mind, and June, July and August will always be the time of vacations, flip flops, and BBQs. Living in the southern hemisphere reverses that completely!

Just yesterday I was putting together a new music playlist on Spotify and named it "Summer 2014". After staring at it for a few seconds, I realized that it is indeed winter in Brisbane. D'oh!

Are there any other expats out there who have switched hemispheres? Does your brain ever get used to opposite seasons? It feels way too engrained in me to ever go away!

This is December in Queensland...it's rough, I know!
Living in Brisbane with warm winter weather makes it even more confusing...but that's a sacrifice we're willing to accept :)

Have you moved abroad before? What were the toughest things to get used to?
Read More »

Cape Woolamai: A Must See on Phillip Island

Staring into the eyes of that 2-metre-long snake, I questioned whether visiting Cape Woolamai had been such a good idea. Having lived to tell the story, I can now say that this was one of our favourite memories from the trip to Victoria!


You may have never heard of Cape Woolamai, but Phillip Island is famous in Australia for being one of the best places to see a penguin colony in the wild. At dusk, hundreds of little penguins make a daring dash from the ocean to their burrows in the hills along the beach. Watching the penguins "parade" across the beach has become one of the most popular tourist attractions near Melbourne!



The penguins don't make their appearance until after sunset, so that leaves many people wondering what else there is to do on Phillip Island during the day.

A few other tourist attractions have sprung up on the island including a Koala Conservation Centre, a historic working farm, and even a Chocolate Factory! We decided to explore the rocky coast of Cape Woolamai on the southeastern side of Phillip Island and are so glad we did.

The walking trails start near a carpark just 3 kilometres from the main highway. A ten minute walk along this world-class surf beach leads you to the start of the trails.


Barely 20 minutes into the walk, we turned a corner and there before us was a huge red-bellied black snake sunning in the middle of the path.

 I didn't get a picture of the snake we saw, but here's a very similar one! - Source
At that moment I froze in my tracks and couldn't utter any words. The snake locked eyes on me, crouched into a striking position and JUMPED! Fortunately it was more of a startled jump, rather than an aggressive jump, and soon after that it slithered off the side of the path to hide in the grass.

Still trembling from that brief scare, I looked up the red-bellied black snake on my phone and found out that it is extremely venomous - but, not as deadly as some other snakes in Australia...I guess that's a relief?

After that close call, we were on high alert and feeling a little jumpy. It didn't help that 5 minutes later we were walking along and suddenly saw a blotched blue-tongued lizard!



Until we saw the legs, we thought it might be another snake! Thankfully this guy was harmless.

After those two close encounters with wildlife, we were convinced that Cape Woolamai was a unique, untouched corner of Phillip Island, and we felt so fortunate to get to explore it.

About 45 minutes from the start of the track, we reached the beautiful Pinnacles - an impressive rock formation carved over time by the wind and the waves.


























From the Pinnacles, we followed the trail along the coast another 30 minutes towards the highest spot on Phillip Island - the Beacon. It's not an impressive lighthouse by any means, but the coastal views all around us were beautiful.



Along the way, we met more friends!



How cute are those wallabies? This variety is called the black swamp wallaby and is commonly found around eastern Australia.

A little further down the path, we enjoyed seeing the eastern side of Cape Woolamai, including Gull Island.


Soon after that we looked up and saw a wedge-tailed eagle - the largest bird of prey in Australia - soaring overhead.







After all of those animal sightings, we almost forgot the main reason we came to Phillip Island - the penguins! As far a we were concerned, the trip to Phillip Island had been worth it just for Cape Woolamai.

The final stretch of the circuit led us through the bush and back to the beach and car park. Although it wasn't as scenic, we kept an eye out for more wallabies and spotted a few!

Back at the car, we reflected on what an unexpected, wild adventure we'd had at Cape Woolamai. We'll never forget seeing a a snake, a lizard, an eagle and wallabies in the span of a few hours, but the breathtaking scenery we saw along the way will stay with us, too.

When you plan a trip to Phillip Island, don't miss Cape Woolamai!

Tips for Walking Cape Woolamai
  • Choose your track based on the amount of time you have available. The shortest walk, to the Pinnacles and back, will only take about 2 hours. 
  • If you have more time, do the Beacon Walk, which includes the Pinnacles but goes further around the cape to the highest spot on Phillip Island. We finished the walk in about 3 hours.
  • The longest circuit includes the Old Granite Quarry and takes a total of 4 hours.
  • Bring comfortable shoes that you don't mind walking through sand and on land.


          
  
This week we're participating in a "link up" with some great travel bloggers - check out the hosts to read more fantastic travel tales! 

Read More »

10 Tips for Driving on the Left for the First Time


I still remember the first time I rode in a car on the "wrong" side of the road in Liverpool, England. I nonchalantly hopped into the passenger seat of a cab, not expecting anything too out of the ordinary. As the car zoomed off I soon realized that every small turn felt like a wild swing in an unexpected direction! It was like riding a roller coaster!

Fast-forward to a few months ago when we arrived in Australia, and the thought of driving a car in the left lane was a bit intimidating. That sensation of being a passenger in the cab in Liverpool was strange enough, so how on earth was I going to handle driving?

Fortunately, Brisbane has so many great day trips nearby that I quickly had to face my fears and learn how to drive on the left - and it wasn't so bad! Although it can be a little nerve-racking at the beginning, I'm sure anyone can pick it up easily with the help of these ten tips!

1. Practice first with a rental car

No need to stress yourself out with driving a friend or family member's car, or worse - buying a new car and driving it off the lot for the first time! Start with renting a car.

2. Choose the right rental car company

Websites like VroomVroomVroom will help you not only choose the best price, but also compare various locations near you. If you can, pick a location that's not in the middle of a busy central location! Choose a rental car location on a side street or quieter suburb so your first turn out of the parking lot won't be too intense.

If you can, schedule the car pick-up first thing in the morning on a weekend so there will be even fewer cars on the road.

Our rental car of choice - the Nissan X-Trail!
3. Be sure you're covered in case of an accident

Before you drive any car, make sure you're covered by some insurance policy - whether you bought travel insurance, use a credit card with insurance included, or purchase coverage from the rental car company.

Even if you're fairly confident that you're covered, read the fine print and call the insurance provider directly to make sure you understand the details. Some insurance policies actually exclude Australia and New Zealand, so watch out for that!

4. Rent an automatic

It's hard enough learning to drive on the other side of the road - why complicate things further with changing gears with a different hand than you're used to? Keep things simple and rent an automatic transmission.

Watch out for the "mini" or "economy-sized" rental cars - often they have a manual transmission. Rent the next size up to get an automatic.





5. Get situated and familiarize yourself with the inside of the car

As soon as you sit down in the driver's seat, check your mirrors. This may seem basic, but it will feel very strange to look up and to the left to see out the rear view mirror - you might even forget the mirror is there!

6. Remember that your wipers and blinkers are reversed

This is probably the most annoying part of driving on the left side of the road in Australia - the wind-shield wipers are the stick to the left of the steering wheel, and the blinkers are the stick on the right.

Even after months of practice, I still manage to confuse the two! It's better to get this confusion out of the way in the parking lot rather than in the middle of an road as you're panicking to make a turn.




7. Steer clear of the left curb

As soon as you start driving forward, you may start gravitating towards the left side of the lane. If you're used to driving on the right like the rest of the world, then you'll be used aligning the car closer to the left side of the lane.

When you get into a car with the opposite configuration, you'll still feel the urge to drive closer to the left side of the lane and risk hitting the curb! Keep this in mind and try to focus on hugging the right side of the lane.

8. Be extra careful on turns

You've made it out of the parking lot and down the street - great job! The next step is turning. If you're with other traffic it's pretty easy - just follow the car in front of you and you'll be fine.

The moments to watch out for are when you're alone and turning from one empty road to another - it'll be all too easy to swing into the wrong lane. Even parking garages can be tricky because there isn't always a line down the centre to guide you.

As a quick side note, we experienced an interesting phenomenon in Melbourne a few weeks ago - making right turns from the left lane! We rented a car from Southern Cross Station and endured about 10 nerve-racking minutes of city driving before we got onto the highway to Phillip Island, but fortunately I did not have to try one of these tricky turns.

Source


9. Don't become overconfident

You'll probably start to feel comfortable driving on the left after the first three or four trips. Still, don't get too relaxed - as soon as you let your guard down, you could make a mistake.

10. Bring someone with you!

Having an extra set of eyes next to you in the passenger seat can help a lot. They can let you know if you're getting too close to the left side of the lane or watch out for other cars as you're changing lanes.

Another great perk of having a passenger is that they can give you a quick verbal reminder of "stay in the left!" when you make a turn. They can even repeat it a few times in a row, preferably to the tune of "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees ;) Not that we've ever done that...

Have you switched to driving on the other side of the road before? How did it go?
Read More »

Mt. Coolum: A Bird's Eye View of the Sunshine Coast

So there we were, contemplating the usual options for our day trip last weekend...Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast? Glass House Mountains or Mt. Tamborine? Suddenly we realized that we didn't have to choose between mountains and beach - we could have both in the same day!



Less than a kilometre from the Sunshine Coast, Mt. Coolum stands 208 metres above the sea with near 360 degree views of the coast and hinterland below.

Climbing Mt. Coolum in the morning, followed by a picnic and walk on the beach at Point Arkwright, is going in the books as one of our favourite day trips yet!



Just 90 minutes north of Brisbane, Mt. Coolum is a volcanic dome taking up 1 square kilometre of the Sunshine Coast. Remarkably, this single square kilometre is one of the most unique areas of plant diversity in all of Australia. Mt. Coolum hosts over 700 plant types and at least 2 species of trees are found nowhere else.

Aerial Photo Source


The track to the summit starts on the east side with a slow, gradual incline through the forest and finishes with 10 minutes of climbing a rocky staircase up to the top.


In less than 30 minutes, we were already at the summit and enjoying these great views of the Sunshine Coast.


The National Park guidelines say to allow 2 hours for the return hike. It only took us a little over 1 hour, but we walked a a pretty decent pace and only spent about 15 minutes at the summit. Still, that short amount of time was enough to appreciate these amazing bird's eye views!


Facing west, we could even make out the faint outline of the Glass House Mountains:



After enjoying the views and working up a sweat on the hike, it was nice to know that the beach wasn't too far away!



Marcoola Beach is less than a 15 minute walk from the base of Mt. Coolum, but we opted to drive just 5 minutes north to pretty Point Arkwright.




We cracked open the "esky" (Aussie slang for "cooler") and had a great seaside picnic!

Want to know our biggest mistake we made that day? Not bringing our swimsuits! What were we thinking? It is technically "winter" here, but we're not going to let that stop us next time.



Sorry locals, the secret is out - Mt. Coolum is a great day trip from Brisbane and perfect add-on to a day spent at the Sunshine Coast!



Have you been to Mt. Coolum? What are some of your favourite spots along the Sunshine Coast?
Read More »