We flew back into Sydney from Perth and drove through the early evening and night south to Shellharbour, where we had left Sandpiper. The drive was a worry because I didn’t really know how the idea of driving on an unlit four lane highway through mountains would go at night. How would the visibility be? How much high beam can one use? Fortunately, the traffic was heavy enough that we always had the lights of other cars in range so we could see the twisting winding road ahead.
At Shellharbour, we set up the little tent and plugged in the $14 electric heater to ward off the worst of the freezing cold. Then we hit the local for dinner and filled up on carbs in a big way before heading home and crawling into bed.
The boat had been well looked after in a storage at Albion Park Rail and we had few issues hitching up and heading north, back through Sydney. The drive was reasonable easy, with only one false exit from the motorway (good for us) and relatively few nasty traffic filled roads. Crossing the harbour was a big step, moving us on into a different part of the World and a different stage of our journey.
We pushed on through the city to Lane Cove River Tourist Park. What a wonderful place, a small patch of wilderness eating into the hustle and bustle of north shore Sydney.The Lane Cove River is a lovely little waterway nestled in a beautiful forest filled with tall eucalypts and huge tree ferns. There are numerous well defined walk trails and lots of signage to educate the ignorant on the many things to see and experience. We had a ball, marvelling at the many bush turkeys wandering around, the huge brush tailed possum that came aboard for a visit and the rainbow lorikeets that will happily sit on your hands or head.
Our purpose for stopping in Sydney was to pick up our auto pilot, which had been repaired at the Raymarine headquarters in French’s Forest. Having navigated our way there and picked up the repaired equipment, we pushed on to the beach at Dee Why, a charming place, packed to the hilt with coffee clubs and restaurants. We treated ourselves to yet another hit of carbs that we didn’t need and made solemn promises about increasing the exercise regime.
From Sydney, we made a 100km dash north through Kuring-Gai. Here the M1 acts like a giant roller coaster, with enormous climbs from the river and creek crossings to the equally scary long sweeping drops down to the next valley. We were very glad that we had the big V8 diesel to give us the oomph we needed to tow Sandpiper on this leg. Our target was Newcastle, full-filling a long held promise to drop in on some friends from Kalumburu days. David and Coral are a part of our good times in Kalumburu and we looked forward to catching up with them. We chose to stay in Stockton, over the Hunter River from the Newcastle CBD, which was easily accessible by a regular ferry service.
Our friends picked us up at the ferry terminal and gave us an afternoon’s “Cook’s Tour” of Newcastle, along with the obligatory stop for a beer on the beachfront. I must say, David was very successful in selling Newcastle, and dispelling my pre-conceived image of an industrial city of little merit. The “new” Newcastle is a place well worth visiting in its own right, with some incredible beach vistas, some beautiful old street-scapes and plenty of interesting eateries. It is not just all about the Hunter Valley. Newcastle is worth a visit.
It was so good to catch up with two very genuine people and it was with regret that we left the next morning and continued north, seeking warmer climes. The idea was to drive until we could see people swimming without wetsuits, and by the Sunshine Coast, at Mooloolaba, we found the spot.
Besides the warmth, the other reason for stopping along the Sunshine Coast was to catch up with some other great friends from Project Vietnam. PVI is largely a Sunshine Coast organisation, with a few other members scattered around the country. The members come from the surrounding areas of Mooloolaba, Maroochydore, Noosa, Caloundra, Paloma and many other spots along this beautiful stretch of coastline. The Sunshine Coast is like the Gold Coast on a “chill pill”. The towers are smaller and less numerous, the pace is slower, the people on the street are less scary. The Gold Coast reminds me of the 51st state of the USA. The Sunshine Coast is definitely Oz.
Within minutes of posting our arrival on Facebook, the phone calls came in and we arranged some meets with some terrific contacts from PVI. The next few days were hectic, what with catching up with friends, riding our bikes along the beach front, sampling the many culinary delights of the area and chatting to all the fellow grey nomads in the Mooloolaba Beach Caravan Park. We seemed to be a bit of magnet for fellow yachties, although Christine did point out that all the people stopping to chat for long periods were male. The place had to be a tight community, because the whole caravan park was designed for the 14 and 15 foot caravans of the 1970s and not the 25 foot monsters of today. Every day, there was a cooperative effort to get someone in or out of a spot, with cars shuffling, lots of directing and much discussion about the old days. Throughout all the chaos, we managed to maintain our self belief that we were among the young ones on the plot. Some day that belief may falter.
Our PVI friend Glen, had invited us out for a very casual Wednesday yacht race with the Mooloolaba Yacht Club on a friend’s 39 foot Contessa named Shiraz. With Christine aboard a yacht called Shiraz, we were certain to win, as we did, beating the other four boats on the day. We ended up with a crew of six, so no one was over taxed on the day and we all enjoyed a lovely sail around the island and back into the harbour. On the downwind leg, Glen somehow produced a birthday cake to celebrate Christine’s 60th. What a wonderful birthday! The prize for winning was a bottle of Bundy, but since we aren’t rum lovers, Christine declined the prize, leaving Glenn well pleased. We added to his cheers with a bottle of Ord River Rum that we had been carrying around unopened since a visit to Kununurra in 2010.
After a couple of beers at The Wharf, we crawled our way home across the road to the caravan park, to hit the traditional “5sies” with Glen and Jan from Tassie, who were camped next to us. They were another couple of sensibly retired teachers and full of great yarns. Somehow, we still managed to drag our way out to enjoy a birthday meal of fish and chips at the Wharf before collapsing in bed.
The next morning, we packed and pulled out of Mooloolaba and headed north along the Bruce Highway to Tin Can Bay. The name of the place intrigued me. A special message in an old can? The last survivor’s meal? No! The place was known in indigenous term as Tincanbar, and it somehow got translated very badly. You get that. Tin Can Bay for us was to be the gateway to the Great Sandy Straits, the wonderful stretch of water that separates Fraser Island from the mainland. Fraser Island is the World’s largest sand island, and an absolute must see destination in itself. We can’t wait to get back on the water and explore the riches that await.