OAKDALE - THE ENTRANCE - SOUTH WEST ROCKS - BALLINA - MOOLOOLABA - RAINBOW BEACH
We did it!
After all the planning, the long build up and the crazy busy weeks and days before our departure date, the sun rose on Monday 17 April, we packed the last of our bits and pieces into the caravan, bid farewell to our friends that had come to see us off and hit the road on the adventure of a lifetime…
Well we tried to at least.
We had made it all of five minutes down the road when I realised I had left my wallet at home. I maintain it was because Lloyd was rushing me. That is my story and I am sticking to it. Thankfully the aforementioned friends were still at our house and were able to make a delivery to us on the side of the road. This little hiccup followed a morning of moodiness and meltdowns from the kids (hello 9.30pm bed time… they were just too excited!), culminating in Ava slipping over on some rocks and hurting her leg just as we were about to take the obligatory pre-trip family photo before we set off. To top hers and our morning off she then managed to step on a bee and get stung on her foot as we popped in to say farewell to my grandmother on our way. We were off to a perfectly imperfect start!
We had always dreamed of what it would feel like to drive out our driveway with seven months of open road in front of us. The reality of the moment probably didn’t meet the idealised and romantic vision I had in my head. It felt kind of rushed, we had one sobbing child in the back, and my head was in a million different places at once as we bundled in the car and organised our friends to grab some photos of us leaving… it was chaotic, but it didn’t matter. Anything else forgotten (like my favourite Swifts travel mug… damn!) would be picked up along the way and everything would fall into place and be as it was meant to be.
Our first stop was Dunleith Caravan Park at The Entrance, NSW. It is a relatively short hop from our home in Oakdale but it is where Lloyd’s parents call home and so we wanted to stop there to say our farewells to them as well as the rest of his family who were visiting for Easter. It was also the perfect place to stop as it is where we spend the majority of our weekends away and holidays (well, before we had our caravan) and it is simply a place that we love to spend time in. The channel and the beaches are spectacular, and there is an endless supply of things for the kids to do. Because we have always holidayed there it is the kind of place that you feel instantly relaxed the moment you arrive and so it was a good chance for us to get into holiday mode in familiar surrounds.
I was prepared to arrive and feel relaxed and happy, and this proved true, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the way in which everything felt kind of different (good different!). Usually when we are at The Entrance we are there for a night or two before heading home to go back to work and slip back into our usual routines. That means that we are usually trying to cram a million things into a few days: keeping the kids happy and entertained, finding some ‘me’ time for each of us adults to have a fish and generally have some time away from the kids to unwind… but this time it wasn’t like that. We didn’t have to cram everything into one or two days, I didn’t feel the pressure of trying to balance the needs of the kids, Lloyd and myself. Everything looked and felt different and it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was as if the kids sensed this as well. They have always liked playing at the beach but when we went this time they ran, splashed, squealed and frolicked like they never had before. The sense of freedom we adults felt was being reflected by the pure joyfulness of our kids as they spent a sunny morning on the beach with their grandparents and cousins and just like that it felt like the tone for our holiday had been set.
We had two nights at The Entrance and as we headed off to our next destination we had the sense of our adventure starting all over again as we were off to somewhere new and unfamiliar to all of us.
After a busy few days the kids crashed out almost immediately so we were able to get about 3.5 hours of driving under our belt before stopping to have some lunch and stretch our legs. Pulling into Tom Cat Creek Rest Stop on the M1 we were greeted by one rooster, then two, then three… soon we were surrounded by nearly 20 roosters and hens. With chooks at home that we love and already miss this was a great little treat and was mutually rewarding as the kids had the pleasure of feeding them their crusts and leftovers, and they gleefully accepted.
Arriving at South West Rocks we headed to the Trial Bay Gaol Campground in the Arakoon National Park. We had gone there on a recommendation and we were not disappointed. What a spectacular place to visit.
We had been driving into overcast skies the entire day and finally as we arrived at our site the heavens opened. I always thought our set up was pretty quick, but there is nothing like a bit of rain to get your van parked and unhitched with your awning out in record time! The rain eventually passed and we were able to head out to get messy in some puddles and wander down to the water’s edge of Trial Bay. The weather was still overcast and slightly cool but the calm and clear water of the bay was just too inviting. First Finn was in, then Ava, then Lloyd and finally me!
As if Trial Bay hadn’t already been good to us we were spoilt with a spectacular sunset and then some local kangaroos, a Tawny Frogmouth and a possum obliged us when we took the kids for their first spotlighting expedition of the trip.
Sticking to our plan to scoot quickly up the NSW coast, we were packed and ready to set off by 9.00am the next morning. Our stay at South West Rocks was brief but absolutely beautiful and we are already planning our return.
We had planned to make our next stop in the Yamba region but the kids were still fast asleep as we got to the turn off so we pushed on and made our next stop over in Ballina.
Upon arrival Lloyd whipped up a seafood spread with some fresh produce we picked up that morning at the co-op in Jerseyville on our way out of South West Rocks. We love to eat seafood, and this was some of the best we have enjoyed in a long time.
Again, Ballina was only a short stop over but there was no shortage of things for the kids to enjoy at the caravan park – playground, water park, jumping pillow… and even pony rides by the bay in the afternoon. Winning!
When we woke up the next morning we didn’t know where we were headed. We originally had plans to go to Brisbane to visit some friends, but they recently moved to Ireland so the Brisbane stop was no longer required. We then had plans to stay two nights in Caloundra and take the kids to Australia Zoo, but again, the weather forecast looked very iffy and we were not prepared to fully commit to the zoo plan.
We had hit the road without a plan and as we crossed the border we still had nowhere to call home for the next two nights. It turns out trying to book a place to park our van on a Friday and Saturday night ahead of an unofficial ANZAC Day long weekend is a bit of a challenge! Finally I was able to secure us a site at Mooloolaba Caravan Park and what a lovely little park it was.
The overcast skies had followed us from NSW but that couldn’t dampen the kids’ enthusiasm as they ran wild at the beach and gave the beachside playground a great workout. Mooloolaba had everything we could have wanted and needed in a caravan stop… even a chance catch up with one of my favourite netballers who currently calls the Sunshine Coast home.
After two nights in Mooloolaba it was time to continue on to Rainbow Beach – the gateway to Fraser Island. Happily we had booked this stay well in advance so instead of madly Googling and calling caravan parks as we were driving (as I had two days prior) I could actually take in and enjoy the surrounds as we left the Sunshine Coast and entered the Fraser Coast region.
We are currently in Rainbow Beach preparing our gear and ourselves to head out tomorrow (ANZAC Day) to Fraser Island. I have been surprised by how quickly and easily we have all settled into ‘van life’. We have only been on the road for a week but it feels like we have been on the road a lot longer (in a good way!) with the rhythm of daily life agreeing with us all. Even travel days have been no problem with the kids. In all the driving from Oakdale to Rainbow Beach we have stopped for a lunch break only once! Little travelling champions! I think the transition from our house to our caravan has been an easy one for us because we have all the conveniences of home in a compact little package, so it remains to be seen whether the transition from caravan to tent for our week on Fraser Island will be as smooth for adults and kids alike. As always, I shall expect the worst, hope for the best and trust things will land somewhere in the middle.
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