Australia Day

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Celebrating Australia Day at Cabarita Beach! Sun, surf, BBQ and beers, life is good friends, life is good! #WanderingWinters

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Summertime in the Australian Outback – Cairns to Alice Springs, Uluru to Port Augusta

We flew back into Cairns on December 29th after our Christmas break to resume the great Aussie road trip. We only had carry on bags so we pushed our luck showing up at the Brisbane airport 10 minutes before boarding time. It’s a bad habit that I’m sure will one day backfire but until it does, it’s the best way to fly! You get escorted past the check in line ups, fast tracked through security and after a quick jog (free workout) to your gate you’re in the air! No siting around airport lounges senselessly spending money on overpriced food and drinks, or getting sucked into airport shopping. Again this is terrible travel advice but it’s been working for us! We had planned to go out for one more dive on the great berries reef but all the tour boats were booked until the 2nd of January and waiting in Cairns that long was unfortunately not going to work with our timeline. Instead we grabbed a hotel room at the Southside International for the night, once again after surfing Expedia For TD and booking.com to find a good rate.

Travel Tip for Canadians reading this; if you have a TD Travel Rewards Visa you can find the same discounted rates booking through Expedia For TD and get double the points using your rewards card.

We relaxed for most of hoe afternoon and got some much needed laundry done at the hotels in house laundry facilities. We have found a couple hotels that have coin operated laundry machines along the way which is great for road trippers and backpackers as you get a reprieve from the tent, which means A/C! The greatest single luxury in the heat of the Australian summer has got to be air conditioning, and you can do laundry without having to wait around a city laundry mat. We did dinner and a movie in downtown Cairns that evening, if you have dinner at La Porchetta a little Italian diner style restaurant you get movie passes for $12.00 with every meal purchased. A good deal as regular price tickets will run you anywhere from $17.50 to $20. La Porchetta is by no means fine dining but the food is good, portion sizes are big for the price and he service is quick and friendly. After dinner we caught the 8:30 showing of The Hobbit at an Event Cinema house, GREAT theatres! Large comfortable seats with arm rests that can be fully lifted, great for couples, or in our case great in an empty theatre for lifting 6 or 7 arm rest and creating a couch to lie on! It was like watching a movie at home…. With expensive popcorn.

The next morning we set out for the Outback, we had 2,900 Km’s to cover to make Alice Springs and are real destination Uluru or Ayers Rock so I figured it was time to make some miles and settle in for one of our epic long haul drives. I figured we could run it straight through making only fuel and food stops and maybe one road side rest stop for a power nap. I hindsight this was a TERRIBLE idea. I have crossed Canada in straight shots more than once and in the dead of winter through snow storms and other insane road conditions but I underestimated the desert. There is nothing to acclimatize you to the punishing heat of Australia’s red centre in the heat if the summer. We had made great time south down the coast from Cairns to Townsville then headed eastbound on the Stuart Highway and into the outback. It’s amazing how quick both the landscape and the temperature changes. From the lush forests and cane fields of North Queensland to the arid scrub brush of central Queensland. The temperature seemed to climb with every kilometre, and we watched the land flatten out, the trees get smaller and the expanses grow to where the horizon line is barely visible. We made it to the very frontier looking town of Charter Towers late in the afternoon, beautiful old buildings fill the Main Street, like a lot of the far north if it wasn’t for new cars you would think nothing has changed here since the early nineteen hundreds. We stopped for a few groceries and more water and other drinks and continued on. We had decided to push on through the night figuring it would be a more comfortable drive out of the blazing heat if the day. Again we were wrong, for one the temperature only drops a few degrees and even at midnight it was still pushing 40 degrees! Without the air conditioning in the truck working we have been reliant what a trucker called running a 2×80 (2 open windows and 80 miles an hour). In the outback this doesn’t work, even when traveling at the posted 130 KMPH speed limit the wind is hot! This lasts into the night, the only reprieve is when you drop a little in elevation and you can enjoy a brief “cool” breeze. Most of the time it’s actually more comfortable to have the windows up to keep the hot air from blowing directly on you. Then there’s the Kangaroos, we had been told repeatedly that driving as many miles around Oz as we were it would be a miracle if we didn’t hit one, and up until tonight I thought everyone was exaggerating. As soon as the sun goes down and it becomes somewhat bearable to move, the desert that seems completely devoid of life save the roaming cattle and a couple million flies comes to life. Carly only recently got her full drivers licence so we were going over what to do if a Roo jumps out in front of the truck, the second we finished the conversation a huge big red kangaroo jumped out a few meters in front of us! Carly reacted perfectly! She didn’t swerve, slowed down as quickly as possible without jamming the brakes on and luckily for us and ol’ red there was no collision.

Cattle stations are just about the only thing in the outback, and they’re massive. Spending the lions share if my adult life in Canada’s cowboy country I thought i knew big ranches. Alberta, British Columbia and the western US boast many large scale cattle operations but nothing like the outback. Cattle stations here have sometimes upwards of a million acres of grazing lands with 50,000 plus head of cattle roaming the unfenced expanses of the outback. The cowboy in me loves the romanticism of these huge ranches and the idea of massive cattle drives, however when driving at night the cows are all over the highway. Then there’s the road trains, big rigs hauling anywhere from two to SIX trailers! These road trains can be up to 53 meters long and when they’re moving there’s no stopping them so you need to be very aware of any vehicle approaching from behind. We’re carrying UHF radios so we can communicate with them which helps, but it’s still a little unsettling having a massive rig barreling down on your rear bumper. With all the dangers of driving at night plus just because you can reach the next town it doesn’t mean you a can get fuel. Pretty much everything, including the roadhouses close by 8 or 9 pm, making long haul travel almost impossible after dark. These factors along with general exhaustion we pulled off the road just east of Mt. Isa for a few hours rest in the back of the truck. After a few sweaty hours of sleep we continued westbound, 38 degrees at 5:30am didn’t bode well for the day ahead. Progress was slow, the combination of a strong headwind and the mercury pushing close to 50 degrees are brutal on both your body and fuel consumption! I have never blown through so much liquid in one day, in the form of drinks to keep us hydrated and fuel for the truck. We were getting 300 Km’s a tank at best and it seemed impossible to drink enough water to keep up with the amount we would sweat out. It’s hard to to articulate how punishing this kind of heat is, we knew what we were getting into venturing into the outback in the summer months but this heat wave was extreme even for the desert. It’s amazing to think that anything can survive in this type of environment, and to be fair not much can. This is evident from the number of bone piles from cattle or kangaroos that didn’t survive the dry spells or those that were hit by road trains. It seems
That the only animals that really thrive are the carrion birds and the flies, LOTS of flies! Everyone and then as you drive along it sounds like you’re driving through water on the road, this is actually the road sealant melting, THE ROAD WAS MELTING! After what seemed felt like an eternity we pulled into the only sign of civilization on the Barkly Hwy for some fuel and a break from the intense midday sun. We parked in the shade out front of the Barkly Homstead, when we turned the truck off there was a strange bubbling sound, turns out our old Toyota was having a bit of a melt down as the sound was the engine coolant in the overflow reservoir boiling! Unable to check the radiator with the engine that hot we went inside to have some lunch and wait for the truck to cool off, now very concerned if we would be able to continue our road trip. We gave tanner (our 4 runner) 3 hours to try and cool down, after checking the rad it seemed that almost all the coolant had boiled off. I think the combination of the heat, headwind and running for 2,000 Km’s almost straight had taken its toll on our old Toyota. We went back into the homestead to get some coolant, we realized that this problem must be fairly common out here and the Barkly Homestead was taking advantage of being the only for hundreds of Km’s as a bottle of engine coolant was $85!! Now we understand that things like fuel are more expensive out here due to the costs of trucking it into the desert but that is literally highway robbery. Instead we topped up the rad with demineralized water and said a little prayer that we could make to the next proper town without a complete breakdown. Now very concerned for our vehicle and our safety we set off slowly, we now had to find a happy medium between making it to Tennant Creek quickly but not overworking the engine. Speed limits in the outback are 130 KMPH so cruising along at 80 or 90 felt like we were barely moving. Cape Tribulation was named by Captain James Cook as that’s where all his troubles
began after running his ship into the reef off the coast. For us Barkly a Homestead was the beginning of our tribulations. We had made it about 15 minutes down the road when the cherry from my cigarette came off in wind and somehow managed to fly down the leg of my shorts! In this heat I was of course “going commando”, so now already boiling in he heat my bottom was literally burning!! With me screaming in pain Carly pulled over as fast as she could (between wiping her tears from the laughter) I’m fairly certain the truck was still moving as I jumped out and did he only thing that made sense at the time…. take my shorts off. Now I’m standing in the middle of the outback in the blazing heat completely naked with a burnt rear end, this is of course the time hat the only other vehicles we’ve seen all day drive past! Carly was now in absolute hysterics, she claims there were brief moments of sympathy but I’m not sure I believe her.

We had left Cairns with big smiles and the hopes we would ring In the new year in Alice Springs, turns out the red centre had other plans. We made it to Tennant Creek finally and decided that we would spring for a hotel room. At this point I think we would have paid just about anything for air conditioning. It was after all New Year’s Eve and we needed a break. The young girl at the Bluewater Motel was extremely nice and offered us a discounted room and gave us a couple of cold drinks on the house. We had planned to camp but in all honesty we needed to be out of the heat. Tennant Creek is an odd little town but the hotel had a pool and it was close to the Devils Marbles which we planned to visit the next morning so this is where we would spend New Years Eve. By far the quietest New Years we’ve had in ages, after a long swim we relaxed in our room and watched the festivities live from Sydney Harbour.

The next morning we continued south towards Alice Springs, our first planned stop was at the Devils Marbles conservation area, located 100 Km’s south of Tennant Creek and about 400 Km’s north of Alice Springs, The Devils Marbles are giant limestone boulders that appear like an oasis, it’s an incredible sight in the middle of the desert. Formed over millions of years through erosion, many of the boulders are precariously perched on one another and seem to defy gravity standing on up on end. There is a small camp ground and a few unofficial walks through the site, well worth a visit. Like other outback icon Uluru and Kata Juta the marbles are at their best at sunrise or sunset as the red rocks seem to glow. The traditional owners call the site “Karlu Karlu” which translates literally to round boulders. This is a sacred place for the aboriginal peoples of the Northern Territory, many creation legends exist but due to the sites significance most can’t be told to non Aboriginals. The site has been used for centuries as a place to gather, hunt and collect water. The Northern Territory has a unique beauty, the vast expanses of almost barren land posses a spirit. I had been told that the outback could be summed up in by a photo of windmill with nothing but wide open space around it, after our third day here I would disagree. Yes it is a barren landscape, but here is a rugged beauty that changes form as you move through different areas, and when you see places like the Devils Marbles you’re in awe of wonders of the red centre.

Still very concerned about the vehicle overheating we slowly made our way sown the Stuart highway stopping at random roadhouses along the way to give the truck and us a break from the heat of the day which again was pushing 50 degrees! One of the stops was at the Ti Tree Roadhouse, “the most central pub in Australia”

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We wanted to stay for a beer but unfortunately the pub had been broken into the night before and they were closed to do inventory of what was stolen. The culprits had already been arrested as they broke in, stole a bunch of liquor and beer then proceeded to sit across the road and drink it! By late afternoon we had made it to Alice Springs, the capital of the Northern Territory. From books and movies I have always wanted to visit Alice Springs and was very happy get the chance to visit. It was however January 1st so not most businesses were closed so we poked around town a little, had dinner and carried on towards Uluru. In hindsight I would have liked to stay in Alice longer but in all honesty it’s not what I had imagined. I found towns in the desert to be quite pretty, heritage buildings, with a frontier feel and plenty of interesting characters. In Alice we didn’t really find this, it’s a large town (for the outback) but it lacked something.

Our next stop was at the Stuarts Well Roadhouse, if you’re looking for a bite to eat or a place to stay on the Stuart HWY this is your place! It’s been called “a roadhouse with a difference” and that’s the truth! The owners and staff are fantastic, we ended up hanging out here for a couple of hours chatting with the staff and a couple of truckers who make regular stops at the roadhouse. As we sat in the shade at 6:30 pm the thermometer read 47 degrees! You know it’s hot when Northern Territory locals are complaining! With well priced food and accommodation the Stuarts Well Roadhouse and caravan park as well as the neighbouring camel farm offer a great jumping off point to visit some of the Northern Territory’s most famous land marks. They have powered and unpowered camp sites, cabins, a pool and along with the restaurant sporting a pool table, musical instruments and a small gift shop. This really is a place to visit while in the area.

After another nerve racking night drive we pulled into the Uluru Resort. We had been told that this is really the only place close to “the rock” you can camp, especially if you plan to make it to Uluru for sunrise. Being close to midnight we were exhausted, we found an empty site and quickly set up our beds in the back of the truck. In what seemed like only minutes we were up to sound of our alarms to make the short drive to Uluru before sunrise, only a few minutes down the road you get your first glimpse of Ayres rock in the shadowy light before sun up. As soon as you see this incredible sandstone monolith you can feel its presence, and there’s no question as to why it has been a sacred place for the aboriginal people for thousands of years. Entrance to Uluru National Park is $25 per person, this gets you a three day pass to explore Uluru, Kata Juta and the surrounding area. There are a number of hikes in the park however due to extreme heat pretty much all the walks were closed the two days we spent in the park so we will have to go back again (in the winter ;). As the sun came up over Uluru you can’t help but get a little emotional, there is such a beauty and a spirit to this land and Uluru is more than just a rock. Shooting 348 metres out of the barren landscape that surrounds it and at almost 10 Km’s around the monolith is beyond impressive, the colours of the rock and the land change as the sun rises each moment seemingly more beautiful than the last. I have seen thousands of images of Uluru and read about it since I was a little boy so standing before it was definitely one of the highlights of my life and one of the most spiritual travel experiences I’ve ever had. Carly and I spend as much time as we can outdoors and share a passion for nature so to share this experience together as newlyweds was incredible. We were disappointed that we couldn’t do the base walk as there is 5000 year old rock art and both the sunrise and sunset viewing areas are still a distance from the rock itself. More upsetting however was seeing the one morning walk that was still open. They are still allowing people to climb Uluru which in our opinion is disrespectful to the traditional owners of the land as the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people view this as a sacred place that shouldn’t be climbed. Even as an avid rock climber I wouldn’t think of climbing the rock. If you visit here we urge you to take the time to read about the history, and cultural of Uluru and the traditional owners of the land, there are many online resources like Parks Australia where you can learn a bit about the culture before your visit. During your stay the purpose built town of Yulara has a cultural centre where you can learn more about the local aboriginal peoples history.

After a few hundred photos we returned to Yulara and the Ayres Rock Resort to properly check in to the camp ground and have some breakfast. The woman working the reception was great, offering lots of information on the area and even better as we had arrived so late she only charged us for one nights stay! Yulara and the Ayres Rock Resort offers a number of accommodation options from unpowered camp sites at $36/night to posh apartments hotels, spas and cabins that can run you up to $400 or $500 a night, so pick your poison, there really is something for everyone’s tastes and travel styles. For the self sufficient Yulara has a supermarket, post office as well as shops and cafés which are all reasonably priced so you don’t need to stock up before your arrival. Carly and I believe in shopping local and supporting local business both at home and while travelling so try our best to shop at our destinations.
Even in the off season Uluru is a busy place so reservations are recommended year round and during the cooler months they would be essential as the park sees 250,000 visitors a year.

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We spent most of the day relaxing and really just trying to stay cool and hydrated, luckily Ayres Rock Resort has a pool! In fact your camping fees give you access to all the pools at the other resorts as well! The pool was on its own worth the $36 and we spent most of our day in the water or beside the pool in the shaded BBQ area. We made our way back to Uluru that evening to witness the sun set on the rock and it was more stunning than sunrise! The sandstone glows red in the fading light as shadows of the monolith are cast across the outback absolutely incredible!

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The next morning we were up early and headed for the climes of South Australia. Our original plan was to drive to the strange underground town of Coober Pedy. A dusty town of 1,695 know as the opal mining capital of the world, due to…. well the number of precious opals mined there. A number of hotels, the church and peoples homes are built underground due to the intense heat during the day, in fact the name Coober Pedy comes from the the aboriginal kupa-piti which means “white men’s hole”. We decided due to the steep hotel prices in town that we would continue on and find a campground somewhere in S.A.

This decision meant that once again we were taking the risk of driving at night, this was unfortunately a bad decisions this time as about a half hour after sunset our luck ran out and we hit a kangaroo. This was not a little wallaby either,it was a fully grown big red! This is the reason we were so insistent on getting a vehicle with bull bars and thank god we did or this would have been a serious wreck. Carly and I were both okay and the truck only suffered a small dent and broken turn indicator, we got off easy. Unfortunately the same could not be said for the kangaroo. A very nice woman stopped as we were assessing the damage to see if we were ok, which was nice to think that if it had been serious we would have had help. After some quick duct tape repairs we were back on the road, we were able to use our VHF radio to connect with a road train that had passed when we were pulled over and catch up with him and essentially use him as a blocker. The truck driver was great, using his turn indicators to let us know when he saw Roos on the side of the road so we knew to back off just in case. We tailed the rig to the inlet town of Port Augusta, mentally exhausted but relieved to be safely at a campsite AND there was a cool breeze! Amazing that in a few hundred Km’s we had gone from 46 degrees to 13! All In all the outback is an incredible place and I look forward to returning to the red centre as there are other places we didn’t get the chance to see and hikes and 4×4 trails we would like to do in more reasonable temperatures. The outback is another example of Australia’s extreme and rugged landscape and climate making this a dream destination of anyone searching for a real adventure. Wide open spaces, and a landscape that has a real spirit this is a place to see and one of the worlds last wild places.

We hope you enjoyed this post and all the updates on wanderingwinters.com check back often as we will be adding photos to all our posts when we get pics uploaded off our cameras, THERES LOTS!

Ewan & Carly Winter.

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Win the Ultimate Ski Trip to Banff & Lake Louise! A contest from home

Want to win the ultimate ski vacation to beautiful Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta? Why not Get To Banff this winter! Check out www GetToBanff.ca for details and entry.

Not at all on the topic of our road trip in Oz, but we do love our home in Banff and encourage you to check this contest out. Maybe you can join the Wandering Winters for some spring skiing in the Canadian Rockies!

Australia’s Capricorn Coast – Central Queensland & Carly’s return home

We rejoin the trips proper timeline with our next instalment from Agnes Water to Carly’s home turf as we travelled north to Rockhampton and Yeppoon. With only a few hours drive up to Yeppoon and no need to stress about setting up camp we left Agnes after our morning surf on another beautiful sunny day in central Queensland. Towns are getting smaller and the scenery at this point reminds me more and more of a mixture between a tropical version of western Canada and the large agricultural stretches we found on Costa Rica’s north-west coast. Fields upon fields of sugar cane run east toward the coast while as we move closer to Rockhampton the cane fields are broken up with cattle stations and wide open grasslands stretching west towards the mountains. You would never know that a short drive of the Bruce Highway east and you’re on the ocean, although the land is obviously fertile it’s still very arid as the rainy season has not yet kicked in.

Kangaroos escaping the hot midday sun under a tree

Kangaroos escaping the hot midday sun under a tree

These huge fig trees remind me of Barbados

These huge fig trees remind me of Barbados

Cane fields

Cane fields

working the cane

working the cane

I am beginning to understand why family and friends in Oz were so adamant that we had a bull bar on the truck we purchased as there are kangaroos and wallabies everywhere! It seems that every field has at least one group on it. I figured seeing kangaroos would be like whitetail deer in Canada but there are WAY more kangaroos than I had thought. We decided that we would take pictures of all “giant things” we saw along the way, a cafe in the small town of Miriam Vale offered up our first subject a giant crab!

The first of many giant things! Crab in Miriam Vale QLD

The first of many giant things! Crab in Miriam Vale QLD

I’ve never understood the need for small towns the world over to build a giant something or other but it makes for a good laugh and a fun photo opp. Just outside of Miriam Vale we got a reminder that it was the holidays when we got pulled over by the police. The officer stepped out on the road and flagged us over to his well hidden checkpoint seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I was certain I wasn’t speeding as tanner (our 4Runner) doesn’t really have to ability to speed. We pulled of and to my surprise it was an alcohol check stop, in the middle of the day! After a quick licence check and my first Australian breathalyzer test (0.00 yay!) we were back on our way. I have been through many check stops in my life but getting stopped before lunch was a first.

As we got into Rockhampton clearly cowboy and cattle country the surroundings made to it hard to believe that Carly didn’t grow up riding and is slowly at my insistence working on her fear of horses.

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We continued on towards Yeppoon where we were set to stay with Carly’s step brother Aaron and his family, the prospect of a house and not a tent was a great feeling. Carly and I both love camping and spend as much time as we can in the bush but it is always nice to have a roof over your head for a few days especially when you’re spending 2 + months tenting. We arrived early afternoon and pulled in to Aaron and Sky’s, a beautiful new home set on an acre of land in the hills above downtown Yeppoon. We were quickly greeted by Kean and Miley the two older kids and before we knew it we were getting shown toys and demonstrations of Kean’s bike and scooter skills on his BMX track. We got settled in and unpacked then set off to meet up with some old friends at The Strand Hotel and bar for a Sunday afternoon session and a catch up. Carly has been amazed at how Yeppoon has really not changed all that much since she left here close to a decade ago. The waterfront park has been updated and the Strand got some much needed renos but not much else was different. For me it was great to see where Carly grew up and to meet some of her old friends. We caught up with Carly’s friends Frank, Belinda, Kara and Jarrod and after a while Rory a good friend I knew from his time in Banff showed up with his girlfriend Teegan. We had a great afternoon tossing around stories and getting up to speed on what everyone was up to and as we seem to do drank well into the night. The Strand was great! From all I had heard it was a rundown old dive but a local favourite, since the renovations this is not case. We hung out in a beautiful covered outdoor seating area, being right off the water you get a nice breeze off the ocean and get to stay out of the intense afternoon sun. There was live music all evening and the solo artist playing was really good. We watched all day with anticipation as the outdoor BBQ slow roasted pork, beef, lamb and chicken just waiting for the BBQ buffet to open. When it finally did we had a feast! For $19 you got a generous helping of all four meats accompanied by breads and the salad bar offerings, what a meal! Honestly some of the best BBQ we’ve had in ages. As it happened Yeppoon’s annual Christmas carols in the park that night as well. We were treated to kids singing carols followed by fireworks over the water! All in all a great night.

The next morning we were up early as the 3 kids are up so you don’t have much of a choice hangover or not! After breakfast with the family we headed out to visit the Dreamtime Centre in Rockhamton, an educational interactive centre where you can learn both the history and culture of the areas aboriginal peoples. If you’re in the area I would highly recommend a stop here, allow a couple of hours to take the guided tours and walk the grounds admission is $27 per person. You learn a lot of the history of both the land and it’s traditional owners as well as traditional medicines and foods derived from native flora and fauna. Carly and I both are fascinated by indigenous cultures and history so it was a great morning. Our guide Wayne was knowledgeable and passionate and as it turned out a fantastic didgeridoo player! We also learned to throw a returning boomerang properly although we were both outclassed by a 12 year old boy who was a natural.

Traditional Torres Strait Islander hut - Dreamtime Discovery Centre - Rockhampton QLD

Traditional Torres Strait Islander hut – Dreamtime Discovery Centre – Rockhampton QLD

A Huntsman spider

A Huntsman spider

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Carly learning the art of boomerang throwing

Carly learning the art of boomerang throwing

Boomerang!

Boomerang!

After Dreamtime we headed up the road to the Capricorn Coast Caves. Again a recommended visit if you’re in the area. A guided tour of the immense cave system is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon. The staff and guides are friendly and the caves and surrounding forest is beautiful, so much so in fact that the main cavern aptly named the Cathedral is used for weddings and has been the venue for symphony orchestras and choir concerts. The caves are home to a number of different species of bats from the thumb sized micro bent wings to the massive flying foxes! The caves were purchased with tours in mind and were also used briefly to mine guano. On our way out of the caves we saw a rock wallaby, a small shy species we felt lucky to get to see one so close. Again allow about 2 hours and admission is around $25 per person.

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We made our way back into Rocky to visit Carly’s friend Frank for a BBQ at his place. The night before Frank and I had been chatting about rum and he figured we should have a “rum off” well in he wise words of the Bro Codes author Barney Stinson; CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! long story short, like most things that involve copious amounts of rum this was a terrible idea :). We did have a lot of fun with Frank and two of his mates Damo and Cat. For clarity’s sake Damo is short of Damien, and if you’re not familiar with Australian or “S’tralian” speech habits, everything is shortened. Unless of course it’s a name that’s already short than for some reason they make longer e.g. Tim becomes Timbo or Timmo, I can’t explain it but that’s simply the way it is. Maree (Carly’s mother) was kind enough to give me a translation card to help with some common Aussie colloquialisms, luckily living in Banff and with Carly I already speak fairly fluent S’tralian but here is the card for your reference.

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The next “morning” we made our way back towards Yeppoon, taking a scenic drive up the coast through the town of Emu Park and making stops at different beaches and scenic lookouts in and around the Capricorn coast. That evening Carly took me back into the mangroves in town to witness a nightly wildlife phenomenon we have now dubbed the “batpocolypse”. Every night at sundown what must be thousands of huge fruit bats emerge from the mangroves around Yeppoon on the hunt for food. It’s a truly amazing spectacle that must be witnessed if your visiting the Capricorn coast area. We spent an hour if not more watching the bats fill the night sky. You see lots of fruit bats all through Queensland but nothing close to he sheer volume in Yeppoon, very cool!

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Thousands of bats in the mangrove- Yeepoon QLD

Thousands of bats in the mangrove- Yeppoon QLD

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We spent the rest of the evening relaxing with Aaron and Sky at their place and made plans for our next stop at Airlie Beach, the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef!

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Merry Christmas!!

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#MerryChristmas to all our family, friends & followers! A quick jump ahead in the time line to wish everyone a safe and happy holidays from Cairns. It was a balmy 33 degrees here today (December 24th) and we spent our day on the beach, a little different than I’m used to in Canada thats for sure! We fly to Brisbane tomorrow to be with family and are looking forward to seeing everyone. A special wish to all our friends and family in the Toronto area, we hope you as all safe and warm. #WanderingWinters #Australia #Honeymoon

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Australia’s East Coast Road trip Continues – Agnes Water, 1770

They say that the weather in southern Queensland is “beautiful one day and perfect the next”. So far that adage has rung true, the weather has been unbelievable! As we move north the temperature climbs as does the humidity but having spent time in Mexico before our arrival in Australia it really has been a fairly easy adjustment as we have had time to acclimatize to the heat. We only had an easy drive to Agnes Water today which was nice, with no real schedule we can make our way north at a leisurely pace. This really gives us the freedom to pull off whenever we see something of interest. If you’re going to visit Australia TAKE YOUR TIME, there’s just so much to see and do in every different region.

We arrived in Agnes Water around noon and pulled into town to grab some supplies…. Well beer and ice ;).
Australia Travel Tip for today; Get your ice from the larger grocery stores when your in bigger towns as ice in little beach towns like Agnes was $4.50 a bag!

We cruised around Agnes Water and the neighbouring oddly named town of *1770. After getting the lay of the land and these pretty little surf towns we head just south of Agnes to the Workman’s Beach Campground, a beautiful little spot set back in the bush. With a number of sites (all unpowered), a grassy day use area, toilets, showers (outdoor), BBQ sites, lots of shade and at only $6 per person per night it makes for an amazing place to camp as long as you’re tenting or sleeping in your vehicle. If you’re travelling in a larger camper or with a trailer you will want to look elsewhere as the sandy road into the site and low hanging brush make it inaccessible. There is also direct access to Workman’s Beach from the camp site, a quick walk through the bush and down the embankment from the day use area and you’re on a beautiful protected little beach. There are a number of large rocks on either side of the beach so if you’re surfing during high tide make sure you know where hey are.

We set up camp made lunch and headed to the main beach in Agnes to check out the surf and relax. We had a beautiful lazy afternoon in the sun as the surf wasn’t great. The white sand beaches of central Queensland are absolutely beautiful, with school holidays starting we couldn’t believe how empty the beaches have been, even in popular areas like Agnes Water. Being summer it’s stinger season so many people avoid the ocean as a run in with a Box Jelly or and irakangi can be at best extremely painful but can also be deadly! After a great day at the beach we headed back to the campground to spend sundown at Workman’s Beach, as we made our way down to the water we ran into a surfer on his way back to his site after an evening surf, he must have been 70! I hope I’m still active enough at that age to be surfing and camping. We go back to camp for a spaghetti dinner and a couple beers, we bought a great Coleman travel lantern from Canadian Tire before we left home and it has been brilliant! A small travel version of the large lantern we own it has 4 removable sections so it can be used as one unit or take the individual lights off to spread the light around your tent or cooking area. For such a small little lantern it throws a ton of light and makes life easy when cooking after dark or trying to read or play cards in camp at night.

We were up which the sun the next morning, I’m not sure if it was the heat or the excitement of going for a morning surf and christening my new board! After a quick breakfast and a coffee we broke camp and set off for the beach. It was a perfect morning, sun was shining, the water was warm and clear and the surf was good but not huge which was good as I’m still a beginner – intermediate surfer and believe it or not Carly my Australian wife was trying surfing for the first time! After a quick beach demo for Carly we hit the water. What a way to start the day! Not exactly a display of surfing prowess but we had a blast and both got up a few times enjoying every minute of being in the ocean. My new board is amazing, the 7’6 Mini Mal is fantastic for my skill level and I find it easier to get up on than the shorter boards and easier to handle and paddle In the waves than a full blown 9′ plus Malibu. If you missed our first post I got the board from Sideways Surf Outlet As the morning wore on the surf got bigger and it was getting on in the day, so exhausted we reluctantly grabbed our boards and jumped in the truck and set off for Carly’s old stomping grounds of Rockhampton, Yeppoon then on to Airlie Beach, the Whitsunday Islands and the Great Barrier Reef!

In Wandering Winters next post; bat caves, Dreamtime Aboriginal Centre, Airlie Beach, waterfalls, lizards, snakes, Ocean Rafting, the Whitsundays and lots more fun. See you soon!

More pics to come when we get to a computer to upload off the camera!

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Brisbane to Rainbow Beach….Almost

Our first official day of the road trip! As we mentioned in the last post we started slow, fighting a combination of rush hour, weekend and school holiday traffic getting out of the city. We didn’t care though we were finally on the road, windows down, music turned up, surf boards strapped to the roof, Australia was waiting to be explored! The benefit of traffic, you get to really take in all the sites when you’re only moving 40km’s an hour.

Traffic finally eased up as we made it further north out of the city, with only a little time travelling in Australia you can still really get the sense this is a land of extremes. It’s evident with every second vehicle being a fully decked out 4×4. A lift kit, bull bars, off road spot lights and a safari snorkel are just standard equipment here. It’s hard to believe driving through dense forests and wide open arid grasslands that flooding is such a huge concern, but there are metre sticks every few Km’s to let you know exactly how much water is on the road during extreme wet seasons. Cruising along in our little Toyota 4Runner we received what I can only assume was a “Toyota Wave”. Being Jeep owners back home this is a phenomenon that we thought only occurred with Jeep owners, but we got a approving head nod and a wave from a guy in an awesome late 70’s Land Cruiser “Troopy”.

Our goal for today was Rainbow Beach, only a few hours drive north of Brisbane, however with the heavy traffic and getting away late we ended up stopping just a little short of the beach. Carly’s aunt and uncle lent us a great travel book listing all the campgrounds and caravan park throughout Oz and we found one that sounded great just before Rainbow. We pulled off the highway onto a dirt road to reach Standown Caravan Park. I almost crashed the truck in excitement as a large red kangaroo jumped out onto the road a few hundred metres in front of us. My first proper wild kangaroo! I’ve seen many in zoo’s and sanctuaries but there is nothing like seeing animals in the wild, especially when it’s an animal you have spent your life dreaming of seeing in its own habitat. Australia and it’s creatures have filled my dreams since I was a little boy and it truly is a dream come true to be spending this time traveling the country. With all the time I spent reading and watching nature and travel shows on Oz it’s no real surprise that I ended up marrying an Australian!

With it getting dark we struggled a little setting up the giant tent Carly’s brother Luke had lent us, but we got it figured out eventually. The 6 man, two room tent is a little more complicated than the 2 minute set up of our 2 man Sierra Designs backpacking tent we use back home. After getting set up we went over to check out the facilities at Standown. What a great little spot! Originally opened as a Veterans retreat then expanded into a caravan park Standown has it all. The kitchen structure has BBQs, two convection ovens, a couple of fridges for cold storage, dishwashing sinks and a whole host of kitchen appliances to make life easy. There was also a fire pit and great toilet and shower facilities on site. We cooked up some chilli and introduced ourselves to the crew of people staying at the park. We met some great characters and heard some fantastic stories and got lots of trip advice from the seasoned Aussie travellers. After a couple of beers it was time for bed, When the sun goes down Australia comes to life! Kookaburras laugh, galahs and cockatoos screech in a futile effort to drown out the rainbow lorikeets. The crickets are incredibly loud and the sky fills with giant fruit bats who’s swooshing wing beats can be heard overhead. It’s a beautiful symphony of sound, that does make it a little tough to sleep at first but once you’re used to it the sounds of Australia’s bush birds and insects are an amazing way to fall asleep.

We were up with the sun, as it’s hard not to be in a tent, it’s HOT! We woke up and freaked out a little as we noticed a large croc head in the pond directly behind our tent. We then calmed as we realized it was a fake put in the decorative pond by the owners of the caravan park. We made coffees, broke camp and headed to Rainbow Beach for breakfast. A quick drive to the ocean where we set up in the shade and had a fantastic breakfast on the beach. After our meal we packed up and headed north, destination Agnes Water.

In our next post, we visit Agnes Water, the oddly named town of 1770, surfing and more!

Ewan & Carly

Australia – The Adventure Begins

Being back in Australia has been incredible so far, for Carly it’s always great to be home and for me there has been a real sense of familiarity after our brief visit last year. Seeing family and old friends has been amazing for both of us and we’re still humbled by everyone who came to share the day with us in Manly for the Wedding celebration. I must mention the night before the Aussie wedding party we met some of the family at the Waterloo Bay Hotel for “tea” (Australian for dinner). The Waterloo Bay Hotel seemed to be no different than any other pub, a restaurant section with a nice outdoor seating area, a gaming room aka “pokies” with video gaming machines etc. but I was wrong! Carly’s uncles were insisting that I come to the other bar to get a drink with them, already having a beer I was confused but it seemed important so I followed them to the other room. I had been to a few pokies joints before and I still didn’t get why I had to see this one. It turned out that it was Thursday which meant topples servers! NOW I got it, the brunette working was certainly worth walking to the other bar for, cheers gents! Gambling, sports and servers in nothing but a g-string! Australia, what a country.

After the party on the 29th our focus switched to gathering gear we needed for our road trip and of course finding a vehicle, an essential part of any road trip. We had been checking a number of websites that backpackers use to post vehicles in Australia spending most of our time searching the listings on Gumtree We ended up finding a number of potential vehicles all listed at Southside Auto Auctions located in the Brisbane suburb of Underwood, so drove down for a visit. On our first trip we found a great looking Mitsubishi Pajero AND it was a turbo diesel! After chatting with Mark from the sales team about the process and additional costs (registration, government fees etc) we put in an offer of $4,000 to the owners. Our offer was accepted! However after a closer mechanical inspection the old Pajero didn’t live up to its looks. Mark was extremely helpful and understanding we wanted to get moving as soon as we could said to give him a few days and he would find the right vehicle for our trip.

We hitched a ride with Carly’s brother Luke down to the Gold Coast for the weekend to relax and enjoy a little luxury before living out of a tent for the next few months. Carly’s mother had sprung for 2 nights at Jupiters Hotel & Casino in Broadbeach, just south of Surfers Paradise. Surfers Paradise is a bit of a tourist trap and a little busy for us but still a cool spot to visit and the hotel was great. Being up at Broadbeach is a little more relaxed and the beach itself is beautiful. We had plans to surf the days away and enjoy nice dinners out on the town, however after a busy couple of weeks and 2 weddings we decided to spend our days strolling on the beach and that’s about it. In fact the second night we ate in our room and watched Shark Week until we passed out! Sounds a little lame I must confess but it was brilliant!

We returned to Brisbane Monday afternoon and popped into Southside to see Mark. After a quick walk around the yard we found a couple of trucks that might fit the bill. Keeping in mind the areas of the country we are visiting there were certain things we had to have, like 4×4, decent ground clearance, ample room for us and gear and bull bars. The bull bars really are essential as we’ve been told driving as many miles as we are NOT hitting a kangaroo is unlikely (really hoping we can avoid this). After narrowing down the list with mark we decided to put in an offer on a 1989 Toyota 4Runner, a little older than we wanted but it had low Km’s, was in great shape and had just about all the features we were after. We were able to talk the owners down from 6k to $4,100.00 and after three long days of waiting for mechanical inspections etc. we had our chariot! If you’re looking for a affordable vehicle in the Brisbane area we highly recommend both Gumtree and specifically Mark from Southside. To make the day even better we popped into Sideways Surf Outlet and after a little negotiating with Carly I was able to buy a new surf board! Being the giant I am I opted for a 7’6 mini mal which is a slightly shorter version of the classic Malibu style long board. If you’re in the market for a new board at a great price or for any surf gear check out Sideways! It’s a discount surf shop with incredible prices on everything you need from clothing to boards. I got the board, fins, a board bag, ankle leash and sure wax for $400! A new truck and a new surf board in one afternoon, now that’s my kind of Monday!

Having the extra days in Brisbane worked out well as it gave us time to get all the gear we needed and allowed us to catch up with some friends from Banff who are back in Oz. We went out to the Sushi Train for dinner with friends Carla and Drew on Wednesday night, it’s actually scientific fact that everything tastes better when it arrives to your table by train! It was an interesting experience as I have never been to a restaurant where you can BYOB, but this was the case at Sushi Train and the staff will even put your beers in the fridge for you!

We picked up “Tanner” the Toyota on Friday afternoon and rushed home to pack up. In the excitement to get on the road we overlooked the fact that it was not only a Friday afternoon but it was the last day of school before summer break for the kids and we payed for this oversight but fighting brutal traffic trying to get out of the Brisbane area! It was slow going but we were finally on the road and loving it, wrong side of the road and all!

Our next post will include Brisbane to Rainbow Beach, Ewan’s first Kangaroo in the wild, Agnes Water and more!

Be well and chat soon!

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Mexico to Australia – The good, the bad & the ugly

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After 17 glorious days in Mexico with family and friends for the wedding we’re ready to start our honeymoon adventure travelling around Australia’s east coast.

Being in the tourism industry we live much of our lives at odds with a hangover, so it seemed fitting to start our honeymoon in the same fashion. The night before we left Mexico was my fathers 60th birthday AND my parents 38th wedding anniversary, and with 40 odd close friends and family there, we had a great party! At the time of course it was a great idea! especially sharing the bottle of Johnny Walker Platinum with dad and a few of his buddies, needless to say waking up at 6:00am the next day was rough.

With our bags packed and final goodbyes given we set off to return our trusty rental Jeep Wrangler in Cancun. This seemed like a fairly easy task, we have rented vehicles on multiple occasions in the area and were always able to easily locate the rental offices near the airport….. This time not so much! To be fair we never really looked into where the Cancun office for America / Tulum / Cancun (all the same company) Rent a Car was so we must accept some of the responsibility on this one. We had left Tulum at 8:00am giving us plenty of time to get the Jeep washed (it was in desperate need of a clean) make the 1.5 hour drive to Cancun and be at the airport for our 1:30pm flight, well planned we thought!

We pulled off at Playa Del Carmen at a seemingly quiet little car wash service to clean up the Jeep in an attempt to mask the fact it was not always on a “paved” road. We pull into the tent and we’re surrounded by 6 teenaged boys rags and buckets in hand. The oldest looking one asks what kind of clean we want and for $80 pesos they were off! It was incredible, seriously loud dance music starts and like something out of a music video these six kids get to work with incredible efficiency and in about 10 minutes the Jeep is sparkling.

We continue into Cancun still with plenty of time to return the car and get to the airport to make our 1:30 flight. After 40 minutes or so driving around the airport and surrounding area we give up and use McDonald’s for in my opinion the only thing it’s good for, free quality WiFi. The rental office is not by the airport, there’s one in downtown Cancun and another in the hotel zone about 20 minutes from Cancun international, so we speed to the hotel zone now getting worried about making our flight on time. Once again the staff at Tulum Car Rental were fantastic and extremely helpful. We explained the time crunch and the shop manager had a 5 second once over of the vehicle then got one of his staff to drive us to the airport so we wouldn’t miss our flight. By the time we arrived at the airport it was almost noon so we were cutting it close, to our delight the line up at the Delta Airlines counter wasn’t too long so we were safe…..

We get to the counter and are about to apologise for running a little behind when the Delta desk agent says “wow, you’re early” We laughed thinking he was poking fun at the fact we we’re rushing to make clear security and make our flight when we realised that he wasn’t kidding. He handed us an itinerary that was not even close to what we had booked! Our original flight plan looked like this;

CUN – ATL Departing 1:30pm – ATL – LAX Departing 7:30pm – LAX – BNE Departing 11:30pm. This was a great series of flights, no long layovers and we were avoiding the hassle of Sydney and a domestic flight change in Australia which entails a bus service to another terminal that seems to be 15 miles from the international one.

Our NEW itinerary however looked like this;

CUN – LAX Departing 7:30pm – LAX – SYD Departing 8:00pm the following day! – SYD – BNE.

WE WERE LIVID! If these changes had been made to our entire itinerary why were we not contacted? If we had known this ahead of time we could have spent the day on the beach in Tulum, planned a day of sightseeing in LA and told people expecting to pick us up in Brisbane about the changes. After some deep breathing we decided that there was nothing we could do at this point and had to suck it up, after all what is travel without a challenge or two. If you have never been to the Cancun airport, you really don’t want to be super early for flights as you are essentially stuck there as it will cost about $50 US Dollars to get into town. So as you can tell from the above photo we “relaxed” in the airport for the next 7.5 hours.

We arrived in LA and quickly made our way to the Delta customer service desk to tell them what had happened and that we were not impressed, our main concern was trying to find a hotel room in LA on a Saturday night before American Thanksgiving. After what I will call a spirited debate the staff at Delta were able to set us up at the Airport Marriott for $79 (we are still “debating” on who will foot the bill) and on the bright side we now had a full day to spend in Los Angeles.

The next morning we checked out early, left our baggage with the concierge and asked front desk what to do for our one day in LA. The desk agent was fantastic she gave of a list of options then gave us free bus passes to get us down to one of her favourite areas in LA called Manhattan Beach. Despite the hassles with our flights we ended up having a fantastic day at the beach. Manhattan Beach is a small coastal town located between Santa Monica and Long Beach, it’s a trendy spot with lots of great little shops and restaurants. We spent our day wandering the main drag with little side ventures into the residential streets to admire the homes and high-end cars that fill the area. For lunch we went to one of the coolest little dive bars I’ve ever visited called the Shellback Tavern. Located right above Manhattan Beach Pier this little surf pub has it all. Great food, friendly service, old wood floors and a bar and cash registers that haven’t been updated since it opened. The servers working the floor knew just about everyone who walked through the door, from teenagers to a couple who sat beside us who I’m guessing were at least in their seventies. Combine the views, ambiance, service, food quality and the fact that menu prices range from $3 – $15 this is a must do if you’re passing though LA.

Shellback Tavern the best give bar in So Cal

Shellback Tavern the best give bar in So Cal

After a what turned out to be a fantastic day in LA we returned to LAX to catch our flight to Sydney. We were delighted to find out that the flight was nowhere near full which meant that we had a full row of three seats for just the two of us! 14.5 hours later and we were in the beautiful land down under. Wasting no time we rushed through the terminal to fulfil a couple of Aussie cravings we both were having

Caramello Koalas, BBQ Shapes and beer!

Caramello Koalas, BBQ Shapes and beer!

The trip had started off on the wrong foot, as we felt like we were robbed of a day in Mexico but all in all it worked out for the best. It goes to show that especially when travelling, if you just smile and roll with it, you never know where you might end up!

Chat soon Ewan & Carly

Shark attack

Again getting ahead of the trips timeline but we felt the need to share this.

We woke up this morning on the Gold Coast of Australia with the plan to spend the day surfing, only to find the news dominated with the weeks second fatal shark attack.

Sadly a teenaged body surfer was attacked and killed yesterday near Coffs Harbour on Australia’s east coast by what was thought to be a great white shark. Our heartfelt sympathies to friends and family of those lost. Instead we will spend our day a little closer to shore! Back with more from Australia soon.

Ew

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