Saturday, June 25, 2011

Escaping to Coolangatta - Queensland's Gold Coast

When you live in Central Australia, an isolated place about 1500 km from the beach and "Big Smoke" of the capital cities, occasionally you have to escape.  

During our recent escape, we spent five nights at Coolangatta, part of Queensland's popular Gold Coast. It was an unplanned part of our escapade, but never the less, pleasant.

We had intended staying at a time-share we had booked further south along the east coast of Australia at Port Macquarie (New South Wales), but unfortunately, flooding within the area put a stop to that. As a contingency measure, we headed for Coolangatta where it's sunny with warmish days and cool mornings and evenings.

The whole Gold Coast Strip is an entertainment and holiday region. Hundreds of thousands of people come here annually to soak up the sun, surf, fish, visit the numerous tourist attractions, gamble, shop, and have a break from the every day monotony of their mostly mundane lives. At the end of the calendar year the "Schoolies" flock to the coast to party, party, party and celebrate their success (or otherwise) at grade 12.

Coolangatta is far enough away from Surfers Paradise (often called Sufferer's Paradise) to be out of the glitter and high paced entertainment activities. It's more peaceful and you can find a parking place most days.

There are thousands of restaurants, cafes and hotels. If you can't find the food you want somewhere on the Gold Coast, you aren't really hungry. Attractions like Sea World and Dream World are still popular despite having been here for decades; a little like Disneyland in the USA.

Fortunately, there is a high speed highway at the back of the Gold Coast strip that enables one to drive from place to place without having to wend through traffic and 50 km/hr streets and traffic lights etc.

Only a few kilometres from Coolangatta and north of Surfers Paradise is Mudgeeraba, where our house is situated. We called in to have a look at it and the nearby Robina Shopping Town which is the largest shopping centre in the Gold Coast.

One day in the not-too-distant future, we will relocate to our Mudgeeraba house and be 3 km from Robina Shopping Town and far enough away from the entertainment strip for our quality of life not to be diminished. We are looking forward to it, but still have a year or two of caravanning to do first.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

In Gordon's Backyard

In Gordon's backyard, there is a variety of interesting things.

When his cat died leaving him with a supply of fish-based cat foods, he decided to keep filling the cat's bowl hoping the neighbours' cats would trespass and help him get rid of it. 
They didn't. In their place came the magpies who descend every morning and most evenings to have their fill of cat food. As I watched them I couldn't help wondering if they'd continue eating it if they knew it was cat food. Of course they would ... I'm Caucasian but I eat Asian food. If I was really, really desperate, I'd probably eat cat food, or indeed the cat.

The strawberry patch has one huge, ripe strawberry, the garden bed some lovely colourful flowers, and near the shed, a potted plant that seems to say, "I'm here ... look at me, look at me!" Whatever they are called, they are among my favourite plant categories. I admire them. They have a beautiful simple symmetry that appeals to my sense of order, structure and space. Straight fronds, all parallel with each other, point towards the sky as if acknowledging the wonderful handiwork of the one true god, Mother Nature.

All they ask for is a little water and a place to grow. If only people were as simple.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

2011 Brisbane Caravan Expo

Visiting a caravan expo is something akin to trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant; in the latter, there's so much water pressure, it's difficult enough to stay on one's feet, let alone, take a small mouth full. At the caravan expo, there was so much to see, it was overwhelming. By the time we had seen the fifth caravan, it was difficult to recall the features of the second. Thus the Canon came in very handy helping us to preserve a photographic aides memoire of those features we preferred.

We visited the show with Christina's brother Gordon and his wife Lindy who are Brisbanites. On arrival at the show there was a slight sprinkling of rain which, after about five minutes or so abated and thankfully remained at bay for the rest of our visit. The thought of getting wet on our rare visit to Brisbane didn't appeal at all.

The Caravan Expo included camping and associated products eg, electric generators, tents, portable refrigerators, and a range of RVs (Recreational Vehicles). You know, the tortoise-like motor vehicles where you have your house at the back of the vehicle and take it wherever you go. These don't appeal to us as it means you have to pack up your belongings inside the van every time you want to go somewhere. With a caravan it doesn't matter if you leave your plates and cups on the table, you drive off and leave it parked.

As we looked at various caravans, it became quite clear that most of them are similar with features dictated to designers by the need to maintain low weight and specific dimensions. This was, of course, no surprise to us, but it was a surprise that almost all the vans used the same fixtures and fittings. There are obviously few companies that design latches for doors and caravan air-conditioners.

Being novices at anything to do with towing, we were delighted to get a comprehensive explanation of all the ins and outs of ball weight, gross vehicle mass, tare weight etc from a lovely lady called Dale Timms of Nova Caravans, who has apparently spent decades designing and selling caravans. Knowing that our Landcruiser Prado's maximum towing weight is 3,000 kg, is a first step in deciding which caravan to buy.

Now we have several months to research what is available, what we need compared with what we want, to compare prices and buy something suitable for our towing vehicle and lifestyle. Only the Crusader range offers two comfortable leather chairs instead of bench seats, so it's possible that one simple feature - seating - could be the strongest determinant of what we buy after weight and price.

The search continues, but at least now, we know one end of a caravan from the other.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From The Alice to Cawnpore Lookout (Queensland)

When you drive east from Alice Springs to Queensland, there are only two ways to go; via Tennant Creek, 500 km to the north and then east along the Barkly Highway to Mount Isa or via the Plenty Highway. The Tennant Creek route is bitumenised (asphalt) 400 km longer and, when you've driven it hundreds of times, exceedingly boring. The Plenty Highway is a mostly gravel road that commences about 70 km north of The Alice and although rough in parts, is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles and trucks with high clearance.

With diesel fuel at $1.75 per Litre at Alice Springs, it's cheaper to go via the shorter dusty route and of course, a little quicker. As we hadn't been across the Plenty Highway for quite a few years, we decided to go that way saving money and revisiting the route we had taken two or three times previously, a good opportunity to see if anything had changed.

As you turn from the Stuart Highway (named after explorer John Stuart) into the Plenty Highway, you face a number of signs telling you about the road condition and the need for 4 wheel drive, this time after Jervois Station. (See photo at left). For at least a few kilometres, it was bitumenised, something new since our last trip. The Northern Territory Government extends the bitumen a few hundred metres or kilometres each year, depending on what funding is available. By 2090, or perhaps a little sooner, it will be fully bitumenised, but by then it will be of little benefit to me.

For this first leg of our journey, we had decided to travel to Cawnpore Lookout, an idyllic spot (well, idyllic by our standards) somewhere between Boulia, the first town in western Queensland and Winton, the next along the track. The lookout is on top of a little hill and the surrounding views are magic; ancient hills turned into buttes and other rugged shapes by millions of years of wind, rain and sun. Cawnpore is about 950 kilometres from The Alice and therefore, a good day's drive away.

When we arrived where we thought Cawnpore should be, it was pitch dark with a miniscule quarter moon revealing very little of the surrounding hills. We had a little trouble finding our way, but eventually located the lookout and drove up the steep slope to park on the top. Not a sound could be heard except for some crickets. As is common in outback Australia, the display of stars in the sky was outstanding. The Southern Cross and Milky Way were particularly bright and a cool breeze came from the south.

We boiled the billy for coffee and tea, had a cold dinner and then sat for a couple of hours enjoying the isolation, peace, tranquility and the beautiful heavenly display before pushing back the seats in our Prado and going to sleep. As morning broke, a lone road train (truck with five trailers) rumbled along the road below towards Boulia and we prepared for another day's drive, this time to Emerald, a coal mining and cotton growing township close to Rockhampton near the Queensland coast.

Our new Landcruiser Prado handled the rough, dusty roads very well and was much more comfortable than our previous, beloved Toyota Forerunner. We still have a long way to go.


PS: Double click graphic to see larger size.