xmas 2021 – back to queensland

So, as suckers for punishment, we decided to once again drive up to Hervey Bay to spend time with my family over the end of year/xmas break. So on the 20th of December, we loaded up the van, made sure someone could feed the cat and then set off on a 3000km round trip to QLD in the middle of a COVID outbreak.

Day 1 – Canberra to Myall Lakes

We set off on the 20 December 2021, having got our COVID tests the day before. We didn’t get very far before stopping on the first morning. Breakfast was at Melted in Fyshwick for some gourmet toasties to take on the road.

Fyshwick van

Travelling down the Federal Highway for the first time in years (literally years), we found Lake George actually full of water and worthy of it’s name.

Water in Lake George?

The rest of the trip up to Sydney was very uneventful, with a stop at Pheasant’s Nest for fuel and a stretch. While there were a few travelers on the road, there definitely wasn’t as many as we had seen in previous years around this time. The idea with a quick fuel stop before Sydney was to avoid having to actually go into Sydney properly, given they were reporting over 10,000 COVID cases a day at that time.

We flew through Sydney, enjoying the amazing new tunnel (the NorthConnex) connecting the M7 with the Pacific Motorway. In the past we’ve had to go through Pennant Hills Road, an absolute dog of a road that almost always put you at a standstill and added 40 minutes to your travel time. The tunnel avoids all that, allowing you to travel completely through Sydney without ever seeing a house or traffic light. Amazing.

Excellent tunnel, but a bit expensive

On the freeway we were caught up by another black Delica, this one even taller than ours. We drove along next to each other for a bit.

So tall!

We had a quick stop at Ourimbah Rest Area for lunch and another stretch. It was a very hot day, something we’d not seen a lot of this summer, and the watertank underneath the van had warmed up nicely. Good to know for a shower if we need one later on, but not ideal for refilling the water bottles!


After that stop, Rosie started looking up places to stay the night. We had time as the Newcastle junction was absolutely packed. We went a sneaky way suggested by Google Maps and bypassed a lot of traffic after sitting still for 15 minutes.

Newcastle traffic, as per usual

Quite a lot of campsites in the area were fully booked out but we managed to get the second-last spot at Mungo Brush Campground in Myall Lakes, which turned out to be quite a nice spot for a camp.

Road into Myall Lakes district

Our site was quite sandy, so we ended up with sand everywhere for the rest of the trip from this overnight stay.

Your camp is quite close to other campers, which wasn’t ideal but they were all fairly courteous. A loud party nearby went quiet around 10.30pm, so that’s pretty good. We were warned by some campers that there were a couple of dingos sniffing around the campsite earlier in the day and I managed to see one that night sniffing around the van. The urge to pat them is definitely there as this one looked quite friendly and unafraid.

Myall Lake

After setting up camp we decided to go for a walk to see the lake, which turned into a swim for all of us. The water is fresh, but very dark due to tannins from trees. The water was reasonably warm and we all enjoyed cooling off and washing up. Dinner that first night was fajitas. Ollie fell asleep eventually in the tent and for the first time stayed on his own sleeping mat the entire night, much to Rosie’s delight. A few birds, mostly ducks and brush turkeys, came to visit us but not much other wildlife was seen in the area.

All up, about 540km done on this first day without too much fuss. Ollie had his tablet in the back to watch Youtube videos for a lot of the drive, so he didn’t really grumble too much.

Brush turkey
Not a bad sunset
When you can’t find the clothesline rope you make do

Day 2 – Myall Lakes to Witheren, via the QLD Border

On the second day, I woke up first (!) and went for a walk around the campsite while Rosie and Ollie continued to sleep for a bit longer. It had been a reasonably comfortable night, albeit a little hot and stuffy in the tent.

We leisurely packed up the camping equipment and brushed as much sand off our stuff as possible. Ollie was not a big help at this point in the process. After packing up, we drove north to see if the ferry was operating. It was!


The ferry crosses only about 200m of water, but saved us a lot of time and was quite fun. We were allowed to walk around while were parked on there and Ollie very much enjoyed his time on the ‘big boat’. He even got to help Dad drive the van off the boat at the end.

After a bit of a drive we got back onto the highway and ended up not far down the road at a service station in Coolongolook. We stopped for breakfast at Andy’s Cherry Pie Cafe which was packed and not particularly good.

After a bit more travel we decided to stop at a beach for some lunch and a swim. The closest beach that wasn’t way off the highway was at Valla Beach. This beach claimed to be ‘The Home of the Big Thong’, but as far as big-stuff-on-the-side-of-the-road goes this thong was pretty small.

Big thong?

The beach was fantastic though and well worth a swim. It was a hot day and we broke out the world’s smallest self=erecting shade tent, which is fine for Ollie but adults have a hard time fitting in. Rosie made us wraps for lunch, with only a smidgeon of bonus sand, and then we packed up.

Great beach

Ollie had a huge tantrum leaving the beach, but ended up falling asleep instantly as soon as we started driving again. As a result, he missed the Big Banana as we travelled on through Coffs.

“Ollie, look at the….oh.”

We continued on northwards towards the Queensland border. Rosie had prefilled in our border passes on the way up as she was super worried about us getting stuck at the border and not being allowed through. We got to the start of the waiting traffic at the border and settled down to wait to be let through.

Our QLD border line

A couple of episodes of Cougar Town later we arrived at the front of the line and were stopped by a QLD government official. He saw our Canberra number plates, made a joke about us definitely being vaccinated and then waved us through without even looking at our passes or COVID test results. All up we were in line for about 30 minutes.

Once over the border it was suddenly an hour earlier (daylight savings time), but Rosie had found us a campsite in the hinderlands west of the Gold Coast that was close by. We turned off the highway and continued down some winding mountain-ish roads to end up at the Sharp Park River Bend Bush Camping campsite.

This turned out to be a great little campsite in the mountains, with not a lot of crowds and good flat grassy surfaces. Prices were good as well at $20 per night for 2 adults. There were no showers, but we’d had a swim that day anyway (that counts right?).

We set up camp on the side of the park overlooking someone’s backyard and some mountains, and started up a fire. It wasn’t that cold, but we’d brought the firewood from Canberra and I had a new firepit, so it was going to happen regardless. Ollie as always helped light the fire with the ‘child-proof’ lighter, then ended up going to sleep early after a big day.

He needed it, he was a bit of a terror that night. We stayed up later with a few bottles of wine, listening to a French backpacker talk loudly to his family back home.

Rosie found a small marsupial and got her usual expert level photos of it.

Day 3 – Witheren to Hervey Bay

Morning at Sharp Park
“Helping” pack up

We had breakfast and packed up, leaving via a suggested route that actually bypassed the morning traffic rush you usually get along the Pacific Motorway around the Gold Coast. We travelled past Brisbane without stopping as usual, but this time we also didn’t call in to see anyone we know on the Sunshine Coast. This was mostly just to minimise COVID risk, and we had plans to see people on the way back.

QLD fatigue reduction – roadside trivia

We stopped for fuel, coffee and some pies at the Glass House Mountain Services. This is a usual stop for us as they do good coffee and pies, but the fuel is usually a little more expensive.

Heading further north we started getting a little more traffic. We had a final stop at Lychee Hill Estate in Maryborough just to stretch out and refresh before the last leg. We had some ice cream watching the traffic go past, then back on the road.

He hasn’t mastered icecream physics yet…

My dad had been picking up other family members from the Sunshine Coast airport and ended up right behind us as we pulled into my parents home in Urangan.

The rest of this day was spent with a few beers, some wine and Ollie getting to know his cousin.

Day 4 to 11 – Christmas and family

With Ollie a little older this visit, we were able to do some Hervey Bay region attractions we hadn’t done before, weather permitting. We had several days of rain, though for the most part this was in the afternoon leaving the mornings for activities.

Highlights of this Christmas was

  • Ollies birthday and the excellent cake made by us
  • Ollie sleepovers with his cousins in the media room
  • The smashing of the snow globe and wine glass
  • Ollie enjoying the beach
  • Me and Rosie escaping to the shops without Ollie for a couple of hours
  • Bright aqua ice cream and the aftermath (and Rosie’s reaction)
  • The almost drowning incident under a fathers watchful eye
  • Lunch at Bear sans Ollie
  • Lots of swimming in the pool
  • Christmas lunch
  • Photo slide show on the TV with two guests loudly snoring in the chairs
  • Rosie and the aunts having a 9-hour boozy lunch at the Boat Club (and the poor frog)
  • The waterpark
  • The reptile park
  • Last dinner together at the boat club

While hectic, we did have a lot of fun in the house with everyone together. I’m sure Hamish recovered as soon as everyone left!

Day 12 – Hervey Bay to Caloundra

We set off back down south on a rainy 30 December. The rain got quite heavy at one point, requiring slowing right down and carefully following the traffic in front. Fortunately most people had their lights on.

In and out of storms

There was a drive thru the Glass House Mountains Coffee place on the highway. Good coffee and the most upbeat drive thru worker ever. We headed up into the mountain to try go to Flame Hill Vineyard, but that ended up being fully booked out. All of the nearby towns and restaurants were also booked out and there was no parking to be had, so we headed out of the mountains and back down to the coast. We found a surprisingly nice Maccas and Ollie got to play on the tallest McDonald’s playground we’ve ever seen.

Tallest indoor macca’s playground ever

With a bit more time to kill before our friends got off work, and rain preventing us from going to the beach, we headed into the Kawana Shopping Centre. A snazzy new haircut for me and Ollie, we then spent some time at a video game arcade. Ollie had fun, but some of the finer points of how to win tickets was lost on him.

After this we headed to our friends house where we were treated to a fairly traditional Indo-Fijian meal complete with home-made roti. Our friends had two little girls who treated Ollie like family, and they all slept in the same room together. An early night for everyone that night.

Day 13 – New Years Eve in the Sunshine Coast

That morning we packed up and left with the intention of getting some breakfast and then spending time at the beach.

We eventually found a terrible place to have breakfast (Yeti Restaurant & Bar). Driving back up the coast the weather was getting much worse, so we thought we would go to Sea Life, an aquarium down the road. It turned out that due to COVID they were excepting online bookings only. We got there, saw a line of people out the door and down the street to get in, and then pulled over to look for something else to do. Funnily enough, every activity at the Sunshine Coast seemed to be focused on outdoor venues, so there wasn’t much we could do. The rain hammered down.

Sunshine Coast – come for the rain, stay for the traffic

We ended up travelling down the road to a Woolworth’s and getting some essential items for New Years Eve that night, then got a coffee and eventually headed on down to another friends place to celebrate the new year together. Some other friends and their many children were up from NSW as well so it was good to see everyone.

Day 14 – Buderim to Maclean

After a very late night (early morning?) over New Years, we made the decision to drive as far as possible on the 1st Jan 2022. Rosie had to start work on the 4th, so the goal was to get back to Canberra with enough time to sort stuff out and get organised before then.

Saying goodbye to all our friends, we headed down south past Brisbane and the Gold Coast, making it all the way to Maclean in NSW. Only 350km, but enough of a drive after a big night and only a few hours sleep. We passed a huge queue of cars several kilometers long of people lined up trying to get into QLD on the way south, but fortunately we weren’t affected. Rosie managed to not see the queue due to her eyes being closed for a ‘short’ nap.

Everyone got naps that day

We’d visited Maclean back when it was part of the highway and had liked the tiny town, but now a giant bypass bridge has been put in place meaning it’s very quiet. It’s on the river, not the sea, but all we were looking for was a place to pass the night.

It rained heavily off and on the entire way down the highway, so we didn’t consider camping at all that night. We instead found a cabin at a small caravan park in Maclean. The caravan park was incredibly small, requiring cars to park very close to each other and meaning you could basically overhear everything your neighbours were saying or watching on TV.

Incredibly tight caravan park

A quick dinner of pasta and then we all needed to go to bed, although somehow Ollie ended up sleeping alone in the double bed and myself and Rosie got to spend the night in separate bottom bunk beds in the other room. He was a little cranky despite a big sleep in the van that day.

Not shown – the double bed he actually slept on

Day 15 – Maclean to Canberra

In the morning I was the first to wake up (in my bunk bed) and I walked into town to get some breakfast supplies and essentials. Once I got back everyone woke up and we started packing the van for another day of driving. This was 2 Jan, with Rosie needing to go back to work on the 4th.

Piling back into the van, we started driving. The same weather from the day before followed us with isolated storms interspersed with cloudy or sunny periods.

We had a brief stop at a truckstop in Valla and filled up with petrol. Ollie cracked an absolute massive tantrum in the carpark here. Some junk fast food and we were back in the van, trying to get as far south as possible before needing to find a camp or motel. The next stop was in Talawhal 200km down the road at a roadside reststop. We’d been in heavy traffic for a while due to construction, slowing us down considerably.

Cold drinks at the reststop

In Talawhal we had a serious look for a campsite or motel that we could stay at that night. We weren’t keen on entering Newcastle as it was a huge COVID hotspot at the time. Every campsite along the coast was fully booked out and all we could find was a state forest spot above Sydney that didn’t have a booking system but is known for being very busy during holiday periods. Not wanting to chance a 1 hr round trip to check the campsite for spots, we decided to push on through Newcastle and Sydney and try get to Canberra that night instead.

After another 200km, we stopped in Morriset for some Thai food, fuel and a bit of a break. We sat in the restraunt (with air conditioning) and had quite a nice dinner. Ollie even ate some roti. Afterwards we left quite full, filled up, bought some Red Bulls and headed back onto the road. We entered Sydney late Sunday afternoon so there was very limited traffic on the motorways. The new tunnel was amazing again – being able to avoid Pennant Hills Road saves at least 30 minutes to an hour of driving. We flew through Sydney and got onto the last leg of the trip on the Hume Highway between Sydney and Canberra.

Ollie managed to fall asleep around 8.30 as we drove through Sydney, so he missed out on some spectaular storms that caught up with us.

We’d been watching the lightning shows in the clouds for some time over the horizon and the rain dumped down on us just outside of Marulan. Fortunately we were right next to a service station exit when the rain hit as it was enormously heavy and quite dangerous to drive in. We pulled off the highway and parked at the Marulan BP to wait for the storm to blow over. I don’t know how Ollie slept through the booming thunder that seemed like it was directly overhead. Rosie was in the rest stop bathrooms when the power went out to the entire service station, which was apparently a fairly scary experience.

Bit of rain that night!

After this pit stop we waited 10 minutes for the storm to die down and then headed back onto the road with AWD engaged. We later found out this storm had decimated some small NSW country towns, as well as killing a lot of the grape harvest at Canberra region vineyards. We drove on through the rain, arriving at the top of Canberra at 11pm and then continuing to our house at 11.30pm. Once home, Ollie was transferred to his room and we did some back unpacking of the van before falling asleep in our own bed for the first time in two weeks.

The boring stuff

Overall we travelled 3116 km’s, according to the van odometer which is always a few km’s off due to the van’s bigger tyres (Google says we did 3260km). We stopped for fuel 9 times, recording an average fuel consumption of 13.97 l/100km which for us was pretty good. The best fuel consumption was 13.2 l/100km between Gold Coast and Hervey Bay due to being stuck in slow 80-90km/h traffic for a lot of the trip. The worst fuel consumption was 15.21 l/100km. The worst was recorded on the one time that 91RON fuel was used between Tyndal and QLD, and this also included waiting at the border for 30 minutes. Average distance between fill ups is 346kms, so we’re not exactly a long-distance tourer.

Welcome home!

The new “250W” solar panel on the roof of the van produced enough power to charge up the van and keep the fridge running through most days. After some rainy days in Hervey Bay I would have the alternator charging when driving around town just as a top up, but we never really got close to running out of power even with the fridge running 24/7. The panel is a 250W claimed wattage flexible solar panel from eBay that is permanently mounted to the roof rack. The most I ever saw it producing was around 11amps which was perfectly fine for our needs. I think we’ll probably stop taking the portable solar panels in future for this type of trip based on what these panels have been able to produce.

The current setup we have works well for travelling with Ollie and we don’t miss the built in kitchen very much. Some bench space while parked on the side of the road wouldn’t be a bad idea though. We took up a big box of presents that took up a lot of usable space, and ended up refilling that box with Ollie presents for the trip back down. On a non-xmas trip I think we’d have heaps of extra room to play with.

The vans tyres got noisier and noisier throughout this trip, with it being most notable between 75-90km/h. Fortunately at 100 and 110 the road noise goes away somewhat. I’m assuming that this is just the tyres reaching the end of their life, despite quite a bit of tread left – I got them at about 78,000km and we’re now at 127,000, and they’re about 7 years old. I’ll try rotate the tyres to see if that helps the road noise, but at the moment they sound like big mud tyres once you get up to speed which is not great. Tyres are Toyo Open Country AT-II’s if you’re interested. They’ve been very good for us and we’ve had no issues prior to this.

A small centre console fridge for drinks, food or icecream wouldn’t be a bad idea, if a bit decadent. I’ll check out what’s available and if it would fit between our front seat armrests. Fuel economy could be better and a long range fuel tank would be awesome. Overall though the van still works very good for this type of trip and is still Ollie’s favourite mode of travel.

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