It’s been a while since I sat down to write. Like most creatives, especially ones in the travel industry, there is a never ending “to do list”, which can be harder to navigate and complete while constantly on the go. However, a recent escape has inspired me to not only tell the story through my photos, but also my words. The escape was in my own back yard, the heart of world’s most remarkable living ecosystem and nursery for all life in our oceans; The Southern Great Barrier Reef.
I think it is safe to say that I have a fascination /or obsession with the underwater world. The breathtaking beauty of the Great Barrier Reef just blows me away. It is the only living structure on our planet which can be seen from outer space, the biggest single structure made up by living organisms and the first coral reef ecosystem to be awarded World Heritage Status. Right here in my backyard! Just a half-day drive from the place I am lucky enough to call home and I was ready to return for a new adventure.
I’ve never hidden my utter love for Australia and my passion for sharing this incredibly rich and diverse land. My connection with it is ineffable.
I have an ever-expanding urge to capture and showcase the beauty of Australia and I love using photography to connect others with the natural world and actively seek the peace that comes from spending time in the great outdoors. An insatiable desire to use my art to share and connect with others and to hopefully impart a sense of wonder to See Australia and to see it now!
And there is no better way to really immerse yourself like hitting the open road with a clear mind and willingness to discover.
We landed in Mackay, with an itinerary that saw us driving the length of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, stopping at the local regions to explore. We picked up our home on wheels for the week (which later was renamed to Lenni) and set out straight towards the sub-tropical rainforest, for an afternoon spent by the enchanting Araluen Cascades at Finch Hatton Gorge.
Hayley Anderson (my new travel companion) lives 10 minutes away from me at home and we have mutual friends, but we’d never met until the morning of this job. Funny to think that we were essentially strangers who were about to spend the week road tripping and working together in such an intimate space, but the moment she walked into my life I felt a great sense of familiarity. It really wasn’t long before we were sharing everything – meals and our life’s stories- singing along to music blasting through the stereo and laughing so hard we were literally crying.
I think the best connections are made on the road. They can be immediately palpable. There is that feeling like you have known someone forever and it is almost as if real “time” becomes irrelevant. Aligning with one another in a unique way, being stripped away from your usual, while physically experiencing new, contrasting environments. You begin collecting moments together.
We rose on our second day and drove to Cape Hillsborough, just 45 minutes outside of Mackay. The National Park is known for it’s windswept shore and jagged coastline, providing a backdrop for one of Australia’s top wildlife encounters.
Arriving to the beach in almost total darkness you can begin to make out the silhouettes lining the shore. As the sun begins to rise, the mob of Kangaroos and Wallabies emerge for their morning feast, foraging for seaweed and mangrove seed pods.
An encounter that is pretty popular with tourists – an iconic Australian experience and a view that is absolutely worth waking up for.
*Please remember if you are planning to do this, that these animals are wild and should be treated as so. Please do not feed them.
From here we hit the road heading down towards Yeppoon, stoping only to have a roadside breakfast of peanut butter oats and a quick tour of the Sarina Sugar Shed. We arrived at our destination just in time to enjoy the golden glow of sunset in the picturesque Byfield State Forest. A place I would definitely love to see more of to spend more time exploring the sand dunes, rainforest edged creeks and those rugged mountains.
We had to keep moving, for the next day was the beginning of our taste of the island life.
Great Keppel Island is an undiscovered treasure, with 17 pristine beaches of unspoiled bushland and pockets of fringing reef. We spent a quiet day relaxing here with our local guide Geoff, showing off all the highlights and even taking us out on his personal boat.
On our third day we rose for sunrise and a female Emu greeted us in the caravan park. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her strolling past out van as I was coming back from dish duty. Some of the staff members later told us she had been visiting for the last 20 years and her name was Ernie. Definitely a unique experience to wake up to and I say this all the time, but Australia is seriously so incredible. Where else could you be casually sharing a meal with an Emu walking past? Just amazing!
We set out early, with full bellies and ready for another mini road-trip to Agnes Waters – the home of the famous 1770 sunset. I’ve been fortunate enough to see a few of these places before and I was really looking forward to getting back to the beaches here. When we arrived we had a quick bite to eat at Getaway cafe we were told by some locals a few good spots to check out before the sun set. Hayley and I headed straight for the Paperbark forest, which is an easily accessed trail off the side of the road that was absolutely and unexpectedly magical. We arrived at the perfect time of day as butterflies swirled around us and the sun was twinkling through the thick wetland of hundreds of paperbark tree trunks and majestic green cabbage palm frongs.
After checking out a few of the other beaches we headed for 1770 foreshore to take in the last light of the day in one of only a few places on the east coast of Australia where you can enjoy the sunset over the ocean. We twirled around, frolicking in the calm water and spent an evening in Lenni eating pizza with a glass of red wine under the incredible night sky.
Day Four was perhaps the trip highlight for both Hayley and I, as we were completely taken away with the charming beauty of Lady Musgrave Island.
Wallaginji means “beautiful reef” and Lady Musgrave Island couldn’t be more perfectly described. A vast, calm turquoise lagoon and island paradise unique to the entire Great Barrier Reef as the only coral island with a navigable lagoon of its kind. Set on 3000 acres of living reef in a protected Green Zone, Lady Musgrave offers an abundance of marine life and a lifetime experience to get up close and personal with the locals turtles. We travelled with Lady Musgrave Experience and truly couldn’t recommend the experience enough! The staff we amazing and there was ample time to explore the 8km island, enjoy a glass bottom boat tour, a delicious feast and spend hours of snorkeling (or diving) the remarkable reef. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face that afternoon, feeling truly lucky to experience a moment with Hayley and the turtles below.
The next day we rose to the sound of birds and a stunning 360-degree pink sky – my favorite. I literally rolled out of Lenni at Agnes Water Beach Park and straight onto the beach with my camera in hand and observed as the surfers and morning yogis went about their daily routine. We decided to treat ourselves to a morning picnic breakfast on the cliff top over looking a secret bay, before getting under the waves and playing with my water housing.
We couldn’t leave 1770 without getting on board one of the most popular tourist experiences of the town: the 1770 LARC! Tour. We had the sunset cruise on the amphibious vessel and enjoyed the owner Neil’s infectious passion and knowledge of the surrounding Round Hill Creek and Eurimbula National Park coastline with magnificent evening views.
Waking up in Bundaberg, we devoured a drool-worthy and very notable breakfast of (vegan) sweet potato pancakes with cinnamon and homemade gelato before heading out for a day experience the pure magic of Lady Elliot Island; a place I have been waiting to visit for years. Just north of Fraser Island and home to the mantra ray, Lady Elliot is regarded as one of the best snorkelling destinations of the Southern Great Barrier Reef, with an amazing array of colorful coral and marine life. Another place I need to add to the list to return to stay and explore longer. I would seriously love the chance to spend the night, see the Milky Way from this remote location and swim with the manta rays.
Waiting for us upon return was the most exquisite evening picnic at Sandcastles on the Beach hosted by Nourish café. We couldn’t have felt more treated, sitting down ocean side with candles and fairy lights to one of the best picnics I’ve had in a long time. Truly a beautiful way to end a perfect day and a huge week on the road.
Day eight began and it was our last day of adventure. Before leaving Bundy, which I think is secretly the food hub of Australia, we were treated to a lazy breakfast in a refurbished Windmill that was absolutely delicious and the perfect send off. But not before a visit to the Bundaberg Rum Distillery and a Blend Your Own Rum Experience. We uncovered the secrets of Australia’s favorite rum, learnd about the story behind the iconic drink and even got to create our own signature blend of rum. I’m not much of a rum drinker to be completely honest, but my grandfather is going to be really stoked when I gift him 2 x bottles of “Melissa’s Blend” Bundaberg Rum.
All good things must come to an end and so we embarked on the journey home. Driving back to Brisbane, we very sadly parted with Lenni before returning to the Gold Coast. Home with an ever-heightened love and appreciation for this incredible land, so many new memories and clarity that allows a deeper sense of self with the lingering connection to country.
We all know the benefits of being out in nature, but there is something about road-trips that give a sense of absolute freedom. You get the chance to do some genuine bonding with (new) friends, while appreciating the wonder of each new destination. You can stop at any point you like, or make that detour if you see something that sparks your eye. You can head down that unbeaten path, because actually, why not? And you can take the chance to go as fast or slow as you want, because all you have is time. Time and a desire to see and fall in love with this beautiful world.
With a plethora of jaw-dropping vistas to marvel at and so much variety in the Australian landscape, why not leave behind the worries of every day life, hire a van and hit the road?
Have you ever considered embarking on a road trip in Queensland? I’d love to know where you want to hit the road and what you would see!
Friendly reminder: Pack light, collect more. Limit your phone time, talk to the locals and actively seek their advice and take lots of photos. Enjoy those moments that inevitably become lasting memories.
Whilst sharing my love for Australia, I pay my deep respect for the true custodians of this beautiful land, their elders past, present & future.
A version of this blog post originally appeared on Melissa Findley’s website.