The campervan is well equipped with everything we might need (fridge, gas stove, water tank, cooking utensils and bedding*) but is really, really small. It's quite a challenge fitting us and all our stuff inside, but it was the cheapest option so it suits us fine given the current economic conditions.
Out on the open road, north of Cairns, we started noticing the road signs, warning us about kangaroos, cassowarras, emus - and then there are the cane toads, literally hundreds of them sat in the middle of the road as we drove along. It's impossible not to squash them, but apparently they are a bit if a nuisance and even get culled on a regular basis, so we didn't feel so bad as we ran over them!
We have also seen lots of roadsigns telling us, 'don't spread electric ants'! We have no idea what this is supposed to mean - and I certainly hope we don't encounter any if these 'electric ants', let alone spread them!
Camping - even in a van, as opposed to a tent - does make you that little bit closer to nature and with that comes a realisation that, 'yes we are in Australia - and there are a lot of poisonous things here (that can kill you)!' In the campsite toilets at Noah Beach, near Cape Tribulation there were so many spiders I'd actually rather not go to the toilet - holding it in or finding a quiet spot out in the open is far preferable. It would be bad enough back home where the spiders don't bite, but as far as I'm concerned here a quick loo break could end in hospital!
After spending one night up towards Cape Tribulation the weather took a turn for the worse. Three days and nights of heavy rain later and the roads had flooded and we were unable to leave. With nothing to do but find a campsite and wait for the torrential rain to stop, we hoped we wouldn't be delayed too long. I don't think I've seen rain like it before - so heavy and persistent, and just when you think it's stopped and can't possibly rain anymore, down it comes again! Even in a van (as opposed to a tent) everything seems to get wet when it rains - that is certainly true of camping on the whole, so we're looking forward to moving on down the coast and out of the area appropriately dubbed 'the wet tropics'.
We picked up a copy of a brilliant book (which would become our bible) detailing all the free camping and rest areas in Australia, so we haven't constantly got to pay for campsites. Some maybe little more than a glorified hard shoulder on the side of the motorway, but there are some lovely spots too, right on the beach with showers, barbecue areas and running water, so they're worth seeking out.
After a week in the van we caught the ferry out to Magnetic Island and treated ourselves to a night in a hostel and a meal out - a welcome relief after sleeping and cooking in the van, I can assure you! The beaches on Magnetic Island are lovely: golden sand and turquoise water. However if you heed the warnings about jellyfish (a risk even when enclosures with 'stinger nets' have been rigged up) then swimming doesn't seem like such an attractive option. I think we're going to give swimming in the sea a miss until we're a bit further down the coast and the risk is no longer there!
We also made a visit inland and up to the mountainous Eungella, in the clouds. This national park is rainforest and home to the platypus - we were lucky enough to see a couple of them too.
We also saw our first kangaroos this week - a gathering (sorry, I don't know the collective noun) of nine or ten of them at the side of the road - much bigger than I expected too. As we approached with the camera they looked up at us inquisitively and watched without moving until they realised we weren't a threat. Once established they hopped off about their business.
We've been advised not to drive at night as our hoppy, marsupial friends aren't the brightest bunch and like to bounce across the roads infront of cars - we've certainly seen more dead kangaroos on the side of the road than we have live ones! More worrying is the damage they would do to the van, so we're sticking to driving during daylight hours only.
A week on and driving further still down the east coast the rain is still really persistent - locals are saying it's the wettest it's been in years and it's not even wet season yet! We're hoping it brightens up when we get out of the tropics, through Queensland and into New South Wales. Fingers crossed, as camping in the rain is a pretty miserable affair, wherever you are in the world!
So our journey continues down towards Rockhampton and then on to Brisbane in a week or so. I'll blog again then.
Sarah and Kev xx
*On a completely unrelated and somewhat random note, in supermarkets the section with the bed linen and towels is entitled 'Manchester' - not sure why it's called this but it tickled me, hence its inclusion in the blog!