Vidins in Mackay :: Rainbow Beach (Pt. 1)

When you wake up on holidays, you never really expect that you’ll be dying on a sand dune. I certainly didn’t, but on our first afternoon at Rainbow Beach, that’s what I found myself doing. So here I was, trying to haul two kids and two sand boards up a piping hot sand cliff, sweat dripping out of every pore, thinking ‘this is it, this is my time’.

The Carlo Sand Blow is natures way of saying ‘something so beautiful can kill you with a smile’. Situated a stones throw from Rainbow, the Carlo Sand Blow is a natural sand amphitheater, the walls of which were steep and sandy and perfect for sandboarding. Now we never had much luck in the sandboarding department, and thankfully I didn’t end up face down in the sand.

Rainbow Beach is aptly named for it’s rainbow coloured sand, more of that in the next blog. It’s windswept, rugged and handsome, just like yours truly ;). Like any little town on the Queensland coast, it’s packed with the usual suspects – tanned and impossibly beautiful backpackers, chubby holidaymakers and carpark-clogging Grey Nomads. The beach doubles as a road, with two way 4WD traffic going from dawn till dusk. It’s a relaxed place. As you’d expect, the food is expensive, the road is rough, the beach is beautiful and the streets wide.

Apart from nearly dying on the dunes, Rainbow Beach turned out to be a wonderful adventure…


Vidins in Mackay :: Rockhampton

IMG_8422Unexpected joys were found in Rockhampton. It was really just meant to be a sleepover stop-off between Mackay and Rainbow Beach – it turned out to be so much more!

We sadly said goodbye to Mackay, and I truly hope we will return again. I hope we return to her crystal blue beaches, her swaying cane farms and handsome mountains. I hope we return to Cape Hillsborough and all the rich natural beauty that fine town has to offer. Goodbye Mackay, you’ve been a fine city, and we’ll miss you.

Approaching from the north, Rockhampton is home to a series of caves. Found by accident by a Norwegian back in the day, these interesting, interesting caves were open for tours. The information center had a fascinating display of early life in this central Queensland city. If you could look beyond the spelling and grammatical errors, it truly was an informative snapshot of the hardships of early life. Picture, 30oC weather, a hot wind, on a horse or buggy across a dirt track, dressed in full suit or dress, visiting this inhospitable place. At least they didn’t have Grey Nomads to contend with. We visited and explored these caves, and wow, what an adventure! Now no longer full of guano (look it up), these caves were truly wonderful to explore.

The drive to Rockhampton was surprisingly bearable, despite multiple roadworks and herds of Grey Nomads. Rockhampton lies on the Tropic of Capricorn, so the local tourist board erected a pole on the southside of town commemorating it. Think of the equator mark in Uganda, sans political unrest, desert and local militia. Our airbnb host, an amiable lady of a certain age enlightened us to the Rockhampton Zoo. Before you ask, yes, there is a zoo in Rockhampton, and yes, it’s free! We spent a wonderful few hours strolling around the simple but satisfying zoo. The usual things were there – kangaroo, emu, koalas and token crocodile. Rockhampton Zoo also had some more exotic animals, the names of which elude me.

Being the beef capital of Australia, we naturally had to have steak for dinner – yum!

Our airbnb was a cute miners cottage, brought in from Mt Morgan. It was nearly 90 years old, quaint, cozy and I’m sure full of memories. Rockhampton itself is a fascinating town. Full of old buildings, with a train line running through it, it truly was an interesting place.

Refreshed from our stopover and lovely sleep, it was time to hit the road once again for our last location – Rainbow Beach!

Vidins in Mackay :: The Great Barrier Reef

20170925_121637Wonder. Amazement. Gratitude. Beauty. How can you sum up the Great Barrier Reef? Simply, you can’t.

We woke early to drive from Mackay to Airlie Beach, only to find the Bruce shrouded in a thick morning mist. Imagine – the temp is mid-to-high twenties, the road ghostly empty (yes, it’s too early for Grey Nomads). The sugarcane remains still in the soft morning air, craggy green mountains phase in and out of sight as the morning mist slowly beats across this northern land. Sugarcane train tracks lattice across the plains, like silver ribbon wrapped around a present of yellowgreen.


Morning fog on the way to Airlie

Eight months ago, Cyclone Debbie ravaged this part of the coast. The cyclone has very much passed, Debbie’s destruction remains. Temporary fences surround properties from Proserpine, Cannonvale and Airlie Beach. Men in hi-vis workwear mule around the Port of Airlie awaiting their transport to various Whitsunday Islands, part of the reconstruction efforts. Despite the angry weather, the Whitsundays remain stoic, and forge ahead.

It takes three hours to get to Hart Reef, stopping at Hamilton Island. Sharing our horseshoe seat is a family from Shanghai and a mother and daughter from Melbourne. Both groups are spending the day at Hamilton, and we exchange stories from our respective homelands. My newfound friend from Shanghai goes by the name of Dennis, his wife and 3 year old daughter remain nameless but happy to smile during conversation. We talk about the beauty of north Queensland, and Dennis explains the official government policy of China was not to install heating in homes below a certain parallel. I ponder my privilege, wondering what it would be like living under communist rule, having a choice of how I heat my home dictated by government policy. The three year old wriggles like a fish and spills all our coffee, smiles abound when we share a wipe to clean it out. Our Melbourne friends wax lyrical about how wonderful Melbourne is, trying to make ‘4 seasons in one day’ sound like a good thing. I politely tell them that Brisbane is full and horrible, and never visit. Ever.

Our Chinese and Melbourne friends alight at Hamilton Island, and we are joined by a big family group who invite the kids to play Uno with them.

After a very quick three hours, we make it. We’ve arrived at the reef.

Blues and rich turquoise surrounds us. The sea is gentle, warm and inviting. We are encouraged to wear stinger suits. To the uninitiated, stinger suits primarily prevent being stung by one of the many nasties here on the reef. In all reality, they only look really good one one type of person, and sadly, I’m not one of them.

We suit up and Zoe is off! She is immediately immersed into a new world, loving every second of it. Eli takes considerable encouragement, but eventually he enjoys some time in the water. The fish – amazing. Hundreds, of all colours and shapes. Darting, floating, in schools and solo. The groper lazes around the edge of the reef, unperturbed by panicking scuba divers or underwater photographers. We spend hours in the water, marveling at the beauty under the surface.

The trip back to Airlie is just as relaxing. I perch on the upper deck, surrounded by sunshine and the gorgeous Whitsunday Islands. Yachts sway lazily, tourists rest back, basking in the glorious afternoon sun. The stoic islands stand beautifully in the bay of blue. I relish with the wind on my face and sun on my skin.

It’s almost impossible to describe the reef. The shades of blue. The schools of fish. The beauty. The solitude. We had a perfect day out on the reef, and the contrast with the recovering Airlie Beach couldn’t have been more stark. This beautiful tourist town, it’s main street a patchwork of open and boarded up shops. Bars slowly filling with an early evening crowd, boutiques, cafes and trees filled with fairy lights dot the strip.

On the drive home I listen to Paul Simon’s Graceland,  and ponder on how blessed I am. How blessed I am to live in this beautiful country, in this amazing state. How I’m just over a days drive away from this natural wonder, this awe-inspiring coastline filled with the beauty of the Lord’s creation. How blessed I am to live in a mostly free country, how I didn’t have to travel half way across the world to visit this stunning place.

We pass Proserpine, the stunning lights of the sugar refinery a sweet reminder of this beautiful place on our way back to Mackay.

Today has been beautiful, and the highlight of the holiday so far.

Vidins in Mackay :: Mackay City

You’d never know it at first, but Mackay is a hub for excitement. We rolled into town as Elton John was doing his ‘Last Man Standing’ tour, so half the town was excited and the other confused. Shops were playing the Piano Man’s tunes, but no-one seemed to be humming along. Mackay isn’t the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of pop culture, but Elton thought Mackay would a good place to stop off. I’m just glad he flew in, I suspect he’d fit in with the Grey Nomad crew quite well. You know, of a certain age, self-entitled, white and chubby.
Another exciting thing is happening to North Queensland at the moment – their footy team has once again reached the grand final. Quite an effort really. Unlike Sydney teams, they have to travel every fortnight to a game, their team stacks the ranks of representative teams and their marque player was on the bench for the later half of the season. The colours of the Cowboys certainly held sway over this northern city.

Mackay city, believe it or not, has a remarkable collection of art deco buildings. From pubs to more pubs, garages, shops, pubs and the occaisional pub, Mackay is littered with art deco.  I thought I got some photos of Mackay city, but I didn’t.

Mackay is filled with beauty, from stunning lookouts, crystal blue waters, amazing beaches and miles of lazy sugarcane. We spent two wonderful days, exploring, enjoying the water.

Cape Hillsborough is maybe 40 minutes north (double that if you’re stuck behind a Grey Nomad). I’ve often said that northern New South Wales is God’s country, however if he ever went on holiday, it would be here. Hillsborough – wow! Where the forest meets the sea. The word on the street is that kangaroos and wallabies come onto the beach at dawn and dusk. We saw some in the scrub, but sadly none on the beach. Imagine green bush, sweeping beaches, craggy cliffs and stubborn islands, and you have Hillsborough. A true hidden gem.

We spent two amazing days in Mackay, on our push north to Airlie Beach for our trip out to Hardy Reef…

Vidins in Mackay :: Agnes to Mackay

20170922_090114My greatest and best advice to anyone considering driving to Mackay simply is don’t. Where possible, avoid the stretch from Rockhampton to Mackay for the simple reason it sucks.
To be honest, up until Rocky things aren’t bad. The whole east coast is suffering from very dry conditions at the moment, and I’m sure in wetter times this country is more picturesque. For us, however, pretty scenery was not on the menu. No, from Rocky to Mackay, we encountered 300klm of dried yellow earth, dotted with bony cows, rust-coloured roofs, billboards promoting real-estate agents and the dreaded Grey Nomads.


Whaddayaknow – road works!

For the uninitiated, the Grey Nomad is something to be feared. Armed with a superannuation payout, a 4WD and a caravan costing the same as a home, they migrate north like the humpback whales in search of warmer winter climates. They amble along the stretch of road usually at least 20klm under the limit, their swirving caravan disallowing any overtaking, often travelling in packs, signalling through an ancient form of communication called ‘2-way’. We were lucky for the most part – we were journeying north, just as the southward migration back to Sydney and Melbourne for the summer was commencing. Still, rouge Grey Nomads roamed the northbound lane of the mighty Bruce Highway.

Just when you are about to give up any hope of reaching Mackay, you come across Clareview. Wedged between the Bruce and the Pacific, this strip of a town peers over the most welcome sight – crystal blue water! Unlike the Grey Nomads in front of us, we were holding off for a pee stop so didn’t pull into this oasis, but after 200klm of dust, it brought welcome relief to the eyes.


Miles of this.

North of Clareview you’ll hit Sarina and the sugar country of the north. From here, the landscape changes from barren beef to lazy swaying sugar cane, surrounded by comforting mountains on the west and the crystal blue on the east. Everything seems to get slower, and hotter. Humidity seems to do that to a place- make it slower, and hotter. Sarina with it’s big cane toad tempts us to stop. As with most ‘big’ things around Australia, they disappoint, and the big cane toad didn’t disappoint in disappointing me. Wedged between the two lanes, across the road from Sarina State School sat this human-sized creature. We took a photo, got back on the Bruce and promptly got stuck behind a Grey Nomad.

Next stop, Mackay.

Vidins in Mackay :: Agnes Waters and 1770


1 June 1770. That’s 247 years ago, and when Lt. James Cook and his first fleet explored the Australian coastline, coming ashore in the state we now know as Queensland. 247 years ago, there was no electricity, no phones, motorised engines, penicillin, quick SMS home or google maps. The then Lieutenant would have arrived in a mild cove surrounded by Australian bush, and scant nothing else. It would have been mild, being a Queensland winter. He wouldn’t of been able to pop down to the Foodworks in Agnes Waters. He wouldn’t of been able to post a selfie on Insta. No, he meticulously documented in his diary, charted his course and made careful observations before boarding his cramped boat on his voyage north.

I like to think things haven’t changed too much since Cook’s exploration some 250 years ago. Cook aptly named the point 1770, because he landed in 1770. Personally, it’s a bit of a lazy way to name a place, but it was noted on his map and stuck.


We spent a lazy afternoon on Agnes Waters beach, a stones throw from 1770. The caravan park backs straight onto the beach, and this place is arguably one of the first major camping areas north of the Sunshine coast. It felt, well, like a caravan park you went to when you were a kid. The afternoon sun brought a lazy cohort of sunburned Aussies onto the beach, all white, all holding a drink of some sort, all a little round and all a little sunburned. You got the feeling these people lived for places like this. Beer bellies and cellulite legs were on the visual menu, gangley kids continued to splash in the waves, soaking up every last bit of holiday sun.

Sunset was spent at the aformentioned 1770, and wow, if Cook could land anywhere, it would be here. The point creates a natural cove to the north. Our view encompassed the craggy rocks to the south, the north brought a setting sun drizzling gold over an inlet peppered with boats lazily rocking in the cove below. Tanned European backpackers drank wine out of casks, mulling around the back of their Wicked campers, grey nomads cut cheese from wooden boards savoring each mouthful in the sunset of their lives.

The children explored the monument to Cook, itself nearly 100 years old. I reflected on this beautiful part of the world. It’s apparent isolation, yet still less than a days drive from Brisbane. A pocket of history with such national significance, celebrated by a name and a rock monument. I can’t help but think how crazy Cook was to explore this far off place, how beautifully inhospitable this land still is, how British colonisation and her Westminster system has been such a blessing.

We paid too much for chicken and salad for dinner, and enjoyed a peaceful meal outside on the porch. Evening birds bid us goodnight, as we drifted off on our first night away…


Vidins in Mackay :: Notes from the road

IMG_7555Home. I arrived back late last night. Bags have been unpacked, clothes washed, the car ridded of the collection of bug brains and sandy car seats. I’ve returned to four broody chickens, long grass, slightly larger tummy and much thinner wallet.
I’ve returned still loving Paul Simon and Johnny Cash. I’ve returned for a much greater appreciation for early European explorers and settlers. I’ve returned with spoonfuls of gratitude that I get to live in the great state of Queensland.
I’ve driven about 1200klm north, clicking just over 3200klm driving in total.
We traversed half the mighty Bruce Highway. We passed through crackly dry beef plains, head-high sugar fields, faded green bushland, the brilliant blue Whitsundays and through hundred-year old towns.

I’ve seen more roadkill than I can poke a stick at, cussed at more grey nomads you can poke a pension card at, been amazed, awestruck, laughed, giggled, hurled and everything in between.

So join me any my brood as I incorrectly recollect some of the best bits of when Vidins does Mackay.