If you've followed my blog for a while you'll know that I love a road trip, from spending a week driving from NYC to Chicago, to taking an epic journey around Europe for a whole summer, any time spent on the road is good with me. When I was researching how to travel around Australia, the answer to how to get around was obvious: ROAD TRIIIIP! Australia is freaking massive and wildly expensive so we haven't been able to road trip the whole country but Nick and I were able to take a road trip from Brisbane to Cairns in a rented camper van. We covered 2600 km's so I'm going to split this epic journey into two parts.
We chose Hippie Camper as our rental place as they had small vans, great rates, and their location made picking up the van in Brisbane pretty easy.
Our van's name was Lily which cutely was also the name of one of the sheep we were caring for at Farm Animal Rescue! Rather than heading north towards Cairns straight away we decided to head south for two reasons, firstly I'm a ridiculous person and hadn't stopped thinking about the dim sum at Easy House since I visited for my birthday, and secondly we both thought that never seeing Byron Bay seemed a little silly as it's a popular destination and we didn't know when we'd be back in this corner of the globe.
Sunshine Coast beach - they're all this nice!
We drove straight down to Byron Bay that first afternoon and explored the town in the evening before spending our first night in the van. So often a new van takes a little getting used to but this style was perfect for us. The kitchen area was outside so you just opened up the back door of the van and everything you needed was right there, a little fridge, work surface, and sink, as well as drawers and cupboards containing your gas stove, plates, mugs, and cutlery. This style of van probably wouldn't be so great for camping in the UK given that every time I camp at home it pours and you just have to hide inside but it was perfect for the Aussie weather.
We woke up bright and early the next morning in time for another beach breakfast before heading North to Easy House in Gold Coast for lunch. You can see more photos of Easy House's delicious dim sum in my birthday post but here are two of my favourite dishes, turnip cakes and BBQ buns, coincidentally they were the very first things they brought over when we sat down. This place is so rad!
After lunch we drove North and serendipitously a traffic diversion took us right through Brisbane and almost right past The Green Edge Brisbane's biggest and best vegan store. Obviously we had to take a mini detour! The Green Edge is also a cafe but sadly we were too full of dim sum to try anything. We did grab some of the Linda McCartney burgers that I'd been craving as well as my favourite Alter Eco chocolate, another round of the amazing smoked sesame cheese we'd tried in Brisbane before our time volunteering at Farm Animal Rescue, and some Green Vie smoked gouda that wasn't my favourite as it was a little bland but it melted decently into pasta.
That night we made it as far as Miami where we found a campsite with spaces easily. We had a chilled evening and took a walk along the seafront before heading back to our pitch to cook up the Linda McCartney burgers, eat dinner, and get an early night.
We were up bright and early again to eat breakfast and drink mugs of green tea on the beach behind the site which set a precedent for the rest of the journey. A combination of getting up early to care for the animals in Dayboro (either 5:15am or 5:45am) combined with the fact that camper vans start to heat up as soon as the sun has risen, has turned Nick and I into morning people. It makes sense really, we're not all about the night life at all, if a great band are playing I'll go to a gig for sure, but neither of us are into pubs or clubs and so often in small cities or towns there is little else to do after dinner.
Mooloolaba was our next stop and it turned out to be one of our favourite stops of the whole journey. We went for a long walk along the seafront in the evening and found a bustling community with people of all ages walking dogs, exercising, and just hanging out in the small towns public spaces. It seemed like a really chilled place. We got up early for breakfast again but this time we headed across town to the Ocean Shepherd espresso bar. I discovered them whilst browsing the awesome vegetarian dining and shopping guide Happy Cow and it seemed like a cool place to support. They've been set up to support Sea Shepherd and they sell their merchandise, as well as coffees, teas, and cakes. Australians are big on Sea Shepherd, in the UK if you see someone rocking SS merch there's a very high chance that they're vegan. In Australia it's all over the place and I would be amazed if there were that many vegans everywhere. One day! Ocean Shepherd's muffins and things aren't vegan yet which I was a little sad about but they said that they're working on it so that's promising. I was able to get a vegan hot chocolate in my snazzy new silicone mug which was a birthday gift from my Farm Animal Rescue volunteer buddy Georgina. It was a pretty ideal breakfast especially when paired with the peanut butter sandwiches I made in the van that morning.
This was such a beautiful, peaceful, way to start the day. We watched people surfing and going for their morning swims and whilst Mooloolaba is a small town and clearly a touristy spot we loved how many locals were out and about making the most of the morning, chatting to friends, exercising, and drinking their coffees by the beach. The other bonus of getting up early is that you can get on the road early and either beat the crowds to wherever you're heading or get a lot of the driving out of the way whilst it's still cool enough not to need to blast the air-con just to survive. Our destination that morning was Noosa Heads where there are walking trails at Noosa National Park. We arrived around 8:45 but the car park was already jammed full of cars and vans belonging to early morning runners, walkers, and surfers and we had to drive around a bit to find a spot. We'd planned on doing a long hike but there was a 2 hour parking limit all around the area so we picked one of the shorter hikes to fit within that time frame and set off at 9am. We were glad we ended up doing a shorter hike for two reasons, one it was really freaking hot and I actually don't think I could've walked for more than two hours, and two, we saw a freaking koala doing this route! A KOALA Y'ALL!
I know Australian people who've never seen a koala in the wild (if at all) so this is a Big Deal. I'm vegan for animal rights reasons and I've boycotted zoos and aquariums since just before committing to going vegetarian. This means that my chances of seeing animals like koalas are slimmer than for some travellers but I would rather see a wild koala than support a prison for animals. So often zoos are disguised as conservation centres but anywhere where you can hold a wild animal like a koala is probably not doing great things for the animals in their care. When I first visited The Monkey Sanctuary in Looe Bay in Cornwall they talked to us about not even making eye contact with the monkeys because although they can't be released into the wild due to their upbringings in circuses or animal labs they don't want them to get close to people as it will affect the way that they interact with the other monkeys in their groups and they will become too bonded with humans which is unnatural.
Can you see her?
The koala we spotted was quite high up but we were still so excited. She was just chilling, nibbling on leaves, and occasionally moving about a little. So amazing. Koalas aside Noosa itself is a cute little beach town and we spent a little time chilling on the sand before deciding that we'd better get ourselves out of the sun. We walked back to the campsite through the centre of town stopping to treat ourselves to a coconut soft serve from Coconut Head on Hastings St.
We topped our coco whip with some raw brownies and shaved coconut and it was a pretty great treat on a warm day. Apparently everything at Coconut Head is vegan aside from the kombucha which contains honey but be aware that it is a little pricy even by Aussie standards. We spotted a few cafes and restaurants advertising vegan food, from fancy looking sit down places with vegan pizzas on the menu to hole in the wall style burrito spots, but Australia is an expensive place to travel and to make it work we needed to eat most of our meals in the van. Luckily Australia's supermarkets have great vegan selections and we were always able to find great fresh produce, tofu, and cheap bread.
Road trips aren't complete without snacks and we found some new and fun options including these chicken flavour Vege Chips which I picked up as a joke but which turned out to be vegan, and these apple, cashew, and coconut bliss balls which Nick and I both loved and were gutted to never see again.
The Vege Chips are made from Cassava and they reminded me of Skips texturally. This flavour wasn't my fave' but we bought the natural and salt & vinegar flavours later on in the trip and enjoyed them more. I'm crossing my fingers that we can find the bliss balls again when we get back to Australia!
That was just part one of the road trip and I hope that you enjoyed reading about it. Tune in next time for part two where we eat vegan in The Whitsundays, The Great Barrier Reef, and maybe, just maybe, see another koala!!!