Exploring the Glass House Mountains

On our last full day before handing back the campervan, we decided it was only right to finish our roadtrip with a visit to one more of Australia’s many incredible National Parks.

The Glass House Mountains are a series of 11 rocky outcrops, that were formed by volcanic activity, and rise up dramatically from the otherwise flat surroundings. They are located in the Sunshine Coast region, just 68km north of Brisbane. It is possible to climb all but one of the mountains, with the largest Mount Beerwah off limits since a large landslide in 2011. Given our limited time, we were pleased to manage to reach the summit of two of the smaller peaks.

Before making a start on the mountains, we decided to begin the the day with what we hoped would be a leisurely visit to Kondalilla Falls. The 4.7km trail started by taking us past a series of rockpools and stunning views across the valley, before a deceivingly gentle descent to the base of the huge falls.

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The Sunshine Coast

When we first looked at our map of Australia we worried we would never make it as far as Brisbane. In fact we actually made it with a few days to spare, so decided to continue our journey north to the Sunshine Coast.

Our first stop was Noosa, which is one of Australia’s most sought-after holiday destinations. This was apparent almost immediately after arriving, as we were unable to park anywhere near the beachfront. We finally found a space a short distance away, packed a picnic, and headed out for the day.

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The Gold Coast

We had heard lots of bad things about the Gold Coast before our visit, and it definitely doesn’t have a great reputation amongst many Australians, as well as some of our friends living in the country. It is generally thought of as being a tacky and overdeveloped tourist destination which is best avoided, much like an Australian version of Blackpool.

However as with everywhere, we arrived with an open mind, ready to find the best it had to offer. We were actually pleasantly surprised, and the Gold Coast has plenty going for it, especially if you are willing to look a little harder.

But first, the bad stuff. Surfers Paradise, the most popular section of the coastline, was exactly what we expected. While the beach itself is nice, they’re not exactly in short supply in Australia, and the huge high-rise apartment blocks and hotels towering over the beach do sort what ruin it. As for the resort itself, you can see why it is popular with young Australian holidaymakers, but it was overcrowded and full of cheap looking shops and restaurants. Definitely not the sort of place we enjoy visiting.

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Byron Bay

We were expecting Bryon Bay to be one of our highlights of the East coast, and it didn’t disappoint. The small coastal town has long been a popular destination for hippies and those seeking an alternative lifestyle. Famous for its beaches, surfing and laid-back culture, it is now incredibly popular with backpackers and Australian tourists alike.

Watching the sunrise from Cape Byron lighthouse is a must do when visiting Byron, and we decided to do this on our first morning there. After setting our alarm at 4am, and making the steep climb up to the lighthouse, we arrived just in time as the darkness began to lift.

However yet again we picked the wrong morning, with the sun struggling to break through the thick cloud, and the strong winds making it incredibly cold. We really should have checked the weather forecast the night before!

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More of New South Wales

There was lots more enjoyable stops as we made our way along the coast of New South Wales towards Byron Bay. As we arrived in the Great Lakes region, we took a very scenic drive to the twin towns of Forster and Tuncurry, where the vast Wallis Lake meets the ocean.

There was beautiful beaches either side of the connecting bridge, as well as several ocean pools, including the popular Tuncurry Rockpools. This perfect swimming spot was a complete contrast to the exposed Nine Mile Beach found the other side of the headland.

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After our now routine early start, the following day started with another scenic drive to Port Macquarie. We stopped on the outskirts of the town to visit the tiny Tacking Point lighthouse, which dates back to 1879.

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Newcastle and Port Stephens

Newcastle is the second largest city in New South Wales, situated 170km north of Sydney. Although traditionally an industrial city, its reputation has grown in recent years, including being named in Lonely Planets top 10 cities to visit several years ago.

After arriving early, we walked through the large King Edward Park. This was another place where the Australian outdoor lifestyle was clear to see, with the pathways full of people walking and jogging.  We also walked along the memorial walk, a cliff top walkway which was opened in 2015 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli landing.

Nearby is the Bogey Hole ocean pool, which is believed to be the oldest European structure in the area, dating back to 1818. However it now seems to be far more popular with fishermen than swimmers.

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Wine tasting in the Hunter Valley

After trying so much wine on our journey so far, it would be unfair to travel though New South Wales without also sampling the best it has to offer. We therefore spent a day in the Hunter Valley, which is home to over 120 wineries.

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The best winery we visited this time was Tyrell’s, where our wine education continued. Our very knowledgable host gave us lots of information about the different varieties of grape, and how climate, soil and other factors influence the taste of the final product. Continue reading