Living the dream in a world of adventure
On a 2,000km campervan journey up Queensland, Alan Shortt and his family encountered crocs, nestled in a rainforest and dived the Great Barrier Reef
Sharks, stingrays, crocodiles, humpback whales, Barramundi, red emperors, shovelnose rays, sea turtles, kangaroos, wallabies, dingoes, wombats, koalas, alligators, pelicans, lizards and Nemo are just some of the natives we met along the way on our campervan adventure in Queensland, Australia.
It all began last March when I was sitting at home with my family, listening to the rain lashing against our windows, when Rory, my youngest, pointed at the TV and asked where's Home and Away? "Australia," I replied. His eyes lit up and he asked: "Can we go there, daddy?" That was the moment we decided to swap the great big recession for the Great Barrier Reef! The Shortt family were heading Down Under, myself, Colette, Sam, 8, and Rory, 5.
Our journey from Ireland to Queensland Australia began with coffee in Cork, a burger in Britain, a swim in Singapore, and breakfast in Brisbane! We had concerns about flying such a long distance with young children, but the flight was only the beginning of our adventure, because the level of service and in-flight entertainment knows no bounds when you fly with Qantas. Even our four-hour stopover in Singapore was an adventure. The country's Changi airport prides itself in being the best airport in the world with its gymnasiums, spas, cactus, orchid and butterfly gardens, cinemas, Singapore's tallest slide, 250 tax-free shops and a roof-top swimming pool.
It had always been a dream of mine to drive a campervan up the coast of Australia, and as I stood beside my five-berth Platinum Lake Maui campervan, I said: "Wow! She's big!" Technically it's a two-bedroom apartment on wheels, it was going to be our home for the next three weeks, and we had to drive it!
The great news was that they drive on the lefthand side of the road in Australia. Our route began in Brisbane, and 2,000km later we were due to finish in Cairns. Our first stop up the Bruce highway was the Australia Zoo, a legacy to the late Steve Irwin, who spent his life up close and personal with wild animals, and that's exactly what you get to do in the Australia Zoo.
We fed kangaroos, hugged koalas, petted wombats, hand-fed elephants, held alligators and lizards, nearly got knocked over by low-flying parrots and witnessed the power of the jaws of a huge crocodile.
After a quick lunch in our campervan, four tired, cranky heads headed for Noosa Heads. Our first night in the campervan was very exciting, the kids sat back and watched TV while the parents worked out how to fill the campervan with water, turn on the gas, make the beds, and my job... empty the toilet! I wish we had had more time in the laid-back, trendy surf hang-out that is Noosa, but we had to make our way to Fraser Island.
If it's eco-tourism you're after, then the Kingfisher Bay Resort on the world's largest sand island is the place for you. Nestled into rainforest, our balcony overlooked a swamp that came alive at night with a cacophony of frogs talking... ribbiting frog talk.
We went on an amazing four-wheel-drive tour of the island, swimming in the crystal-blue waters of Lake McKenzie and Eli Creek. We drove up along a 120km beach to the rotting hulk of the Maheno, a former passenger liner blown ashore by a cyclone in 1935, and went for a leisurely walk in the rain- forest where if you get thirsty, all you have to do is lean your head back and open your mouth and drink the rain water dropping from the giant rainforest canopy above. Watch out for the bloodsucking leeches.
The next morning we went on an adventure of a lifetime: whale-watching aboard Quick Cat 2. They guarantee whale sightings on every trip, and right on cue, out of the turquoise waters of the South Pacific jumped a large humpback whale. Sam nicknamed her Scratchy because of all the scrapes and scars on her snout. Scratchy performed tail slaps, fin waves, full breaches and, the most amazing of all, a side-roll right beside the boat allowing us gaze deeply into her huge, black, glassy eye. Then she dived and we headed back to dry land and our campervan.
Our next stop was a family caving adventure in Capricorn Caves near Rockhampton. We put on our overalls, helmets and torches and headed down into the darkness of the underworld. We squeezed and crawled through crevasses that were only fit for five-year-olds, not parents. After squeezing my body through a cavern called the Whale's Belly I felt like a new-born baby being pushed through his mother's pelvis!
We left the spiders, bats and the darkness of the caves for the sun-drenched skies of Daydream Island Resort and Spa in the tropical Whitsunday Islands. An idyllic paradise island in the Great Barrier Reef region, with palm-fringed beaches, coral gardens and turquoise waters. Daydream Island is also home to the world's largest man-made coral reef lagoon, where the boys fed stingrays and lemon sharks and huge barramundi, which, instead of biting their food, suck in two litres of water in one second! I thought the bait, Rory's hand and Rory's body was going to be sucked into the barramundi. They are also very good fish to eat.
After two days of relaxing on the beach, the spa, the catamaran, the pool, and eight mojitos, we headed to Cairns for the highlight of our trip, the Great Barrier Reef. We took a big-cat tour to Green Island on the reef. The whole family witnessed one of the great wonders of the world from the safety of a semi-submersible boat, the fish life, the coral, the sea turtles. The beauty of the reef is incredible. I got to live out one of my greatest ambitions and dive on the Great Barrier Reef and witnessed sights I had only seen on TV underwater documentaries.
So for a family adventure of a lifetime, forget Florida, start planning now and head Down Under to Queensland, because their winter is a fantastic summer. The Shortt family say: "Thank you Captain Cook for discovering Queensland!"
For further information on travelling to Queensland contact Abbey Travel's Australian Centre via www.abbeytravel.ie or go to
www.queenslandtourism. com or www.australia.com
For Maui campervan rentals: www.maui.com.au