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Merry Christmas – enjoy the holidays!

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Hi all,

 

We’d like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a safe and happy New Year… and what a year it’s been!

 

We started 2015 in Cairns, where we stayed until May, working and biding our time until we had to fly home for two weddings.

 

Australia Day 2015 Cairns

 

Once we were on the road again, our task was fairly simple – explore the east coast of Australia.  After a magical visit at Paronella Park, we passed through Townsville and Mackay before heading inland to the beautiful Lake Elphinstone.

 

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We cruised through the Central Highlands before returning to the coast. We ate beef in Rockhampton, drank rum in Bundaberg, then caught a ferry to Fraser Island. We gave the Troopy a 4WD workout at Landcruiser Mountain Park and watched the rain clouds come in on the Sunshine Coast.

 

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We spent about three weeks in Brisbane because Dave needed some medical attention, but it was great to spend time with friends in that beautiful city.  As we approached the Gold Coast, the dark clouds returned and by the time we got to the Best Of All Lookouts, we couldn’t see a thing!

 

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We crossed the border into New South Wales and bee-lined straight to Byron Bay for a few days in the easternmost town of Australia. We were lucky to get a few days of sun but the drizzle returned as we made our way to Coffs Harbour.  Finally, with some sun, we got to enjoy the beautiful coastline from Port Macquarie to Newcastle.

 

 

We enjoyed a tipple in the Hunter Valley before spending a week on the Central Coast, helping out a family with their household duties while Juz scored some work with a school holiday program in Gosford.

 

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Arriving in Sydney was a little surreal. It’s the biggest city in Australia and we spent a lot of time walking around the city getting exhausted. We also have a few friends in Sydney so it was great to catch up and spend time with them.

 

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We headed inland to the Blue Mountains and Central West just in time for a freakish cold front to sweep through the area. We had the pleasure of experiencing subzero temperatures and snow, as well as seeing the Dish in Parkes and exotic animals at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo.

 

 

With a few more friendly visits in Kiama and Milton, and a stop at the Big Merino in Goulburn, we finally visited our country’s capital. We called in at the War Memorial and National Mint and even saw our old travel buddies Tom and Bella.

 

 

Once we returned to the coast, the wet weather reappeared and we reached the Victorian border within a day or two. From then on, there was no point stuffing around – we were 4 hours from home.  On Sunday the 2nd of August, we rolled in unannounced and enjoyed a hot shower and warm bed.

 

Since our return to Melbourne, we’ve been busy.  We got jobs, reconnected with friends, and started making plans for the future.

 

We’re going to take a few weeks off to enjoy the silly season and spend time with our family and friends. We’ll see you all in the new year with more posts about the last leg of our lap around Australia, as well as our run down of Tassie later in the year.

 

Thanks for all your support,

 

Dave & Juz

 

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Explore : The Central Highlands

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Just below the Isaac Region is the Central Highlands of Queensland.  It’s a new region that was created in 2008 and encompasses Capella in the north, Duaringa in the east, Rolleston in the south and the Gemfields to the west.

 

We entered the Central Highlands from the north after spending the night at Lake Elphinstone.  We breezed through Capella, Rubyvale and Sapphire before arriving in Emerald to set up camp for the night.

 

Emerald

The capital of the Central Highlands, Emerald is a friendly town that was named after the lush green pastures that used to surround the town.  Established in 1879 as a base for the building of the western railway, it’s a clean and tidy town that services the surrounding coal mines and is also involved in agricultural activities such as growing cotton and sorghum.

 

The Visitor Information Centre is the best place to stop when you get to town – they will tell you what to see, where to stay the night, and even give you vouchers for a free coffee at the local bakery!  Near the info centre is The Big Easel – one of the most impressive Big Things we have come across.

 

We stayed in the free overnight area next to the botanic gardens.  There were picnic benches, a BBQ, power points and even a tap, but what were really special were the rainbow lorikeets.  Hundreds of them flocked around the gardens, chatting noisily, wrestling each other, and picking at scraps that were left behind by a mysterious old man with a long white beard that visits the park at night.  The overnight area was relatively quiet during the night, until about 5:30am when trains cross the overhead bridge.  This is good because then you don’t need to set your alarm to wake you up in the morning.

 

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Egerton Street is the main strip through town.  There are various art installations down the street, as well as pubs, cafes and at the eastern end, there’s a shopping centre with a major supermarket.  Nearby on the Capricorn Highway is the Old Railway Station that was built in 1900.  It has a beautiful façade with wrought iron lacework and is worth a look.

 

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Rubyvale & Sapphire

Rubyvale is a small country town with a scant population of around 500 people.  Fossicking is big in the area, but the biggest thing is the Big Miner outside Bobby Dazzler’s Sapphire Mine Tours.

 

Down the road is Sapphire, which is about the same size as Rubyvale, and as the name suggestions, you can find sapphires in the area.  Outside the roadhouse on the main road is the Big Pick, Shovel and Sieve, and we also passed a Big Sapphire and a Big Spanner.

 

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Capella

A small town that services the surrounding coal mines, it’s a great place to stop, have a picnic and walk through the war memorial park that runs alongside the railway line.  It touches on the story of the Australian Light Horse Emu Plume, which became a tradition amongst troopers in the area.

 

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Blackwater

Considered to be the coal mining capital of Australia, Blackwater is a small town with a few fast food outlets and a Lions Park with a martini glass shaped water tower and tired-looking display of 30-something tattered, international flags – we think we saw Italy, Hungary, Ireland, India or Mexico.  The coal mining museum is the main attraction in town, with a café, cinema, and an adjacent Japanese garden.

 

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Nearby is the Bedford Weir, a great place for people who like to fish.  Free camping for 7 days is available, with hot showers in the toilet cubicle, but it’s not recommended to swim in the water.

 

The turnoff for Blackdown Tableland is about 30 minutes east of Blackwater and if you enjoy camping, 4WDing and great views, then we recommended ducking in for the night.  To book a campsite, call 13 QGOV.

 

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Big Things of the Central Highlands

As we drove through the Central Highlands, we were anticipating the gemstone towns of Rubyvale, Sapphire and Emerald to be bright and sparkly.  While Emerald was absolutely lovely, the most exciting things about the other two towns were their big things.

 

The Big Miner sits out the front of Bobby Dazzler’s mine at Rubyvale, and was constructed in 1983. It had lost it’s hand a few times over the years so we were lucky enough to see it complete with all the bits.

 

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Built in 1999, the Big Pick, Shovel and Sieve is outside the Blue Gem Van Park in Sapphire and is of the newest big things in Australia.  Standing about 4 metres high, we were pleasantly surprised by the cool looking tribute to the towns mining heritage.

 

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In the area are also the Big Spanner and the Big Sapphire, and Emerald has the Big Easel.

 

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Big Things : The Big Easel, Emerald QLD

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The Big Easel is one of the most impressive Big Things we’ve come across.

 

Standing 25 metres high, it took 136 tonnes of steel to build and the painting itself weighs 4.5 tonnes.  It’s the largest painting in the southern hemisphere and depicts Vincent Van Gogh’s Sunflowers .  The attraction was unveiled in 1999 and is a celebration of the Central Highlands region as a major Australian producer of sunflowers.  It stands by the sporting ground next to the Emerald Visitor Information Centre.

 

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