On Low Stress Holidays

I spend a lot of my time entertaining silly ideas, and this last one was one of my silliest.

There’s a company that does campervan relocations. You get a free campervan, if you’re willing to drive it where the company wants it driven, and if you’re flexible so you can hit the dates they require.

I’d been thinking about a holiday somewhere warm over the July school holidays, so when I looked on the website my first hope was a trip from Melbourne across the Nullarbor, up the west coast and ending in Broome.

Nothing available, so I briefly entertained a four day jaunt from Hobart to Melbourne, ferry transport included. I realised that sleeping in a van in Tasmanian winter would be uncomfortable at best.

Option three was a five day trip from Cairns to Brisbane, 19 hours of drive time along a stretch of coast I’ve never seen. I’ve done the Melbourne to Sydney jaunt at least thirty times over the last ten years, headed up to Brisbane ten times, gone so far as the Sunshine Coast, but never driven any higher up the coast. The company was also offering $250 in petrol vouchers which sweetened the deal, so I booked it in, and booked myself a flights from Melbourne to Cairns and a return from Brisbane to Melbourne.

At this point I had no itinerary in mind and I was in the middle of a Gusto tour that was sapping all my admin head space.

I outsourced the trip planning to ChatGPT.

‘Give me a five day itinerary for a road trip from Cairns to Brisbane’

It spits out a bunch of text.

‘Include a day in the Daintree’

Cue more text.

‘Add in free camping spots for each night’

Cue more text.

‘And maybe some nice swimming holes or beaches?’

At this point the itinerary was looking pretty sweet. I think. I hadn’t actually looked any of the places up, but I trust the internet.

One small niggling issue was it had spaced the driving so I was doing a casual hour a day, and then the last day I was doing 12 hours to make up the time.

‘Space the driving more equally’

Now for some reason it was giving me a six day itinerary.

‘This is six days, can you make it five again?’

ChatGPT spits out the exact same itinerary again.

‘That still says DAY 6, can you condense it to five days?’

Cue more text, still with six days worth of activities.

‘OK, thanks’

I save the wall of text to my phone and start packing for the flight.

I land in beautiful 26 degree Cairns. It’s warm and sticky outside, a blessed change from Melbourne’s five degrees when I boarded my six am flight. I pick up the campervan for the 19 hour drive to Brisbane and immediately head the wrong direction.

I drive an hour north, stop at Palm Cove and have a swim. The water isn’t actually as warm as I was hoping it would be, but its delightful outside. I get a cheese kransky from a food truck and drive north another hour and a half towards the Daintree Rainforest.

ChatGPT gave me the name of a cheap camp-site, which I hadn’t actually bothered to look up, assuming I’d have time on the road. By the time I decided to look it up, I was already on a ferry crossing the Daintree River and my reception had run out. Whoops. No harm done, I’ll stumble across somewhere to stay right? I drive off the ferry and into the Rainforest. I stop at a ‘Discovery Centre’ and spend a little time walking along a tree top board walk. I buy an overpriced muffin and look at the map on the wall.

Turns out the accommodation I’m looking for is back on the other side of the river, but all of the interesting stuff is on this side. I’m loathe to spend another $27 on the ferry and then return the next day, so I decide to press on into the Rainforest. It’s 5.30 pm and the sun is going down when I stumble upon a sign that says ‘last fuel and camping available here’. This feels like a sign from the universe, I ask the lady at reception if she has space for me.

‘You’re in luck, literally one spot left.’ She points me out the door towards a completely empty field. ‘Anywhere along there is fine,’ and she charges me $47. I eat a tuna sandwich and get in bed. It’s six pm. I fall asleep.

This sets up a beautiful routine for the rest of the week. Cause I’m on my own and really interested in disengaging from everything, I find myself in bed by seven at the latest all week. I read four books in the week, scattered through the evening hours. That first night I woke up at nine pm and read for a couple of hours before falling back asleep. One night I read solidly from midnight to four am, finishing Lorrie Moore’s brilliant collection of short stories Birds of America and getting most of the way through Jerry Pinto’s The Education of Yuri.

When I need a break from reading I do a little writing, tucked into the back of the campervan with curtains down and laptop screen glowing in the darkness. It’s bad for my back but great for my creativity. I write first drafts of a couple of short stories, I write out an outline for the rest of the year, I write this piece.

After the Daintree I head south. I’m now 22 hours away from where I’m meant to be, with only four days to cover the distance. The first day I do a wild dash, eight hours straight with stops at Port Douglas for a swim, Cairns for a coffee, Townsville for an op-shop and then find myself a berth at the Vincent ‘Bushy Parker’ Park. At this stage it starts to rain, a really heavy downpour that drenches the eight hours of sugar cane I drive through.

I keep myself entertained by listening to The National, Boygenius, The Tallest Man on Earth, Boogie Belgique. With each new album I listen to, I dream up a new project I’d like to start. By the end of that first long drive I want a rock band, a folk supergroup, a downtempo dance music project. I’m good at thinking up ideas, all I need is more time!

The next day is a brutal nine hour drive to Mackay, past a couple of army bases. I’m a little worried by the signs on the freeway saying ‘Slow Moving Vehicles Carrying Explosives’, particularly when the traffic on the freeway completely stops for an hour. A line of truckers and grey nomads all get out of their vehicles and stand in the rain staring down the road.

When traffic finally starts moving there’s a camouflaged truck tipped onto its side. I speed past with the hope this isn’t one of the explosive ones.

I stop at Airlie Beach for a swim but its positively bucketing down at this point, so I eat a tuna sandwich in the back of the van and watch the sea for a bit through the back window. Therapeutic.

I stay overnight at a caravan site with warm showers. Delightful, except they’re attached to a button on the wall that gives you two minutes of water, then makes you wait five minutes before you can press it again. Diabolical. There’s no warning the water is about to stop, no slow to a trickle, just instantaneous cut off. I stand soapy in the cold for five minutes, feeling clean but disappointed.

The last day is a short one. I’ve managed to make up all the time so I only have two hours of driving left to do. My Brisbane flight home is at 1, delayed to 2, delayed to 3.30. The weather has completely turned and it’s a beautiful 27 and sunny again.  I stop for a little morning swim on the Sunshine Coast, buy some cute earrings at an op-shop, eat the last of my Weetbix and drop the campervan off. I’m feeling inspired and energised and ready to get back to it. Would I do it again? Probably, but I would I give myself a little more time to explore.

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