The Blonde Runs

Colorado lovin'

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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Canberra & Sydney


We didn’t have too many plans around Canberra. It’s not a lively coastal town with beaches a-plenty and heaps of water activities in which to partake. It’s small. It’s government. It’s all business. Or mostly. There are museums and theatres and markets and such. Even Australians aren’t excited about Canberra. But, we took them to Parliament House so they could read all about Commonwealth countries. We took them to Red Hill, with a sweeping view of Canberra. Also good for many of my roo photos, if you happen to follow me on IG. We took them to some local eateries. We took them to Target (which has no affiliation to the Target in the US, by the way), so they could see that they really are completely different. But we mainly just relaxed for those two days.

Parliament House

So, on the 12th, we drove back up to Sydney and gave them a little tour. But I made sure we stopped at a Big Thing about an hour from Canberra. I had not forgotten about them!

The Big Merino (you should see his back side)

And once finally in Sydney, we started on the north side with a drive though Manly and the Sydney Harbour National Park so they could see views on the opposite side.

Opera House

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The City

Some kookaburra’s joined us in the park.

We happen to be in town during the Australian Open and saw some famous people.

These folks are always out bustering with their didgeridoo’s and selling boomerangs.

And for the night shots. I have definitely fallen in love with Sydney…

The Opera House

The Sydney Harbour Bridge

The City

In Hyde Park, an ANZAC memorial with reflection pool.

We also paid a visit to the Sydney Olympic Park, hoping to see the rings, as you can in some of the other Olympic parks we’ve visited. No go. They are rusting away in a metal yard somewhere. Seriously.



A lovely way to end our two weeks with Tia and Jason. They departed late afternoon on the 13th and Nick and I headed back to Canberra for a sleep or two.


Nick and I still weren’t certain if we would stay in Canberra for the remainder of our holiday or not. Would we regret sitting around the rest of the week when we could be going somewhere new? What was reasonable to do in just a few days? How far would/should we go?

11 January to 14 January

This Stretch- ~606km/376m
Total- ~5544km/3444m

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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Sunshine, Gold, and Byron


We woke up on the 7th and leisurely made our way to breakky (breakfast) into the little area of the Sunshine Coast we had stayed in, Maroochydore (just an hour and a half north of Brisbane). After a busy two days of driving and day tour, we were ready to slow down a bit, settle in for a couple of days somewhere, and just take our time doing…whatever.

While we had to do a few “technical” things while driving through Brisbane, like return the rental, coordinate getting our car back from some friends’ parents who let us leave it at their house for safe keeping, we did do a few touristy things.

The friend’s sister (of the parents whom we left our car with) has a bar in Brisbane down an alley. It’s not that weird here, I promise.


We also took them by the colorful Brisbane sign, near the ferris wheel, and on the quick ferry up the river.


We ended that day another hour and a half south, in Ocean Shores, near the Gold Coast and just about 20 minutes north of Byron Bay. Remember how once upon a time I said that Byron Bay was super busy and like the Vail of surf towns? And remember how I said that “we” didn’t want to overplan anything, but just see where we ended up each day or two? Yeah, that’s why we stayed 20 minutes away. And it actually wasn’t that bad!

When we had checked into our budget hotel, I did some scouring of surf lessons in Byron Bay, for Tia and Jason, the next day, and booked them in for a half day lesson. Nick and I have already surfed, so while we would have loved to have another go, we didn’t feel the strongest need take part. We had some brekky and decided to follow them and just take photos.





We think they had a lot of fun and are hoping it was one of their favorite days!

That afternoon we spent the day wandering around Byron Bay. Although it’s extremely touristy, there is a lot to see and do there, with plenty of shops, restaurants, cafes, and bars. We even met up with some friends we know from Canberra who happened to be driving a very similar route to us. They had started a few days prior, in December, and we always seemed to be a few days behind them.

On the 9th, we drove nearly 5 hours to Cresent Head for lunch and relaxing on the beach.



Another hour south, and we were back in Port Macquarie for a quick dinner and sleep.

It was here that we had to make a decision about where to do next. We could either head down to Canberra (7 hours), spend a day or two, and show Tia and Jason where we live, then head up to Sydney a day before their departure so they could take in that city; OR we could stop in Sydney and remain there until the departure flight on the 13th. Nick and I didn’t mind one way or the other, but they wanted to see where we lived, so we spent all of the 10th in the car driving to Canberra. We made it home in time to stop by the markets for some dinner ingredients.

7 January to 10 January
This Stretch- ~1516km/942m-I am including all of the back and forth between Ocean Shores, Byron Bay, and Lennox Head, as it is significant enough.
Total- ~4938km/3068m

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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: The Long Trek and Fraser Island


The rain was sufficiently upon us, and not planning to let up. That, and the fact that all the locals kept telling us there wasn’t much to see between here and Rainbow Beach anyway (a huge stretch). It all led us in making the big decision to call this day a wash. Not much to do when it’s raining, so we may as well take one full day to drive as far as we can toward the next destination. With one little sidetrip…

We left early on the 5th and drove half a day down the coast. Everyone was right. There wasn’t much to see. The main road we were on, the A1, veers inland anyway, so there wasn’t even a coastline to ogle over.

Around midday (noon), we stopped at Cooberrie Park Wildlife Sanctuary. We wanted Tia and Jason to have the chance to get up close and personal with kangaroo and the like.

Don’t mind all the kangaroo photos. I freaking love kangaroo.



Busted. Photo of me taking a photo of a baby kangaroo.



Baby Wallaby


Emu (and tons of other birds that I won’t bore you with)

A big reptile


After I had my Tia and Jason had their kangaroo fix, we were set to continue our long haul down the coast. Thankfully, we were halfway there. But exhausted by the time we arrived late to Rainbow Beach. Why driving/riding in a car all day makes you worn out, I’ll never know, but we went to bed “straight away” (right away); at least as best we could in that noisy hostel. 🙂

On the morning of the 6th, Nick and I had a full day toured planned for Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. We had been working on booking that the previous day, as we were on the road for 15+ hours (with stops). Nick had been to Fraser Island about 13 years ago (along with many of the other places we had been traveling) and this was on his list of places to go this time around.

The first photo below was our tour bus for the day. High profile and 4WD to manage any waves, sand, etc., along the way. The island is 4WD specific and permits are mandatory for all drivers. After a few pickups, we headed off the mainland via the Inskip Peninsula (with the “su” pronounced like “shoe” here in Oz). Clearly, based on the 2nd photo, this is seemingly informal without much pomp and circumstance boarding the ferry to Fraser.



There is presumably a large shark population in the water between the mainland and Fraser Island. Though the waves are sure to lure many a surfer, our tour driver said his brother-in-law refuses to surf there after an experience with a shark; and I can’t say I saw anyone attempting, so perhaps everyone knows better than to even bother.

Once there, we started traveling the main beach, 75 Mile Beach, which due to high tide proved to be a bit tricky so we went inland, and drove through the rainforest. Along the beach, we were keeping a sharp lookout for dingo, as there is a huge population of the wild dogs on this island. Sadly, we didn’t see any on our tour.

It is such a contrast to see the lush, dense forest environment on a sand island. At one point, we stopped for a rainforest walk along the Wanggoolba Creek and found some decent sized trees and various other flora.




And the Wanggoolba creek itself makes you take a second glance. It appears to be murky, but it is actually crystal clear with a sand bottom. The water is also so pure, you are allowed to drink from it, and fill water bottles.



Lake MacKenzie. A freshwater lake, and one of the cleanest in the world. The beach sand is nearly pure silica.


The Maheno Shipwreck. Sold to Japan for scrap in 1935, a storm came up, snapped the tow chain, and the Maheno drifted off the Fraser, later to be used for target practice by ANZAC’s. Now, mostly buried under the sand, but quite a sight, nonetheless.


75 Mile Beach. This is the “highway” on Fraser that can be quite busy at low tide. Probably my awesome dance moves here. The top pic of the post is also 75 Mile Beach.


After the tour, we met back up with Tia and Jason, and rounded out the day with another hour drive south to the Sunshine Coast.

5 January to 6 January
This Stretch – ~1193km/741m
Total – ~3422km/2126m

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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: The Whitsundays


It had rained through the night in Townsville, and was still carrying on a bit when we left for Airlie Beach. With only about 3 hours until our destination, we took our time, hoping the rain would continue to taper. Nick and I had done our research, and were following the forecast, knowing full well we’d be in for some showers off and on throughout this trip…it is the summer in the Queensland rainforest. And thanks, Humidity, for joining us as well!

Once we arrived in Airlie Beach, we found our accommodation, where we’d be bunking for 2 nights, (hostel) and walked the town. The rain had stopped and we could enjoy some overcast skies that created some striking green/blue hues in the water.



Airlie Beach is considered the Gateway to the Whitsundays, a stunning 74 island archipelago, boasting secluded and unspoiled beaches, but also resorts and mini-towns, if you go to the right island.

On our walk in town that first day, we booked in for a full day tour of the Whitsundays. We’d first visit the world famous Whitehaven Beach and then move along to Langford Reef for snorkeling. I was so excited for this tour and it was one of the few things that I insisted we do while on holiday. As much as I am a Colorado/mountain girl, I simply love traversing between islands on a boat or ferry. Always stunning and magnificent.


After an hour or two and some some morning tea, we anchored near one of the world’s most famous beaches: Whitehaven Beach
(also the top photo)


This is also considered “stinger season”, and if you intend to go into the water, a full, albeit thin, body suit is strongly recommended to protect against Box Jellies and Irukandji Jellies. Both can be deadly, so it’s either the stinger suit, or staying in the netted area, if the beach has one. Whitehaven is too pretty to have a netted area.

Whitehaven is also too pretty to have any activities. So, visiting the beach consists of walking/relaxing on the pristine white silica sand that stretches 7km one way, taking a bush walk, and swatting the march flies, which seem to be constantly swarming. You can also beach camp here, if you go through the appropriate channels. But, the combination of white sand and clear, turquoise water make this setting truly beautiful, even if only soaking it all in for a short time.


Just a couple of hours is all that’s really needed on Whitehaven. The tour took us around and between some other smaller islands and brought us to Langford Reef, a sand and coral spit, still considered to be in the Great Barrier Reef. The water was a bit choppy, but we snorkeled and saw even more amazing underwater wildlife. This was certainly a tour I was anxious to take, as seeing Whitehaven and the Whitsundays had been on my dream list since arriving in Australia. I’d say the day was well spent.


That evening we relaxed, reminisced about the day, and plotted our next stretch of highway, as another storm was rolling into the beach town.

2 January to 5 January
This Stretch- ~275km/170m
Total- ~2229km/1385m

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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef


The four of us took an early flight from Brisbane to Cairns on 31 December, arriving with plenty of time in hot, humid Cairns to check into our Airbnb and explore the area a bit.

I’m not going to lie. I’m actually going to get it out there right away and say that Cairns is not what I expected. Knowing it as the “Gateway to the Great Barrier Reef,” I anticipated the massive, beautiful, golden beaches that are a dime a dozen along the Australian coastline. Not here. You get a not-so-lovely low tide (which seems to be ever present), with a non existent beach, all of which is often crocodile infested (watch the signs that are everywhere!). Thus the need to create a man-made lagoon on the esplanade, for safety and a beach-feel. But, to get back to the “real” beaches, you have to trek another 15-20 minutes north. I assume Cairns is so popular not for the beach-going, but for the its’ proximity to the reef, as it is the city with the easiest access point. However, Cairns surrounds are beautiful! With the lush rainforests, hills, etc., what you don’t get in the beach views, you do get elsewhere!

Based on our timeframe in Cairns, we decided to head north to Port Douglas and Mossman Gorge that very day. Port Douglas is about an hour north of Cairns, and as the road hugs the coast, the views aren’t too shabby.


We spent a little bit of time walking around the town of Port Douglas, with it’s quaint shops, cafes, etc., and we drove around to find some good lookouts. This view is back toward Cairns.


And then we took a little tour out to Mossman Gorge. The Daintree Rainforest is the oldest surviving rainforest, and in the gorge you can take a dip in the crystal clear swimming holes, hike, and watch for carrowary and other unique fauna.



That night, we enjoyed a few fireworks over the ocean, and said goodbye to 2014, my favorite year yet!

The start of the new year was fairly relaxing. Because we hadn’t made any prior bookings for day trips, Nick and I spent the morning finalizing some options out to the Great Barrier Reef. We found some availability for a snorkel tour the next day and booked in for the 4 of us. The rest of the day was spent north of Cairns in Palm Cove and Trinity Beach. I really liked this area, despite the ropped/netted off swimming area to “keep out” crocs and stingers.  Or maybe I really liked this area, because of that ropped/netted off area…


Nick and I had originally considered doing a dive trip in the GBR, as we were recently certified (cue a new post about that experience), but we didn’t want to leave Tia and Jason. So, we headed out to Green Island, one of the closest GBR locations from the mainland. Despite being on the edge of the reef, we saw some gorgeous underwater habitats and unbelievable wildlife. All the colors, all the fish, all the coral. So much to see. Sadly, I have not uploaded all of our GoPro photos onto my lappy, so you’ll just have to take my word for it. I would love to return for a dive trip, but be a bit farther into the reef.



Before leaving Cairns, I wanted to see the Cairns contribution to “big things” in Australia. While none of the websites tell you exactly where each thing is, I thought I had a general idea. That is, until we started driving around, and I had no general idea at all. After checking many sites, many maps, making many wrong turns, and circling around many areas (over and over), I was ready to give up and just start our trip out of town. But by now, Nick was mostly invested, as he was driving, so he made sure we found it…in a shopping mall carpark (parking lot).

The Big Marlin

After this accomplishment, we began to make our way south, along the coast. While our final destination for the night was Townsville (hostel), we made a few stops along the way. One was Josephine Falls, and the other was Paronella Park.

It had started to rain on our way out of Cairns, and by the time we made it to Josephine Falls, which was a last minute decision anyway, it was coming down in sheets. That didn’t stop us from making the short trek out to the baby falls.


Paronella Park was an oddity, all on its own. Who would expect a massive 1930’s castle/hydro electric plant set in the middle of the dense Queensland rainforest…? It it beautiful, and exotic, and yet looks out of place.



The landscape in this area is certainly a nice change from the bush I see daily in Canberra, and the mountains of Colorado…



All the banana farms.


31 December to 2 January
This Stretch – ~591km/367m (Not including the flight in the mileage)
Total – ~1954km/1214m

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Keep in mind that this map shows where we went from arriving in Cairns to when we left. It does not include the out and back to Trinity Beach/Palm Cove. That is figured into the total above.

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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Brisbane, Brissie, Brisvegas?


Nick and I arrived in Brisbane, late on 28 December, coming up from the Gold Coast. We had plans to meet up with some friends who happened to be in town visiting family for the holidays, and they were kind enough to let us stay with their family for a couple of nights on a lasts minutes notice (better then doing all the hostel research, trust me). Gordon and Laura are our Aussie “counterparts,” so to speak, in that Gordon and Nick were the two involved in the work transfer which landed us in Australia, and them in America. It was nice to see some familiar faces as they gave us the grand tour of Brisbane over the next day or so, complete with a riverside picnic…


A visit to the Buffalo Bar, an American-themed bar which offers a mish-mash of fare including Stromboli, a Clam Bake, Wings any which way, Duck and Waffles, Steak, and Hoagies. Totally random. A little bit of this and that. But, it also offers a variety of whiskey US “craft” beers (Coors, Sierra Nevada, Rogue, Big Sky, Founders, and a few others I had never heard of). It was nice to taste a little bit of home in a glass. While I understand that everything is relative, the beer in Australia is different that what we are used to in the States (as is the wine, but that’s for a different post), and I know Nick, in particular, has missed the beer culture in Fort Collins, Colorado, and surrounds.


While I’m still not quite sure why Brisbane is sometimes referred to as “BrisVegas,” and most of my research confirms that no one else really knows why either, I can assure you it is nothing like Las Vegas! So, don’t be fooled. Perhaps just a tongue-and-cheek nickname, as we sometimes give to our American cities (i.e. Chi-town or Bean Town).


The morning of the 30th, I was fortunate enough to be able to run with Tyra, who is part of the Oiselle Running Team. After following her on IG, then finding out we would be moving to Australia, I was determined to find a way to meet our one Aussie teammate, despite the fact she lived 1200km away. It was such a pleasure to chat with Tyra, who made pushing the pram with her little one along the river look effortless. I don’t know how those mama’s do it! This beautiful route gave us a stunning view of the city.


Later that day, we picked up Tia and Jason (Nick’s siblings) from the airport and we readied ourselves for the next part of the trip: flying to Cairns (pronounced CANS) and heading back south. We stayed at a serviced apartment close to the airport on the night of the 30th.


28 December to 31 December
This Stretch – Around Brisbane – Airport, beach, city, etc…but I’m not including that in the overall mileage, because that might be too nit-picky.
Total – ~1370km/851m

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Aussie East Coast Road Trip: Central Coast to Gold Coast


When we left Bondi, we knew we needed to be in Brisbane by the 29th, since Nick’s siblings would be flying in on the morning of the 30th. So between the 26th and the 29th, we had no agenda. Panic mode commences. Just kidding. I was fine.

We knew we wanted to drive through Newcastle, the largest coal exporting harbour in the world. It’s about 2.5 hours north of Sydney. But I swear it took us nearly 2x as long because of an accident that shut down the main motorway, the M1, just as we were leaving. I blame my poor average navigation skills for not being able to get us around it. Regardless, we made it down to the Esplanade for a late lunch on the waterfront.


Wanting to be a bit farther north, we continued on another couple of hours to Port Macquarie (pronounced Muh-qwor-ee). During the drive, I called around for accommodation and found a decent hostel through the Hostelworld app. Yes, there were times during the trip that we thought we are too old for hostels. No, we didn’t want to spend heaps (a lot) of money on accommodation during a month-long trip. Yes, we actually had some decent spots. No, we didn’t always stay at them. Yes, we have some great stories from those experiences where we did. 🙂

We got in late enough to not be able to see or do too much in town, so we had a really nice dinner (I guess this is where we make up the difference spent on cheap accommodation) and called it a day. In the morning, we headed out early, but not before stopping by the river, where dolphins are rumoured to play in the morning hours (no dice).

Port Macquarie is also know for its’ koala population and is home to a koala park and koala hospital. And to celebrate the iconic animal, a sculpture track was created to display 50 uniquely hand-painted koalas in and around the city as the Hello Koala Sculpture Trail. They are about 1 meter/3 feet tall.


I should mention, that it had started raining overnight, with a consistent drizzle, so there wasn’t much point in trying to really “do” anything, except keep moving. We had been keeping an eye on the forecast and knew we’d be running into rain during our trip (it is rainy season and we were heading north toward rainforest…), so we figured we would just knock some kilometers out of the way, if the weather wasn’t really cooperating for sunny, beachy activities.

We did stop briefly in Crescent Head, as we were considering a place to stay here on the way back down with Nick’s brother and sister. It was here that we started likening coastal towns to mountain towns. Since that’s easiest for us to make a connection with. And if you are familiar with Colorado mountain towns, we suggested Crescent Head was the Crested Butte of surf towns. Small, raw, and not quite yet overrun with money and people-at least not that you can see overtly.


Between here and Coffs Harbour, I had a little bit of time to do some research on Big Things Australia. It’s really just a collection of over 150 very large “things” spread out all over the country. Tourist attractions. Kind of like the Big Ball of Yarn, the Corn Palace, and The Green Giant, among hundreds of others, in the States. I’m sort of a sucker for those types of things (I guess anything “shiny” to keep me distracted and occupied on long road trips), and I wanted to see a few in Australia. As long as they were not out of the way, and mostly in our path of direction. Mostly. We really lucked out with a few and were able to pass right by them with very little stopping time.

The Big Banana – Coffs Harbour

And after seeing that monstrosity, I had to see more!

The Big Prawn – Ballina

There are multiple websites housing various pieces of information about some, but not all of them. So, over the course of the trip, it became a bit frustrating for me trying to piece them all together on the route we were taking. I have very little patience for poor web design on important sites, so toggling back and forth between several poorly designed sites made my interest fizzle a bit. And yes, I do consider the Big Things Australia sites to be be “important.” But not to worry, there are several more big things I will reference in subsequent posts!

After that nice little distraction, we made it to Byron Bay. The Vail of Ski Towns. This lovely town is full of shops, people, restaurants, bars, cafes, people, money, and such, with pretty much just one very busy and often backed up road in and out. It’s a great place! And being such a great place means you have to book accommodation early during the summer months, or be willing to pay a steep price. Which we weren’t. Which meant we stayed out of town. Which was fine.

Byron Bay

We stayed about 20 minutes inland at a hotel in cute little Lismore, where we were treated to a twilight show of thousands of massive (large) bats flying overhead. Nick and I first noticed some movement outside when we were listening captive to a Serial episode. Probably the one about the cell phone tower pings. Or the Nisha call. Or maybe they were both in the same episode. Anyway, we mistook the dark shadows for birds. But at a closer look, and finally moving outside to watch, we knew it had to be bats; based on the shape of the wings, and that these shadows were moving so silently and erratically. Literally, thousands flying over the hotel. Thousands. It was awesome and disgusting all at the same time. Our hosts confirmed our theories in the morning when we checked out. Apparently, they cause the farmers a lot of frustration. While I didn’t get a picture of them, I did get a picture of this guy the following morning, right outside our door:


From Lismore, we drove through the Gold Coast (see top pic), seeing cities like Miami and Surfers Paradise, and finally into Brisbane. Here, we’d be staying with some friends, seeing the sights, and picking up Tia and Jason (Nick’s sibs) from the airport.

26 December to 28 December
This stretch – Bondi Beach to Brisbane ~1077 km/669m
Total – ~1370km/851m

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