The next morning we parted ways with Mike and Kathleen. We felt our clock ticking, since we were to fly back to the US April 15th. We had emails from our yacht broker(s) indicating some interest in the boat, which stirred the pot of our mixed emotions. Being out on the road so completely away from the boat had really helped us gain a little distance, but it was getting time to tie up some final loose ends.
We had a great drive northeast out of Greenfell through Eugowra, Molong, Wellington, Dulon and Merriwa. We tried to stop for the night at Merriwa Caravan Park, a tidy little curve of park right in town on the edge of a river, but the weather became abruptly gusty and flattened the tent before we could finish pitching it! A look over our shoulder revealed ominous clouds building, so we packed the tent back up and waited a half hour for the park’s attendant to arrive to see if the park’s one cabin was available. Incredibly, despite there being no one else in this park, the cabin was booked for that night! Bugger!
Back in the car we pushed on. We were now re-entering foothills of the Great Dividing Range. Our intention was to drive north back to Queensland via the New England Highway that we had earlier crossed at Glen Innes going and coming from the Mann River camp, and maybe the next day detour to the coast via the scenic Waterfall Way.
As the day grew late, the rain began. The entrancingly-named town of Scone offered on the map a caravan park with cabins. Unlike most we had stopped in, it proved to be a very close-quartered kind of place, but they had a cabin we could back the Grey Nomad right up to unload all our stuff – food, bedding and clothes! Talk about nick of time! The rain came down in torrents. Sooooo glad we’d discovered the caravan cabin option
The next day the rain on our side of the Dividing Range ended, but the skies remained cloudy. The morning news was reporting heavy rains producing very serious flooding on the coast dashing our hope to cross the mountains by way of the steep and twisty but much-hyped Waterfall Way. So, instead, we drove all day the next day through beautifully hilly country with lots of horse farms on the aptly named New England Highway. Strangely, the fall colors of New England we anticipated for this time of year were confined only to the towns where non-native species like maples and poplars had been planted.
We stopped for the next night in Tenterfield, birth place of singer Peter Allen – famous in the late 70s and early 80s, particularly for the song “I Go to Rio”, “The More I See You,” “Bi-Coastal” and “Tenterfield Saddler.” Tenterfield was just south of the Queensland border and almost due east of our first overnight stop near Texas. On our own, we were too lazy to set up camp so opted for another caravan cabin.
The next day we carried on northeastward, rejoining our outbound track at Warwick, back over the glorious Cunningham Gap, and back through the golden horse country southeast of Brisbane. At Ipswich, however we bore off north to pass along the shores of Lakes Wivenhoe and Somerset, vast catchment basins supplying water to Brisbane and the Suncoast. As we drove past in hot sun, the water level was way low. In just a few weeks it would be overflowing!
To end out our trip, we wanted to spend a few nights camping in Mooloolaba. Every morning from November to January that we had walked out from the Wharf Marina to do our daily 6-10k beach walk, we had passed the little campground on the beach, and it just seemed right to end there. We also wanted the chance for a last goodbye to many friends.
It was hot and sunny as we pulled into the Mooloolaba Caravan Park, and, as it was mid-week we were able to get a site at the back right behind the beach boardwalk. The price, however, was about double what we’d been paying, and the site itself was packed dirt, with tree roots threaded through!
However, the beach was right there. We could hear the surf. We set up the tent and nipped out the back gate with our books and beach towels.
It was a perfect beach afternoon: clear, with a light breeze, and mild. We spent quite a bit of time in the water, although the waves were too big and dumping for us for body surfing. It didn’t matter. We just enjoyed swimming and then lying in the sun and soaking up a view – from the Moololaba entry channel to our right, right up the beach past Alexandra Headland to Maroochydore – that over the previous months we had truly come to feel was home.
That evening we had a grand reunion/farewell with our Aussie-based best friends, Tricky and Jane of Lionheart, now based at the Mooloolaba Yacht Club and Randy and Sheri of Procyon, just back from their cruise to Tasmania. It was a lively evening! The girls alone knocked back two bottles of bubbly! Dinner was the carvery roast beef at the Surf Club overlooking the beach, and the night went late with good food, good drink and good friends.
Later…..it poured. The heavens burst, the wind blew and the mud ran. Fortunately, we had put one of our spare tarps over the top of the tent, so there were no leaks, but the tide of muddy water was rising. Surely, it would pass, yes? Every time we went in and out of the tent we tracked in puddles of muddy water. Don and I hid out much of the afternoon at the movie theater in Maroochydore. In the evening we huddled in the cozy salon aboard Otama Song for a second farewell dinner with our friends since Tonga Peter and Sandy. But the wind continued to blow and the rain rained on.
And on. The next morning we gave up. We took advantage of a pause in the squalls and struck the wet tent, bundling the sodden mess into the trunk of the car, and drove back to the boat in Scarborough Marina. It was an anticlimactic return in some ways, while, of course in others it seemed like mighty good timing.
The boat had done fine in our absence, riding very high in the water having been emptied of so much of our stuff. The inside was very clean, but also felt impersonal with most of our remaining personal belongings moved off to a storage locker. It was very nice to have a guaranteed dry bed, one from which we didn’t have to get up from ground level, and a private, flushing head only two steps away. But the camping trip had done its secondary job, we were beginning to disassociate, beginning to move on.
It took us days to get all the mud rinsed from our gear and to get the tent dried and stowed.