There's a pilgrimage you need to do at least once in your life, and that is drive along the coast to where the sun shines most.
Far north Qld, far north WA and the west coast of Tassie are still on my To Do list. Otherwise I've been so lucky to have tripped around almost the entire coastline of Australia - some of it on a Greyhound bus, some in an off-road bus, a lot of it by car, and even a smidge by train. For this trip, my hubby, Rick, and I drove a carload of his son's stuff up to the Gold Coast where he'd not long shifted to. High on our list was exploring the region just north and south of Coolangatta/ Tweed Heads on the QLD/NSW border. What a treat it turned out to be!
You could say I'd had a little divine inspiration for photographing this trip (won't bore you with my kooky spooky details) but, with a particular creative idea in mind, I decided to experiment with what minimal equipment I took with me (and tried hard to stick to) the inspired brief of colour, colour, and colour - mostly (but not all) in a 1:1 format. I packed my mobile phone (Samsung Galaxy A51) a Nikon D5600 (cropped sensor) a 35mm prime lens, and a cheapie zoom (which I used once to photograph a setting full moon). That's it. No tripod, no fancy flashes, no filters, no second camera bodies. And I had an absolute ball.
This northern part of Australia (or southern Queensland) is semi-tropical and in late November, the weather is just starting to rev up for a balmy summer. Because it's been a major tourist holiday destination - (think surf, sand and warm weather) for many Aussies over decades, the region bursts forth with personality - colourful mid-century buildings, street art, bright clothing (think Hawaiian shirts, etc) and brighter bikes, skateboards and surfboards. Even the weathered salty surfers who know every inch of every wave break have wonderfully colourful personalities.
As an avid lover of mid-century modern architecture, I was equally on a mission to snap a few gems of the region, along with the hundreds of "Queenslander" homes (houses built up on stilts).
The Drive Up PT 1 - Geelong to Tuggerah Lake
The first leg of our trip from Geelong to Gorokan on Tuggerah Lake was a bit manic and took us 11 hours but worth the extra effort to spend the night next to the lake's edge.
To get there we cut straight across inland, via Sydney, along the Hume Hwy, rather than take the southern coastal highway, as we were keen to get to Coolangatta asap. Overall, the road was in reasonable nick and you could pretty much sit on 110kms for a good majority of it. (TIP: Drive up on a weekend when the road trains are fewer.) The road-toll motorways through Sydney were pretty good - If I can drive them anyone can!
The Drive Up Pt 2 - Gorokan to Tweed Heads
The second leg took us about 7 hrs. By the time we got to Tweed Heads I was well and truly over travelling but the push was worth it as our sweet little studio Airbnb nestled in Tweed Ultima Apartments had a magnificent pool with a view, just perfect for resting up in the late arvo sun.
Tweed Heads Region
Dinner was arranged for sunset at the Rainbow Bay Surf Club, overlooking Snapper Rocks, which must have one of the best views of a surf club anywhere in Australia (you need to book!) The food was textbook pub fare but the atmosphere was fun, breezy and a perfect way to finish the day.
The next day we pottered around the twin towns of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads. We can recommend the food and/or coffee from Bread Social, Bambi Deluxe, Little Mali, and Lam Kitchen Bar. North Kirra Beach SLSC also has a beachfront view and does a decent cheap parmi. If you're gluten free, vegan, or dairy-free, I still managed to find a few things on the menus around town but wasn't super easy.
Sometimes I'd find myself somewhere without my Nikon (insert eyeroll) but mostly I used the phone to keep people up to date with our travels on social media. (Because I exclusively shoot with my the Nikon in RAW mode I don't edit them until I get home where I then use Lightroom on my PC.) I was surprised, however, to get as many good shots as I did with the phone, as long as the light was bright enough, of course.
The Brunswick Heads Drive
Brunswick Heads is a pearl on the northern NSW coast, about 20kms or so north of Byron Bay and a 30min drive along the motorway from Tweed. It's well worth a daytrip - a great little colour-filled town of terrific cafes, coast, river, and one of the biggest and best outdoor seating areas in an iconic coastal pub. The colours are vivid, the architectural styles quirky, the shopping fabulous and the people happy. I absolutely adored the place!
A photographer's paradise, but more than that, a wonderful vibe for just hanging out and being yourself.
We highly recommend coming back slowly along Tweed Valley Way, through Murwillumbah. The lush green hills and views of Mt Warning are just stunning and the tiny townships along the way are the cutest.
We also popped into the touristy but lush (and well run) Tropical Fruit World, home to the Big Avocado.
If surfing's your thing, the locals recommend Coolangatta/Tweed Rainbow Bay Beach area, off Snapper Rocks, depending on wind and swell conditions. It's a long smooth wave and the longboarders flock to it. It can get busy though. Mick Fanning's neighbourhood.
A short drive down the coast is Cabarita Beach which is also a favoured surfing hotspot.
Brisbane, Brisvegas, Brissie
After three days in the border towns we headed about 90mins north to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, for a few days. I loved the diversity of the community, from the colourful (in more ways than one) Fortitude Valley, to the super pretty Southbank area.
Brissie Burbs - Mitchelton, Shorncliffe, Redcliffe
Brissie is always a vibrant place to visit but the burbs have their own vibes and personalities going on too. We supped at the local eateries of Mitchelton, kayaked at Shorncliffe, and hummed a few tunes meandering through Bee Gees Way (a tribute to the iconic band who grew up in the area) in Redcliffe.
Noosa Hinterland - Cooran, Pomona, Cooroy
About 1hr 45mins north of Brisbane is the stunning hinterland of Noosa. While most tourists head to the coastal hotspots on the Sunshine Coast, the rural towns dotted along the Bruce Hwy, are true gems. Our cute Airbnb in Cooran (a converted garage) came complete with a lush backdrop and a ton of wildlife.
Rick hiked to the top of Mt Cooroora - not for the fainthearted - with its almost sheer rockface trails. If you're feeling inspired to try it for yourself, go in July for the Pomona King of the Mountain Race. It took Rick around an hour to go and up and back but these guys do it in just over 30 mins. The phone pic below was taken by Rick to show me how steep it was.
This image below shows the visible white stripe up the mountain which is the walking track. That should give you an idea of its steepness. Apparently the view was breathtaking. I'll take Rick's word for it. Lol.
On the final morning in Cooran we opened the curtains to find this big wild beauty on the neighbouring roof. Its belly was fat and it wasn't too fazed by us curious onlookers. Thinking it might've been a carpet python.
The phone snaps below were all taken while wandering around (and eating, and sipping on hot choccies) the streets and spaces of Pomona, Cooran and Cooroy. Like Brunswick Heads, Pomona in particular was super sweet, fun, and vibrant for a small rural town.
Sunshine Coast to Gold Coast
Leaving the Sunshine Coast hinterland, we detoured via Boreen Point, Lake Cootharaba, then on to Noosa Heads for breakfast at a little gem of a place, Moonstruck. After a dip in the ocean, we wandered back through Eumundi (best to go on the day of the markets) before finally arriving at Bilinga, on the Gold Coast, for the final night of our holiday.
Noosa River (below), clear waters, and a gorgeous main beach at Noosa Heads.
The colourful streets (below) of Eumundi.
The Long Drive Home - Bilinga to Mittagong
Up at 4am to grab a pretty special sunrise, we reluctantly left sunny Gold Coast to head back down the coastal motorway, through Sydney, to Mittagong for an overnight pitstop.
The Long Drive Home - Bowral to Geelong
A couple of minutes down the road at Bowral in the Southern Highlands, is the Don Bradman Oval. If you're a cricketing fan, you'd salivate at the pristine grounds - one of the best you'll ever see in Australia. We were too early to look through the museum, but not too early for a walk across the crispy frosted lawn and a salute to one of the greatest cricketers who ever played the game.
Ten hours later and a few quick coffee stops in Yass and Tuncurry, with lunch in Albury, we were back in Geelong. While it's always a relief to sleep in your own bed, this was one trip which was over way too soon. Ten days of road-trippin' fun.
(Phone pics of the return trip below)
In the blink of an eye this adventure was over, but something was born inside of me and, I dare say, life will never be the same for this photographer. I discovered a real authentic and creative voice which had obviously been longing to express itself. I hope I can do the inspiration justice for future trips, but look forward to sharing them with you no matter the creative outcome.
Long live colour and the good vibes it brings! And long live the iconic road trip, may it never die!