OUR TRAVEL: 22 days on site: 2 to 24 January 2020
WHERE ? Australian East Coast from Sydney to Port Douglas
TIME ZONE: +10h in winter, +8h in summer (NSW) and +9h/+8h (QLD)
CURRENCY: Australian Dollar (AUD): €1 = AUD1.6 in January 2020.
TEL/INTERNET: Internet in hotels, restaurants, etc. You can also opt for the Free package at €19.99/month to have 25GB of data during your stay
CURRENT: Type I, two pronged plugs, provide an adapter and a power strip
CAR RENTAL: Standard rental companies are available. Bring your international license just in case, not all agencies ask for it. Remember to ask them to create an electronic toll account, which will allow you to save a few dollars on your journey. You also have the choice of renting a converted van(Jucy, Britz, Apollo) to get around as you please!
WHY GO THERE? For the great surfing beaches, the thousand year old Daintree Rainforest, the Great Barrier Reef
Stage 1: New South Wales - Sydney to Brisbane
Newcastle (160km - 2h15 - 2 nights)
When we arrived on this island-continent, it had already been several weeks since fires of an unprecedented magnitude ravaged the forests of New South Wales, the state hardest hit. They are among the oldest in the world but unfortunately we will not have the chance to discover them because the national and regional parks are all closed due to the circumstances. So we have to leave behind the trails of the Blue Mountains north of Sydney.
After a last half day on the streets of Sydney, we headed for Newcastle. Our hotel, theIbis Newcastle, is slightly outside the city but the distances are still reasonable: the centre is less than 20 min walking distance and the beach 35 min.
For our first dinner, we follow the hotel's advice and go to Darby St, one of the two main streets. Without knowing it, we select one of the best restaurants: Wil&Sons, just what we needed to start this trip!
The next day is devoted to discovering the city. We put the swimming costumes in the bag and, you'll see, we did well!
Just a short walk from the hotel, a fully pedestrianised walkway leads up the river to Nobbys Lighthouse. On the way, the call of oysters from the Queen Wharf Hotel restaurant "forces" us to stop. Once full, we walk around the lighthouse to get our first 180° view of the Pacific Ocean... Splendid!
As the day progresses, the heat takes over and we are not yet well acclimatised. A few days before, we were still in France in the middle of winter! So what a surprise it was to come across the Newcastle Ocean Baths on our way back to the city centre: two huge seawater pools, fully accessible and free! We didn't take the plunge in Bondi, so we just have to try here. The good news doesn't stop there, as the lifeguard station provides disabled people with an accessible changing room with a shower and a bathing chair so that your wheelchair doesn't rust in the sea water!
Well exhausted after all these efforts, we slip our feet under one of theEdmonds tables. A pure delight!
Ibis Newcastle: Just a stone's throw from the river, just what you need. Accessibility: 4.5/5
Coffs Harbour (385km - 4h drive - 1 night)
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, you can travel by renting a "classic" car or a converted van. We don't hide the fact that the first option is more comfortable when travelling in a wheelchair! The distances between the cities are great and we preferred to break up some of the journeys with an overnight "rest" stop.
Coffs Harbour is one of those stops before Byron Bay. Don't worry, there's plenty to do on the way!
Just after leaving Newcastle, take a trip to Nelson Bay for a dose of greenery. At the tip of the point stands Tomaree Mountain, a viewpoint overlooking the bay and offering a 360 degree panorama!
On the way you can also make a stop in Port Macquarie. This town is a good alternative to Coffs Harbour. For those of you who already want to see koalas, there is a hospital here that takes care of these little fur balls.
We arrive in Coffs Harbour just in time for the sunset in the heart of Bonville Creek.
Kingscliff - Byron Bay (286km - 3.5hrs drive from Coffs Harbour - 3 nights)
We left Coffs Harbour in the morning and quickly drove to Byron Bay. The atmosphere is close to that of Bondi (see our article on Sydney)! If you can, come during the week, it will be less crowded: Brisbane's youth meet here to enjoy the best waves in the area.
A promenade runs along the main beach where it is pleasant to have a picnic under the shade of the trees. There are also many bars and restaurants in the streets of the town centre.
Byron Bay's seabed is known for its diversity although the Great Barrier Reef is still a long way off. We booked a morning snorkelling session at the Byron Bay Dive Centre but were disappointed the next day! The storm of the night brought a lot of sediments which completely block the field of vision, impossible to embark on the boat... We will have to wait before seeing these famous corals.
At the end of the beach, Byron Bay is the most easterly point in Australia! There is a road to get there by car, but unfortunately the end of the road is by a staircase. For our readers in wheelchairs, don't be disappointed, the lighthouse terrace offers a great view. We advise you to get there early as the car park is tiny (about 10 spaces maximum) and often full during the day.
When we were in Port Macquarie, we didn't have time to see koalas. So we jumped at the chance when we saw that the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary was nearby.
Many animals endemic to Australia are present here, but they are not the only residents. The visit follows a precise itinerary through the different enclosures. The highlight of the show: the koala nursery! At the bend in the road, you will see the hospital that takes care of the park's animals. You can also book a more 'special' meeting with some of the animals. Please note that if you are staying in the vicinity of Byron Bay, like us, you will lose an hour in travel time. Take this into account if you book an activity.
We have mixed memories of this visit. We were delighted to see koalas up close but some of the enclosures and animal displays reminded us of a zoo atmosphere. So, if you don't have much time, this sanctuary is a great place to see the local wildlife. On the other hand, if you have a long journey planned, there are plenty of other opportunities to see these animals in the wild!
For our 3 nights in the area, we are staying at the Peppers Salt Resort & Spa in Kingscliff, 40 minutes north of Byron Bay. If you feel like it, the bridge over Cudgen Creek is the perfect spot to see the sunset!
For dining, several seafood restaurants at the foot of the hotel should delight your taste buds, including Sea Salt and Fins, which we tested.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary: A sanctuary in the heart of a huge forest with a hospital for many residents. Ticket $49.95AUD (approx. €30) per person, $29.95AUD (approx. €18) for PRM and one accompanying person free. Accessibility: 5/5
Byron Bay Dive Centre: One of the many agencies for snorkelling. The boats are not really accessible but the staff are willing to help in any way they can. Accessibility : 1/5
Stage 2: Queensland - Brisbane to Port Douglas
Brisbane (112km - 1.5 hours drive - 3 nights)
Brisbane is the first and last big city of our coastal trip. Three days in Brisbane are more than enough time to visit the city and its surroundings.
A river cuts the city in two and we want to enjoy it right in our hotel room. We jump at the chance to sleep under the Story Bridge at the Art Series - The Fantauzzo! At the foot of the hotel, a walk along the river to the botanical garden should not leave you unmoved: a tropical forest in the middle of the city.
Take the Goodwill Bridge, a pedestrian bridge, to the South Bank: the "place to be". These piers have recently been redeveloped and are now home to many restaurants and the South Bank Parklands. The latter are perfect for hot days: three supervised swimming pools and water games will delight young and old.
If you stay long enough, take a trip to the hipster West End. The intersection of Vulture St and Boundary St is home to craft breweries, barbershops, coffee houses and thrift shops of all kinds! We recommend the West End Coffee House for brunch: one dish a day, but beware, it's often full!
If you're not a big walker, a boat is the best way to get around. In the centre, opt for the CityHopper and if you're looking for a longer trip, take the CityCat.
If you want to get away from the city and enjoy the surrounding forests, Coot-Tha Mountain is the perfect spot! In just 20 minutes, you'll be overlooking the city and can stretch your legs on one of the many hiking trails. Beware, it's a steep climb!
Art Series - The Fantauzzo: A breathtaking view of the river and the pool will delight many! Accessibility: 4,5/5
River Quay Fish: A few oysters by the river on the South Bank, a real treat! Accessibility: 5/5
Polpetta: The Italian restaurant in the Art Series Hotel... Worth a visit! Accessibility: 5/5
West End Coffee House: Let us guide you through the unique coffee menu. Accessibility: 5/5
Rico: One of the institutions of the boardwalk! Accessibility: 5/5
Queensland Parks: All the info on Queensland parks: openings, hikes and more.
South Bank Parklands: A water park in the city! Accessibility: 5/5
Hervey Bay (286km - 3.5 hours drive from Brisbane - 3 nights)
After a few days of rest, it's time to head for Hervey Bay: the gateway to Fraser Island!
- Noosa Heads
If you leave early enough, take a diversion to Noosa Heads along the much more pleasant ocean road. It takes you to one of Queensland's most beautiful parks: Noosa National Park!
From the town centre, a walkway is laid out in its entirety to allow everyone to enjoy the waterfront to the park entrance. From here several paths lead into the forest. The coastal path is accessible to all (including wheelchairs) to Dolphin Point (1.2km). On the way, you will cross a canopy of eucalyptus trees... Remember to look up, you will certainly see a koala! If you want to continue, you'll need a hand to get up the five steps to the next part of the trail. Hell's Gate (2.7km from the start) will be the terminus for people with reduced mobility. For our able-bodied readers, continue through Alexandria Bay to complete the loop.
- Hervey Bay
For this leg, we stay away from the city centre at Discovery Parks on Fraser Street.
As mentioned above, Hervey Bay is the starting point for Fraser Island. This island is one of the most beautiful in Australia and its ecosystem is entirely protected and the accommodation is rare to limit the number of visitors at the same time. You'll have more than enough choice in terms of activities, including the famous 120km beach! Unfortunately, this is not ideal for wheelchair users! There is a lot of sand and the activity organisers are not very helpful in this respect...
We then try to get around this difficulty... the sand won't stop us! We take the opportunity to walk along the beach to the Urangan Pier: one of the longest piers we have seen on the east coast. At low tide, you will see hundreds of crabs looking for food: a hypnotic spectacle!
On arrival at the port, we stop at the Docks for a snack, a sure thing.
The lucky one is the Blue Dolphin company which offers day trips along the west coast of Fraser Island. Halfway through the trip, a swim is possible before returning to port... great! The captain of the boat will volunteer to help people with reduced mobility up the few steps of the boat.
Discovery Parks - Fraser Street: Everything is within easy reach at this campsite! Accessibility: 4/5 (swimming pool and laundry not accessible, fully equipped bungalows)
Docks Hervey Bay: For a tapas break on the waterfront. Accessibility: 5/5 (accessible toilets in the shopping mall a few metres from the restaurant)
Stage Rockhampton (382km - 4h drive - 1 night)
Airlie Beach is still a long way off, we will make a short stop in Rockhampton.
Not far from Hervey Bay, the town of Mon Repos is home to a turtle conservation centre. An immersive exhibition explains the life of a turtle from every angle. It is suitable for young and old alike and gives valuable details about the dangers they face every day.
The centre is open from November to March during the turtle breeding season. If you book in advance, it is possible to book a night out to see the eggs being laid or the babies being born! Unfortunately, this is done on the beach and is therefore not very wheelchair accessible.
A walkway runs along the beach in the shade of the trees. Keep an eye out for kangaroos taking a nap!
Rosslyn Bay Resort Yeppoon: Acceptable for one night. Accessibility: 1/5 (bathroom and toilet not accessible)
Airlie Beach (480km - 5h30 drive - 3 nights)
Airlie Beach marks the beginning of the Great Barrier Reef. It stretches 2,300 km to the northern tip of the continent and has no less than 2,900 reefs and 600 islands! It can even be seen from space!
What better way to see the corals up close than on a boat trip in the heart of the Whitsunday Islands? We contacted several agencies and the one who was the most eager to try the adventure was Ocean Rafting! Their concept: a full day boat trip at full speed, snorkeling and beach breaks!
Two options are possible:
These boats are not accessible for wheelchair users, but that's without counting on the skippers' help! Once in the water, the ascent had to be reinvented thanks to a simple and efficient pulley system!
After this day in the fresh air, we are looking for a way to spend some more time... Conway National Park brings it all together! A fairly narrow path leads into the forest towards Coral Beach, otherwise inaccessible. We go headlong and stop when we can't go any further. After 1 km of rocks and roots of all kinds and 1 hour of intense effort, we turn back in front of a river bed covered with rocks!
If you want to have something to eat, don't hesitate to stop at the Sorrento on the marina. Oysters and a glass of white wine... great!
Mantra Club Croc: An apartment hotel with a swimming pool, a real highlight! Its bar and restaurant work very well. Accessibility: 4/5 (only the pool does not have special facilities)
Magnetic Island (272km - 3h15 drive - 2 nights)
Magnetic Island here we come! This small island is a real haven for many animals! Two days on the island are just enough to do the tour but don't hesitate to add one more day to make the most of it.
To get there, two ferry companies operate Sealink and Magnetic Island Ferry in 35 minutes.
On the eastern side of the island, a path towards the Fort allows you to see some koalas. Beware, in the middle of summer, start early in the morning and take plenty of water with you: it is very hot and there is little shade. In a wheelchair, the slope is steep, even very steep... don't venture out alone!
If you have an off-road vehicle, take the West Point Road from Picnic Bay. At the end of the road there is a beach and you are sure to be alone!
If you like animals, wait until sunset, they come out when it's not so hot. Head to Armand Way, next to Geoffrey Bay, for a special experience: the Rock Wallabies are coming out! Come with some seeds and don't be in a hurry, they'll come on their own. Remember, silence is essential. You may be lucky enough to see babies in their mothers' pockets!
If you head north, you'll see dozens of kangaroos along the main road!
For our readers in wheelchairs who want to swim, the Golden Casket shop in Arcadia lends a Tiralo for free every day until 4pm.
Finally, for the more sporty amongst you, kayaking sessions are available from Horseshoe Bay.
Peppers Blue on Blue Resort: A stone's throw from the harbour, a central base for visiting the island. Accessibility: 4/5 (no pool)
Mamma Roma: An Italian family runs this pizzeria, a delight! Accessibility: 2/5 but dining on the terrace is possible
Port Douglas (412km - 5h drive from Townsville - 4 nights)
It is now time to leave for our last stop, Port Douglas. On the way, we stop for a picnic on Mission Beach, a huge white sand beach. It's the middle of the week, the beach is empty... a real pleasure!
- Port Douglas / Cairns
We spend 4 nights at the Pullman Port Douglas, ideal for exploring the area.
It's a chance for us to experience these heavenly landscapes in a different way. If you're not afraid of tight spaces, climb into a Nautilus Aviation helicopter to see the rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef from the air. The pilot will gladly descend as low as possible to try and see turtles and dolphins up close!
We are also fulfilling one of our dreams: to go skydiving! Skydive Australia offers many spots and the closest to Port Douglas is in Cairns (1 hour drive south). By the time you realise that your legs are floating in the air at 5,000 metres, you are already spinning at full speed over the sugar cane fields! A unique sensation that we can't wait to experience again!
To recover from these emotions, take the opportunity on the way back to stop at Barron Gorge! An impressive waterfall during the rainy season. In summer, don't be surprised to see only a thin stream of water running down the rock. The walk is 100% accessible, but sporty: it climbs on the way back!
Another option for those looking for more adrenaline is a snorkelling trip! Two islands near Cairns are perfect for this: Fitzroy Island and Green Island. Due to timing, we couldn't do it but from what we saw, we had a preference for Fitzroy Island, more preserved and less touristy.
Great Barrier Reef flight: several flights are offered by Nautilus aviation including a 45 min flight (Great Barrier Reef for $500AUD or 298€ per person) and a 60 min flight including the Rainforest ($700AUD or 416€ per person). Accessibility: 1/5 (PRM passengers must be carried to board the aircraft, the pilot may assist but is under no obligation to do so if he does not wish to take any risk)
Skydive Australia: The reference for skydiving in Australia. A jump to 5000m costs $300AUD (approx. 180€). You can add an on-board film for $150AUD (90€) and an "outdoor" film for $150AUD as well. Accessibility: 4/5 (weight limits apply, call the centre beforehand to see the possibilities)
- Daintree Forest
In order to have the most time to visit the Daintree Forest, Port Douglas is again the perfect compromise. This forest is one of the oldest in the world. Here, nature is king and it is one of the only places where the mangroves flow directly into the ocean.
We recommend an early morning departure and a drive up the road to Cape Tribulation and back.
Several walkways, 100% accessible, give access to superb discoveries. Here are the main ones:
- Kulki Boardwalk: (600m, 10 min walk): Walk along the canopy of Cape Tribulation and get a great view of the beach.
- Dubuji Boardwalk : (1.2km, 30 minutes walk): In the middle of the rainforest, a maze of footbridges will lead you to a beach... watch out for crocodiles! If you're lucky, you might see a cassowary, an incredible prehistoric bird (beware, they can be very dangerous if you get too close... Especially if they are accompanied by their young)!
- Maardja Boardwalk : (1.5km, 35 min walk): Dive into the heart of the mangrove! If you are there at low tide, you will see the roots of the trees appear... impressive!
Just before crossing the river, stop at the Daintree Ice Cream Company, the perfect break in the heart of the forest. To make your visit complete, consider taking home a packet of tea. It's made on site at the Daintree Tea Company.
End the day with a two-hour cruise with David White, the captain of the Solar Whisper. You will be looking for the crocodiles that live in the surrounding creeks! The biggest one, Scarface, measures no less than 5.7 metres and weighs 500 kilos... impressive! David knows the fauna by heart and will tell you all about the animals you will see. He takes a precise census of the specimens he sees on each trip...
For people in wheelchairs, David will be happy to help you down into the boat. Finally, if your manual wheelchair is no more than 60 cm wide and 1m long, you can take the ride in your wheelchair!
Daintree Ice Cream Company: Natural ice creams made from local fruits like Black Sapote: not to be missed! Accessibility: 5/5
Daintree River Ferry: Crossing $30AUD (approx. €18)
Daintree Tea Company: A field of tea as far as the eye can see in the rainforest! Accessibility: 5/5
Discovery centre: Wander through the forest, where numerous explanatory panels will give you information about your surroundings. The observation tower is unfortunately not accessible. The walk lasts about 1 to 1.5 hours. Accessibility: 3/5
Solar Whisper: A two-hour cruise on the Daintree River with the crocodile pro! Price: $60AUD (approx. 36€). Accessibility: 1/5 (PRM passengers are carried aboard the small boat with the help of the captain)
It is on this last outing that our journey on the East Coast ends! Three weeks full of all kinds of activities, restaurants and discoveries.
We now take you to the Red Centre for a week in the heart of Australia on Aboriginal land!