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August 21, 2001
New! and improved! (or: Free at last!) (Russell)

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Gail, the caravan park villa, and the new minivan

In football, the momentum of the game is either with you or against you.  We are finally starting to feel that the momentum is with us.

August 20 started out as a very frustrating and wasted day.  We sat around at the caravan park waiting to resolve two issues: returning the motorhome and securing some alternate transportation for our remaining three weeks.  We had the wonderfully spontaneous idea of taking the train one-way to (or from) the Great Barrier Reef at Cairns, and driving a rental car the other way.  Unfortunately, the trains are all already booked (school holidays are coming up).

So the entire morning was spent on the payphone.  Gail, being the better negotiator, took the lead.  She started with the District Manager at Britz Campervan.  He started out telling her that he is not contractually obligated to refund any of our prepaid money, even if we return a defective vehicle one week into a four-week rental.  When she started ticking off our laundry list of complaints, he changed his stance and volunteered to talk to the higher-ups.  Unfortunately, the response didn't come until later that afternoon.

Gail next called around to the local car rental agencies.  In between calls, the four of us played table tennis in the rec room -- Joss ignoring the "table" part.  Then, National (AKA Delta Europcar) made our day.  They first promised us a station wagon, but when they couldn't locate one fast enough, they gave us a brand-new minivan for the same price, delivered to our doorstep!

With a new vehicle for the return trip, we could finally return the motorhome.  Britz is right across the Gateway Bridge, but we discovered we didn't have enough change for the toll bridge and ended up having to take a very roundabout way through town.  We finally returned the motorhome at about 3:30 in the afternoon.  To be fair, Britz' customer service got much better.  They reimbursed half of our contract, most of our expenses to get back to Brisbane, and have promised further investigation.  And one consequence of our detour is that we located an historic Joss House in Brisbane's Chinatown.

We now have three weeks to get up to the Great Barrier Reef and back.  So on the morning of August 21, we stuffed our suitcases into the minivan and set off with no definite schedule or itinerary.  Our first stop was the "Big W" (think Wal-Mart) to pick up a Styrofoam ice chest.  After temporarily losing Joss in the store, we found the two nicest people in Australia.  The store clerks let us open and test a Game Boy link cable before buying it (to replace our s which wasn't working).  They even searched the back rooms for some empty boxes for us to store our food in.

Our plan was to head up the coast as rapidly as possible, hopefully making Rockhamptom by nightfall.  This hope was dashed as soon as we hit the freeway, which was at an absolute dead stop due to an early morning tanker oil spill and fatal accident.  We sat on the road for almost two hours before Joss had a bathroom urgency.  Quite luckily, we found a rare police turnaround point in the meridian, and turned ourselves around.  Due to the unusual circumstances, we reluctantly indulged in Russell and Gail's first fast-food experience at the local McDonalds (Cam and Joss had KFC our first day in New Zealand).  But quite luckily, we also located an alternate route north.

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Heading north at a dead stop 

We took the Sunshine Coast Highway north of Brisbane, which unfortunately doesn't actually allow you to see any of the Sunshine Coast.  So we stopped at the beach at Noosa Heads for a short break of sun, sand, and ice cream.  We also drove through the smoldering remains of two recent forest fires.

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Noosa Heads beach

By evening, we neared Maryborough and Hervey Bay.  At the Tourist Information Centre, we met the other two nicest people in Australia.  Even though it was after 5:00 pm, the TI ladies reopened just to help us.  They found a wonderful package deal in Hervey Bay that included two nights' stay at a motel and a whale watching cruise the next day.  They also loaded us up with two bags of brochures for the rest of our trip north.

We arrived at Le Mer after dark, and were flabbergasted to find that we actually had a two-bedroom apartment. The boys went running from room to room, exclaiming "Cool! A closet!" "Cool! A bathtub!" (If nothing else, they have developed a great appreciation for things that we used to take for granted.) Gail found a complete washer, dryer, and dishwasher. Russell located a late-night Internet cafe and made a long overdue update to the Web site. And we treated ourselves to dinner out at a British restaurant/pub that has been voted the city's best for the last two years.

Back in the apartment, Gail found a meaty-looking silver-dollar-sized spider crawling around in the kitchen.  The hostess assured her that Huntsman Spiders are completely harmless... but she brought up some insecticide anyway.

Tomorrow, we set off in search of whales.


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