Kirstie Bedford takes a road less travelled on QLD's east coast.
There’s no shortage of beachfront camp sites in the QLD city of Hervey Bay, but tucked a little further north, amongst tropical gardens, is a park of a different kind.
Arrive at BIG4 Hervey Bay Holiday Park, run by the Lothian family, and you’re likely to be greeted by nine-year-old Bailey, who will take you on a tour of the park he’s proud to call home.
Paul and Jacinta Lothian didn’t follow a typical path to be holiday park owners, that’s if there is one. They were living and working more than 600km away in the mines in Central Queensland before the move to the coast.
Paul says he enjoyed the work at Rolleston coal mine, but they wanted to give their children more opportunities than what the tiny town of 300 people offered, so they moved to Hervey Bay.
It wasn’t an easy transition and Paul struggled to find work, so continued to drive the 1200km journey every week to the mines. But, as luck would have it, they discovered BIG4 Point Vernon Holiday Park was for sale, and began the process to buy it.
“We knew it was going to be a stretch getting the money together, but one bank agreed to lend us the money and we were on our way, and on the fourth of July in 2014 we took over the park.”
He says it was a bit daunting at the beginning, as it was the start of peak season.
“The phone kept ringing and the vans kept rolling in. Jacinta worked in the office and picked up the booking system very easily.
"I struggled a bit, so I spent more time outside backing in vans and keeping on top of the grounds, which was great as I interacted a lot with the guests and this was a great way to learn what the customers want in a good caravan park.”
The couple then began to make improvements. They built a new playground and paddling pool to cater for a market of young families.
The kids are going well at school and really adapted to park life in no time.
The park is also pet friendly, and caters to the grey nomad, as sites are large, and it’s quieter than many other camp sites on busy Charlton Esplanade.
Paul says the move is one that has paid off, and they haven’t looked back.
“The kids are going well at school and really adapted to park life in no time. It was great that even though we had to work seven days a week, we still got to spend time with them when they helped us at work.”
He says they’ve even had families return because their kids have enjoyed playing with his children so much, “they are really great assets to our little business!”.
A must while in the region is whale watching with Hervey Bay Whale Watch. After a summer of feeding on krill in Antarctic waters, humpback whales migrate north to subtropical waters where they mate and give birth, and on their way back to Antarctica, they travel via Australia’s eastern coast.
The Fraser Coast is the only genuine ‘stop-over’ along the migration route where from July to November up to 10,000 whales deviate from their annual journey, staying for sometimes up to 10 days to rest, play and socialise.
Hervey Bay’s first commercial whale-watching business was taken over just months ago by John Peaker, who has worked with the company since 1987 flying spotter planes.
John says the former owners couldn’t have been happier to ‘keep it in the family,’ so to speak.
On arrival you’ll be given a personal transfer to the jetty, and welcomed on board to toast and a hot cuppa before the chase for whales begins, and it’s not long before you’ll come across them.
John is, after-all, an expert who was born in Hervey Bay, and has passed his love of whales, and the region, onto his sons, who are now also part of the business.
The whales are so graceful, the experience leaves you longing for more, and John says they have their regulars, or what he calls ‘regular offenders’ who come out every weekend, so moved are they by the close interaction with these mammoth creatures breaching from the depths of the ocean.
There’s something unique about experiencing a family business, as if you’re being welcomed into someone’s home, and that’s certainly the feeling we left Hervey Bay with.
A little more than two hours south of Hervey Bay, in Noosa, on southern Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, is another park in a location off-the-beaten tourist track of this popular destination.
There’s plenty to keep the kids occupied, while still having that feeling of being in a relaxed environment.
Tewantin is a small village on the Noosa River, and is the launching point for the vehicle ferry to Noosa North Shore, Great Sandy National Park and Fraser Island.
Here you’ll find BIG4 Ingenia Holidays Noosa in Tewantin, which was built in 1979 and refurbished 14 years ago. There are 30 cabins and 107 large open sites under beautiful established gum trees lining the park.
With a giant jumping pillow, swimming pool and games room, there’s plenty to keep the kids occupied, while still having that feeling of being in a relaxed environment, without the hustle and bustle. The bathroom facilities are modern and the paths around the park quiet and well kept.
Just 2km west of Tewantin is Tewantin National Park, a 13 sq km park with walking and mountain bike tracks.
A sealed 130m track leads to a viewing area located part way along the Mount Tinbeerwah Lookout track where you’ll find incredible views of the ocean, lake and hinterland.
And 2km east is the main township, which has a range of shops, banks and restaurants where you can call in to see the latest local and travelling exhibitions at the Noosa Regional Gallery.
It’s easy to stop in the main areas of a tourist town, but considering going out a little bit further can offer a very different experience and leave you with an entirely new perception of a town, not to mention, the amazing people you’ll meet along the way.