Alex Ellinghausen heads north for a big things family roadtrip

I took the turn-off and scanned the horizon. We seemed near. Then again, maybe we were lost again. The roads have changed since the Ballina bypass was completed. The kids spot it before I do all curled over itself. So this is it, the Big Prawn.

"Why is it here?" my 6-year-old daughter asks me. It's a valid question when you're standing in the middle of the parking lot of a Bunnings store looking up at a 9-metre crustacean. 

"I don't know," I tell her. I vaguely remember it being part of a seafood shop of some sort before a hardware chain took over the site, but my memory is foggy. 

The Big Banana, Coffs Harbour.
The Big Banana, Coffs Harbour. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

This year we decided to make our road trip north to visit family in Queensland a little different this year. We wanted to see all the big things Australian roads had to offer. Novelty structures, road art, tourist traps or whatever you want to call them. There is something quite mesmerising about gazing at these structures in real life. 

I first started doing the road trip north to visit my dad solo, as a p-plater in my Ford Falcon. Back then, getting to the destination as quick as possible was the objective. 

Later, I started doing these trips with my then girlfriend (now wife). We toured vineyards, dined at nice restaurants and met up for parties with friends along the way. Her lowered Mitsubishi Lancer coupe ensured I felt every bump and pothole on the road.

Nowadays, we're joined by our three young daughters. We stop for breaks more frequently, often at a nice park or playground. We play the occasional round of mini-golf when the kids need a longer break. The little detours we take to see the 'big things' brings us to places we would not have visited. 

It's not enough just to see it though. We got photos with the 'big things' to show family on Facebook that we were really there. 

"Dad, it's hot!" they grumbled at the Big Strawberry.

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"Dad, the sun is in my eyes!" they groaned at the Big Merino.

"Dad, it smells funny here!" they wailed at the Big Chook. 

"Dad I need to go to the toilet!" the moment we were on the highway with nowhere to stop. 

The Big Marino, Goulbourn.
The Big Marino, Goulbourn. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In his book Downunder, Bill Bryson said wrote of the "cherishable peculiarities" of Australia's for big fibreglass pineapples, prawns and lobsters "like leftover props from a 1950s' horror movie".

"Then they put a cafe and a gift shop inside, erect a big sign beside the highway (for the benefit of people whose acuity evidently does not extend to spotting a fifty-foot-high piece of fruit standing beside an otherwise empty highway), then sit back and wait for the money to roll in," he wrote.

So, our station wagon now has a Big Banana bumper sticker. We ate fresh mangoes at Tropical Fruit World (Big Avocado in Duranbah). We discovered pineapples actually grew close to the ground rather than on trees when we saw the plantations surrounding the Big Pineapple in Woombye. 

The Big Prawn, Ballina.
The Big Prawn, Ballina. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Of course the kids' favourite sight on the whole trip was seeing their opa (grandfather) running out of the house waiting to greet them with big hugs when we finally pulled into his driveway, but the 'big things' along the way made the journey there a lot more fun.