Crystal Shower Falls at Dorrigo National Park
I dropped off Alex at Sydney airport and made the longish drive north, across the Harbour Bridge for one last time, to Port Stephens, on the coast just north of Newcastle. I'd decided I needed somewhere for a few nights to read up on my onward journey and get used to being back on my own, and Port Stephens fitted the bill. It's a beautiful inlet blessed with several pretty beaches, a resident pod of dolphins and some immense sand dunes. I found a hostel with wooden cabins set in the forest, which was the perfect base to sit back and unwind. A resident kookaburra would visit the outdoor eating area each day, and the charming owners lit us a camp fire on my first night there, so I settled down with a stubby next to the flames and chatted the night away with a group of fellow travellers. I spent the next day visiting some of Port Stephens' beaches, but they're mainly for families and were quite busy, so I went on a quick dolphin-watching cruise in the bay to see some of the hundred or so bottlenose dolphins who call the bay home. Sadly the weather turned just after
Someone's got the right idea...
lunch, so I decided to head north to my next planned stop, Bellingen.
Bellingen sits at the eastern end of a road called the Waterfall Way, in a region known as New England. If you don't like landscape photographs, then look away now... the Waterfall Way winds it's way past a cluster of world heritage listed national parks, through a stunning high altitude pass and some gorgeous rolling scenery. And, of course, a lot of waterfalls! Bellingen is a small, attractive town, with one main street lined with colonial era wooden shops and a grand old hotel. It backs onto the Bellinger River, and my hostel was located on the edge of town with a view down to the riverbanks. To me it was the epitome of chilled... a large verandah had comfy chairs and a pool table overlooking the garden, which offered hammocks and more chairs. A local colony of flying foxes visited the neighbouring trees in the evening, filling the sky with their large bat-like silhouettes. After the long drive from Port Stephens, I settled into a hammock and watched the stars come out in the company of several mozzies and the hostel's resident hens.
The grand Ebor Falls
first visit was to Dorrigo National Park, protected for the world because of it's unique rainforest. Sadly, floods in 2009 (still not repaired... come on guys!!) had cut off most of the longer bushwalking tracks in the park, but a brilliantly named track called the Wonga Walk set out from the main visitors centre, winding its way through the rainforest via two waterfalls - Tristiana and Crystal Shower. The rainforest was beautiful... a vibrant world of greens, filled with exotic bird calls, some like car alarms, others like monkeys... all of the birds hidden from view high up in the canopy. Luckily, there was enough wildlife on the ground to compensate, as wild wallabies, padamelons and turkeys jumped and strutted their way through the undergrowth. The falls were small but pretty, and even though the path is metalled, I felt at times like I was back in Borneo, having to hack my way through (several times I wish I'd had my machete!). After lunch at one of the great viewpoints, I headed back to Bellingen and relaxed on the verandah with my book and a cup of coffee (and a Chunky Kit-Kat... thanks Honky!).
The next day I decided
The lighthouse at Cape Byron
to tackle more of the Waterfall Way, which extends about 180km to Armidale in the west. I decided this was too far, but drove first to Ebor Falls, a spectacular blip on the Guy Fawkes River, where the water cascades down two large drops. From there I drove along a gravel track to Point Lookout in the New England National Park. The lookout itself was impressive, but the bushwalk down into the forest and out to a viewpoint called Wright's Lookout was nothing short of magical... pure Lord of the Rings stuff, on a path so unfrequented that I was clearing spiders' webs practically every few seconds! I arrived at Wright's Lookout, a rocky promontory covered with low scrub, to find myself alone to enjoy a panorama of thick, untouched rainforest, alive with flocks of parrots and other wonderful birds whose bizarre calls were the only sound. It's one of the magical things about Australia, that on a gorgeous sunny day you can walk on your own through a world heritage forest not too many hours' drive from several major cities. I had lunch while enjoying the vista, then completed the walk back to Point Lookout, seeing a few beautiful
Looking north along Byron Bay
lyrebirds on the way, and drove back along the Waterfall Way to the hostel.
The next morning it was time to head on north, to Byron Bay, my last stop in New South Wales. More down time, but of a different kind! Byron is set on a gorgeous beach, and my hostel was just 100 metres from it. So I spent a happy few days walking the beach and swimming in the surf, letting those Pacific Ocean waves wake me up after a few heavy nights! I hooked up with another traveller, Nathan, on the first night, so spent most of the time with him, including hiking up to Cape Byron (the easternmost point of Australia) and its lighthouse in the full heat of the day. I'd heard that Byron was a bit of a hippy hangout, but I think those days are long gone, and nowadays it's home to a young crowd of surfers and sun worshippers... more naff clubs and ID than bangles and crystals. On our last night, we went out with a pair of Chilean guys, Guillermo and Thomas, who were just beginning a 12-month trip similar to mine... I have to say I was
just a bit jealous! Truth be told I could have stayed longer, but I realised that my time was ticking by and I still had a lot of distance to cover. So onwards to Brisbane!
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