Published: March 2nd 2012February 17th 2012
This was a drive in a motor home through an area of the most outstanding coastal wilderness, of ancient temperate rainforests and staggeringly beautiful beaches...
However, whilst still within bounds of civilisation we camped first at Healesville, not far from Melbourne, to familiarise ourselves with the motor home we named Daphne. It’s a BIG motor home, 6 berth, and fills the lanes on the road. We got a good view from the driver’s cabin but unfortunately for the children strapped in the back the vista was not so good, partly due to the coarse black insect mesh on the side windows. This was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to, but the novelty sort of wore off when you have to 'make' your bed every evening and to find we had limited mobility (ironic in a ‘motorhome’) as once you camp you are then transport-less (and in a country as big as this you can’t get very far on foot), so we soon learnt that you have to be incredibly organised and plan ahead in terms of food supplies and take any opportunity you can to restock.
Healesville had a great campsite which was small,
quiet, scenic and with first class facilities in terms of pool, playground etc. It soon became a benchmark for subsequent campgrounds. It was in a lovely location just by the Dandenong Mountains with an idyllic river, mountain views, ibis birds, those huge gum trees I adore and assorted colourful parrots. Before embarking on the long road haul, we visited a wildlife park, Healesville Sanctuary, to get up close and personal once more with some natives, and were especially on the lookout for the bizarre duck-billed platypus that is endemic to the East coast of Oz. There was an impressive area for these creatures which move at breakneck speed through the water – they really are bizarre with their bill, flappy webbed feet and fur and it is easy to understand why so many European naturalists thought it was an elaborate hoax when a specimen was returned Europe in the late 18thC. They even have a venomous spur on their hind leg. We also saw Andrew’s favourite, the hairy nosed wombat, Adam’s favourite the Tasmanian Devil and my own personal favourite the koala. There was a really great koala who was entertaining us by leaping from branch to branch, most unusual
as they are normally so sleepy from the energy-expense of detoxifying the gum leaves they consume, meaning they are normally observed as fur balls in tree tops with far-away looks in their eyes (I can relate to that!). The sanctuary also had a display of the ten most deadly snakes which are found in Oz, they are all quite non-descript and you can see why they could be trodden on whilst bushwalking. This stuck in my mind during future bushwalks where I always found a stick to carry with me (to brush aside spiders in webs and beat the ground to scare away snakes (I never used to be such a woos, but having children in tow made me a little more circumspect!). However, at a later date I was assured by a local that these snakes’s venom was only tested against mice not humans and they were actually not so toxic to people - so perhaps I need not have been so cautious. But, I did notice that these ‘snake sticks’ were always readily available, perfect size specimens always dropped at the end of walks by previous bush-walkers and so I was not the only vigilant one !
We then spent some time, in miserable weather, cold and wet, at Stratford on River where I had a visit to the hospital for a tooth abscess which was to prove problematic later in our trip. The locals were very friendly though and I got chatting with an ex-Dutchman who had arrived there on holiday 40 years ago and never left. I should imagine there are many of those folks around and I could easily stay myself, so be warned if you ever visit Oz - there is a magnetic pull here.
We by-passed an area called Lakes Entrance which is a favourite holiday haunt for the folk of Melbourne, only pausing at the look-out to see what we were missing. And yes, it was perhaps something not to miss as the views were wondrous and the location very picturesque. However, the town was a strip of motels, minigolf courses and souvenir shops, not what we were looking for (but not in the same league as our monotonous seaside strips of course), but every watersport under the sun could apparently be enjoyed there.
We then headed north east and into the blissfully undeveloped stretch of coastline which had
some quite simply beautiful remote beaches. The white beaches are bordered by sand dunes and banksia trees (those ones with great big flowers that look like mega bright red bottle brushes). We chatted to fishermen who were catching shark and barramundi and sauntered along a nature trail which passed ancient shell middens (‘piles’) from the aborigines, 10,000 years old. Cape Conran was a particularly beautiful area with endless beaches and pounding surf bordered inland by a rainforest oasis with Victoria’s only native palms, the cabbage tree palm (a prehistoric type palm more typical of further north). It was lovely to wander these places, us the only people around, and marvel in the beauty, the sounds of bird & insect life in the grandeur of such ancient trees and, of course, me with my snake stick in hand! We ended up that stretch at Victoria’s last town, Mallacoota, where we still experienced some dubious weather, not what we were expecting, not in the plan at all!
Mallacoota is a small town completely surrounded by the Croajingolong National park and is absolutely stunning with an intricate coastline of bays inlets and estuaries, with clear blue water and sublime views. Croajingolong is
a World Biosphere Reserve (one of only 12 in Oz) and is an awesome coastal wilderness. The reserve offers protection by having areas with no or unlimited access to a restricted number of walkers only – you would have to very well prepared, hardy and intrepid to venture into this stunning untouched area. We walked to a beach, Shipwreck Cove, and saw black cockatoos but not the rare ground parrot I had hoped to sea. Plenty of sea eagles though. This stretch of coastline was the first part of Australia to be spotted by Captain Cook and his crew on the Endeavour in 1770. All the roads are unsealed and it was quite an adventure taking Daphne along them, we kept our fingers crossed we did not break down when on them, one because we did not check our insurance and two because, despite their amazing beauty, we were the only people around and there would be no one passing to assist us. It would have been a serene and very beautiful place to get stuck!
We ‘turned the bend
’ from Victoria into New South Wales the weather started to look much brighter and things ‘hotted up’. This NSW
stretch of coast is reputedly as pretty a region as you will find in Australia. The waters are clear & unpolluted, the virgin forest untouched, settlements are very few and far between and marine wildlife is abundant. It is simply as unspoilt as it ever was when Captain Cook came by 240 years ago. What settlements there are tend to be small picturesque villages inland. What has helped this stretch of coastline to be unspoilt is the fact that the main coastal highway (the Hume Highway) is some way in land and the secondary coastal highway we drove, the Princes Highway, still a little way off the coast – meaning you have to detour on very minor roads to reach the coast. Another advantage means that as we well as being a meandering scenic road, there were no trucks to contend with. This is in contrast to the stretch north of Sydney which borders the coastline and is the one main route up the coast.
We first came to Eden, the southernmost town in NSW. It is in a big bay, with again stunning beaches. What amused me was the scenic historic cemetery on the seafront – quite a
nice spot to hang up your clogs! This is the area where whales come most close to shore during their migration and hence now a big whale-spotting area when in season (obviously much better than its previous claim to fame as a whaling station). Then onto Bega, which we recognised as most of the cheese we had consumed whilst in Oz has been ‘Bega cheese’. This area was a slice of dairy country and almost English type rolling hills and grazing cows, but on a much larger scale, and with a back drop of The Snowy Mountains in distance. We were planning to head to Kosciusko (the highest mountain in Oz), but with the weather in the highlands still too wet, and without a 4WD, sadly was not possible. This stretch of coast of south NSW is called the Sapphire Coast and I guess that this is because the sea (The Tasman Sea) is incredibly blue.
We then ventured through the Eurobodalla Coastline, which is still as blue as the Sapphire Coast and a continuation of beautiful stretches of unspoilt beaches and temperature rainforests and gum tree forests, plus some delightful little townships inland. We stopped at one of
these Tilba Tilba, a small town that has remained unchanged for 150 years –the whole settlement is National trust, I felt like we were on a film set it was so impossibly twee! It is a street village of idyllic wooden shops and houses and was originally a gold rush town but now like a Cotswold village of craft shops and shops selling local delicacies such as cheeses.
We then came to my favourite stretch, either side of Batemans Bay. Narooma, is just ridiculously pretty! it is on a large inlet with the most incredible views of ocean and lagoon, estuary and river – sort of like a big Fal Estuary but the water is an exceptionally clear pristine blue and not dingy murky green (why is that?). I am not sure how you cope with living somewhere as beautiful as this... I suppose the locals must still have the same problems and hang-ups as the rest of us, but gee it is a lovely spot to have them! We actually pitched a bit further up the coast at a nice isolated campsite at Durras Beach.
Durras Beach is in Murramarang National Park and we were on the
best campsite yet – small, pretty, in an amazing forest on the beach, lovely pool and tame wildlife. This is where the kangaroos famously come on to the beach and are sometimes seen surfing (well, their back feet are big enough!). The colourful parrots filled the trees everywhere (I still could not photograph them though, too darn quick) and the roos so friendly that I felt like they were children just frolicking around us. And guess what, another exceptional beach and coastline! But here, the forest was the most beautiful I had seen with huge tall gum trees and an under story of wattles, vines and banksia trees. Prior to Europeans this area was inhabited by the Yuin aborigine people but sadly 95% of their population was killed off by the smallpox introduced by the settlers, leaving only their middens and rock engravings as proof of their existence. As aborigines were nomadic with no dwellings, these are especially important archaeological features.
This last part of the coast is called the Shoalhaven Coast and stretches up to Woolongong, just south of Sydney. We also visited Depot Beach & Pebbly Beach, more idyllic spots on this stretch of coast with towering
forests on steep escarpments leading down pristine coastal locations. We then approached Sydney on the ‘Grand Pacific Drive’, an incredibly scenic road, especially the stunning Sea Cliff Bridge which snakes along the foot of the huge cliffs out some way from land above the ocean. We then drove through the Royal National Park which was Australia’s (and the worlds) first National Park established in 1879. It has prevented Sydney from becoming an urban sprawl along the coast (unlike Melbourne and Perth) as it has delimited the bounds of the city and contained it. It is incredible that this vast area of dramatic cliffs and lush rainforest is on the doorstep of Australia’s largest city and was an incredible piece of foresight by whoever founded it. It only became ‘Royal’ when the Queen passed by on a train, having originally been called the ‘National Park’!
We then took Daphne on a spin through Sydney, passed the Opera House & over the Harbour Bridge en route to our next location in the north of the City. It had been quite an adventure through his beautiful stretch of countryside, a distance of 1000km, the length of Lands End to John O’Groats, but
only one landscape enroute – mile upon mile of the most beautiful unspoilt forest and beaches. However, Ellen was particularly keen on reaching civilisation once more having seen enough nature! We arrived in the dark at the campsite in Narabeen on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and looked forward to a few days relaxation, but which was not to be....
There are more photos below