Published: November 1st 2006September 30th 2006 Northern NSW Coast
After Byron, we headed town to the small coastal village of Yamba - a tip from some people we met in Fiji. This time the recommendation was a good one, and it was a pleasant place to spend a day and night, and we even broke our camping curse with a dry night! Rod tried more surfing at Spooky Beach (a beginner-friendly surf spot near the more hardcore Angourie Point), but big choppy waves and strong currents made for hard work. Nice beach though.
Next stop was Port Macquarie, via a lunch stop in the small inland town of Bellingen, which was really nice. Port Macquarie itself was a bit of a funny place - just one of many Australian ‘holiday towns’ on the NSW coast that seemed bland to us. We spent a couple of nights at a good campsite though, and Rod battled on with the surfing at Flynn’s Beach. By now the surf was getting pretty wild and he was getting a real bashing, so no progress was made. He tells me that beach breaks are no good - point breaks are where it’s at, apparently. Yes, dear.
We continued on with
brief stops at one of the gorgeous beaches in Booti Booti National Park and at Seal Rocks, a tiny place nestled in a bit of headland with a lovely beach.
Next stop was Newcastle: the last city you reach before Sydney when heading south… Newcastle and Hunter Valley
Like its UK namesake, Newcastle is an industrial town being regenerated after its main industry died. Just to clarify, it’s not a city (Australians call everything a ‘city’), and contrary to what Lonely Planet suggests it’s in no danger of becoming cosmopolitan any time soon. Although the foreshore has been redeveloped in recent years, the shopping area remains a 70s bogan-ridden monstrosity (bogan = Australian ‘chav’).
As far as we could see, the only positive things about Newcastle were that Rod got to do some mountain biking nearby (see below, if you’re interested!) and its proximity to the Hunter Valley wine region…so we booked ourselves on a wine tour. The day of the tour was unseasonably hot: 34 degrees with gale force winds, like having a giant hairdryer on us! The locals started muttering about perfect bush fire weather, but it was definitely the perfect day to spend
in air-conditioned wineries….
The tour turned out to be very good value, if a bit of an endurance event. By 11am we were merry, by 4pm (after over 50 tastings!) we were ecstatic and by 7pm we were ready for bed! We finished the day with chilli pepper schnapps and it finished me. Into The Mountains…
Since we were flying out of Sydney in a few weeks we didn’t head there next, instead we drove inland again, to the Blue Mountains - so-called because of the blue, oily mist given off by eucalyptus trees. On the way we finally realized that the hand-brake hadn’t worked the whole time we’ve had the car, which was interesting (it's an automatic before you ask, so it has a parking gear!). We camped at a hostel in Katoomba, so we had all the hostel advantages and only a bit of the expense, and we were all set for a few nice walks and for Rod to do some good mountain biking (but I’ll let him tell you how that worked out: see below).
On the first afternoon, we walked to the Three Sisters, a famous rock formation. We got there
via a round-the-houses route that ignored the Echo Point lookout at the end of a main road just 2km from the centre of Katoomba - clearly, that would be too simple. Our route involved a long descent down a big hill, through the forest and then back up using ‘the Giant Steps’ (yes, they were big and there were many, many of them). The views from the top of the Three Sisters and over the Jamison Valley were really quite epic and the long walk meant we got there as everything was bathed in the late afternoon sun.
We had another afternoon’s walking in the Blue Mountains on a trail recommended by the hostel-owner. He told us that Rod could bike to the trailhead and I could drive to meet him down a short unsealed road. The short road was actually a very long one full of ruts and potholes, but amazingly the wreck survived it. Fortunately, the walk made the drive worthwhile and we got more great views over the Blue Mountains.
The next day was spent pretty much entirely in the car. We drove 700 km between us, out of New South Wales and in to
Victoria until we finally reached Bright in the Victorian Alps. This is Australian skiing territory (bizarre as that seems) although they’ve reached the end of a particularly dismal season. The mental fog caused by the long drive made us more indecisive than ever and after a tortuous campsite-versus-hostel debate we pitched the tent and then realised that it was brass monkey weather i.e. close to freezing. We headed to the pub to warm up, and blew most of the money we’d saved by camping on pricey drinks! Argghh! Still, we’d entered a new state so we had whole new confusing system of beer measures to get our heads around.
First thing the next day we checked in to the hostel and Rod set off in search of the local mountain biking trails while I wandered around pretty Bright in the warm sunshine.
Next stop Melbourne…. Bikers’ corner
We were quite a way down the coast before I actually got round to any mountain biking - a combination of being too busy doing other things and surfing and there being zero information available about the biking in Australia. Apparently Cairns is very good but I found that
Newcastle at sun set
(it looks better when you can't see the detail!)
out too late!
I finally got out riding in the mid-30 degree heat of Newcastle at a coastal recreation area called Glenrock, where the Oz national squad is supposed to train. It turned out to be pretty decent stuff and I managed to find various singletrack trails (from short steep sections to long flowing sections). It was nice to feel reasonably competent at something again after my surfing efforts!
Next destination was the Blue Mountains, which although very scenic (in the extreme) turned out to be pretty dull for biking. Despite the hostel owner being a keen mountain biker, the trails were pretty much all just boring fire road tracks - turns out all the decent trails are designated as walking trails. I got a bit of a shock though when a wallaby started bouncing along next to me - not your average sight when riding in the UK!!
Next stop was Bright - a place with a good mountain biking reputation in the Victorian Alps. A visit to the local bike shop gave me a number of pointers as to where I could find the singletrack, though unfortunately they would require a bit of hunting down.
Hunter Valley wine tour
Sitting down coz we were struggling to stand up by this stage...
After quite of bit of searching I did find all that the shop had mentioned and happily whiled away a few hours on nice flowing singletrack (with lots of kangaroos bouncing around in the trees and I even had to take a wide berth around a brown snake). Definitely a day’s worth of good riding, but unfortunately we didn’t make it to nearby Mount Beauty which is supposed to have the best trails in the area.
So…. Not exactly Canada (or even the UK) but I hadn’t given up on Oz yet…
There are more photos below