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Published: December 13th 2017
Geo: -28.6434, 153.612
Road Trip 8th-13th April 2009
N. SYDNEY-COFFS HARBOUR-BALLINA-BYRON-LISMORE-NEWRYBAR-NIMBIN-PORT MACQUARIE-N. SYDNEY
Via Wahroonga (x2), Buladelah (x2), Port Stephens, Burrawan State Forest, Kempsey (x2), Coffs Jetty (x2), Woodburn (x2), Byron Cape, Suffolk Park (x3), Lennox Head (x3), Belongil Fields (x3), Clunes (x2), Bangalow (x2)
Managed to hit the road by 10:30am in the rental car which is very good going for us (shows we are not real Aussies though as they are all on the road by 7am) even though I was actually up at 8am sweeping floors and washing hair and what have ya. Called into my sister 20km away for yum brunch with our super cute nephews (so adorable not that I am biased). On the road for real at 12:30pm. They reckon you need a 'stop revive survive' every 2 hours so we did roughly that and had a massive picnic at 5pm in Burrawan State Forest. We had packed an esky and all - now that's Very Australia (in a good way) - as am on an economy drive again, but Jeez it involved a lot of work the night before what with boiling eggs and making potato salad etc. This being poor lark is very time consuming!
535km later arrived at Matador Motel in Coffs Harbour at 19:45, it was on the Pacific Highway (the same highway we have by our house) so easy to find and I was all psyched as we hadn't stayed in one since 1992 in New Orleans, it was as you'd expect clean and a bit 70's-ish, with lovely staff (got very good rating on trip advisor). Nearly made the mistake of booking the motel by the 'Big Banana' but trip advisor mentioned the word cockroaches.
Headed out for some libations down Harbour Drive (where there is no harbour in sight) all the restaurants are in this area too as the city centre closes at 6pm. Ended up in bar of The Pier Hotel where it happened to be 'Tradies night' so the waitresses were topless. It had occurred to me the windows were well covered and that it wasn't so welcoming looking but the lounge part looked so staid, me and another more hard living woman were the only female patrons but unlike any men only bars in Dublin or Kings Cross say no-one minded us being there and I didn't care either as funnily enough I've seen thongs and boobs before.
Then back in the motel there was a documentary on about Joy Division (the band not the German brothels) which was great.
Operation buy a cup of coffee in Coffs was a failure, there was so no parking, it was like as if the shops are going to be closed for ALL of Easter with the amount of shoppers out at 10am! Kept going for 2 hours to Woodburn - after doing crap navigation to a coffee shop in Grafton, I said "It's off the highway over a bridge", C only heard over the bridge bit and didn't turn off as he expected the bridge to be on the highway, I said "don't be ridiculous there's no bridges on the pacific highway" and of course the whole rest of the trip consisted of him pointing out every time we crossed a bridge on the highway, ahem. Anyway Woodburn had 'proper' coffee which a sign outside the coffee shop/take away proudly proclaimed and had a nice river side to sit by, was walking over to a picnic table and a rude oul lad jumped in front of me and then said "ha ha beat you" what a dick! Mind you he was the only ignoramus we encountered the whole trip. The coffee was good though and then we headed to our next Motel the 'Hi Craft' in Ballina (pronounced BalNa),
Ballina has a giant prawn and a giant pineapple presumably to beat the giant banana in Coffs (unofficially the countries national icon apparently). The Motel was fine if a bit musty smelling but it does rain a lot up there; mind you it also had a pool so it must be hot sometime. We were in nearby Yamba 17 months ago and it did nothing but rain then too. Last week I saw in the paper the roads around Coffs Harbour were flooded. Thank God we were not planning on camping.
Ballina is about a half hour away from Byron but all the accommodation is outrageously priced in Byron for the festival - one night in basic hotel room $500, guest house $350 !!! Even the motel in Ballina had added a half onto its price, so $120 p.n. instead of $80 and all motels in Byron were booked out long ago. But there was a privately run bus from Ballina to the festival via 2 other towns Lennox head & Suffolk Park, that takes 50-60mins costing $9.80 one way in day and $10 in night. It said on the web site they were running the buses on the Saturday time table, so we rock up for the 14:55 one and see a guy on the phone and a few more people waiting. The guy was from Newcastle and was onto the bus company who were informing him "oh no it's not the Saturday timetable today so the bus is at 15:30".
We didn't particularly care about waiting (& it wasn't raining) but we could hear some Irish accents behind us, then a car pulls up & one of the Irish guys goes to get in and the driver says "hang on I have to change cars I have a limo for you". So then they ask us do we want to join them, the Aussie phone guy was already in cahoots with them. Ok we say and we all head off in the limo. It turns out the Irish guys were singer Luka Bloom & his flutist nephew Conor Byrne (from Inchicore). So we arrived nice a quick at 15:30 which was great. But it just shows you how crazy the accommodation is priced in Byron when even the talent is put in Ballina - they said they were in the Ramada with more performers.
Due to the rains the site was already pretty mucky and word to the wise (foot) thongs spray muck. Luckily (and smugly) we had boots though. First act was at 16:00 a crazy French act called The Inspector Cluzo in the Crossroads stage, there were five more stages called Mojo, Arpa, InDig, Jambalaya & Cabaret/Juke Joint and all in big circus type tents although the muck puddles extended into the tents and some were there before the tents even went up by the looks of it. Unfortunately though the tents were not far enough apart so there was sound bleed - Womad handled that much better.
We then worked the rest of the stages for the next 8 hours so saw: That 1 Guy - Seasick Steve (who we were well into seeing & he was great)- Ayo - Arawal Welcome Ceremony - Mojo Juju & the Snake oil merchants - Gin Club - Tommee - Blind Boys of Alabama (alright but vaguely disappointing) - Watermelon slim & the workers - Angelique Kidjo (v.g.) - Mic Conway's National Junk Band - Michael Franti & Spearhead (annoying)- Xavier Rudd (amazing on the didgeridoo while simultaneously drumming).
There was loads of food stalls, a Ferris wheel, many head shops (although the fashion wasn't as atrocious as Womad) and bars, only the bars had a ticketing system (so Australian - in a bad way) so you had to buy the equivalent of 'Itchy & Scratchy' money which was a bit daft. Unlike Womad they had nothing on draft and it was $6 for a tetchy 330ml can which was a cheek, Womad scores much better on this as at least you could get pints there for same price. Food worked out better for us here though than Womad thanks to Govinda's yummy $10 vego feast.
Had two massive chats with first a Kiwi based in Brisbane whose brother lives in Leopardstown in Dublin and then a Melbournian who had spent a year living down by Leo Burdocks which he says is Weyberg St. They so loved our accents (no wonder that knob B. McFadden does so well over here, they'd put any oul eegit with an Irish accent on stage I think now, pity am so lacking in confidence).
Getting back to base took a while because it was a so called slow day so there was only one bus out of there at 12:30pm and no one seemed to know what was going on, so the organization there was crap and there was no timetables up anywhere (we did at least know the time thanks to the earlier phone call to the bus co.). Funnily enough slow day tickets didn't cost any less so we really thought the lack of public transport that day was a poor show, it's very much advertised as a 5 day event not a 4 day one so everything should work all 5 days. (When you are booking the accommodation they are all "No worries there's loads of shuttle buses", no mention of slow days then.) Then of course people who went early for the bus and ended up waiting for 90mins nearly came to blows with last minute queue jumping local teenagers.
Feet very sore after being on them for 10hours, we had a picnic blanket but it was way too mucky to put down, so had to do much foot hopping throughout the day, maybe that's how dancing was invented.
A lovely sunny day dawned and pretty much stayed that way, so as there was no act in particular we wanted to see we took the afternoon off and headed to Byron Cape which a lovely and the surrounding fields were so green (see aforementioned rain). Had a look at Byron which is in fact just a sea side town like many others here. We got the last bus at 16:50 from Ballina and did less of a whirlwind tour this time and concentrated on seeing a few bands Ayo (v.g.) - Hat Fitz - Fishbone - Zappa plays Zappa (Dweezil Zappa). While we were waiting for Fishbone -who were very good -two guys from Adelaide of Vanuatu decent put chat on us & had a great talk about Madness (the band) which they had recently seen in Adelaide.
Our poor feet surrendered by 10:30pm so got the bus back and watched a mental Bollywood movie that looked like a Bond movie at the beginning and ended in a college musical (surprise surprise).
We had booked Saturday night in a heritage style B&B in the neighbouring town Lismore called Melville House, which was not over inflating it's prices ($85) for the festival/Easter/school hols/whatever other arbitrary reason. The drive from Ballina to Lismore was just like home, green and hilly and had trees that look like ours, oh and a grey sky and all! Pity we did not know the geography before we came as this would have been less expensive base but am not sure if it was served by buses from the festival. Mind you it would have been a bit like staying in your Aunties only with a swimming pool. B&B's are not big here apparently most Aussies have never stayed in one. But Melville house was gorgeous and extended way out the back, so looked like an ordinary house but was in fact a mansion.
At this point we didn't mind driving and we were there again for 9 hours during which we had 2 meals and 3 beers, the cops pulled us over that night to do routine public holiday breathilizing and when they asked C had he been drinking he says "Yes 4.2 units over 9 hrs" this made the cop very suspicious but there was no problem, I asked C how did he know the units and he said he read it on the cans. Clever huh.
Anyway we thought we'd do a bit of sightseeing before Alabama 3 (Soprano's theme tune people) at 2:30pm and drove over to the village of Clunes and then to a very cute town near Byron called Bangalow which would have been another good base but I dunno how the availability/pricing went there. Then we went to an award winning gourmet restaurant 'Harvest' in the middle of nowhere in a teeny tiny village called Newrybar, off the old pacific highway, for lunch and very nice it was too (hurray for the NSW Lonely planet they done good with this info.)
Drove back to Belongil fields for Alabama 3 (posey gits and at least 1 is engerlish)- That 1 Guy (amazing take on a one man band with a cool instrument that looked like a harp with no strings but made kind of popping noises - Rodney Crowell (Nashville guitar guys) - Yilla - Luka Bloom (our mate)- Eric Bibb (who was excellent and my highlight, C & a mate once bush drank with him on the quay side in Dublin) - Ben Harper & Relentless 7 (who is apparently Mr. Laura Dern), dunno how much any of this counts as blues apart from the excellent Eric Bibb & from day 1 Seasick Steve but it was all pretty good, Also we had a fold up chair with us that day which was a great relief to the old feet.
Back in the B&B we caught a different bit of 'Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ' than we caught last year in the Blue Mountains.
After brekker and a chat with 'Auntie Helen' and the dog Jackie we embarked on our last bit of sightseeing and headed over to Nimbin for coffee in the imaginatively named The coffee house. Nimbin is a law unto itself where smoking weed appears to be legal and it looks like a scene from Haight Ashbury circa 1970 only without the flares. They have an annual 'mardigrass' the first weekend in May, could be fun but you'd have to camp. Even though it's free and liberal there it had that sad Christiania vibe to it too, so as much as I'd like to open a B&B there I don't think it'd be sustainable but I can dream.
You have to drive by Hanging Rock to get back to Lismore but we didn't venture out there as we had 600km to go! Headed off again at 2pm and had a break in Woodburn and then coffee in Cold Rock (which seems to be an ice cream parlour chain) in Coffs Harbour. It lashed rain from Coffs to Port Macquarie and we had to stop in Kempsey for petrol the dearest town in the whole trip (Kempsey and Coffs seemed to have a cartel going on the petrol prices) and the trip seemed interminable in the dark but we finally found our Woodlands B&B at 19:45 off the Oxley Highway (directions to which from Google maps was ass ways).. Had to rush out for dinner as Port (as the book says it's called) is small enough which means things close early, after being ignored at a shit looking Italian we found Spicy Yahmor Thai (there was no Indian in town) and it hit the spot. As we left the closing restaurant we encountered 8 Irish middle aged farmers looking for a feed, at 9:40pm on Easter Sunday they'll have been lucky. Would love to know what brought them to Port Mac. in the pissing rain.
Back at the B&B we had the run of the place, it was a split level 70's style house but gorgeous and we were upstairs in a fairly expensive room ($150 incl. Easter tax) and there was an even more expensive suite with a spa beside us, we also had a L shaped lounge room (sitting room in Ireland), kitchen, pool & balcony at our disposal and a choice of TV's - watched Hitchcock DVD 'The 39 Steps'.
After a massive brekker (hash browns and all) with our hosts 'Uncle Ian and Auntie Gretel' a Glaswegian and a Berliner who have been here for 44 years we headed off at 11am. All went well till we hit road narrowing and a side road joining from Myall lakes at 12:30pm 10km outside Buladelah which took an hour and 20mins to get through and then another 15mins queuing for petrol (we were well in empty). So that was crap. Finally we get past Newcastle and are the freeway doing 110km for about 10km (out of 130km) and then we hit a knot and stay between 40-60km on a bloody freeway till Gosford in the pissing rain, free my arse. Finally as we near my sister's place there's another backlog so we got off the freeway back to the highway and saved ourselves another 30 mins of torture, it was 17:35 when we rolled in there - it should have been 3pm! But my sister had dinner for us so that was a bonus.
So word to the even wiser do not drive back to Sydney on a public holiday - from anywhere ever!
In summary I loved the scenery up there, nice not to see scorched fields, people much more laid back and all accommodation and hospitality staff very nice. Don' t know if I would go to the Blues again as I much prefer to stay near the place like we did in Adelaide but that seems out of the question up there however we will see how the world recession effects them cause they are having a laugh with those accommodation prices. While Bryon Blues was well enough organized and had some big enough names it was the little things that were crappy, so Womad wins there also Womad wins on location and spacing out of stages. Byron wins for Govinda's food and the excellent Guatemalan chilli mocha's. Also think 2 separate 1 day tickets would have been enough as a lot of acts repeat so we could've organize ourselves better over 2 days maybe the Thurs which was good as it was less crowded (but with own transport) & Sat or Sun (as there was some new acts on the Sun). And I'd defo wait till Tuesday to return or fly next time.
Am thinking ...big birthday next year ...in Nimbin though...
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