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Published: March 26th 2011
Our home for 5 days
Hey from Byron Bay! I’m here 2 days after my awesome road trip from Sydney to Brisbane. Julie and I rented a camper van from Wicked (the cheapest of all the camper van rental companies) for 5 days. We started out in the afternoon on a rainy Monday and fought our way through the huge crowd al trying to get their reserved campers on the road. The staff member serving us was a French guy who looked as if it wasn’t possible for him to be less enthusiastic about his job, but after about an hour’s worth of waiting, paperwork, and more waiting, we got our ride and got out of the depot and onto the road! I’ve only driven through Sydney once in my life and I intend to leave it at that, it’s like trying to drive through down town Vancouver, if down town Vancouver were 10 times larger!
Eventually we made good on our escape of the city and were on Highway 1 heading north to Brisbane which was over 900 kilometres away! Our plan was to take a bit of a more scenic route and stop off in a few places we read about in the
Lonely Planet guide to Australia, and it went a little downhill from there. Wicked campers come with everything you need, mattresses, curtains, camp stove, dishes, cook pots, and utensils, that’s everything you need with the exception of a map. We saw a couple of things off of the highway but had difficulty getting back onto the highway! When we did, I managed to get us going south back towards Sydney instead of north! I eventually got back on track, but we’d lost about an hour’s worth of daylight.
We ended up close to New Castle when we set up for the night (a place called Stockton) though it seemed that no matter which direction we went in we were heading towards New Castle, where we parked the van was next to a holiday park and about 10 meters from the beach! There is something very nice about waking up around 7 in the morning and going for a swim in the ocean (or sea considering it was the Tasman Sea).
It was this morning on the beach that a stunning realization hit me, I’m in Australia! I mean sure, they say welcome to Sydney when you get off
The Southern Hemisphere's largest dunes
of the plane, but there wasn’t anything that felt concrete with that. Australia is a place you hear about in geography class when you’re a kid, you see it in an atlas, but you don’t go there! It’s made me reflect a bit on how far away from home I really am, and how many different and exciting places there are left to explore in the world.
Julie, the rebel she is, decided to slip into the holiday park where we used the facilities camp kitchen to cook our breakfast before using the washrooms (with electronic password key pads on the doors ) to shower. I was not quite as lucky getting a shower since they were cleaning the men’s room at the time.
We went up the peninsula towards Nelson Bay through Anna Bay before stopping at Shoal Bay for lunch. It was a very nice beach, white sands, blue water, and with almost no one else there besides a couple fishermen and a family way down at the other end. There were dolphins a short distance off shore who seemed happy to
jump out of the water in the gentle surf. After eating, we made our way to the Stockton Bight where we saw the longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere, before we turned ourselves around with a little effort and made our way back to the highway we followed for a shot time before taking the more scenic coastal highway. On the smaller highway we passed the 7, 1, and 9 Mile beaches, along with 4 Mile hill and the 1 Mile Beach close to Nelson Bay, I am starting to think the explorers who named the terrain in this area were a little less creative than they could have been.
As night fell, we got to Crowdy Head (just south of Crowdy Bay National Park ) and parked ourselves on the hilltop next to the light house. Dinner of steaks and salad were had and all they while we were mercilessly assailed by mosquitoes or “Mozzies” to use and Aussie term. Crowdy Head is a very small town without much of a beach parking lot, so we drove back towards Harrington. We had intended to get all the way to Port Macquarie that day so we
We set up camp here near Harrington
asked one of the few people still out on the street at that time of night about the gravel road that was a more direct route to the highway than turning around and going back the way we had come to get to the highway. He told us where it was, just a little ways back where we had come from towards Crowdy Head, but he was very concerned and encouraged us to find somewhere close to town to sleep. He said that the road was very bad and would be difficult to navigate at night along with the hazards of “thousands of roos” (apparently Kangaroos are more active at night than in the day) since it was surrounded by bush. We drove a bit of a way back up the small road to Crowdy and parked at a remote beach access before calling it a night.
We again woke early to catch the sunrise over the water and beach (this one completely isolated save for the city some 20 km to the south and the tiny white dot of the Crowdy Head lighthouse to the north) and went back to town. Back in Harrington we casually walked into
The elderly group who talked to us about our trip
the holiday park like we belonged in the place and took our showers before making our way towards the camp kitchen for breakfast. I hate to brag (but not that much) but I am getting pretty damn good at making pancakes, many travel companions have made comments like “fantastic, amazing, and delicious” and the ones I did up in the small camp kitchen were no different. I make mine with a cup and a half of flour, a cup and a splash of milk, a table spoon of oil or butter/margarine, a tablespoon and a half of sugar (or half that and the rest cinnamon sugar), 2 teaspoons backing powder and an egg. Mix and cook pancakes!
We took our sweet time getting to Port Macquarie, taking the scenic gravel road through the bush (bad me since we weren’t supposed to take the van off of pavement or drive after 6pm) which kind of reminded me of the road to Nitinat and was much more fun to drive than boring straight highway and we ended up in a little town called Laurieton. We stopped in the Dooragan National Park to the west after driving up the mountain to the
lookout. It was a fantastic sight of the bay and the small towns and lakes around Laurieton and we met a funny group of seniors who were interested in our trip so far, we even took a picture with them. We didn’t stay in Port Macquarie all that long, just a couple hours in which we ate some watermelon and took a walk along Lighthouse Beach. The further north we get the more birds and lizards I see, there was a big fat one (lizard that is) sunning himself on the wooden stairs that led from the beach to the lighthouse, he also seemed completely unconcerned that people were walking by within mere inches of him.
After a few hours time back on the main highway, we were in Coffs Harbour and found the perfect spot to park the van, a place called Park Beach. We had gotten there relatively early, about 6:30 and we had dinner before heading down to the beach where I constructed a bonfire with the abundant driftwood for smores (s’mores?). A couple of French girls who were traveling by camper joined us for a short time before they had to continue on. Since there
Man Make Fire!
My awesome s'mores fire on the beach at Coffs Harbour
is no such thing as a graham cracker outside of North America, we had to use what we had available which were Scottish biscuits, chocolate, and marshmallows that had a strange vanilla flavour to them. All the same, the smores were very tasty and the French girls said they were sure to make them again.
The chance of any kind of fire spreading is low since there was over 15 meters of sand between us and the foliage beyond the beach, but there are signs on the highway denoting the fire hazard like back home. Unlike back home, where the Canadian sign makers are practical and relatively boring (eg. Risk of fire Low, Moderate, High, Very High) the Australians seem to have a talent for dramatization and exaggeration, the signs start off at Low (which is shaded green) but over the course of 4 more stages makes it up to Catastrophic (which is red with diagonal black lines through it). I made it a point to try to use the word in a sentence at least 10 times that day. I wish I could say that I managed a picture of one of the signs, but that will have
Haven't seen any in the wild yet
to wait until I come upon one again.
Again rising with the sun we went for a swim in the warm waters before we so brazenly made our way into the holiday park not half a block from where we parked and repeated the process of showering and having breakfast in their facility. Clean and fed we returned to the van and decided to pop over to a canoe rental place before we left the town. The canoe was very similar in design to the ones back home, but instead of proper canoe paddles, we were given kayak paddles. The river was relatively calm and we paddled up river so that the return trip would be easier. The water was pretty silty so we did not swim in it despite the many rope swings along the banks.
Before leaving, Julie insisted that we see the famed “Coffs Harbour Giant Banana” that takes credit for starting the “giant whatever” that can be found in so many Australian cities. The banana itself was less than impressive, but the amount of banana shaped and themed crap they had in the gift shop was absolutely staggering. The only reason there was the
Main beach and the surrounding cityscape
banana theme was because of the small plantation behind the concrete behemoth, that’s right, it’s hot enough here for bananas to grow in the open, I am not in my element.
We drove on to a tiny town called Red Rock that bore resemblance to Nitinat if only for the towns population and composition (general store, motel, lots of small houses, middle of nowhere) though the only reason we were there was to drive along some fabled road through the Yuraygir National Part (I have no idea how to pronounce it either) only to find that it did not exist. It was a big setback to the route planned for the day and lost us a couple hours. We stopped of in some tiny little surf town called Angourie which as most Aussie surfers know is home (high fenced mansion actually) to the founder of Billabong surf brand Gordon Merchant. I had no idea who this person was, but Julie seemed excited about it and we stopped by the one mansion this small town of 169 had.
Nightfall snuck up on us faster than expected, and it was about 9pm before I found a place to park for
Our second watermelon named Bob
the night in Ballina. I can tell you that after the days long drive and the difficulty in finding a place to rest (on Saint Patrick’s Day no less) I was starting to get a little frustrated. When we did get ourselves parked it was nowhere near the beach or a holiday park, but we made due. We even went out to a nearby pub for a pint of Australian Guinness (I say Australian Guinness because it is different here compared to back home and reportedly from Ireland). I have tried to finish a Guinness for Saint Patrick’s Day for the last few years but until now have been unable to do so, something to do with the fact that I required a knife and fork for the remaining third of the beer usually marks the end point for me, but this one was much easier to put down and seemed to have a bit less flavour by Guinness standards. In the end we also made off with some cool hats.
Before we left the next morning we stopped a really nice beach for a swim before going to the giant prawn on the roof of some building. To my absolute amazement, the establishment beneath said giant prawn was fenced off and seemed to be out of business! How could that be though? They had a giant prawn on the roof, who wouldn’t stop to see that and pay for fresh seafood at the co-op below and pay for prawn related merchandise? Ok, after having said that I think I answered my own question (sarcasm).
We went on to Lennox Head and stopped for a coffee and to recharge our cell phones (unfortunately there was no inverter in the van) before continuing to Byron Bay. We had originally planned to end the trip there before we rented out the van, but that would have incurred another $100 charge for not dropping it off in a main town. Byron Bay is described as a town populated by “laid back, New Age people living an escapist organic lifestyle” which translates to hippies and surfers. It is a nice little town, abundant restaurants, plenty of surf shops, hostels, and everything else that goes along with the granola lifestyle. Is this a place that I can survive in? Being from the wilds of Canada and growing up where Hippie is a bad word I think it may be hard, but then you see the multitude of surfer chicks walking by in their bikinis with boards under their arms and it seems like this lazy beach life could be easier to get into than I thought.
Before too long we made it up to Surfers Paradise along Broad Beach is a part of a large city situated along the entire length of Broad Beach. The beach is maybe 25km long and has several lookouts situated along it’s length giving great views of the cityscape and surrounding coast. The city itself was somewhat claustrophobic after staying in so many small towns and since the Lonely Planet said that the population was only 6000, we thought this was another small town. We went north to one of the suburbs were there was a nice park before we made dinner (chicken in a cream and white wine sauce with a side of salad). Unfortunately we would not be able to stay at the park because of its proximity to the bustling city and continued on. After a frustrating hour of trying to escape the dark city suburbs with poorly marked street signs and no map to speak of, we finally got out and were on the highway again. The best bet we had on a small town with a beach to sleep on was a fair ways to the north called Jacobs Well.
We got into the small remote town around 10pm and found the holiday park next to the towns main boat launch, parked in a spot and called it a night. Again we were harassed by mosquitoes but I was honestly to tired from the drive to care. It was our last day with the van and like almost every other we walked into the holiday park like we owned the place and showered before breakfast. The weather had kind of packed it in so there wasn’t much else to do but drive on up to Brisbane. We were going to meet some friends there we had made in the hostel in Sydney as one was making a toque for me (she wasn’t able to finish it before leaving on their road trip) in exchange for a dinner I made for them and their friends about a week before. Again I got lost in the crazy windy roads that are Brisbane thanks to the crazy windy river that goes through the middle of the city but we eventually got to the road our hostel was supposed to be on. It was a one way road and we were too far down it the other way so I simply parked in a 7-11 and we made soup in the parking lot, camping in the urban jungle I suppose. They eventually met us there before they continued on north.
New toque on head, we made it to the hostel and dumped our gear off before returning the camper. It was still raining and there was a decent walk back so we asked the one mechanic at Wicked who we returned the van to if they had a junky umbrella we could take with us, he returned with a beach umbrella which we gladly accepted. The entire journey back to the hostel got us some funny looks, but we were much drier than we would have been.
Two days letter and after visiting a couple more people from the Sydney hostel who were in town and we’re now at Byron Bay. I am looking for work as well as a room to rent as it is much cheaper ($150-180 a week compared to $210 at the hostel) than the alternative. I am in a bit of a money bind but I will have work by the end of the week here in Byron Bay or I will be going further into the outback where a man can make a decent buck in exchange for the isolation such a place brings. In either case, I’ll let you guys know when anything new comes up.
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