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Published: November 4th 2015
Taking the Plunge
Dangar Falls in Dorrigo NP
The fourth week of our East Coast road-trip saw Linda and I heading north up the NSW Coast from Sydney, with our first stop being Caves Beach, just outside Swansea (a short distance from Newcastle). Thankfully the tide was out, so we were able to clamber about the rocks and explore the caves - some of which had passageways connecting them to each other - behind the southern end of the beach. From there we continued north to Newcastle, where we had just collected our take-away pizzas and headed to a nearby park as a threatening storm front blew in from the south, leaving us in perfect position from which to watch the deluge of rain and electrical storm as it beared down upon us... before we ultimately had to scamper back to the shelter of the campervan ourselves!
After a quick stop to find myself some new shoes - to replace the ones I had left behind in the Blue Mountains - we set a course for Port Stephens about an hour to the north; but without wanting to fork out thirty dollars for a caravan park and having been unable to find any free rest areas in the
Before the deluge
Thunderstorm over Newcastle
vicinity online, we decided to give one of the cheap campgrounds in Karuah National Park (just to the west of Port Stephens) a go. Unfortunately though my navigational skills let us down and we ended up on the edge of Karuah township rather than the national park about half-an-hour's drive to the north!
So after heading back along the highway and then turning off onto the curiously-named Bucketts Way, we eventually came to the unsealed road that led to the two campgrounds in question. And despite all of the rain that had no doubt fallen recently, apart from a couple of massive puddles and a whole bunch of potholes the road was actually in reasonable condition... at least for the first five kilometres or so, until we came around a bend and were confronted by a patch of mud that looked for all the world like the sort of obstacle that only a four-wheel-drive should be used to negotiate. Having learnt our lesson about biting off more than we can chew in the red dirt of Shark Bay last year, we took one look at the muddy slick and immediately decided to cut our losses and turn back the
Scenic rest area
Karuah River Bridge, beside the rest area
way we had come!
Unfortunately by now the sun had almost set, so with our patience running thin we returned to Karuah township, where we were just about to cross the Karuah River and continue on into parts unknown when I spotted a sign pointing to a free rest area right down beside the water! The location couldn't have been better, as to our left the Karuah River flowed underneath the road bridge and emptied out into the wide expanse of Port Stephens - and we even had toilets and a sheltered dining area at our disposal! If it weren't for the pesky 'No Camping' signs at either end of the carpark, it would have been perfect. But it had been a long day and we were tired and hungry, so near enough was good enough as far as we were concerned!
After passing an uneventful night at the rest area in Karuah, we took a detour to the northern side of Port Stephens to check out the twin towns of Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest (who names these towns anyway?!?), but with the weather being less than favourable we soon resumed our northerly advance until we came
Passing Wallis Lake in Booti Booti NP
to the Lakes Way, which headed up and over a low coastal mountain range before passing a series of lakes protected in the national parks of Myall Lakes and Booti Booti, eventually ending up in the twin towns (separated by a long, low bridge across the outlet of Wallis Lake) of Forster and Tuncurry.
Finding ourselves a nice park beside the water on the Tuncurry side, we killed time whilst waiting in vain for the weather to clear - though there was at least one highlight to speak of when I spotted a couple of dolphins trying to catch lunch near the bridge. Later in the afternoon, with both Linda and I starting to get agitated by our weather-enforced inactivity, we packed up and headed back out of town to find a campsite at the Ruins campground in Booti Booti National Park - located on a narrow strip of land between Nine Mile Beach and Wallis Lake.
No sooner had we arrived than we were immediately heading off on a 6km loop hike, that first took us up and over a headland overlooking the sea on the Booti Hill track, and then back to the campground along the
Crowdy Head Lighthouse in Crowdy Bay NP
shores of Wallis Lake on the Lakeside track. While the walk would no doubt have been significantly more enjoyable in nice weather, we at least felt better for having done something active; and were hopeful of better weather to come the following day.
Our prayers were answered to some extent the next morning, as there were at least some patches of blue sky amongst the typical blanket of grey as we enjoyed a scenic breakfast beside a tiny beach just inside the breakwater on the Tuncurry side of the entrance to Wallis Lake. Leaving Forster-Tuncurry behind the skies cleared for the first time in days (though it wasn't to last for long) as we entered Crowdy Bay NP. After checking out the quaint little lighthouse at Crowdy Head we then followed the unsealed (but excellent quality) coastal road through the park to Diamond Head, where we parked at the campground and set off on another loop hike - this time the 5km return walk to Indian Head campground, which featured views of an impressive natural rock arch along the way; as well as a small mob of kangaroos lazing about on the grass at the Indian Head campground. Much
Fox near the Korogoro Point track in Hat Head NP
to Linda's chagrin though, there were still no koala sightings!
Stopping in Port Macquarie for another scenic lunch (this time overlooking the town beach, just outside the harbour entrance) we then paid a visit to the Little Brewing Company - run by a friendly husband and wife team - where we satisfied our curiousity with some tasters of their regular beers, before grabbing some bottles of our favourites to take away with us. Once back on the road we then encountered the start of what seemed to be never-ending roadworks on the Pacific Highway, forcing us to constantly slow down and obey the 80km/h and 60km/h road signs - though at least the numerous stationary speed cameras deployed by NSW Main Roads weren't a problem, as each one was preceded by at least three warning signs!
Taking another detour from the highway - which we had done as often as possible throughout the trip, but were even more keen to do now in light of the massive construction projects going on - we took the road less travelled to the small coastal community of Hat Head, in the national park of the same name. Once there we checked
A massive vine that we passed on the Wonga Walk in Dorrigo NP
into the inexpensive Hat Head Holiday Park (where once again we had the entire unpowered campsite area to ourselves!) that backed onto Korogoro Creek; and as Linda set up the van for the night and then settled in to read her new book, I set off on a 3km loop hiking trail that circumnavigates the nearby Korogoro Point headland - where aside from numerous kangaroos I also managed to spot my first ever wild fox in Australia!
On Thursday we were greeted by more of the grey skies that had put a dampener on the previous three days, but even that couldn't have prepared us for the experience of walking THROUGH the clouds - which is exactly what we ended up doing when we hiked the 6km Wonga Walk loop trail near the Rainforest Centre in Dorrigo National Park. Protecting remnants of the Gondwana rainforests that are believed to have covered a large proportion of the super-continent of Gondwana up to 100 million years ago, it certainly wasn't hard to believe that these forests could have existed way back in the time of the dinosaurs - in fact as we followed the sealed walking path down into the depths
Ribbon of Water
Crystal Shower Falls in Dorrigo NP
of the forest with the cloud enveloping us, we half expected to see a Stegosaurus suddenly appear through the mists!
With massive old trees soaring skyward all around us - draped in mosses, ferns, vines and almost any other foliage you can imagine - it really was an impressive place to explore; and with the added bonus of two picturesque waterfalls (one of which, Crystal Shower Falls, we were able to walk behind) piercing the otherwise all-encompassing blanket of green. The ethereal, almost other-wordly atmosphere of this ancient rainforest was something that is hard to put into words, but suffice it to say it was one of the highlights of the week for both of us - and one that we were actually glad to have experienced in such miserable weather conditions!
Leaving the Rainforest Centre behind, we headed out the other side of Dorrigo town to Dangar Falls - where an impressive waterfall drops into a vast plunge pool surrounded by tree-clad cliffs on all sides. An hour or so later we came across another of the waterfalls that give the Waterfall Way it's name - this time Ebor Falls in Guy Fawkes River National Park, where
Our campsite at Thungutti Campground in New England NP
the view from the Lower Falls viewpoint was eclipsed by that of the Upper Falls. Eventually though it was time to seek shelter for the night - which is exactly what we found at Thungutti campground in nearby New England National Park, just a few kilometres from the viewpoint at Point Lookout.
With just one other couple camping at Thungutti, we had the large covered dining shelter (complete with dining tables and gas barbecues) all to ourselves - both for dinner that night and for breakfast the following morning. With the clouds having rolled in on top of us though, there didn't seem to be any point in checking out the lookout before we left; so we headed back to the main road and continued on for another thirty kilometres or so until we reached Wollomombi Gorge, where I was shocked to discover that although the gorge looked spectacular enough - it was actually devoid of flowing water! So much for the spectacular waterfalls that I had hoped to see...!
There was nothing left to do but turn around and re-trace our route along the Waterfall Way, though at least this time we were able to do it
Blue skies at last
Jetty Beach and Muttonbird Island in Coffs Harbour
at much higher speeds than we had been able to in the rain the day before. No sooner had we returned to the coast than the sun finally came out, which coincided with our arrival in Coffs Harbour. Needless to say we took full advantage of our sudden change in fortune, first enjoying a nice al fresco lunch near the beach and then tackling the short climb to the top of Muttonbird Island - which is connected to the mainland by the seawall that protects Coffs Harbour's marina; and which offers outstanding 360-degree views of the coastline... including whales breaching just offshore!
As if that wasn't enough, I was FINALLY able to go for my first swim since leaving Sydney five dys earlier at Jetty Beach - which was exactly the sort of morale-booster I needed after the clouds and rain that had plagued us for most of the week. Finally getting back on the road late in the afternoon, we followed the highway inland to Grafton - which with it's scenic location beside the wide expanse of the Clarence River and it's abundance of purple-flowering jacaranda trees was considerably more attractive than most other country towns.
Country town in bloom
Parked under the massive jacaranda trees in Grafton
spending the night at a free rest area just outside Grafton, we headed straight back into town the next morning for a relaxing breakfast at a picnic area overlooking the Clarence River, before following the highway back to the coast where we passed straight through Ballina in order to reach our objective for the weekend: Byron Bay - which Linda in particular had been looking forward to visiting perhaps more than any other town on the East Coast.
Our initial plan was to stay at the Arts Factory Lodge - a backpacking and alternative lifestyle institution - until we discovered that their 'campground' was actually just a crowded car park! Needless to say we decided that we could do better for $34 per night - and that was exactly how much we ended up paying for a powered campsite at the excellent Broken Head Holiday Park, located right beside the beach (and with it's own nature reserve) only about six kilometres south of Byron Bay. After a quick trip back into town to stock up on groceries (and beer for me) we were ready to settle in for a relaxing afternoon at Broken Head, as Linda buried her head
Linda hitting the beach with book and beverage in hand at Broken Head
in her latest book while I brushed up on my bodysurfing skills.
My only concern for the weekend was how and where to watch the Rugby World Cup final at 3am on Saturday night / Sunday morning given that no pubs would be open at that hour and unlike the prevoius weekend in Sydney there was no TV room at the caravan park. Faced with no other alternatives, I ended up staying awake all night and streaming the game live (with only limited success) on my laptop - only to watch the Australia's Wallabies lose to the all-conquering and pretty-much invincible New Zealand All Blacks 34 - 17 - before eventually getting to bed at 6am on Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up (and subsequently starting to turn our campervan into an oven)! Thank goodness World Cups only come around once every four years...
Despite only getting to bed at 6am, I was up with Linda at 9am and heading straight to the beach for another swim/bodysurfing session; before we headed into town where I dropped Linda off to check out the monthly markets and then headed out to Cape Byron just outside the town
Cape Byron Lighthouse
centre - which is famous for being the Australian mainland's most easterly point - to walk the Cape Byron loop track.
Though the weather was cloudy and the winds from the north quite strong, the views certainly made up for any discomfort as the trail worked it's way up and along the shoreline from Palm Valley, past Wategos Beach and up to the base of the Cape Byron Lighthouse; bfore dropping down the other side of the cape past Tallow Beach (which stretches all the way south to Broken Head) and then crossing over to Clarke's Beach and back to Palm Valley - where I finished off with a swim at The Pass, where a small rocky island sits perched on the edge of the beach, accessible only at low tide.
Meeting up back in town, Linda and I then met up with Tom and Tamiko, whom we had been put in touch with via a mutual friend named Ros (whom I had met with her partner Steve whilst sailing the Whitsunday Islands nine years ago) who had noticed that Linda and I were heading up the East Coast while Tom and Tamiko were heading down, and had
Tallow Beach, stretching from Cape Byron to Broken Head
introduced us on facebook! Whilst swapping travel tales and tips on the best campgrounds, attractions etc we were all in agreement that Western Australia (and in particular the area around Esperance in the south and - Karijini National Park in the north) was perhaps the jewel in Australia's crown; and Linda and I couldn't help but be jealous at the fact that Tom and Tamiko had already been on the road for four months (having started in Esperance) and were hoping to keep going for another four months - which made our two-month trip from Melbourne to Cairns look like a weeekend getaway in comparison! Oh well, maybe one day we'll be so lucky!
After heading back to the caravan park at Broken Head and going for yet another swim, I left Linda with her head buried in her book once more and followed a short hiking trail through the neighbouring nature reserve, which left from just behind the beach and followed the shoreline around the headland past the Three Sisters rock formation and ended up at the beautiful and secluded Kings Beach. And with the sun slowly setting behind the hills to the west and the clouds overhead
A fine end to the week
Sunset behind Kings Beach in Broken Head Nature Reserve
being painted in the delicate colours of nature's palette, it was hard not to be impressed by this beautiful little corner of the world. We'd already spent four weeks on the road and had followed the coast all the way from Melbourne up to Byron Bay, but we were still only halfway through our journey - and we still hadn't made it to Queensland yet...!
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