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Published: November 21st 2015
We drove a short-way down the Pacific Highway on our second day in the van. We stopped at Byron Bay, a busy place which seemed to have only one attraction: it's extremely crowded beach. After an amazing icecream, which was more cinder toffee than icecream, we left. Our campsite for the evening was Evans Head, which was on a nice location next to a river. That evening it rained very heavily and was still raining in the morning. Camping in the rain is definitely an experience.
We left Evans Head determined to get to a national park, the Mann River National Park which is in a forest called Die Hard. One of the great things about Australia is that some of the national parks allow free camping. They generally lack facilities such as electricity and only have very basic sanitation but you don't have to pay. We selected Mann River as our first as it looked beautiful and was the first completely free site we'd found. It also took us more inland and this was close to the route we wanted to take.
We drove down the Pacific Highway towards Grafton and then joined the Gwidyr Highway. We had
to turn back to buy a new gas stove after we tried to boil some water at lunchtime and discovered that the stove wasn't working. After a detour our about an hour we continued our journey.
It was still raining heavily and driving through it was difficult. We drove through countryside which looked as if it could be English. This is not surprising as we were in the New England part of New South Wales. The land was alternately green rolling hills with farms and forests. We reached a large bridge over the Mann River. The river was wide with tree covered islands littered across it. Next to it was a campsite. As we were planning to go to Mann River I assumed this was our site but Lindsey told me it was another 80km. I was tempted to stay here as the location was stunning.
We drove on through the rain, getting stuck behind a four-wheel drive insistent on driving slowly despite his obvious capabilities. We drove onwards, through deepening forest, over lots of creeks, including one called Awkward Gully. Eventually we came to our turnoff and joined a gravel road. This was tough on the van
which felt like it was shaking itself apart. It was also very naughty on our part as we were not insured if we went off sealed roads.
The gravel road lasted four or five kilometres before it became tarred again. This was just before it descended steeply into the valley. The road was very winding. On several of the bends we came across kangaroos or wallabies. We reached the valley floor after about 10km and came to a river in flood over the road. I asked Lindsey to wade in it to see how deep it was. It only came up to her ankles but as I watched her I could see the force with which it moved. There was also the chance that we would be cut off the next day as there was obviously a lot more water to come down off the hills. We discussed it and decided against going across. We had another problem too - as we were in an automatic I couldn't select an appropriate gear for the steep hills. I could smell the breaks burning. I also felt the seat next to me, which sits on top of the engine, and this
was very hot. We were six kilometres short of our target when we turned around. We limped back up the steep hill, disappointed but sure we'd made the right decision. Having taken about an hour to go down and then back up we came back to the highway. We had no choice but to go on, leaving Die Hard behind.
Lindsey found another campsite at Beardy Creek which was also free. We had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be a small patch of land between a creek and the busy highway. When we arrived we saw half a dozen caravans, all larger than ours. We headed for the creek but were advised against it by one of the other drivers who said the creek would flood. Lindsey visited the single toilet facility, described as a "long drop". I'll leave the mechanics of this to your imagination. After her description, it was only in the morning I could bring myself to look at it. It was at least as bad as you're imagining.
We set up the van and cooked sausages, bacon and tomatoes. After dinner we spent some time admiring the sunset which was
casting shades of red, blue, purple and yellow across the whole sky. In each direction it looked different but amazing. The rain had stopped but the cloud was still there, every part of it illuminated. It was the most awe-inspiring sunset I'd ever seen.
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