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Published: January 7th 2008
Mini pints in the Hunter.
The Hunter Valley is rather beautiful and we arrived in Cessnock, excited to be starting our trip proper, and to be in wine country. Wine in Australia is cheap and excellent, even the cheapest, nastiest stuff purchased in boxes for only a few dollars is drinkable. With the luxury of our own transport we were able to tour the region ourselves, for there are countless vineyards and all have showrooms which operate wine tasting sessions. Selecting a few randomly, we enjoyed the free wine (and cheese!), and made a couple of shrewd purchases. If you are without your own transport you can join a tour group that will drive you round until you can drink no more. A gabble of Shelas on our campsite returned legless and kept us amused with their shrieking, until it became quite frustrating, then infuriating. That evening the rain started…
The next day we visited a brewery, where a local said how lucky everyone felt that it was finally raining; Australia has suffered terrible droughts earlier in the year. For the next few days her words echoed in my mind as the rain ruthlessly continued, as we moved up the coast and away from it,
The fantastic, but very wet, Melaleuca Surfside Backpackers in Nelson Bay.
the Hunter Valley and the area around Newcastle suffered horrendous flooding in the worst weather in 35 years. People died, communities were destroyed. Although we were not caught in the eye-of-the-storm, the rain certainly hit us too, as we moved out of the Hunter Valley on to Port Stephens. Port Stephens, is a secluded bay area, surrounded by yet more bays. Our choice of campsite proved perfect considering the weather, with a superb common room and kitchen area, the place was an eco-friendly retreat, and the grounds had wild koalas in the trees, and a pet wallaby bouncing around. As the rain continued, Bob proved he could handle the extra pressure, but for us sleeping was troublesome with the rain hammering down on the roof. We found ourselves rained in, surrounded by a lake, the grounds were too flooded to stay on, so that night we moved Bob to the safety of a gravel car park. All the whale watching tours had been cancelled, and there was no need for us to be here any longer, we drove through the storms for 250km until it finally eased in Port Macquarie.
What a difference that made. Port Macquarie was dry
The pet joey.
and sunny, our campsite a field, practically to ourselves, against the backdrop of the sea, protected by a quite remarkable break wall. Built from massive rocks the break wall runs for around 2km and protects the town from the unpredictable sea, it’s also special as all the rocks have slowly been covered in graffiti. Vandalism? Perhaps, but most of the rocks contain personal messages for lost loved ones, or political statements, it’s a very interesting walk. Inspired by our koala sighting in Port Stephens, we visited a koala sanctuary. The koala experience is a must for all visitors to Australia, these unique bears are true to your preconceptions: cute, fluffy, docile, lazy balls of joy. The sanctuary does a wonderful job rehousing and rehabilitating these koalas, seeming run by Doris and Betty alone! Our wildlife spotting was not over just yet, for we saw our first kookaburra; a large bird with warped proportions.
While in Port Mac we also took a whale watching tour. Operated by an eccentric local couple the tour was insightful and we saw the whales. My sea legs failed me again after five minutes at sea, but I held it together to wonder at these
beautiful creatures that would occasionally pop their bodies out of the water, for us to snap our cameras. The results, I’m sure you will agree, are rather disappointing, but the experience was worth it. That afternoon we moved on to Coffs Harbour.
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