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Published: January 13th 2016
Our day started with a 4.30 am alarm for a 6.15 taxi. What was it with these early get ups? As a morning person and an early riser I didn't struggle too much but 4.30 am??? Get a life. As a night person and a late riser it was more of an effort for Steve ... Our Greyhound bus was punctual as ever at 7.00 am and we got another lovely driver, Brian, who had a 12 hour shift ahead of him through to Grafton. I got it wrong about the DOG registrations on the Greyhound buses. Apparently, they ran out of those and the newer registrations (though not necessarily on newer buses) have a PUP registration. Some buses have neither, so I guess they'll have to start on the CURs for those that are bitches to drive. Anyhoo, we had another DOG on this occasion, there were only 14 passengers for the journey and we got a front seat again. Perfect.
The journey out of Sydney took us onto and over the Sydney Harbour Bridge so we could have saved ourselves some aching muscles doing it on foot the day before. Never mind. We took the M1 past Killara
and Pymble on the Pacific Highway and then the A15 into Newcastle which was really pretty and picturesque. The driver was amused when I did the comparison with the home version of Newcastle. We were able to get off the bus for a break there and we really could have spent longer, it was so nice. We continued on the A43 until another break in Karuah where, on leaving, we almost ran over a green carpet snake, thankfully the only snake we had seen so far. Our driver guaranteed us a sight of some kangaroos, knowing of two spots where they were always present but, once again, they were conspicuous by their absence. After journeying through to Tuncurry and Forster (which had pelicans and a super marina/harbour and where I dressed a fellow passenger in a pink wig so she could surprise her brother) we eventually arrived in Port Macquarie via the B56 and Oxley Highway at about 2.00 pm. The day had started grey but the sun was out by the time we arrived and the journey had been pleasant through green pastureland and coastal towns. We felt we were beginning to experience another side of Australia and enjoyed
the views and relaxed travelling.
The Greyhounds tend to drop people off in convenient-to-park-a-big-red-bus places when the location doesn't have the benefit of a transit centre. They only run a once a day service generally so you'd think the taxi drivers would know what time they'd be due to arrive and arrange to be just passing or somewhere nearby when they did. Nope, not a chance. The backpacker hostels had their act together and were waiting to collect their visitors but we had to make it up as we went along! As ever, Steve had anticipated this situation and had tried to choose accommodation close to drop off points in small town Australian settings but his view of what was within walking distance and what was a taxi ride away was often not the same as mine, especially with luggage in tow. So, armed with preprepared maps (did I mention that while Vodafone coverage was good it wasn't guaranteed and it was better not to rely on getting a service?) off we set, Steve intending to walk and me intending to hop in the first taxi I saw. It took longer to find than I would have liked and
we were probably half way to our accommodation by the time I did, but I eventually woke up a sleeping taximan long enough to get him to take us the rest of the way. Our accommodation, the Beach House Apartments, was directly opposite Town Beach and the owner was having a nap when we got there so he just gave us the keys and said he'd see us in the morning - no form filling or ID needed, very relaxed and typical of Port Macquarie attitude and lifestyle. Our apartment had everything we could need (well, apart from a hairdryer but my hair was getting to the point of ponytail anyway by this stage - Chantalle, if you're reading this, come quickly!) and had a wonderful sea view from the spacious balcony where I spent many hours.
We had two and a half nights (see later!) in Port Macquarie and I just loved it. The town was mainly low rise and was small enough to walk from one side where our apartment was on the beach to the other side where the pub was in 20 minutes. It had a shopping area (no malls here but a supermarket, launderette,
bakery and restaurants, etc) and lovely harbour. We took the coast road, the riverside walk and the residential routes and they were all clean and tidy but the pavements, such as they were, often just stopped forcing us pedestrians to either walk on the road (no traffic, no problem) or on the grass (ants!). There were some multi-million dollar properties with wonderful coastal views but for that kind of money I would want a path outside my house! There was a koala trail (a bit like Hull's Larkin toads) and, being an inveterate collector, Steve insisted we find and photograph as many as we could. I couldn't decide what the purpose of it all was (fundraising/sponsorship/street art/frivolous fun???) but it didn't really matter.
The local Lions and Rotary Clubs were present and active in the town and they had signposted the various walks, provided timely seating, built safe, sturdy but innocuous access paths and footbridges to the clearly labelled sights and summarised key historical features - this town once again was built by convicts and evolved from those roots. The coastal walks were just lovely - every turn led into a different cove or empty stretch of beach, some
sandy and some rocky, perfect for 'crabbing', and offered a different vista. We walked along to Flagstaff Hill, Oxley Beach and Windmill Hill via the Doctors' Walk, where the benches were dedicated to various medics associated with the town. It seemed like a dodgy profession to follow though, as many of them seemed to have died young! Some of the old, original artefacts from the colonial convict era survived and were showcased in their natural settings (bits of a windmill, a flagstaff, a winch that was used to haul the boats on to the beach when weather conditions meant they couldn't enter the river, etc) and it was delightful to discover them (better than finding all the koala statues for me, at any rate!) and the beaches were much bigger, sandier, emptier and, overall, better than Bondi though I can't vouch for the waves in terms of surfing. I can tell you that the sea was perfect for dolphins and I saw several from the balcony one morning, just a bit of a highlight for me. The apartment owner, John, told us the dolphins were common visitors to the area and could also be seen in the River Hastings if
they followed the fish into the estuary. We never saw any dolphins in the river but we discovered that the rocks used to create the breakwall were colourfully painted by visitors and locals alike and had become an ever-changing, evolving piece of artwork accessible to everyone. All you needed was a blank rock and something colourful to slap on it. Although clearly done by amateurs the rocks were all the better for that, and generally recorded holidays, events, births/marriages/deaths (we saw no divorces recorded there!) etc, and some were very artistic with mosaic effects incorporated. I really liked it and so, it seemed, did the townspeople who had embraced and encouraged the concept rather than viewing it as graffiti and trying to put a stop to it. I would have liked to do a 'we woz here' rock myself but, having nothing more than a stick of lipgloss in my bag, it would have been a bit boring and erased at the first high tide so I decided not to risk a broken ankle clambering down to do it given that it seemed that most of the town doctors were already dead!
We visited the town's koala hospital one
day. It was a short walk away, on the outskirts of the town and claims to be the only one in the world (there is clearly a distinction to be made between sanctuary and hospital!). It was surprisingly busy. The koalas are recovered from a wide area by the volunteers who work there and the injuries mainly result from dog attacks, traffic injuries and bushfires. The koalas' natural habitat is being gradually eroded and they are being forced into populated areas in search of food. The hospital has used the raised funding to buy pockets of land to provide protected areas for the recovered and released koalas and the hospital provides a lifelong home to those creatures who will never be able to fend for themselves again. Many suffer from a degenerative eye condition which can lead to blindness and some have such badly injured paws and claws that they can't forage for themselves. They seem to be doing some brilliant work and we spent a lovely morning there. I bought lots of (lightweight) things there to contribute to funds.
The hospital sits in the same grounds as Roto House, a historical building from colonial times. I met a
volunteer there who had come over as a £10 Pom nurse 50 or so years ago, met her husband here and had settled in Port Macquarie with her family. She was originally from close to Middlesbrough but told everyone she was from near Whitby as everyone had heard of that due to Captain Cook and besides, who would want to say they were from Middlesbrough?! I was quite miffed on Middlesbrough's behalf. As the birthplace and home town of the amazing, incredible, vocally-talented Mr Paul Rodgers who wouldn't want to be associated with that?! Anyway, she recognised my Yorkshire accent immediately and we had a lovely chat. She also pointed out a wild koala just chilling in a tree in the grounds, feet away from where we were standing. I think he had been attracted by the lady koalas in the hospital!
Our walk back to our apartment took us past trees full of huge fruit bats and the town pub which had an original brewing still on display next to a free-to-use breathalyzer so, of course, we had to call in. We returned to pack for the next leg of our journey. Over the course of our time
in Port Macquarie I had had some lovely chats with the owners of the accommodation. They had a Yorkshire connection in that their daughter had studied at Leeds University for a while. Our Greyhound was due to depart at 0145 (is that early morning or very late evening?) and Mrs Accommodationowner had helped us book a taxi for 0115. I was less than confident this would turn up as the concept of a 24 hour taxi service in this small town was a bit of a stretch too far. I decided to treat the ungodly hour as an early morning get-up and went to bed to attempt to sleep. Steve decided to treat it as another late night and attempted to stay up and awake. With phone and alarm clock set to wake up the whole building and hopefully us too, we settled down until it was time to dress and go. And guess who was waiting for us as we tried to leave quietly? Not just a taxi and driver but also Mr and Mrs Accommodationowners and their dog, Jade, who had also joined the Doubting Thomas Club and were ready, with car on standby, to run us to
the bus stop if the taxi hadn't turned up! How lovely was that? Our 'quiet' departure turned into a noisy fond farewell, loud enough to wake the whole town. Which, judging by the number of other bleary-eyed travellers waiting to catch the bus, was no bad thing ....
PS RIP David Bowie - Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong ....
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