Around Port Stephens, NSW - 30 June to 4 July 2012

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July 11th 2012
Published: July 12th 2012
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So here we are back in a motorhome and we both felt it was so familiar and soon settled back into the ‘van’ life again. We drove north heading for Port Stephens, stopping at a shopping mall to pick up supplies and into Tomaree National Park where we had booked a campsite right next to One Mile Beach. As we travelled along we noticed an abundance of Gymea Lilies, in amongst the trees, we had seen some planted along side the roads in Sydney and Gaye had one in her garden but it had never flowered (that’s how we knew what they were). Well they were certainly flowering here and looked amazing as some were as tall as the surrounding gum trees - this giant plant had many sword like leaves and the flower spike grows up to 5 metres high and bears a striking head of red flowers - like a hat perched on top. The Gymea Lily grows in open forest and woodland with sandy soils and it only occurs in New South Wales along the coast, thats why we had not seen them before. Apparently they are also planted in parks and along side roads where we had seen them in the centre of Sydney a few days before. Although they looked so much better dotted amongst the gum trees and

We had expected our first campsite to be full as it was the start of the school holidays but the lady owner said that it was very quiet this year. In fact more so than normal which she said was due to the cold weather (again not normal) but also people with being cautious with their monies - particularly because of the impending ‘carbon tax’. The owner invited us to a free ‘sausage sizzler’ they were giving in the camp kitchen so we went along which was great as we did not have to cook on our first night. It was mainly young families though, but we enjoyed watching the kids trying to eat more ‘sizzlers’ than their friends and then racing to be outside playing on their skateboards.

We later had a short walk along the beach which was just behind the campsite and watched the surfers out in the bay as well as some locals fishing nearby. It was a lovely beach but I do not think we will be doing much swimming - will have to head further north for that. We did have a little luxury though as we had booked an ‘en-suite campsite’ so did not have far to go for shower and loo - we thought we would get back into the ‘nomadic’ way of life, slowly.......

The next day we visited the local Visitor Centre at Nelson Bay to pick up some leaflets on the area - we always found these useful and the assistants were very helpful as well. We decided go on a couple of walks in the Tomaree National Park which spreads along the coastline all around the Port Stephens area. We walked along the bay at Nelson watching the boats ready to take people out to see the dolphins and whales whilst others sat eating huge breakfasts in little cafes dotted along the harbourside.

We drove around the bay to visit Nelson Head Heritage Lighthouse and Reserve, the road continued to a the small car park which was full so we had to manoeuvre the van and get back down the hill. We decided probably best to park at the bottom and walk up and were rewarded with a panoramic view of the entrance of Port Stephens. There was a small museum with various artifacts from its previous use as a lighthouse and a lovely little cafe overlooking the bay. We had coffee and cake and were joined by some colourful lorikeets looking for a free handout. A sign said ‘do not feed the birds’ and little water sprays were on the tables!! However as soon as anyone got up the birds swooped down before the assistants could get out to clear the tables.

We later parked the motorhome by the beach and climbed up to Tomaree Head Summit which was a Class 3 walk of 1.5 hours. Tomaree Head stands at 160 metres and the views were breathtaking. You could see the nature reserves of Broughton Island, Cabbage Tree Island and Boondelbah Island. You could make out the beaches of Zenith, Wreck and Box around the bay and the sand spit leading to Fingal Island and the Lighthouse. We could see whales boats in the distance and spotted a couple of whales far out to sea. Our next walk was to a lookout at Gan Gan Hill - the lady in the visitor centre had said that we should be able to get our motorhome up the track! We proceeded up this extremely narrow steep lane only to find half way up just as we were turning a bend that the road was blocked with a sign saying closed - they could have put the sign at the bottom of the hill, we did manage to turn around just though.........

We then drove to Boat Harbour near Anna Bay and parked on the edge of some rocks before walked out a small headland where we had seen a few whale plumes and as we watched we saw many more - several huge pods of whales were swimming by just off shore. We could see then breaching and tail flapping as they swam past the point travelling north. The rocky headland is one of the best sites for land based whale watching and every time we came we saw many whales passing through. Over 6000 Humpback Whales pass close to the entrance of Port Stephens when migrating north and return later in the year after calving. Coastal Bottlenose Dolphins are also seen in huge numbers and as we watched we saw several swimming along side with the whales.

The Humpback is one of the most energetic and well known of the large whales. It is popular with whale watchers everywhere for its spectacular surface displays - breaching, lobtailing and flipper slapping. It is also one of the easiest whales to identify; from a distance by it’s long pectoral flippers, and close up by its knobby head and low stubby dorsal fin.

Humpbacks can attain a size of 16m or 52ft (females are usually larger than males) and can weigh up to 30 tons. They are black, blue-black or dark grey and usually have a partially white underside. The broad tail flukes have a ragged trailing edge and, like the pectoral fins, have black and white pigmentation. This pattern of pigmentation is as individual to each humpback whale as are our own fingerprints - no two are ever alike, and so it is a useful tool for distinguishing individuals.

Humpback whales have a broad, flat head, which is rounded at the front and constitutes about one third of the total body length. The most distinctive feature on the head is a series of knobs or protrubences, each about as big as a ping-pong ball, which cover the flat rostrum (the part of the head in front of the blowholes) and the lower jaw. These knobs are actually hair follicles and each one has a single, coarse hair up to 1 1/4 inches or 3cm long growing out of it. The presence of the hairs suggests that knobs have some kind of sensory function.

Today we were going to drive north to visit the Myrall Coast region set within its own National Park with off shore islands, huge sand dunes with tranquil lakes joined by riverways.

We stopped at the Visitor Centre in Tea Gardens and chatted to the lovely ladies who were manning the centre. They gave us some walking maps and we set off. We walked along the lakeside watching huge numbers of pelicans lazing around before crossing the Singing Bridge to the beachside village of Hawks Nest where we had good views of the islands. We continued along the Mungo Bush Road and stopped at Dark Point where a sand track led steeply up hill. We though it would be a view of the sea but when we finally reached the top there was huge sand dunes covering the area. It was in the past a sacred Aborigine site and sometimes the drifting sand unearthed burial objects. We stopped and had a picnic at ‘Hole in the Wall’ where there was a lovely view of Broughton Island and along the sand dunes to Seal Rocks and Yacaaba Head.

We continued on going deeper into the park when all of a sudden we saw a car stopped and in front of it was a large Dingo. We stopped also and the dingo just stood in the middle of the road staring at us before disappearing into the thick bush. We finally arrived at the Lake edge where the only way across was by a small car ferry (about 6 vehicles) which was just making its way back over. It was supposed to go every half hour but the driver just went when a vehicle arrived so we soon crossed over with another van driven by two ladies - it only took about 5 minutes. The road then turned into a gravel track through the Myrall National Park and we continued on this for quite a while before finally arriving back on the Pacific Highway near the town of Bulahdelah.

The next day we drove out to the Tilligerry Peninusla to visit Lemon Tree Passage and Tanilba Bay an area with a large population of native koalas. i was expecting an avenue of Lemon Trees but all we saw was one orange tree bursting with fruit. The whole of this area was home to the very cuddly Koala bear but their numbers were declining with many to road accidents - we had seen a sign earlier which said that this year so far 8 had been killed and the total for last year was 28.

We had a walk along the tree-lined banks of Tilligerry Creek where it said it was almost guaranteed that one would spot a Koala - we didn’t though but we did spot one at the Tilligerry Habitat where we walked along a boardwalk amongst the mangroves and gum forest. We met a few of the volunteers clearing the bush and one of the ladies was originally from Kent but had been in Australia for 30 years and said she would never go back.

On the way back we stopped at Birubi Point a coastal desert wilderness. Worimi Conservation Lands (Stockton Bight Sand Dunes) is an almost surreal dune system up to 1 km wide and 32 km long. The massive dunes climb up to 40 metres high and you could enjoy a camel ride or quad bike ride but we gave them both a miss! We walked along the dunes for a while and up on to the headland before headed back stopping at Boat Harbour where we were again rewarded with more whale sighting just off shore.

Today its cold and grey our last day in Nelson Bay so we thought we would just drive around the the van and see what happened. We stopped near the shore when we saw some activity on the water edge. Five fishermen were manually hauling in a huge catch. A long net was wriggling with hundreds of mullet with a fisherman at each end. One of the men drove a truck up to the water edge which had another net attached to a small pulley which they lowered into the sea where the other fishermen drove the catch into it and then this was lifted and dropped into the truck - whilst we watched they did this five time and in the end they had three trucks full of wriggling mullet. - guess what would be on the menu tonight in the whole of Nelson Bay..... Some lucky fish tried to escape but four pelicans were waiting for any leftovers - we had never seen fishing like this before.

We later stopped and did a short walk to Wreck Beach a picturesque beach with no one there it was a shame that it was not the weather for swimming. We could see the whale boats out and they were disappearing in the huge waves - glad we were on solid ground. We continued and walked to Box Beach where a number of body boarders were out riding the surf - these hardy young aussies.......

We were hoping to walk to Fingal Island and see Point Stephens Lighthouse which was a two hour return walk but it was across a sand spit and could only be crossed at low tide because of the tide coming in both sides of the island and meeting with strong currents in the middle. We walked to the start of the sand spit but the weather was dreadful and the tide was in and circling around we watched for a while before walking back along the beach and now the wind was in front of us and with the soft sand and strong wind it was a very difficult return trip - Paul said that I looked like I was crossing the arctic tundra.......

We headed back and parked at our favourite spot, overlooking Boat Harbour and the waves were crashing on the rocks right in front of us just where we had sat and watched the whales only a couple of days before. Today the sea was so rough that it was difficult to see anything and the wind was hauling the water over the rocks like huge waterfalls. So we made a cup of coffee, sat in the warm van and watched the world go by. Tomorrow we head further north - not sure where yet but will let you know in our next blog - see you there.

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