South West Rocks to Moonee Beach, NSW - 5 - 8 July 2012

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July 13th 2012
Published: July 19th 2012
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A warm welcome to our latest reader (number 50) - we have just been joined by our grandaughter, Maisie Anna Sheffield who has asked for a subscription to our blog - hope you enjoy our travels Maisie - and be good for mummy whilst you are in England for the summer.

We left Port Stephens and headed north stopping at a Visitor Centre in Bulahdelah to pick up information on what to see in the area and decided to take the scenic drive called The Lakes Way to Seals Rocks through the Myall Lakes National Park. We were held up a little as there was a bad accident on the Pacific Highway and two huge lorries had toppled over and were in the process of being recovered. Therefore the small town of Bulahdelah was extremely busy with people turning off the main road for a rest. We finally turned off the highway and headed through tall forest to the village of Seals Rocks. Passing through the Booti Booti National Park. The village was only 12 km from the scenic road and 2km of this was unsealed. Although it was not too bad there were quite a few pot holes that we had to miss.......

Our first view of Seals Rocks was lovely with a beautiful curved bay and even thought the weather was not good we decided to walk along the beach for a while and watch a couple of surfers riding the waves. We continued up a small hill and arrived at a lookout over Boat Beach with again a lovely view out over another bay. There was a small plague that commemorates the 1992 whale rescue and shipwrecks of the area which said, ‘On Tuesday 14th July 1992, 49 False Killer Whales beached themselves on Lighthouse Beach. By Thursday 16th, 37 Whales had been returned to sea making this the most successful whale rescue in Australian history, which cost the National Parks $80,000.’ There was also a highly decorated chair and table with a sign saying ‘Andy’s Chair’ overlooking the beautiful view - but not sure what that was about. We continued along a narrow lane to a small car park where the road ended. After a short stroll up hill we arrived at the historic Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse. Just below the lighthouse was a narrow inlet where the waves were breaking through creating a spectacular blowhole through the cleft of two cliffs. We walked around the lighthouse but it was so windy we had to hold on tight to the rail to get up. Around the base of the lighthouse there were three restored heritage cottages and lighthouse keepers residences which were now converted to holiday accommodation. On the other side of the lighthouse was a huge expanse of beach called Lighthouse Beach where 4W Driving was permitted but today the beach was nearly empty apart from a couple of lone walkers........ Twenty ships have been wrecked in the vicinity and the remains of Australia’s largest diveable shipwreck, the SS Satara, lies on the seabed off the beach. Over 100 people were saved when the boat went down. Passengers on the steamer the Catterthun heading home after the gold rush, bound for China, were not so lucky. 55 lives were lost in Australia’s worst shipping disaster.

We drove back and stopped again at the lookout to have lunch and whilst we were eating three dolphins arrived in the bay beneath us and played in the waves as we watched.

We drove on for another couple of hours and were held up quite a bit by the condition of the roads - so many deep potholes all over the roads. We noticed lots of road works and huge bypasses being built, so guessed that the roads were just being left until the new ones were ready. It was getting late but we decided to continue to our next stop at South West Rocks arriving just before dark. South West Rocks is a small seaside resort located on the Macleay Valley Coast at the entrance to the Macleay River. The campsite was in an idyllic location (probably the best view we have ever had) and we parked up overlooking a horseshoe shape beach with the sea just yards from our home - the bay was in fact called Horseshoe which was quite apt. We had a short stroll along the rocky outcrop which led to a further large beach. As it approached dusk hundreds of Lorikeets arrived to roost in the Norfolk Pines that bordered the beach and campsite and the noise was deafening - they soon fell silent when it was dark thank goodness. We decided it was such a nice area that we would stay for a couple of nights and do some touring of the region in the morning.

We awoke to lovely clear skies and set off to explore the area calling in at the local Visitor Centre which was also a small maritime museum and very interesting. We drove around the bay and parked at Arakoon National Park, to visit the historic Trial Bay Gaol which occupied the eastern headland of the Trial Bay. The area had rather a dramatic past when Sydney convicts stole a boat, the Trial, in 1816 but their bid for freedom ended up on the rocks after a storm sank it. It was later utilized in World War One as a German Internment Camp. It was finally closed in 1918, but the ruins provided an insight into the harsh environment the prisoners had to endure. There were several walks around the headland and we set off walking along the bay with wonderful views stopping when we arrived at a monument to the German internees. Further along the track overlooking the sea were several graves of children of Wardens at the prison. We saw and heard many birds including the Eastern Yellow Robin and the Rufus Fantail and listened to the calls of the elusive Whipbird which obviously makes the sound of a whip and the Bellbird which obviously makes the sound of bells as well as seeing a number of birds of prey and dozens of graceful gannets diving in the waves. We continued on arriving at Little Bay which as the name suggests was a little bay but pretty nonetheless. Picnic tables were dotted around and resting under the trees were about two dozen Eastern Grey Kangaroos who took an interest in us but did not move until the rain started when they hopped under the trees to take shelter, which we did as well. The walk continued through the woodlands and became quite muddy in part - one very wet boot later we arrived back at the headland.

We stopped at nearby Smoky Cape Lighthouse which was built in 1891 and is the most elevated on the east coast of Australia. Surrounded by nature bushland it was a lovely place to visit and had a unique vista surrounded by green bush. We walked to a lookout and in the distance saw the now familiar plume spray from a couple of Humpback Whales. We had lunch in the van because it had started raining again but we were in such a lovely location it didn’t seem to matter too much.........

We drove on through Hat Head National Park and stopped on the headland called The Gap and walked a little way along the cliff top track but it was getting quite cold and windy so we headed back. There was another walk that went around the perimeter of Hat Head (a large hill shaped like a hat - hence its name) but it was too late in the day to start another walk - maybe another time. A large dog had adopted us and followed us on our cliff top walk, not sure where he came from though but we left him on the headland and continued around the bay to the small village of Hat Head located on a beach with the river flowing through the village and into the sea. As we walked along the river we noticed the same dog who had joined us earlier in the water - it appeared to be fishing. It looked up when it saw us so we moved away quickly - cannot fit a dog into our motorhome there’s only room for the two us - just!

Back at our campsite we had a chat to the couple in the next caravan who had just retired and they said they had seen dolphins in the bay today and we said ‘we had seen humpbacks’ - oh the joys of being retired. The next morning we set off still heading north - it was a shame to leave such a lovely place but it was time to go.

We stopped at Nambucca Heads where the sea meets the ocean and walked along the foreshore walkway to the heritage Vee Wall. This breakwater at the Nambucca River entrance is a gallery for graffiti artist and one is welcome to add their own renditions to the massive boulders - we did not have suitable ink which was a shame.........

We stopped in the seaside town of Sawtell and arrived in the middle of their annual Chilli Festival - well if you have never been to such a festival before I suggest you head there next time. Not sure what it was all about though but hoped it brought in much need revenue to the locals. We noticed that the whole of Australia seemed to be in this small seaside village which explained why some of the roads were closed and there was nowhere to park - so we headed through and up to a lookout which had views out over the ocean. We then drove back into the village but again could not get parked in the end we did although we were about 1 km ‘out of town’’. As we approached the centre the streets were alive with music and entertainment not to mention chilli in every form that you could think off. Apparently each year, this popular festival attracts thousands of people to the seaside village, keen to sample the wide range of chilli-related foods and products, take part in fun activities and competitions and be entertained by live music, dancing, cooking and other performances. Sawtell’s iconic main street was lined on both sides with stalls selling everything hot and spicy in what ever form you wanted - a bit of a shame if like me you were not too keen on chillies (Geoff you would love it). We stayed and soaked up the atmosphere listening to the local bands, some of them were really good, before continuing on passing through Bongil Bongil National Park - they do have such lovely names here.

Our next stop was Coffs Harbour where we walked around the Botanical Gardens and were amazed the floral and fauna still so evident even though it was winter. We found the Scribble Gum Trees to be really unique and quite amazing to look at so looked them up on the internet to find out a little more about them. Apparently the scribble gum tree is an eucalyptus tree with a very smooth, pale trunk quite noticeable when planted next to other trees as it is so light in colour. What we did not know was that the distinctive brownish ‘scribbles’ are made by the larvae of moths. These larvae are harmless to the tree, and though found on many eucalyptus, it’s only in a 'few' varieties where the signatures become the most pronounced feature of the tree. It was not until the mid 1930s that the cause of the 'scribbles' was discovered when the small moths were sent to to the UK for identification. It was found that the moths were from a new genus which was given the name Ogmograptis and the moth was named O. scribula. By the late 1990s, scribbles had been found on about 20 species of eucalypts. It is now known that there are more than half a dozen different species of Ogmograptis and at least five distinct scribble patterns, suggesting that different moths produce different scribbles. As we wandered back along the Nature Trail to the main gate of the gardens we discovered many more scribble trees and they really did stand out set amongst the other trees in the gardens.

W enjoyed our time in Coffs Harbour which was a vibrant coastal city with a delightful international marina where boats left to go deep sea fishing in the area. Whilst we were there boats were also going out to see the whales but as we arrived the chap was taking his advertising sign in - I asked him if the whales had all gone and he said ‘no’ but it was ‘beer time’.........

We walked along the Marina and wandered amongst the fishing boats out towards Muttonbird island. The Island which is just one big hill in Coffs Harbour juts out to one side of the harbour, giving it shelter and is connected to the land via a breakwall alongside the International Marina. A paved walkway ran across the island to the other side although the start was quite steep it flattened at the top and we walked across to the far side. Muttonbird Island is a sacred and very significant site to the local Gumbaynggirr Aboriginal people, who call the island Giidayn Miirral. Home to thousands of wedge-tailed Shearwaters, also known as muttonbirds, the island is a protected Nature Reserve. Shearwaters are named for their ability to cut or shear the water with their wings as they skim across the surface. Early settlers called them muttonbirds for their fatty mutton-like flesh. The birds spend the Australian winter in South-East Asia and travel thousands of kilometres each year to return to the same burrow on Muttonbird Island in August as it was July guess what we did not see any! We had seen them though when we were in Port Fairy at the end of the Great Ocean Road last year so were not too disappointed. We had been lucky though as yet again we saw several Humpback Whales heading north.

It was getting late so we headed for Moonee Beach and found a small campsite nestled between Moonee Creek and the beach. We parked up and put our feet up for the night after a BBQ steak and wine supper that is! Moonee Beach Nature Reserve is a narrow coastal reserve stretching some 8km from Bare Bluff near Sandy Beach in the north to Moonee Beach in the south, encompassing a number of beaches, headlands and coastal vegetation. It is an important historic and mythological site to local Gumbaynggirr people.

We awoke in the morning to clear blue skies and decided that we would stay here a while and ‘chill’. We had a chat to Jill the lady that was running the site and she moved us to a pitch looking right out over the ocean and also nearer the kitchen and facilities which was great if one needed the loo in the night. We had tried to book an en-suite site pitch but the area was flooded out with all the recent rain - someone had insisted on going there but they had to be literally ‘dug’ out.........

Later we walked out to the headland and again saw the Humpback Whales heading north.We had seen so many all the way up the coast and latest estimates are that there should be about 10,000 of them - quite astounding. We had also thought that it was just sea water being emitted from their blowholes, so were surprised to learn it was mainly just vapour.

The headland had fantastic views over the coast, the ocean and out to the Solitary Islands, including South Solitary with its striking white deserted lighthouse. Each side of us there were long stretches of beaches and two rivers flowing slowly into the sea from each side of our campsite. We scrambled down to one of these beaches and walked along until it joined the creek and then managed to find a track back to the campsite. The rest of the day we spent just wandering around the campsite chatting to people and later we wandered back to the creek where we tried to get out to the surf - but the creek was now running fast and we were unable to cross so we walked around and across a small bridge and manage to scramble around a sunken tree to get back out to the ocean and sit and sit and sit.......... Today had been quite an exciting day as we had at last put on our shorts, teeshirts and thongs (flip-flops) and been able to paddle in the sea and the creek - long may it last. The campsite was also prolific with birds and we had seen so many different species in the short time we had been here including; gannets, terns, white-bellied sea-eagles and brahminy kites hunting for fish and as we sat and had dinner dozens of green parrots were feeding nearby and the colours in the evening sunshine were lovely! We have been so lucky to see some sun at last - we had seen all the reports of the rain in the UK and could relate with everyone as we had so much rain here also but it is winter here and summer in the UK!!! The next day it was time to move on again heading north to Yamba - see you there.

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