Here and there and everywhere: the last leg

The older I get, the more reluctant I am to return home when I’m away. However, when it comes to this tendency, I’m never quite sure where Crescent Head falls. It’s not home, exactly – Melbourne takes that honour and I suspect it always will, as it’s a pretty excellent place to call home – but it’s surely the next best thing. I mean, I know where the light switches are without looking. If that’s not home, then…

But I suppose categories of home/not-home aren’t particularly important here. Long story short, I didn’t want to leave. I never do. Well, except for that one year with all of the flooding and the beach-turned-black-gurgling-maelstrom. But at any rate, home was calling so we savoured our last few days of New South Wales sun and made some plans for the trip home.

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After tearing ourselves away from the sea long enough to pack and clean up, we piled back into our long suffering chariot and began the long drive south. After a brief stop-off in Port Macquarie to pick up some coffee, the rest of the drive was uneventful, bar my inexplicably managing to get lost in the outskirts of the Sydney on a road that I’ve driven countless times before. What can I say? I’m gifted that way.

We stopped in a side-street to get our bearings and were ambushed by a toddler who sneakily dropped a decapitated lizard into my brother’s pocket. To add insult to injury, his babysitter then proceeded to give us blatantly incorrect directions. I suppose I should be grateful as she was trying to help, but having already proved that I was more than capable of getting lost on my own, further assistance wasn’t really necessary. At least the lizard was memorable.

Headless reptiles and poor directions notwithstanding, we made it into Wollongong with enough time to scoff some delicious Thai food before collapsing for the night. I’d never visited Wollongong before, and we didn’t really stay long enough to get a good feel for the town, but after that morning I can definitely vouch for their beaches.

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After a bracing beach walk, we went in search of breakfast and ended up in… ummm, the industrial area of Port Kembla. What can I say? I’m a nervous driver and I get lost easily. Serendipity was with us though; we actually found a lovely little cafe and I ate a delicious mushroom toastie that I have spent the last several months joyfully doing my best to replicate. Appetites subdued and adequately caffeinated, we continued on down the coast before stopping at Kiama.

Kiama is clearly fake. Surely it’s not possible for the grass to be so green (in the middle of summer – this poor little Victorian is astounded), the water to be so blue.

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The thing is, not only was it real, it was also populated by amazing wildlife. We found this excellent guy down by the boat ramp. I made exclamation marks at him, and also swore profusely with sheer excitement. You can’t take me anywhere.

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After I calmed down about ray and let the others coax me back into the car, we knuckled down and slogged a few hundred kilometres further down the coast until we arrived in Eden. By the time we arrived I had developed a wretched headache – a situation that wasn’t aided by the large number of (ordinarily charming) bell-birds flitting around our accommodation – but thankfully Eden was pretty enough that I was able to distract myself with scenery. And pictures of orcas. Everywhere. Eden used to be a major player in the whaling industry way back when that was a thing that was done in this country. Nowadays the whales now migrate up the coast relatively unaccosted, but Eden’s passion for orcas is apparently undiminished. I didn’t get any photos of killer whale chic, but the sunset wasn’t half bad.

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The next morning we piled into the car, bolstered ourselves with an amazing breakfast at Sprout, and drove on to Mallacoota and Croajingalong National Park. I hadn’t been to Croajingalong since I was young enough to be seriously unnerved by the number of lace monitors gadding about the place. Times have changed in some ways, but not others. The monitors are still there, but now I’m happy to see them. Hey there, scaly buddy!

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Unimpressed looking reptiles aside, the national park was as gorgeous as I remembered. As we had to press on to Melbourne, we only had a few hours set aside for hiking, but we put them to good use and had a lovely wander around the coast. The colours of the rocks at Bastion Point were just amazing!

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The less said about the remainder of the drive home, the better. I was feeling sick but the other driver wasn’t feeling any better, so I drove on. I have a vague recollection of eating grapes in a carpark in Lakes Entrance, inside the car as it was raining too hard to get out. The fact that this was the highlight of the second half of the day probably speaks for itself. At any rate, we eventually arrived home, safe and sound, and fell happily into the arms of the first decent internet that anyone had had for weeks. It was a great trip – I can never really get enough of this beautiful country – but you can’t knock renewed access to YouTube and computer games. Apparently I’m all about the up-side.

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Here and there and everywhere: the way back

It’s easy to get complacent about the return journey. Once you’ve reached your destination, it’s hard to get too excited about the way back. It’s retracing your steps. You no longer feel like you’re blazing a new trail. It often seems shorter, less auspicious. Either that or interminably long. It’s rarely infused with the same sense of adventure as when you’re on the way to a new place.

Thankfully, we took all of that into account for this trip, and left plenty to do on Waterfall Way en route back to the coast. Not that we had much of a choice. For all that I’d like to paint it as foresight, the truth of the matter was that there was simply too much to see on our way in, so we had to leave some for the trip back!

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First stop was Wollomombi Gorge, in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park. The gorge’s waterfall was not particularly impressive – not enough rain around the time of our visit – but the lovely setting hardly needed the added boost. We had a nice little hike and then piled back into the car.

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Next stop was the gorgeous Point Lookout in New England National Park. By this point we were running out of time, so we didn’t get to do any hiking in the park, but I suppose you have to save something for next time. And there will be a next time.

We picked our way through the unsealed roads and back onto the freeway… only to get stopped again for around 20 minutes because of roadworks. Thankfully, the workers were nice enough to come and give us an estimated wait time, so I was able to turn off the engine and scoff some chips. This was after they told us they wouldn’t let us through unless I paid them $20 (because this is Australia and we have a grand history of trolling), and after I responded by laughing in their faces, because while I’m a bad Australian in some ways, I understand and appreciate the fine tradition of the piss take.

At least the roadside scenery was pleasant, if not quite as dramatic as the other things that we’d seen on our travels.Could almost pass for idyllic if not for that pesky soft-drink can.

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Our final stop for gorgeous scenery was Ebor Falls, in Guy Fawkes River National Park. We barely had to even turn off the freeway for this one. And by ‘this one’ I mean these two, because Ebor Falls is a two-for-the-price-of-one dealio.

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Just to check: everyone is now pretty clear on why it’s called ‘Waterfall Way’, right?

After Ebor Falls it was a straightforward drive back to the coast, along a now familiar route. Or that was the plan. It would have been straightforward had the brakes on our (long-suffering) car not overheated on the way down from Dorrigo plateau (a bad combination of a steep descent and near constant hairpin turns). I discovered what had happened the nerve-wracking way: i.e. trying to slow down from 100kmph, only to discover that the car had other ideas. Thankfully the brakes weren’t completely out and thanks to presence of mind and a comparatively empty road, we were able to pull over for a while to let everything cool down for a bit. We limped sadly into Bellingen 20 minutes later and consoled ourselves with a delicious late lunch. Luckily, by the time we were done the car had decided to behave itself again, and we made it home without further incident.

Next post: the trip back and a bit of a round-up!

Here and there and everywhere: Waterfall Way

Our trips to the mid-north coast tend to get a little samey. In the best possible way, of course, because you don’t really need to stray further afield when you have two amazing beaches a figurative stone’s throw away. Though perhaps it’s inaccurate to say ‘samey’ because one of the things I love about the coast is that even when you visit the same beach, it’s always a slightly different experience. The tide is higher or lower, the sandbar has subtly shifted since the last time, the cloud cover has altered the colour of sea, and so on. So samey is, rather delightfully, never something about which you need to worry.

So perhaps it’s better to say that we’re stuck in our ways. Or that we need to get out more. ‘Out’ in this instance being defined as more than a half hour drive away (when you need to drive 20km for groceries, 65km to the nearest cinema, etc, the definitions of ‘out’ get hazy). And ‘need’ being defined as ‘probably should since you’re in a beautiful part of the world and you’re only experiencing a tiny, admittedly gorgeous, piece of it’.

However you want to describe it, what all of these nebulous emotions boiled down to is: we went for a jaunt. An excursion was had. Snacks were acquired, notes were taken, maps were collected, about a half kilogram of loose sand was vacuumed out of the car, and we were on our way, heading up along the coast for a ways before turning sharply inland to tackle Waterfall Way.

Waterfall Way is a very appropriately named road that links Coffs Harbour and Armidale. The drive is only 185km (I know, I know, “only”, but as Australian road-trips go, 185km is a pretty meagre distance, really) but manages to pack in an amazing variety of landscapes, national parks, and some lovely towns that are well worth visiting. And also waterfalls. Duh.

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We kicked off the trip with brunch in Bellingen, a lovely little riverside town only a short drive inland. The first time I visited Bellingen I was a little confused as to how a small town that wasn’t really that close to anything could maintain a) such an overall impression of being so hip and artsy, and b) its ratio of cafes to residents*. I still don’t really understand but now I just shrug and enjoy it; the food is great, the vibe is chilled out, and it’s just generally a pleasure to be there, however they manage it.

After brunch and a brief post-ice-cream chill out session down in the long grass by the river, we hopped back in the car and pressed on to Dorrigo National Park.

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Dorrigo National Park is a delicious little chunk of World Heritage Gondwana rainforest that’s a (comparatively) short and extremely scenic drive from Bellingen. One of my fellow road-trippers was full of scepticism (and car-sickness) as we drove the last stint to the Rainforest Centre, as by this point there were paddocks on both sides of the road and precious little evidence of rainforest. Thankfully, his doubt was completely abandoned once we got him out of the car and coaxed him out onto one of the walks. There are both long and short loop walks that leave from the Rainforest Centre; we picked the longer 6.6km walk that took us past both of the nearby waterfalls, Crystal Shower Falls and Tristania Falls.

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You can even walk behind Crystal Shower falls. Although I think I must have played too many computer games and/or read too many fantasy novels in my time, because I can never quite shake the expectation that the space behind a waterfall will hold either a secret hideout or a chest with a magical weapon.

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After our walk, the weather started to take a turn for the ominous, so we scurried back into the car and continued west along Waterfall Way. For a whole ten minutes, before we stopped again, because a little bit of rain wasn’t going to stop us from ogling Dangar Falls.

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After clambering – slightly rain splattered – back into the car we drove on to Armidale. After a brief wander and an extremely fancy kebab dinner, we returned to the hotel and passed out in front of a David Attenborough documentary. It’s amazing I didn’t dream of prehistoric fish. I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t, frankly.

The next day we made a brief stop at the visitor information centre, because I am a shameless tourist. I wasn’t sorry; one of the lovely staff members furnished me with a pamphlet about bird-watching in the area (thanks John!).

Our next stop was Oxley Wild Rivers National Park and the Threlfall walking track. This trail follows an historic hydro-electric scheme from the nineteenth century (really!) and then spits you out alongside Gara Gorge.

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It was only a 5.5km loop, so the walk wasn’t too challenging, or wouldn’t have been if not for the fact that we were (foolishly) doing it in the middle of the day in high summer. Doable, yes, but not exactly recommended!

One of the things that is amazing about this part of the country is the diversity of the terrain. Walking this trail, you wouldn’t believe that you are only a couple of hours’ drive from lush rainforest; we were slogging through tinder-dry bushland. Thankfully, the view was more than worth it, and I suspect that evening beers at The Welder’s Dog tasted all the better for having been earned by all of our traipsing through the dust and flies.

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Here and there and everywhere: Crescent Head

After returning from Japan I stuck around in Melbourne for a time, doing Melbourne things (the long awaited, the fun, the boring and practical, and everything in between), but as the weather got warmer the Hume Highway started to call, as it inevitably does at the end of the year. And I am nothing if not a fool for the lure of the Hume Highway. So in December, we packed up my long-suffering old car and drove north for a couple of days until we found ourselves home again.

While I will always remain loyal to dear old Melbourne, the mid-north coast of New South Wales is, in my opinion, both gorgeous and hugely underrated, and I’ve spent so much time there over the years that it honestly feels as much home as anywhere else. I’ve posted about the area before, so I won’t go into detail (other than to say that it’s about four hours’ drive north of Sydney and if you’re heading along the Pacific Highway and have some spare time, do yourself a favour and visit), and at any rate, it wasn’t that sort of trip. No list of sights to tick off, and no rushing from place to place. Just a whole lot of sun, beach, trees, and good food. In summary (though ‘summery’ also works): I am one lucky bastard. Lucky to be able to visit such an amazing area, lucky to know about it in the first place, and lucky that it’s still as beautiful now as it was when I was a child.

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And for anyone who remembers balcony snake from last year: there were no actual snake sightings this time around, but there was certainly evidence that our little friend is still about!

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Maybe next year!

(insert joke about weird, snake-loving Australians here. Because, you know, guilty as charged)

New South Wales Adventures, Part 2: Round and About

In case the last post was not enough to convince everyone, I am pretty keen on Crescent Head. But the thing is, I am pretty bloody keen on most all of the mid-north coast of New South Wales. It is just such a beautiful part of the world. The beaches are gorgeous but are rarely crowded. The water is warm enough to swim but cool enough to be refreshing. The weather is mild for most of the year but lacks the fierce humidity of Queensland or the bone dry heat of Victorian summers. There are beaches, rainforests, sand dunes, rivers, lakes, mountains, caves, estuaries, farms, breweries, dairies, wineries; pretty much everything you could want in a summer holiday, right? Right.

As I mentioned, I originally went north to do my practical legal training in a community legal centre in Port Macquarie, a lovely town a few hours north of Sydney. It’s not large by my city slicker standards, but it’s large enough that there are plenty of things to do there. For a start, there’s a gorgeous little slice of national park right in the middle of the town. Sea Acres National Park is small but highly recommended; when you’re traipsing through the rainforest boardwalks eyeing the strangler figs, you definitely don’t feel like you’re a scant walk from houses and milk bars.

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Other honourable mentions go to Kooloobung Creek Nature Park (so many flying foxes!!), as well as some of the amazing Port Macquarie breweries. We checked out The Little Brewing Company and Black Duck Brewery; both produce some incredibly good beers, and both are small enough that a visit also gives you a chance to have a good old chat with the people doing the brewing. I’m still thinking about Black Duck’s Migration Stout and suspect I will be doing so for quite some time now.

And speaking of the finer pleasures in life (i.e. booze), there are also some fantastic wineries in the area. I know I should be talking about the wine, but I’m bad at that (I enjoy drinking it, but am godawful at winespeak), so I’ll just say that in addition to delicious wine, Innes Lake sports the most magnificent beast of a bougainvillea that you will ever see, and Bago Winery has a hedge maze. Delicious wine, local cheese AND a hedge maze to run around in afterwards? What could go wrong? Nothing, that’s what!

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(isn’t it amazing? I should have included a person for scale but in lieu of that, let me point out a) the cars on the bottom right, and also the fact that a full-grown adult can traverse that boardwalk without having to duck to avoid all that glorious magenta)

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Further up the coast is Delicate Nobby, South West Rocks, Trial Bay and Arakoon. Further south is Lake Cathie, Laurieton, Dooragan National Park… the list goes on. I visit this part of the coast as often as I’m able and I am still yet to run out of new things to do. No better place for a summer, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s no coincidence that I’m staring longingly at these photos now that we’re well into a dreary Melbourne winter.

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*swoon*

Back to reality next post, I promise!

 

New South Wales adventures, Part One – Crescent Head

My last post mentioned (briefly) that I was shortly off to New South Wales, firstly to take up a practical legal training placement in a community legal centre, and then for a much needed holiday once my studies were complete. My placement and the following break are now sadly past – we have since returned home – and while it is, of course, lovely to be back in dear old Melbourne, I feel I should make a few posts about the trip, partly because it occupied two months of my time, and also because the mid-north coast of New South Wales is surely one of the most gorgeous regions in the world, and certainly one of my dearest favourites.

The legal centre at which I was worked was located in Port Macquarie, a town approximately 3.5 hours north of Sydney. It’s a very lovely place, and we had a lot of fun wandering around the various walking tracks whenever I had a spare hour. Sadly, spare hours were few and far between as in addition to working full-time at my placement, I also had a great deal of coursework to complete, but we still had time to explore a few of the town’s several beaches and meander through the Kooloonbung Creek Nature Park and it’s lovely trails and board-walks (though don’t try the latter unless you are A-okay with flying foxes, as there are plenty to say the least!).

When I wasn’t working a the legal centre, most of my time was spent up in Crescent Head. Compared to Port Macquarie, Crescent Head is tiny (though technically, at around 1200 people, it’s tiny compared to nearly everywhere) but having spent a great deal of time there over the years it’s very close to my heart and a thoroughly lovely place to laze through the summer. It’s small, but it has two beaches and an estuary for swimming, excellent surf, gorgeous views, peaceful trails through the forest, rockpools, caves, a wonderful bakery, and more or less everything else you could possibly need for an idyllic time.

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We were lucky with the weather this time around (unlike that time when we got flooded in for a week and had to start eating the elderly and infirm spend most of our time inside) and for the most part had sunny days well suited to swimming, wandering, and day-trips (though more on those later).

We also had good luck on the critter front! There has always been an amazing range of wildlife in the area but the town outdid itself this year, especially in terms of reptiles.

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The resident blue-tongue lizards were tamer and more complacent about photographers this time around. And we had the sweetest little visitor slither his way onto the balcony of the house.

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(any non-Australian readers, please be reassured – I know that we have a certain reputation with regard to snakes but this little fellow was very small and at any rate, non-venomous)

Also, if this guy isn’t the most handsome little kookaburra you’ve ever seen, I will eat my (faded, well travelled and no doubt pungent) hat. I just love their comically huge heads!

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I didn’t manage to get a photo of the monitor lizard that had scaled the telephone pole near the beach, much to the dismay of the resident bird-life, but I did very much appreciate his determination! Nor did I manage to grab a picture of the very charming eel that we encountered in the rockpools one day, or any of the roving octopus that we saw commuting between low-tide puddles. Maybe next time. I am a fan of next time. While there are many places in the world that I have been and will probably never return, there’s a definite joy in returning to a place year after year and really getting to know it well. It’s a privilege, for sure, and one that I feel very lucky to have.

That said, it’s important to find time for variety, as even in the places you visit regularly there’s nearly always the opportunity to try something new. As we did, though that is a tale for the next post.