Sunday, 16 November 2008

Words to go with pics

This is a bit of an out of date report on last weekend’s road-tripping adventures, but I’ll try to make sense of my scribbled notes…

We’d decided to try and get some diving under our belts and had identified the Solitary Islands further up the coast from Sydney as a good target. As they’re about 600km away, we decided to make a long weekend of it, joined a car pool, booked “Karen the Yaris” as our trusty steed, got lots of hints and tips for things to break up the journey from various colleagues and set off on our merry way last Friday pm. Unfortunately due to the faff factor that pervades our lives whenever we’re trying to do anything, we didn’t get away as early as planned and ended up caught in the dreaded Friday afternoon mass exodus from Sydney which meant frustratingly slow progress out of Sydney’s sprawling suburbs until we got clear of Newcastle, about 100km north.

But within a few more hours we’d reached Port Stephens, our destination for Friday night and having wandered around a tiny place called Shoal Bay for a bit, enjoying the views of Shark Island and the balmy 25 degree early evening temperature, we tried to find some accommodation. An unfortunate encounter with a particularly rude room-owner ensued which included him losing us as potential customers and me telling him exactly what I thought of him by text message (!) We settled, instead, on some ‘rustic cabins’ which sounded cheap and cheerful and had a friendly owner when we phoned. Booked beds under our belts, we then enjoyed a pre-dinner drink watching the sunset go down at a seaside bar, followed by a fine meal at Gianni’s, a bustling taverna with only one pavement table left, just nicely sized for us. Then the fun and games started…

We had directions to our rustic cabins, but we hadn’t factored in the fact that everything looked decidedly different in the dark…so we ended up driving around a little bit lost for quite a while and then ended up on one of those spooky tree-lined stretches of road where you can almost hear the serial killer music playing in the background. And then we saw a girl, maybe late teens, walking along barefoot and a bit worse for wear. We thought we’d better see if she was ok so swung the car around, pulled over and asked her if she wanted a lift. She was adamant that she didn’t, but we were a bit worried she’d get run over so were trying to persuade her to get in the car, when out of the rear mirror we saw a big SUV-type car pulling up behind us. This turned out to be her boyfriend, who started yelling at her to get in the car, which she did, and they sped off. It all happened a bit quickly and was a bit on the unsettling side, but we couldn’t do much except continue on our way and try to find these bloomin’ rustic cabins!!

We eventually found them, and very lovely they were too. The place was run by a couple called Mick and Michelle (tee hee) who were fond of handrearing various animals injured by cars including kangaroos and birds. “Josephine” was the latest ‘roo to have been nurtured and was often to be seen wandering around the site. Our cabin was clean, comfortable and just what we needed after a long drive. We shared the last of a bottle of wine that we’d taken from the restaurant, then hit the sack. We’d been warned about the strange noises we’d hear in the night – possums jumping on the roof, that kind of thing – and there were quite a few, but they all sort of merged into my dreams and I felt very refreshed the next morning.

We were up fairly early and went for a stroll on nearby One Mile beach, which was a pretty deserted strip of white sand, with only a few surfers in the sea and a group of kids learning how to stand on their boards. Then we headed to another beach nearby for breakfast at the outdoor kiosk we’d been told about, where we watched considerably more surfers and wondered about the point of the camels we could see nearby the huge sand dunes in the distance – presumably for camel-riding!?

With food in our bellies and provisions for the rest of the journey, we continued on to Port Macquarie where we stopped for an hour or so to take in a coastal walk along the headlands, before the final few hours of driving which took us to our final destination, Coffs Harbour. Some more navigational challenges had to be overcome before we found our youth hostel (thanks to the vagaries of Lonely Planet who seem to be fond of telling you places are in completely different locations to their real ones). It’s been a few years since I stayed in a youth hostel, and I’ve never done anything but dorm bunks. But I’d heard that double rooms in hostels were pretty good value, and this was definitely the case in Coffs. Our room was great – ensuite, big and cheap. And the hostel was clean, friendly and comfortable, as well as being really close to where we were diving, and all the local restaurants etc.

We had a big seafood dinner that night (bruschetta and whole snapper for me, mmmm) followed by a few drinks in a nearby bar where K discovered Sardinian beer called Ismus (or something like that) and I had a nice South Australian white wine.

When Sunday morning came around, our alarms went off at 6.45am to get us up for a 7.30am rendezvous at the dive centre. Sadly, however, we got a message from them to say that the weather out at sea was too rough for the boat to go out, so the diving was cancelled for the day. Obviously a bit disappointing, but we still held out hope for the next day (false hope as it turned out!), and the upside was that we got to sleep in a bit! Then once we were up and about, fortified by another big café breakfast (one of my favourite things about Oz is the breakfasts here!), I navigated us to a nearby national park, which looked like it might be good for doing some walking. And indeed it was. There was a circular loop through rainforest, passing by waterfalls and with some fabulous views at a couple of points, which was a satisfying way to spend a couple of hours. As we got to the end, we could see rain beginning to roll in across the forest, which was an incredible sight, and even more incredible to be underneath as it rolled overhead!! We made it back to the car only slightly soaked and very thankful that we hadn’t got caught earlier!

The drive from Coffs to Doringo (where the walk was) had been spectacular on the way in – hundreds of lilac-flowered jacaranda trees lining the roads, rolling green hills and gorgeous panoramas as we climbed to 800m altitude. The drive back in the thundering rain was equally spectacular as we drove through rain clouds rolling along the roads.

The following day and, as mentioned above, our hopes of diving were dashed once more. Sad, but not the end of the world as we will have lots more opportunities to dive here, and it was good to get away and see a bit more of Australia than just Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge!

We ended up doing the whole drive back that day, which took about 10 hours including breaks for lunch and a short walk, and detours off the highway to take in some of the more scenic routes. It was a bit of a monster to do, but we figured we might as well save the money on accommodation and have the benefit of a day off in Sydney. Along the way we saw storks, hawks, huge lakes, a 360 degree panorama at the top of a walk in the Booti Booti national park, and very little other traffic on the roads – a very pleasant way to spend a day really.

And so ended our first Ozzie road trip adventure! The next big one will probably be in January, when we’re flying down to Melbourne, then driving to Adelaide on the coastal road (about 1000km), hopefully taking in diving (!), vineyards and walking along the way!

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