Hi all, I’m back again. Even though I’ve not been working a ‘traditional’ full time job this year, I’ve found it hard to get the time to write this next installment.
My sister Felicity flew to Sydney at the end of September for the road trip we’d planned, travelling from Sydney to Noosa QLD. She arrived a few days early and got to meet the ‘jail house’ occupants before we set off in our Wicked Campervan. For those of you who don’t know, all the Wicked vans come with a slogan plastered on the rear of the van (old Combi type van) and a large picture relating to the slogan on the side of the van. The slogan we got was “Inner beauty won’t get you laid!” Felicity named our van ‘Buck’. Other slogans we saw included: “I may be schizophrenic but at least I have each other”, “How many roads must a man walk down before he admits he is lost?”, “Always remember that you are unique, just like everyone else!” and my favourite: “Alcohol was invented to ensure the Irish never ruled the world!” It was Felicity’s first time camper-vanning, and I have to say, she coped extremely well without a shower each day, cramped sleeping/living conditions and the lack of a toilet – we either had to squat or find a public loo. ‘Buck’ was an OLD van, he had 527,000kms on the clock, he was noisy to drive (the front seat was above the engine, and the clip to keep the seat down wouldn’t shut properly), he rattled and shook when turned off, the wipers didn’t work, the keys turned too far in the door locks, the seat belt was so high it was under my armpits, my feet couldn’t quite reach the floor, and the passenger seat was lumpy and on an angle so you had to lean into the centre of the van to keep from falling out the window – but it was all part of the fun I said!
Thankfully Felicity can drive a manual vehicle (I could not travel with someone who was unable to, as driving doesn’t enthrall me that much!), and I drove in the mornings, Fliss in the afternoons. This worked out well for a number of reasons. I preferred the morning shift when I was wide awake, and Fliss didn’t want to get sun burnt, so I tanned my right arm in the am as I drove (we were driving north, so the sun worked with me), and my left arm in the pm as she drove. It was a happy union! We first stopped at Terrigal which I thought was just gorgeous, and Newcastle which honestly didn’t impress me at all. 100kms north of Newcastle we stopped on the side of the road to cook up a dinner of garlic sausages (which when I burped up later Fliss said her BO smelt better than!), then spent our first night near Bulahdelah and the Grandis Tree – apparently the tallest tree in NSW, a 400 year old flooded gum tree 84.3m tall and 2.7m through at breast height.
Now I’d not realised that though Felicity seemed quite happy to camp with me in the van, she was a little reluctant to sleep out in the middle of nowhere, as we essentially were that first night. We selected an appropriate parking spot along a bush road – off the main highway so we didn’t have to listen to trucks driving past all night – and on a straight stretch of road so other vehicles could see us etc, and prepared for bed. We’d locked the doors to the van and all the windows were closed, and as far as I was concerned (if I’d even thought about it that is), we had no safety concerns. That was not the case as far as Fliss was concerned. While I made myself as comfortable as you can on a one inch thick foam mattress she made a comment about our lack of weapons to protect ourselves if we came under attack. “WHAT? Who’s going to attack us here?” I asked incredulously through my laughter, until I looked at her and saw she was serious. I suddenly felt bad that I’d laughed and tried my best to reassure her that we were quite safe – though I’m not sure it worked as I don’t think she got much sleep that night.
To compound Felicity’s fears of the night before, we woke up to thick smoke surrounding the van – it had that acrid bushfire smell and it was impossible to see more than a few meters ahead. A couple of cars stopped and said there was nothing to worry about as the bushfires were in the distance and that the smoke cleared just a few kilometers up the road. We went to see the Grandis tree – it was ok, but the huge forests in WA are much more impressive – then drove along the Lakes Way towards Forster-Tuncurry. I was mightily impressed with Myall Lake, a beautiful expanse of water about 15kms in length and almost as wide, it is the largest coastal lake system in NSW, and an important water bird habitat. I got an amazing photo with the blue ripples of the lake reaching the smooth blue of the sky and the bush fire smoke creating a slight haze over the land mass in the distance. In sharp focus in the foreground is a small white sailing boat with its sail down, and a pelican glides effortlessly towards me on the far right of the image. The area was picture perfect.
We drove onto the lookout on top of Cape Hawke, a few kms south-east of Forster-Tuncurry in the Booti Booti National Park, and from there we had a beautiful 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding area, and we saw a mother and baby whale swimming near a whale watching boat in the distance. The water at Tuncurry was so crystal clear, you could even see through the waves, and we saw a dolphin swimming into the harbour entrance in Tuncurry. From there we drove 85kms inland to the Bulga Plateau and the Ellenborough Falls, the largest single drop waterfall (120m) in the Southern Hemisphere. I love waterfalls, lakes and the ocean – pretty much anything to do with water actually – and I couldn’t do a trip up that way without stopping at the Falls, despite the fact the roads in and out were all unsealed, and we were thoroughly shaken and dusty by the end of the day. We walked 641 steps down to the base of the falls, and 641 steps back up to the top again, simply because there is no better spot to view a waterfall than from the base of it, where you can hear the water thundering down and feel the spray on your face. On the drive from the Falls to Comboyne, a journey of only 28kms, yet it took about an hour because the roads were so rough, we would have been forgiven for thinking we were in an alternate world, for we saw two horses trotting along the road without riders, a joey on the side of the road and in the adjacent paddock, a pure white peacock, cows wandering willy nilly and experienced a fierce dog chasing the van. It was certainly the area with ‘alternate lifestyle tendencies’ as quoted in the Lonely Planet Guide to NSW.
Day three of our journey and we visited the heritage village of Timbertown in Wauchope, similar to Sovereign Hill in Victoria. There used to be another tourist attraction in NSW called Old Sydney Town, though it has been closed down now, but the three locations actually gave a glimpse of Australia in the early days, with each park displaying a different period of time. The main difference I noticed about Timbertown was that entry was just $5. Yes, that’s FIVE dollars to spend as much time looking around as you like. I was excited that it was so cheap compared to Sovereign Hill’s $30 or so dollar entry fee! We saw a bullock demonstration where one guy (the bullock driver) leads a team of eight hefty bullocks – huge, broad shouldered and mean looking (yet very placid we were told) beasts – to do the hard and heavy manual work that was required back in those days. The bullock driver reminded me of my Grandpa as he gave a series of commands to the bullocks via whip cracks and short voice commands. Each animal had a name and he often called them out individually to perform different maneuvers to get them to drag a huge dead tree around a large paddock. It was pretty impressive stuff!
We drove further north, via South West Rocks where we stopped so I could tour the Trial Bay Gaol where German internees were held during WW1. I love tours through old jails, but this one was disappointing in the amount of jail history, and instead was abundant in modern art – they had an exhibition on with various pieces of art scattered throughout the place. The most spectacular thing about the jail was the lookout from the guard’s tower – it was a magnificent view of the brilliant blue hues of the South Pacific Ocean! We had to stop at the Smokey Cape Lighthouse so I could have my obligatory photo alongside yet another lighthouse, before we went onto Nambucca Heads which is situated right on the Macleay River. This river reminded me of the lakes in NZ and I honestly had no idea that here in Australia we the spectacular water scenery that was so similar to NZ. We arrived at Nambucca Heads at dusk and stayed to watch another beautiful sunset which covered the pretty town in a haze of colours from brilliant orange to dusty pink to a subdued purple as we left the town behind.
Felicity was driving the evening shift as we arrived at Coffs Harbour and on one of the roads we saw two large eyes reflecting back the van’s headlights as we bore down on a possum in the middle of the road. Now we’ve been taught by mum (who grew up in the country) that you never swerve a car to avoid an animal, and I’ll give it to Fliss, she didn’t turn the steering wheel an inch either way – I was impressed! That is, until I heard a small ‘thunk’ as we drove over the spot he’d been crouched in. Uh-o. Felicity became concerned and wanted to drive back and see if he was alright. I was tired and it was already dark and I didn’t feel like turning around to look for a splat on the road then feel guilty about it all night, so I tried to convince Fliss that Mr Possum wasn’t dead, in fact that she hadn’t hit him at all. I said that he was probably scampering home right now to tell his family of his adventure – he was a hero, he’d survived an attack from the vehicular giant and lived to tell the tale with only a bump on the head as evidence of his escapade! I thought it was a plausible alternative theory (maybe if the audience had been a five year old..) however the reply I got was: “Don’t try to sweeten the story, it’s not working. I want to drive back and see if he’s there and if I did kill him. Why didn’t he move? I wasn’t going to, but he should have. Stupid possum!” I couldn’t help but laugh loudly though I could see Fliss was still upset about it.
On day four we briefly stopped at the Big Banana before driving onto Maclean, another pretty river town with a strong Scottish heritage. Maclean was situated on the Clarence River and every telegraph pole throughout the main street was painted in the colours of a different Scottish family tartan. I was impressed that so much effort had gone into the adornment of the town and that no idiotic teen had covered the tartans with graffiti! I found a house that I’d love – or rather it was the location I’d love to own. The house was situated right on the edge of the river with a few sailboats moored just off shore, and the mountains visible in the distance. Have I mentioned my love of the water before? So entranced by the river, I was taking pictures while hanging out the passenger side window when I suddenly felt a little ‘ping’ on my neck, like a pebble had been flung up from the road and hit me briefly. I swiped my right hand against my neck and pulled it back to see a bee on my hand with her stinger firmly entrenched in the fleshy part at the base of my thumb. Arghhh! I flicked the bee off then had to scrape out the stinger, all the while wondering if I was allergic as I’d never had a bee sting before. I clambered over the front seats to get some ice from the esky at the rear of the van, all the while wondering if this was the last time I’d see my hand at a normal size.. Felicity later confessed that she was worried that I would be allergic (one of our brothers is extremely allergic to bee stings, hence the consternation), with her main concern that the van wouldn’t go fast enough to get me to hospital in time if I needed! I can happily report that I am not allergic to bee stings, although it was a little swollen for a few days and hurt like I imagine a hot needle poking your skin might feel.
We stopped briefly in Ballina to take a picture of the Big Prawn, but didn’t want to turn the van off as we were having trouble getting the van to actually stop. We’d arrive at our location, switch the ignition off and even take the key out yet the engine would keep rumbling away. It was annoying and even embarrassing, especially when we would both get out of the van and it continued to sound like it would take off on its own at any minute.. We did stop at Lennox Head Lookout and refused an offer to go Hang Gliding (not enough excitement for me, too much for Felicity!), then continued onto Byron Bay. There we visited Cape Byron, which, much to my delight, included the Cape Byron Lighthouse (built in 1901) and was also ‘The most easterly point of the Australian Mainland’, where of course we had a photo.
Byron Bay was busier than we expected, with signs everywhere declaring ‘No overnight camping’ so we decided to drive further before stopping and we choose Brunswick Heads as our destination for that night. Oh how I loved that place! We arrived in time to watch the sun setting over the Brunswick River and I knew I’d found my favourite location along the NSW east coast. I went for a short walk along a sandy outcrop of land and discovered the ocean on one side and the river on the other side. I was in land based heaven! Two huge bodies of water with the sun setting behind me created a magical moment. I went for a short walk through the town and was impressed with the Hotel Brunswick – a large pub overlooking the river within which 200 or so patrons enjoyed their drinks and dinner in the outside dining area, surrounded by live music and soft lights in the trees to create a warm Christmassy atmosphere. I looked at the adverts in the window of a real estate business to find the average price of land was $210,000 and houses were around $600,000, with holiday makers paying anywhere between $500 to $2,000 a week for rent! I decided I wanted to see the sun rise so set the alarm for 5.20am and made sure I went to bed early. I was rewarded for my early rising efforts with a peaceful setting and a majestic display of colours in the sky.
Day five saw us drive from Brunswick Heads (after we went to the local markets) to the next town called Ocean Heads where we went for a paddle in the ocean at 8.30 in the morning – the water was so warm and inviting we couldn’t resist! We visited Tropical Fruit World just over the border into QLD, where I tasted a variety of items including a lemon myrtle and soda water drink, papaya and macadamia jam, a ‘passionfruit sorbet’ fruit and a hot chilli sauce – and I mean HOT. If you’re into Australian made hot sauce then check out this website: http://www.chilliwillies.com.au/ We stopped for a proper swim at Coolangatta and then drove onto Noosa Heads to meet with friends for dinner. There are road signs in Noosa that I find highly amusing – they show a round a bout with two exits. One exit has the heading of ‘Eastern Beaches/ Noosa Junction’ and the other simply says ‘All Other Destinations’!! The van was continuing to ‘shake, rattle and roll’ before coming to a complete stop and within five minutes my good friend Bobbie T told us the cause and a simple solution: the problem was caused by a buildup of carbon in the engine so when we turned the key off the engine continued to run on the buildup. Being a manual van the easiest way to completely turn it off was to leave it in gear and stall it – I tried it and it worked like a dream! Oh to have had that knowledge over the last week, how many red faces would it have saved?!
That night Felicity recorded me snoring as she said it kept her awake and she wanted evidence of how loud I was.. I have to admit, when she did play it to me the following morning, I was quite impressed at my nasal cacophony! In my defense I was really tired, and therefore probably sleeping on my back thereby increasing my chances of snoring..
The next morning we drove along the coast back towards Brisbane and managed to find the Wicked van depot simply by chance which was great as we didn’t have a proper road map and had to get it back in time to meet our flights! By the time we got to the airport we were both a little overtired and delirious and I found it hilarious when Felicity decided to have a ‘baby wipes’ shower in the check in line – fancy having a shower with so many other people around! (Yes, our humour had taken a tilt towards the slightly unusual..) My flight was delayed which meant that I arrived in Sydney at the same time Felicity arrived back in Melbourne. Thank you Felicity for a fun week and I’m glad we were still talking by the end of it 🙂