a road trip along coastal new south wales
Where: Minnamurra, Wollongong, Wirrimi, Tomaree, Pacific Palms, Port Macquarie including various coastal pit-stops
When: October 2016
What: Bushwalking in Tomaree National Park, Rainforest walking at Minnamurra, Climbing the biggest shifting sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere, Quintessentially Aussie overnight stay in a Motel, Wollongong lighthouses, Iconic Aussie lifeguards, Wildlife spotting, Sea Cliff Bridge at Illawarra, the Graffiti Breakwall at Port Macquarie, Travelling along the famed Grand Pacific Drive and Lakes Way.
Wildlife spotting: Kangaroo, Australian Pelican, Kookaburra, Sea Anemone, Pink Cockatoo and Cockroaches (of course).
Counter: 1 country
Mishaps or illnesses: Sustaining a dozen insect bites from the rainforests and beaches - the hottest and itchiest I've ever had.
Australia is, because of its size, recent history and climate, principally a coastal country. Nearly all of its major population centres, including all of its State Capitals, are located along its coastline. Travelling anywhere in Australia, even to the next big city, involves covering long distances. Indeed, just the state of New South Wales itself is over three times the size of the country I grew up in. England itself fits into New South Wales over six times. Australia's size means many Aussies take to their local airports to get around with seats to just about anywhere interesting getting booked up fast. The same applies to hotels, motels, camp sites and B&Bs. A schoolboy error of continuing to use my UK calendar rather than buy a new Australian one meant that I was oblivious to an impending long weekend thanks to a public holiday on the Monday. Alas, we were just too late.
Therefore we did what any Aussie would do: we hit the highway. Of course, sampling the land of Oz by road is, I was to discover, a quintessentially Australian thing to do. This is a land of trailer parks, motor-hotels (motels), caravan enthusiasts and dedicated campers. It's a cliche but Australians really do live their lives out of doors (this, perhaps, partially explains the wretched quality of Australian television). We shared the roads with all manner of vehicles ferrying everything from surf boards to boats to caravans and bikes. It was a mass exodus from Sydney - and we were part of it. So much of Aussie life is about the outdoors that, perhaps, it was fortuitous that this calendar cock-up resulted in us joining what is, for Aussies, a well-rehearsed pilgrimage to the beaches, the rainforests and the national parks. Every demographic was out on the road: elderly couples travelling bush-ward in their motor homes, dogs sitting in the 'tray' of their hillbilly owner's Ute travelling at 110kmph (70mph), and young adventurous types speeding past in graffiti-covered campervans for a wild weekend.
It sounds trite but the journey we made was a destination in itself. The thing about Australia is that you never really know what you're going to happen upon next. Our drive both southward and then northward took infinitely longer because of frequent pit stops to take in spectacular views, often intriguingly signposted as "Lookout" areas, or because of tantalising names like "Ship Wreck Beach","Seal Rocks" or "Boomerang Beach". Moreover, keep your eyes peeled on your drive and you better your chances of seeing native Australian wildlife which, luckily for me, included a kookaburra and kangaroos. Unfortunately, however, a reality of driving in Australia is the inevitable sight of road kill. Expect to see wombats, wallabies and, more often, human-sized kangaroos slumped by the roadside. Such traumatic sights appear so quickly that it is impossible to avert your eyes in time. On a more heartwarming note, lift your eyes a little skyward when driving through forested areas, especially forests of Eucalyptus gum trees, and you may just spot webbed walkways crossing from one side of the highway to the other. These are for koalas to use. Whether they use them or not is anyone's guess but they are heartwarming to see nonetheless.
Any tedium you may feel driving long distances are likely to be enlivened by the unusual place names you'll pass, including "Jamberoo", "Coolongolook", "Moonie Moonie" and "Bulahdelah" and which, I have to admit, had me attempting to enunciate each one like a child learning a new language. I have no doubt I failed dismally (for example, "Wagga Wagga" is pronounced "Wogga Wogga" and "Geelong" is pronounced "Jallong"). It has to be said that these ancient place names sit uncomfortably, even jarringly, alongside those brought over by the British when Australia was a penal colony - a dumping ground for the British Empire to offload its crims and "ne'er do wells". British place names along our route included "Scarborough", "Newcastle", "Hexham" and "Wallsend". This physical, visual contrast between such Australian places and their British namesake are so extreme as to appear quite ridiculous. Writ large through its place names, therefore, is Australia's controversial and relatively recent, history - the wounds of which are yet to fully heal. Nod off in the car and you'll miss the lot.
Proportionally speaking our route from Minnamurra in the south to Port Macquarie in the state's Mid-North, despite being over 1000km, covered only a modest slice of the state. However, the sheer abundance of beauty and the diversity of sights created the sensation that we had, in fact, experienced several countries over the course of the long weekend. There were the Amazonian-like Jurassic-era rainforests with their unusual, and slightly intimidating, flora and fauna which punctuated our walks out in the bush; the spectacularly beautiful paradisal beaches which would give any tropical island in the Caribbean a serious run for its money; the lush green pastures of rolling fields full of sheep which, perhaps fittingly, conjured up the words 'South Wales' in my mind and, perhaps most incongruously of all, the giant sand dunes which, with a little blurring of the eyes, could have been in the Western Sahara. Indeed, the dunes at Worimi Conservation Lands come with an impressive superlative: they are the biggest shifting sand dunes in the Southern Hemisphere. Welcome to a particularly stunning chunk of coastal NSW.
The beautiful harbour at Wollongong - built by convicts.
The spectacular Sea Cliff Bridge at sunset in the northern Illawarra region of New South Wales.
As the light fades at the Sea Cliff Bridge the oranges and yellows are replaced by pastel pinks and blues. Serene.
Climbing the giant dunes at Worimi - the largest shifting dunes in the southern hemisphere.
A giant stamen erupts from a plant at Ship Wreck Beach.
The unbelievable beauty of Ship Wreck Beach in the Tomaree National Park and, contrary to what its name may imply, there is no ship wreck .
Mount Tomaree is the peak of bushwalking in Tomaree National Park.
Pit-stop perfect: one of the many watery vistas which compel you to park up and just look. This is Wallis Lake at Booti Booti National Park.
Such a lovely photograph of yours truly at Seal Rocks...until you notice all of the insect bites on my legs! It's an unavoidable travel hazard in Australia.
travel tips, links & resources
- Unless you're a New Zealand citizen you'll need a visa to get into Australia. If you're a British citizen residing in the UK, you'll also need a visa - but it's free and quick to get one. All completely online, getting an Australian visa has got to be the easiest visa I have ever had the pleasure of acquiring. It came through within thirty minutes of setting up an 'Immi' account.
- There's a lot to be said for flying between cities - but make sure you find time to sample life outside of the big cities for a slice of Australia less impacted by tourism.
- If you're hoping to travel around states during public holidays, as we were here, be advised that accommodation along Australia's unrivalled coastline gets booked up fast. Book well in advance and get in before the onslaught of city dwellers swamps coastal Australia.
- If you can bear the heat, wear trousers when walking in the bush. Not only will this insulate your legs from insect bites but will also go some way to guarding you against stinging plants and deadly ticks known to attach themselves to you when you brush passed them.
- Try not to be too ambitious during your Australian road trip by cramming your itinerary - many of the things which will become the highlight of your journey are happened upon by pure chance. Building in a lot of slack into your itinerary will enable you to pull over and enjoy the unexpected. Remember: the journey is the destination!
- Ensure you take detours off of the main highways. One such detour, if you're travelling on this route, should be to leave the A1 Pacific Highway at Bulahdelah and join the Lakes Way.
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