Wednesday, 23 September 2009

The Adventure Begins - Week 1

September 17

Goodbye to Elizabeth Flats and our Katoomba sojourn. All our worldly possessions, except for a couple of suitcases, have been packed into boxes and driven away into storage by the moving company.
Roland and George waved us off from the front gate.

First stop the Sydney suburb of Turramurra to spend the evening with sister Caroline and her family.

September 18

After our first night in the van, parked on the street outside Caroline’s place, we said goodbye to family and drove north on the Pacific Highway, heading for Brisbane.
At Bulahdelah, we bought provisions for the evening meal and I photographed our lumbering beast of burden,

actually a beautiful ’65 Chevy van borrowed from our friends, John and Susan, who also own the lovely wooden boat in which we made our Nepean River cruise (see .)

Here's Michael doing the first fill-up.

On Caroline’s recommendation we were aiming to spend our first official night on the road at Seal Rocks, a cluster of small holiday cottages clinging to the shore below a high headland.
Here we aquired a site in the local caravan park and set off to climb the headland and inspect its historic lighthouse. On the way, we could look down on a narrow cleft between the rocks where the water came rushing in.

The lightkeeper’s cottages are now expensive holiday rental suites.

While they look delightful and have spectacular views along the adjoining beaches, the constant wind that whips around their exposed site makes it much less pleasant to be there than my pictures show.
The beach on the windy side of the headland was deserted.

It’s still a little early for the water to be pleasant for swimming, but even on a calm day, this is such a secluded area that few people would be about.
On the lee side, near our caravan park, a couple of brave lads were splashing in the brilliant turquoise water, trying to surf an occasional little wave rolling in. There’s a small fishing camp here, and a few picturesque old boats pulled up on the sand.

The craggy rocks offshore are the Seal Rocks that give the place its name.

They stretch deceptively far out into the ocean, and at least one ship has come to disaster trying to navigate between them. The lighthouse beam still warns seagoing vessels to keep well away.

This whole section of the coast is part of Myall Lakes National Park, and wildlife is easy to see and hear. We passed a dingo on our climb to the lighthouse, seemingly undisturbed by our presence. Bush turkeys roamed the grass in a camping reserve

where we debated spending the night before settling for the luxury of a powered site with hot showers. We also saw and heard kookaburras and many tiny birds twittering in the surrounding bush.

September 19

A bright ,clear day and time before we leave for another walk along the nearby beach. This time I noticed strands of morning glory growing wild along the roadside, their soft lilac flowers wide open in the morning sunshine.

Travelling on we decided to take the “tourist route” suggested by a highway sign. This took us to the pretty town of Wingham with its central park lined by palm trees. We had lunch there sitting at one of their picnic tables.
The tourist route signs had not warned us that there were about 18km of dirt road on this particular detour! Yes, the route led us through high country with great views down into valleys and even across to the ocean, but the road was corrugated, potholed and dusty. By the time we hit bitumen again, everything in our van was coated in fine dust. Including us.
Around Comboyne, another attractive country town, we admired plantations of Paulownia trees in flower.

A fairly recent addition to the Australian landscape, they are grown for paper pulp.

We were tired after negotiating the winding dirt road and searched out a camping area near Macksville. Gumma Reserve didn’t sound lovely, but it was on the edge of Warrell Creek a broad, smooth waterway. This was a basic camping area, but at least had a toilets and a tank of drinking water. Other campers sharing the riverbank with us seemed to be retirees or families with young children. After dark, it was pitch-black, and everyone went to bed early.

September 20

Sunday morning. Quick breakfast and we were off up the road, not very far, to Nambucca Heads, a town we remembered from an earlier visit. The Nambucca River enters the ocean here, and there are both ocean beaches and the sandy riverbank from which to swim. We found a waterside spot in a caravan park alongside the river. Kayakers and a lone pelican paddled by.

it was a serene place to relax and write our respective records of the trip so far.

After lunch we walked towards the town alongside the river. Just past our campsite, a boardwalk begins that leads all the way to the mouth of the river and and a long breakwater running out to the ocean.
All the rocks along the breakwater are painted with the names of people who have visited the town. It’s sanctioned graffiti, some of it quite entertaining. Some families have recorded every year that they have returned, others have drawn little cartoons. I’m not sure whether I like it but it certainly beats unsanctioned graffiti, which I guess is the alternative.
From the end of the breakwater we were able to follow a path over the sand dunes to the nearest surfing beach, obviously popular on this sunny weekend afternoon.
By the time we returned to our van, the tide had receded to leave a long sand bar in front of our campsite. A few of our neighbours were out there in the low evening light with their fishing rods.

For dinner we were hoping to re-visit Matilda’s, a pleasant restaurant near the water, but unfortunately it’s closed Sundays. Instead we ended up at the local RSL club, a huge glass-fronted structure on the riverbank. RSL is the acronym for Returned Services League, although anybody can join and visitors like us merely have to sign in to be issued a temporary membership. Every town of any size in Australia has one of these, or a Bowlo ( Lawn Bowling Club). They all make pots of money from poker machines and other forms of gambling, including raffles for which the prizes are usually trays of steak or chicken. The raffles are so popular and frequent that they have given rise to the uniquely Australian expression “couldn’t win a chook raffle” for a particularly unlucky person.
The Nambucca Heads RSL boasts a Thai restaurant, but it is also closed Sundays so we have to settle for the bistro, which offers a hamburger or fish-and-chips sort of menu. In one corner of the vast room there’s a blonde belting out old Elvis and Patsy Cline standards. We sit at the other end and watch the passing parade of diners, most of them quite overweight - which is not surprising if they eat here often.

September 21

The Foreshore Caravan Park has been a pleasant place to stay, but we have to continue our journey northwards. After a brief stop in the larger town of Coffs Harbour we visited Woolgoolga briefly, lured by the promise of a whale watching lookout. Seeing no whales, we carried on to Corimbi for lunch in a park on the headland overlooking a long stretch of deserted beach.

After Corimbi the highway turns inland towards Grafton, a town famous for its jacaranda festival. We were too early for the jacaranda blossoms and I have to say that many of the trees we saw looked sick and desiccated. The town has been subjected to both drought and floods in recent times, so perhaps the trees are finding it a struggle to survive. There was a lovely street of mature fig trees as compensation, though, and Michael was enchanted by some of the old, wide-verandahed houses, perched high off the ground to defy regular floods.
By the time we reached the smaller, nondescript town of Casino we were tired, and it had begun to rain. We found an odd little campground behind a gas station, mostly occupied by permanent tenants. Its amenities were spotlessly clean, however, with great water pressure and softer water than we had during our years in Katoomba. As I left this building later that evening I trod on something squishy. This turned out to be a large green frog which fortunately seemed unharmed. The overhead light was very yellow which makes it appear more lurid in my photo than it actually was.

September 22

By morning the rain had departed, although the sky remained cloudy all morning. We drove through dull country to the attractive town of Lismore, then on to Nimbin, which has a reputation as a centre of counter-culture. Just before the town are the Nimbin Rocks, odd pinnacles rising abruptly from the ground.

The town itself certainly had the look of a hippie enclave of the late ‘60s, but it all seemed more a theme park for tourists than the authentic article. There were lots of shops selling – and burning – incense, along with tie-dyed T-shirts, beads, Indian print skirts, hemp clothing, and so forth. And there were lots of psychedelic shop signs, many with references to dope.

But nary a bakery selling homemade bread, or any reference to growing or selling organic vegetables. These people were entrepreneurs, not back-to–the-landers.
Along the roadside further on we came to a roadside stall selling fruit and vegetables, though not from a market garden nearby. Nonetheless we were able to buy local olives there and a mango (from the Northern Territory).

By mid-afternoon we had reached Murwillumbah, a town of some character on the banks of the Tweed River. Its caravan park was devoid of charm,

but we weren’t inclined to drive as far as the coast, which was probably full of holidaymakers anyway, as we were now just south of Queensland where it is already school holiday time. We secured a site under the only tree of any size in the otherwise bare tract,

In spite of the warning sign on the electricity box, neither we nor the tree shed any limbs during our stay.