Brisbane to Canberra Via Sydney - Week 1
Day one of Dad and Belinda's epic road down the Pacific Motorway to Sydney and Kiama, then across to Canberra, and up through the inland route back to Ipswich kicked off at 7.40am, a day late... We were scheduled to hit the highway the day before, but due to some general tardiness and a decent amount of unpacked, it was cutting a lot into the day, so we decided to chill out and relax and start first thing in the morning.
Heading along the Logan Motorway, it was about a 40 minute stretch before we hit that big long beautiful 4 lane concrete road known as the "legendary" Pacific Highway, and one that we would be spending a lot of time navigating on and off of as we inched our way down the gorgeous rugged coastline that New South Wales is so famous for.
Being overly familiar with the big bright city lights and long stretches of beautiful sandy beaches that make up the Gold Coast, we made a beeline for the border, and before long we were in State Of Origin enemy territory (I actually go for the blues, but don't tell any Queenslanders that. :P), and fairly dramatically, the scenery changed from high rises and traffic jams to coastal towns and country scenery.
Byron Bay And Ballina
Tracking east, we hit the coast at Byron Bay and beelined for the Cape Byron Lighthouse and it's amazing 270ish degree views. Heading up here at anytime is such a delight, and though we didn't linger here as long as we usually do this time as we have been here several times, I definitely recommend doing the walk around the Cape. You can go from Wategos Beach or as we always do, from the lighthouse, and I thoroughly recommend doing it in a bit of weather at night. Last time I was here a few weeks before this trip, we went shortly after the sun went down, and it was rain intermittently, and the full moon illuminated the sky and sea in a very moody, foreboding and treacherous kind of way, and the end of the walk was particularly fun with the heavy rain and howling wind, though one has to be careful as there are exposed areas with no railing. A little bit of a adrenaline to make it memorable. You can also access the secluded Little Wategos Beach from this walk as well as get to the Most Easterly Point Of Mainland Australia which is always a great photo opportunity in itself. :) Just remember this is a big tourist destination, and parking is hard and expensive everywhere, the maximum of $8 an hour if you go to the top lighthouse carpark, and $4 at the mid carpark, although I think it's free after a certain time. (This pic of the lighthouse was taken on that aforementioned trip)
Traversing down the coast on.... wait for it... The Coast Road (T30) we stopped in at Broken Head Beach At Suffolk Park, which is more for the locals, but has a little headland walk, then down to Pat Morton Lookout at Lennox Head which has an amazing lookout and beach to beach walk via a beautiful coast cliff. Be careful though because the edges seem pretty crumbly. It's a great spot for dolphin and whale watching and just chilling as it's much less congested than Byron Bay, but just like Byron, it is a fantastic hang gliding haunt, both which Dad used to frequent, though unlike Byron Bay (I think), you can go tandem hang gliding here if the weather permits, so it's probably best to check websites and weather forecasts.
Heading to Ballina, we checked out the Lighthouse, which, situated unusually more inland than you'd expect, wasn't exactly a showstopper with it's small stature which makes it easy to miss and the lack of dramatic scenery lighthouses are synonymous with. A little closer to sea and in front of the lighthouse at the appropriately titled Lighthouse Beach offers serene though not exactly fantastic ocean views. Before leaving town, make sure you check out the Big Prawn in the carpark of Bunninings because it's fun and because you can, and because it's just so Australian. Though Ballina lacks natural scenery, I'd imagine it has amazing fishing, and I can personally tell you, the skydiving there is epic. :D
With the sun having set and the progress we made crap, we rejoined the Pacific Motorway, and made haste for the seaside suburb of Angourie where we watched the stars and withnessed the longest and brightest shooting star I'd ever seen. Unfortunately, there weren't too many more to see and none were certainly as bright. I took it as a blissful sign from a deceased loved one. We then headed a little back up the township of Yamba and called it a night.
Angourie And Yamba
Having read up on the Blue Pool on the Visit NSW website, we woke up before the crack of dawn and headed back to Angourie to witness the sunrise. Walking to the beat of water trickling down the cliff we descended along, we were greeted with dark, glassy mirror reflections of the jumping cliff next to the pool, which, had it not been the middle of winter and breaking daylight, I would have very happily entered the pool this way, you know, after spending an actual hour of inching my way in to acclimatise. I'm a cold wuss, y'all. Definitely a great swimming spot, and as I've read, it is understandably very popular in those hotter months. Equally as special was the sunrise over that and the adjacent beach. There's always something special about being in the (almost) middle of nowhere standing in the eerily natural silence of a beautiful sunrise in a beautiful place.
Before leaving the area, we dropped back in to the township of Yamba to see the lighthouse. It's not the most spectacular and the scenery out to the coast is pretty basic but it's close enough to drop by if you are trying to tick some lighthouses of your to do list. There's also a radio station of the hill behind which is in the shape of a lighthouse which is cute.
Detouring off the highway, we stopped in at Corindi to take a nap before trying to make it to Coff's Harbour before night's end. Napping on the headland full hobo-style with a blanket over me, I suffered the very real paranoia of potentially being urinated on by an unleashed dog. After being some small definition of rested and ready, we popped in to Woolgoolga where we were greeted with lovely and relaxing 360 degree views of ocean and rolling coastal hills made even more special by the yellow sea mist haze created by a slowly setting sun.
Skipping out early to see the actual sunset, we made it to our first major city en route, Coff's Harbour, where there were actual traffic lights, and traffic, and an annoying closing but not yet closed restaurant that wouldn't accomodate, lets face it, hobo mountaineer looking road trippers. Okay, we didn't look that bad, but it was late, I was hungry, and that restaurant that will not be named, had a tonne of people in it and the woman who worked there didn't actually "know" when it closed and was not pleasant about it, so we stopped at KFC where everyone is welcome before snapping some pics of the bridge going over the Pacific Motorway.
Perhaps the best thing and the worst thing about being a photographer is getting up early the catch the soft multi-coloured spectacle that is the sunrise. While getting up at such an ungodly hour is a tough gig, especially if you are like me and love to sleep in, and you don't like to wake up the neighbours, who in this case were caravanners and campers, there is something very ethereal, magnetic and otherworldly about standing in the unsettling silence of the night and watching as the sun slowly illuminates the earth, turning night into beautiful day. Sunsets are gorgeous too, but the effort, and the seemingly absence of life give a very juxtaposing sensation of witnessing the end of the world and the dawn of a new one at the same time that just captivates me every time.
Waking up early to make the hike to Muttonbird Island was truly a delight. Though we were a touch behind the sunrise, I tried to make haste to the opposite side of the island, but stopping and turning and the first platforms to witness my first glimpses of Coff's Harbour just before light broke was spectacular, and one of the most enduring images from this trip and one the quickly and easily cemented it as one of my very favourite places to be on a trip filled with amazing places and scenery. I'm so glad I took that opportunity to take photos of that incredible blue light before racing off to the catch the sun breaking the horizon. Honestly, I could have stayed there a lot longer than the three hours we were there, but alas, checkout time at the caravan park meant that my awe of the island and of the scenery had to be cut short. Returning to the aforementioned platforms after, the golden light of chaotic day held nothing against the blue calm of almost day. (P.S - We didn't see any muttonbirds, however there were a lot of beautiful little birds flying around)
After packing up our gear, we broke away from the city and headed inland to visit the Vincent Tree, an estimated 4-500 year old 65 metre high tree that although it sits right next to the road, is very easy to miss. If I recall correctly, the only reason I noticed it was because we had turned around as we'd thought we'd missed and I just happened to look up and recognised it from seeing a photo online.
Though it was pretty badly damaged in a storm in 2013, it was still a nice little detour to check out a tree that has local significance while making our way to the Forest Sky Pier, which has fantastic panoramic views of the city, ocean and surrounding mountains.
After failing to find Korora Lookout, we traced back into town and no trip to Coff's Harbour is complete without going to the Big Banana. We weren't really interested in the activities, but just stopped by to have a decadent lunch in the Going Bananas cafe. Dad favoured the Bacon, Cheese and Banana Toasted Sandwich while I favoured the Vegetarian Breakfast and Banana Crepe with a side of three different types of ice cream.a I'm salivating at the thought.
Having gotten our fill, we headed back to the coast to soak in some sunset rays and strolled gently along Corambirra Point. Peppered with fisherman, scooters and strollers alike, and with views over the harbour and across to the city and the mountains beyond, it was a lovely way to end the day, though it still pales in comparison to the vista like views from Muttonbird Island.
Making one last stop at Jetty Beach, walking the pier and writing names in the beach, we said goodbye the picturesque coastal city, and headed inland.
With a name like Waterfall Way, this route was just daring to be explored. Even though you could never see all the waterfalls, the ones we did see on the few days we spent there were spectacular. Unsurprisingly, for a place that is aloof with waterfalls, the drive to get there was full of beautiful winding roads. It is gravel in some areas and tight in others, but it is definitely worth the trip. Juxtaposing between National Park forests and open country areas, we were treated to rainforests, bushland, frost, and the occasional lyrebird.
First stop. Bangalore Falls in Bindarri National Park. The drive is mostly dirt road and it can be a bit haphazard in some areas in your rocking up in a 2WD but it's not anything out of it's capabilities. The walk is an easy 1km return grade three track to a lovely little waterfall. (We found out later that it was the driest winter on some years so many of the waterfalls we saw were flowing less than usual. :( )
Next, we pulled into Dorrigo and visited Dangar Falls super conveniently located right next to the road and viewable from above from a small platform at the park and wow, what a spectacular view! With views of the pools and streams feeding to the waterfall, down to the canyon it leaps into, and having an actual good amount of water in it, it was nothing short of breathtaking.
After having a BBQ lunch at the park, we took a short stroll down to the bottom of the falls, where it was you can get right down to the waters edge, and once again, had it not been the bitter cold of winter, I would have absolutely taken a dip. :P
Traversing through the pretty township of Dorrigo, we stopped by to catch the sunset at Scenic View Picnic Area where a nearby fire had created a lovely hazy scenery.
Having read that it was one was the best national parks in New South Wales, and the main reason we detoured from the coast, we decided to take a quick peek at Dorrigo National Park before it got too dark before commencing a proper walk tomorrow and WOW! Accessing the Skywalk via the after hours gate, we were greeted with a fantastically vivid mountain scenery that seemed to stretch on forever covered in beautiful blue light, and even better, we were practically there all by ourselves.
Dorrigo National Park
Having enjoyed the the sunset the night before, I couldn't resist the temptation to get up early and see the sunrise and thank goodness we did because it was even better than yesterday's beautiful calm blue dusk. Not only do you get to see then night transition into day in a glorious part of the world, but you also get to wake up with the animals, and especially the birds who are either so happy or so peeved at being up so early that they sing praises of glory or squawk bloody murder to one and all. Who knows... All I know is that the FOREST IS ALIVE!
After we had our fill of the Skywalk, we headed down to the Glade Picnic Area where we tackled the 1.2km rainforest walk to the reason we were here, to see the delightfully named Crystal Shower Falls. Walking along the short suspension bridge, the falls from the front wasn't anything spectacular, but walking into the cavern behind was spectacular, and beautifully serene with drenched vines dangling over the edge and the rushing sound of the water drowning out everything else. What made it even more special was the harsh light from the high sun that made photographing the waterfall from the front, pierced through the water veil and created a magical beam that was just the icing on the cake. It was so easy to believe you had been transported another world.
Originally we were just going to do Crystal Shower Falls, but we figured that it was only "a bit further" to go to the other waterfalls. While you don't get to go behind Tristania Falls, from the front it was much more interesting than Crystal Shower Falls. Lucky the sun had come over and I snapped this shot.
After spending a whole day wondering through the ancient forests, we put the soft rolling mountain surrounds of Dorrigo in our rearview mirror and headed back towards to the coastal town of Urunga (which has a fun welcome sign). noticing a glorious sunset unfolding around us, we looped back under the bridge we came across and set up the camera gear along the Kalang River to capture these gems before going coast side to walk the Urunga Lagoon Footbridge.
Lit only by a full moon and a sense of unfamiliarity, we strolled quietly along the seemingly endless wooden path where we walked alongside dense sand dune shrubs to the relaxing slap of the lagoon waves hitting the ever changing dramatic tidal shoreline as we made our way to the ocean. So apparently out of it I was, that, after relaxing on the seat at the end of the 1km stroll, I misjudged the drop down from the stairs, which on high tide would be touching water, to the sand beneath, that I ended up falling onto my knees and hands with my face ending ending my fall. What a lovely, delightful, unexpected use of my face.
Having arrived into Nambucca Heads the night before, we chose Captain Cook Lookout to watch the sunrise as it was right near a headland but with the clouds the way they were, I wasn't expecting anything amazing from the sun, but alas, some thins ones arrived just in time and diffused to create a gloriously soft light that bathed the earth in warm red hues. The peace and quiet was fabulous, as it so often is before the earth wakes up until a lady spoke at ear shattering levels to her friend one foot away from her...
Tearing ourselves away from here, we zapped over to the Rotary Lookout just down the road before the sun got too high and were pleasantly surprised with beautiful river and ocean views facing south.
We also stuck around in town to walk along Shelly Beach and visited the V Wall. Don't ask me what V stands for, as I have no clue, but it's a rockwall break wall that you can walk along that is lined with paintings, memorials, cartoons, and Where's Wallys, which, while it has a lovely sentiment, is.... pretty worn away and a bit tacky. A plus side though, is that it is a great viewing spot for whales and dolphins. We spotted two large pods of dolphins quite close making their way into the delta. Fabulous to watch if you have a pair of binoculars, which, if you find any green ones there, they are ours....
South West Rocks
After another big stretch of Pacific Highway bitumen, we detoured into South West Rocks, where after getting supplies, headed to Arakoon's Trial Bay Gaol, which, even though I am not hugely into history, found it absolutely fascinating. I may have a thing for ruins which can be directly attributed to unending love for Supernatural and Final Fantasy, and just all things eerie and abandoned. Rather than the Gaols history, which was originally constructed for prisoners to work on a nearby break wall to help with safe passage for ships, but was abandoned due to many difficulties in construction, especially storms damaging it, and then later as a German Interment Camp during World War I which was then closed when the war ended (there's also a German moment nearby you can walk to if you have the time but which you can also see from the front of the gaol), I was more fascinated with the stone architecture. Something about walls with no roofs is weirdly appealing to me, and I enjoyed myself there more than I thought I would.
With what little daylight we had left after staying until closing at Trial Bay Gaol, we headed to the southern part of South West Rocks to see the Smoke Cape Lighthouse in Hat Head National Park, and wow what a lovely place to be just after dusk. After a short but steep climb to the top, you get fantastic views of mountains as they roll down into the ocean, as well as secluded beaches and opportunities to see whales and dolphins. We didn't see any, but the friendly elderly couple who were descending as we were ascending kindly informed us that they had spotted some just moments ago.
Arriving late at night, we zapped on over to the southern side of Port Macquarie to see the Tacking Point Lighthouse shine it's light for boats passing by and were greeted with some suspicious car activity. Keeping our distance in the lower carpark, none of the several cars that came and went in a questionably quick manner over the next hour seemed to notice we were there. In contrast, the breaking of dawn brought around a lot of local joggers, photographers, whale watchers and most memorably, a very suavely dressed man feeding magpies out of his hand.
Next, we had a blast playing on the flying fox at John Downes Park (sorry kiddos, it's broken now! Just kidding) enroute to the pretty lookout overlooking Nobby Head before dropping by to the Port Macquarie Observatory then having lunch at Lions Lookout overlooking Town Beach. Looking at the observatory on the map, it seemed bizarre being in the middle of a large but upon looking at it, it's definitely skewed more towards to an amateur audience rather than a more serious stargazer. Lions lookout was a lovely place to stop by and take a breather and fill our bellies, with views of the river and the ocean, where surfers and swimmers seem to be impervious to the cold. A man with an enviably epic 600mm telescopic zoom lens arrived to take pictures of eagles and was kind enough to allow me to use his gear for a hot minute to see its zoom power at maximum zoom. Serious camera gear envy.
Afterwards, we investigated the Roto House, a preserved late Victorian-era house, which, although is not really my kind of thing, I did enjoy how some rooms were presented as they would have been back then rather than all organised in display cabinets.
For us, and many tourists, The Roto House was a nice pitstop but what we really came to see was the Koala Hospital, which is situated right behind it. Just like the Roto house it is free to visit, and there's a small enclave that has information on koalas, koala sculptures (as part of the Koala Sculpture Trail), a gift shop, and of course visiting the koalas! These poor guys cannot return to the wild for various reasons but the guys who work and volunteer here do an amazing job of looking after these sleepy marsupials as well as saving and returning others who come to them for help and they do it all WITHOUT ANY GOVERNMENT FUNDING! So if you are nearby, drop in here, and donate generously or donate here. Help save our of our national icons.
Saying farewell to the placid and adorable slumbering furballs that thankfully didn't turn drop bear on us, we stalked the town for souvenirs then said our goodbye's to Port Macquarie. Arriving in Laurieton right on sunset, we decided to try and catch the blue light by heading to North Brother Lookout in the nearby Dooragan National Park, and what a surprisingly spectacular view! I managed to snap a few shots before it got too dark.