Brisbane to Canberra Via Sydney - Week 2
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Having avoided loosing a wheel or getting lost in the darkness (there weren't that many off roads, but enough to end up wayward) heading down the road that we didn't know was dirt (pretty much the only downfall of using the MAPS.Me app) we slowly reached asphalt unscathed and took to Harrington to spend the remainder of the night. It was really a journey we should have done the next day. Awaking early to catch the sunrise once again, we backtracked a bit and headed to the Crowdy Bay Lighthouse which was surprisingly an exact clone of the last one at Port Macquarie. Twins! The scenery here was definitely not as dramatic or breathtaking as the other lighthouses, but still a lovely spot and certainly a lot quieter than the ones near bigger ports.
Hitting the road, we arrived in Forster, and went to check out Bennet's Head lookout and what a fantastic surprise! Tall, dramatic sea cliffs, right at the end of a cul-de-sac! Walk a little further and there are two lookouts just as spectacular. It goes a lot further, but we didn't have time to do the whole length, stopping only at the picnic table to admire the rugged coast and take some snaps.
Afterwards, we did a short but moderately steep walk through Booti Booti National Park and climbed atop of a metal structure (Cape Hawke Lookout) to see breathtaking views over Forster-Tuncurry and the river that meanders between them. I don't have any good pictures of that as the lighting was just awful with us having visited in the middle of the day, but it was definitely beautiful, although the trees were a little tall in some areas.
Making our way down the coast, we stopped in to Boomerang Beach, whereas unlike the Forster, where the ocean was calm, here the waves were bashing violently against the headland and created some spectacular waves.
Slowly making our way down south and meandering between mostly unseen lakes, we were contemplating whether or not to deviate across to see the lighthouse at Sugarloaf Point as we hadn't covered much ground. Being two to not want to miss anything, we said "stuff it. We'll make up for lost ground after dark or tomorrow," and man, I am so glad we decided to go. From the waves crashing through rocks, to the violent winds that swirled together to form soft, lightly precipitating clouds, to the vibrant red fiery sunset that washed over the glorious scenery that is the Myall Lakes National Park, and being able to climb the stairs around the lighthouse to be in full exposure of those elements made Seal Rocks/ Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse one of my most favourite places I've ever been visited. Mother Nature sure put on a show that day.
Stopping in at the Nelson Bay Lighthouse for sunrise, I was pretty disappointed because basically there was no lighthouse. We quickly scooted away to Barry Park on the southern end of Fingal Bay, and with a mostly clear sky, i was, unfortunately, not expecting much of a sunrise. Thankfully, at the last moment, some decided to gravitate towards to the east and I was blessed with this gorgeous sunrise over Fingal Island.
I had read somewhere that you could walk over to Fingal Island to see the Point Stephens Lighthouse on the other side, but that the path was a tidal sand bar, and you have to take caution as the tide might come in as you are walking along it or if you spend too long at the island, then you may get stuck there. Unfortunately, we never got the chance to try. We headed back to the Nelson Head Inner Light to see if we could actually find the lighthouse and it turns out the building we thought was a lighthouse cottage was actually the lighthouse, albeit a very different one.
Heading to the south side of the area, we made our way to the beaches of Anna Bay. I can't remember if I had read about it at home whilst researching for the trip or if i had seen it during visits to various information centres about sandboarding, and so much more excitingly, camel back riding... on a beach. We opted to do both and we had actually come on a great day and at a great time. We made it just before the last service for both and were informed that the camels were not going to be there tomorrow. Given the leisurely pace of the trip, it was lucky we asked because we might have chosen to do it the next day and that would have been unfortunate. Even though it was only a short 20 or so-ish minute trip, it was absolutely delightful. We were led across the sand and between sand dunes, and eventually down the beach which was my favourite part and the camels were absolutely lovely. They seemed really content and happy, which is what I love to see, and there was no spitting from these docile guys, but the one behind us kept coming out alongside our girl, Daisy, which was just the cutest. Combine all that with it being almost sunset, made it a really lovely experience.
After that, we hit the sandboarding bus and were driven to 40m high sand dunes. This was sandy desert like stuff, and I never knew we had dunes this big! And I never knew that had such deep breadths of sand like this, and certainly wasn't expecting sand as far as the eyes can see. I think we went with a large tour group, as they mostly stuck together on the shortest and shallowest gradient for at least the first 20 minutes. Having never been sandboarding before I beelined to highest and steepest part of the dune, and has a blast coming down those 40 metres. I was pretty proud of dad doing the same, when all the others hadn't graduated from the little slopes yet.
Casually cruising into Newcastle a lot less early than we had been doing, we made out way past beautifully maintained historical building whilst navigating annoying amounts of roadworks with confusing circular detours and arrived right at Fort Scratchley just at it was being opened. This was my first fort and what was really cool about it was that it was not only an interesting sneak peek into our nations first defence in case of war, it was also an amazing spot to view the city. Gun emplacements and canons inside the fort and uninterrupted views of cargo ships cruising past Nobby's Lighthouse into Hunter River, as well as the majestic Christ Church Cathedral on top of the hill and the riverside Queens Wharf Tower. Another thing that made it really enjoyable was the ferocious winds. In fact, it was SO windy that they actually had to close shortly after we left.
Heading on down the spit solo to see Nobby's Lighthouse up close on such a windy day with beaches and ocean on either side was quite an experience. Aside from having to take quick photos and heed caution with my camera by hiding it under jacket, I absolutely loved being in the elements and getting a serious sand blasting because who can argue with a free natural face scrub! Unfortunately my efforts had been for naught as access to the lighthouse is closed every day except Sunday... Still can't argue with free face scrubs.
Next, we headed riverside to climb the Queens Wharf Tower, and what a fantastic experience that was. The wind that we had today really made Newcastle extra special for me. Maybe I'm just a weirdo, but there is something so appealing about doing stuff in rough elements that makes it so much better, and climbing the innumerable steps to the top while it was howling and shaking the whole time made it so fun, and when you get to the top, you get fantastic uninterrupted 360* views of this gorgeous historic city. (...I just read that it is being demolished mid-2018, because it looks like... That wasn't what I thought it looked like when I saw it... There are way worse ones... I hope they build a new one, because the views here are amazing...)
Back on steady ground, we made our way to the Newcastle Baths, one of many, many awesome free oceanside pools that lined the NSW coastline, and was sad to discover that it was closed for cleaning...
Next, we circled around town to try and find the beautiful building that stood atop the hill that we could see from Fort Scratchley and Queens Wharf Tower. We eventually found it, and learned that it was the Christ Church Cathedral and it was majestic. The best I've seen in Australia. (I couldn't resist making an edit where it looks like a fairytale castle.)
Before daylight broke, we made our way through the quiet morning streets to poignantly catch the sun rise over the Newcastle Memorial Walk, As the Ode goes, "And in the morning, we will remember them," and it truly was a special time to see this dedication to our soldiers. Sunrise is always just a beautiful, slow and reflective time, and to be able to feel that in the haunting silence of morning in a place that holds so much weight and to be able to reflect on their sacrifice truly was the best way to see it. Plus, they chose an amazing spot. Not only does it have gorgeous views facing south, it also looks over the city, as if to quietly remind the residents of their forefathers sacrifice whilst the soldiers and their stories watch over one of the cities they helped protect.
Breaking from Newcastle, we headed furthermore south to Lake Macquarie, where we beelined straight to Caves Beach to once again catch the sunset and investigate some caves. Asking an unexpectedly chatty local where the caves meant an overly long friendly engagement whilst the sun was dying left me a little panicky but luckily we managed to break away for a bit to catch the last bit of light before day officially became night. One of the caves in which the beach is named after was disappointingly small, but large enough for a sand scrawl into it's 1.5m depths, which was fun and thankfully, completely crab and creature free. The other cave, unfortunately inaccessible at that time because of the tide, and we did not want to be getting wet when we had no where to change.
Waking up bright and early again, a theme of the trip, we went back to the bridge we'd crossed coming in to town to take sunrise pictures of the Swansea Bridge, one that the friendly local lady told us is an opening bridge. Not expecting it to actually open while we were there, I was content just taking pictures of the bridge. And luck would have it, just as i was taking snaps from between the dual bridges, the traffic stopped and it opened for us, with a fisherman and his gorgeous yacht cruising by moments later.