After six weeks travelling across 1095 miles, Alex and I have put enough evidence together to conclude the following:
Australia is big.
Three and a half hours of flying, eleven hours of driving and countless trains/coaches/trams have led to just scratching the surface of Australia’s East Coast, and we felt this keenly in our final week before heading back to Asia. In a last ditch attempt to see as much as we could of what Australia has to offer, we rented a car and mapped out a route involving a disconcerting amount of driving. Our first stop was a couple of days in Canberra, after which we began a lengthy expedition up North, destination Byron Bay.
It took 3 days in total to make the trip, with frequent breaks and sightseeing along the way. A couple of places of note included:
- Blackbutt Nature Reserve – Blackbutt Reserve in Newcastle was an absolute unexpected gem; an entirely free park with a children’s play area and miniature zoo including reptiles, an aviary and some more of our favourite marsupials! Even the short walk from the car park was gorgeous, and the spot was clearly a popular haunt for BBQs and kiddie birthday parties.
- Ballina – we stayed at the Ballina Travellers Lodge and used it as a base when we visited Byron Bay, at just half an hours drive away. The Lodge itself was lovely, with a homely, friendly feel, welcoming lounge area and a rarely used pool, and just a short walk away is a small block of quaint waterside restaurants where we enjoyed a very tasty Indian, before strolling back via the seafront.
- Newrybar – another taste of the small-town Australia which we loved so much in Straddie, there is a small parade of shops including a highly acclaimed bakery (arrive early if you want any of the fresh stuff!), antiques and artisan foodstuffs. It was a lovely little detour en route to Byron, even if we didn’t make it in time for a sausage roll!
- Port Macquarie – another instance of finding something unexpected, we took a walk down the seafront after stopping at Port Macquarie for lunch, and found the path bordered by hundreds of painted rocks. Some funny, some heartfelt and some with impressive artwork, they spoke volumes about the town’s residents, and also those who had visited and fallen in love with it.
Neither Alex or I were expecting the amiable, easy vibe when we finally reached Byron Bay. It was as if it had taken the best parts of the Surfers Paradise, Sydney and Gold Coast beaches and merged them into one beautiful spot. The sand was silky smooth beneath our feet and the water crystal clear; a cool relief from the blazing sunshine. We spent a perfect morning relaxing and paddling (read: getting drenched by the pretty substantial waves) before heading into the town for a look around.
The streets surrounding the bay are a perfect compliment to the laid-back, surfer vibe. Breaking up the tour booths, Billabongs and Quiksilvers, were independent restaurants, craft and clothes shops which drew in tourists and locals alike, resulting in Byron Bay’s revered status as much more than just another beach resort on the East Coast
We got up early the next day to stop off at Cape Byron. We wanted to have a look the previous day but parking was an absolute nightmare, and we’d read that the earlier you visit, the more likely you are to see dolphins and migrating whales in the right season. We got there for about 7, and while we weren’t lucky with the Dolphins, there was a calm and serenity to the beach that there hadn’t been in the midday rush yesterday. Empty apart from early morning surfers, we sat on the beach and watched the swell of the waves and the boarders gliding across the surface – it was so peaceful, and worth an early morning to check it out.
We took a detour on the way back down to check out Nimbin, which we’d heard was a little village with a great 60s vibe. If any of you have heard of Nimbin you might notice that quite a crucial detail was missed out there! Nimbin is a town particularly, well, vocal about the legalisation of marijuana, and visiting is like ingesting a tonne of hallucinogenics and falling into a rainbow. Pot dealers would merrily call out their wares to us… from across the street… at the top of their voices, while their loyal clientele would stagger past blatantly high as a kite. Rainbow paraphernalia littered the walls and windows, many items denouncing the ‘corrupt government’ vindictively restricting marijuana despite its proven health benefits. Basically, Bob Marley is Nimbin’s spirit animal, and as nice as the town was we left shortly after our lunch.
After a mere ten hour drive, and our second overnight stay at the basic but affordable Hotel Jesmond in Newcastle, we made it to the Blue Mountains. Home to the Three Sisters and a wealth of beautiful scenery, we had just a day to make the most of the view. Alex (who I’ve learned during these travels harbours a secret, incredibly nerdy love of trains) suggested a trip to Katoomba Scenic World. I was dubious, and somehow his excitement over the possibility of riding the steepest cable-driven funicular railway in the whole wide world just didn’t set my whole wide world on fire. Nonetheless, being the First Class girlfriend that I am I agreed to go, and between you and I it was actually alright! Taking the train down and the cable car up allowed us to see the Blue Mountains in all their glory, and Katoomba falls beneath us when the electro-glass in the Skyway cars turned transparent. I especially liked the adjustable seats on the train carriages, so you could choose just how obtuse your journey would be.
The view of the mountains from the train and the lookout points was impressive, and while the Three Sisters didn’t blow me away in themselves (it’s just a wonky rock really) the expansive scene as a whole was imposing, and another hint of what Australia has to offer past the East coast.
Flawless beaches, record-breaking railways and an entire town full of stoners, we certainly had an eclectic last week in Australia! Fortunately for our wallets if not for our tans, it was time to say goodbye to Down Under and fly back to Asia to continue our travels. Next stop: Singapore!