Monday, 15 December 2008

The Camper Trip - January 2006

From the archives...

As part of my trip to Australia in 2006 I rented a camper for a couple of weeks in January and took it from Brisbane down the east coast of New South Wales just past Port Macquarie and back inland over the ranges. This is the diary I wrote and some of the pictures I took, together with links to some of the places I visited.


Picked up the van after much paperwork and hanging about (milage 74527). Bought a secondhand copy of Easyrider off the market - good omen and good travelling music, together with Red Eyes, Hot Rubber Glove etc. Left Phil and Annies about 3.30, came down the Pacific Highway to Eternity Springs (between Nimbin and The Channon). The last bit of the journey through rolling hills and valleys, farms, cows and horses. At one point the road turned to gravel for a few kilometres. Got here at dusk, looks like a real nice place. Greeted by Amanda, paid $10 for the night. Journey about 200 km.Strange to be on my own after all this time with Phil and Annie and the kids and Jonathon but quite liberating too. Van runs well, good CD player. Had a shower and a meal of pasta and tinned tuna - bit of a comedown after Annie's gorgeous meals but filled a hole. Nice to be in a van again, I feel perfectly at home, reminds me of living out of the back of my Sherpa in my Rainbow Camp days. Now nearly bedtime, haven't got a clue what time it is as I haven't got a clock. Feel very contented. It's very peaceful here, quiet and still, I'm the only person camping. It's some kind of eco art place, very alternative, I spotted it on the net before leaving the UK. Weather today has been very hot and steamy, now there's the lovely sound of rain on the van roof. (74727).


Woke up to beautiful surroundings at Eternity Springs. Had a chat with Amanda and her mate before setting off. Had planned to maybe explore Nightcap National Park but the hills are covered in cloud so set off for the coast instead. Told Byron Bay would be very busy so went to Ballina instead. Stopped in the hippy town of Nimbin on the way for some grub, didn't stop long - full of bloody hippies! Good to be back on some decent roads! Watched people trying to parasurf but too windy, just one bloke made it off the ground. Had a wander round the beach before rain forced me back into the van. Must be the worst weather since I've been in Aus but still plenty warm enough. Rain got into the van through the mosi net on the side window but it's dried out now.

2.30 - Moved down the coast a bit to Shelley's Beach. Sitting in the van being lashed by wind and rain, the sea is boiling and the beach has been closed! Sat watching the sea for an hour then decided to move on down the road. Got back on the Pacific Highway then after a bit took a detour to the Broadwater National Park. Pulled into a picnic area and followed the signs to a lookout point. Rewarded with a spectacular view over huge area of forest with the ocean in the distance. Made up for an otherwise dissappointing day (mainly due to the weather). Set off up the highway again and found a caravan park to stay at just off the highway at Woombah, $18 for the night. Chicken noodles for dinner - must get a decent meal tomorrow! (74891).


Set off about 9 down the highway again, wet again this morning, seems to have rained most of the night. Warm and humid, high of 26 today according to the radio. Contented, just enjoying the driving and the scenery, hills and valleys, farmland, rivers and creeks. There's beautiful scenery in England but it never seems long before you run into traffic or a town. Here it just goes on and on and on. Then it goes on some more. Listening to the yak on ABC on the radio, seems a girl was killed by a shark on North Straddie island where we were swimming a couple of weeks ago. Pull in at a store for some cheese on toast and a coffee. The owner's a redneck, eyeing me up and down but he lightens up when we start chatting about the weather. Sun coming through now and then, giving the trees that wet green glow they have here. Pass through Grafton then take a left for Yuraygir National Park. Miles of forest, see my first wild kangaroos, follow the road which looks like it should lead to the ocean, then suddenly there it is. Minnie Water the place is called, wide sweeping sandy bay with rocky outcrops at either end. The sun's out now and I'm out of my shoes and onto the beach, feeling the sand and the sun and the spray, I'm almost crying it's so beautiful. Walk along the edge of the waves up to one end of the beach then back to the other. Stopping the chatter in my mind, trying to be in the moment, taking it all in. Feel myself burning and remember I've forgotton to put on the sunblock, take a rest in the shade of a tree where the bush comes down to the edge of the beach. Get a chicken burger from the store then settle back in the van for a snooze, view of the ocean through the open door, big smile on my face. Take another wander up to the end of the beach to take some photos then it's time to join in the fun, to get in there and throw myself around in the surf. Parked up for the night just up the road in the national park at the Illaroo camping area, next to the beach and set out under the shade of banksia trees (it says here). Gorgeous spot anyway. Sound of the ocean on one side, birds and insects in the bush on the other. $12 for the night. (75027).


Up with the dawn, wandered over to the ocean to make sure it was still there. Went for a walk this morning along the beach towards Sandon. About 15km there and back. Totally pristine and empty except for a few fishermen in 4WDs.

PM - Down to the beach for a wash and a shower and another swim in the sea. I've been having a laugh and a joke with the bloke in the shop, he has a bigger smile on his face every time I go in, so he should at these prices. Decide to move back up the road a bit to have a look at the northern end of the park. Another fabulous location (I'm running out of expletives here) at Lake Arragan camping ground. Right next to the beach again, no shop or houses or 4WDs, and this time with a large lake at the back of the beach, then bush with grazing kangaroos and hills in the distance. A little bird with a bright blue stripe accross its back lands on my wing mirror when I park up so I take that as a good omen, to make up for the one that got splattered on the front of the van on the drive over. More miles of pristine beach which I take a walk along, well more of an amble now, picking up pebbles here and there. The other campers are friendlier here too. The van has been attracting attention - kids love it but the parents probably don't like the "rolling stoned" message on the back. Hippies seem to be a minority group here, like the abbos and the asians and so treated with a bit of suspicion. Anyway here one guy asks me all about it, says"love it". Asks me over to their place and spend the evening having a few beers with them, Steve and Bernie. (75115)


Feel a bit knackered this morning after all the sun and salty sea air. Have an amble on the beach again, climb up the rocks at one end, spectacular views over two bays. It's really hot and humid again today, spend a couple of hours chatting with Steve and Bernie then take a long snooze in the afternoon. Wake up feeling more human. Get the urge to push on again, I so need a good meal and a proper shower. Move down the highway again and pull in at the town of MacLean. Pull into a side street to avoid attracting attention with the van. Get a full works burger in a cafe and sit and watch the world go by. It's my first close up look at small town Australia. Like an English market town 30 years ago, lots of small independent stores and everyone seems to know each other. Get back to the van and realise I've parked right opposite the cop shop. The other end of the street just happens to open out onto a stunning lake so I sit on a picnic bench and watch some fishermen for a while. Carry on down the highway and check in for the night at Corindi Beach caravan park ($18). A shower never felt so good. Site is set right above the beach, cool and breezy. Go and find a spot in the dunes to sit down and chill out (extending spine, relaxing face, listen to my breathing, sighing away the tension). When I've got my strength back I take a walk down the other end, the sound of the ocean so hypnotic it kind of sends you into a trance, eyes almost closed. Blissful end to a hot and sweaty day. (75236)


Cashed some travellers cheques at the little post office in Corindi Beach (first time she'd had to do it - needed to phone up the help desk!) Pushed on down the road to Coffs Harbour, first big place I've come to since leaving Brisbane. Headed for the air-conditioned shopping mall to fill up on grub and get some supplies in. Had a walk round the jetties to look at the boats and then walked over to the Muttonbird Island nature reserve.

Bumped into a couple of English girls - from Stafford! Have a stroll down the beach then head off towards Bellingen. At a rest stop some kids come over to look at the van and take photos. Mean to call in on Phil's mate Dee but as it's getting late pull onto a caravan park at Urunga. Looks like it's seen better days, facilities a bit rustic but it's only $10 for the night and nice quiet spot next to the river, cows grazing on the far bank. Not many people here, unlike the other parks which have been packed with families as it's the school holidays, just a few oldies in cabins and trailer homes. At dusk watch as thousands of fruit bats ascend from somewhere over the river and fly overhead. Nice cool breeze, bloody lovely. (75351).


Wake up early to the sound of butcher birds and the smell of jasmine. Go back down the highway a little way, turn off onto highway 78 (Waterfall Way) towards Bellingen and Dorrigo National Park. Stop at a rest stop for some coffee then up a steep winding road through sub-tropical rainforest, pass waterfalls, amazing scenery, up into the mist and stop at a rest area near the top of Dorrigo Mountain (762m), get some breakfast in the town then carry on to the rainforest centre. Nothing to see from the skywalk as the area is shrouded in mist. Go on the rainforest walk, absolutely amazing. Nice and cool too. Descend into the valley through varying types of vegetation, misty and green, sounds of birds and insects, to the waterfalls, first Tristiana then Crystal Showers, which you walk behind. Walk takes about 2 1/2 hours, in the last part it started to rain so that added another dimension to the experience - well it is a rainforest!

Arrive back knackered and dehydrated (take water on walks Simon!) Drive back down into Bellingen to phone Dee. It's chucking it down and both phone boxes are occupied by woman who seem to be phoning all their relatives around the world the time it's taking them. Finally get in but he's not there so leave a message on the answerphone. Decide to head off to the coast again and land at Valla Beach near Nambucca Heads. It's good to be back by the ocean again and I go for a stroll and a a paddle. It starts raining heavily again so I head back to the van and take advantage of the shower in the toilets. Go back up the road a little bit to where there's a quieter car park, still by the beach, to park up for the night. Raining and a bit of thunder and lightning in the sky as I cook my dinner under the back door of the van, open air kitchen with an ocean view. First free park up too and all to myself. Later when it's dark it's hot in the van so I nip down the steps to the beach, run around on the sand in the rain. (Nice video of the beach here).

Saturday (full moon)

Bit tired this morning after the exersions of the last couple of days so decide to stick around for a bit. Go for a swim, have another shower, some lunch, a snooze. Don't feel the need to do much today, just resting up in the van, doors and windows open, feeling the breeze, listening to the ocean. It's not so hot, just about right really. A few people come and go, fishermen, surfers, families, but mostly I've got the place to myself. I'm figuring stuff out today, why I'm the way I am, things that happened when I was a kid, bit of a deep and meaningful! Go for another wander in the afternoon, really slow this time. This place is really beautiful (as per usual!), a lovely little rocky cove, then a deep inlet, followed again by miles of beach. I get really into looking at the different sorts of rocks, all the textures and colours. Decide it's time to move on again, stop at the cafe for a meal, Jimi Hendrix is playing on the stereo, friendly dudes shooting the breeze. A boyo comes over for a chat, tells me his troubles, asks about England.

Move on down the highway again, no real idea where I'm going. Turn off on a tourist route, end up just before dark at the Hungry Heads camping ground in Hat Head National Park, $10 for the night. Grazing kangaroos again, skipping about.


Meet an old couple originally from Dublin, been here 35 years but still got the accent, have a bit of a chat about the usual things, how England's gone to the dogs, best ways of getting into aus. See a big monitor lizard up a tree. Go down to the beach, a few hundred metres through the bush and sand dunes alive with crickets. Nice cove and rocky outcrops at one end, beach stretching into the distance at the other. Watch some surfers for a while but it's a scorching hot day so after a couple of hours I'm glad to get back to the shade of the campground. The postman comed by on a trails bike.Too hot to be outside and being in the bush the van is filling up with insects so about 2 decide to head off.

Stop for fuel at a place where the guy actually comes out to serve me, so I let him fill it right up and buy some biscuits too, help the local economy. Hot and busy on the road too being a Sunday so pull into a rest stop, pull off the tarmac under some shady trees, have a kip. Wake up much revived, pull back onto the highway, slap on the Easyrider CD and put my foot down for a bit. Go over a bridge just like the one in the movie. Pull off into Port MacQuarie and have some hoki and chips. It's really crowded here so I head off again and land up at a caravan park in Harrington. It's quite posh but the owner gives me a really good welcome, loves the van. $20 for the night. Nice end to a bit of a fraught day. (75805).


Much more relaxed this morning, probably because we're sliding down the other side of the full moon. Muck out the van and do some laundry. I'm in Crowdy Bay National Park. Go down to the rocky headland where I spend a great couple of hours scrambling over rocks, find a shady overhanging rock to sit under out of the sun watching the breakers explode on the rocks below. Makes a nice contrast to all the sandy beaches (not that I'm knocking them!) There's a good breeze blowing down here which makes the weather a lot more pleasent than yesterday.

Went round to the beach in the afternoon - again, miles of it stretching into the distance. Went for a walk and a paddle, watched the surfers. Well rested now so enjoy the exercise. Went round to another bay, the one where the holidaymakers go and had a swim, got some grub from the cafe. Watch as the kids come down to the beach with their surf boards after school. Went back to Neville's place for the night - the same park, only place I've stopped at twice, nice and quiet, special atmosphere. (75845).


Probably time to turn around and start drifting back north, so that's what I do. Stop at Kempsey for a bit of retail therapy and to get out of the heat in the air-conditioned Big W. Buy a Johnny Cash CD, perfect driving music. Cash the last of the travellers cheques in the PO and carry on up the road to Nambucca Heads.

Have a walk on the beach, get some grub, but it's a bit of a poor place in my opinion so tootle up the road back to Valla where I know I can get a shower. It's like coming home, hardly anyone around, nice and peaceful. Go for a wander and a paddle, nice in the evening cool, warm water washing over my feet. Bit of thunder and lightening about, same as last time. Funny that. Park up in my old spot, no worries. (76078).


Up quite early, take a last look at Valla beach, then up to Max's cafe for some breakfast. Tells me his other job is running a small circus troupe, asks about festivals in England. Then back onto the highway, through Coff's Harbour. Swing inland at Grafton onto the Gwydir Highway. Good road, very quiet after the coast road, go for miles without seeing another vehicle. Pass the sign "no petrol for 115km", along river valleys and forest covered hills, up the long and winding road into the Gibralter Rocks Naional Park, into the clouds, visibility down to 10m in places, vegetation changing, palms and giant ferns along with the trees, saw signs for a few lookout points, the views must be stupendous but today the mist has closed in on everything. Steady rain, actually a bit cold up here. Down the other side but still high up, suddenly out of the clouds and into farmland again, much poorer grassland here, trees smaller and sparser, could be the glens of Scotland.

Just before Glen Innes see a sgn for standing stones, turn off, find the most surreal thing - a celtic cultural centre, complete with stone circle! Apparently it was Scots who pioneered this area.

Top up with fuel in Glen Innes, then take the New England Highway towards Tenterfield. Go for something to eat, get the best pizza I've had in my life at the Tenterfield Gourmet Pizza Parlour. Find a park up at the BP caravan park ($15). Tune in for another episode of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy which has been running on ABC Radio. Great day. (76471).


Back on the road, heading homewards, cross the state border back into Queensland, stop in Warwick for fuel and breakfast, then onto the Cunningham Highway towards Ipswich. Stop off to admire the views from Mount Cunningham:

Grassland turns to orchards and vineyards for a while, the road down winding and steep, panoramic views over the plains below, down into arable land, miles of long straight road, back into high temperaures now after the coolness of the ranges. Through Ipswich and Warwick and back to Brisbane. (76750).


Had another days rental left on the camper so went down to Tamborine National Park. Raining all day so covered in mist but did see Cedar Creek Falls - amazing series of waterfalls and rock pools. (76910. Total distance - 2183km, 1364 miles).

The van:

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