Aussie Road Trip, Week 3

Day 15: Surfers Paradise

DSC_0960Having been forced by the incessant rain to spend the previous afternoon inside, we jumped with joy at the sight of blue skies in the morning and quickly made our way along the beach into Surfers to explore. Along the way, Claire quickly began to regret her choice of clothing (chinos and a long-sleeved shirt) as temperatures rose, so we ducked into the shade of town at the first opportunity and found ourselves in “Pancakes On The Rocks” for brunch. Claire was given the task of ordering for the both of us to share and, unsurprisingly, we ended up with a feast of both buttermilk and chocolate pancakes, bacon, eggs, pineapple, strawberries, maple syrup and chocolate sauce. We’re not sure we’re ever going to be able to look at pancakes in the same way ever again.

DSC_0980.JPGNext, to walk off our brunch, we made our way half a mile or so along the coast to King Tutt’s mini golf having read excellent reviews online (and because the dark clouds were beginning to appear once again). King Tutt’s exceeded all expectations and we spend more than two hours playing all 54 holes on offer – the idea being that we could once and for all determine who is the better mini golfer. Much to Claire’s dismay, Sam prevailed in the overall tally by a mere 4 strokes. From there, we walked back along the beach towards the apartment only to be diverted into town once again by a fresh rain storm. We decided rather than brave the rain, it would be fun to visit Timezone (a big arcade) and we emerged just over an hour later having won a pack of Uno cards and a couple of bouncy balls.

We arrived back at the apartment at about 4pm and Sam treated Claire to a glorious plate of home-made nachos followed by some enchiladas while we once again caught up on House Rules. Tomorrow we plan to visit Brisbane although it looks like the weather may not permit.

Road Kill Count: 0

Day 16: Surfers Paradise

Throughout the night we both continually woke up to the harsh rain pummelling the walls of the apartment. It was no surprise therefore, that we only got out of bed at midday having decided that a drive to Brisbane was not worth the hassle. Instead, we looked online for a local cinema and decided upon the 3:30 showing of Wonder Woman at Pacific Fair Mall.

Before we left, Sam rustled up another plate of nachos for a light lunch and we watched the Australian House of Representatives Question Time on TV. Claire had never before been exposed to the drama of PMQs, either in the UK or over here, and so looked on dumfounded at the realities of parliament. After the novelty began to wear off, we made a move to Pacific Fair and arrived fifteen minutes before the start of the film – enough time to get some popcorn!

We both agreed that Wonder Woman was much better than either of us had expected and we would recommend giving it a watch if the opportunity arises. After the film, we walked to Star Casino where we met Jeanette for dinner and a flutter on the Pokies (Poker Machines). Jeanette was astounded to find out that neither of us knew how they worked let alone had ever played one, but she quickly gave us a tutorial and away we went! Unbelievably, we ended up winning Jeanette a five-fold return on her investment without having the slightest clue what we were doing (beginners luck it seems!) We got back to the flat quite late, having enjoyed the free drinks in the Gold members lounge all evening. Tomorrow we are off to Byron Bay in the morning which Claire has been looking forward to since we first started planning this trip!

Road Kill Count: 0

Day 17: Surfers Paradise to Byron Bay

Claire predicted that the weather would get better as soon as we would arrive in Byron, so thanks to a five-minute low-density rain session, we managed to pack the car back up and be on our way in the morning. Beforehand however, we made sure to thank the current tenant at the flat we were staying at, as well as Jeanette who was so kind and gave us some momentos to leave with.

DSC_1056.JPGIt seemed as if the rain was even worse than when we drove into Surfer’s a few days prior, but after a while, we got off the main road in hopes to catch glimpses of hopefully not so rough seas. They were rough, but thankfully it was not raining anymore, for the first time in a few days! We proceeded by trying to get to Byron Bay by a backroad rather than on the M1 with all the psychopaths on the road, but had to turn around halfway through as the road completely flooded (the meter indicated by 50 cm), so our 1h30 drive to Byron ended up taking us 2h30!

DSC_1065.JPGAs we finally arrived in Byron, our first stop was the famous lighthouse, to which we managed to snatch the cheapest parking fee for the small cost of having to walk up to the lighthouse risking being windswept. We got ourselves hot drinks whilst looking over the rain pouring over the sea from afar – and we were happily dry. From the lighthouse, we made our way back to the centre of town where we wandered around the numerous shops and peaked in every restaurant and café to choose one for tomorrow’s breakfast. Sam got himself some sushi that he ate as we sat down at the “Main Beach” where sunshine finally came out for about 15 minutes!

We found a campsite just outside Byron – some of the ones in town go up to 90 dollars a night, no thank you – where we were able to do laundry and give the van a good tidy from all the mud that had come in because of the rain. This particular campsite also is a five minute walk to Tallow Beach, which we embarked upon as the weather was finally okay enough to do so (although still super windy). We then went out to get some pear ciders and tried to catch up on the blog posts and videos, sadly, the wifi is so rotten here, we managed to use all of our data sending one email – although later discovered Claire’s computer was running background updates stupidly. It will be another night of chatting and card games to Sam’s despair!

Road Kill Count: 0

Day 18: Byron Bay to Red Rock

DSC_1108The main goal of our morning in Byron Bay was to find a place that had free wifi where we could have breakfast and try to finally upload last week’s photos, blog post and video in that order. Having finally woken up to bright sunshine, we decided to park up by the beach and explore the centre of town again, to find a really cute café called “Combi”. We did get free wifi, with which we managed to upload our pictures, but we also got the best breakfast sandwiches that left us full until dinner time. We could not stay there all day sadly and decided to hang out on the beach before our parking time ran out.

We left Byron happy to have seen it the way it was always supposed to be seen, however the light showers came back literally as we saw the “leaving Byron Bay” sign. We drove down to Yamba, trying to avoid the M1 at all costs which got us taking a few wrong turns on the way. Arriving in Yamba around 2pm and not having yet settled on where we would stay the night, we decided to stop at the holy grail of free wifi: McDonalds (well, actually it’s Maccas here). We only ordered coffee and hot chocolate, which was a first for Claire but she was not hungry for those chicken nuggets then, and sat down for over an hour, sipping slowly. Sam managed to edit and post the blog post whilst Claire was trying to find somewhere to go for the night. We were originally going for somewhere in the Yraygir NP but found that the detour through Grafton to get to Red Rock would be better as the campsite looked more appealing and more affordable.

DSC_1199.JPGAfter finally leaving Maccas, we made our final detour of the day through the lovely town of Angourie known for its “blue pool”, a man-made pool that looks like a naturally formed lake if it wasn’t for the planned paths and controlled cliffs you can jump in the water from. That was sitting next to the beach, which was one of those again known for the best surfing experience in the country. We both agreed that Angourie was an amazing little town if you do not want to get stuck with crowds of tourists in summer and we will try to make it back one day.

From there, the sun was setting and we had to make it to Red Rock, we found the campsite without too much trouble and the caretaker was more than welcoming. We got a quiet spot at the back and plan on walking to the beach in the morning!

Road Kill Count: 5

Day 19: Red Rock to Nambucca Heads

DSC_1235.JPGThe day began with a walk to the beach to check out the red rock for which “Red Rock” gets its name. We were both very impressed by the beach and thought that given how nice the caravan park was, it would be a really great place to return to one summer. We then packed up, braving the rain, and headed into Coffs Harbour for the day.

Our first stop was the famous Big Banana on the outskirts of town. Sam was more than pleased to see that in addition to the excitement of the oversized banana, there was also a sweet shop on site which sold handmade rock candy. So we picked up a bag of assorted sweets, took some photos in front of the banana and explored the aisles and aisles of banana-themed trinkets on offer in the gift shop. We then jumped back in the van and drove into the centre of Coffs Harbour.

DSC_1308.JPGAfter having a look through town, we decided to stop at Dolphin Magic (a quieter version of Sea World). We ended up spending quite a few hours there as it was a fantastic opportunity to get up close to dolphins, sea lions, penguins, sea turtles and some small sharks. Because of the rain, we were for the most part the only people in the park and therefore got chatting to all of the trainers and marine biologists who work there. They personally introduced us to all of the animals; Sam got a kiss from and dolphin and Claire got to fulfil her dream of petting and feeding a Sea Turtle. After we had finished there, we drove a short distance up the road to check out the Bunker Cartoon Gallery which, as its name suggests, is inside an old WW2 bunker and had an exhibition about the annual Rotary Cartoon Awards. Although small, we got our money’s worth of laughs from the cartoons on display (even if Sam had to explain some of them to Claire).

We then drove half an hour along the Pacific Highway to Nambucca Heads for the night. We found a lovely caravan park on the cliff edge and spent the last hour of daylight walking to various lookout points. Tomorrow we are going to drive to Port Macquarie to see what there is to do there.

Road Kill Count: 0

Day 20: Nambucca Heads to Port Macquarie

We got another late start this morning and once again braved the rain along the Pacific Highway on the way to Port Macquarie. Whilst in the car, we listened to a couple of podcasts and had a look through the Lonely Planet book to try and find something to do for the day. By the time we reached the town, we hadn’t made firm plans and so opted to check out the visitors’ centre and grab a coffee before making any decisions.

DSC_1460.JPGOver coffee we agreed that it might be cool to do a whale watching excursion tomorrow afternoon on a speedboat and so we headed to the port to speak to a couple of the boat companies about what they offer. After speaking to a guy, who Sam thinks might be South African but we couldn’t be sure, about his whale watching trips we decided to go ahead and book one for 1pm tomorrow. We then drove about 10 minutes outside of town to a small brewery, which Claire had read about, and tried a fabulous selection of lagers, pale ales and ales there (as well as stealing a couple coasters for our now growing collection!)

Afterwards, we still had about an hour or so to kill before the sun went down and so we headed to another aqua golf driving range (they seem to be very popular over here). Claire had miraculously improved since we had hit a few balls in the Hunter Valley and actually managed to hit a couple further than 100 metres or so. Unfortunately, we once again failed to win any prizes despite Claire’s protestations that she hit one into a net with a hole in it.

DSC_1462.JPGAfter the golf, we drove another 10 minutes to a nice family run caravan site which amazingly had unlimited wifi. We took a quick walk to the beach to look for koalas which apparently are abundant in the park (but we didn’t see any) and then retreated to the van to finish the first season of the brilliant new show “Designated Survivor” on Netflix.

Road Kill Count: 5

Day 21: Port Macquarie to Wangi Wangi

DSC_1468.JPGWe awoke at 9am in Port Macquarie very excited at the prospect of our afternoon whale watching trip and even more so at the sight of blue skies overhead. Unfortunately, the good weather wasn’t to last and by the time we arrived at the nearby koala hospital at around 10:30, the ominous clouds had begun to reappear. Regardless, the koala hospital was interesting (as well as a little bit sad at times) and Claire found comfort in the fact that people are doing good work to look after her now favourite animal.

After the hospital, we drove into town to kill an hour or so before we were due to meet at the boat. We spent a good chunk of that time in “Cotton On” where Claire tried on nearly every single workout outfit on sale (and Sam shot them down because he doesn’t like mesh on trouser legs). As a result, we ended up walking out with nothing except a slightly grumpier Claire and an apologetic Sam. Luckily, the tensions had begun to dissipate by the time we arrived back at the van and we were once again talking about the whales. Sam took his sea sickness tablet, which Claire had gotten for him the day before, we rugged up and headed for the boat.

However, just as we stepped out of the van the day was to take a turn for the worse when Claire noticed a missed call from the whale tour group. They left a message saying that due to inclement weather out on the open ocean, they had not choice but to cancel the trip. Because our whole day had been planned around the excursion and it was already late afternoon, we had no backup plan in place but to drive onwards towards Port Stephens (our intended destination for the night). It is an understatement to say that we were both gutted.

To further compound our misery and annoyance, the rain then really started to pour as we left Port Macquarie and we spent the rest of the day driving in a storm. On the way, we stopped at McDonalds to drown our sorrows in chicken nuggets and re-evaluate our plan. We decided then to skip Port Stephens and try and get a little bit further along the Pacific Highway to Sydney, that way we could afford some time to drive over the Harbour Bridge and not have to rush getting to the depot to return the van in the afternoon. We found a good camp site in a place called Wangi Wangi and so hopped back in the van, feeling a little bit more positive.

DSC_1498.JPGThe drive to our new destination was actually quite beautiful, it takes you through a series of lakes surrounded by mountains covered in low cloud. Despite the serious rain, Claire did really well getting us safely to our camp site just as night fell – only slamming on the breaks once because she thought there was a crocodile in the middle of the road (she obviously didn’t pay much attention at Australia Zoo last week). Hopefully tomorrow will be a much more successful day.

Road Kill Count: 5

Day 22: Wangi Wangi to Sydney

Finally, the much-missed sun returned for the last day of our East Coast Road Trip! We awoke in Wangi Wangi this morning to the beautiful sight of a sunny Lake Macquarie out the back window of the van. We slowly got out of bed before deciding to pack all our stuff away into bags just in case the sunshine didn’t last the whole day. We left the camp site at about 11am and had an estimated three hour drive to the Apollo depot in Sydney where we needed to drop the van before 4pm.

DSC_1504.JPGThe drive into Sydney was pretty uneventful bar a quick stop at a BP station to refuel and grab a pie for lunch. Sam was determined that we couldn’t claim to have done a road trip unless we had driven over the Harbour Bridge and therefore forced Claire to abandon Google Maps and try to navigate us a slightly different way through the city. Inevitably, we missed three successive turn-offs to the bridge and ended up in the tunnel where Sam grumped about the ambiguous nature of Sydney traffic signs. Still determined, he turned the van around and crossed over the Harbour Bridge and back again – a detour which cost us half an hour but made for some great photo opportunities. Claire even managed to get a couple blurry photos of the Opera House, something to improve on over the coming week!

After the drive over the harbour, we stopped off at a self-service car wash where Claire watched on while Sam miraculously managed to get more suds on himself than on the van. We then spent over an hour painstakingly cleaning the inside of the van, vacuuming and washing the windows. I don’t think that van has ever been that clean. Afterwards, we hopped back in for a melancholy last drive to the Apollo depot where we reluctantly parted with the keys before being picked up by Sam’s uncle, Mark.

In a nutshell, we really loved our East Coast Road Trip and made so many fantastic moments along the way! And to think, we haven’t even scratched the surface on all there is to do in this amazing country!

Road Kill Count: 1

Finally, some summary statistics:

Total Road Kill: 101

  • An average of 4.6 a day
  • Or one every 47.6km

Total km: 4804.1km

  • Same distance as London to Nigeria or 50km further than London to Jeddah
  • An average of 218.4km per day
  • Or one map-related argument every 50km!

See more photos here!

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