I was doing quite well driving on the left and began to relax a bit, which was a mistake, at least on the first day and jet-lagged out of my mind. At one intersection, I made a right-hand turn—into the right-hand lane. The lane was completely empty when I turned, so there were no obvious clues that I was in the wrong place, but I hadn’t driven more than a few car lengths before I caught sight of a wall of trucks and cars headed straight for me. It was a divided highway, so I couldn’t just slip into the left lane, but fortunately, there was an open field to my right, so I made another quick right-hand turn, waited for the traffic to pass (and my heart to stop beating so fast), headed back to the intersection, and tried the turn again. Adrenaline is a wonderful memory aid, however. I didn’t make that mistake again.
Other than that exciting moment, the trip north was uneventful. I reached Bulahdelah by 1 o’clock and checked in to the Bulahdelah Motor Lodge. It was a clean but unimaginative place, but with a lot of thoughtful touches. The room décor is very dark, with dark brown walls, bedspreads, curtains, and furnishings, so a bit gloomy, though not unattractive. In fact, for what it is—a roadside motor lodge—this place is rather nice. There is a pool, an attractive restaurant, and remarkably lush plantings all around the buildings. And there are tea-making facilities in the room, which I put immediately to use. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast on the plane, so tea and a piece of wheat bread that hadn’t gotten confiscated were both welcome.
With that bit of refreshment, I felt ready to do a bit of exploring. The motel’s manager recommended a visit to nearby Alum Mountain, which he said offered splendid vistas of our surroundings if you headed to the top.
Bulahdelah Mountain, known locally as Alum Mountain, is the largest above-ground deposit of alunite, or alum stone, in the world. Alunite normally appears in pockets or seams of other rocks, but since Australia’s landscape is pretty much defined by erosion, and what you see is what’s left, this particular pocket of alunite now stands alone. The mountain was the site of alunite mining for nearly 100 years, but mining has long since ceased, forests have regrown on the mountain’s altered profile, and today, this remarkable hunk of rock is the key feature of Bulahdelah Mountain Forest Park.
I tackled the ascent, but I only got about half way up the rutted, narrow, tortuous, steep mountain track and then chickened out. I am driving a rental car, after all, and though it’s a pleasant little car, it’s not a 4WD bush-basher. At a switchback that was a little wider than the others, I managed to turn around and head back down.