Tag Archives: New South Wales

Tuesday, September 17

Spent the day in downtown Sydney, shopping and walking. I wandered through the flashy Darling Harbour area–lots of shops, restaurants, hotels, and things to do. I mostly just admired the bright openness of the place, but did stop at a shop that sells Akubras (makers of the hat I’m wearing in my picture on the cover of my book) to buy a small flourish of feathers for the hat band, the original ones having gotten torn out by a branch during my riding trip in the Victorian alps. I then headed for the Queen Victoria Building. The QVB is a gorgeous old edifice, with statues, mahogany banisters, sweeping stairways, stained glass windows, vaulting arches and general magnificence on all hands. Constructed in 1898, it has lived many lives but has now been restored to its original intention of housing artisans, shops, showrooms, trades people, and cafés.

Shopped along George Street and then over to Pitt Street and down to Circular Quay, passing through Macquarie Place and over to the Rocks. I wandered happily among the old buildings but found the area enough changed to wonder if places I’d been before would still be there. A few were, but much of it was new. (Historic buildings were still there, but many had new tenants.) I had hoped to find again the golden wattle perfume I had purchased previously, but while the shop was still there, it was going out of business, and they no longer had the scent I loved. Still, the old buildings and old streets of this oldest part of Sydney delighted me, even though some that was familiar had vanished.

As much as I was enjoying the Rocks, on the whole, I was not enjoying being in the city. I had spent too much time surrounded by natural beauty, and I began to feel like two days was too much time here. Even the concrete was disagreeing with me. Despite having walked or hiked for hours every day while in desert or forest, I was getting blisters from walking on sidewalks. So I turned my steps back into city center to find the NSW tourist office, where I booked a day tour out to the Blue Mountains for tomorrow–one final dose of the bush before I head for home! Then I figured I’d better tackle the last of my shopping endeavors, so headed to the handsome Strand Arcade, where I found the remaining gifts needed for folks back home.

Finally, after many hours of wandering, I headed back toward Chinatown and the Cambodian place I had discovered last night. Not sure when I’ll ever get Cambodian food again, so don’t want to miss another opportunity.
Good day. And tomorrow, back to the Blue Mountains.

[P.S. That would not in fact be my last taste of Cambodian food. A couple of years later, I actually made it to Cambodia–a very different but absolutely wonderful experience. Seeing Angkor Wat was another dream come true.]


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Sunday, August 25

Up early. For breakfast, I had the “ashi fruit” I bought in town last night. It actually didn’t match the description I’d been given; it was more like a cross between fruit salad and cucumber. Not a big flavor, but very juicy and refreshing.

Then on the road again, ever northward. Ballina is really lovely as soon as you get out of the commercial district. I left the Pacific Highway and took the coastal road. The view of Lennox Head as I came through the hills was spectacular, with craggy cliffs giving way to long beaches. Morning light danced on the ocean, and everything is green and increasingly tropical. On through lovely, rapidly changing countryside–forest, coastal scrub, beaches, towns–to Byron Bay.

Byron Bay is a beachfront town famous for its splendid beaches–and for being the eastern most point of mainland Australia. The town and nearby Cape Byron are largely surrounded by national parks and nature reserves. It’s a lovely area, and a very popular holiday spot for Aussies.

I left the main highway and headed up a series of narrow, winding roads that led through parkland and out onto Cape Byron, a rugged point of land that stretches out into the ocean. At the tip of the cape is the Cape Byron Lighthouse, which was built in 1901.

Fun little bit of history: Cape Byron was named by Captain Cook (most stuff was on this side of Australia) in honor of his navigator, John Byron, who would in time become the grandfather of the great poet, Lord Byron. Because people who settled the area originally assumed the cape had been named for the poet, rather than the navigator, the town ended up with a lot of very literary street names: Tennyson, Browning, Marvell, Ruskin, Wordsworth, and so on. Made me smile.

I hiked around the splendid, craggy, green-clad cape for about an hour, photographing distant mountains veiled in mist, crashing waves below, rocky cliffs, curving white beaches, the lighthouse, and all the foliage.

Heading north once more, I regained the Pacific Highway, only to leave it again at Mooball, to follow the Tweed Coast Road–a blending of gorgeous horse properties, tacky beach communities, and glorious beaches and headlands.

Before too much longer, I crossed the state border into Queensland, and a little before noon, I was in Currumbin. On my first trip to Australia, very early in my stay, I visited the wildlife sanctuary in Currumbin. It was my first immersion in the birds and wildlife of Australia. I’ve since seen more out bush, but I still wanted to return.

They had changed the name, from Currumbin Bird Santuary to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, and there was a greater emphasis on animals this time—but it was still fabulous. The birds were abundant and dazzling, but the larger numbers of kangaroos and wallabies made my heart sing. There were lots of other animals, of course, including plenty of koalas (which I happily photographed), but the ‘roos and wallabies were all about, grazing amidst the visitors, and I was overjoyed. I spent about 2-1/2 happy hours wandering through the beautiful grounds, photographing trees, flowers, and critters. It was wonderful.

Byron Bay

Byron Bay

Cape Byron Lighthouse

Cape Byron Lighthouse

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August 24, part 3

Ballina is a somewhat low-key resort area, with an emphasis on water sports and seafood. As a result, there are dozens of motels. I had to backtrack a little, since I couldn’t read all the signs on my first pass (traffic moves pretty quickly), but it gave me a chance to assess my surroundings.

The All Seasons Motor Lodge is not quite as posh as last night’s lodgings, but then I suspect being in a resort area means you get slightly less bang for your buck. Also, the two previous locations have been in far lovelier settings, surrounded by trees and nature, rather than on a busy commercial street. But all that said, it’s still quite pleasant. As with the other places I’ve stayed, it has all the amenities one might want, including tea-making facilities. I just don’t imagine I’ll awaken to birds in the morning.

I settled in and then to a stroll through town. There are several nice little take-away shops and some pleasant-looking restaurants, several stores and small shops, a couple of car dealerships, and a massive RSL (Returned Servicemen League – like VFW in the U.S.) club that takes up a whole block and is a couple of stories high. It’s the kind of mix one expects in an area that focuses largely on sport fishing.

I stopped at a little open-front market and picked up some bananas, a custard apple (which I’d been told I must try), and an “ashi fruit” – or that’s what it sounded like. The lady running the market had to look it up, but she said it’s supposed to be sort of a cross between an apple and a pear. She was charming, and I chatted with her and a few other shoppers. Then back to the motel.

The restaurant here is not a bargain, but I’m tired and don’t feel like trudging off to see if I can find somewhere cheaper (possibly without success, in a resort area). Besides, so far, the restaurants in the motels where I’ve been booked have been quite good, with nice, fresh food.

And this was no exception. For “entrée” (which, in Australia, as in Britain, means the course that brings you into the meal—the appetizer—rather than, as in the U.S., the main course—and to be perfectly honest, this definition makes more sense) I had a prawn and bug cocktail (bugs here are what Europeans called “slipper lobsters”—a lovely, sweet crustacean). It was an extravagance, but it’s something I haven’t had since my last trip to Australia, so I couldn’t resist. My “main meal” was a whole, fresh red snapper, grilled with lemon-parsley butter. Delicious.
As has been the case so far in each place I’ve stopped, the menu was delightful and the restaurant was nearly empty. I hope this is a seasonal thing, and that warmer weather brings bigger crowds. It would be a pity if these places couldn’t stay in business.

After dinner, I went for a short, moonlit stroll around the block (looks like a full moon, or close to it, tonight). I then headed back to the room for an evening of sorting through documents and preparing for the next part of the trip.

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August 24, part 2

The town of Dorrigo is a typical, old, veranda-dominated Aussie bush town, but it was not my destination. I drove through and then headed back to the Rainforest Center in Dorrigo National Park. Glorious mountain views. Simply reaching the park was a treat.

This area was first set aside for protection in 1901. Dorrigo National Park is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. The rainforest is both ancient and lush. It’s the sort of place one could probably spend years researching, but happily, they have marked nature walks for those of us with slightly less time than that.

As was the case the first time I encountered a sub-tropical rainforest, on my first visit to Australia, so too now, I was delighted beyond words by the beauty that surrounded me. Palms and strangler figs, ferns and mosses, tree bases with buttress roots or covered in shelf fungus, vines and flowers, intense greenery everywhere, layers and layers of green, with small plants growing on larger plants–enclosing, almost overwhelming. Birds everywhere.

I hiked through the rainforest for a bit more than an hour. Because this is not a tropical rainforest, it does not have the benefit of permanent heat. The wind turned cold, and it actually sleeted while I was in the rainforest. At least, they called it sleet. Later research turned up the fact that Commonwealth countries are referring to a different type of precipitation than we Yanks are thinking of when we use the word. In the U.S., sleet is freezing rain. Over here, it’s a mix of rain and snow that partly melts as it falls–something like a cross between hail and snow, coming down as little, soft, white spheres.

Getting cold and wet was only a minor inconvenience, surrounded as I was with so much beauty, but it was also getting late, so time to head back down the mountain and continue on my way.

North, through crowded, commercialized Coffs Harbour, and back to the lonely roads, through fields and forest. Woolgoolga and Corindi, past Grafton, along (and over) the Clarence River.

Outside of Grafton, the countryside turns into sort of southern Illinois, but with sugarcane instead of corn. This is the only uninspiring stretch of road so far, but it’s still pleasant: flat land, with some run-down houses, but lush fields of green cane, yards with increasingly exotic flowers, beautiful horses at the scattered stud farms, and the broad, canal-like river to the left, only a few yards away.

Back toward the coast, and finally, around 4:30, into Ballina.

Dorrigo Park mountain view

Dorrigo Park mountain view

Rainforest tree with vines and fungus

Rainforest tree with vines and fungus

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Saturday, August 24

I awoke to the sounds of multitudes of birds. When I stepped out onto my private patio, overlooking the lily pond, I noticed the swimming pool nearby, and was just a little sorry that my short stay and the still-cool weather precluded taking advantage of it. Instead, I filled my canteen (nice to have in the car on long drives) and packed the car. And so, in brilliant sunlight, accompanied by the laughter of kookaburras, I set off again, ever northward.

I turned left just past Urunga and found myself surrounded by the incredibly beautiful ranch land and meandering waterways of the Bellinger Valley, with a backdrop of green mountains beyond the green fields and stands of trees. Before long, I pulled into the wonderful town of Bellingen. Between the charming antiquity of the town and spectacular setting, I could easily imagine myself living here.

Charming is a big part of what folks come here for. Clustered along the banks of the Bellinger River and bisected by a road named Waterfall Way, the little town offers 100-year-old buildings, arts and crafts outlets, and coffee shops and gourmet eateries. In other words, I’m not the first person to have stopped in and found this place desirable.

I spent about an hour and a half hiking around town, admiring the lovely, old buildings and fun shops. The Bellingen Courthouse was built in 1910. However, this is still a working courthouse, not a tourist stop, so I just photographed the outside and continued on. The Old Butter Factory, built in the 1920s, was fun for its history, architecture, and charming craft shops. I’m not here to shop, so I simply admired the architecture of the old Hammond & Wheatley Emporium, a general store built in 1900 and now repurposed as a clothing store. More delightful architecture, B&Bs, cafés, and I easily accumulated a few dozen photos.

As much as I loved the town, I also loved the surroundings. The general green beauty was restful and exciting at the same time. There were a lot of magpies, which pleased me, as I’ve always enjoyed their delightfully musical song.

But soon it was time to move on, heading for Dorrigo.

Bellingen Courthouse

Bellingen Courthouse

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August 23, part 4

Then it was back in the car, to try to “beat the sun.” I wanted to reach Nambucca Heads before it was totally dark. I just made it, pulling in at the Destiny Motor Inn just as the afterglow began to fade from the sky.

This place is a bit more flash than last night’s lodging. Not the Ritz, mind you, but there are more amenities and brighter décor, plus a patio overlooking a serene lily pond. Pleasant and comfortable. (I had picked my lodgings for this first part of the trip based entirely on location–proximity to things I wanted to see or simply “this is how far I think I can drive in one day”–so I really wasn’t certain what to expect.)

Of course, just as the motel is a bit more flash, so is the dinner menu. I had lamb loin stuffed with spinach and macadamia nuts. Almost ordered the whole baby barramundi with lime, ginger, and chive sauce. They also offered a pair of quails and a smoked venison platter among the evening’s half-dozen specials. Pretty impressive. But then I’ve always thought of Australia as an excellent dining destination.

They had a fire in the fireplace, since the evening is chilly. The hostess was charming and friendly, and as has happened often during my travels in Australia, she stopped to chat. She was originally from Sydney, but she likes living out in the country better.

There were not a lot of guests, which is a shame, since everything was so nice: cloth napkins, a bouquet of herbs and fresh flowers on the plate, the crackling fire. In fact, there was only one other couple. I’m always sad when any business is not doing well, but especially when it’s a really lovely operation, like this. But it is not the busy season, so I’ll hope that they do better at other times.

I had brought John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley along on the trip, to have something to read in the evenings. It’s the perfect book to read during a road trip. It is true, as Steinbeck notes in the book, that every journey has its own personality. Maybe that is why my heart only half recognizes where I am. This trip is so different from the previous one that it’s taking me a while to get to know it, to really feel like I’m back. It is like seeing the face of someone related to a cherished friend–partly but not entirely familiar. But the face is still beautiful, and loved.

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August 23, part 3

I headed next to South West Rocks, in Arakoon National Park, to visit the Trial Bay Gaol. The old, abandoned, stone jail sits, handsomely forlorn, surrounded by greenery, on a point of land overlooking the sea. A lovely setting for a resort, but an odd one for a prison. (And for those not familiar with the word “gaol,” it’s the traditional British spelling of “jail.” Pronounced the same.)

I wandered through the museum, which outlines the prison’s history. It started life as a Public Works Prison opened in 1886. It was an experimental prison, one that tried to reform inmates through work. It was believed that humane treatment would be more effective in redeeming the criminally inclined.

The original prison took 13 years to build, which I imagine had as much to do with its isolation as with its impressively sturdy stone construction. It was a fairly extensive complex of buildings, as it would have to not only house but feed and care for the inmates and guards who lived there. It would be home to prisoners who would be doing public works–in this case, building a breakwater on the nearby bay. Despite the presence of a prison, the bay was not named for a day in court, but rather for a ship named Trial that was wrecked there in 1816. (Interestingly, the ship, a brig, had been stolen by a group of convicts, so the name of the ship suited those sailing it when it sank.) The ship was found in 1817, and because there was no sign of survivors, it was assumed that everyone, convicts and hostages, must have perished. It was actually the consistency with which ships were wrecked in this area that led to the attempted building of the breakwater, though that didn’t really work out as hoped.

The jail was expanded in 1900s, and electric lights were added. However, climbing expenses and violent storms combined to derail the breakwater project far short of its intended length. In 1903, the jail was closed, and in 1904, it was auctioned off. Then, during World War I, it was needed again, as an Enemy Alien Internment Camp–a place to keep any Germans or Austrians who were feared to be enemy sympathizers. Finally, in 1922, everything that could easily be removed was taken, leaving only the haunting ruins that are now designated a heritage site.

I hiked around the ruins for about 40 minutes. The buildings were impressive, and I took a fair number of photos. I also chatted for a while with the woman who operates the museum. She was worried about the wild wind that was whipping the coast today. She said it normally doesn’t get windy until well into summer, and this is still winter. Also, she said it’s getting warm early, and it was unusual to have no clouds. Since she lives in the forest nearby, the dry weather and winds have her a bit worried, as fire can sweep through quickly in these conditions.

Inside Trial Bay Gaol

Inside Trial Bay Gaol

Wall of Trial Bay Gaol

Wall of Trial Bay Gaol


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August 23, part 2

Kempsey, perched on the Macleay River, is the approximate halfway point between Sydney and Brisbane. But that’s not why I stopped. Kempsey is also a kind of a gateway to a fair number of splendid parks and scenic coastal areas, and there is a tourist information office and historical museum in South Kempsey Park. I picked up information and a few maps of the area, and then turned east and headed for Hat Head National Park.

The drive to the coast was fascinating, through an ever-changing landscape that included forest, scrub–and fire. It has been a dry winter, and I’ve seen them burning off undergrowth at a number of spots along my drive. This controlled burning helps prevent major fires. However, this time I was in the middle of it. I passed through clouds of smoke and past occasionally leaping flames. I was surprised to note that I could actually feel the heat through the car door. (I suspect that if I’d mentioned to anyone I was coming this way, they would have suggested an alternative route, if one exists–but it hadn’t occurred to me to mention it.) Having spent a number of years in Southern California, where I experienced a few major forest fires, I didn’t find the widespread but fairly low-key brush fire disconcerting. So, through the fire I went, continuing on to the coast.

Hat Head National Park is known for its sprawling, live dune system, wetlands, wildflowers, hiking trails, long beaches, pockets of rainforest, great bird watching, and seaside cliffs. I was determined to fit as much of that as I could into the few hours I had. So out of the car, and off on foot.

Hat Head is gorgeous. Green water crashed against craggy cliffs that reminded me a bit of Cornwall in England, except for the vegetation. There was no one else anywhere, as far as I could tell, so the only sounds were birds, breeze, and waves. Wonderful. I hiked for an hour and a half down a rugged, rocky trail, out along the coast to Hat Head Point. Down to the shore and then up another trail that took me to the tops of the cliffs. I photographed wildflowers–banksias, everlastings, pimelias–as well as nearly every great rock or excellent coastal view.

At one point, as I made my way up a narrow trail that dropped off quickly to my right, something flashed across my path. Probably a lizard, but my first thought was snake. This made me jump back, and, on the loose, rocky path, I slipped and crashed down on one knee. It was not a serious injury — a bit of blood, and the bruising will be unattractive — but it offered a serious jolt of reality. I’m inches away from a cliff. There is no one else here. No one knows I’m here. It’s unlikely anyone else would blithely drive through a brush fire to get here. I need to be a little less casual about this. And a little less hurried in my effort to see everything.

I descended the cliff-side trail a little more cautiously than I had ascended it, then strolled over to an inlet bordered by sand, which led in turn to a delightfully weird forest of pale, short, twisted gum trees. Smoke rising in the distance reminded me that I would have to pass again through the brush fire, to get out of here — plus I still had another stop before day’s end. So I finally returned to the car and headed back out of the park and toward the highway.

Hat Head Point

Hat Head Point



Smoke over Hat Head

Smoke over Hat Head

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Friday, August 23

I am not a morning person. My energy levels are always higher at night, and I normally have to struggle to get to bed by midnight. However, a really long time in an airplane combined with crossing more than a dozen time zones has rendered my regular rhythms seriously disrupted. As a result, I have clearly convinced my night-owl body that early to bed and early to rise is actually a possibility. I was not only awake but up and perky at 6:15 am. I know this won’t last, but it’s convenient now, as it will enable me to make the most of daylight hours.

At 7 am, my breakfast tray was delivered, and after a break for tea, fruit, and cereal, I finished dressing and repacking. I was checked out and ready to depart by 8 am. It is an unbelievably beautiful morning, sun shining, mist rising from the mountains, a cool breeze blowing, and a few wispy, white clouds overhead.

And back to the road. Actually, staying on the left isn’t the hardest part of driving here. It’s all the little reflex things that trip you up: glancing in the rear view mirror or side mirror, using the turn signal, reaching for the gearshift. I’m on the right side of the car, so everything is backwards. I wash the windshield almost every time I want to make a turn or change lanes.

I got off the Princes Highway and turned onto the Lakes Way, through Myall Lakes National Park. It was a fabulously beautiful drive. Fingers of light reached between the trees, dappling the road, as I wound through the forested mountains before descending to the shores of the Myall Lakes. I stopped a few times to shoot photos and admire my surroundings. It was incredibly peaceful, with rare and only momentary disruption when a car passed. I could hear kookaburras, a bellbird (I think), the ha ha haaa of Australian crows (which always sound more mocking than crows elsewhere), and several other birds I could not identify.

As I continued north, the landscape flattened out. The vegetation changed dramatically as I left the mountains behind. Sand replaced soil and lower coastal vegetation replaced the gum forests. As I neared Forester, I caught glimpses of the sea.
Crossed from Forester to Toncurry on a bridge over a startlingly turquoise-blue stretch of water. I’m now seeing a lot more “up north” vegetation: Coral trees, palms, hibiscus, etc.

Crossed a bridge over the Manning River into Taree. In Taree, a block past the river, I saw a sign for Solomon’s Fruit Market. I stopped and browsed the splendid offerings, settling at last on Granny Smith apples (Granny Smith was an Aussie, you know), ladyfinger bananas, and mandarins. Then I walked over and photographed the river.
It’s getting quite hot out. I knew it would get warmer as I headed north, but it’s still winter, and I’m still fairly far south. It’s a pleasant surprise.

Legs stretched out, photos taken, and some of the fruit consumed, I got back on the road. It was about two more hours before my next stop: Kempsey.

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August 22, part 3

I parked the car and hiked the nature path at the mountain’s base. Trees with thin, straight, gray trunks surrounded me, supporting the green canopy overhead. Ferns and grass trees crowded the shadow-dappled forest floor, and small flowers peeked out from among the ferns. I recognized the pink boronia, purple flag iris, and bright yellow pea flowers with mahogany-red centers.

I then went for a bit of a drive, down to where the houseboats are rented for holidays on the nearby Myall Lakes, past the old Bulahdelah Court House (built in 1886 and now a museum), and through some beautiful horse- and sheep-raising land that was somewhat reminiscent of northern England (except for the gum trees).

I photographed fields and mountains, wild flowers and trees, currawongs and kookaburras, and generally enjoyed myself. However, since I’m totally wrecked by two days of flying followed immediately by four and a half hours of driving, I gave up my wandering before I got too weary to find my hotel again.

Sitting on the edge of my bed, writing down the day’s activities, I can look up and out the window, through the palm fronds, to the peak of Alum Mountain. Behind the hotel, a family of kookaburras has broken into raucous laughter. The air is fresh and cool. It’s good to be here.

I spent a couple of hours sorting through maps and vouchers and itineraries. For this trip, I’m targeting a combination of destinations I learned about during my first trip, things that I’ve read about since then, and things I want to revisit. Plus I want to visit those friends from the first trip who have stayed in touch. There’s not enough time to do all I want, of course, but I’ll fit in as much as I can.

As the sun began to get low in the sky, I enjoyed a stroll around the motel. A nearly full moon was rising above Alum Mountain, and the sun setting beyond the distant hills touched the clouds and horizon with pink and lavender. The kookaburras were laughing again, and the frogs in a nearby pond began to set up a racket: a sound like a cross between a bouncing ping-pong ball and those little metal cricket-clickers. A few minutes later, the pastels were replaced by the stunning red of afterglow, the trees silhouetted black against the fiery horizon.

Being fairly far out in the country, the motel’s restaurant seemed like my best option for dinner. It turned out to be a surprisingly good option, with a menu that was surprisingly ambitious, given the homey modesty of this place. I enjoyed a pumpkin soup that was rich, smooth, and flavorful, and followed that with a tender veal schnitzel that came with steamed broccoli, glazed carrots, and buttery potatoes au gratin. Not a destination restaurant, mind you, but far better than I had expected.

It has been a very long day. So even though it’s only 8:30, because I can feel the jet lag dragging on my limbs, I’m going to head for bed. Good night, Australia. Happy to say I’ll see you in the morning.

Forests on Alum Mountain (white at base of trees is alum stone)

Forests on Alum Mountain (white at base of trees is alum stone)

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