An account of a week driving a Ford Festiva from Sydney, where I have lived almost all my life, to Airlie Beach in tropical North Queensland. This page describes the first part of the trip, from Sydney to Brisbane. For the second part of the trip, Brisbane to Airlie Beach, see Part 2.
(Click on photos to see a larger version.)
I left Faulconbridge [in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney] around midday on Monday 20th July 1998. The car was packed with stuff, but since the car didn’t give any problems, I figured it couldn’t be too much overweight. Still, I tended to keep to a cautious pace as I headed towards Sydney.
I had to travel nearly 40 kilometres that direction before picking up the freeway north. Stopped at Wyong, 142 kilometres from home, and had a late lunch. The weather was poor, a wet, cold, dreary day, with fog everywhere. I really felt Sydney was giving me the proper type of farewell to keep me away for a long time.
The Pacific Highway lead me past Lake Macquarie (a popular holiday area) to Newcastle, an industrial city with great surf beaches, a good climate, and convenient access to national parks and the Hunter Valley, famous for wineries. Not realising that the motorway bypassed the city, I took an exit and soon was lost in a strange pattern of streets. I found myself having to backtrack, not made easier by one way streets each time I wanted to head in a convenient direction. Eventually I found the main highway and got headed north again.
I stopped before 6 p.m. at Karuah, some 284 kilometres from home, staying at a slightly overpriced $45 cabin at the Karuah Jetty Village caravan park. Back through the rain at the highway, the restaurant at the Karuah RSL provided a very reasonable $8 roast lamb and vegetables, which was as close as I could come to health food in the place. Another rainy night, and I slept poorly with the noise of rain on the roof.
The shower I had that morning consisted almost exclusively of mist. It wet my hair fine, but evaporated before reaching my toes. Strangest shower I’ve ever seen.
Fourteen kilometres from Karuah, I came upon one of the stranger restaurants I’ve seen, done in the shape of Ayers Rock (photo right: the Rock Restaurant and Take Away). I snacked through the day on stuff from home, including Trolli Sour Gummi Beans, a very strange candy given me by a friend for the trip. (Not bad, but where did she find them?)
Some people were more organised. I saw a bunch of people camped outside Karuah,
setting up what appeared a fine breakfast.
Just past Port Stephens (a large sheltered bay about an hour’s drive north of Newcastle), I turned off to the right and headed for Myall Lakes and Tea Gardens, figuring I might as well look at beaches on the way up. Photo left: view to Tea Gardens area. Ocean Beach, just past Hawks Nest (see photo to right), looked OK, despite the overcast conditions.
A very helpful Tourist Information person at Bulahdelah, in the Great Lakes Visitors Centre, suggested driving along The Lakes Way. At their suggestion, I diverted to visit Sugar Creek Toymakers, an interesting toy shop, art gallery and cafe, where the owner hand makes wooden toys on his lathe. That was about 35 km from Bulahdelah. Lots of good views of the lakes to the right as you drive.
I turned off down a very muddy private side road to visit Sandbar. I eventually reached a caravan park with unfriendly looking signs, so I took my non-business away, and soon spotted the road I should have taken to the left, through a gate, and past a private golf course. There was a really nice littoral rain forest, with a newly constructed wooden boardwalk through to the Sandbar beach (photo left). I won’t say the mud road was wet, but upon my return, two
ducks were swimming in it.
By the time I reached Bluey’s Beach (photo right) there was a bit of sun, and I was feeling much more optimistic about the trip. I drove on through Forster-Tuncurry, back to the Pacific Highway, and bypassed Taree.
At Kew, the 540 kilometre point, I turned off east for the scenic drive along the coast via Laurieton and Port Macquarie. This is a popular holiday destination for people from Sydney, featuring good surfing and lots of other water sports.
I stayed the Tuesday evening at the Star Motel south of Coffs Harbour, about 730 kilometres from Faulconbridge. The motel was newly taken over, and had been fairly run down, but was comfortable enough. What I lacked was dinner. I walked kilometres seeking someplace either open, or selling something I regarded as real food. McDonalds and KFC didn’t count, as far as I was concerned.
For more information on this part of New South Wales (known as the Holiday Coast), including Bellingen, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, Nambucca Heads, Port Macquarie, and Forster-Tuncurry, visit:
Wednesday 22nd July, knowing there was scant food around for breakfast, I improvised up baked beans on toast from my rapidly diminishing left overs. (Photos left and right) Park Beach, just north of Coffs Harbour.)
I was delighted to find the old toaster in the motel still worked. I always liked the old fashioned kind (which Jean hates, and finally managed to dump when we moved), because you can repair them with a piece of nichrome wire. The fault with this one was no handle for the doors, so extracting the hot toast was a bit of an adventure.
You can’t win, of course. Cabins at caravan parks have no bed linen, but usually fine cooking facilities. Motel rooms generally have rudimentary cooking facilities (although they always have a fridge and an electric jug, and often a toaster).
I drove to the local mall, got a bread roll to supplement breakfast, and then checked out Park Beach, north of Coffs Harbour. Of course I had to stop at that great tourist attraction, the Big Banana plantation, three kilometres past Coffs Harbour on the left (photo left). It had Disneyland tackiness, but is clean, has the nice little tourist trains, and souvenirs, a skyway, a cable flyer, a craft shop. Sure expanded since I last went through, probably more than a decade ago.
I went into Woolgoolga township, to see if I could spot anything I recalled from when I had stayed there as a child. A couple of places that might have been there, but most of it didn’t raise any memories at all. Photo right: Sikh temple, Woolgoola.
Several things were new. The wonderful Sikh temple on a hill by the highway, looking beautiful in the sunlight. There were several Indian restaurants nearby, further along the highway. The Raj Mahal was by far the most decorative (see photo to lef).
After Corindi Beach, the highway turns inland to Grafton, then wanders back to the coast south of Ballina.
About 50 kilometres before Ballina I stopped at New Italy, a fine clean Italian industry pavilion, with an extensive history of Italy. The museum covered Italian settlement in the area since the 1880s. There was also the new Gurrigai Aboriginal Arts and Crafts centre, with a stereo playing rock and roll.
I stayed the night at the Calico Court motel outside Tweed Heads. Missed a bet there, as the hotel next door offered a spa as well. Took a 90 minute walk, but still couldn’t really find suitable food.
By Thursday morning I was nearly 1100 kilometres from Faulconbridge. No rush now, as I had to meet Jean at Brisbane airport that afternoon. Wandered slowly along the coast, past Coolangatta, towards Surfers Paradise, via Palm Beach, Miami, Burleigh Heads and Southport. This area is known as the Gold Coast and is famous for surfing beaches, among other attractions including other water sports, a casino, and a collection of theme parks (Sea World, Movie World, Dream World, and Wet’n’Wild). It’s a bit built up and crowded for my taste, but many people enjoy it, and families are well catered for.
You can find out more about the area here:
I arrived early at the airport, as it was only about 1200 kilometers from Faulconbridge. Parked on the outskirts until slightly before Jean’s plane was due, and then went to their expensive car park.
I was able to start getting my mobile phone charged at the airport, but didn’t need it as Jean spotted me as soon as she emerged from Qantas flight 881.
Continued in Part 2.