Nailing the East Coast of Australia... Manly to Surfers ParadiseDear All,
this is hugely overdue I know and apologies for that, but I have to say if I thought more people were actually reading this then I might have felt more inclined to be more disciplined with it... However, onwards and upwards.
Right, I left Manly on Thursday, January 3rd 2005 with the only real plan being to make it up to Cairns (North Queensland) by the start of March in time to hook up with my pals - Dave, Danny, Paul and Kubus (from Buffalo, N.Y) who would be starting their trip down the East Coast.
Wednesday night was a very quiet affair with Thursday's ETD being roughly 10am. I did make it out on Weds night however purely to say a few goodbyes and give myself one last reminder what an incredible place Manly is. All fool anyone that makes it to Sydney and doesn't actually make it across on the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly wharf, the $7 single ticket could be one of the best spent journeys you will ever make on public transport.
So, Thursday morning all packed and ready to head over to pick up Scott and Marie, travelling partners from the US and Denmark respectively, when I get a call from one Dave Minnuto, which went as follows:
'Yo Ed mate'
'Dave, what's up'
'Er well I have been thinking and I was wondering whether it might be OK, you know for me to come with you guys just for a week or so?'
'NO problem Dave, I am pretty much on my way over right now'
'Are you sure?'
'Yes Dave, goodbye'
So there we have it... and then there were 4! After saying goodbye to Aki and Paul. I took the 'scenic' route (i.e went the wrong way) out of Sydney, North towards Avalon and Palm Beaches (where Home and Away is filmed) then onto the freeway to Newcastle, yes Newcastle. Now Newcastle was founded in 1804 for convicts too hard even for Sydney to cope with, and that aside it was in it's heyday a city of heavy industry but is still New South Wales' second city. Upon arrival we checked into the huge YHA and took off for a wander and some scran. Still coming to terms with the fact that we had left Manly I think that both Scott and I (the others would be returning) were a little subdued that day but we soon found the answer to our woes!.. namely the free food and pub quiz night at 'The Brewery'.. a pub incidentally, not actually a brewery. Now as far as first nights go on the road this was definitely a good one. Not only did we take part in the aforementioned pub quiz we took it apart, even in the face of some rather blatant cheating all around us. So we stormed the pub quiz and gladly accepted our prize of free champagne which we took downstairs to enjoy as the resident thrash metal band were starting to crank up the volume. I talked Super 12s rugby and Ashes cricket with a few of the locals before we walked Marie home and headed out for a couple of very mediocre pints in two very mediocre bars, then off to bed to prepare for the drive to Port Macquarie.
So.. off to Port Macquarie. Firstly we headed just North of Newcastle to the stunning Port Stephens, a very wide bay area extending inland for some 25km, nicknamed 'Blue Water Paradise' for a very good reason. Then onto the main township of Nelson Bay perched at the tip of the southern arm of the bay. Tummies rumbling we made it to Bulahdelah just in time for lunch where we refueled at 'The Plough Inn'. Just after Bulahdelah we turned east on the Lakes Way towards the coast past Myall Lake past the holiday town of Forster-Tuncurry. From there it was mostly unsealed roads to Seal Rocks, a very remote fishing village/hippy commune and the only settlement in the Myall Lakes National Park. Having National Park status ensures that this area remains unspoilt, and the small beach is truly beautiful with crystal clear waters marooned between two headlands. It is also apparantly one of the best spots to dive and see nurse sharks in the whole of New South Wales.
From there we headed to the Sugar Loaf Point Lighthouse built in 1875 which I would love to tell you more about but misinformation in our guide books made us miss the tour so we headed off somewhat disappointed through Taree and then onto Port Macquarie. Upon arrival In Port Macquarie it was like the blind leading the blind as we tried to locate our desired hostel only to find that there were no beds at the Inn, we naturally refused the stables and moved on to 'Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park', and what a find that was. We had our own cabin for the next two nights which definitely did the job. We made tacos for dinner and drank vodka for dessert then headed off to the Port Macquarie Hotel to taste the local nightlife... It was not difficult to comprehend that Port M was also established as a place for hardened crims.. having watched some goon land at our feet after being ejected we headed in to find hundreds of incomprehensibly smashed punters. I believe we lasted there for about an hour and a half, which believe me is an admirable effort!
Day 2 in Port M was a very chilled affair, lazing by the pool, sushi for lunch and dinner at Winky's followed by ice cream and bed, ready for the early start on Sunday for Coffs Harbour.
The route to Coffs was a simple, short (thank God) and pleasant one taking us through Crescent Head, Nambucca Heads and then to Coffs where we checked into the hugely impressive YHA. Brand spanking new and with all the bells and whistles and only a 5 minute stroll to the beach. We headed into the town for some nosh and then headed back to the pool which was way too tempting to turn down, especially as the heat had been turned up to around 35C. After a dip and a frazzle we headed to the beach to errr cool down!? Dave, Marie and I headed to a fantastic sushi restaurant right opposite the YHA for dinner where I consumed approximately half my body weight in raw fish much to the amazement of my fellow travellers. We naturally felt obliged to sample a beer or two so we took the short walk to the Harbour to the RSL club where our evening was cut short due to the barmaid's fixation with playing back-to-back Annie Lennox tracks for an hour, the line was swiftly drawn when our ears started bleeding and I thought I could feel a brain haemorrage coming on.
Having come to the decision that one night in Coffs was more than enough sampling we were up bright and early Monday morning to make the drive to Nimbin.....
From Coffs we headed north via Woolgoolga, home of a beaming bright white Sikh temple that looks so out of place it's untrue, onto Grafton sat on a bend of the wide Clarence River, which almost encircles the city. Then onto the old port of Ballina, at the mouth of the Richmond River, with a rather odd Giant Prawn marking the entrance to the town. My only real memory of Ballina was the huge tea-tree plantations on the outskirts of the town. After much pleading from Dave and Scott we stopped in Lismore to try and find a suitable venue to catch the second half of the 39th SuperBowl which we duly did before heading to Nimbin.
No I am not sure how much you all know about Nimbin but probably the less the better. Nimbin is apparantly one of those places that 'you just have to go' when heading up the East Coast of Oz.... correction, you absolutely DON'T have to. Let me explain why, I will also give you some background to the place...
Nimbin was the site of the famed Aquarius Festival that launched Australian hippie culture in 1973, and is much more reluctant than it should be to move out of its 1970s time warp. All the houses and shopfronts are decorated in bright psychedelic shite and all the shops sell health food, hippie shit and hippie food and most of the locals have stuck to the hippie dress code or 'alternatively' they look like they might mug you. Dope here is a way of life and if you stand in the middle of Nimbin it's enough to put anyone off drugs, quite frankly the place is a disgrace. Sure enough it's OK to spend one night there, we found an Ok hostel with an Ok pool that put on an Ok barbeque, but that's about it. It was a stupidly hot day when we rolled into town so the appeal of resting up and having a dip appealed before getting into Byron Bay the next day. In hindsight, which is always a very nice thing to have, I should have hit the gas, maybe even hit some hippies and got the hell outta Dodge.. That said the night was.. OK and it allowed us to get up at the crack of dawn toss the keys out of the car window at the hostel owner and head straight to Byron Bay in good time. Oh yeah and if any of you go there I will offer you three tips: 1. If you see a guy walking down the street with a stuffed Racoon, hit him hard. 2. Do NOT go in the pub as it is littered with the dregs of society. 3. Just drive through the place and stop only to contemplate that of all the people you know, there will be noboby that has done less with their life than the people you are looking at right there!
BYRON BAY... now here's a place that's overhyped. Sure enough it has 30km of almost unbroken sandy beaches but so what. The West Coast of Australia has thousands of almost unbroken beaches and you don't have to put up with the whole 'small town getting too big for itself shite'. Ok, maybe I am being too harsh but it's really not that special, yes it's beautiful (when it doesn't rain all day and night) but as the Rough Guide points out... 'its about as subversively alternative as MTV'...
Dave, Marie, Scott and I headed to our hostel for the next 3 nights... The Arts Factory Backpackers Lodge. Now this place is very well known, more for it's 'alternative' feel than it's comfort, but hey why not? Take a look at it yourself here. There is however a great pool and a great pub in the complex with fab food at a decent price and we had the use of a basketball court for when the rain wasn't doing its thing. Marie's boyfriend Jon arrived shortly after our arrival and Scott, Dave and I opted for one of the 'woodland lodges in a bushland creek setting'... give me a f***ing break!! I think what you mean is 'a spider infested shithouse in a mosquito infested swamp setting'. So needless to say we all got eaten alive and for our third night Scott and I threw in the towel and moved into a dorm for an all round more pleasant experience.
But all in all Byron was kinda fun. Jay (mate from Manly, from Texas) decided to come visit while driving a camper van down from Brisbane and brought a surprise guest with him in the form of Rob Kubus. So needless to say our first night in Byron started and ended with a very strong beer and Bundaberg theme to it. Oh yeah and day 2 was almost identical. Now the cynics among you are wondering why we didn't get out and do something, well in Byron there are beaches and err beaches and it rained tropically all day every day... so nuff said. Day 3, Dave, Rob and Jay took off back to Sydney and Scott and I slept, not sure what Marie and Jon did, don't really want to know to be honest.
Thursday 10th Marie, Scott and I left Byron for Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. Spiritually if not geographically 'Surfers' is at the heart of the Gold Coast and it's a great place to spend a few days. We had two great nights here at the Islander Backpacker Resort, basically a hotel cum backpackers in the centre of town where we had a great room to share with a lad from Aberdeen called Stuart who was great fun. The weather that first day wasn't great and although we had a good scout around town and checked out the stunning and huge beach the weather got in the way of our 'relaxation' time. The hostel provided vouchers for free food at one of the pubs around the corner. Now 'free food voucher' naturally conjures up images of a bowl of Pedigree Chum, but alas no, the food was plentiful and quality and for those of you that believe in the saying that 'nothing in life is free', well you're bloody wrong! So after a damn good fee we headed to Melba's (bar) for several drinks, followed by another bar where we danced the night away true Surfers style. Friday naturally brought a rather interesting hangover so we decided to head off for some breakfast. It was en route to breakfast that I had an unusual experience, now I am not sure that it was more unusual because of the hangover or not, I will let you decide. I went to buy a smoothie in one of the shopping malls with Scott and Marie before heading to the beach for some sun when a bloke (roughly 45 years of age, reasonably well dressed) comes rushing up to me with his hand held out. I look at Scotty and he looks at me with an equally confused look.
The guy then says: 'Hi, my name's Jon, I have two questions that I hope you can help me with...'
Again I look at Scotty confused, the bloke then asks: 'Now I need to firstly find a telephone and then I need to find a pool table'
I said:'What the f***, are you mental? You're stood right next to a telephone box and Surfers has about 200 pubs and nearly every one has at least one pool table... Now what's your problem?'
The guy looks back at me bemused and walks off........ Most unusual..
So due the severity of the hangover it was a quiet night in for me that night and a good feed ready for tomorrow's trip up to Noosa to catch up with Bruce and Chesney our two good mates from South Africa that we met in Manly at Boardriders Backpackers....