June 11, 2008

From Sydney to Byron Bay...and everything in between.

Most travelers speed up the East coast from Sydney to Byron Bay. Friends of ours, Pablo and Christina, did the trip in three days. If you have limited time, then it really is only a 10 hour drive, but I think you would be missing out on some amazing national parks and beautiful coastline. We decided to take our time as we have a couple months to make it all the way north to Cairns, a classic travel route. I guess we're finally learning that it's better to take your time and see a place, than rush to see it all.

So, from Sydney we said goodbye to our friends and headed two hours west to the Blue Mountains National Park, and beginning of the Great Dividing Range that parallels the East coast. This was our one detour before heading up the coast, and I'm glad we made it.

The park has beautiful valleys, with gorgeous rock cliffs. If you get up early enough, fog covers the valley floors and it's pretty magical when the sun comes up. We spent two days hiking around the valleys, down to the floor and back to the top. A good climb. The whole place reminded me a lot of the Niagara escarpment outside of Toronto.

The town of Katoomba is the main place for visiting the park. It was also our first experience sleeping in our new car. Cozy, but took some getting used to. We actually slept on a residential street, and hoped that we wouldn't get a ticket. I can hear our friends shouting "dirty hippies." A highlight for us was our first visit to a Returned Services League, or RSL as it's known, which is basically a club for military veterans. The Cohens in Sydney mentioned it was a place to get a good cheap meal, and they were right. We were also entertained by joining in on their weekly trivia night, and even won some free drinks.

From the Blue Mountains we headed to the coast, and our first stop at Bouddi National Park. After a night at a beach front campsite, we headed for waves at Terrigal Beach. Now I should mention that for a long time I have wanted to get good at surfing. Five years ago I spent a week learning how to surf at Witches Rock Surf Camp in Costa Rica. Since then I've only gotten out about three times a year, and unfortunately became out of practice. So, I've made it my mission while in Australia to get good at surfing. Well, at least good enough to keep up with my friend Zack back home at Far Rockaway, Long Beach and Montauk, NY. I picked up a used board in Sydney, and we are stopping at every beach with waves. I need to thank Julie for her patience, as I drive from spot to spot stopping to see if there is good surf. It's kind of addictive.

There wasn't much surf at Terrigal that day so we moved on, resting at Crack Neck point to see whales pass in the distance, and finally stopping at Soldier's Beach near Norah Head for my first real afternoon of surfing. The next day we drove north to Newcastle, and visited a great little zoo, finally seeing wombats, koalas, emus, and kangaroos. We spent about 40 minutes watching the Koalas in awe, and the best part is that the zoo was free! That would never happen back home.

Our next stop was Hawks Nest, on the far side of Nelson Bay. A famous area for spotting whales and dolpins. Unfortunately we didn't see any, but we camped in a beautiful site in Myall Lakes National Park, and we had the whole place to ourselves. The next morning we moved on to Seal Rocks, visited the lighthouse, and got a good afternoon of great surf. We also had another night at a pristine campground in the national park.

After Seal Rocks we went to Crescent Head for more surf, and then headed inland over the Great Dividing Range to Armidale. The whole coast had suffered several days of pouring rain, and it made for an interesting drive. Some roads were flooded, and we took a ridiculously curvy path over the mountains, but we made it in time for dinner with the Gregg family. Some people looked at us like we were nuts to drive out of our way to Armidale, as it's four hours from the coast in farm country, but we went to visit with Vivienne and Michael (mother and brother of Julia who we stayed with in Sydney) who we shared three days with in a cramped landcruiser in the Salar de Uyuni in Boliva. After 2 nights of resting with friends, and getting our car fixed (our whole exhaust system was replaced after we put a hole in the muffler), we headed back to the coast.

The drive from Armidale to Coffs Harbour on the road dubbed the waterfall way, was scenic to say the least. One highlight was stopping in the town of Bellingen. Great architecture, with cool cafes and shops. It was like being in a Colorado mountain town. Coffs Harbour was a nice town, and I got in another afternoon of great surf.

The town of Yamba and the famous surf spot of Angourie was a must do for me. Angourie is so tiny, but everyone there seemed to be surfing fanatics. I can see why. They have a spot where the wave breaks perfectly all day, everyday. I hate to say it, but I was out of my league. I still need more practice, but at least I gave it a shot.

After a frustrating morning at Angourie, we drove a distance along the Pacific highway (our main route up the coast) to Ballina and then the coastal road up to Byron Bay. We stopped brifely in Lennox Head, to watch an all girls surf competition, and then finally reached Byron Bay in the late afternoon.

Byron Bay is not all it's cracked up to be. We were told it was one of the coolest spots for backpackers, but what we encountered is a chic surf town where the locals don't really like the tourists. The town has 9000 residents, but a ridiculous number of hotels, spas, and restaurants. I think they forget sometimes that the backpackers and tourists are the backbone of the town's income. That being said, the town is beautiful and has several beaches to choose from. We've been spending our days at Watego's beach just below the picturesque lighthouse, away from the crowds on Main beach. There are tons of cool restaurants, cafes, shops, and terraces to drink a schooner of beer and watch the sunset. Our plan was to try and get some work here for a month or two, but it's off season, and we get the feeling that locals are preferred. Oh well, their loss. We're headed north in search of better weather in Queensland.

So what's my impression of the New South Wales coast? It's basically like the California coast, but with much less people, and that's a great thing. There is beauty around every bend. A cliche I know, but in this case it's true. Here are my photos from our drive up the coast of NSW.


Anonymous said...

I really liked coff's harbour. It's nice. Byron is really nice too. Make sure you go experience nim bin.

ps- I changed my blog around. Come check it out!!! It's sweeeet. New layout. Also, the link on the side no longer works. You need to like to the domain (nomadicmatt.com)..../blog.html is no longer there.

Anonymous said...

A truly great part of the world. I was there about 3 years ago and had a fantastic time, met a bunch of great people and saw some incredible sights. Thanks for sharing your experiences and helping me relive my time there (and long to get back)

I really love travelling as well and I’m reading a great book at the moment called Chasing Sunsets by Lawrence Pane and his family that is inspiring me on my next big trek. Lawrence, his wife and young son took off on a six year circumnavigation of the world by boat and the book is a documentation of their adventures.

I especially liked the way that all three Pane family members took part in the writing of this book, so there are 3 different perspectives on things – something I think adds a lot to the story and is quite unique as far as I know. My wife could relate to things better that came from Carole Pane’s point of view, and my boys could relate to how young Ryan saw things. A great mix of narratives.