Port Macquarie NSW

From Sydney, we headed towards Brisbane, NSW and the Gold Coast.

Our intention was to route through Canberra, the capital of Australia, but we decided to save that for our return trip, since it was more “inland” and we wanted to go along the coastal route as much as possible.

We got a pretty late start out of the caravan park, so our first day was a relatively short one. With the help of our WikiCamps app , The Rock Roadhouse was chosen as our free, overnight stop.  We were the first of the van dwellers to arrive for the night, but were soon joined by many.  Upon arrival, most chose a respectable distance between vans, and all was good in the world until about 11 pm when a rental van of three girls from Germany decided to park between us and our neighbor, and proceeded to open and close their doors and speak at full volume for at least the next hour.  Even in RV living, or camping, we have all had THAT neighbor once in a while.

Vans At Rock Roadhouse

Yes, that is a gas station/restaurant that has been made to look like Uluru. Hence the name “The Rock” Roadhouse.

After a quick breakfast, we headed to the Seal Rocks lighthouse to see what we could see.

Seal Rocks Lighthouse
Seal Rocks Lighthouse

On the walk up the very steep path, we took a break to let others pass:

It's just not a hike without a reptile in our path
It’s just not a hike without a reptile in our path

The views were stunning:

From the Lighthouse
From the Lighthouse

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Back on the road and heading up the coast, we came upon a lovely beachfront town by the name of Port Macquarie.  It had numerous free camping opportunities, as well as a reasonably-priced caravan park.  There were surfing beaches and hiking trails listed as points of interest, so that it became our first real stop for the state of New South Wales.

Here is what Town Beach looked like upon our arrival:

Town Beach at Sunset
Town Beach at Sunset

The first night, which was really supposed to be the only night, was spent in a parking lot along – you guessed it – by the river, next to a hotel.  It was quiet, and had public restrooms just a quick 3 minute walk away.  There were two or three other backpacker vans, and we were treated to an evening show of flying foxes heading out for a hunt.  There seemed to be thousands of them, and David tried to get a picture with his camera on the night vision setting:

Flying Foxes - Nightvision
Flying Foxes – Night vision

Here is what they look like during the day –

Flying Fox Port Macquarie
Flying Fox Port Macquarie

That is a picture I pulled from the internet, as I did not seek them out during the day. Suffice it to say that they are very large, and there is a plentiful colony that lives in a nature reserve in Port Macquarie.  The night show was impressive.

The weather in Port Macquarie is magnificent! One would not suspect it is late Fall, with the water so lovely and inviting, and the days around 80-85 degrees F.

We expected this to be an overnight stop, but the beach and town were just so lovely, that we spent the next 6 days lounging around, hiking, getting caught up on library wifi, and generally feeling like we were really on vacation, or “holiday” as they call it here.

The town is really cute and has a little something for everyone – major chain grocery stores and a mall, a lovely library with free internet, a modern art center that doubles as a visitor center, boutique shops and day spas, as well as numerous ice cream and coffee shops.  The jewel in the crown was the magnificent beaches and walking trails. All of this was within walking distance of our overnight parking places.

One could see why this is the home of the Australian Ironman competition, which unknown to us, was completed the day before our arrival.  The competitors cleared out by our day 3, and we felt as if we had the town and beaches to ourselves.  The township of Port Macquarie was established in 1821, with many buildings from that time still intact.

As Port Macquarie became our home for 6 nights, between the great caravan park and the urban camping friendly parking lots, we averaged $7.60 AUD/night.  Of course, that does not factor in our daily shared $5 AUD soy decaf flat whites.  Yes, David has not only stopped giving me grief about drinking coffee, but I am sharing my drinks with him.  It is a change in attitude I can live with!

Some of the highlights of our time here:

  • The Town Beach and an ocean that I actually went wading into, multiple times. (I don’t swim, and rarely go into bodies of water, so this was really meaningful to me. I even got knocked down by a wave, but got back up and still played some more:
Port Macquarie View
Port Macquarie View
  • The Koala Hospital and the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail were both sources of entertainment. The Koala Hospital allowed us an up-close look at the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured koalas.  It is the only facility of its kind in the world, and is run by donation and volunteers.  The Sculpture Trail comprised of 50 unique koala sculptures placed in various places around town and the outlying area.  These sculptures were created to celebrate the largest coastal koala population on the east coast of Australia.  While I did not go about seeking these out, I took a snap of each one that I encountered along my way:
Koala Trail
Koala Trail
  • The Coastal Walk from Town Beach to Lighthouse Beach was a doozy through beaches for all kinds from surfing to fishing to dog-friendly to naked, with a rainforest canopy and a goanna sighting at a birthday party! The reward for hiking 10 kilometers across beaches and through rainforest paths: steps to the lighthouse!
Tacking Point Lighthouse
Tacking Point Lighthouse

On our final morning in “Port”, we shared Town Beach with our mothers, as we called them to wish them a Happy Mother’s Day.  One last look:

Mother’s Day beach photo
Mother’s Day beach photo

It’s been two weeks since we have seen Hannah, and I am ready to invade her space again.  We probably won’t take more than 3 days to get back to Melbourne; at least that is my hope.

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

Sydney

We arrived in Sydney on a Sunday afternoon, and expected traffic to be less hectic.  Along that same thought, we headed to famous Bondi Beach. After paying $7/hr for parking, we walked around, took some pictures, and wondered what all the fuss was about.  I guess we are a little jaded, or maybe because the beach wasn’t filled with sunbathers and merry makers, but we just didn’t see the draw.  It felt excessively touristy, but we did find the pool at the edge of the beach a neat touch:

Lap ool at the beach
Lap pool at the beach

It took us over an hour to get out of the city and into our caravan park. It was so nice to be parked in a lovely site at Lane Cove River Tourist Park. The park staff was very helpful at check-in, the amenities blocks were clean and plentiful, and we were given a nice site with lots of room. The park was quiet, while also providing free internet access in the game/TV room.  For $37 a night, it was a bargain for the location alone.  Everything else was icing on the cake.

We headed into Sydney on the train the next morning.  Thank you, Alex and Sarah (previous owners of Spotto) for the Opal card with credit on it! We will pass these on to Hannah to use up the balance when we leave. The trip took about 30 minutes, and it was a relief not having to deal with traffic, parking, etc.

A free walking tour of Sydney started at 9:00 a.m., so we joined it.  Our tour guide, Lydia, grew up in Sydney, and had historical tales and secret passages to share with us.  The tour was 3 hours in length, but we left it halfway through, as we were near the Harbor at that point, and wanted to go at a quicker pace than the tour.  But we would recommend it to future Sydney visitors, as it is a great way to learn about the city.

Here are some of the places we visited:

Birdsongs
The Forgotten Songs art piece

Forgotten Songs was an alley art installation. “Forgotten Songs commemorates the songs of fifty birds once heard in central Sydney, before they were gradually forced out by European settlement. The calls, which filter down from the canopy of birdcages suspended above Angel Place, change as day shifts to night; the daytime birds’ songs disappearing with the sun, and those of the nocturnal birds, which inhabited the area, sounding into the evening.” If there weren’t so many people talking as we walked through, we would have really enjoyed it.  And we tried to find this on our way back to the train station, but could not locate it.

Seal of Australia
Coat of Arms of Australia

A little tidbit about the Coat of Arms of Australia: the two animals, the kangaroo and the emu, apparently cannot walk backwards.  Well, that is what our tour guide told us!

Of course, we visited the Sydney Opera House.  One can’t miss it coming over the bridge on the train, and it was a major part of our visit.

Opera House Selfie
Opera House Selfie
View from afar
View from afar

One can’t really see the size when viewing it from across the water.

Getting Closer
Getting Closer

But once upon it,

An Entrance Door
An Entrance Door

It is clear that it is many pieces.

Here is an up-close view of the outer shell of tiles whose reflection makes the buildings shine:

Tiles
Tiles

It was a beautiful day and we walked all over the downtown and harbor area.  On our way back to the train, we spotted these fellows enjoying a game of chess:

Park Game
Park Game

Now that we have experienced Sydney, we are pretty much finished with going into downtown areas for awhile.  The highlights of the day were the meandering walks through the botanical gardens and the trek around the harbor and around the opera house.  The lowlights were definitely the search for vegan food (we ended up with veggie sushi) and the packed malls.

We are now off to the Gold Coast, in search of some sun and white sand beaches.

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

Unexpected Sites on the Road to Sydney

We decided that while Hannah recovers from her torn plantar fascia injury, we will transform from parents to explorers in a van, and really make the most of our time in Australia.  We set our sights on Sydney, a mere 1,000 kilometers to the northeast.

One our first day out, we came upon a town by the name of “Stratford on the Avon”.  Since David (and the other Keane’s, including his father Harold) grew up in Stratford, Connecticut, we decided that this was a must-see.  We were not disappointed.

This Stratford has an art walk, complete with an audio guide, an MP3 player, and a speaker, all available for pickup at the local theater.

Here is the Globe, the first stop on the art tour:

Stratfords Of The World
Stratfords Of The World

And the marker for Connecticut:

Bonus Points if you can name this helicopter maker

Here are some of the art pieces along the 1 hour walk:

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It was great to spontaneously take part in the tour of the town, and we were invited back for the weekend Shakespeare Birthday celebration that is apparently the highlight of the year.  We weren’t sure how far down the road we would be, but kept it as an option.

That night, we had a truly beautiful free camp site thanks to the town of Metung at the Chinaman’s Creek park.  Here is the view that awaited us in the morning:

Metung
Metung

Our next destination was Raymond Island to go on the Koala Walk.  A short ferry trip:

Ferry across the inlet
Ferry across the inlet

And we were on Raymond Island, following the Koala Walk.  Koalas were introduced to this island in 1953 when Australians were concerned that the population was dwindling. The koalas that live on this island are very used to people, and are not spooked by the many walkers and photographers that come over on the ferry to take the short 1.5 km walk. As you can see here, David was able to get very close to his subjects:

David Keane, Wildlife Photographer
David Keane, Wildlife Photographer

Here are some of the special koalas we spotted on our hike around the island

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In addition to the koalas, we spotted many birds

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And about the birds on the main photo: these are the Tawny Frogmouth.  What we first thought was just the top of an old tree, came to light upon closer inspection.  They were very well camouflaged! We thought they were maybe owls, but a little research and we discovered their true identity.

A first time sighting for us
A first time sighting for us

On the ferry back to the mainland, we spotted many jellyfish, and had fun trying to get a good shot. Not the most cooperative photo subjects!

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So Jelly
So Jelly

Our next two days were pretty much just travel and find a pretty place to stop for the night.

First, along the famous Snowy River:

No Sign of The Man From Snowy River
No Sign of The Man From Snowy River

And then in the town of Genoa, where the town provides a superb free campground:

The Chicken Whisperer
The Chicken Whisperer

We stopped in the little town of Tathra, NSW were we came across the cutest coffee shop/bakery  called “The Wharf Locavore” and treated ourselves to a cup of tea before we tackled a little hike.

Just look at how cute this place is:

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And the tea:

Fresh Lemon Verbena
Fresh Lemon Verbena

Yes, I could have stayed there all afternoon with those views and the tempting pastries.  But, we are just hours away from our Sydney-area destination, and we must move on.

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

Hiking The Red Center (Centre)

Visitors come to the center of Australia – called the “Red Center” (or, for you Brits and Aussies the “Red Centre”) to view and hike through some of the most wondrous land masses in the world:  Australia’s most recognizable landmark, Uluru is also known as Ayers Rock;  next to Uluru is Kata Tjuta, also known as the Olgas;  and a few hours down the road is the stunning Watarrka, or Kings Canyon.

We were originally just going to hike around Uluru and Kata Tjuta, but then decided to add Kings Canyon to the mix since we are here, and it is, too! We were very glad that we did.

With the temperatures getting up there to around 100 degrees F, we knew we needed to get an early start, as the trails are closed if the temperature is 36 degrees C (96 degrees F).

Trailhead
Trailhead

Sunscreen, hats, water, bug juice, snacks – check.  Let’s do this!

Kings Canyon is part of Watarrka National Park, with walls about 350 feet high. With three hikes to choose from, we started with the longest, a 6 km trail that goes from the base to the top of the canyon, with a dip down into the Garden of Eden, and finishing through a sandstone landscape that made us feel like we were walking on Mars.

Reading some of the placards on the trail, we learned that this canyon is an aboriginal sacred site in places, so we were encouraged to stay on the trails.  After visiting the Alice Springs Reptile Center (https://rvgetfit.com/2016/05/05/alice-springs) you can rest assured that we were not going off trail! We found it interesting that the first European expedition to explore the canyon was in 1872 – which, once again, reminded us of how “new” Australia is to us non-aborigines.

The hike starts with Heart Attack Hill – and there were plenty of people looking up the winding steps wondering if they shouldn’t just wait for their tour partners in the bus.  This was steep, and not for the faint of heart!

Heart Attack Hill
Heart Attack Hill

The colors of the rocks were just amazing.

The Textures
The Textures
The Colors
The Colors

And we felt that we were pretty much the only people out there

Where is everybody?
Where is everybody?

The route would take us up to the top of the canyon on the left side, around the rim, down into the canyon to the watering hole and oasis called the Garden of Eden, then back up to the rim for the right side view, before returning to the parking lot.

The canyon walls started to come into view

Canyon Walls
Canyon Walls

and we could see hikers on the other side

Hello On The Other Side
Hello On The Other Side

There were some steep ledges, with warning signs:

Falling Hazard?
Falling Hazard?

And it might have been the heat, but we were cracking up when we saw this one:

Viewing Area for Falling People?
Viewing Area for Falling People?

Some other highlights:

the textures were amazing

Dead Sea Ripples
Dead Sea Ripples

the stairs and the Garden of Eden

The Stairs to the Garden of Eden
The Stairs to the Garden of Eden

And, on the other side of the canyon, as we walked along the…

Rock Domes
Rock Domes

We were met by another goanna, as seen in the photo at the top of this post.  Yup, two days after being bitten, David must have been sending off some serious goanna pheromone, because we had not seen much wildlife on the hike, and then this 6 foot long specimen saunters on by.  Here is another view:

David's Buddy
David’s Buddy

We finished up the main trail, and noted that the path going the opposite direction was closed due to the temperature.

The hike proved to be quite the challenge, with the heat and the flies! Oh, the flies.  They were so pestering that we stopped at a visitors center to buy fly nets to put over our hats for the hike around Uluru and the Olgas the next day.

We consulted our free camping app, and found a nice place to shower for $3 AUD, and then went on to camp at the Sandy Way Rest Area for the night.

The next day, we were up early again and on to see Uluru and the Olgas.  As we drove in, you could see it in the distance:

Uluru In The Distance
Uluru In The Distance

Uluru, or Ayers Rock, is a sacred part of aboriginal creation mythology, and is considered one of Australia’s most recognizable natural icons.  A large sandstone “island mountain”, it is an isolated remnant of the slowly eroding mountain range, and is thought to be roughly 800-850 million years old.  Seriously.

We got to the big rock, and suited up! It was already hot outside, and the flies were relentless, but we were ready this time:

Shoo Fly
Shoo Fly

It should be noted that we intended to walk AROUND the rock, not to climb it.  The aborigines have asked that visitors not climb their sacred rock, and we saw no reason to go against this wish.  Some believe that if they are going to spend the $25 AUD entrance fee for the park, they are entitled to do whatever they want.  Yes, it is a struggle for the park.  There is a huge sign next to the carpark explaining the history and the position against climbing.  And still:

Climbers
Climbers

The base walk is 10 km, or 6 miles, and we really enjoyed it.  Once again, we went counterclockwise, and saw only a handful of people during the 2.5-3 hrs we took to explore.

So glad we had our nets, as they kept the annoying flies off of our faces; the rest of our bodies, not so much.  David felt compelled to take this shot:

The Flies Are NOT Roasted in Deer Isle ME
The Flies Are NOT Roasted in Deer Isle ME

There were some caves

Wave Cave
Wave Cave

Some really cool erosion marks

Color contrasts
Honeycomb

Some shade structures if one wanted to take a break

Shady Rest
Shady Rest

The texture of the land was so interesting, and the colors changed as the sunlight shifted

Hardy Plants
Hardy Plants
Texture
Reminds me of scales

We finished the Uluru base hike, and then drove the 53 km/32 miles to Kata Tjuta.  There, we took the Valley of the Winds hike, which was another 7.4 km.  Most people probably don’t do both hikes in the same day, but it is late Summer/early Fall, so we have the daylight to do this.

Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, is a collection of monoliths.  The hike was much more strenuous than the base walk of Uluru.

Here is some of the scenery we enjoyed:

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According to my fitbit, this was a 37,775 step day for me! I don’t plan on surpassing that anytime soon, but you never know where this Australian adventure will take us.

The big question we had for each other after the hike was, “How do you pronounce ‘Uluru’?”

It’s always a G’day Down Under,

Nancy

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