After a few months of working hard, we were all packed up and ready to hit the road again when news broke on Friday of a cyclone which was due to hit Queensland. Being British, we have a natural predisposition for panic so we anxiously watched the news and tracked the progress of Cyclone Marcia. She was upgraded overnight to a category 5 Cyclone and after a long wait she hit central Queensland on Saturday afternoon, ripping through Yeppoon and Rockhampton. By the time she reached us on the Gold Coast the following day she had been downgraded to an ex-tropical storm, or “the artist formerly known as cyclone Marcia” as we like to call her. She brought with her king tides and torrential rain, sweeping away the beaches and flooding the roads. Another quirk of being British is that we would never let a bit of rain spoil our plans, so on Monday morning we set off as planned on the next leg of our adventure. With our sandwiches wrapped in tin foil, the wipers on the bus going swish swish swish and our cagoules at the ready we crossed the border into New South Wales.
We stopped in a few small beach towns and had a potter around, getting ourselves used to being on the road again. Had the weather been warmer, we may have spent a few days in Byron Bay, Balina or Yamba, for the relaxed beachy atmosphere, but the intermittent wind and rain kept us moving south along the coast. We stopped in the town of Maclean, which is so proud of its Scottish herritage they paint all of the lamp posts tartan. Maclean is not really on the tourist trail but it was a pleasant place to visit with quaint shops and a country feel to it. We also visited Grafton where we enjoyed looking at some stunning old colonial buildings before looking for a place to spend the night. During our time travelling in Queensland we had often camped overnight for free in roadside rest areas on the highway. A lot of caravaners and campers use these areas and they usually have benches, BBQs and toilets. We hoped it would be a similar situation in New South Wales, however every rest area we pulled into had large “No Camping” signs erected and there were no other travellers around. Not wanting to put ourselves at risk or end up with a hefty fine we continued driving to Woolgoolga and found a camp site to spend the night in.
The following day we continued to Coffs Harbour where we visited The Big Banana, a weird and wonderful tourist attraction. Australians have an unusual national obsession with big things, which we find somewhat amusing. We have driven past all manor of things, The Big Mango, The Big Bulls of Rockhampton, The Big Captain Cook in Cairns and the previous day we had even seen a Big Prawn in Yamba. For anyone that is confused, they are not naturally occurring phenomenon, they are basically giant man made plastic statues that serve little to no purpose. Love them or hate them, you can not help but smile when you are driving along and suddenly a Big Avocado or Giant Mower comes into view.
We visited an old world war two bunker which has been re-purposed as a cartoon gallery, housing the largest cartoon collection in the Southern Hemisphere. Speaking of artists, the artist formerly known as cyclone Marcia had apparently left the building so we decided to venture out into the sun. With the weather improving we took a stroll around the harbour stopping to marvel at two enormous Pelicans swimming near the boats.
Next we headed inland to Bellingen, a creative, arty hub situated on the banks of the Bellinger River. The artist formerly known as cyclone Marica came back for one final encore, forcing us to take refuge in a coffee shop for afternoon tea. After our much needed sugar hit, we wandered around the town browsing in shops and looking at the beautiful art-deco buildings.
We spent the night at a free camp site in Thora at the beginning of the Waterfall Way. Whenever we camp for free we try to spend some money in the area as a gesture of goodwill to the communities who maintain the sites. As luck would have it there was a shop near by which sold wine, so to congratulate ourselves on a successful first few days back on the road we enjoyed a glass or two of red back at the camp site.
New South Wales: so far, so great!