We now had to drive a huge loop because of a river(? lake?) blocking what would have been a direct route and it had added about 15 kms to our journey. Fine on roads made for a big campervan or fine when you have plenty of time, but we had neither. We had determined to enjoy the countryside anyway because the time could not be helped. Eventually the road began to widen a bit and at last we hit another road crossing ours. As I’ve said, the map we were using was not a touring map and it was a holiday full of u-turns and this was yet another. We were so excited to see a more major looking road that we’d taken it without really understanding the road signs. And they had been vague believe me! I guess it’s always the same with road signs – if you’re familiar with the territory (and therefore don’t honestly need them!) you understand them very well, but if you’re new to the area and in desperate need of them they usually don’t reference the place you’re actually heading to! We very quickly felt uncomfortable with our choice and went back again to the smaller road and only a very short distance further on was the highway, the one we wanted, and we now quickly made distance toward Pam’s house. Pam’s Dad had posted us a lovely detailed map of the journey from the highway and we turned off with confidence for once that we were on the right road. There was a huge shopping centre on the right hand side of the road in Tuggerah which I’ve been asked for often. Every time I saw a ‘familiar’ sight like this I just loved it and got all excited at finally seeing what it looked like. We continued down this road with countless roundabouts and soon got to Bateau Bay with only one more u-turn because we passed the turn off for Pam’s street. As I saw the road sign saying Premier Way I got all teary eyed because we were truly there, at what had just been an address to me for the last number of years and, perhaps, because of the difficulty we’d had getting there at all. We easily found the house number and parked the huge
lumbering van, and Pam and dear little Otis were out to greet us before we could even get out. It was so exciting. It was 1:30pm so I guess for the length of journey we’d just completed it wasn’t too bad.
Pam introduced us to her parents who we had never met before even though I’d known Pam well when she lived in Perth 16 years ago. She and Otis showed us around their lovely home and Pam and her Mum prepared a wonderful afternoon tea for us and we talked and talked. Otis was really wonderful and loving and sat on my lap a lot and gave me my doggy love dose that I’d been missing, having left our own 2 at home. We walked to the little local shopping centre and had a quick look at that before going back and Pam and her Mum began preparing an early dinner for us so that we could eat and be on our way before it got too dark to allow us to travel. The meal was an absolute feast with the tastiest marinated chicken fillets and roast vegetables with gravy, bread rolls, and followed with apple pie and ice cream. Weren’t we totally spoiled? We all continued to talk nineteen to the dozen and got on so well together it was a real shame that we could not stay longer. I was really impressed with how well they got on with one another as a family; there was a really warm and loving atmosphere in their home and a spirit of laughter and joy. But it was time for us to move on our way and after lots of hugs and waves we were on our way once more.
Yes we took a wrong turn again – 2 in fact – before we got onto the road that we’d wanted along the coast. You’re allowed to laugh, we did! As we passed Tuggerah shops once more David asked if I wanted to have a look around it, but we wanted to get some more miles done and I wasn’t in a shopping mood even though we needed some groceries, so we carried on up the coast road. We did not want to go to Newcastle and as it was starting to get a bit darker we decided to stop at Swansea for the night and then worry about finding the Newcastle-skirting journey in the morning. The caravan park office was shut and David (“Bless ‘im” said through gritted teeth) chose which of the 2 available buttons you were supposed to push to get someone’s attention. A sign said ‘push button for after hours attendant’ and another said ‘push bell only in emergencies’. Well there were 2 buttons and no bell. After no answer to the one he’d chosen he pressed it again, and again, and a 4th time. I was getting a bit cheesed by then and he finally pushed the other and out popped a lady really quickly. He told her he hadn’t known which to push and had pushed 1 of them 4 times and was it the right one. She didn’t look all that friendly and said “Obviously not!” But she was OK in the end and gave us a site for the night and the facilities were very nice.
Fri 27th We woke when we woke. No alarms this time 🙂 and had a wander around the campsite and the river which flowed down one side of the park. The grass was sodden and full of puddles from all the recent rains but we were not bothered in the least. When we were ready we set off once more to see what there was to see. We drove straight through Belmont without stopping but then got to Charlestown. We were still in need of groceries, and diesel too by now and suddenly when we got to Charlestown the words Charlestown Square popped into my head. Big shopping centre. Eyes light up and I ask David if we can stop. Well parking the van is another story because most undercroft parking is 2.1 metres clearance and our van was 2.9 so we circled the shopping centre twice and had to settle on parking in the bowling club across the road, hoping they wouldn’t mind. We didn’t have a lot of choice! LOVED Charlestown Square. It was 3 floors I think, and each of those pretty big. We stopped for coffee and cake in a nice café and the cakes were so prettily displayed
on the square white plates that I took a photo. David said he was embarrassed to be with me. Again? We also popped into Coles and got some groceries and were then horrified at the time and made our way back to the van. Got some fuel and set off again.
The terrain was now very much ‘town living’ with each town running into the next to a large degree, but the roads were still hilly compared to what we’re used to. We set out now to cover some distance and drove uneventfully through a stretch with no towns to speak of, to a little place named Karuah, with yet another large river that had a teensy parking lot and a few blades of grass next to it which people seemed to be treating as a picnic spot so we decided we’d have lunch and pulled up too. I made some ham sandwiches and we boiled the kettle and had a cuppa to go with it and we fed the seagulls our remaining slices from the old loaf of bread. We had a
bit of a giggle at this ‘boat’ nearby.
David then came up with the bright idea that I drive for a while. He’d offered once when we were still in mountainous country but it was frightening enough being in the passenger seat there was no way I’d have driven. But now I felt that he more than deserved a break so dutifully climbed into the driving seat. I did a lovely kangaroo impression as we tried to proudly leave the little car park. It’s been a long time since I’ve driven a manual vehicle and this one was tricky – David had stalled it on several occasions. Anyway, I made sure I’d stopped and used the clutch from standing a couple of times before I got onto the highway and then off we went again. I drove for about 100 kms all up and was horrified to be pulled over by a policeman who was parked by the side of the road at one point. My heart was pounding like crazy and because the indicator was on the left of the steering wheel (being a German vehicle) I put the windscreen wipers on instead of the indicator to start with as I tried to pull over. I’ve never been pulled over before in all these years of driving. But all he wanted was a random breath test and the big blow helped a bit to still my nerves. I felt like a complete wreck as I started off again when he’d done with me but it soon passed.
Now, a small observation while it crosses my brain. We could not believe the number of signs all along the highways. Just about constant reminders of speed limits and signs that say things like ‘what speed are YOU doing now?’ and letting you know that ‘speed cameras are used in NSW’ and on and on. We’ve never seen such frequently signposted roads and were amazed by it.
I finished my drive with crossing a narrowish bridge. Help! I just concentrated on staying marginally inside my side of the white line, knowing that I wouldn’t be hitting the side of the bridge doing that – after all, trucks use the road. Then a big truck came the other way and he needed to be well on the white line so I had to move to the left a bit. Eyes shut and David’s saying “You’re fine!”. Hehehe. We got to Taree on the other side of the bridge and I was happy to feel that I’d done my share of the driving for this trip. I gratefully parked it and rubbed my poor aching leg from where my foot didn’t reach the floor and I’d been holding it in the air the whole journey. We had a little walk around Taree and in their poor little old shopping centre. It was a sweet small town and I’m glad to have seen it, but not my cup of tea.
From here we got our heads down again to get some more distance because we had an appointment to meet with Pat, my long-time email friend tomorrow for lunch. And this time we did not want to be running so late. We achieved about another 100 kms to Port Macquarie. Yes, yes, we got lost and had to do several u-turns in Port. I had a teensy snippet of a map as to where the caravan park was that we were heading for here, but the map did not extend beyond about 2kms from the park itself and none of the roads on it shared the name of the road we were on from the highway so it’s no wonder. But we got there in the end and booked in and were right next to a groyne made up of large rocks and each one had been painted by various visitors over the years. All perfectly legal apparently, and far better than leaving them to be graffitied in bad taste. There were some beautiful ones and some sad ones, and notes from people all over the world who had been and left their mark.
I should say that we’d been sleeping way better in the van than we had in the poor little hotel in Sydney. It was just a foam mattress set up on boards, as campervans are always done, but it was much more comfy.
Our evening in Port Macquarie was something we’ll never forget. Oh dear. I do not want to write this part. There we were, sitting in a perfectly good campervan in a perfectly good caravan site, comfortable and safe and at peace, when some bright spark suggests that we go for a walk. I think that bright spark was me, but let’s not be too sure about these potentially painful accusations.
We got out of the van and stood for a moment admiring the stars and I showed off my amazing skills by pointing out the Southern Cross constellation to David and telling him which way was north from looking at it. It was about 8pm and we groped our way in the dark to the beach and walked along the sand for a little while until we came to a car park and then went up the steps to the road. The guy that had checked us into the park had told us that the town centre was ‘right there!’ (waving his arm slightly to the right of where we now stood) so we walked straight up from the beach and down the street that was in front of us. No sign of anything remotely like a corner deli, never mind a town centre. ‘Hmmm,’ we thought, ‘rather backwards here!’ We passed a lawn bowls club with a burly security guard standing at the gate though, so we knew that the oldies were something to be feared.
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Now on our right was a very tall holiday apartment block that was still in the throes of being built, and near to that was an even taller structure with a metal aerial with some large drum-looking things on it. A telecommunications tower I believe. You will see why I’m telling you this in a while.
At the next intersection we decided that the town centre would perhaps be slightly to the right, after all that was the direction the guy had waved so we turned right. This was a long, straight, and very uneventful road with just housing on it and we walked quite a distance down it still in hope of finding something of interest. But no, we could see the end of it now and it just veered sharply to the right so we decided we’d follow it back to the campsite and maybe see the town in the morning seeing as we’d had our little walk. Almost at the end of the street was a road to our right named the same as the one our caravan park was on but we decided to continue to the bend we could see anyway just to walk a few more steps for the exercise. So around the bend we went and it then kind of turned right again to complete our square. But there was no caravan park, no beach, no tall building and no telecom tower. Oh!!! So we kept walking thinking that it would have to turn up sooner or later, and/or we would get back to where we’d come up the steps from the beach.
There was an Irish Pub on our right and a few other places each side of the street. Not town centre stuff, but civilisation anyway. Then other shops and restaurants and a petrol station, most of which were shut. Then we got to a bridge over a river which was a bit of a mystery because we had not gone over one thus far. Mrs Genius suggested that we look at the river to see which way it was flowing because it would surely be flowing towards the ocean, so we looked and it was flowing to our right. Well we’d walked 4 sides of a square and the ocean should have been on our left so I thought maybe it was a tributary that flowed the ‘wrong way’ til it met the main river. (Genius one minute and fool the next!) We again tried to look around for the tall building, but because it was under construction there was no one home to have lights on and it was not visible at all. Then I looked up to find the Southern Cross but even it had got it in for us and was nowhere to be seen. So we carried on walking still.
When we got to a garage that was open I asked David to go and ask for directions, but you know what men are, he wouldn’t, and we continued walking. Then there was an intersection with a huge world globe in the front of a building on one corner and I got all excited because I’d seen it before, but that just turned into a fit of the giggles because I couldn’t remember if I’d seen it while we were walking; and if so in which direction, or whether I’d seen it when we’d been lost while driving. And if we’d driven past it I couldn’t remember in which direction. The next intersection was more residential looking and we got our hopes up that we’d found where we’d started from, though what it was doing this far up the road I don’t know, so we turned left and walked along but it felt really wrong and we soon turned back. First sensible thing we’d done all night actually!
Discussions of ringing for a taxi ensued but we didn’t know where we were to ask him to get us and rolled around with laughter over that!
We’d pretty well decided that we would have to walk the entire journey in reverse now even if it took all night, but soon we came upon a video rental place and My Hero decided it was time to ask for directions. The boy was very nice as we asked if he could tell us which direction to go to get to Town Beach, but looked horrified when David said we’d gone out for a walk from the caravan park and got lost. He told us that we were completely on the wrong side of town and pointed directly at right angles to the road we’d just been walking along. In other words, the exact direction that the river had been flowing. Oh dear! He began to give instructions on how to walk through town, took a second look at us and then changed it to “Walk all the way to the end of this street and follow it around the bend to the left at the end and keep walking”. Hmmm, why did I just feel that we’d been given the dummies version?
So we dutifully set out, and took a short cut. Hehehe never could do as I was told. But we had our bearings now and did stick to straight lines. And do you know what? We found the town centre and everything!!! Too tired, and by now decidedly cross legged for need of a toilet, to stop and admire it much though, but we were soon safely back at the campervan. Two and a half hours we’d been walking. At least it wasn’t as hilly as many places we visited, and we did sleep well.
A small after-thought. If we had not been so busy being Scouts and looking at which way the river was flowing when we crossed the bridge the first time, we’d have seen a HUGE tourist map on the other side of the road with a complete map of Port Macquarie’s roads and landmarks. We saw it on the way back after the directions from the video store guy because we were on that side of the street the second time. Why am I not surprised?
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Sat 28th and we awoke, had our toast for breakfast and another little walk around the groyne with the painted rocks and the edge of the beach. Now I mean little walk; we didn’t want to never be heard of again, you understand. Hehehe. Today we were to drive to Scotts Head, not very far up the road and meet with Pat and her husband Barry. I was so excited about finally meeting the woman of the myriad emails and the owner of the voice that would drive men mad (husky and sexy) that I had spoken with on the phone a few times.
We drove for about 50 kms up the Pacific Highway, only going through a couple of very small places and felt to be now very much into rural NSW. When we were almost at Kempsey there was a tourist bay by the side of the road and we turned in to ‘use the facilities’ and see if the office was open, which it was. We enjoyed looking around their shop and picked up another couple of maps, but they were no better than the one we had – larger scale but identical in that they only had the major roads on them. We’d been told by Pat and Pam that Kempsey wasn’t worth looking at, even though the shop was showing off that it was the birth place of Slim Dusty, Country Music Singer, so we continued on our way up the highway.
A little further north was a place named Clybucca which I’ve been asked for at work, so we thought we’d stop there for morning tea to break our journey and see what it had to offer. Well it seemed an awful long way, and when the road signs started counting off the distance to Macksville we realised that Clybucca must have been that BP garage with 3 houses around it that we’d noticed some time ago. I don’t even think the speed limit dropped in honour of the place, let alone a sign (in the state that loves signs) to say we were there. So whilst we did see Clybucca, we didn’t know we were looking at it at the time.
We were now looking out for our turning to Stuarts Point. It was a small road off the right of the highway which led to the 3 places, Stuarts Point, Grassy Head and Scotts Head before leading back to the highway again. If you will forgive an afterthought from way back, the countryside here was much like the Bathurst area of the Blue Mountains, green like we’ve never seen in WA with thick undergrowth of ferns and green climbing leafy things growing up tree trunks as well as the dense population of trees. Even down south of WA it is pretty green, and the trees are thicker and perhaps taller than these NSW ones, but nothing much in the lines of undergrowth – you could always walk easily around bushes and make your way through it on foot; here you’d need your best wellies and a scythe at the least. It was really beautiful country and as for the whole journey to date I didn’t want to take my eyes off the road for fear of missing the view. I was still giving my mobile more attention than it’s ever had though, watching the town names change as we travelled and getting excited as each new name that I recognised popped up. During some of the hills and dales on this stretch of back-road my reception cut out all together. It’s a small, rural place where retirees and holiday-makers make up most of the population so there’s no reason for there to be city quality coverage.
We came to a choice of turning left or going straight ahead where there were some houses, which we presumed to be Stuarts Point and decided on straight ahead to have our morning tea and a little look while we were here. It was a sweet little place with the most beautiful
view. We weren’t sure if we were looking at a river, or an inlet of the ocean, because we knew all three places were on the coast but the water strip was narrow with a green hill the other side. It was so picturesque and the water was so clear that we just stood there for a while taking it in. There was a caravan park there, a real estate agency, butcher, bottle shop (got to have alcohol!), garage (for want of a label for the 2 petrol pumps on the side of the road, and a deli/café/general store. We went into the café and David asked if they did ‘real coffee’ or just instant. I wanted to be swallowed up – how rude! But he was right, they did not do real coffee. We decided on a cold drink from the fridge and a chocy bar each. Why oh why did I pick up the only peppermint aero they had? Once we’d paid and sat down and I turned it over to open it I could see that the wrapper had been ‘oily’, though it was dry now. Sure enough the chocolate was really badly heat affected – all white dots. Sometimes it doesn’t affect the taste but this one sure did, it was horrible. Half of the chocolate experience is the smoothness isn’t it girls? This was just ‘bobbly’ tasting. Yuk. I only ate half of it. I suppose I should have taken it in and asked for something different but you just don’t. Never mind.
We then set out once more to get set up in our caravan park so that we could ring Pat to meet us by noon for our lunch. She had asked that we ring her from the top of the hill (hmmm – plenty of those around anywhere in NSW) and she would meet us at the caravan park. We drove quite a way down the road that we’d had a choice of before seeing Stuarts Point. More beautiful, hilly, woody scenery all along the narrow road and quite a few bends in the road, then a T-junction and it was left back to the highway or right to Scotts. Not far down here we climbed a steep hill and we could see where an amount of land had been cleared on our left for housing plus a few houses beyond that. I realised that this was probably the hill Pat had meant to ring her from as it was way different (massive) than any of the other little things. Well as we got to the brow of the hill and peeped over, the most incredible sight was spread out below us. There was Scotts Head, with all its houses on lots of other hillsides, and the ocean and bays with green hills and sandy beaches spread out in front of us, better than any picture postcard. I’m a mass of goosebumps as I recall the incredible beauty that had so suddenly appeared. Just awesome – words can not describe. We had both stopped in our tracks and David slowed the van to a crawl as there was no other traffic. As we got over the hill he pulled to the side of the road and I rang Pat to tell her where we were and she said she’d come and meet us at the park, so we found it easily (yes we did, aren’t we clever?) and booked in and parked the beast.
I was hopping from one foot to the other as David was trying to be domesticated and plug in the site electric to the van and all sorts of stuff that could wait. All I wanted to do was get to the gate to meet Pat!!! He eventually took the hint and grabbed the camera and locked up and off we went. Now Pat is not a one to have sent me millions of photos so that I would recognise her, so I was a little hesitant, hoping that I would know her when I saw her, but there were no problems. She was just coming out of the little office after asking which bay we were parked in, so it was hugs and mega excitement all around while
David was videoing it all, and then Pat told him what to do with his camera so that he could get a hug too. Talking nineteen to the dozen doesn’t come close to us two and David was hard pushed to get any words in edgeways for a change. Pat drove us all around Scotts Head, up all the hills to see the amazing views, down to the little river, and to show us where her friends lived before we popped back to her house to pick up Barry who had not been quite ready when we rang.
We were introduced to Barry and he drove now as we set off for our lunch, which was a mystery tour for David and I. It was wonderful sitting in the back being entertained and talking, talking, talking as we watched the scenery go past. We went by the ‘new to us’ road to the highway and headed north, so all new territory for us to look at. We didn’t feel that we were heading north because unknown to us we had gone under the highway on the little country road and approached it from the west so when we turned left onto it we both thought we were heading south. We knew we weren’t because the signs were counting down to Macksville, so yet again it was completely disorienting. I had no difficulty at all with having the ocean on our right to head north, which is apparently the problem most Aussies have when they change coasts, but the east/west thing was a problem. Every time someone said ‘inland’, well to me that’s east, and there was no shifting that in my head! Weird isn’t it?
As we drove along, Barry was telling us about the speed cameras on the highways and that there were a lot of them and we swore that we hadn’t seen any. “Oh I bet you have!” he said “I’ll show you when we get to the next one.” Here came one of the huge and familiar signs on the side of the road that said ‘Speed cameras are used in NSW’. Yeah, big deal, they are used in WA too. But what we didn’t realise was that this one, unlike our signs, actually meant it. A little further was another sign with similar wording, then on the other side of the road the back of the sign for oncoming traffic and there, next to it WAS a camera. We had not had the faintest clue that the cameras over there are fixed in place. In WA they are set up for a short length of time while the chap sits in his van reading a book and then he moves it somewhere else, yet the (very few) signs are there all the time and never mean that there’s really a camera nearby. How amazing. We’d potentially been zapped countless times as we travelled. What a sobering thought! In the distance that I’d done I know that the van got to about 5 k’s over the limit a couple of times as I was going down a hill. You live and learn don’t you?
Soon enough we got to Macksville. In my job I’d been asked for this place regularly, and in the early days had terrible trouble finding it because it sounds so much like it ought to be spelled Maxville!!! But I now knew the place well and it was wonderful to be seeing it for real. The people that ring and ask for it are usually older sounding gentlemen asking for fishing tackle shops or ladies asking for ‘frock shops’ (a term that always makes me smile because it’s so old fashioned and cute), so I wasn’t looking around me for the punk clothing stores and body piercing studios! It was a very pretty town – nothing to Scotts, but it had its own country charm and I liked it. We stopped at the RSL Club (never been in one of those before) and had a leisurely drink and, you guessed it, talked lots. Hehehe. We sat near the window on what had been ground level on the hill outside where we’d parked but here was about 3rd floor height. Well what an incredible view! We were looking over a large expanse of river with little green islands in the middle and all the waterbirds doing their peaceful, timeless thing. It was so relaxing. An absolute world class view. To say nothing of the company of friends, old (long-standing might be better?) and new.
Then Barry said that we should be moving on to where they’d planned for lunch as they stop serving at 2pm. Just as well he knew that, so we hopped back in the car, which was quite hot despite the reflective shield they’d put over the windscreen and drove a short but very pretty and very hilly, winding journey to Nambucca Heads. I can’t remember the name of the place we lunched at I’m afraid but we sat again near a window and were overlooking the estuary of yet another wide river. NSW is absolutely riddled with wide rivers! It was a really nice ‘open’ view, though we were too busy talking and eating to put it to its full use. We all chose the fish and chips, and glad we did it was delicious, and had a little drinky poo. What do the rich and famous have that we did not share on that day? Absolutely nothing!
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