Before you say it, yes, I didn’t blog about day six. That’s because most of the day was spend driving from Sydney to Port Macquarie. Because you’re all terribly interested, we stopped off to see my brother in law and his family for the night in Wauchope, a quaint little town inland a bit from Port.
The morning of day six was spent watching my nephew play soccer, so I found an excuse to pop into town to fetch some supplies for the drive back to Brisbane. I like Wauchope, it’s old rail yards and country feeling. Check out a few snaps.Day six, while spent mostly driving back to Brisbane, was a day of quiet contemplation, and if there’s two things I like, it’s quietness, and contemplation.
Over the last week, we’d cruised the nighttime peace of the Lockyer Valley. I’d taken on the foggy lofts of the Toowoomba Range, and the loneliness of the Gore Highway before dawn. We galloped across the western corridor of New South Wales, and I suspect if we’d come a day earlier, it would have been a picture of dry farmlands, aching for the rain that accompanied us on our drive. We voyaged past towns of yore, sleepy villages and tired rural centers. Gently undulating mountains and now-green farmland greeted us for many hundreds of kilometers, then offset to the murderous roads of Sydney.
We’d basked in the joy of Sydney Harbour and enjoyed what people travel all over the world to experience. That crystal harbour, the vibrant city, the Opera House and the Bridge, all stunning snapshots of that magnificent city.
But now, as we pull out of ‘the doughnut’ at Port Macquarie, I look forward to the next six or so hundred kilometers to beautiful Brisbane.
You need to understand that pretty much from Coffs through to the Ballina is God’s country, and I don’t say that lightly. In the afternoon sun, this country is about as close to the heavens as one can get.
On the west, as the sun drizzles over the mountain you’ll see see cane farm nestled in the cradle of valleys. Rivers take the path of least resistance towards the sea, carving a curvy glass mirror through the lows of the countryside. Oyster leases peak out of the water and old couples, sipping coffee out of metallic cups look into it. Fortified bridges, like church spires guide the way from south to north, forcing even the most seasoned traveler to cover the break and marvel at the still rivers underneath. I’m reminded of my time doing disaster relief after ex-tropical cyclone Oswald, in a small farming valley of the Lockyer. Old farmers talked with reverence of the waters, which provided life, death, inspiration and fear, and a local to these parts knew only too well how these currently dulcet rivers turned to fists of rage during a ‘big wet’.
To the east, much of the same. Quiet towns, abandoned churches, picket fences and farmhouses held up by ivy. The sun casts long shadows and the cane seems to arch west, aching for the last warms of the winter sun as it ducks behind the western horizon.
We inch north and run parallel to the coast. From Nambucca, we see glimpses of the Pacific, and it continues to reveal itself little by little as we head up the coast. This freeway is built for speed, the country was formed for taking it easy, and part of me thinks it’s a shame that we see this part of the earth as an inconvenience to race past. , rather than enjoy its intricate beauty. Once we hit the Byron hinterland, it’s just over an hour to home, and just over an hour until life kicks back in to its usual gears.
I continue at 110, wishing I could spend a week exploring these Northern Rivers, but aching for my own shower, my own toilet and my own bed.
It’s been a fantastic week on many levels. I’ve learned a lot about myself, my family, this country. Like any travel, it opens doors, gives you this wunderlust, makes you want to leave, and makes you want to come home again.
Day Five :: Sydney
If you’ve been to Sydney, you’ll know how much of an amazingly beautiful city it is. The sparkling harbour, the Bridge, Opera House, Luna Park, the skyline – it truly is an amazing city. Truly, truly amazing.
After battling Pennant Hills Road, we made it to a train station for a not-too-long trip into the city. Emerging from a rail tunnel just before the bridge, we are seemingly catapulted from the north, over the bridge, into the heart of the city.
It’s as you expect. Loud, busy, unrelenting, amazing. We pass Martin Place and are soberly reminded of the horrible events just a few years ago. We pass old and new, all the way down to stunning Cockle Bay and Darling Harbour. Our first tourist trap is the National Maritime Museum, and it doesn’t disappoint. We tour the Advance, the Vampire, the submarine Onslow and a replica of the Endeavour, which, much to my children’s annoyance, wasn’t actually a pirate ship.
Lunch was spent overlooking the water in the harbour, where a nice Indian man struck up conversation with me:
“That’s your son?” he asked with his sub-continental accent
“Yes, that’s right, and that’s my daughter”
“You can tell. He looks like you. Big ears”…
After the Maritime Museum, we took the ferry over to Circular Quay. There’s something special about Sydney Ferries. A romance about those patented light yellow and green vessels, and Sydney Harbour didn’t disappoint. If you’ve ever been on a Sydney Ferry, you’ll know the feeling. That gentle bob up and down, the glisten of the light on the water, the soft growl of the diesel engines chugging through the harbour.
We round the finger wharfs and margined Observatory Hill. Luna Park smiled to our left as we chugged under that magnificent bridge. I reminded my children that Fort Dennison is where they sent the children who didn’t eat their vegetables. Before long, the classic sail-shaped roof of the Opera House comes into view and Circular Quay opens up like the pearl of an oyster.
Circular Quay is teeming. Ita Buttrose is filming an advertisement for something while disinterested tourists swarm around with selfie sticks and matching backpacks. Asian men dressed in beige pants with long-sleeved polo shirts tucked in walk slowly while their wives chatter and point, all donned in matching tracksuits and hats with the see-thru visor. Impossibly good looking 20-somethings swan up the steps of the Opera House, every photo they take is worthy of a travel brochure. Overweight security guards lean listlessly against concrete barriers, and I wonder how much of a deterrent they would be against someone hellbent on terrorising this beautiful corner of the world.
From the stairs of the Opera House, it’s hard not to fall in love with this city. The city, Lady Macquarie’s Chair, Fort Dennison, the Quay all laid out, glistening, happy, Sydney.
Our next stop is what I call Centerpoint Tower, but I think it’s changed names a few times since the 80’s. I can’t believe I’m paying money to catch a trip up an elevator, but honestly, it’s worth it. Sydney, sunshine, 360 degree views. The mighty Pacific to the east and those Blue Mountains to the west. Laid out before me, this city. The bright red Coke sign at the Cross, the stoic conservatorium, the harbour, Hyde Park and the silent memorial. It’s all there, aching to be explored.
We had a wonderful evening with various family and went to bed way to late, having enjoyed every second of this long, but amazing day.
‘Thank goodness for those Aldi jackets’ I mused, wishing I perhaps bought one. Warm and waterproof were two things I wanted to be. I consulted with my travelling companions on the plan for the day – the zoo, and contingency plans as the outlook predicted rain. You see, we had plans to leave Dubbo this afternoon for a farmstay in nearby Mudgee.
Now, I don’t know about you, but two days stuck inside a farm while it’s raining outside might sound ideal. Actually, if I didn’t have the children, and I had a 4WD and a suitable cache of liquor and books, it would be very, very pleasant indeed. In this instance, however, I had kids, a Camry, an empty carton and no books. You could imagine my trepidation about the farmstay.
“Hello?” I answered cautiously
“Gwen here, from McDonalds Farmstay. Listen, it’s raining here, and there’s not much to do”
“I suppose it would be selfish for me to pray for sunshine?” I quipped
“I suppose it would be selfish for me to slash your tires if God came through with sunshine?” Gwen fired back
I suspected she was serious, and after an awkward pause, I thanked the Lord for rain, and thanked Gwen for calling, and made arrangements to visit later in the year when there may not be as much rain.
The morning was sorted – but what would we do on our spare Thursday and Friday ? We were due in Port Macquarie on Friday afternoon to meet up with family, and the originally we would go there straight after the farmstay. I put ‘the word’ out to friends and family in Sydney, and within minutes my very kind uncle and aunty offered us, humble Queensland travellers, to stay at their place for the next two nights. It was especially kind, considering it was State of Origin night, but more about that later.
Day two at the Dubbo Zoo was much better than day one, for the simple reason is we ditched those horrible bikes and elected to drive around the zoo. We saw all the animals in half the time PLUS I avoided a coronary! You could say we all won. Once again, the zoo was fantastic. The pictures were the same as yesterday, so I won’t double them up.
After lunch (and I must say, four days on the road and I’m really over bought food), it was time to hit the road to Sydney!
Unlike days previous, we travelled in relative sunshine, through rolling hills, quaint towns and past miles of farms. Quite lovely. Dinner for the kids was (three guesses) Maccas at Lithgow, the western gateway to the Blue Mountains. Lithgow didn’t get the memo that sunshine meant a bit of warmth, and we froze through 5oC. It was cold. Really cold. From there, we were ready to hit the Blue Mountains. I was prepping myself for a drive not too dissimilar to the slow, yet short drive up the range to Toowoomba, then down into Sydney. It was only about 150kms to my uncle and aunts, and I was thinking ‘1 1/2 hours, no sweat’. So, after driving around the 110km/h mark for a week, anything under 80km/h was slow. Tediously slow. Then, I got to Pennant Hills Road. Why there are not more homicides in the Hills district is anyones guess. I thought Brisbane’s one way streets were annoying, but driving through the Hills is pure murder. After some questionable u-turns, creative double line crossings and hard breaking, we managed to arrive at Thompson’s corner for some Thai and to find a suitable bottle-o that would cure my longing for a Queensland brew. From there, it was literally only another 3 illegal u-turns, interesting right turns and four polite toots of the horn that we arrived, safe and sound at my uncle and aunts.
As fate would have it, we arrived and unpacked just before the kick-off for State of Origin. He didn’t say it, but I know my uncle was ever so pleased I brought a sixer of XXXX Gold (and I know what you’re thinking, but the bottle-o didn’t sell XXXX Bitter). In fact, he was so pleased, after one beer he offered to keep the rest for safe-keeping, and got something that was a little more chilled (the Goldies had warmed slightly in the traverse from Thompson’s Corner to their place). I told him he’s welcome to keep them, and enjoy them later.Well, Maroon jersey donned, I was very gracious in victory.
We wake, and blinds are open with trepidation… NOT RAINING! Notice, though, not raining doesn’t mean sunny, or warm, but quite simply, not raining. Like the previous morning, the coffee is brewed and bags are packed. We’ve identified a few Queenslanders on this holiday, and they all stick out like sore thumbs. You see, it’s the eve of game two of State of Origin. Despite having Queensland numberplates, you’ll find the usual display of maroon is sadly lacking, being in the heart of Blues territory. Our neighbors in the hotel had Queensland plates, and I yelled out to them across the carpark that Queenslanders weren’t welcome here. Thankfully, they were city folk and sober, so we were relatively safe. Numberplates aside, the Queenslanders all were matching here in Dubbo. Aldi, you see, had a sale a month ago on ski gear. Queenslanders have scant use for anything warmer than a flanno ($7 from Big W), so for many, it’s a novelty wearing ‘winter clothing’.
Whilst Queenslanders enjoyed the idea of wearing ‘winter clothing’, the reality of sub 20oC doesn’t actually match the reality or excitement of such temperatures. Thankfully, the wives, girlfriends or mothers had been to Aldi for the sales and purchased inexpensive ski jackets for their Dubbo trip. As expected, the men shunned the Aldi sales and promised ‘they’d be right’ with the cold (Hint: they weren’t, and the Queensland fellas froze).
Interestingly, you can tell the Victorians, as they are in shorts and t-shirts. The Brits are another story all together, and don’t get me started on them Arabs!
So we arrived at the world famous Western Plains Zoo! Our first mistake (not that we made many) was thinking that hiring bikes would be a good idea. Well, they were a good idea for the kids, but then again, they weren’t peddling. 6 1/2kms isn’t far on the map, but when you’re hauling 20kgs of kid, it gets heavy. Mighty heavy.
We paid $7 to feed giraffes. That was pretty spesh.
Dubbo Zoo was pretty amazing. I’ll let the pictures do the talkin’.
As night fell, we treated ourselves to a nice steak dinner in a building as old as the hills, and prayed our car wouldn’t get ‘boosted’ by the locals as we ate. The car ended up being safe, but the rain started pattering down, slowly at first.
Then, a little faster…
Then, a tad heavier..
We hoped, and prayed yet again that tomorrow wouldn’t be raining for our next day at the zoo. We also were looking ahead to tomorrow afternoon, where we were due to start our farmstay in nearby Mudgee…
We woke to rain. I may have mentioned it was spitting the day before?
The plan, after coffee, was to hit the town of Parkes and a visit to ‘the Dish’, made famous by the movie of the same name for its part in delivering motion pictures of the Apollo 11 mission from the moon to the viewing masses. Incidentally, did you know Armstrong wasn’t the first man on the moon? No, it was Morgan, and if you haven’t yet heard this story, tall yet true, do yourself a favor.
So coffee was brewed and the thermos filled, our Aldi ski jackets to the ready, and hit the road. I only mentioned Neil Armstrong before for one reason. His lunar module landed on a surface not to dissimilar to the road from Dubbo to Parkes. The main difference was Armstrong didn’t need to contend with rain, b-double trucks and piles of dead kangaroos. You could say our trip to Parkes was more Apollo 13 than Apollo 11, but never the less, we got there.
There’s a few very small towns, almost ghost-like on that stretch of road. Abandoned houses, boarded up shops and shadows of former glory still ruminate, but there was an eery forebodence as we passed through those introverted villages on that dark, and stormy day. I tried to capture a photo or two, without much luck.It’s hard to underestimate the commitment the dudes at the CSIRO. They live literally in the sticks, their offices are these ex-mining demountables and they sit around listening to the sound of stars. Do you know what the stars sound like?
Are you sure?
Truly, they listen to these random clicking sounds, and can deduce, well, I’m not too sure what they can deduce. What I do know is they fail to confirm or deny if the moon is made of cheese. They had a list of projects on the go, and it all seemed to be about listening to more clicky sounds.
Never the less, we had a wonderful 15 minutes at the Parkes radio telescope, and after all that excitement we couldn’t wait to get back to Dubbo. Thankfully, we were blessed with more rain on the way back. Back in Dubbo, and famished from driving we stopped into the Church Street Cafe. If you’re in Dubbo, I can’t rate this place highly enough. Great service, fantastic tukka and an all round nice vibe. After a hearty lunch we headed over to the Old Dubbo Gaol. For any Yank readers, gaol is the correct way to write jail. The Old Dubbo Gaol is literally wedged between two buildings – it’s tiny! Like any old-time gaol, it’s not hard to empathise with the hard conditions of the time. The old sandstone seems to echo the cries of old, and the friendly guide was macabre in his explanation that the Old Dubbo Gaol had the most well preserved set of hangman’s nooses in the Southern Hemisphere. Despite the rain, we were having a nice time in Dubbo. It was cold, but great to get away and do new things with the children. The google weather map promised a clearing in the weather for the next two days, which would be great seeing as we had planned on hitting the Western Plains Zoo. On Wednesday night we’d booked ourself into a farmstay just outside of Mudgee, which promised to be great, pending suitable weather.
We settled in for another rainy evening, hoping, looking forward to the next days adventures at the famous Western Plains Zoo!
I was going to say ‘close your eyes and come with me on a journey down the Newell’, but then I realised that if you have your eyes closed, you wouldn’t be able to read. So keep your eyes open, like I did, driving 2600km’s of tough road through some of the most beautiful country in southern Queensland and through New South Wales.
At 2.30am, the world has a certain peace. A stillness. It’s fresh, and it’s freezing, and it’s full of opportunities. It’s an adventure, waiting to be explored. It’s paragraphs, awaiting to be written. It’s pitch black, save for the streetlights amplified on droplets of water teeming down the window of the packed-full Camry.
Once you’ve cleared Ipswich, you’re there. You’re on the open road, and the Lockyer, the mighty fruit-bowl of the South East awaits. You’ve driven down this patch of road heaps of times, through miles of green farmland, dotted by the occaisional fruit market, Rusty’s petrol station and Gatton UQ, where your dog goes to uni. At night though, this stretch is a different creature. There’s no fluro vests of the backpacker fruitpickers, no flashing amber of streetworks, no sign of the floods that swept through a couple of years ago. It’s just dark, and deliciously still.
The Range though, now that. What can I say? It’s treachery during the day. It’s suicide by 3am. Picture it, behind the wheel, twisting around a mountain like spaghetti on a fork, except with the added pleasure of fog so thick you’re forced to crawl along, seeing a staggering three meters in front of you. It’s thick. Oppressively thick, and you wonder if you’ll ever reach the top of this horrible, horrible range.
Once you’ve hit Toowoomba and it’s quaint tree-lined streets, you hang a left onto the Gore Highway, and then for the most of us, it’s uncharted territory. The flat plain of the Lockyer and the steep incline of the Range has given way to more undulating terrain. Rain hits the front windshield with ferocious anger. It’s still pitch black, there’s no sun to light your way, so it’s you and your highbeams vs. the road. The Gore bypasses towns big enough to rate a mention on a map, and fails to slow down for ones that are a mere punctuation on a long winding paragraph. It’s dark. Very dark. The road continues in the same way for another three and a half hours.
The clock approaches seven and the border town of Goondiwindi creeps up, like the morning sun yawning over the eastern horizon, showing in hazy yellow detail the view we’d missed since leaving Toowoomba. Highway lined with scrub, kangaroo caucuses and farmland as far as the eye can see. Like any family road trip, we pull into the Maccas carpark. The rain, thankfully, has let up and we’re greeted by the Australian flag dangling listlessly on a pole at the end of the carpark, as if it too was waiting for its morning coffee.Inside, a cop on a special orders his breakfast before escorting an impossibly large mining truck down the highway. A polite travelling family listens, too politely perhaps, to the local ‘Australia Rise Up’ candidate, who bangs on passionately about reclaiming this country. In the carpark, her dog barks out the window of a beaten up hiace van, stickers patching up rust spots and dings from years of abuse.
We leave Goondi, hitting the Newell, the backbone of western New South Wales, where five hundred kilometers separate us from Dubbo. If google is anything to believe in, we’ll be driving through six hours of sunblessed farmland and picturesque country towns. Naturally, the rain came out in force as soon as we hit 110, just before we get stuck behind the impossibly large mining truck, some 30 clicks outside of Boggabilla. Perched precariously on the back of a large semi-trailer, it would have easily filled up both sides of a metro freeway. Sadly for us, we had a one-lane country highway with no chance of overtaking for at least 50 clicks. After hovering around 110 for the last few hours, 80 was tediously slow. Tediously, tediously slow.
The rear escort eventually waved us through, indicating the chances of being crushed overtaking the mining truck had slightly diminished, so I planted my foot to the floor and the Camry really, really showed her limitations. The tacho red lined, but was not matched with an equal increase in speed, but she eventually squeezed past the truck and its two escorts. Once again, we hit the rainy Newell as it was meant to be hit – at 110.
Hardly a soul was seen either way as we powered to Dubbo. Moree and Narrabri were but an inconvenience, but we learned after the fact we should not have waited until Coonabarabran for a pit stop. The occasional silo or promise of ‘last petrol’ broke up our trip until then, apart from that, nondescript miles of rainy highway greeted us each step of the way.
Gilgandra was the next town we ignored, and I would like to say the rain eased and the countryside was beautiful.
Finally, Dubbo greeted us. For the uninitiated, its got more than Moree, Narrabri, Coonabarabran and Gilgandra. More old buildings. More pubs. More youth unemployment. More rain. Oh, less teeth. Apart from that, more of the other things.Jokes aside, it was nice to be in Dubbo. They’ve managed to preserve a lot of the old buildings – as you can imagine, it’s the usual suspects. Banks, government buildings, churches and suchlike. It’s quaint, and given better weather, I’d expect it would give an avid photographer many minutes of joy walking around snapping the interesting facades.
Our accommodation was as described. Did I mention it was still bucketing down rain? The receptionist at the motel apologised that they were running behind on cleaning, as one of their cleaners had slipped down the wet tiles. “Seemed like she was in a bit of pain” the receptionist commented, as if the cleaners health was a mild annoyance rather than an OH&S insurance claim waiting to happen.
A meander around Dubbo was in order, before we settled in for the evening, sleeping with anticipation of what tomorrow would bring.