Monday, 25 July 2016

Saving the Best for Last - Adventures in New South Wales.

NSW Route
An entirely new meaning to
There is no denying I fell in love with Australia, from the moment we landed in Mount Barker until our last evening in Sydney.  Everywhere we went, from South Australia, down the Great Ocean Road to Melbourne, from one end of Tasmania to the other, we continued to find ourselves surrounded by breathtaking scenery and wonderfully warm people who had no trouble at all bandying about a love for all things creative, swaddled in off-the-wall humour.  It was like coming home! Every day, we would wake up convinced we weren't going to see anything more spectacular . . . and yet we did. So it was only fitting that NSW was the crowning glory.  We were unprepared for the combination of jewel-tone seas edged in asubtropical rainforest which hosts a multi-layered canopy of up to 60 species of trees and shrubs.

If this description appeals to you, Tamborine Mountain National Park (just north of NSW, in Queensland) will easily entice you out of your car and into a world of eucalyptus and cycad trees stretched along an abundance of easy walks and magnificent views.  Don't miss the Mount Tamborine Skywalk where, if you are lucky, you might even find yourself face to face with the elusive platypus.

Cape Byron Lighthouse
The acclaimed Byron Bay, a beachside town located in the north eastern corner of the state, is often referred to as a paradise with the power to cast a spell over everyone who goes there.  Architects, designers, craftworkers and software engineers have set up shop in this elite coastal village, earning  Byron a reputation as the 'style capital' of the North Coast.  I confess, we didn't spend enough time in Byron to know whether this was true but we did stop long enough to take a stroll around Cape Byron Lighthouse.  Definitely worth the time, be forewarned, it is a tourism mecca; go early in the morning to beat the crowds, or be prepared to walk quite a distance from parking and share the view with thousands.  

It wasn't remotely possible for me to visit NSW without checking out some of my ancestral homes which explains how we got to Maclean.  Dubbed 'the Scottish Town in Australia', here you will discover a nod to its history in the Gaelic found on many of the Town's street signs and tartan-clad streetlamp posts.  While this is  delightful, we were charmed the most by the small town warmth of its residents.  As we had made a rule about driving at night, and our accommodations was outside of the town proper, we were unsure how we would find our evening meal.  Have no fear:  one call to the local Returned and Enlisted Services League (RSL) and a van arrived, not only to deliver us to the club but also to take us home whenever it pleased us.  When we offered to pay for our fare, we were first met with surprise, after which we were solemnly advised that this town not only takes care of its own, but of its visitors as well.   Yet again, we found our offer of monetary compensation rejected. 

Clarence River
In the morning, we chose to cross the mighty Clarence by ferry so that we could enjoy a scenic drive through the countryside.  The largest river in NSW, aside from the Murray, it is the largest river in mainland Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn.  Extreme rainfalls in this area often result in major floods, temporarily raising the flow of the Clarence to levels equivalent to some of the largest rivers in the world.  The Clarence supports a large prawn trawling and fishing industry and the area is well known for its cattle and sugar cane production.  It was here that my great grandmother, Catherine Davis Marles was raised; indeed not only were we able to find her parents and grandparents in the Methodist section of the Maclean Cemetery, it is the location of a large extended family reunion which I'm told draws upwards of 1,000 people.  

Fruit Bats
And Davis' aren't the only ones congregating in the area.  A colony of unwanted fruit bats, also referred to as flying foxes, have set up house in the vicinity of the school, next to the cemetery.  as stated in the Daily Examiner "they party all night, leave a huge mess and destroy where they live--anyone who lives near Maclean's flying fox population knows they are the neighbours from hell".  

Our next stop was Coff's Harbour. While one might consider us to be a wee bit biased (my great grandparents were community founders; you can learn more about it here I have to say, we were duly impressed.  In fact, we are still wondering whatever possessed my great grandparents to pull up stakes and move to the Canadian prairies.  As, that's a question we will never have an answer to, let's get back on track.  Coff's is unique in the fact that nowhere else in Australia doe the sub-alpine, sub-tropical and sub-marine ecosystems co-exist in one place.    Nearby Dorrigo National Park is World Heritage listed and Coff's stunning beaches introduce one to myriad marine opportunities.  Originally inhabited by the Gumbaynggirr Aboriginals, the area's fertile soils, temperate climate, many rivers and rich marine life provides a wealth of resources including timber, gold and tin mining, ship building, banana plantations and dairy farms.  

Postcard of Wonderful Beaches in the Vicinity of Coff's Harbour

We stayed at the Observatory Apartment Hotel and, while once again, one might consider us influenced by the fact that this establishment is owned, in part, by distance relatives some four generations removed, I would ask  that you check out the website, look at the photos and be assured that what you see is exactly what you get.  What makes this Observatory so wonderful is not only the spectacular views of the jetty, marina and foreshore; it is ideally located within easy walking distance of a number of restaurants and shops.  If we still haven't won you over, just wait until you meet managers Daniel and Emily; not only are they warm and inviting, they are only too willing to pass along a few tips of what one should see, not only in Coff's but in the general region. There is a reason why the Observatory is rated #1 hotel in Coff's by Trivago and Admittedly, I had a little difficulty finding it on TripAdvisor so I've included the link to their website below but, if you're looking, check under 'Coffs Harbour Specialty Lodging'.  And don't take our word for it; check it out for yourself, the sooner the better!
Bacon & Poached Eggs
Did I happen to mention that we like to dawdle? Sad as it sounds, we spent our next night a paltry 40 minutes inland from Coff's.  If it gives you any consolation, we took the scenic route north to Woolgoolga, then headed west, through Coramba and Nana Glen.  Ideally, we should have swung through Glen Innis and Armadale and Waterfall Way but, alas, we opted to spend time in Bellingen, a quaint little community of about 3,000 residents at the midway point between Brisbane and Sydney. Here, there are lots of interesting shops to poke through, with our favourite being the Old Butter Factory.

Funny story. . . by this time we are on the last leg of our one month tour of Australia and still we had not discovered how to order breakfast. By now we were well versed in ordering Long Black and Flat White coffees, undoubtedly some of the best coffee we have had in our travels.  We are still trying to comprehend just how big a pig grows in Australia; from the size of the bacon strips, they have to be whoppers but you know what they say: everything is bigger in Australia.  It was the eggs that were throwing us off.  Our requests for 'over easy' or 'sunny side up' were not exactly ignored but, when our breakfast arrived, it would not be what one might have expected.  It was here, in Bellingen, a mere few days before leaving the continent for home, that we discovered that eggs come in 'soft', 'medium' or 'hard'. . . and they are ALL poached!  I admit, we had quite a chuckle over the perfectly poached eggs we received that morning for breakfast as they were faintly reminiscent of a part of the male anatomy that men are extremely protective of. . . if get my drift.

Itsy Bitsy Spider Went Up the Water Spout

See how high that door knob is!
Our next stop was at the entrance to Lake Macquarie. The area is known for its coal mining, fishing, boating and tourism, not to mention its fine sandy beaches. I'm not exactly sure what was going on there but we were happy to find accommodation of any sort that night, and found ourselves in a small roadside motel where, once again, the management was very friendly and helpful.  It was here that we saw our biggest spider and, for all the hype about the many critters that can kill you and the size of the bugs, it was more than a bit anticlimactic.   In fact, he was so docile, I was sure he was dead but the manager assured me he was simply lying in wait for his next victim.  What I think impressed us more was the height of the door knobs.  This was not the first time we found door knobs (interior and exterior) extraordinarily high, particularly in older buildings.  We have not yet fathomed exactly why this is. High exterior doorknobs might prevent young children from inadvertently leaving the room and, since it was only steps from the water, perhaps it's a safety feature.  But why would there be the same desire to keep them out of the bathroom?  Such a quandary we never figured it out.  In the event you have the answer, please share!
Swansea War Memorial

A word about Australia's various clubs. It would seem that most clubs are open to the general public for a meal. In Lorne, it was suggested that there was an excellent chef at the local lawn bowling club. We weren't disappointed. In Maclean, it was a van from the local RSL  that delivered us to the door of its restaurant.  I would suggest they are similar to Canadian Legions but significantly more popular.  The two we were in were very large and appeared to cover everything including fine dining, family dining, pub style and gambling. Both had a considerable area for display of its local war history and respect for its veterans; in fact, at the 2nd one, at 6pm sharp, we were asked to stand for a minute of silence.  The daughter of a veteran myself, it warmed my heart.

Blue Mountains
The next stop was the Great Western Road, on our way to Katoomba, in the midst (or should i say mist) of the Blue Mountains.  Sadly, it wasn't a particularly nice day. The Blue Mountains are a spur off the Great Dividing Range, so named due to the blue haze that hovers above them.  It is commonly believed that the haze is created by the atmosphere dispersing droplets of Eucalypt oil from the four species of Eucalyptus represented.  The oil combines with dust particles and water vapour. Mount Boyce, a few kilometers north of Blackheath, and standing 1,093m (3,586') high, is one of the highest peaks.  The entire area is a labyrinth of hiking trails but not all of the area's hikers are fully prepared.  Not only do they get lost by walking off the beaten track; the importance of good boots and a jacket cannot be over stressed as the weather can change extremely fast.  

City viewshed from under the bridge
Back down we went, to our final stop, in Sydney. Here we met with a distance cousin who proved extremely helpful in providing suggestions for our trip.  A New South Wales native, no one will find a better champion of her community, particularly when it comes to Sydney.  Anne is passionate about her love of all things Sydney including her favourite 'footy' team, the Sydney Swans. Admittedly, we are not 'City' people; rather, we are happy to plod along the country trails enjoying the scenery and wildlife and relish the small communities. Anne couldn't quite believe we were going to be in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and not stop and see any of it. She was having none of it; instead, she popped us in the car and we set out on her 15 minute tour.  Honestly, I can't imagine a better guide.  We visited the Sydney Harbour, where we not only saw spectacular views including the bridge and opera house, we received a run-down on every kind of boat to be seen from private luxury yachts to the various ferries and charters.  Of one thing we have no doubt:  not only is Anne fiercely loyal to her City, she is very well versed in it and we loved it!

And just in case we weren't completely bedazzled by her City (we were), as the final piece de resistance, she invited us to tag along on a family birthday dinner. While we gorged on wine and pizza (one of the best meals we had on our month-long vacation) we stoically accepted the jibes given all in fun and hopefully gave a few back of our own.  Sadly, we were at a disadvantage, not being fully conversant in Australian slang. . . but one thing we do know. . . if you are ever called a bogan, it's likely not a compliment!

Opera House 
And there ended our journey,  the next morning, bright and early, we squeezed into the economy class of Air New Zealand (which is really not as bad as people make it out to be.  Admittedly, the trip to Australia seemed easier than coming home.  It could have been due to the excitement of seeing my niece or an entirely new continent even though it was 27 hours door-to-door.  My personal philosophy is that the flight to Australia from North America works with our circadian rhythms while the return works in opposition.  It's a little easier to convince the body to sleep when you get on a plane late afternoon, you are fed dinner, watch a couple of movies and then the lights turn down low.  It's a completely different matter when you pop onto the return flight at 8 am, are fed dinner, watch a couple of movies and then the windows are shuttered and the lights turned low.  All I can tell you is to dress in comfortable clothes (preferably layers); take your shoes off, keep hydrated and do the best you can. For me, it's the air conditioning that gets to me; I have long pants which can be rolled up, sweaters that can be removed and socks.  When you can't settle down don't sit there; get up, walk around, stretch a few times. . . everybody does it.  While the jet lag isn't excruciating by any means, we estimated a full week before our bodies were 'back to normal' and we had our poop back in a group. . . literally. And maybe age affects us:  my nephew and his wife clearly told me it took them a week of sleeping to adjust.  When I heard they were expecting their 2nd child, I did the math and I'm pretty sure they weren't sleeping that week. . . just saying. . . .

So, now we know why everybody rants and raves about Australia.  I would certainly go back but next time, I would do it quite differently.  Rather than hopping all over the place, I think I would plant myself in a nice room somewhere that could be used as a base, and make trips from there. Airfare is inexpensive and the continent is very well connected.   And I think I would rather go for two months. . . at least.  Until next time. . .