Coffs Harbour & Byron Bay – day 295

Since we were able to keep the rental car until 9am this morning, we decided to use and abuse it by driving ourselves to the view point to get some last minute glimpses of humpback whales before we go up the coast to Byron Bay. Parked the car in the car park and headed around the cliff top walk to find a quiet spot to sit down and wait. Didn’t have to wait very long before a mother and calf passed by, quite close to the shoreline, and we even spotted a breaching whale way off in the distance as the sun slowly began to rise, changing the colours of the sea as the waves rippled towards the shore. Had some apples as we watched the whales before getting back in the car and returning it to the Thrifty depo. Apparently, I was the first person in 5 years to park it properly (i.e. not in the way!). Most people just leave it in the middle of the forecourt… Walked back to the hostel, enjoying the warm sun with our iced coffees. Packed up our bags and checked out before having some breakfast. Got a lift to the bus stand from Craig, who gave us loads of tips about what to do, where to go and what to see during our time in Australia. A pretty uneventful 3.5 hour coach journey to Byron Bay where we both had a blog to catch up on and some other bits and pieces to do. I finished my book ‘Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children’. I have to say that, whilst it wasn’t too bad, I’m getting a bit fed up of books that are written which clearly decide half way through to turn the story into a trilogy. Haven’t had any plot resolution from that book and I’m not sure I really want to read the next ones… Oh well. Arrived in Byron Bay and dropped our bags off at the YHA. The lovely Carrie at reception gave us a map and told us what we could do whilst in town. Clearly a ‘sleep all day and party all night’ kinda place, she pointed out all the good pubs that were open until 3am with live music! There really isn’t much else to do here apart from surf, walk and party! Decided to walk along the beach, stopping to enjoy the acoustic guitar set that was happening on the entrance to the beach. The stroll along the beach was beautiful and quiet as we watched surfers, dolphins and more humpback whales bob up and down between the waves. There were even bush turkeys strolling along the beach next to us, clearly looking for any scraps of food that people may have left lying around after their picnics. IMG_1918Jayne was braver than me as she wadded through the knee high water to the view point to see if she could get a better view of the whales. I sat on a rock and watched the surfers do incredibly well on what looked like very small waves as the sun set behind the mountains in the distance. IMG_1925IMG_1919IMG_1934On the return journey down the beach, the acoustic guitar players were joined by a couple of guys swinging around flaming batons. This town really reminds me of Montalivet with its, rather expensive, hippie dippy vibe. Headed back to the hostel via Aldi and the bottle shop to get some essential supplies for dinner. Vegetable gnocchi with white wine for dinner before climbing into bed to watch a couple of Friends episodes with popcorn and some peppermint chocolate.

Thursday 28th July 2016

Coffs Harbour – day 294

Alexander Graham Bell said, “before anything else, preparation is the key to success”. Mr. Bell was a Scottish-born scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with patenting the first practical telephone. It is kind of ironic that I type today’s blog on a modern telephone and the first thing we had prepared for the day was pack the bags the night before and thus we slipped quietly out of the room nice and early without waking anyone.

A 4km walk to Thrifty to collect our car, we were a bit out of sorts when the grumpy old man behind the desk said that we hadn’t booked a car but rather requested it. We were told basically to get lost for half an hour and hopefully the car they were collecting from the airport would be suitable. Oh and where are your passports? Having not needed them in Melbourne this chap was insistent that he wouldn’t accept just the driving licence and need more money from us as a deposit for international renters. Thus, wandered up and down the road to find a wifi signal to send photos of our passports to the office. Returned to a more amicable gentleman behind the counter and with a bit of cooperation and business sense we drove away with a cute little car heading to The Big Banana. Nothing more than a giant replica of a banana, it’s famous in Coffs Harbour and has made it in to the Big Things of Australia book. It’s probably the first banana that Katherine has liked in years.img_1743-1Dorrigo National Park is one of the fifty separate reserves that comprises of 366,500 hectares in the NSW and QLD states. They are the most extensive area of subtropical rainforests in the world and you guessed it, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Being listed as a WHS for three criteria: Major stages of Earth’s history; Significant ecological and biological processes; Significant natural habitat for biodiversity, the anticipation was building as we drove higher and higher in to the mountains with signs along the Waterfall Way for lookouts and waterfalls every few kilometres. We stopped at only one waterfall en route to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre and for a simple donation of $2 each we were in. The view from the Skywalk was breathtaking. An uninterrupted view of the mountains, covered in forests, rolling gently down to the valley and sea. We more interested in just the views than taking many photos, which should hopefully give some credence to how beautiful this place is. We wandered through the forest, sticking the pathway (as other tourists said they crossed paths with a large black and red-bellied snake) and just got lost in time. The waterfalls were incredible. The less visited, further away fall was captivating and we wished we could have it as a garden feature. It was totally different to the cascading fall in to the pool that had so many tourists and incredibly serene and peaceful.

img_1825-2The walk back, a circuit of 6.6km went through denser forest areas. We saw a number of mature tallow wood trees, some of them slowly being encapsulated by the strangler fig. The webbing of the fig roots across the trunk of the host tree was akin to a sugar nest desert or for the film buffs, the scene in spider-man where he’s trying to to rip the venom costume from his body. It was almost to the end of the trail when we finally spied the Eastern Whipbird – a small blackish teal bird with a white head, it can’t be confused for anything else because of its call. A long piercing whistle, the retired gent on the skywalk earlier said they are called the Star Wars bird because the sound is like a blaster cannon with the female response (not always after the male) sounding like two small blaster shots. I must have been a bit annoying towards the end of the walk with me doing the two blaster whistles after every male call. Still, it brought life to the timeless forest and the brush turkeys that wandered about were boring in comparison. We had lunch up at the Glade. Unable and unwilling to take the rental on the unsealed road up to Never Never picnic lookout, we had a spot of sunshine and tranquility before visiting Dangar Falls. A total wow moment, not expecting the sheer size or quality of this site, we could easily have missed this spectacle if we had driven out of our way for lunch. The lads down at the bottom of the creek swimming must have been bonkers, for up on the cliff looking down at the waterfall and pool it looked freezing cold. IMG_1838We stopped to feed some horses some apples on the way to another lookout and this stop would later come back to bite us in the ass. We went to Griffiths Lookout, again another jaw-dropping panoramic view of the rainforests. We sat in silence before we mutually agreed without saying anything that we needed to head off. This was also the start of the massive allergic reaction that Katherine was having. Tears streaming down the face, sniffles that would put one of the dwarves to shame and eyes swelling up to match a puffer fish. We stopped in Bellingen for antihistamine eye drops and chocolate. Apparently chocolate, in particular Mint Oreo, is very important in the healing process. We detoured to the same lookout we were taken to the night before. The sky was clear, the hills having a beautiful orange glow on their crest and the sea behind was casting calm waves upon the shore. The canoeists had no idea that just behind the breakwater of the harbour a humpback was swimming past. Too slow to drive down to a proper vantage point to find the whale a bit closer at least I got an image to prove that we had seen whales for a third day in a row. It was another fab day and when dinner was finished we passed out, some of us a bit louder than others in the dorm. IMG_1883IMG_1875IMG_1878IMG_1893IMG_1869
Wednesday 27th July 2016

Port Macquarie & Travelling – day 293

Having heard that Port Macquarie is one of the best places to see whales, as it is the second most eastern point in New South Wales and after seeing humpback whales so close to the shore yesterday, we decided that a whale watching boat cruise was a must do! Having organised it through our hostel last night, we were up at 6am and walking down the streets to the harbour looking for an ATM so we could pay!! Finally found an NAB bank which gave us some cash and saw a koala sculpture inside the branch. Having seen a couple of koala sculptures at the koala hospital, we thought it was simply part of their display. However, it turns out that they are part of a Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, just like the Shepparton Moooving cow art. The fifty-one large scale koala sculptures are manufactured in fibreglass, individually designed and hand painted by local artists – had we known about them sooner, we would have definitely tried to find more of them! Down at the port, we donned some very fetching life jackets and climbed aboard our RIB (rigid inflatable boat) before heading out past the magnificent coastline and into the open expanse of the Pacific Ocean. A bit more of ‘whale chasing’ as opposed to ‘whale watching’, our captain seemed a little impatient to just sit and wait for the whales to surface (I guess you have to give the guests what they paid for!) We must have been out on the water for about 2 hours looking for whales – I’d spotted one breaching in the distance, so the skipper headed out north to try and follow it for a while. However, it didn’t come up again (or it changed direction!) so we headed back down south. We learnt that between June and October the whales begin their northern migration to to give birth in the Whitsundays, returning to the Antarctic with their young by December, to feed.

After a few curse words from the captain about the lack of activity from the whales, we spotted a mother and its calf within 10 to 20 metres from our RIB. It was beautiful and so special to see the fifth largest mammal on earth up close, with the fully grown adult weighing up to 40 tonnes each. One of the whales breached in front of the boat, which was amazing – unfortunately, the only photo we managed to capture was of the massive splash as it came back down!!! Headed back into shore and spotted dolphins swimming nearby the surfers at the beach (lucky bastards!!!! Although, the water must be freezing so I guess it is an appropriate reward for their dedication – I wouldn’t have been in that water, even in a wetsuit). Walked back up the hill to the hostel, checked out and hung around the hostel (using their wifi) until it was time to get the coach to Coffs Harbour. Managed to find myself a pair of ‘sports’ leggings in the free clothing recycle bin, which is great as I really needed a new pair of trousers that actually fit. Used the time at the hostel to catch up on blogs and clear SD cards of photos ready for the rest of our trip around Australia. The resident parrot came to check up on us, deciding that Jayne’s head was a perfect perch!Had some lunch before jumping in the van and getting dropped off at the coach station. Brian was our coach driver again and was in an equally cheerful mood as he was the other day when he drove us from Sydney. Only four of us on the bus today, so we chatted away about what we had done in Port Macquarie before setting off. (Un)fortunately, the wifi wasn’t working on the coach toady so we had to entertain ourselves the good old fashioned way – reading books, listening to music and staring out the windows. 

Took about 3 hours to get up to Coffs Harbour, where we were met by Craig who drove us to the YHA hostel (we are definitely being spoilt! I have to say, youth hostels are not as painful as I thought they would be!). Craig chatted away on the journey about what we could do and even took us to the view point so we could orientate ourselves with the town. 
Dropped us off at the hostel and we checked in. We have been placed in the staff dorm with the two cleaners, who are clearly used to being on their own… The place was a bomb site. Clearly embarrassed, the room was a (bit) tidier when we returned later on to go to bed!! Headed to the nearby supermarket to get groceries only to find it had closed 10 minutes earlier… The next nearest supermarket was 3km away so we started walking!! 
Back at the hostel, Jayne made dinner as I worked out ways to get us to Dorrigo National Park tomorrow (there is only one… Renting a car!). Booked a car with Thrifty for tomorrow and headed to bed, surprisingly tired after our early start this morning but our relatively ‘easy’ day. 

Tuesday 26th July 2016