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

Port Macquarie – day 292

We both woke up this morning slightly cold but delighted that we didn’t have to creep around trying not to make noise – we are the only residents in our 6-bed dorm. It was bliss! Showered and dressed before heading into the kitchen to begin our usual morning routine. Jayne makes breakfast and coffee whilst I make our picnic lunch. Decided to make the most of our full day in Port Macquarie and, with the sun shining down, we opted to do the 9km coastal walk along the Hastings River and the stunning coastline of the Pacific Ocean. 
We began at the Town Green foreshore, walking along the foreshore pathway out to the rocky breakwall, which is popular with anglers and each boulder has been painted by a different holidaymaker – either as a memorial or as a holiday memento. Before we had even gotten to the end of the foreshore pathway, we spotted bottlenose dolphins feeding in the mouth of the Hastings River estuary. Unfortunately, we were too flabbergasted by seeing them to take any photos, but it was incredible to see them so close to the shore. 

We continued along the foreshore pathway, which connects to Town Beach, the first of Port Macquarie’s series of eight beautiful beaches that are located along the route. We walked through several different beaches, pausing at various places for photos and to use the headland vantage points to look for any signs of passing whales – water spouts formed when the whales blow or splashes caused by their tail slapping the water. 

We got to Shelly Beach when we started seeing something far out to sea. Not sure if it was our imagination or our eyes playing tricks on us, we kept walking keeping an eye out on the horizon when every few minutes one of us would shout ‘there’ and point wildly into the blue. It was only as we began our ascent up some steps that the water spouts became so frequent that it couldn’t possibly be anything else – we were watching whales!!! Hurried along to Harry’s Lookout where we bumped into a guy who worked for one of the whale watching tour operators. He told us that they were migrating humpback whales passing by the coastline on their annual migration between the Antarctic and the Great Barrier Reef. Absolutely beautiful, we got to see them splashing around and even saw some spectacular leaps out of the water when they breached. A bit too far away to get any decent photos, but good enough to prove we’d seen them!! The guy gave us one of the brochures for his company… Maybe tomorrow?!? 

We sat at Harry’s Lookout for about thirty minutes, watching the whales and eating our lunch before heading on to Sea Acres Rainforest Centre where they have built a 1.3km walk through the rainforest canopy. We had a guided tour from a retired volunteer from England. He was brilliant as he showed us various plants and animals in this habitat. Since most of the rainforest resides above ground level, the boardwalk provided a perfect platform to explore it properly. We saw some different birds and evidence of them nesting in trees and we kept an eye out too for goannas and the slithering diamond python but, alas, we saw neither! We learnt that the rainforest was a rich resource for the Birpai people; they used the walking stick palm as a travel aid and made weapons from the python tree – the second hardest wood in the world. We also learnt about the hemi-epiphyte strangler fig that grows around its host tree, basically killing it. The way it wraps around the tree causes some beautiful shapes in the trunk. After our hour and a half free tour, we wrote in the visitors book, praising Jim for his humour and enthusiasm, before heading back down the coastal walk towards town. Stopped less on the way back as it was beginning to get dark (and cold!) although we did stop for a while to watch the surfers ride the waves.A quick stop off in Coles to buy lunch stuff for tomorrow and Liquorland for some wine before heading back to the hostel. Jayne cooked dinner whilst I looked into whale watching cruises for tomorrow morning before we catch our coach to Coffs Harbour. Chatted to a couple of guys over dinner who were adding cold Dolmio pasta sauce to their instant noodles… Thank goodness that Jayne loves to cook otherwise that would probably be what I would be eating…

Monday 25th July 2016

Travelling & Port Macquarie – day 291

The dorm room resembled a poorly made WWII film… 4 Germans, 2 French, 1 Irish and 1 British in a room that looked like a bomb had exploded!! Also, with one of the German ladies snoring like an aircraft, it is a fitting description!! Waking up at 6am, we tiptoed in the semi darkness as if we were trying to navigate a fully loaded mine field – avoiding the masses of strewn around clothing, shoes, shopping bags and rucksacks (what the hell happened here after we fell asleep?!?). Made it out of the room with all our limbs attached and, more importantly, without making a sound before checking out and making our way down the road to the bus station to catch our Greyhound to Port Macquarie. Had a wonderfully cheerful bus driver called ‘Brian’ who admitted himself that he had had a great nights sleep and was full of jokes as he chucked everyone’s luggage in the hold and chatted to all of the 8 passengers onboard (including us) as we waited until 7am when we were officially allowed to set off! The drive was easy – being a Sunday, there was no traffic leaving the city and before we knew it we were storming down the motorway. Clearly, the journey was going much better than Brian had anticipated as we stopped several times en route as we were ahead of schedule and couldn’t arrive at the next stop. Picked up one more passenger in Newcastle, had a thirty minute coffee break (with a cheeky sausage roll) at around 10.30am before continuing on the road.  Not sure what happened but neither my iPhone or iPad would connect to the onboard wifi so Jayne was left with the job of uploading photos to the blog and publishing while I entertained myself with music and reading my book… 

Another break in a town called Toncurry which had a gorgeous inland marine lake where people were fishing, closely watched by a nearby pelican. The water was crystal clear and even from where we stood we saw a puffer fish. I put my toes in the water – it was perfect scuba diving temperature!! Apparently it is possibly to do that there, as is spotting dolphins and whales… Hmmmmmm. Another town on our list for when we visit again. Arrived in Port Macquarie at 14.20 and had a free pick up from the YHA waiting for us. Said goodbye to Brian, who is going to be our bus driver on our journey to Coffs Harbour on Tuesday! Jumped in the van and drove through the streets chatting to the hostel lady (whose cousin is Hagen from House Rules…). Dropped our bags off at the hostel and headed straight out to the koala hospital.The Koala Hospital is not only a Hospital to treat sick and injured koalas but it is also involved in research with University Sydney, University Technology Queensland and the Australian Museum into koala diseases. It consists of a treatment room, 8 Intensive Care Units, 6 outdoor intensive care units and 33 rehabilitation yards, many of which have trees for koalas to learn to climb as part of the rehabilitation process. Between 200 and 250 koalas are admitted through the Hospital annually and apart from Chlamydia, accidents involving vehicles and dog attacks are the most common cause of injuries sustained, predominantly during the breeding season. We were fortunate enough to arrive just after 3pm, in time for their Walk and Talk tour when the koalas were fed and a volunteer explained the issues that brought the koalas into their care. It was really interesting and we learnt lots (especially that koalas don’t get drunk on eucalyptus – they just don’t get enough energy from the leaves to move much!!). Walked around with the volunteer for over an hour as she pointed out the different koalas, explaining there various injuries and whether they were going to be reintroduced into the wild. There are 8 resident koalas at the moment, most of whom are blind, and a rehabilitation area that is not accessible to visitors for obvious reasons.  Having stayed for ages, made a donation and some enquiries about their overseas volunteer programme (http://www.koalahospital.org.au/volunteer/international-volunteer) before we started walking back towards the hostel via Coles to get some supplies for dinner. The rest of the evening was spent with Jayne cooking a delicious peanut curry and me sorting out laundry before snuggling up on the lower bunk bed to watch some episodes of Friends.  

Sunday 24th July 2016