We had a early flight down to Brisbane and were picked up by Andrew ( Ben's friend from college) to go and stay at his and his fiancé Claire's flat for a few days. We spent 2 days seeing the sights in Brisbane which included a lot more walking, a visit to the city art gallery (including a short nap on some sofa's), a walk along the river and the obligatory tour of the XXXX factory with some sampling at the end. It was great to catch up with Andrew and also to sleep in a real bed for a change!
We had hired a Toyota carolla hatchback for the next leg of the journey but when we arrived to pick it up we were given a double upgrade and ended up with a Holden SV6 which is a huge car complete with alloys, dark windows and a spoiler! We were assured it would be just as economical and in hindsight we would never have fitted all of our rucksacks into a hatchback! We headed up to Australia Zoo for a day which was interesting mainly for the number of unusual animals there, but we found it to be a bit overpriced and exploiting the memory of Steve Irwin a little bit which was a shame.
After this we headed south to our first stop in the trusty tent at Byron Bay. We took a scenic drive on the way down and stopped at Danger Point and Wooyung national park to take in the amazing coastline. Byron Bay was very pretty but the town didn't have the relaxed vibe that we had expected- everyone was donning the latest swimwear and sunglasses and the place was as much about posing as surfing! It was still a nice place though with lots to do in the area do we decided to stay for 2 nights. We headed up Mount Warning on our first day which was a great climb with plenty of scrambling and climbing towards the end. Unfortunately the clouds closed in at the top do we didn't get the amazing view that we were expecting. We were feeling a little unfit after arriving in Australia so we decided to run down the mountain which we both enjoyed!
We headed through Nimbin on the way back to Byron and had planned to go for a swim but it was a bit too cold. The next morning we rose early to get up to the lighthouse in time for sunrise. It was fantastic and a great way to start the day before packing up the tent to head south.
We had decided to take the inland route for the next section of the road as we wanted to see some of the national parks so we stopped at a few beaches on the way; at Lennox Head and then at a beautiful deserted beach in Iluka Nature Reserve before turning to the inland route at Grafton. We managed to find a tiny campsite in a valley near Nymbodia and set up tent again for the night. Luckily we had stocked up on sausages and veg before leaving Grafton so we had a nice dinner on the BBQ.
In the town itself there is a 'Museum of Interesting Things' owned by the actor Russell Crowe which Ben really wanted to go to, so we spent the morning looking at lots of film memorabilia and some old horse drawn carriages. We continued south and passed through Ebor with a stop to see the falls and on to Cathedral Rock National Park. We weren't expecting much from the place as it isn't very well known but it's probably one of our favourite places that we have seen so far. It's about 8km of unsealed road to the start of the track through farmland with plenty of cattle and the walk itself circles a mountain which is topped with huge granite boulders (like Brinham rocks but bigger). We scrambled up to the top and had an amazing view of the national park around us. We also saw some wild kangaroos on our way back which was great! We stopped at another Waterfall in Wollombi ( where we spotted a wild echinacea) and continued on to Tamworth for the night. We arrived quite late and managed to find a campsite but were putting the tent up in the dark. We had heard a lot about the town but weren't overly impressed, maybe because there wasn't much going on during the time we were there.
The next morning we left quite early with a plan to get to our next destination in plenty of time to find somewhere reasonable to pitch up. We had a wander around Murrundi on the way and then stopped to climb 'burning mountain' - so named because it has an underground coal seam which burns and emits a smoke. It was really odd to see as we didn't even know that this existed, especially to see the dead trees where the seam has moved. We continued on to Scone which is apparently the horse centre of Australia, and after looking at lots of horses in the surrounding fields we spent some time in the Horse Museum. Though Gwenno could have happily stayed in there all day it was starting to get late so we needed to leave in search of a campsite. We headed down through Muswellbrook and Singleton with no luck so decided to head towards Yengo National Park to see if they had free camping. We eventually drove through Bulga and decided to ask at the pub if they knew of any sites and we were ecstatic when they said we could camp in their field free of charge. Things were great until about 2 am when literally hundreds of trucks pulled into the field and all the people started to have a party- there was a monster trucks festival in the next village and thousands of truckers were in the process of descending upon the place.
We didn't get much sleep and were pleased to leave in the morning and headed through the National Parks to Windsor and on to Sydney, our next destination.