Having finally found a camper that was able to provide us with some kind of forward propulsion, we started to make our way down the east coast of Australia, just 3 hours after we had planned to leave. Soon after leaving the camper depot, we realised that our "premium" camper had an unusual feature that forced the driver to turn the wheel at a 45 degree angle in order for it to move in a straight line. Despite the numerous and major technical shortcomings of the vehicle we made good progress down the spectacular 960km Pacific Highway that linked Brisbane with Sydney. Despite this progress, by the time we had reached our planned night stop of Port Macquarie, 400km from Byron, it was starting to get dark. Unfortunately for our camper, the lack of sunlight inveiled another glaring weakness: it only had one working headlight. As a result we were forced to drive around the tranquil streets of Port Macquarie with our full beam on as this strangely brought the second bulb to life. Despite the light problem and sticking out like sore thumbs in our grotesquely decorated van, we attempted to fit in by stocking up on supplies in a typical Aussie drive-thru off licence.
After visiting a couple of local camper sites and being quoted $30 for the use of their facilities, we rolled the dice and went in search of 'free parking'. A kind local pointed us in the direction of a beach front carpark where we joined another couple of campervans, presumably with similarly tight budgets. Following a healthy sandwich meal and a few beers on the beach we decided to try and finalise our sleeping arrangements. Having had such a long drive it was understandable that James was in a hurry to get things sorted quickly. However, in his haste to clear the back of the camper, the rear view mirror got a knock and took a tumble from its lofty perch. It was too late and dark for us to attempt to fix it and with the space successfully cleared, we clambered into what seemed an impossibly tight space. What followed was one of the worst nights sleep any of us had ever had. Top and tailing in the exceptionally cramped sleeping area and in sweltering 35 degree heat, there wasn't even enough room for James to perform his infamous 'death rolls'.
After minimal shut-eye we arose at 8am to the sight of numerous surfers jogging up and down the beach with energy we could only dream of. We then made use of the adjacent public toilets for a quick wash and brush before taking a walk along the promenade. Along the front were hundreds of multicoloured, graffitied rocks, mainly artistic in style which made for interesting viewing.
We left Port Macquarie around 9.30am with no real destination planned for the evening. It was left open as we were set for another day based around scenic driving. Given the precarious nature of our windscreen we had been careful to try and avoid bumpy roads, so as to prevent the crack becoming worse. Despite this, with David Harragin BA(hons) Geography navigating, he inexplicably took us down a gravel road littered with potholes, through the underwhelming Crowdy Bay National Park. Battered and bruised we emerged with the van unscathed. Even with this misadventure we were still keen to take our time on this leg of the journey to see some of the spectacular scenery down Australia's east coast. As a result we made our way to the small town of Harrington. Driving into town we noticed a sign that pointed to "Harrigans's Irish Pub" and "Golf Course" next right and given how close these two activities are to Dave's heart, it was a photo opportunity not to be missed. Once in Harrington, we took a walk across its scenic breakwater. If you are a religious pelican fan then Harrington would be your Mecca. The breakwater was lined with them, lurking close to the disguntled fishermen as they bemoaned the days catch.
We continued south through Taree and moved off the Pacific Highway momentarily to take the scenic coastal road through Forster. After this we rejoined the Pacific Highway and passed through Newcastle, stopping only to view its impressive spit and lighthouse. Soon after leaving we arrived at our overnight stop of Lake Macquarie, just north of the hideously named Swansea. Arriving at the lake, we witnessed one of the most spectaular sunsets of our trip to date as we cooked our standard meal of pasta and sauce on the stove. After our hellish ordeal of the night before, James made the use of the complimentary tent thrown in with our premium camper, allowing Dave and Ant to spread out in the cavernous interior of the van.
The following morning we again made use of the handily placed public toilets and outdoor shower before setting off for the Blue Mountains. We didn't get far before we took the opportunity to stock up on the essential pasta and sauce in Swansea. On the way out of the supermarket, we passed the deli counter where the shop assistant was just puting up a sign for substantially reduced bacon. Fickle as we are to avoid special offers and with bread already in our basket, Ant and Dave humoured the shop assistant's advances. Not content with cooking outside a supermarket, we went in search of another glorious lookout which we found just down the road at Launa Head, where we enjoyed a sumptuous bacon butty. With contented stomachs we continued down the coast, stopping next at "The Entrance". This was a narrow sea inlet that flowed into Lake Tuggerah. With the tide coming in, it was a great setting for a brief swim and with a beach either side, a fantastic place to launch a tennis ball around. Working our way south we stopped at the magnificent Marie Byles Lookout which gave us impressive views of Broken Bay and our first glimpse of Sydney in the distance. After our leisurely drive from Swansea, it was time to plough on through Woy Woy to rejoin the Pacific Highway and onto the Blue Mountains National Park. At a driver switchover/comfort break, Ant set about his DIY nemesis, the broken rear view mirror. Using his skills akin to the likes of Bear Grylls and Handy Andy, he managed to reattach the mirror using only cutlery and technical nouse, to the amazement of Dave and James.
With part of the van restored to roadworthy condition, we made good progress into the National Park with our first stop at Wentworth Falls. This heighty waterfall was the highlight of the drive down. Flanked by shear cliffs that offered great views of the main falls, James became was giddy with excitement, bounding down the precarious stairs cut out in the rock face. We also went on a walk that took us to some smaller but equally as spectacular falls. Less than a week after Ant's genious photographic exploits at the lighthouse at Byron Bay, a new and greater challenge came to the fore. With positioning of the camera necessary at the bottom of the 15 foot waterfall, Ant was required to set a 10 second self timer before sprinting up the 30 step staircase to join Dave and James in their own version of the "evolution of man" pose, available for viewing in the photo section of this site. With darkness approaching we headed to the world famous 3 sisters, before parking up for the night at Gordon Falls lookout. After a few beers and enjoying the plentiful stars on show on the freezing lookout, we headed to bed. James once again decided to stay in the tent, despite the cold temperatures and howling wind, ensuring we all had enough space to sleep.
As Dave and Ant awoke they opened the campervan door to find James' tent being held down by his own body weight and not by the tent pegs provided. Soon after, we headed to the nearby Scenic World in Katoomba. Here we took the cable car down to the valley floor in order to walk around the impressive rainforest at the bottom. After getting the cable car back up we then took the Scenic Skyway, a glass bottomed cable car that stretched between the mountain tops to provide spectacular views of Katoomba Falls and the rainforest canopy.
Following this excursion it was time for food. Despite Ant's successful photography and DIY exploits of the previous day, his next move would illustrate serious weakness in his decision making skills. Parking up at a picnic site, Ant explored the nearby Cahill Lookout and decided that this exposed viewpoint, buffeted by 30mph winds would be an ideal place to cook pasta. After lugging down all our cooking equipment and with a pan of water over the stove for a good hour we were still waiting for the water to boil. It was here James' finest hour came. With the use of only plates and the cooker box, he created an engineering marvel and made an exceptionally effective windbreak that enabled our pasta and sauce combo to be cooked. Refulled, we headed back to the 3 Sisters for a walk. Mentally exhausted after creating his windbreak, James remained in the van to sleep as Ant and Dave walked down the Giants Stairway that passed down the side of the 3 sisters to the valley floor. Between 901 and 907 steps later, depending on whose counting you trust, we reached the bottom, only to realise the only way back would be back from where we came from. Knackered, we returned back to the van over an hour later and disturbed James from his slumber. Our next stop was the understated lookout called "Sublime Point", a lookout that would have lived up to its name if we hadn't already seen several other equally impressive lookouts over the previous 2 days within the Blue Mountains. We then heded back to Gordon Falls lookout for the night to get some kip before heading to Sydney the following day.
Ant, Dave and James