Tuomas: Half way through! – A Few National Parks and Kempsey
Kempsey, New South Wales
I mentioned in our last post that our campground in Coffs Harbour (right next to the showgrounds but a separate private ground anyway) was the nicest we'd been on so far. It was mostly true. However, after posting the statement they wronged us by kicking us out of their warm indoor common area at 10.45 p.m. and by limiting the use of the free wifi to just 50 Mb of downloads. It ran out way before we were done and it was cold out there. Other than that it really was nice.
We took off from Coffs Harbor with the intention of going all the way south to Kempsey where there was a showgrounds camping area. There was another one along the way too, at Bellingen, but it seemed a little short for a day's drive. We headed north first anyway to see the view from the Sealy lookout and the bridge-like structure that reaches out to nothing at all. It was a bit of a detour, but the scenery was nice, and we got to see the local banana plantations from up close. By the time we were finished with this excursion it was nearing noon and we thought we should grab some lunch and returned to Coffs Harbor to take out some Domino's pizzas. We drove off with them in hopes of finding a rest area on the side of the A1 highway but didn't encounter one until after we had turned on the road to Bellingen. We still weren't really planning on staying at their showgrounds but it was on the way to the Dorrigo National Park which supposedly was very beautiful. We finally spotted a place to eat our pizzas by a sports field just before Bellingen. There seemed to be a lot of people camping there too, even though we guessed it wasn't really meant for overnight camping. But since it was free we thought that we might end up doing the same later on…
The road towards Dorrigo is steep and winding and took a long time to drive through. In the end it turned out to be worth it as we arrived at the national park at about 2.15 p.m. They asked for a set $2 donation for adults and $1 for children upon entry through the information center but weren't really enforcing it. We paid since it was reasonable. We got a free map and set off to the park, going first over to the second bridge-like structure of the day, a lookout point built high above the tree tops looking out towards the valley. It was great, the view was spectacular and they even had a funny looking pole there that you could attach your camera to for taking pictures with a timer. I've never seen that before, we usually just use our selfie stick or my arm. After taking some picks we got down to the actual path which ended up taking us about two hours to complete. There were a couple of big waterfalls and bridges but mainly the attraction was the rainforest itself. Some of the trees are supposedly 1000 years old, there are vines and all kinds of other plants growing on them and over them, as the strangler figs do. The path was steep at points but layered with bitumen at all parts so it was easy enough to traverse. We did the loop in sturdy sandals, risking the leaves of the stinging tree and the leaches, the latter of which we did not see.
By the time we got back to the information center it was already 4.30 p.m. and closing time so we didn't get to use their free wifi. We did steal some water from them though, as we filled our 10 liter canister and additional bottles for a night at the free camp site that we'd had our pizzas on. We detoured a little once more and drove the last two kilometers to see Dorrigo with its about 1000 inhabitants. It was nice enough but unspectacular at a glance. After that we started downwards on the steep and winding path we'd taken earlier. By now it was clear we couldn't make it to Kempsey during daylight but the free campsite was near enough. But we weren't really sure if it was a campsite or not so when we spotted Roses Park at Thora we decided to stay there instead. It looked very pleasant and there was no set price for spending a night, they only asked for a donation. A gold coin donation. We've seen that somewhere around here but haven't really figured out what they mean by a gold coin. The best guess, supported by Wiktionary.org, is that a "gold coin" is just a $1 or $2 coin, which look like gold. We ended up leaving $5 in the morning since we didn't have anything smaller. They had a fairly clean water toilet but no showers or drinking water available and no electricity either so the night was pretty dark. It was cold too, possibly the coldest we've had in Australia.
The next morning we woke up fairly early and were on the road by nine o'clock. We returned to A1 through Bellingen and kept on going south, again towards Kempsey. We'd actually been going there for a few days since we weren't supposed to stay at Coffs Harbour at all. However, at the campground office at Coffs Harbour the lady happened to mention that there was some bad weather in Sydney. Turned out she meant a cyclone, which in my book is a little more than some bad weather. People had died there. Luckily we weren't in that much of a hurry to get there ourselves… Anyway, we continued slowly in that general direction because we had to return the car there eventually, more accurately in less than a week. It was still plenty of time to go see some more national parks roughly along the way, such as Arakoon National Park on the coast. We drove the scenic tourist road number 12 there in order to see the ruined Trial Bay Gaol but when we got there we realized that it had been made into a museum that charged $10 per entry. Our student cards could have reduced the price to $7 but it still seemed a little much for such a small place.
A little disappointed we decided to have some lunch by their picnic tables and make some plans. The free guide we had picked up at Coffs Harbour mentioned something about walking tracks in the park with a possibility of seeing some kangaroos so we decided to give it a go. We walked up the hill to a World War 1 monument and continued on towards Little Bay on a very picturesque (though slippery) downhill path. No kangaroos to be seen there. We got down to the bay and walked on the little beach thinking that it would be a great place to spend the night, sadly there were signs prohibiting this. And no kangaroos. Until we got back up from the beach and encountered a mob of them! We counted 20 of them, one carrying a joey (kangaroo and koala babies are called joeys) in the belly pouch. They were very relaxed, just basking in the sun and chilling. A couple hopped here and there but none were afraid of us or the cars that sometimes went by. We didn't dare to go too close to them even without the "Keep the wildlife wild" signs. The biggest one in the back looked huge and I bet they could kick as hard as a horse if they felt threatened. So we moved on after gaping at them for a good while.
We continued the circuit towards the ruined powder magazines where they used to store explosives. The building that hadn't blown up was very small and unspectacular. The path had narrowed down to ridiculously small here and we were wondering at times whether we were still going the right way or not. The forest is pretty dense there and we didn't see much, except for one more kangaroo hopping away from us. When we got back to the parking area we saw six more of its kind grazing at the adjoining campground which made me want to take a closer look. Since it was low season they charged "only" $28 for all sites, some of which were by the shore, but the camp kitchen was off bounds because of a school trip that had taken over it. Also, they were charging extra for things like hot water in the shower and using the communal electric barbeque, which is free in most city parks here! It really was a nice looking place with a beach and all, and the kangaroos running around between trailers, but we decided not to stay. There was only about two and a half hours of daylight left and in the dark all places look the same. They didn't even have any common room with lights to hang around at.
So we finally made it to Kempsey, after so many days of trying. The small road there went through farmlands and was pretty, though it could have been signposted a little better. We didn't end up taking any wrong turns though and got to Kempsey well before dark. Once there we looked up the showgrounds camping area which was a little difficult for the first time with such accommodations. Usually the towns are small and there are signs pointing towards the showgrounds from far off. Not so much here, Kempsey was big, it had multiple supermarkets and a busy looking town center. We asked for directions at a gas station and found the place with those. The grounds were as expected, fully adequate with decent toilets and showers. And they only asked $10 for a non-power site, which was great. We walked to the nearby IGA market and got chicken files and salad for dinner to celebrate a very special occasion:
We were half way through with our trip! If my budget Excel holds true, we had been on the road for 109 days and had exactly the same amount to go. Three and a half months seemed to have gone by so fast, but thinking back it also felt like ages ago when we started in Nepal. We'd had some rough times for sure, we'd been sick a few times, I had dislocated my shoulder twice, but all in all we'd had an amazing time. Somehow it seems that the days are going by faster now that we've gotten used to the travelling thing, but I'm pretty sure the remaining half will hold some pretty awesome things for us as well. Looking back and forth now, seven months doesn't seem like such a long time anymore. I'm hoping it's going to be enough and I'm sure it will since we know we won't be able to do everything. For now we'll just settle on doing what feels good at the moment. It's worked so far…