Mike: Day 1. We packed our things from our hostel and head out into town. We decide that a taxi would be far too expensive so we jump on a nearby tube then get a long bus to botany where "jucy" (the company who we are renting the van off of) is located. We eventually get there about 11ish am we are informed that we are the last pick up of the day and that he had people waiting outside the gates a hour before they opened (did we miss something?). There is good news, medium news and bad news. The good news is we have a double gas burner, we were only told that there would be one, which was a big negative when it came to decide which company to go with. The medium news was that the lay out had slightly changed, we now had seats in the back which meant we could take people if we wanted, sharing petrol money, but it diminished the leg room in the bed. The bad news was that it was bleeding' purple. (Alicia: this was great news to me tbh. It was love at first sight...:P) One of only two in the country (the other wasn't in use) that got the paint job wrong. So instead of funky green with a little purple, it was bright flipping purple with a little green. The other bad news was that although we had a DVD player, the DVD's we were left with were from an 80's bargain bin. All the good ones had gone. We scraped the barrel with a steve coogan comedy "Hamlet 2", the random choice of "street racer and the pick of the bunch action adventure "Hana". We set off with all our stuff, freshly loaded, in the sun. We tried to decided on a name, unsuprisingly "Lucy" / "Jucy Lucy" was first up.
We had to drive back through the centre of Sydney which I didn't enjoy too much. It was very busy and from previous experience with the locals, it wouldn't be too friendly. (Alicia: on the plus side we did get to drive across Harbour Bridge and wave goodbye to lovely Sydney and the Opera House.) On the other side we set our sights and sat nav onto Palm Beach. Alicia's number 1 must see in Australia because it was Summer Bay from "Home and Away". After a hour or so's drive, we had picked up some shopping and not much of an issue we arrived. We sat on the beach and had some lunch. In true Australian fashion a can of beer fell out the back of the van, so Alicia sat on the beach drinking it. (alicia: didnt know it was illegal so had to do it on the sneaky side so the Alf Stewart types didnt see) She saw all the highlights, the surf shack, the wooden walk way, the beach...the...err....sea(??). Anyway she had great time. (Alicia: i had an AWESOME time. After watching H&A for most of my life and seeing that gorgeous beach everyday was a brilliant sight :).) After an hour it was about 4:30 so we headed off north to try and find a camp ground. From what we heard from speaking to people we should have no problem finding a free place to camp. No chance! We couldn't even find a paid for place to camp. So with it getting dark and me having to keep turning the car around, we stopped in a little car park in "McCarrs Creek Reserve" by a lake where we thought we spotted tents. It turned out they were boats, but we asked a few people and they didn't seem to think it'd be too much of a problem us camping round the back. As it turns out a really nice spot right next to the lake and a field.
We parked up and went for a walk. We spotted a sign next to the public toilets that ready "absolutely no camping or overnighting"....oh well. Too late now I suppose. There was still a big group of hippy-types in the field who are all sat round a fire playing instruments.
The sun was setting so we tried to hurry the cooking (sausage pasta) and failed first attempts to set up the bed and outdoor table and chairs. We just about manage it. As we sit down to eat it is pitch black. We call it an early night as there is little to do (don't want to blow the 3 quality DVD's too early) and we are pretty tired. The hippies are playing a diggeridoo but they soon leave, replaced by chavvy-types trying to hit golf balls into the lake and hit boats.
It was a pretty poor nights sleep as we were aware that we could get a knock on the window from the warden or the cozzers asking us to move on. But despite many headlights shining through our windows, we didn't get any issues.
In the morning we got up and about by 7. It was still cold outside as the sun hadn't quite got through the trees yet, but not a moment too soon as the Sunday morning boat club was starting to arrive. We have breakfast on a park bench and make our exit.
Day 2: Today we are heading up to to both "Gosford" and "The Entrance". We get onto route 1, the pacific highway (effectively our home for the next month) and head north. We arrive in Gosford with no real clue why we are there and after a quick cruise through town head onto The Entrance.
The Entrance is a holiday town with plenty of accommodation, the only issue is finding one in our price range. We grab a simple ground for $10 each in a good location to town. We walk to the nearby beach and have lunch.
After lunch we jump to the car and after getting a little lost, we go to see a lighthouse we heard was a good tourist attraction and that the locals were only too happy to tell us is in an upcoming Hollywood film. On the way back we catch the tail end of the daily pelican feeding, and head back make more sausage pasta, have a couple of beers as the light fades and head inside to watch the Hamlet 2 DVD, which features such classic tunes like "Rock me sexy Jesus". Alicia has a memory stick full of films that can plug into the TV, but the lack of a controller means we can only see a slide show of her animals. Great. At least we sleep a lot better having gone "legit" with our campsite".
Day 3: We jump into Bertha (the name we finally decided on for the campervan having gone through other such classics like "home tree" and "the massive purple penis") and head off along route 1 towards Newcastle. The plan is to stay in Newcastle for 2 nights then head off to Port Stephens. Unfortunately the first thing we notice is a 9 inch crack across the wind shield (to this day we have no idea how it got there) which forced us to pull over and give Jucy a call. They tell us to head up to Brisbane when we can so they can fix it.
To reach Newcastle we go off route a little a drive through the charming Merriweather and Bar Beach and head up along the coast.
In Newcastle we find a free car park right next to the beach and once again have lunch on the beach watching the surfers ride the waves with varying degrees of success. Then head out around town to see the sights. Fort Scratching, Nobby Head Beach (you heard right...Nob Head Beach) and a look-out tower on the busy docks affectionately known by the locals as "The Giant Penis", because that's exactly what it looks like. As the day wears on though we are aware we still don't have anywhere to sleep again (just pulling over to the side of the road is illegal and Jucy charge $150 on top of each ticket or penalty you get, something we can't afford). After a drive around the city and the surrounding area we only find one campsite at $32 dollars a night, which is too much. With no other option we head towards Port Stephens. A campersite sign on the side of the road has us excited, (along with our first sighting of a field filled with kangaroos) but after a 30 minute drive we find the campsite is asking for $45 a night. Nope. We move on.
As we are nearly in Port Stephens (3 days early) Tristan rings and find us a place to stay. We luckily manage to haggle down to $20 a night, park up and cook yet more sausages for dinner, this time with mash AND BURGERS!!!! Food is more a question of what's cheap rather than what's healthy - and you can't argue with 22 sausages for $7.
Day 4: As we were ahead of schedule we decided to stay another day. We got up a little later and went to a backpackers hostel that allowed campers in their grounds to get an idea of price. We couldn't actually find anyone on reception, but it turns out the place was also a bird rehabilitation facility, so they had rainbow lorikeets, white and pink cockatoos, cuckaburras, and other parrots in open cages. We had a good half an hour look round before a receptionist immerged. Unfortunately it was $32 per night. Shame as it would have been a cool place to stay. We head back to our campsite and extend our stay. For lunch we decide to mix things up a bit and have sausages, not on the beach.
In the afternoon, we head off to the beach adjacent to the campsite. On the beach they laid claim to the largest coastal sand dunes in the southern hemisphere and being in middle of them felt like being in the desert. We try our hand at sand boarding for a couple of hours. It was not quite as I'd expected but a good laugh anyway. Instead of it being similar to skating, snowboard or surfing down the dunes you sat on the board and slide down like tobogganing. Not as cool but probably less painful and embarrassing. We got some good photos and videos of us sliding down from the highest point on the dune and we ended up with sand everywhere (which later we'd unwittingly transfer a larger quantity into the camper van).
After the sand boarding we dust ourselves down, jumped into the camper and headed to Nelsons Bay which is close to Anna Bay (where we were staying - all part of Port Stephens). We went for a pleasant walk in the sun (21•c for a second day in a row) along the harbour up to a lighthouse for some good views and a cup of tea. Along the way we watched the fish in the clear harbour waters, the fishermen lining the bay to catch them, the boats and people swimming off the beaches in the still water. All very nice. We reached the lighthouse just after 4, unfortunately the tea shop closed at 4 so we had to turn round and walk back. It was a bit of a shame but on the way back we spotted dolphins in various pods swimming close to the shore around the fishermen. We walk out along the jetty and watch them for 15 minutes or so before heading back for beans on toast and another of our DVDs.
Day 5: We wake up at 7, prepare ourselves for the day and head out by 9. Today is going to be a long days drive. We have hardly any stops and we will be arriving late afternoon.
The mornings drive goes without much note, we take a couple of more scenic routes instead of just Route 1, the Lakes road takes use through the great lakes and some nice towns, then onto the coastal road eventually we arrive in our only stop for the day, Port Macquarie around 1:30. We have sandwiches on the beach and head into town, we stop off at one of the information centre and the "V-Wall" or "Breakwall" this is a sea wall made from thousands of large boulders each painted by visitors with personal messages or pictures. Some of them were really good, some were just names on rocks, but it stretched as far as the eye could see. We walk down for a bit, but turn back to be back in time for the highlight of the day, the koala hospital! At 3pm we are treated to a guided tour to see all the injured koalas and hear their stories. Alicia is very excited and even gets her picture taken next to a giant stuffed koala. We see a number of koalas up close, some are missing an eye or two, a limb or have a hunchback and some are just old. It's really cool to see the koalas up close but we have to cut the tour short as we have to drive another couple of hours to the campsite at Hungry Head. It's in a national park that was recommended to us by a campsite owner. We drive along a long, bumpy dirt track and even through a small stream. When we reach the campsite we are greeted by grazing kangaroos and a flock of black and white birds hassling two women parked next to us over some crisps.
We cook the last of the sausages into sausage pasta and later in the evening the two women in the caravan next to us (Kobe and Pauline) invite us round for tea and biscuits. They are both retirees from Queensland and over the evening they tell us about how they've adopted children from Ethiopia and we tell them about our trip. Not exactly a crazy evening, but nice none the same.
Day 6: After driving over 360 kilometres yesterday we were hoping today would be less strenuous. We packed up our stuff, watched the kangaroos for a bit (including a joey in it's mum's pouch) and headed out along the dirt road and eventually onto Route 1. Once we got to a town called Urunga we headed inland along a big loop called "The Waterfall Way". Despite the charming name, and woodland drive, we didn't actually see any waterfalls. Our first stop was "Dorrigo", where they had an information centre. The sat nav said Dorrigo was only an hour or so away, when in actual fact a combination of the extremely steep roads, the weight of Bertha and stupid automatic gearbox meant that it too more like 3. Not accounting for the time we took to pull over because Bertha's engine was over heating.
When we did make it to Dorrigo it was about 12:30 and the information centre was closed, luckily a women walking past stopped to help and it turns out she was a off-duty volunteer at the centre, but opened the doors and plied us with information.
In the afternoon we head off to Dorrigo national park, where amongst all the surrounding farmland was an absolutely massive patch of rainforest we didn't even know was there. We took a walk along the skywalk which lead out for spectacular views of the park. After we went for a 2 hour walk through the jungle, hearing and seeing quite a few new birds and even managed to learn that there was a "green catbird" that sounded like a crying cat or baby. We had heard this a few nights and in the middle of night, it's freaky!
The night before we had talked to Kobe and Pauline about all the dangerous snakes and spiders they had in Oz, so Alicia was freaking out a little. Half way down we thought we saw a snake but it was just a big lizard (about the size of an iguana, but black and shiny). We stopped for some lunch at a picnic area which we shared with some wild bush turkeys. At another point of the walk there were a couple of nice waterfalls, one we could even go behind which was pretty cool.
We had just started our return leg of the loop and whilst wandering along the concrete path Alicia suddenly jolts and shouts, I took a step or two forward before turning to see what she had screamed about. It turns out there was a ruddy great snake laying on the path and I had missed steeping on it's head by an inch or two. This blighter was about 6 foot long and mostly in along the side of the path with it's neck (? Or are they all neck?) and head led perpendicular to the path. On closer inspection it looked like it had just eaten and wasn't in any hurry to move anywhere. Unfortunately I was on the side we needed to be to get back and Alicia was on the other side of it. Eventually after some shooing it turned around and started to slither back into the bush, giving Alicia enough time to calm her nerves long enough to run across. Needless to say, she didn't enjoy the rest of the walk back, even when I saw a possum bound across the floor like a monkey, all she wanted to do was get back. Fair enough.
We made it back in one piece to the safety of Bertha, I asked the ranger what we saw and showed him a picture we had managed to take as it was heading into the bush. He said that it was some sort of Python. Cool.
After leaving the rainforest reserve we had to find accommodation. A familiar theme by about 3-4pm each day. But we actually knew where we wanted to go which was a treat. Platypus Flat was only $5 and was a little way out of town, we were told it was on a little bit of unsealed road that had a tendency to flood if it rained hard (not an issue as it hadn't rained in 10 weeks). On the way there though we looked at the map and it was actually 35 kilometres out of our way and would cost us more in petrol to get there and back than to stay at a cheap ground in Dorrigo. So we head to the show ground where we could stay for $14 a night, unfortunately no one was about when we rang to caretakers doorbell. Or so we thought, as we left he got into his car and followed us out, when we tried to flag him down, he waved and drove passed us. Brilliant. With little option we headed to a campsite which was a field behind a lodge. This was unfortunately $20 for a site, but at least had showers. We got out and wandered round, quickly met by an old guy shouting "Oi! Oi!....Oi!" after us (not "excuse me" or "hey", the only word he could muster was "Oi") By this time my reply was "what!?". Turns out he wanted our money.
We begrudgingly paid and went to cook food, curry this time. Not a sausage in sight! Not a moment too soon as well, it started to rain, then later, thunder (really glad we didn't go to platypus flat). We ate inside for the first time and watched the last of our films, the truly terrible "street racer", almost so bad it's good, but mostly just really bad.
Day 7: We'd planned to go right round the waterfall route, but considering the time it took to do the relatively small section of Kemspey to Dorrigo and how hard Bertha found it, we decided to cut across it and go to a place call Nymboida as we heard it was a good place to go rafting and kayaking.
On the way there we pulled over to check out a nice view and low and behold another Jucy van. We stopped for chat and see if they want to swap DVD's. They had a small baby so didn't pick up any DVD's but did find one in the player that we could have. What could it be? One of the Bourne films? The new American Pie? Expendables? Nope. Beverley Hillbillys. Lame. Despite this unloading of dreadful s***e onto us, we talk for a bit and get to find out about a couple of good rest stops and free camping areas from a book he had.
We head back off and by around 1:30 we arrived at Nymboida. Unfortunately despite saying it was open, it was most certainly closed. Looking at the prices, we didn't actually have enough money either. We head to the nearest big town of Grafton, we visit another info centre (fast becoming our number 1 stop in every town) we soon figure out there isn't much to do, so we stop off of for a drink in a local pub (our first drink out in what seems like a long time, certainly since Sydney) and spend a few hours in the library taking advantage of their free Internet to reply to messages and look for more camp grounds. Around 4 we head off to find a free camping spot we heard about in the book today. It's just a rest stop on the side of the road, so we make more curry and bed down for a noisy night by the highway.