I’m really enjoying the way this holiday is starting to evolve. As we get up into warmer water, we are finding lots of good surf and sandy beaches. Since purchasing a surfboard, we have now made a semi-permanent soft roof rack for the van, bought a wetsuit and rash vest and are spending a lot of days lazing around at coastal campsites, popping down to the beach for a surf and saying hello to the many kangaroos that live nearby! Our mosquito/fly nets on the van have been extremely useful and we’ve even started using the rather noisy fan, to cool off from the hot sun!
North of Sydney, we hit the Pacific Highway, which would take us all the way along the North coast of NSW. We passed through Gosford (camping overnight at one of the rest areas), stopped briefly in Newcastle and checked out Nobby’s Beach. We found a free campsite at Bulahdelah, right down by the river, and felt most disappointed when we ran out of gas and had to make a cold dinner! Nonetheless, it was our first peaceful stop since Sydney and we were happy to be out of the big smoke. From there, our beach days began. Here are some of our favourite spots so far:
Located in the Myall Lakes National Park, Seal Rocks campsite is just off the beach, in the forest. We parked our van and took the surfboard straight down to try and catch some waves. We caught plenty, but I only made it to my knees, which was a bit frustrating. Later that afternoon, we lazed around, reading, cooking and watching movies on my laptop. A friendly goanna came to check out our van for a while – he was quite a big one and I didn’t want to get too close, but he wasn’t scared at all!
Just past Kempsey, we took a turn off to Crescent Head, where the misty rain was creating some picturesque views from the headland.
Then, through the green farming pastures and along the Macleay River, we finally reached the sleepy seaside town of Hat Head. We used to come here for family holidays when I was a child. I was wondering if much had changed. Often, childhood memories get warped with time and when you arrive back at the place, things are so different you wonder if you made it all up.
But that’s not the case here at Hat Head. It’s as though nothing has changed. The main street is just the same, the corner shop where we used to buy lollies is still there. The caravan park by the river looks just as I remembered. We used to hire out a holiday house for a whole week and then, us there kids would run off in our bare feet, down dog lane (where all the local dogs would growl and bark as we hurried past), through the town and along the sandy tracks to the beach. We would fish in the mangroves with our hand lines, float down the river on body boards and spend hours playing in the water. If it was raining, we would cosy up in doors and play board games, hoping the rain would stop so we could go out and explore again.
When we drove through town in our little van, memories flooded back and I was so pleased to see that this town hadn’t changed a bit. In fact, it was more beautiful than I remembered. We pottered down the Gap Road to the Hungry Gate Campground, paid the $6 camping fees each per night into the honesty box and arrived at a beautiful place, where a family of kangaroos were munching away on the lawn. There were picnic tables, barbecue plates and lots of trees shaped by the wind. It had been raining on the way in, so there was a fine mist, which made the place more magical.
I could see some golden sunset through the trees so, midway through cooking dinner, I ran up the sandy path, through the trees and onto the dunes. At the top, I was astounded by one of the most magical views I’ve ever seen. Photos did not do it justice, and I’m sure my words won’t either, but I’ll try. The sky was painted full of gold, purple and orange. In the foreground were sandy dunes, in the distance, the ocean, with mist floating above it, like we were up in the clouds.
The sun was sinking behind the mountains in the distance, spreading gold above it, which blended into oranges and later, a deep purple up above. It was almost like I’d stepped upon a fairytale kingdom by accident. I did not expect anything like this when I climbed up the dunes and was blown away by the magic of it all!
The next morning, we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the river estuary and the ocean, before moving onto our next campsite.
Smokey Cape Lighthouse Campground
Before setting up camp here, we took a short drive around South West Rocks and then up to Smokey Cape Lighthouse. Built in the 1800’s, this is the highest lighthouse in Australia! We admired the white and blue buildings and Captain Cook’s Lookout, where there was a cute kangaroo with its joey, grazing on the grass. The joey was very shy when we approached and ducked into its mother’s pouch straight away, so only its back legs were sticking out. It peeped its head out occasionally to see if we had gone!
Afterwards, we set up our van at the nearby campsite (National Park fees apply), right next to the beach. More kangaroos were hopping about as we came in – they are the most amazing animals. I could watch them for hours. They were very interested in our surfboard!
We then took the board down for a surf. The waves were very choppy and at one point, we saw a grey fin popping out of the water, just metres away. We sprinted towards the shore, but to our relief, it was a dolphin, not a shark! Suddenly, several more appeared and we saw them catching the waves. They are so graceful, the way they dive in and out of the water. They don’t seem to be too frightened of humans, as they stuck around for a good while. We caught a few more waves, before heading back to the van for the evening.
This is one town that I could hardly remember at all, though we came here a lot as kids.
The view from the lookout is spectacular – crystal clear, aqua water where the river meets the sea. It was very hilly with lots of winding roads. We made ourselves some sandwiches at (another) Captain Cook lookout for lunch.
I just wanted to stop by here briefly, for old time sake. The local shop is still up on the hill, though it has turned into a fancy cafe, rather than the fish and chip store it used to be. Gone are the days of going and buying little bags of lollies for 50 cents! We followed the dirt road down to the river mouth, where we paddled for a while. It is such a beautiful beach and there were hardly any people there.
Urunga/ Hungry Head
Urunga is right on the river. The local supermarket, pub and fish and chips stores are in exactly the same places as when I was last here, ten years ago! I even still knew the way down to our favourite beach at Hungry Head. We parked the van here for some time, swam in the river and checked out the surf. The sound of cicadas was deafening and the air was hot and dry. You can tell it’s Summer. I can only imagine how hot it will get as we head further North!
The next morning, we feasted on fresh coffee and peanut butter on toast (I might need to dedicate a whole post on camp food)! Later, we took the board out for a surf. There were some body-boarders already out there and the waves were nice any gentle, so it wasn’t too intimidating. I am starting to learn to get to my feet first, rather than my knees, but I still haven’t quite managed to let go of the board yet and stand up.
I love this little town. We used to come down here quite often when we were younger, watch movies at the cinema, swim at the beach and eat ice creams on the main street. It hasn’t changed a bit. I almost like it more now – the people are super friendly and relaxed, the surf is great and there are lots of nice cafes. We had banana smoothies here at ‘Zest’, watched people surfing some rather big waves from the headland and spent the afternoon in the pub, enjoying hot chips, free wifi and a warm breeze coming onto the verandah.
From here, we headed back to the Pacific Highway and inland to Bellingen, to start our trip along the Waterfall Way. No more surf for a few days, while we explore the fresh swimming holes and waterfalls.