16. Australian Road Trip - Long Boards and Bats at Crescent Head and Bellingen.
Crescent Head, traditional Aussie seaside town - great surf, ocean beach fishing, sub-tropical climate - nearly paradise.
Crescent Head to Bat Town and Red Rock
Crescent Head is a small seaside town with a retail centre consisting of a pub, an RSL club and a few shops. There is a large campground and caravan park on a prime location overlooking the headland that juts out into the sea. This town is considered the “Longboard Capital of Australia” - its perfect waves break along the boulder strewn edge of the headland and are ridden by surfers with a preference for the longer, Malibu-type surfboards. To the north of the headland there is a beach disappearing off into the hazy distance. It would be a beautiful little spot if the weather was better, but the onshore wind and seaweed that drove us out of Seal Rocks, has also ruined the idyll here. A quick look in our Rough Guide indicates a curiously named campsite about 10 miles south of Crescent Head along a dirt road.
Who wouldn't want to stay at a place called Delicate Nobby (after a type of fish)? We rumble down the gravel road until we come to a rustic campground sheltered from the stiff wind by a thick forest of banksias and gumtrees. The few campers staying here consist of a couple of groups of rugged looking men (almost feral) in semi-permanent campsites with fishing and beer as their reason for being here. The beach is accessed via is a sandy track on the other side of the gravel road. The ocean is scary and rough with large waves crashing onto the deserted sands and the water full of seaweed - it looks extremely uninviting. The campground however, is ideal and even has a campfire pit, surrounded by logs to sit on, next to every pitch. We set up, eat dinner, and in the evening, light a fire around which we sit. As darkness descends, big fruit bats or flying foxes begin to appear. They squabble, fight and flit about in the canopy above us, their spooky bat wings silhouetted against the lowering sky above. Then the crepuscular kangaroos come out in force and once again my English companions are treated to a wildlife-fest of a quality that they would normally associate with a David Attenborough documentary.
In off the Point
The next morning dawns bright and sunny and a reccy of the beach reveals crystal clear water, an off-shore breeze and a nice swell. The seaweed that coloured the water a mucky grey-green yesterday has miraculously disappeared. However, despite the great looking surf, the ocean here is very lonely, with “Shark” written all over it, so I insist that we head back to Crescent Head where I can surf in safety.
An hour later and we are staking a claim on a patch of grass in the crowded campground overlooking the headland. As soon as we are set up I head out for a surf. I feel my way gingerly over the rocks at the far end of the headland, and when a wave washes over the boulders I leap with my board into the surf and paddle away from the rocks as quickly as possible. I soon find myself sitting out there amongst a dozen or so other blokes while three and four foot waves rise up around me. After a couple of abortive take-offs I catch my first Crescent Head wave and what a delight it is to stand up and swoosh across the smooth green face while immediately behind me the curl crashes and churns in a maelstrom of foam. The water is so clear I can see the rocks beneath me but I keep my board trimmed hard against the ever moving wall of the wave to avoid being pummelled into them. Eventually I do wipeout and curl my body into a protective ball as I am flung into the shallow water. No damage done but extreme excitement is generated. I quickly paddle out to the breaking point again for more of this.
The Crescent Head Campground is a typical caravan park of the old-fashioned variety, designed for the archtypal Australian family holiday . It occupies prime real estate between the pub, the beach and the Headland; there are tall Norfolk pines and pandanus palms dotted about too. Anywhere else in the world and this bit of real estate would have a Hilton on it. Everyone is crammed onto grassy pitches between a grid of roads. Caravans, Winnebagos, vans, big marquees and little pup tents all compete for their little patch of seaside paradise. Despite the close quarters, each pitch seems to create its own orbit and there is never a feeling of being too close to the neighbours despite being able to see some of their more intimate moments silhouetted through canvas walls.
After an exhausting few hours riding the waves along the point, Sheila and I take a walk along the soft sandy beach then head to the pub for some refreshments. This is the lifestyle I came home to Australia to experience.
The second day sees the wind once again whip up to a frenzy, like it did at Seal Rocks, ruining the decent waves of yesterday and acting as a precursor to our third day at Crescent Head when the sea is once again turned mucky with churned-up seaweed. No worries, we just up sticks and head north again, deeper into the sub-tropics. After all, there are plenty more beaches on the New South Wales Coast. Rather than drive back to Kempsey to rejoin the Pacific Highway, we stick to the small back roads that twist through the flat farming country on the coastal plain. The road meanders through hamlets and villages, occasionally crossing wooden bridges that span wide, slow moving rivers. There are also tempting signs pointing to more surfing spots along the way, but for now we keep on rolling.
Into the Hinterland
This is New South Wales - lush green farmlands, rugged mountains, sub-tropical rainforest, golden sandy beaches, great surf and sparkling ocean.
Dorrigo and Bellingen
Into the Hinterland
Dorrigo and Bellingen
After a few hours of leisurely road tripping, we stop for lunch in the coastal town of Nambucca Heads. Afterwards we take a diversion from the coast and visit some of the fabled New South Wales hinterland. The road to Bellingen is a winding rural idyll, reminiscent of west Cork in Ireland, or indeed, the State's namesake - South Wales, with deep green pastures, hedges and roiling streams on their last flit to the sea after their plunge from the Great Dividing Range which looms above the coastal plain. We pass through Bellingen township and carry on up the mountain - Dorrigo Mountain.
This is Winnie’s greatest ascent. Dorrigo Mountain goes up and up; narrow in parts with steep, sharp bends that at times require me to change to the lowest gear in a heart-stopping double shuffle where we stop, roll back momentarily and then slowly and painfully build up revs, torque and speed until I can change back up to second gear again.
Once at the top we find the picturesque old township of Dorrigo is cold and windy, unseasonally so. There are few tourists up here and despite it being an attractive mountain-top town, we only stop long enough to grab a meat pie before driving to the Dorrigo World Heritage Rainforest Park.
Here, there are walking trails through the spectacular eucalyptus forest that clings to the side of the range. The rough trail we take passes through emerald green glades of palms and ferns, past crashing streams and even behind a waterfall. Back at the Visitors Centre there is a ‘sky-bridge’, a platform that sticks out high over the forest canopy, from where we can look down and over the amazing rainforest. Finally, it’s back to the van to find a camp site for the night.
Winnie wont start! Somehow we have gained a flat battery. After fruitlessly laying underneath the chassis fiddling with the terminals in the fading light, we eventually manage to push-start the van. We find the the Dorrigo Caravan Park, which is almost deserted in the post-holiday season, and set-up on a pitch near a slope so we can easily push-start if we need to in the morning. There’s nothing to be done about it in the dark cold night - worry about it tomorrow.
That night, I’m sitting on the loo in the draughty and dimly lit toilet block and I look up and see a huntsman spider, with a leg span the size of my hand, on the ceiling. I Ignore it for a second, but look up again it is gone. Later I see it on the wall next to the urinal; no it’s a different one. The other is now on a rafter over the sink. The Toilet block is full of them. After dinner, Sam goes off to the shower but we dare not tell him as he has a pathological fear (aracnophobia) of spiders. He returns from his shower still unaware that the biggest spiders he will ever see in the wild were hanging around a couple of feet above his head.
I learn a valuable driving lesson the next day. If you come up a mountain in second gear, you should down it in second. Do not rely on the brakes!
We push-start Winnie no problem and head back down the mountain to Bellingen. Three quarters of the way down our brakes start smoking like John Wayne and grating, metal on metal. We stop in a lay-by and wait for half an hour for them to cool down. Then it’s a slow, scary descent for the final few kilometres into Bellingen town where we stop at a garage on the main street. A friendly and obliging mechanic solves the battery problem by tightening the terminals but he can do nothing about the brakes at the moment, so we baby the truck to the nearby Bellingen Council Campsite.
This facility is located right next to a vast colony of fruit bats. The famous colony occupies a jungle-covered island in middle of the Bellingen River. During the day there are over 50,000 fruit bats dangling from the branches like giant, over-ripe pears. They fight, breed, squawk and sleep all through the day, until eight o’clock every night when they begin to stir. On cue, they to swam up into the sky like a cloud of black smoke. They circle the island for a while then break into huge flocks, flying off in all directions, their silent flapping wings taking them on their nightly feeding foray, sometimes flying 30 or more kilometres from their roost. They return, like clockwork, at five in the morning, a raucous, screeching, flapping, shitting, aerial hubbub that heralds the dawn with their noise and foxy odour.
Bellingen itself is a lovely old town with some good cafés and restaurants, an interesting old shopping emporium and an arts centre where we while away a couple of hours in the hot afternoon.
The next day we head north again, being extremely careful with the brakes; We stop for a while at the large town of Coffs Harbour where we ride on a giant metal bobsled that winds down the hill at the famous ‘Big Banana’ Tourist attraction. Then it’s onward to find a nice beachside campsite to spend the last four or five days of Sam and Sonia’s holiday before shipping them out on the Virgin Blue flight to Sydney. We eventually discover the isolated holiday hamlet of Red Rock, a few dozen miles north of Coffs harbour, where we decide that whatever the weather, we are staying put.
Aussie native flora
A Novel with Gum Trees
Let's go to Red Rock
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