The birds, the farmers and the rubbish collectors had already been awake for hours when I rolled out of bed at 5.45am but sod them all because I still felt like shit. Excitement and stress don’t make for good dreams so with 5 hours sleep I loaded up on coffee, packed the car and drove around the corner to pick up my travelling companion Danielle at 6.30am. She isn’t known for her ability to rise early so I was impressed that she was ready to go – even if she was bleary eyed.
To the classy tune “Wake me up before you go go” we headed for the petrol station to fill up on petrol and ice for the esky. A road trip isn’t complete without a specially prepared playlist for the ipod and it didn’t let me down. After 30 minutes of leaving my house I still hadn’t made it out of Brisbane but eventually we made it to the highway and heading in to the great unkown. Or known for at least a day because the Gold Coast and Byron isn’t all that new to us South-east Queensland dwellers.
The new highway between Yelgun and Chinderah means that we didn’t pass my old favourites Condon (which I childishly like saying because it sounds like Condom) and Mooball (a town that has black and white cow prints painted on all the telegraph poles). Instead we blasted through tunnels and over bridges on a four lane highway to Byron Bay in about 2 and a half hours. Not inspiring viewing along the freeway but we knew the view at Byron would fix that.
Byron Bay is the jewel of the New South Wales North Coast and is the home of the Byron Bay Blues and Roots festival. The festival is usually held around easter over 3-5 days and has hosted artists such as Ben Harper, Jack Johnson and the John Butler Trio. This year REM, Dave Matthews and Sarah McLachlan are playing along with a tonne of others. I think the organisers find it easy to attract world renowned artists because of the beauty of the town and the surfing beaches that surround it.
Danielle and I found a park easily and browsed the stores looking for a place to eat breakfast. There was a really cool store that had large framed surfing photos, paintings and hawaiian shirts. I bought my dad a birthday present here and took a photo of the old school skateboards that were hanging above the counter. Don’t worry – I asked for permission. The guy in the store was really nice and friendly, he looked like if he had to do a job than this would be his dream job.
Around the corner we headed for “Fresh” to eat breakfast. Pancakes with maple syrup and grilled bananas was ordered as we perused the brilliant sexually suggestive artwork on the walls. I wish that I was rich enough to go to a cafe and say I’d like a flat white and that $1000 painting please. I gobbled down the extremely yummy pancakes while observing the locals and tourists go about their morning business. Everything is cruisy here except for the cattle dog tied outside the cafe who took exception to a guy who accidently stood on him. I’d be barking at him too if I was minding my own business and got trod on. At least the barking woke Danielle up from her zombie like state as it was now 10am. WTF? 10am? Damn, gained an hour when we went over the border.
Leaving the breakfast remains we crossed the road to take in the beautiful beach. To our left was the rusting remains of a boat sunk in some storm, ahead were some rocks and to the right was the Byron lighthouse – our next destination. The pine trees, the park and the rolling sounds of the waves are hypnotic and whisper “stay” but we had a long way to go and so much more to see. Slowly at 50kms an hour we drove through the town up to the lighthouse where I stuffed up and was too slow to get a free park. We were forced to pay the $6 to park so we could wander the headland. It’s kind of like paying a ransome so you don’t have to walk up the hill. My tip is to turn around at the gate like you are leaving and head down the road a bit. There is a tonne of free parking there that you don’t see until you are leaving – AFTER you’ve paid the price.
The white lighthouse was built in 1901 and has no lightkeeper as it is automatic. There is a lighthouse museum at the base along with a shop and displays where the keeper used to live. You can do a tour that takes you up to the top for a fee but we gave it a miss as we had places to go people to see. We took a little pause first for the great views and scanned the horizon for whales. I don’t think it is the season for them though I did see a shape at the bottom that looked like either a shark, dolphin or a huge fish. The water is so blue and inviting.
Back on the freeway again and we made a short toilet stop at The Macadamia Castle. This is where I saw the first wicked van on our journey and immortialised it in a photo. We had contemplated hiring one but they didn’t have any new ones available at the time we needed it. The castle is a good place to stop for food or gifts. The Knight out the front guards the place which has a lovely park out the back where you can sit for a while for a small fee. It’s kind a good place to take the kids to check out the farmyard animals and cockatoo that says hello even when you are leaving.
A quick drive through Ballina to take a photo of the big prawn that is fading in colour then onwards to Yamba. You have to get off the freeway to access the place but it is worth the side trip to this fishing town. They must like their bowls here because the bowling club is formidable. We drove up to Queen Street which overlooks the main beach to have a cup of coffee in the park. While sipping we decided to have a swim in the wave pool so we got in to our cossies and took a dip. Although salty the swim was invigorating. A wave pool has all the benefits of a swim at the beach without all the waves dumping on you. There were a couple of people doing laps but Danielle and I just floated around on our backs enjoying the serenity of the place. I sent a few sms’ to brag about what fun I was having then we headed around the other side of the beach to where the trawlers head out. There is another beach there which looked better for surfers so we made our ham and cheese breadrolls and munched at the table watching them catch the waves. A few photos later and we were back on the road. Everytime I go to Yamba I’m not dissapointed – it’s such a relaxing and serene place. It’s also a little backward, kind of like being in the 60s again or the Sunshine Coast before it was invaded by everyone.
The long drive to Coffs Harbour was uneventful so when the Big Banana appeared out of nowhere we woke from our meditation. Unfortunately we arrived a little too late for it to be open, we just wandered around gawking and taking photos of Cereal in front of it. It’s pretty similar to the big pineapple – they both have rides, food and big fruit. Apparently the Banana was the first big thing in Australia and is celebrating it’s 40th birthday this year. By this time Danielle and I were “big tired” so we went looking for accommodation. The plan had been to camp the first two nights of the trip but I felt a bit gross from the swim and wanted a proper shower. We asked about the cabins at the camping site we had wanted to stay at but they only had ones without bathrooms that were quite expensive. I’d seen a formula 1 sign on the way in saying $49 a night so we ended up there.
Formula 1 hotels are very basic but clean. The room had a double bed and a bunk that I managed to hit my head on in the first 5 minutes. I got pissed off in the way that you do when things like that happen but luckily the mild concussion it gave me tempered my anger. The shower was tiny and not very strong but for $49 it wasn’t too bad. Our only complaint was that there wasn’t a kettle in the room. You don’t want to spend too much time in the room so we headed back to the beach to cook sausages for dinner.
After a few hours of cooking on the free bbq (it was that slow) we sat down and munched on our sausage bread rolls without tomato sauce. The beach was roaring in the background as the sun set over the harbour and I mused why I enjoyed food more when I was outdoors. Cleaning up we headed back to the room and discussed why we weren’t that impressed with Coffs. I’d been here before and felt the same way, so I wondered if I was missing some special place of the town. It’s like they aren’t taking advantage of the natural beauty of the water because there aren’t any seaside shops or anything. Rather odd really. I cursed the town’s stupidity as I passed out in the top bunk for the next 8 hours.
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