Newcastle to Bellingen
It’s always a little hard to leave friends and the comforts of inside living. Even though we love living in the tent and being outdoors, having a break from searching for a place to sleep, lighting the stove every time you want a cup of tea and one pot wonders is nice. But the nature of our trip is that we need to move on, so we bade farewell to Riki and Newcastle and headed out on the highway towards Nelson Bay.
Although we had pushed to make it for the early afternoon ferry, on arrival at Nelson Bay we had found that only the 3.30pm one was running. Tragically this meant that we had to lie on the beach and snorkel until it was time to leave. The ferry trip across the bay and up the river was truly beautiful and I could sense we would be in for a real treat over the next few days as we explored the Myall Lakes National Park. On arrival at the picturesque Tea Gardens, the light was fading and we were wondering where to camp, when in typical fashion, we were approached by the ferry lady who gave us the heads up about where we could camp for free.
And then we had the great flood of 2013 as we have started calling it. Due to mild paranoia, bought on by the incessant signs about the things you can’t do in NSW (flying kites and camping are often forbidden) and the “security” guy from a few weeks ago, we decided to take extra precautions and set up somewhere quite hidden. This involved bashing through some bush and setting up after dark. We briefly considered the possibility of the tide (there were mangroves kind of nearby) but concluded we were definitely far away enough. I dismissed the strange holes in the ground.
So we were lying in the tent, watching Silk. I kept hearing some strange dripping, it sounded like water on water but I was only half paying attention. Astrid briefly thought that her feet felt a bit strange but we were both concentrating on the show. Then all of a sudden it clicked for Astrid as she put her hand onto the floor of the tent.
“Jude, I think we are on water.”
I put my hand on the floor, it felt like a waterbed.
I opened the door, sure enough, water. We were floating on ankle deep water.
We jumped into strangely coordinated action. Astrid said she will never forget me dragging a tent across ankle deep water, completely naked.
Luckily nothing was wet inside (thank you footprint and awesome Mont tent) and we found a dry spot not far away. Lesson about suspicious holes in the ground in the vicinity of mangroves learnt.
After the great flood of 2013 we arose to the kind of day that infuses you with an immense sense of wonder and joy. We cycled through cool, subtropical forests as the sun slowly broke through the canopy. To our left we had the still reflective Myall Lakes, to our right, the ocean. It wasn’t long before the sun’s rays overcame the coolness of the morning and we walked over immense, ancient sand dunes and swam naked in the warm ocean.
In the afternoon we were confronted with a google bikes error and found ourselves learning how to mountain bike, over rocks and pools, through thick vegetation on fully loaded touring bikes. It’s these unplanned challenges and distractions that make up the fabric of a trip like this. I think we giggled to ourselves for the whole 3 hours it took for us to do those 20km. The hilarity was compounded when a local informed us later that there was a well maintained dirt road we could have taken to exactly the same place.
On this adventure, change is a constant thing and this environment comes with it’s own set of stressors. The things that wear us are much more immediate then those you find in the city. Things like the constant exposure to the elements, not knowing if you are going to find somewhere suitable to sleep, trying to stay under budget, not eating enough, fatigue and missing home. So one day I can be having a golden day in the sun, the next sitting on the footpath in some random town feeling morose. As a couple this means one of us has to step up when the other is struggling and this in turn strengthens our relationship to each other. To know that it’s okay to have a cry (probably about nothing, most likely a lack of food) while snotting into a coffee is indeed a comforting thing.
And after these somewhat harder moments something good usually occurs. Like meeting our first fellow cycle tourists. More about them later. Or being warmly welcomed and invited to share a fire, conversation and a few drinks at a forest campsite. The good things always outweigh the tiny things that are sometimes a bit hard on this adventure.
It had to happen eventually. After what seemed to be weeks of golden sunshine we finally awoke to a moody sky and soon after we rolled out of camp, the rain joined us. But we were riding through subtropical rainforest, on deserted dirt road so things really weren’t so bad. And then we found coffee and learnt about a microbrewery up ahead. We also met up with the other cycle tourists again, a group of 4 travelling from Sydney to the Gold Coast. We arranged to meet up with them that night and the headed full pelt towards Black Duck Brewery. We spent the afternoon tasting brews and listening to local musicians. One guy even made up a song in our honour about ‘bicycles, breweries and bakeries’. Later we met up with the other cyclists and shared stories about the road and consumed large amounts of food. A very good day.
We were hitting the dirt road the next day and the others were off to the highway so we bade them farewell. The dirt road in question, was at least in part an actual 4 wheel drive track. That meant a lot of sand and water and for us a fare bit of pushing. We were headed for a rest day at south west rocks, this in Jude and Astrid fashion meant, not actual rest (who would want to do that?) but going diving. A perfect campsite was located at Smokey Cape and we spent the next day diving Fish Rock Cave. This was an incredible experience as we got to swim through a cave, see grey nurse sharks and my favorite, a giant, ancient turtle. I nearly used all my air when I saw it, I was that excited.
After our non rest day we were both feeling a bit tired and dejected as we rode along the drizzly highway the following day. Things were slightly glum but at least we had a ‘warm showers’ host the following night with the promise of a break from the tent. The weather cleared anyway and we found ourselves camping in a beautiful hidden spot, just off the highway that night. The following day was a short ride into gorgeous Bellingen, a town I would move to in a second if it was in Victoria. What can I say, mountains, beach, good coffee and a really strong sense of community. Here we met the wonderful Kerrie, one half of our warm showers host. She showed us around the beautiful area she lives in and cooked us the most amazing thai fish curry. Her partner Ian helped us with the road ahead and we felt very spoilt (we even had a bath overlooking the rainforest!) and revitalised.