Distractions, reflections

David Ing, at large … Sometimes, my mind wanders

2009/07/09-11 Lower Hunter Valley, Port Macquarie, Byron Bay

We had chosen public transportation for our week in the Sydney area.  To transport the six of us from Sydney to Brisbane, we opted not to fly, instead reserving a minivan (called a people mover, down under).  Diana and I woke up early to catch buses to the rental location on William Street in central Sydney.  We drove back over the Sydney Harbour Bridge and missed the freeway exit by the Lane Cove Tunnel.  We circumnavigated back to the hotel, our sons loaded up the luggage, and we embarked following directions leading through the narrow streets of Pymble.  We reached the Sydney Newscastle Freeway in time for a traffic jam.  I gradually became more comfortable driving on the left side of the road.

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Our plan was to route through the Lower Hunter Valley to visit some wineries.  We had a short list of potential places to visit, but no real sense of the region.   Trying out Broke Road around Pokolbin taught us that the wineries are spread across vast distances in this region.

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Some random decisions led us to Hunter Valley Gardens.  We got out to stretch, but we didn’t find any lunchtime alternatives to suit our palates.

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We doubled back to Cessnock, where our son enjoyed Portuguese-style chicken for lunch.  Watching the clock, we figured that we had time to visit only one winery.  We headed northeast via Wine Country Drive to Dalwood, passing by some well-developed residential areas on the way to Wyndham Estate.  In Australian winter, we weren’t expecting to see any grapes on the vines.

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The tasting room would probably be busier in the fall harvest season.  The casks outside are for show rather than for aging.

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Entering the tasting room, more oak casks reinforce the winery imagery.

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A plaque with some of the original rootstock for the winery is more authentically historical.

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We debated who would sample wines.  As designated driver, I was limited to sniffing the glasses.

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Our family sampled both white and red wines.  The server was knowledgeable about wine, and dispensed education with the tastings.

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The sun was low in the sky when we left the winery, so I experienced much of the Pacific Highway (with some construction diversions) in the dark.  We checked into a hotel in Port Macquarie, discovering that it’s a small town where the Chinese restaurant closes at 9 p.m.

The rain continued overnight to the next morning.  As a unique sight for Port Macquarie, we chose Lion’s Lookout, also known as Gaol Point.

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Under the shelter, there’s a map pointing out historic sites.  Between 1859 and 1912, the gaol was active, with prisoners sentenced to hard labour.

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Looking north, the site of the former gaol has devolved into the Port Macquarie town beach.

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Looking south, the longer stretch of sand had more facilities (e.g. changing rooms).

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With the river mouth nearby, the waves are supposed to be good for surfing.  The lone surfer was a die-hard in the rainy Australian winter.

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Our routing took us through Kempsey with a supermarket stop for fruit (and raw vegetables, as our sons asked to supplement our fast food meals).  When we got to Coffs Harbour, we were mistaken in presuming good seafood might be near the docks, eventually settling for a lunch of fish and chips in a mall instead.  The second hotel on our road trip was in Ballina.  Our choice of a Chinese restaurant for dinner led to our sons lamenting how far away we were from a real Chinatown.

By the third morning, our sons had become adept at loading up our luggage in the people mover.  The third row seating was partially taken up by smaller suitcases that we had brought from Canada.

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We somehow missed the northbound exit for Byron Bay, and had to double back south in a roundabout approach.  To pick up maps at the visitors centre, we dodged pedestrians on the small streets.  In pursuit of major sights, we drove up Lighthouse Road towards Cape Byron.

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Halfway up the hill was a parking lot overlooking Clarkes Beach.  We saw surfers suiting up, preparing for the descent down to the beach.

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In pursuit of a better photograph of Clarkes Beach to the north, I got up on a three-foot wall … and slipped off backwards to fall onto my knapsack.  I was to be sore for more than a few days, and was unfortunately the only person licensed to drive the people mover.  I had to persevere twinges to continue on the drive.

Despite the physical setback, we continued with our plan.  Across from the parking lot, Lee Lane leads to the Cape Byron Walking Track.

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It’s mostly a dirt path, well marked but lightly maintained.

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We were sufficiently fit to not need the resting bench.

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We opted for the shorter route.  The steeper sections had stairs.

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In my condition, walking all the way to the lighthouse seemed impractical.  We reached a clearing that must be near Cosy Corner.  There, we found a hang glider ramp overlooking the ocean, facing southeast.

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Eric insisted on crawling up to the edge for a photograph looking down.

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The view south showed the expanse of Tallow Beach, long and unoccupied.

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Looking east from Cosy Corner, the Cape Byron Marine Park is a protected area from the beaches down to the seabed.

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We returned down the walking track, as we has ascended.  My hurt back slowed me down.

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Back in the minivan, we drove up towards the Cape Byron Lighthouse, and only had a short wait for a parking space on the circle.

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The lighthouse at Cape Byron marks the most easternly point in Australia.

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On the east side of the lighthouse, there’s an outlook platform.  DY and the boys continued all the way down the stairs to the water’s edge.  I waited at the top, to rest my back.

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I watched a lot of tourists with ice cream cones.  When the family returned, we drove back into central Byron Bay.

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We had read good reviews of Fish Mongers, and were fortunate to find street parking nearby.  We took over a table outside the restaurant.

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The interior diningroom was as informal as outside.  We placed our order at the counter, and waited for the waitress to deliver it to the table.

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We ordered a large platter of fish with rice.  We had been in Australia long enough to appreciate the barramundi.

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For six people, we also ordered the family platter, and another smaller plate.  Our sons declared this meal the best of our trip to Australia.

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Continuing our travel towards Brisbane, the number of highway lanes gradually increased.  We drove through Surfer’s Paradise long enough to assess it as a cross between Waikiki and Las Vegas.  We arrived at our reserved apartment at Toowong just after sunset on the Saturday night.  We were surprised that grocery stores in the Brisbane area don’t open late on weekends.

I’ve read about drivers making the Sydney-Brisbane run in a single day, although most would take two.  Our three day plan allowed us to see some sights along the east coast of Australia that we’re unlikely to revisit as a family.

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