NSW Northern Beaches

Lockdown in VIctoria has been long and at times frustrating, but we made it out at last! November 2021 saw us crossing the border into NSW and heading up to the beautiful Northern Beaches.

Leaving Melbourne on a wet and foggy morning with my new friend sourdough starter in the van (he needs constant feeding and can’t be left behind) the GPS decided it would be nice to hit the Hume Hwy via Kinglake and the Melba Hwy. A much nicer start to the journey than the dreadful ring road at peak hour.


Coffee, wee and walk at our first stop in Benalla. I was thrilled to finally see the completed mural I had spent a weekend working on in 1983 as a pottery student at RMIT. I was proud to think my hands helped to make some of these terracotta tiles.

Some lovely murals decorated the town. Make sure you go for a walk and look around.


A long tiring drive but due to the rain this year it is very green and pretty. Storms around us delivered some interesting clouds.

Governors Hill Big4 is very tight park. It’s a bit shabby and quite noisy, but the bathrooms are all renovated and super fresh and clean. It’s an overnight stop we have used before, but not sure we will again. The little insect band played country music until quite late in the night. If we had a site closer to them i may well have taken a shovel to them.

Bonny Hill

Setting up through a tropical strength deluge was not fun but i have a good man who let me sit in the car while he battled on. We woke in the morning to sun, humidity and 29 C by 11am. A shower in the immaculate amenities set things right for the rest of the day.

Follow a clear path through a tunnel of vegetation to a beautiful beach that brought joy to my heart.


We stopped at Kempsey looking for a coffee and bakery, but after a walk through the beautiful park and picturesque riverside, enjoying the Jacaranda’s in full bloom, walking through the purple snow dropping with every puff of wind and marvelling at the pops of seed pods bursting open, we decided to move on and look for food elsewhere.

Nambucca Heads

33 C and humid in Nambucca Heads. We were finally thawing out. By now we were starving and settled on the Wharf Street Cafe. An inauspicious facade but it was quite nice and comfortable inside. Set on the river, it had ceiling fans swirling a nice breeze and the staff were really lovely. The food sounded promising but was average unfortunately. We shared Bruschetta, not great, Squid, which was not bad, and Buffalo WIngs, pretty good. The local beers were average, and we went for sweets. I had a Rose macaroon, acceptable but disappointing as i thought it was rosewater, but wasn’t. Coffee’s were good. we ran out of time for walk which was a shame. So, back on to the Pacific Hwy…which i do not like….

Skennars Head

We arrived in Skennars Head with a temperature of 34 C. First time we had felt hot for months and months. The Big4 park is still as comfortable and clean as it was last time we visited pre COVID. The grassy sites are lush, trimmed and spacious. The palm tree cast nice shade over site. Staff are extremely helpful. The low flying planes are great for enthusiasts but are bit invasive if you want a quiet space. Mind you, they are infrequent and don’t seem to fly at night, so it is not too hard to deal with the occasional boomer passing overhead. Friendly frogs in the bathroom!

Sharpes Beach

Just a short drive towards Ballina, Sharpes Beach is indeed beautiful at low tide. There is a walking track from the park, to Boulder Beach and along a well defined path. Surfers hit the waves at high tide. Car Parks are limited during busy periods but the bach is never crowded. Very lovely.

Lennox Head

Lennox Head has a smart little village style street with a choice of eateries. We were lucky to be there on a day when ight rescued sea turtles were being released. It was extremely moving and wonderful to see these incredible creatures who had been cared for restored to health and able to find their way back out to sea. The protected area where they were released is also a great pool for swimming. Naturally protected by rocks from the surf, we had a lovely swim here.

Whites Beach

Whites Beach was quite a journey to get to. Crazy steep steps down to the beach did me in for the next two days. Quite a few of the rocks i clambered down and then UP were deeper than my legs were long enough, so lots of scrambling. Hard work but oh so worth it. This is an incredibly beautiful coastline with a magnificent beach of fine sand and water exceptionally clear. A large cave offers shade to park yourself and there are other small caves and coves to explore at low tide. I wouldn’t risk being caught out during a high tide. The waves here are ferocious and only dedicated surfers were out in the water. The young men we saw bolted up and down the treacherous steps with boards under their arms and bare feet. I was envious of their ease with the quite scary steep track. This is not a swimming beach. The waves were majestic and i couldn’t stop looking at their immensity.

Boulder Beach

A short walk from the park to boulder beach gives access to a great walk that does either left or right along the stunning verdant cliff tops. It’s not called Boulder Beach without reason! This time we took the right hand walk back towards Sharpes Beach. The views are quite unlike most Australian Beaches with the lush green cliffs more reminiscent of the UK coastline. We also saw Dolphins frolicking in the water below. Easy walking and very peaceful.


I’d never been to Bangalow and have to admit i was expecting a pretty rain foresty type drive into a secluded hippy town. Unfortunately the GPS took us straight onto the horrible Hwy which quite killed my romantic vision of our drive. The town was very busy. Parking was virtually non existent. We found a park eventually and went for a walk up and down both sides of the main street. Eateries were not prolific surprisingly, nor particularly enticing. There are lots of pretty shops to have a poke about in for dust collecting items or pale linen women’s wear. Not much available for the boys. We opted to buy some cakes from Butcher Baker, which has a brilliant selection of bakery products. I had a nice chat with wonderful baker who served me and threw some extra cakes in, much to our delight as they were delicious. The custard filled donuts were crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy inside and the custard creamy and satiny and generously filled. Perfect. The pastry on the Raspberry Almond tarts, and pear tarts with delicious. Soft without being soggy or too crumbly. And the cheesecake, yes i am ashamed to say how many cakes we sampled, but have NO regrets, the cheesecake pastry was again wonderful and the filling creamy, not to sweet and i am salivating just writing about these fine sweets. Yummo.


It was time to head home and back to work. Not happy but a necessary evil. Getting off the ugly Hwy for a break, we stumbled on a town we had never heard of, Ulmarra. And what a joy it was. This is a place i highly recommend. The Clarence Cafe at the rear of the Ulmarra Hotel is bliss. I was sad we were there too early to order lunch but the cakes and coffee made up for it. Cakes are well up on the yummy stakes. My cannoli, although quite solid, was beautifully presented and the ricotta filling light and fluffy. He who always orders sticky date pud exclaimed effusively that it was the best he had ever eaten. The coffee on par with any fine establishments in Melbourne, if not better than many! My iced coffee tasted like proper coffee, and it was not smothered in fizzy spray can cream. The modern menu offered grilled whole sardines with ciabatta and sashimi. Reading the chalkboard i vowed to return for a lunch or dinner.

The beer garden was large, green and lovely. Set along the riverside the tables were well spaced out. The environment conveyed a feeling of peace and allowed you to sit and relax. To my distress, there were at least half a dozen water dragons who shared my idea that this was a nice spot to chill. They were draped on virtually every table or bench around the garden. Occasionally one would propel itself off the tables and land in the grass, scurrying away to stop and stare at something only they could see. This is a great place. Make the effort to find it.

After an overnight at Lake Macquarie Big4, which was not my most favourite place i have stopped at, we stopped at Marulan for lunch. The Marulan Cafe made our sandwiches fresh, and were happy to substitute the chicken, which they were out of, with roast beef at my request. Nice to get a pot of tea. The sandwiches were quite substantial and fresh. Good one to remember for a quick stop and feed.


Finding a quiet campsite off the beaten track is one of the best parts of travelling. Humula is a tiny town that boast the smallest licensed club in NSW. Unfortunately it is only open Wednesdays and Fridays, manned by volunteers, and we arrived on a Saturday. There are four powered camp sites on the grass and few more on what looks like it was once a tennis court covered in mulch. There are no shops, we didn’t see any people, and it was super quiet. The amenities are newly renovated and super clean and there are complimentary bathroom products in the ladies. The shower looked like it had never been used. This is a perfect spot for an overnight stop. Even though it was 25kms off the beaten track, it was worth the extra km’s at only $14 a night.


Last stop for lunch before the final part of the drive home. A tidy little town that is as expected set up for tourism. I was a bit surprised that the giant Ned Kelly menacingly pointing a gun looked rather the modern man about town. After a walk up and down the street we settled on lunch at the Glenrowan Hotel, thinking this was the best choice for a Glenrowan experience. Hmmmm. Disappointing. It falls just below average or acceptable. Service was good, the food was not. The ‘Kelly Draught’ is not worth trying. Don’t waste your money unless you like yellow liquid with no personality. I have no idea how old the coleslaw in my burger was but it should have been binned the day before. In their favour, the chips were good. The pizza edible if lacking any actual flavour. Shame, as it is a comfortable hotel with good choice of spaces to sit and chill. Just to let you know if you are looking for a good lunch choose another town, the Glenrowan Bakery was so disappointing we did a walk in, walk out. The choice of bakery products was very limited and looked quite unappetising. I was sad, as i really wanted to include a Glenrowan vanilla slice in my blog ‘The Great Vanilla Slice’ but they looked so plastic i couldn’t bring myself to try one. My recommendation is find another town for lunch.

Jetty Road Brewery

Mother’s Day in Melbourne, the sun shone, it was warm, and the water of Port Phillip Bay glittered in the distance as we circled an industrial estate in Dromana that boasted several breweries, distilleries and eateries.

Jetty Road Brewery offer a spacious casual atmosphere with delightful live music that filled the space without making conversation difficult.

We selected some share foods, chicken bits that were truly delicious, bruschetta that was tasty but more ricotta than tomato, and a meat and bread platter that i wouldn’t recommend. I enviously checked out the next tables chips which looked amazing. I will try them next time!

For $18 a tasting paddle was put together with four beers of my choice. The experience with the young bar man was not particularly delightful. A warning that the sour was ‘very sour’ – twice, and that the dark ale was like, ‘a dark ale’ left me feeling a little testy. a bit of advice to those behind the bar, don’t assume the customer has no idea.

Fortunately, the beers of choice were quite enjoyable. And I satisfied myself with the knowledge that the arrogant fellow will one day feel the wrath of the young.

Desserts were a small but good selection. The pannacotta was okay, perhaps a little heavy, i loved the pecan garnish which to me was the highlight. The beeramisu was disappointing. Far too much cream. Not enough cakey bits and what was buried in there was too dry, not enough beery/coffee taste to cut through the sugary creamy bulk. I wish i had chosen the donuts. I will next time.

The unhurried atmosphere was refreshing. TIme between ordering and eating was surprisingly fast for such a large venue. The waitresses delivered food and removed dirty dishes unobtrusively. Making the whole experience very pleasant.

With Mount Martha and Dromana beach so close, we bought some beers to take home and a couple of t-shirts and headed for a walk as the sun began to set. A good time to go up to the look out as most people had headed off home for the day, leaving lots of parking spaces. Good thing, considering the signage warning us to watch out for cars.

And my love of piers, even if it was just a little one, meant i ended my Mothers Day with a beautiful display of colours above the gently darkening water.

Moama, The Murray and Barmah.

The Murray is truly a wondrous river. The calm yet strong and steady flow pulls you down to the depths of it’s green water, filling your mind with images of what may be lurking below…

We spent a chilled out week at Morning Glory Camp Ground. Don’t let the name put you off, i was a bit dubious, but it is an excellent place to chill away from the busy caravan parks in Echuca and Moama, with the Barmah National Park only a short drive away. There are plenty of shady riverside sites and lots of grassy sites back away from the river and trees if you don’t want overhanging branches. It is a very pretty, clean, grassy camp ground with lots of sites, but not so many powered sites. Mid week during school term found us in a virtually empty park. It was awesome.

The changing colours of the Murray throughout the day are beautiful. I couldn’t stop looking at it…and taking photos…

The birdlife is crazy. The dawn and dusk are heralded by a cacophony, or symphony, depending on your personal thoughts on birds. It is loud and it goes on and on an on. So funny. Lots of squabbling. But beware if you do choose to camp under the trees. We had to wash poo off our car every morning.

Morning Glory is a space for people who want to steep themselves in serenity, away from shops, cafes and bars. A place to sit still. BYO booze and nibbles.The amenities are basic but super clean. The camp kitchen is however not terribly inviting. Functional, but not a place to sit and chill. There is an awesome pool and kiddies water play area, place far enough from the campsites that any noise from exuberance splashers is diffused.

Be warned! The pool and cabins at the rear of the resort are riddled with ants. I happened to walk through the middle of them while walking and my feet were instantly a crawling mess. i have kick off my runners, pull off my socks and run. Very scary. Luckily Hubby had Blundstones on and they couldn’t attach to the leather.

The BBQ looks rusty and a bit past it, but with a bit of a clean it cooked like a dream. We used it every night, and no one else went near it. Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed in the results.

While on the subject of food, Suttons Bakery in Moama is right next to the Woolworths, about a 30 minute easy drive. They have a good range of cakes and breads and my review of the vanilla slice is in my blog The Great Vanilla Slices.

Just a short drive is the Barmah National Park. There are a variety of walks, some are short with colour coded guided information, and others are longer and marked with arrows. It is a beautiful area, with lots of water ways, historical areas and natural beauty. Intensely green and pretty, it is easy access and well marked parking. Lots of birds and due to the wet, mushrooms were sprouting everywhere. Fascinating. They were also in the grass at Morning Glory.

So pretty. A boat give tours on the water for those who like a bit of being toured about.

The Muster Yards are only one part of the self guided walks. There are many interesting facts about the area that are worth reading about.

The awesome trees are just plain awesome. Some are quite sculptural if you look hard.

Morning Glory has a variety of campsites, with and without power, water and amenities. There is lots of good signage. They also have their own sandy beach entry.

The Levy Bank Walk was a particularly nice part of the 5km circuit walk.

We decided to make a day trip into Echuca. The town has been tidied up and was super busy, people spilled in and out of cafes and various shops. The Old Port, is quite upgraded and not at all as i remembered it as a child. Very touristy, but we walked around and had a look, found the old Thong Tree, and decided we preferred to return to the peace of Morning Glory.

Beechworth Bakery is always busy and has a very large range of bakery goods, sweet and savoury, to choose from. Of course, we had to try the Vanilla Slice and add it to my Great Vanilla Slice blog.

So many things to delight us. From little creatures, to sweet delights, colours, and creatures. We scuttled back to our campsite, away from people, and chilled happily the whole week.

A fire at the end of the day while the sun sets and the river turns golden is indeed joyous.

The Great Vanilla Slice

One of the best things about travelling is bakeries! And in bakeries, there is almost always, a vanilla slice. I’ve been sampling quite a few, and have decided to put them all together as a reminder to myself of where i have eaten vanilla slices, and to let other travellers know what is on offer in vanilla slice heaven. Some are amazing, some are not so memorable. I will update and add these delicious creamy delights as I find and devour them. Yummm…

Windara Bakery, Penola

I decided to go for the French vanilla version and he went for the traditional which i found a little cloying. The biscuit undercooked and soggy. Custard was creamy but devoid of flavour. Icing was okay. The French vanilla was lighter and had a pleasant texture. Biscuit was actually crunchy which was a nice surprise. The icing was light and i quite enjoyed my French vanilla version.

Kings Bakery, Hamilton

A traditional vanilla slice. I found them a little sugary and half was more than enough. Custard was not too bad. Sticky icing was a bit hard to swallow. Biscuit a little soggy. Very hard to eat without demolishing it. It fell away into its three separate parts with the first touch of the spoon.

Suttons Bakery, Moama

Although a little messy looking they tasted pretty good. Light fluffy custard and not too sicky icing. Biscuit a little undercooked.

Beechworth Bakery, Echuca

These babies tasted better than they look. I was surprised and happily so. Creamy custard, if not a bit yellow. The icing top wasn’t sickly and the biscuit cooked better than most.

The Loaf and Lounge, Camperdown.

Nice place for lunch. The vanilla slice had nice flakey pastry, although a little burnt and slightly bitter. The custard is super yellow and a little gluggy at first bite but actually worked well with the biscuit. The pink icing was a little strong in flavour, but much as the individual components were not 100%, they worked together and melded into a satisfactory sweet. Just don’t eat the bits separately.

Portland Visitors Centre Cafe.

An unexpected delight. I have no idea where they are baked but the vanilla slice was really good, (as was the citrus tart). Creamy, smooth, light in texture and flavour, although the biscuit was a little undercooked. Worth a stop to sit and enjoy the view of the harbour while enjoying a vanilla slice and a rather sculptural coffee.

Andy’s Bakery, Millicent.

These vanilla slices looked perfect. I was excited. But what a let down. The custard had a vaguely curdled texture, quite gluggy, and little taste. There was a slight chemical aftertaste i have never experienced in a vanilla slice before. The biscuit was average. So sad. Note: The donuts were awesome.

Robe Bakery Kingston SA.

They might look a bit sloppy, but they are possibly one of the nicest vanilla slice i have ever had the pleasure of eating. The biscuit was crunchy and flakey, the custard light in texture and taste. The only thing that lets it down is the addition of cream. Totally unnecessary, as was the chocolate splats on top. These only detracted from the otherwise delicious custard.

Beaufort Country Bakery. Smaller in size than most vanilla slices, this little delight was smothered in icing sugar that made eating it in the car somewhat tricky. The custard was smooth, not too sickly sweet and the pastry satisfactory. All in all, a nice treat.

Littles at Kingston by the Sea. Coconut sprinkled vanilla slice is a first for me, but it works. Easy to cut for sharing, the custard was very nice. Smooth and silky. The biscuit however was a little undercooked and soggy. shame.

Village Bakehouse Port Fairy. One of two bakeries in Port Fairy, the vanilla slice promised joy, but although assured they were baked daily, the pasty was a little soggy and i found the custard a bit gluggy. We shared the one piece and both felt half was more than enough.

Cobbs Bakery Port Fairy. One of two bakeries in Port Fairy, the vanilla slice is of the pink iced variety. Always dubious of the little pinkies delivering, the custard was creamy and light in texture, and although the pastry was hard to cut through, it has a rather nice taste. The thick pink icing fortunately was not sickly. Good job.

Stoneground Bakehouse Hurstbridge. Situated in a village style street, they have a good range of cakes, biscuits, breads and pastries at reasonable prices. The vanilla slice is of the more traditional Aussie style. The filling is smooth and silky but lack interest in flavour and has a slight chemical taste. The icing is a little sweet and sickly for my taste but hubby loved it. The biscuit not too soggy and cuts well. Although it holds together well, looks okay, it is not on my recommendation list.

The Malley Bakery, Ouyen. Cakes here are good. We have stopped a couple of times on the way to somewhere. Creamy smooth texture, and the icing is actually not sickening, even though it gives the appearance of sticky over sweetness. Definitely recommend the vanilla slice if you are passing though.


Paul The Pieman, Inverloch. This is a great bakery. Their cakes are amongst the best i have eaten, and i have eaten a lot of them! Variety is brilliant. Their vanilla slice is rich and creamy. A true dessert, rather than a cuppa at morning tea.

Flinders Fish and Chips, Flinders. The Flinders Fish and Chips shop boasts the Guinness World of Records biggest vanilla slice 2012. And yes, it’s huge. At $11 a serve, it would easily feed four people. Two of us had a good go at it and couldn’t finish it. It is big, but it’s not the best in taste and texture. It’s a once only buy and try for me.

Pastry King Cafe Bakery, Daylesford. This was a shop that promised a superior sweet. Their bakery fare looked good, and was priced on the high side. We bought a selection to share and tasted. The vanilla slice was nice, a little super charged in presentation, but not extraordinary. It looked better than it tasted. Disappointed. Staff were a little discourteous to customers. Next time i will try some of the other bakeries.

Marysville Country Bakery, Marysville. This is a large bakery with heaps of choice. They don’t call their vanilla slice, a vanilla slice. They call it a ‘granny vanilla slice’. When i asked why, i was met with a confused look and the answer was, ‘that’s what we call them.’ We rushed back to our accomodation to give it a taste test with a glass of wine, as you do, and were a little disappointed in the grainy texture and hard to cut pastry. The taste was good, but degree of difficulty eating and texture left us not wanting to go back for more.

Bay Bakery Cafe – Jurien Bay WA. A busy little bakery in a little shopping strip, two versions of vanilla slice were on offer. Labelled Vanilla Slice, was a pink iced number that looked like a traditional no frills vanilla slice, but unfortunately the biscuit tasted a little burnt, or perhaps bitter is more accurate. The custard was somewhat gelatinous and lacking in richness, a little watery in taste. But i loved the pink icing reminiscent of grandma’s and country bakeries. The alternate was labelled Custard Slice. The pastry was much better, but the custard was grainy, disappointingly feeling like a packet mix fail. Both looked good, but let down in the taste and texture.

Wild Grains Bakehouse – Healesville Victoria This vanilla slice was a modest little surprise. Creamy and smooth, light in texture. The biscuit was a little hard to eat with a fork, but hubby sorted it by picking it up and taking bites without cutlery. The icing was as sticky and pink as you would expect a vanilla slice. Reasonably priced. I recommend you give these a try.

Marysville, Victoria.

Marysville is a pretty town not far from Melbourne. We decided to stay at Vibes Hotel for New Years Eve 2019 and enjoy the beautiful surrounds. It was very quiet, surprisingly for New Years Eve.

We paid a decent price for a room with a balcony and a view? Hmmm.

Room with balcony view Vibes

Accomodation at Vibes was disappointing for the price we paid. The sitting room was badly designed with cheap and decidedly uncomfortable furniture. The whole place had a cheap feel about it, and a distinct lack of care for guests comfort. The pool was overcrowded with two families in it and definitely not appealing to couples. We will consider alternate options next time we spend a weekend in Marysville.

Not to be missed is the lovely walk up Steavenson Falls. It is by no means a difficult walk, the start is flat and easy access, although as it gets higher it becomes a little rocky, so not for those with mobility issues.

The car park is ticketed, but not expensive. People were handing over their unexpired parking tickets as they left, which was quite friendly. The public toilets were a little yucky.

Don’t disregard the ‘Beware of Snakes’ signs. They are all over the place. We saw one and people on the track sighted a second one a little further on.

Although the area has regenerated since the bush fires, there is still plenty of evidence of the dreadful fires in huge burnt out trees.

It is a really pretty place to walk.

I am a sucker for bakeries. The vanilla slice, which I believe they called something like a granny slice? I can’t remember exactly, looked good, held together well, but was a little grainy and rubbery, and lacked lightness. But, I am a bit of a vanilla slice nutter and have tried far too many on my travels. The Marysville Country Bakery certainly has plenty to choose from.

There is a rather nice caravan park along the sparkling shallow river that flows through the township. Families sit on chairs in the water watching their kiddies splash around. It’s not fancy, but has a friendly feel and is close to the IGA and pub.

They grow ’em big in Marysville. The trees, not the men…

I hate to bag places, but seriously, Radius Bar & Grill, the restaurant attached to Vibes was not a great night out. The Barramundi we ordered was very good, but the deserts were pitiful. I did let them know that at $16 each, they needed to review their sweet offerings and the waiter did take the cost of one off our bill, however, I had to request a clean glass, and felt like once again, the customer was purely for $$$ and they did not offer a dining ‘experience’ I could honestly recommend to other travellers. Breakfast in the cafe of the same business was not brilliant either. I recommend you try the bakery instead.

To finish out weekend, we went to Lake Eildon and had lunch at the Aqua Bar and Cafe. Book ahead in busy season, we were lucky enough to score the last bar table. The view is nice, staff friendly and efficient. Mostly fried food, but with a cold beer or wine, all good. The water was a great colour and heaps of people were enjoying their boats. I was extremely happy to see how clean the water was. And no rubbish lying about anywhere.

We drove through the Black Spur, which was looking beautiful. A lovely drive, gorgeous walks, and so close to Melbourne. Cheers.

Lightening Ridge via Ballina… August 2019

The Hume Highway, although a rather boring drive, is an easy way to cover km’s along the east coast if your need is to get from A to B as fast as possible. This road trip was the case of A to B, so we stayed in easy caravan parks and tried to fit in some less conventional roads and places to see on the way home. Big service stations provided coffee, fuel, snacks and toilets at regular intervals on the way up, but there is little to experience and contribute to a road trip. We prefer alternate roads and unexpected treasures of little known towns, but this trip, we had to knock of the km’s fast so it was hit the highway and head north.

First stopover on the way to the Northern coast of NSW, was Goulburn. It was dark and freezing as we set up for the night at Governors Hill Big4, and by golly, we set up in record time so we could head to the Hibernian Hotel for a smashing dinner. The porterhouse was beautifully cooked, the vegies were crisp and the baked whole spud creamy. A double glass of wine for only $10 was well appreciated and once we were fed, we started to relax a little. Hearty and simply tucker. Definitely recommend this pub in the main street for dinner. Very comfortable atmosphere, friendly and efficient staff. Perfect after a long boring drive.

The wind picked up overnight, gusts reaching 85kph. We held on in our little camper trailer and hoped we wouldn’t end up rolling down the hills of Goulburn. Feeling a bit blurry in the morning, we woke slowly and by the time we had finished brekky, the big rigs had moved out and our little Penguin stood forlornly alone. No complaints. It sure made it easier to hitch up and get out of the tight little caravan park. This park’s bathrooms are in need of updating, and a bit more serious cleaning wouldn’t go amiss. The camp kitchen however, was clean. There is a quiet lounge with a TV and the gardens are full of cute quirky things.

We hit the highway again, heading for another overnight stop around Port Macquarie. Sad to see the roadside verges post Goulbourn covered in litter. I’ve not seen it so grubby. What has happened in the past few years?… We had hoped to out drive the wind, but it followed us up the east coast, although abating slightly in strength. FYI, the M2 doesn’t have many road side stops past Goulburn for coffee, wee, or petrol, so be prepared.

The second rest night was at Bonny Hills Big4. A very nicely laid out park with lots of trees, heaps of shade, lots of grass, real and fake, and very friendly staff. This park has heaps of family things for kids, including a heated pool, games room, and a good book/DVD swap at reception. The amenities were soooo clean and fresh, with great showers. Tall palm trees create extra shade and look lovely amongst the gum trees. The staff put on movie nights for families but for us older folk who can leave their kids at home, it was still quiet and peaceful around the park.

Rainbow beach, accessible from the park was a pleasant surprise for a morning walk and well enjoyed before hitting the road for a third day long day of driving.

Skennars Head. NSW. Big4 Ballina Headlands Holiday Park.

Late on day three we finally arrived at our destination via Grafton and the iconic Big Banana.

Surrounded by palm trees, lush grass and huge McVansion’s, we were pretty happy with the clean, quiet grounds. Having only a small camper trailer, we were given a tucked away grassy spot among tall palm trees reserved for tents usually. The amenities were very clean, the pool really nice and lit at night, and there is a good area for kids. This park has permanent residents living in tidy gardens beyond the camp/caravan areas. Everything was very well maintained and tidy. The amenities even boasted a well lit makeup mirror with a sparkly plastic chair. Very cute. The park was directly under the flight path of Ballina airport, so there was lots of excitement every time a plane flew overhead. All activity stopped and eyes follow the arc of movement as graceful planes fly so low you could almost tickle their underbellies. As they disappear, people resume what they were doing.

Having finally arrived, we gratefully set up for a longer stay and visits with family in nearby Ballina. Opposite the caravan park is a great walk along surf beaches with beautiful clear blue waters. The fine sand is rimmed by dark, smooth rocks which skirt the bay. A grassy walk takes you up and follows the cliff tops, with views that wow. The colours are just beautiful. We were told the lookout at the top was notorious for jumpers, but despite the sad use, or should I say misuse of the area, the walk was still outstanding. Down the road we saw whales right from the car park at Sharpes Beach. Unbelievable.

The breezy weather turned sultry the next day and the increase in humidity was pleasant on our Melbourne winter skin. We finally began to relax. Byron Bay called for a revisit, it had been several years since we had been there, so we took off for a walk and lunch. The beach really is quite lovely, although rather rough today. I have seen it at its best, calm as a lagoon, with crystal clear water and big fish bumping into our legs. Today the fine clean sand was scattered with sun bathers but only a few cautious paddlers ventured into the water. It was still a wee bit cool for swimming.

The Beach Hotel Byron Bay remains unchanged. Well worn and bordering grotty, everything was sticky and yucky, yet nevertheless retains a certain ambiance that draws you back into its lay back relaxed atmosphere for a drink and unfortunately somewhat disappointing, feed. The indoor/outdoor environment is perfect on a balmy Byron day. The menu is very limited, I recommend sticking to the standard pub fare of fish and chips or burger. The pizza’s, cooked outside and supposedly wood fired looked somewhat unpalatable in my opinion and we decided against them after watching an older couple chewing without pleasure on a pale lifeless pizza. Stick to a beer/wine and burger/fish and chips meal and you won’t be disappointed. Beware the parking. It is $4 per hour for a maximum of 4 hours unless you park away from the main centre. Which we did.

We took an afternoon drive to Nimbin between family visits via the Bangalow Road, driving through Macadamia plantations and dense lush forests. It was a beautiful drive, tree ferns dripped from captive trees. Dark, dense, overhanging canopies contrasted with deep valleys of incredibly green rolling hills. Just out of Nimbin, we were stopped by a chap waving cars down. We stopped in time to avoid running over a large snake lying across the road. The creature was about two metres long and quite thick. The fellow stood over it and coaxed it into fighting position, then grabbed it just under the head and lifted it high off the road. He swung it at shoulder height and tossed it into the long grass at the side of the road, as we squealed and watched from our car. He then waved, hopped into his ute and everyone continued on their way as if this was normal practice. Arrggh..

Nimbin is a colourful town, but sadly full of trashy shops bursting with repetitive clothing, bags and bits and bobs of useless stuff. It is a shame there were not more handcrafts, artworks and bakeries to encourage tourists to stop longer and purchase something to support the community. It is a pretty place to spend a few hours with good coffee and cakes, but the tacky shops bring down the feel of the town and make it feel like a bit of a sham. Good coffee and cake, although the cakes are quite pricey. I think the locals might have an issue with the boys in blue…


For dinner the following night we purchased fresh fish from the Ballina fish shop. They have an amazing array of fish and shellfish of all varieties on sale direct from ice packed boxes. Most of the fish are whole. Very little was filleted. Well worth a visit. They do fish and chips as well if you don’t want to cook.

A visitor passing through the park.

The Ballina breakwater is a great walk. It is a surprisingly long walk, going all the way out to the heads, complete with markers telling the history of the area. We saw large fish jumping clear out of the water in the lagoon type ponds at the start of the walk, and sat watching boats battling the entrance at the heads. Give yourself time to do this walk.

And of course, you can’t not marvel at the giant Prawn. He’s a ripper.

Lennox head is a beautiful beach with firm sand. Excellent for a long walk. The town is pretty, and quiet, a touch classier than Byron Bay with its all too obvious bogan element shuffling around. However, it was off peak season while we were there, possibly a little busier in summer methinks. There are several good cafes to have a coffee and while away some time, and there is free two hour parking. It is less frenetic than Byron Bay, and definitely more relaxed and clean. I recommend it as an alternative place to stay.

Point Cafe, Lennox Head

The pelicans were a delight to watch. I took about a zillion photos.

Having time to drive home at a slower pace, we were pleased to avoid the highway and see more of the country on our way to Lightening Ridge. We headed inland from Ballina via Lismore, a large town with some fantastic architecture, old style Queenslander type houses, Californian bungalows, with lots of stained glass windows. It was quite interesting and unexpected.

We crossed the great divide and headed to Lightening Ridge, via Casino and Tenterfield. The road was windy and very uppity and high in the sky. We stopped at Tenterfield for cake and coffee and stumbled on Deepwater Brewing. ‘Beer Brewed with Altitude,’ an unexpected gem with a great range of beers. I recommend a stop. The bar is comfortable and the beers are great. They are only open Friday to Saturday. Check their website for details.

This area is soooo dry. We were truly subdued by the dust and lack of anything green on the ground.

An overnight stay at Inverell Caravan Park and dinner at the Australian Hotel. It was pretty quiet around town, and the big pub was almost empty. There is a walk into town which we took, but I got a bit spooked by the lack of people around. The meal was pretty basic and the menu limited, but with nothing much open, it was okay for a feed and then back to our well stocked fridge for an early night in. The amenities are amazing. As good as some five star motels! Very modern.

We drove through Maree, just because I wanted to see the site of the pool that was featured in the 1965 Freedom Ride protest. It is now a huge complex with indoor/outdoor artesian pools and children’s play areas. I didn’t see any obvious references to the issues that faced our indigenous community and felt quite sad at what they had to endure. We stopped for lunch at the Royal Hotel and were gob smacked by the size of the serves.

Lightening Ridge

Lightening Ridge has a much calmer feel than Coober Pedy. The Opal caravan park is very big, with generous sites, several camp kitchens, nightly entertainment, (which can get on your nerves if you are there a few nights), and a small but adequate pool attached to one of the outdoor kitchens. Amenities are immaculate and the staff friendly.

The Artesian bore pool is only a short walk down the road. The water is seriously hot. I could barely put my feet in, there was no way I could put my whole body in. I don’t know how people sit in it, but it was very peaceful sitting on the edge and looking at the little bubbles and the colour. We were lucky that there were very few people around.

We felt very relaxed at Lightening Ridge Opal Park. Although it is very popular and quite busy, no one is in your face. There is a pit fire set in the centre of a lush patch of grass that is watered daily. Each evening as sun sets it is lit, and people sit around with a drink to chat and share stories. There was music in the pavilion and several couples danced each evening, but by 9pm the music stopped, silence fell over the park, and everyone drifted away. It was quite funny, but the silence was golden indeed and we had a good night’s sleep every evening.   

The Lightening Ridge Market is not really brilliant. One row of overpriced dusty opals and one row of assorted stalls. It was really just a five minute walk through without being tempted to purchase anything.

There are several well marked drives from Lightening Ridge that help you discover what the area is all about. We followed the Red Door Drive which is short and close, just out of town. Red car doors guide you through dusty unmade roads which wind around miners claims. It is interesting to see how they live. The accommodation is temporary and basic. Lots of old caravans and shacks, but it has a residential feel regardless of the dust and dried up bushes and trees that are almost the same colour as the white soil.

Amigo’s Castle is well worth stopping and paying the $5 entry fee to hear the story of its creator and see the construction which was hand built and unfortunately may never be completed.

Back at the campsites, beer o’clock starts early. Sitting in the shade of the awnings, retired couples sip from stubby holders and gaze into the distance. Not much talking goes on, but everyone looks content. It doesn’t take long for us to fall into their patterns. But at 4.30 on the dot, the peace is broken by Mel and Sue, the evening entertainment. Microphones ensure we can hear every word from our campsite, whether we wish to or not… An hour of ‘Aussie’ humour from this comedy duo keeps the old people cackling in the pavilion, by day three I am quoting verbatim most of their show. It set my teeth on edge. It’s a great park but the raucous laughter shattered my tranquillity.

After the evening entertainment was over however, sitting around the camp fire at night was a friendly affair. Tales of travels, van comparisons, home town descriptions, and what what we had seen on road trips was shared and commented on with good humour. We were lucky to score a jolly bunch with interesting back grounds, and all were embracing of each other’s differences.

After an enjoyable stay in Lightening Ridge, we headed off, taking the bumpy road between Lightening Ridge and Walgett. We stopped at Gunnedah for coffee and wee at McDonalds, which was actually very clean and not horrible at all, then on to Narrabri for lunch at Watson’s Bakery. Very good cakes and reasonably priced freshly made sandwiches. 

It was very dry country until we got close to Mt Kaputar, and then everything greened up and was quite pretty. Colourful cows contentedly grazed in verdant paddocks, so different to the parched land leading up to this beautiful area.

We stayed overnight at Big4 Paradise Tourist Park, Tamworth. I wanted to stay longer but unfortunately time was against us. This trip was a bit unplanned and rather too much driving. The camp kitchen is huge and comfortable. A nice indoor fire is lit for the cool evenings, with plenty of tables and chairs, comfy couches and the BBQ’s extend along the pool with outdoor seating and enclosed playground. A small stage with a grassy clear area must be wonderful for music on summer evenings. One would expect as much in Tamworth! This park is also walking distance from a supermarket. A great location for the music festival.

Take the time to drive, or walk if you are fit, to the lookout over Tamworth. We watched the sun go down and the lights go on. Lovely.

Tamworth from the top!

Crossing back over the great divide to Port Stephens we chose to follow secondary roads instead of the highway, so we had a pretty drive with very little traffic through places like Niangala. Pine forests are plentiful and it is extremely green. We chucked a right turn on to Thunderbolts Way, an intriguing name and were not disappointed. We hit altitudes over 1300 metres. My ears were popping. I had a cold, and felt pain.  One part of the road was 6km’s of steep descent, the brakes were red hot and smelled fried by the time we levelled out again. This is not a road for McVansion’s. Small tows only. I recommend giving this road a go, it is amazing and worth the panic on the steep bits. There are some incredible views and fun driving for those who want to ‘drive’.

Karuah is a small town with a pretty, but rickety jetty that had me worried I would fall through, but so enticing I kept going back for another walk. An area ideal for boating and fishing, and there are plenty of oysters in these waters. A local co-op sells shucked and unshucked, as well as fresh local prawns. Not cheap, but fresh.

The caravan park is well equipped for families and has permanent cabins. The rental cabins are clean and modern, camp sites are nice and grassy. There is also a coffee cart that opens in the mornings. The park was full of nomads in large vans set up for long stays, good for people who want to hop in a tinny and go fishing.

This is not a swimming part of the coast. The enclosed swimming area in town is a bit too yucky in my opinion. Bird life is full on, noisy and constant. The mangroves are pretty but the boardwalk is falling apart and blocked for walking towards the end of it.

Really beautiful sunsets.

We had a good rest at karuah and didn’t do much. The op shop in town has heaps of very cheap books at fifty cents each of you buy an armful. Perfect for a chilling out. We had dinner at the local RSL. Lot’s of Chinese food on the menu which I found surprising.

Just as we started to absorb the tranquillity, time began to run out and we had to head south. It has become a bit of a ritual to stop at Wollongong for lunch whenever we are in the vicinity, me being a child of the area, and we decided to do the Sea Cliff drive and enjoy a bit of scenery. Getting through the outer Sydney suburbs traffic however, was horrific and nerve wracking, but the coastal road is worth going through the torture as it is really pretty, curving through lovely towns perched on the hillsides overlooking the sea.

Lunch was at Steamers, overlooking Main Beach. We stop at this venue each time we pass through and I don’t think it has had the same name twice in a row, but the food and beer/wine has never let us down. Love a shared nibbles lunch. And the view is good over a long relaxed lunch. Ask for a window seat, or sit on the terrace if the weather is warm enough.

Next stop was Huskisson, a favourite town we have often stayed in, and I am pleased to report it is still lovely. The walk into town is well lit at night and the book swap shelf is still outside the bookstore. I love this. The bottle shop staff are friendly and enjoy a chat about craft beers.  I have covered Huskisson in a previous blog so please go and check it out. We stayed at Huskisson Beach caravan park. Good grassy sites. They are in the process of renovating the amenities (August 2019) and check out these ironing tables in the laundry!! The beaches and waterways are truly beautiful.

We stopped in Narooma for a lunch stop. I have always loved the beautiful waterways and the colours are amazing, however, I was shocked to feel the shabbiness that seems to be taking hold of the town. I don’t remember it being like this a few years ago. The caravan park in the Main street right on the water looked uncared for, and we walked into three bakeries looking for freshly made sandwiches and couldn’t find any. They had all been made in the morning and wrapped in plastic film and my request for fresh sandwiches was actually met with puckered face responses. I had wonderful memories of a previous trip with my sister, (you can see in one of my earlier blogs) and was so disappointed. We purchased two awful pies and headed out of town, disappointed that we couldn’t even find a public spot to sit and enjoy lunch. The pies were seriously the worst I have ever eaten. Gluggy pastry, tasteless gluey meat. A waste of calories!

A cold front had hit and it was freezing in Narooma, so back on the road to try and out run it. We were happy to find the wonderful Heritage bakery in Milton on the way to Merimbula and stopped for a coffee and delicious pasty and cake. Oh my, soooo yummm. And the sun shone!

Merimbula’s pristine waterways are as beautiful as I remembered. We hadn’t been here for years, and I was chuffed to see the clarity of the water. We set up at Tween Waters Big4. The park is a little dated in the amenities, but spacious and quiet out of season. Hubby enjoyed the low flying planes coming and going from the airport. We arrived in time for a glorious sunset and dinner!

Arriving late and tired, we decided on dinner at the RSL which is very large but filled quickly on a Saturday night. Book, or get there early! By 6.30 every table was full. We got there just before 6 o’clock and got one of the few tables left. I saw others in line behind us turned away. The servings are huge. Neither of us could finish our meals. Wine was also large serves and very reasonably priced. Needless to say, I can understand why it is so popular. The staff were friendly and extremely efficient. This is a well oiled machine! It is however a bit noisy, with raffles being constantly called over the top of chatting diners. It would be nice to remove the gambling from the eating areas. Big TV screens keep rolling and were somewhat irritating. But it’s a good feed, although an eat and get out quick scenario unless you are partial to a gamble.

The next morning, we were assaulted by the local birds during breakfast. They knew no fear.

Merimbula to Melbourne was a long and boring drive and back to the cold weather…