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…