Our first road trip in a long time sans van – which was waiting on parts for a bent axle… The idea of country town motels and no setting up appealed to us along with avoiding exposure to COVID in crowded caravan parks.
Day one leaving Melbourne in the early morn the weather was wet and cold and we were grateful for the Prado heated seats as we headed towards the Hume Highway. We wanted to get some km’s behind us so by late afternoon after munching through most of the snacks I had packed we had not yet stopped for lunch and I was getting hungry and cranky. We left the highway looking for a bakery in one of the small towns that were now sadly bypassed by the long and boring highway. To my dismay nothing that offered food was open. We drove from town to town in disbelief until realising the state of affairs, all shops had closed by 1-2pm. We were too late. Not a whisker of a bakery or cafe or even a pub was lit up and welcoming. In despair, we had to be fortified with some leftover Hummus and a slice of bread and lollies. A most unsatisfying lunch indeed. As the afternoon rolled into early evening we were getting mighty hungry.
Recent floods had left many of the smaller roads in disrepair and some causeways were still flowing over the road. The shortcuts we had intended to take were either cut of off closed as a result of water damage. Detours sent us past our destination and as dusk fell we had to slow to a crawl to avoid the wildlife gauntlet that we found ourselves in.
We finally arrived in Parkes two hours late and truly grateful for a well heated room at the Apollo Motel. Totally starving we quickly dropped our bags in and went to look for somewhere to eat. Choices were limited, although it was Saturday night the main street of Parkes was quiet. We settled on a tiny but cute Thai restaurant, it only sat about 22 people. Relieved they were still taking orders we tucked into a tasty red curry, warm and aromatic. Just perfect. Unfortunately it was BYO only and we were too tired to bother with the suggested walk down the street to the bottle shop. Sensibly, and somewhat sadly, we sipped only water with our meal before retiring for an early night, grateful that the bed had a super comfy mattress and excellent pillows. T
Day 2 we had another long drive ahead of us. The plan was to do a couple of overnight stops on the way to Ballina and then stop for four days to catch up with family. As we drove the Newell and Oxley Highways, navigating pot holes from water damage and grateful to be sitting high in a 4WD. The sun came out and although only 15 C it was warm when we stopped for breaks and walks, enjoying art works along the way, even on toilet block walls.
Morning coffee on a Sunday found us again walking through deserted towns with nothing open for travellers. We stopped for a walk and lunch in Coonabarabran and had a chat with a local who filled us in on a bit history while we watched the Castlereagh river flowing high and fast. The only cafe open was as to be expected chockers full. The lines of McVansions lining the street and the constant parade of them up and down the main street testified that we were not alone in the search of places for luncheon. Taking note that weekends were not the best days to travel when purchased sustenance is required and unable to find an empty table in the busy cafe, we bought bread rolls, cheese and pastrami from the Woolies deli and made our own lunch.
The drive from Coonabarabran to Tamworth is very pretty. Beautiful ranges and pyramid shaped hills. It was wonderfully peaceful after the Hume Hwy chaos.
Gunnedah is out next rest stop and we are once again hopeful of finding somewhere open to purchase coffee! The sun is shining and even the flooded Oxley river is looking beautiful rather than treacherous.
We arrive in good time at the Edward Parry Motel in Tamworth. Clean, quiet, spacious and the delightful gentleman at the desk gave us two very full glasses of complimentary welcome wine. Definitely recommend this motel. It was recently renovated and super clean. COVID still being around, even the television control was made safe with a disposable plastic cover. The complimentary bikkies in the room were better than usual as well!
Tamworth was a little more lively and we chose The Tudor Hotel for dinner. We were pleased that COVID protocol still had tables well spaced apart. I was in desperate need of vegetables and salad. He who puts out the rubbish had a chicken burger which came with a mountain of chips, I selected a good old chicken schnitty which i was able to order with both veggies and salad in place of chips. Yay! Pepper sauce came in a little china jug rather than smeared all over the plate, another joyous plus. The chicken in both burger and Shnitty was tender to the level of perfection. The large wine was indeed generous. I highly recommend the Tudor Hotel for a good feed and genial atmosphere.
Day 3 was not quite as long a drive as the previous two days as we headed to Ballina. Morning tea stop was Uralla and what a delightful town it is. We did our stoll up and down the main street and spent some time chatting with Christina Bell @Barking Dog Gallery. She is a delightful potter who makes beautiful functional pottery. She showed us through her workshop which was indeed a joy for me. Being a Monday the street was open and we opted for Moon’s bakery which had a small but very nice choice of cakes. The passionfruit vanilla slice was very easy to eat…I totally recommend you take the time to stop at Uralla and walk the street. There are lots of historical buildings, beautiful old pubs and even a brewery! Which unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, was closed on an early Monday morning. The visitors information centre also has super clean toilets.
Waterfall Way was ahead of us and I was looking forward to this iconic drive. Unfortunately time was running short as we had not expected to spend such a long time enjoying Uralla. The road was super rough, very pot holed and we were only able to stop and look at the main falls at Wollomombi and Ebor. Both were totally worth stopping for and each provided different experiences. Wollomombi was a deep and thunderous cavern that fell far into the ground, not at all what I expected. Water poured through the steep, deep cliff faces from different angles. It would have been awesome to be able to climb down to the basin and feel the falls from within. Ebor was like a beautiful wedding cake. The water cascaded down several levels to end in a winding river far below us. The view of the mountain range was also spectacular. Good walking tracks at both falls.
With nowhere to stop for lunch, we pulled up outside the Nymboida Community Centre which has spotless toilets available for public use. We had rolls with camembert which i had stashed knowing lunches were not easy to find, and had a quiet and restful break, even though three sets of locals came to check us out.
Arriving in Ballina we were very pleased with our accommodation at Ballina Palms Boutique Motel. Very comfortable. At the end of the street was a walking path along the waterfront which was very convenient. We were here to spend some time with family and reminisce and celebrate my father in law who had passed away only a few days before our arrival. We had a lovely catch up and some great meals – thank you Ros.
Leaving Ballina we headed to Tin Can Bay for another four days. It was lovely. We stayed at the Dolphin Waters Motel and had a large upstairs apartment with a laundry, yay! A decent sized balcony overlooked the pool and inlet. A perfect spot. Very quiet and walking distance to shops which consisted of IGA, butcher, bakery etc and a small tucked away pub that was full of locals every day. A well made circuit walk takes you off the roads and is very pretty. Mangroves line the inlet and at low tide the many anchored boats are left high and dry. I really enjoyed the quiet of this town.
We decided to do a day trip to Hervey Bay as neither of us had been there and we wanted to check it out for future travel. On the way we drove through Maryborough, a large town with some magnificent examples of architecture in the original Queenslander style. Lot’s of them had been renovated to a superior standard. Beautiful.
We arrived mid morning and parked at the Marina, booking a table at Cafe Balena for lunch before going for a walk. There isn’t really much to see or do at the Marina other than lunch. We attempted a walk, but the path was blocked at many points and we ended up walking the car park most of the time. Lunch was lovely. We sat at a table overlooking the water and were glad we had booked as it got very busy. The food serves were generous and the staff friendly and courteous. Even though it was extremely busy and people were waiting for tables, we were not rushed. Oddly dogs were welcome, and there were quite a few sitting under tables or on chairs. Not sure how I felt about the dogs. After lunch we drove a little further to Ungara. They have a wonderful looooong pier. It was low tide and we were struck by the beauty of the huge sand bar. It was very pretty and i wish i could have seen it in full sunlight. The day had turned overcast so we missed out on seeing the colours of the water and sand at its best. It would be spectacular. Well made paths offer a easy walking and the pier was a ripper. I am inclined to return to Ungara.
While staying in tin Can Bay we also did a day trip to Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point. The walk at Rainbow beach to the coloured sands was beautiful and as it was not low enough tide for the 4WD’ers to roar across the sand we could amble, explore and gape at the beautiful surrounds in peace. Lunch at the Rainbow Beach Hotel was standard burger and local beer and excellent chips, very busy so we were glad to have arrived just after the main lunch crowds began to thin out and were able to get a seat looking out onto the street. Very pleasant. I would like to return for a longer stay in Rainbow Beach but definitely not in peak season. It would be horrendous. At Inskip there was the usual dodging of the 4WD’s tearing up the beach to avoid getting bogged so they could catch the ferry to Fraser Island.
Noosa was only a short drive south and we had four days in a beautiful house in Sunshine Beach. The weather was perfect for walking but still a bit too cool for me to submerge in the crystal blue waters at Noosa main beach. However, walking ankle deep was rather delightful. Hastings street was as busy as to be expected in these parts but still enjoyable for a stroll and some window shopping. The blue of the ocean however lured us, rather than the uncomparable shopping strip no matter how enticing and our days were pleasurably filled with walks shared between Sunshine Beach and Noosa main beach in equal appreciation. Further exploration also took us for a walk along the river which although peaceful and paths well maintained for walkers and bike riders, was not at joyful as the beaches.
In celebration of my sisters birthday the family met at Sails Noosa for a surprise party. Quite a feat as we had managed to keep the fact that were were all travelling from Melbourne to Noosa quiet for months in order to surprise her at dinner. It was a very happy occasion, regardless of the fact I felt the food at Sails a bit disappointing as indeed was the service. For the price paid i expected better. I would not bother to return. But i will return to Noosa in warmer weather for a swim.
Noosa Main Beach
After four lively days with the family we sadly had to start the return trip home. Having driven north via inland roads we decided to drive home along the coast for a while in order to extend our time in sun and sea as long as possible before returning to freezing Melbourne.
Coffs Harbour was our first overnight stop on the way home. I immediately missed not having our little Penguin camper as we ventured into the east coast motel void. Overpriced and delivering borderline comfort I vowed I would only do this drive again with my own clean sheets and kitchen in tow. By now I was also fed up with eating out every lunch and dinner and was craving fresh food. However, I must say that despite the smelly, sticky room, a morning walk on the harbour and onto Mutton Island is something I most emphatically recommend.
The crowds were ramping up early on the harbour and parking spots were filling fast as we joined a steady stream of people out for a morning walk. The hordes thinned significantly as we followed the path up the steep incline on Mutton Island. The magnificent views from every direction were well worth a little bit of exertion.
On the return walk we took the lower boardwalk along the harbour and I was enchanted by the numerous schools of fish below. It was a really lovely way to spend a morning. I do suggest you avoid the Galley Cafe as our coffees ended up in the bin after one sip. The milk was definitely soured and as we were already in the car ready to start our drive couldn’t be bothered returning to make a fuss. It was a pretty grotty little cafe and the staff too interested in private chit chat to provide more than a nominal sense of service. We stopped for coffee elsewhere, but it was very busy with breakfasters and it was a 45 minutes wait for our take away coffees. Which were very good i might add. I can’t remember the name of the cafe…
Our second overnight stop was at Gorokan, a short distance from The Entrance. We wanted to stay somewhere we had never heard of and hoped it was away from crowds. After a late arrival we had dinner at the Wyong Leagues Club. The huge complex was an easy choice for our tired minds and we followed the path under a well lit canopy into the bustle. The food was not brilliant and we left quite a bit of it uneaten. Not the best choice but I enjoyed people watching over my glass of wine.
In the morning we drove to The Entrance for a quick walk before hitting the road again. Quite a magnificent waterway. I would have liked the time to explore more, including perhaps a swim at the sea baths which is always exciting.
Back onto the highway and it was horrible. The traffic was intense but it was the quickest way home. The drive was improved greatly with a stop at Mittagong and the Gumnut Patisserie. What a find! The tables on the lush grass were plentiful and it was lovely to sit outside in the sunshine. My only regret was not having a full size fridge to bring back heaps of cakes. They looked fantastic and i will make sure I get back there again. To top it off across the road is the Eden Brewery where I purchased my first growler of stout and a few bottles of various others beers to sample.
Gundagai was our last stop over before home. The main street has been repaved and it all looks very spiffy and welcoming to travellers. We enjoyed a quiet pre dinner walk looking at the lovely old buildings, some which have been restored, some works in progress and some looking decidedly shaky on their old foundations. The disused heritage train station is open during the day for visitors and although we arrived after hours we still enjoyed walking around the pretty area. I think the removal of the far too many dodgy pots of bedraggled plants could possibly enhance the entrance to the station. Just a suggestion. The wind was arctic so we headed to the RSL for a warm dinner and were pleased with the simple and delicious fare on offer. I went for a plain old steak which was beautifully tender with perfectly cooked veggies. Enjoyed it thoroughly. The staff were pleasant and prices reasonable. Very good.
Time was up. We were on the last leg of a very busy road trip. Lunch stop was in Wangaratta. We had to pull out the puffy jackets while walking around town searching for Shelly’s Country Bakery which had excellent reviews and I am glad we took the trouble to taste their vanilla slice. It was excellent. Although the lady serving us was a bit miffed at having to make our fresh sandwiches, she did a great job and we parked by the flooded river and enjoyed our fresh sandwiches and delicious vanilla slices. Very yum. Afterwards we went for a bit of a walk to check out the flooded river before the final leg of our drive home.