Patonga is a small township up the coast from Sydney and the place where we set up camp after our big city adventure. There really isn’t much there apart from a hotel, holiday chalets, a couple of streets and a campsite in the nook of the merging point of the Patonga creek and the Pacific ocean. I took an evening stroll to the creek and waded in it until the rocky ground became too sore for my feet, then went on to explore the beach at sunset. The ocean was calm here as it was at the innermost crescent of a big bay and therefore sheltered. I saw some blubbery looking jellyfish that I couldn’t gauge so I asked the man at the campsite reception about them. He wasn’t sure about the jellyfish but did say that due to global warming they did get many more jellyfish and other creatures usually only found further north. So we had a conversation about the safety of the water. He advised me that the ocean should be safe, as long as I avoid the jellyfish, of course, but that he wouldn’t go further out when the mullet swim out of the creek into the ocean because this migration attracted the big bad sharks. Fortunately this was not the mullet season but it always gives me a wee shudder. Imagine dying because some shark mistakes you for a mullet in its feeding frenzy. I asked about the sleepy creek, how deep is it and what’s to know? He said it’s save. It can be deep in places where there are drops going down to 80 metres (What?) but that there had not been any incidents. Well, apart from that man last year who waded in the creek and was violently ill afterwards. Pressing for more info he said that he had only had two puncture wounds on the soles of his feet. Stonefish, I ask? Possibly yes, he replies. I was wading in that creek just there! Sans footwear! I always avoid standing on rocks mind, because I know about stonefish but I don’t even want to be in water where these horrible creatures live! These fish look like craggy stones, around 20cm in diameter but they are lurking fish that will eject strong, sharp spikes that will bore through shoes even and inject venom into your foot. You won’t die but you will wish you were dead. That’s the story they tell you. Cry! https://www.qm.qld.gov.au/Find+out+about/Animals+of+Queensland/Fishes/Venomous+fishes/Stonefish#.XIq6wi1L1QI
It reminded me of the fact that, as we go up the East coast, we are moving ever closer into treacherous horrorland. Beautiful to look at but writhing with water snakes, stonefish and lurking crocs. No go areas for swimmers. Think I am exaggerating? As I am so dreadfully behind with my blog writing, I am finishing this one off in Yeppoon, near Rockhampton, on the Tropic of Capricorn. We are therefore into the Tropics and, as it is still only March, it’s stinger season. This means that I am sitting outside our van, overlooking the local beach which gives way to the Great Barrier Reef but I can’t enter the water unless I want to be stung and die. Think I am exaggerating? Read up on box-jellyfish! https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/group/box-jellyfish/
Back to Patonga, though. The friendly camp manager also told me that they use drones for shark reconnaissance. These drones hover over shoals of fish and have filmed sharks circling underneath, feeding on the fish whilst unaware people surf on top of the shoals of fish.
Still, as every Aussie will tell you, you’d be more likely to die of a bee sting. Comfort much?
Onwards we drove to Port Macquarie. Driving here in NSW is easy as it is mainly on motorways, which are being widened and upgraded as if money was no object. Maybe it isn’t or maybe it’s long overdue. Spectacular bridges are being built by many young men in hi-vis, working hard! Our journey took us through beautiful forests. It’s noticable how lush the landscape is becoming and the temperatures are rising. Similar to Patonga, Port Macquarie also lies at the junction between river and ocean. Here it is the Hastings river that disgorges itself and our camp was yet again right on its shore. In fact, the campsite manager also had a boat and SUP hire company!
SUP is short for Stand-up paddle boards like this one as modelled by moi:
Shaky legs at first and throughout but improving gradually! I was given a 5 minute instruction and told to walk the SUP out into the river for a bit then kneel on it. Paddle out and then stand up. I immediately fell off but Jordan, the manager, was great and told me to take my time and “have confidence” which is what it is always about anyway. So I gathered myself and stood up, knees knocking.
It’s such a great workout for feet and leg muscles as you continuously balance yourself against the motion of the water. The soles of my feet felt really tired after a while. A small tinnie shuddered along and produced some mild waves, which rattled me, but I told myself to get a grip, “have confidence” and headed straight into the waves to face them head on rather than suffer them side on. Roddy was in a kayak while I was SUPing and we decided to have a break on a small beach. Now how to get off the SUP? I had been told not to let it run onto sand as it would scrape the bottom but I didn’t much fancy falling into the river. So I thought the elegant thing would be to get back to kneeling position and paddle closer, then gracefully stepping off it. Easier said… Instead of slinking into a kneeling position, I wobbled and fell on my arse, one leg on each side of the board. Just as well I can do the splits but, oh! I can still feel a slight ache now. A least, though, I didn’t fall into the river! After the break I felt much more confident and stable, starting to move more with the water and work the board more. It’s an amazing experience. I saw a pelican fly by and felt quite at one with the water, with Mother Nature herself. Very peaceful and great for mindfulness, no doubt. I’m definitely planning to pursue that further but at ca $1000 for a board, it’s a gumtree job for when I earn some dough again.
While Port Macquarie was lovey but sedate, Byron Bay was packed with Generation Z and Millennials. Pubs, bars, cafes, backpackers. Sounds like it could have been a nightmare but we loved it. Me probably more than Roddy because I could not get away from the beach. The surf was just right. No snorkelling as there was no coral, but body-boarding was great. Our campsite was right on the main beach and next to the town. The bay is beautiful with the lighthouse to the right and the beautiful hills to the left. As it was cloudy some of the time the hills remained misty but beautiful nonetheless. We were there for the weekend so I went to the communal Sunday market which has been going since the 70s. I didn’t buy anything but the market had a great atmosphere. The heavens gave way to those heavy clouds while I was there so everyone ducked under some stall’s canapé, chatting and laughing. Hippidom is still alive here and I absolutely loved everything about it. Apparently Hollywood royalty has been frequenting Byron Bay for a while with big villas in the Hinterland. We saw entrances to potentially grand houses but no celebs were spotted by me – mind you, I could have walked past one not knowing.
In Byron Bay I saw bush turkeys for the first time. They are smaller versions of the Christmas variety, and alive, and they roam about, digging into bins wherever they can. We have seen lots of them since, on campsites and on beaches. Ugly but that’s not their fault.
From young people’s hippy heaven to babyboomers’ hippy den. Nimbin lies ca 70km inland from Byron Bay. It has been famous since the 70s when the Aquarius music festival was held there in 1973. How could it have had another name? Unsurprisingly, Nimbin’s twin town is Woodstock! Some festival goers just never left, starting to live in communes. Nimbin is well known in Australia, despite being no more than a village. Its name comes from the Aboriginal Nimbinjee spirit that was protecting this area. Living here has been described as experimental and it’s quite obvious that the inhabitants here are invested in their town and determined to live a different life from the mainstream. I always find this sort of thing interesting as it makes you question the status quo. There are, no doubt, some whose use of the weed has had a negative effect on them, but I also overheard a group of people discussing new initiatives they are planning for their town, sounding very much compos mentis. People live in a simple, ecologically sustainable, self-sufficient way, very supportive of each other. I loved the Nimbin code of conduct that basically invites everyone to join in as long as they are not being an arsehole.
The free pool next door to our council camp site was a godsent, or a sent from any spiritual figure that you may choose.
The volcanic Nimbin rocks stand up like the sugarloaf in Rio and make an impressive entry to the village that is surrounded by rainforest which the inhabitant have helped to protect from logging. We both felt very relaxed in Nimbin, going with the flow in our tie-dye clothes, sitting in one of the cafes and I loved writing a letter to an old friend and speaking with my kids on videochat, feeling very close to them despite the distance.
Just a beautiful wee place.