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Newcastle to Brisbane

November 23, 2012

Day 1 – after picking up our hire car to set off up the coast with Port Macquarie as our intended stop for that evening. We stopped off at Bulahdelah for a late breakfast before taking the coastal route that took us through such places as Myall Lakes National Park, Pacific Palms, Booti Booti National Park, Foster-Tuncurry, Harrington and Crowdy Head reaching Port Macquarie early afternoon. On the way we saw signposts for Stroud and Gloucester once again reminders of the influence of the early settlers from England.

Port Macquarie was once the place convicts who had reoffended were sent to for hard labour after being sentenced in Sydney. Looking at it today you would have to say it didn’t present as a horrible place to serve out a sentence but of course that was over 190 years ago when that all started. These days it is a holiday focused area and is referred to as the entrance to the sub-tropical coast with its lovely surf beaches and a laid-back coffee culture. It is also home to lots of different species of birds including the pelican.

We had a lazy wander around the town taking in some late sunshine though this was interrupted occasionally with squally showers. Something we hadn’t reckoned on was the number of restaurants and bars that weren’t open on a Monday evening! Thankfully the aptly named Corner Restaurant Cafe was open. This was described in our guide book as a Sydney-ish style cafe!!! The food was excellent with a service to match – it was only spoilt by a large group of noisy americans who had dropped in for coffee. Most of the group were older than us yet the noise they made was annoying and certainly made a dent in what had up till then been a lovely atmosphere!!

Day 2 – After having breakfast back at the Corner Restaurant Cafe (minus the noisy Americans) se set off for Grafton which would be the place for our overnight stay. We followed highway 1 which is known as the Pacific Highway for most of our journey. There were major parts of this key road that are currently being upgraded however our drive was pleasant and not at all like our experience is in the UK with major conjestion. Our lunch was taken at Coffs Harbour which has a relaxed pleasant feel about it. Our guidebook informed us that up until the 1960’s banana growing had been the main employment having first started in the area in the 1880’s. Now of course tourism has taken over as the mainstay of the local economy. After lunch our journey to Grafton took us inland (hinterlands) and through countryside very similar to England with rolling hills and fields full of mainly cattle.

Arriving in Grafton we looked for a place to stay – it was a little more difficult than we thought it would be but we found a lovely motel which was very close to the main city centre. Grafton is known as a regional agricultural centre due to it’s position on the Pacific Highway. We had just missed a showing of the Brazalian Jacaranda which has stunning purple flowers. Apparently the streets are awash during October with these purple flowers so we could could imagine what it must have been like as most of them had died off by the time we arrived.  However we did come across this enormous Fig Tree which was only about 130 years old – not sure that the photograph does justice to it’s enormity or grandeur but you can get an idea of this by looking at the car parked next to it!!

We found the people of Graft Family Hotel which is one of the oldest pubs in the town centre. We had considered staying there when we read about Grafton but opted not too – we were a little disappointed that we didn’t follow through on that as the whole place had a lovely feel about it and all the bedrooms had access to a verandah.

Day 3 – Our initial plan for today was to stay overnight at Byron Bay, however Lynda & Steve had advised us that every year in November thousands of teenagers flock to Surfers Paradise to celebrate the end of their high school education in a month long party. It’s known as Schoolies week and generally if you are not a teenager you should give places like Byron Bay a ‘wide berth’. This very week was the start of schoolies party so we were wary of what we might find in some of the places we planned to visit. However, we found Byron Bay to be a charming place which had a certain buzz about it. Yes there were many young people about but at the time we visited they were heavily out-numbered by young and older adults.

On the way to Byron Bay to passed through more hinterland areas such as Ulmarra where Russell Crowe owns a pub! Maclean is a picturesque little town that takes its Scottish heritage very seriously. As we passed through we noticed that all the lamposts had the tartan of different clans painted on the base. Our journey also took us through the Bundjalung National Park and  Lismore before arriving in Byron Bay just in time for lunch.

After a swift walk around the town centre we set off for Tweed Heads which is very near the border of New South Wales and Queensland. We had noticed how the weather had started to improve and that the sun was more prevalent and the temperature averaging now in the high 20’s and occasionally into the low 30’s. Tweed Heads actually marks the southern most end of the Gold Coast strip and after driving through what was a fairly new suburb we arrived in Coolangatta which was described in our guide book as a laid back seaside resort that has great surfing beaches and a splendid looking esplanade. Our guide book also said that it did not get populated by those who were seeking the party scene. So this seemed an ideal place to stay for the night – now all we had to do was to find a suitable place to stay. And what a place we found – an amazing apartment on the 12th floor with views out of the lounge and bedroom overlooking the beach. The sun was at it’s best and we also managed to get our first swim in the Atlantic Ocean though the surf was rather strong and it tested our swimming skills – but hey it was warm and what we had been looking forward to!

Day 4 – The last leg of our journey up the coast would take us into Brisbane. The drive was motorway all the way which was quite strange having not really done this kind of driving for a number of weeks. We arrived in Brisbane around lunchtime and our first task was to check out the availability of storage at Brisbane Airport for the baggage we didn’t want to take to Hamilton Island. Once this was sorted and our baggage safely locked up in a locker we needed to find ourselves accommodation. We were fortunate to find this easier than we expected at a motel in the district of Hamilton. This was certainly a coup for us as it gave us access to the City Cat which operate on the Brisbane River and was to get us into the heart of Brisbane in around 45mins.

We hadn’t planned this as we will be returning to Brisbane after our stay at Hamilton Island but it turned out to be a fantastic way to see the suburbs of Brisbane and the outstanding properties all along the river shore on both sides. We spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening wandering around this great city and are certainly looking forward to returning next week

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