Having headed south for the first half of our summer holiday to Victoria and the Great Ocean Road we decided to head North for the second part. We were persuaded into splitting it into two chunks due to both of our work Christmas Parties being on the middle weekend. My party was on the second of the two nights we were home for, so with Maisie at the wheel, and me with a slightly sore head we hit the Pacific Highway and began heading North. The plan was to make it a decent distance towards Northern New South Wales where we were planning on spending the bulk of the trip. We made it to Crowdy Bay National Park and pulled into the campsite at Diamond Head just as the sun was setting.
After a relaxing night I woke early and wandered down to the beach that joined the campsite just in time so see the sun begin to rise above the rocky headland of Diamond Head. We decided to get on the road fairly early, as we were keen to make it to our intended destination for the next few days, a campsite deep in the National Parks near Dorrigo called Platypus Flat, which as the name suggests is known for the possibility of seeing the elusive Platypus.
Our journey took us through one of our favourite places in this part of the state, Bellingen, so it seemed rude not to stop for a break and some lunch at one of it’s pleasant cafe’s. Bellingen is a small town on the banks of the Bellinger river. There is a real feeling of community here, shopping local and responsible sourcing of produce, there isn’t a huge coles or woolworths to steal shoppers with their bargains. It has a very relaxed vibe. We had a delicious brunch at a cafe we had visited on previous trips called 22 Church Street before hitting the road again towards the long climb that would take us out of the valley and onto the highland plateau beyond.
After snaking our way up the steep climb through the Dorrigo rainforest to the town of Dorrigo itself, we headed onwards into the Nymboi-binerai National Park. We followed a gravel road deep into the forest, before finally descending down the very steep access road to the clearing in the forest that is Platypus flat campground. It is a small campground with only room for five or six groups as well as a few campervans / trailers (if you can get one here), so we initially set up camp on a small strip of flat grass at the top of the campground. It gave us a nice view out over the clearing, but it was disappointing to be slightly further from the water.
To have any real chance of seeing Platypus you need to be out looking for them just before sunrise or after sunset. We had learnt that the most likely time was in the morning so we set our alarms for 6 am and the next morning half-asleep we emerged from the tent and made our way as quietly as possible down to the water’s edge. We’ve had a couple of failed attempts at seeing Platypus before this, but clinging to the eponymous name of the camping area, we were hopeful at least. Initially it continued in the same vein as our previous Platypus spotting trips, and after 20 minutes or so, we were all but ready to call it a day, but then suddenly we noticed a disturbance in the water around half-way across the river. We weren’t sure at first, but as whatever it was dived and re-appeared for the next few minutes at different points across the water in front of us we were finally sure that we had seen one. At one point we could clearly see it’s strange bill as it swam along slowly just below the water’s surface.
So although slightly tired we returned to the tent to make our breakfast content that we had finally managed to see one of Australia’s strangest and most illusive creatures in the wild. We were planning to stay another night at the campsite, and the decision was sealed when one of the riverside sites became free shortly after breakfast. We unpegged our tent, and carefully carried it down to the river and our new spot. Platypus flat is such a relaxing location that we decided to make the most of it and spend most of the rest of the day enjoying the surroundings and wildlife of the valley. This culminated in a lovely swim in the river at sunset, rounding off a great day (although swimming with a platypus wasn’t to be!)
The next day we were ready to move on and continue North to Byron Bay where we planned on spending a couple of days. Although Byron Bay is near the top of most people’s lists of places to visit in Australia, we had still yet to visit after nearly two years since arriving in Australia. We decided that it was about time we changed that, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity with us already being so far north in New South Wales. As we pulled into our campsite for the night at the holiday park Glen Villa Resort the change from our previous camping spot couldn’t be greater. After handing over $50 a night for our pitch, we were presented with a tiny stip of grass barely big enough for our tent. After going back to the office we were moved to a bigger, grassier pitch, but it was a bit of a shock to the system, our entire camp fees for the trip so far came to less than one night, and this was the cheapest campsite we could find in Byron. Still – the location was good, a short walk to the centre of town, and only a little further to the beach. Byron bay itself is pleasant enough, especially the headland and lighthouse which we took a walk up to for sunset.
There are some great places to eat, that would rival what is available back in the city, so it was nice to relax after a few days without even running water. The beaches are nice, but there are far nicer dotted all along the New South Wales coast. I think what I disliked most was a manufactured hippy vibe the Byron exudes, which seems to be a big draw for a lot of it’s visitors. It in no way felt genuine like Bellingen had. Perhaps twenty or so years ago it was more authentic before the hoards of backpackers arrived and the dollar signs appeared in people’s eyes. It seemed like everyone there was playing a part. We still found some nice places to eat and drink but didn’t really understand the hype. We went for a drink at Byron Bay Brewery near our campsite and stumbled into an open mic comedy night, cue some very awkward, offensive and especially not funny acts and we’d had our fill.
We left Byron not a moment too soon and drove back down the coast towards Sydney. We stopped for the night at Hat Head. A pleasant national park campsite on the coast a bit north of Port Macquarie. The next morning we had a slow start and we were quickly surrounded by Goannas playing Grandmother’s footsteps trying to get close to our camp and our food! Although they would quickly run away if you moved toward them it was quite stressful being constantly on the lookout for them appearing under the car or from behind you! It was time to leave but not before we’d had a look at the beach. It was a dramatic white sandy beach pretty much deserted with large waves rolling in fast, definitely not for the inexperienced swimmer.
Even though storms were forecast we had one more night before we had to be back in the city. Seal Rocks is a small settlement with a variety of beaches to suit both surfers and swimmers approx three hours north of Sydney. There are a few campsites to choose from, the North Coast Holiday Park, Treachery camp and Yagon campsite (managed by the the National Park). Being a popular time of year we only had one choice, Yagon, which suited us as we like the no fuss approach you often get with national park sites. Luckily the forecast was wrong and no storms came so we were able to have a quick dip in the sea Number One Beach before dinner. We walked down to Submarine Beach from our campsite for sunset to enjoy the last moments of our holiday.