Wednesday, 30 March 2022

A trip to the mid north coast ...


We’ve had ourselves a little holiday.

Nothing exotic, just a little trip to the mid North Coast of New South Wales to Blueys Beach, a little coastal surf community not that far from where we went last year.

We felt that we needed a break – the last few months, with J’s two operations, periodic overnight trips to Melbourne for post operative checkups, and the continual changing landscape around the pandemic had meant that they havn’t been the easiest.

The good news is that J is healing well and regaining her strength, so it seemed time to live a little.

So, we chose Bluey’s Beach for pragmatic reasons – while it’s around 1000km from home, if we planned an overnight stop along the way it wouldn’t be too far for me to drive all the way if her shoulder began to play up, and we could avoid Sydney by going via Orange and Mudgee. And it was far enough north to still be warm enough to swim in the ocean.

So off we went to Orange. It was actually the weekend of the Orange Medieval Faire, and if we’d known we’d have given ourselves an extra day in Orange and gone to the Faire to watch the re-enactors.

But having been hermits we were completely out of the loop on such things so we stayed in a motel in a vineyard and sat on the balcony eating a Vietnamese takeaway while watching the dark spill across the vines.

We were off early next morning and the traffic was light so we decided to drive across the Blue Mountains and down into Sydney and round the tollway.

Doing this meant we had a pleasant coffee and cake stop in Katoomba, but by the time we got down to the M4 the traffic was beginning to thicken, and we began to regret our choice. Fortunately, by the time we got onto the M1 heading north most of the traffic heading out of the city for the day had gone, so it was not too bad.

A stop in Raymond Terrace to pick up supplies for the evening – stuff for dinner and a bottle of wine, and we were sorted.

On our first proper day of holiday we did little more than walk along the beach and paddle in the surf, but on the second day we went down to the fish co-op in Tuncurry to get some fresh seafood, and in the process discovered a little enclosed ocean swimming area with a little beach and a café.

Last year we would have pooh-poohed the idea of swimming in such a spot – most of the other people swimming looked well north of seventy – and looked for somewhere wilder, but this year the calm warm water of the ocean pool meant that J could safely try swimming for the first time since surgery.

And it was pleasant, so enjoyable that we went back the next day and did it again. While I have no intention of us moving to the area, I felt envious when watched a fit old guy come down on his bike from his apartment, stuff his helmet and t-shirt in a pannier and go straight in for his morning swim.

That afternoon we went to Sugarloaf Point lighthouse to climb up to the lighthouse and see of we could spot a whale or two – despite being out of the main migration season there had been some reports of whales being seen.

By now the weather was beginning to change and the wind was beginning to blow seriously,  so much so that the sea was so chopped up we had little chance of spotting anything, but we did speak to some people who had seen a bronze whaler earlier that morning, and to a lady taking photographs of birds who had been staying at one of the old lighthouse cottages, who said she’d spotted a whale offshore when out very early on the cottage deck taking photographs of the ocean.

We, of course, saw nothing.

That night we decided to eat the fish we’d bought in Tuncurry the day before – the previous night it had been wild caught local prawns with pasta – but nature had other plans.

Just as we were about to start cooking the power went out, and stayed out.

We sat out on the deck with a glass of wine and watched the dark come in over the ocean while we waited for the power to come back. After about half an hour the lights flashed for a minute or two which was hopeful sign, but the power went out again – my guess is that one of the powerline engineers had tried slamming the trips back to see if the incident had been caused by a spike rather than a cable fault.

After an hour the power was still out and we decided that it probably wasn’t going to be back for another hour or two, so we put our fish in the fridge and had camembert, bread, a bit of salad and some corn chips and salsa for dinner.

It sounds grim but actually it was quite fun sitting out watching lightning flash across the ocean while nibbling our impromptu picnic dinner with a glass of wine.

We’d had two warm sunny active days but overnight the weather changed for the worse, and we woke to grey skies and on and off drizzly rain.

Well, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Swimming was off and while we thought we might have a beach walk, but we went for the lazy option of a leisurely breakfast and lunch at one of the cafes in the village.

In the afternoon the weather turned wetter and wilder, with the banana trees outside flapping like wild demented flags, making it an afternoon for not much more than tea, cake and a classic detective novel.

Later on, the fish dinner postponed from the previous night. We’d hoped it would clear enough to allow us to eat outside but the rain had come back, so it was flathead fillets, some potatoes and salad inside followed by an hour or so’s tv.

It continued to rain most of the night but, by dawn it began to clear, and after breakfast there was enough blue in the sky to make it worth going out for a swim.

We drove round to the safe sheltered swimming beach at Seal Rocks below the lighthouse and we actually got to swim in the real ocean, as opposed to roped off swimming area, which was both fun and psychologically good for J to feel that she could once more swim in the ocean.

As we were swimming the skies began to darken and it began to spit with rain, so we called it a day and headed back to our holiday unit, stopping to pick up a pie for lunch and some extra groceries.

That afternoon, our last afternoon, it turned stormy, and the ocean was a wild churn of surf, so we contented ourselves with a wind blown and spray drenched walk along the beach before a cup of tea and a hot bath.

That night it rained. Heavily as in Ragnarök heavy. When we woke up in the morning water was cascading down the steps outside our rental holiday house from a blocked drain.

Somehow we managed to get the car packed and set off home, again via Orange.

The thirty minute drive to the freeway took an hour negotiating flooded culverts. The freeway was a mess of spray and lights, but, amazingly, a little bit short of Newcastle the rain began to let up and it began to clear.

Not wishing to risk driving round Sydney should the rain come back we took the Hunter Expressway meaning to loop round the back via Mudgee or Meriwa – a route that involved a tour of the coal mining sites in the Hunter Valley. I had not realised just how large the coal industry was in the Hunter.

Quite a few properties threatened by ever expanding open cut mines had signs on their gates ‘Food Bowl not Coal Hole’, a sentiment with which I can only agree.

Going via Mudgee was a good idea, but road closures due to flooding and road damage had us taking an eccentric way via a back road to Rylstone and then on to Bathurst to the main road to Orange.

We arrived late and after a bowl of pasta and bottle of wine collapsed in to bed.

The next day we slept late and woke to yet more rain. It was also cold, colder than we had planned for so we had an emergency trip into Orange to buy a couple of jumpers.

Orange seemed grey dispiriting and closed in the rain so not knowing what to do drove to Canowindra (also closed – country NSW seems to close up on Sunday afternoons) to the Age of Fishes Museum – which was really interesting, more than you might think with some really nice big fossils.

That night we ate out at the Union Bank restaurant in Orange. Good food, all share plates, which worked as J could have a smaller portion than me, and a very good wine list and exceptionally helpful and knowledgeable staff. Recommended.

The next day didn’t go quite as planned.

I’d been getting a bit of a thrum and a drone from the tyres after one of the many stretches of potholed road in country NSW – driving on them was a bit like whack-a-mole in reverse – you could miss most of them but sooner or later you would hit one, and country roads in NSW certainly do potholes. As the tyres had been rotated about 3000km ago I thought at first it might just be as a result of them toeing in, but when the noise didn’t go away I began to worry.

Normally I get my tyres from Tyrepower, so I phoned up the Tyrepower in Orange and they suggested bringing it in for a look.

It looked like the front wheels were slightly out of alignment, perhaps due to one pothole too many. Fortunately, the were able to do a realignment that afternoon.

That did bugger up our plans for a drive out to a winery for lunch.

Instead we ate at the Agrestic Cafe just outside of Orange and then went for a walk round the Botanic Gardens.

After dropping the car off we walked down to the recently expanded Art Gallery which was really good with exhibitions of work by Salvatore Zofrea and a surrealist multimedia experience by William Kentridge.

Unlike some multimedia works Kentridge’s really worked, overwhelming the senses using symbolist film collages from Russia in the 1920’s and a powerful South African sound track.

Zofrea’s drawings were quietly wonderful with some of his drawings of miners looking as if they had just stepped out of an Italian renaissance painting.

So, car done, the next day we set off home. We drove back via Canowindra, Boorowa, Harden and Jugiong to the freeway. After Canowindra the road surfaces improved and we could make reasonable progress, stopping for coffee and a cake in Boorowa and then down to the park in Jugiong for lunch.

After that, it was a straight run home down the freeway to Albury and then home.






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