Australia: An Epic Road-trip, Part 1


PART 1:  BLUE MOUNTAINS AND PORT MACQUARIE

BLUE MOUNTAINS

I’ve been to Blue Mountains three times before, so I did not intend on going there again on this recent trip. But when I saw a picture of my little niece sitting on the white rock overlooking a valley and across mountain, backdropped by beautiful hues of blue, I was inspired to take the same photo. Little did I know that "L" my travel planner and travel guide on this month-long road-trip already had this place listed in our itinerary. So, our first day was spent at a place called Lincoln’s Rock, a massive flat rock on top of the mountain.  L and R, my travel companions challenged me to sit on the rock jagged edge, on 855 meters high cliff mountain, facing the other side of the Blue Mountain Ranges. Lincoln's Rock is not for the faint of heart. After a few minutes of sitting on the edge of the rock, my heart started racing. There's really not much to do at Lincoln's Rock except for photo-ops. Sadly, I left my big camera (SLR) in the car, but our smartphone camera was enough to capture the dramatic views. 

We spent the rest of the day hiking at the nearby Blue Mountains National Park. We first hiked the Wentworth Falls Track. We walked along the steps from the top of the cliff, then took a trail that goes right in the middle of the cliff, then took the stairs down that became a series of ladders to reach the first waterfall. The waterfall was not linear but followed the contours of the mountain. So, we saw a series of waterfalls and walked to the last series before it dropped 100 meters down. 

The nice thing about the National Park System in Australia is that there are picnic areas and tables provided. So, if you're on a road-trip you can bring food, park your car near a picnic area to eat. Since we were blessed with a wonderful weather, we decided to do some more hiking until sunset. R drove down to another part of Blue Mountains National Park and parked the car where I thought was the valley floor.  But it was where the Prince Henry Cliff Track begin, the typical route for the locals and Blue Mountain Day-trippers. From where we parked, the sign showed that we were 100 meters or 5 minutes down to the Katoomba Cascades, 550 meters or 20 minutes away to the Katoomba Falls Lookout and 900 meters or 30 to 45 minutes away to the Scenic World. We descended the steps that took us immediately to the Katoomba Cascades.  Then L started taking my pictures. In her effort to get the perfect picture for Instagram. I veered off the normal path and slipped.  We tried to continue the walk to the Katoomba Falls lookout, but it was very uncomfortable walking in wet clothes. So, my little mishap prevented us from completing the walk.   

CAVE BEACH

The next day, we drove northeast to Port Macquarie. But before reaching the coastal town, we stopped at a little town called Cave Beach, a suburb on the Swansea Peninsula.  It features literally, the "Cave Beach". It was a weekend and somehow, there was some sort of event for the kids. So, the beach was crowded with kids in pink bathing suits. We tried to avoid the crowded beach and immediately went into the caves that lead to a wonderful ocean view.  I saw a few surfers and the swells seemed to be great for surfing. But I was just happy to take photos of the stunning landscape. And it was great to take a short jog on the beach after sitting in the car for more than two hours.


PORT MACQUARIE

My travel companions knew me well that they thought I would really enjoy Port MacQuarie, a resort town with plenty of coastal trails and beaches like the North Shore Beach, Oxley Beach, Rocky Beach, Flynns, Nobby Beach and Lighthouse Beach. However, I was not impressed when we first arrived. Perhaps it was the cloudy sky and the lack of people doing any beach resort activities that it did not have a feel of a resort town or party town. Our first planned activity was to do a short walk to Kelly's Beach, but instead of taking the trail to the right, we went to the other side of the trail, so it turned out to be a long walk. My travel companions had visited the place not long ago and they told me about the place where they went to watch the sunset. We drove to the town center to watch the sunset. I immediately found out that it was in the town center or CBD (as it's called in Australia) where the visitors go to party. There were bars and restaurants along the boardwalk or part of the coastal trail. Since we had time to spare before sunset, we walked along the boardwalk bordered by the seawall of painted rocks. (I'd guess that visitors and locals alike could bring their paint and paint the rocks on the seawall). The boardwalk led to a park where we sat and waited to watch the sunset. However, the sunset viewing at the park was not that great, so we decided to drive back to Lighthouse Beach and watch the sunset from the Tacking Point Lighthouse. Fortunately, we were still able to catch some sunset reflections on the lighthouse when we arrived and realized that the Tacking Point Lighthouse would be an ideal place to watch the sunrise.  We hang around by the lighthouse to take in the view. By the time we returned to the town center for dinner, most of the restaurants were already closed. Thanks to that one Chinese Restaurant that was open until 9:00pm.   

The following morning, we woke up at 4:00am to catch the sunrise at the Tacking Point Lighthouse. And the sunrise did not disappoint!


After watching the sunrise, we headed into the town center for breakfast. But most of the restaurants were still closed.  So, we drove around looking for places to eat. Suddenly, L remembered one of the names of places to eat from her list. So, we went to find the "Sandbox Cafe" by the waterfront.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant laid-back setting. It was simply wonderful, and the food was great (one of the best meals I had on this trip). We spent the morning looking for beaches to explore or where we could go for a swim. But the water was too cold for swimming. Somehow, we found ourselves back at Shelly' Lookout, a part of Sea Acres National Park with access to the rainforest and boardwalk.  We were greeted by birds' calls or noise or song while we descended the Coastal trail that led to Shelly Beach.  The views were amazing. I saw some surfers and some brave souls swimming in the cold water.  My travel companions were right, I really enjoyed our stay at Port MacQuarie.

The view in front of the Sandbox Cafe 

Shelly Beach

 

NELSON BAY

On the way back from Port McQuarie, we stopped at the Barramundi Farm for lunch. Suddenly, R had a craving for oysters and the couple could not forget their past experience of buying oysters at Nelson Bay. So, we drove the short distance and spent the rest of the afternoon at Nelson Bay, a bay on Port Stephens and famous for oyster farms, whale watching and water sport activities. After a visit to the oyster farm, we went up the Gan Gan Hill Lookout to enjoy the scenery of white-sand beaches, the historical Tomaree Coastline that stretched into a distance as far as the eye could see, and the mountains in the Tomaree National Park.   




WOLLONGONG

When I mentioned that an acquaintance from the US was going to move to Australia and live in Wollongong, L suggested that we make a side trip to Wollongong even though it was not on our original plan. Wollongong is the 3rd largest city in NSW (New South Wales) and an old mining town. It's noted for its heavy industry, port and regional center for the South Coast fishing industry, and surf beaches. The drive to Wollongong took us a little over one hour from our home base. We decided to see the lighthouse first but for whatever reason, Mrs. Google Map and Mr. Garmin (inside joke) failed to communicate that we had trouble finding the lighthouse.  Much of the area was filled with industrial buildings. The lighthouse and the adjacent beach area were actually quite nice, so we decided to spend some time and eat breakfast there. Since we were trying to make it to our next planned stop on time, we just drove around to see some of the tourist sites like Nan Tien Temple and the University of Wollongong from the outside.


NOTES:

  1. All photos were shot on iPhone 13
  2. Did not use my travel companions real name to protect their privacy.
  3. I have no material connection to the products or brands mentioned in this blog nor received compensation for writing this blog.

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