Overnight stays: Reflections Holiday Park, Urunga (2 nights); Gumma Reserve, Gumma; Horseshoe Bay Holiday Park, South West Rocks (3 nights); Park Beach Holiday Park, Coffs Harbour (2 nights); Reflections Holiday Park, Moonee Beach (2 nights).
Growing up in Tamworth and Armidale, the NSW North Coast holds precious memories of school holidays to Loz and I – across to Coffs, Sawtell, Nambucca, Woolgooga, Korora Bay, or Boambee for a week or two of sun, sea, and ice cream.
This visit was largely indifferent from those memories, and we hope it’s a part of the world Liv remembers, as with us now living in Sydney, it’s a place we will visit infrequently due to distance.
It was planned as a quick coffee stop and play at the playground. But with the caravan park on the water looking like it had a few empty spaces, we decided this the perfect spot for our first coastal stop for a couple of nights. Loz had also done her research and the Bingo trail led this way, with the stars and days aligning for another grab at the locals’ riches.
Urunga is a funny sort of place. It’s a cute little town with one too many supermarkets (seriously, for a town of like 20 people, they don’t need two), set on the mouth of the Bellinger River, that flows out to the ocean, a few hundred metres out. From the edge of town you can access the beach on an uber boardwalk over the river, past the mangroves; also great for scooting if you don’t mind the repetitive sound of plastic wheels on wooden planks.
Speaking of scooting, Liv was thrilled to find a neighbour of similar age, her new ‘best friend’, whom she starting searching for every minute of every day. They happily scooted together at every chance – a win for everyone, especially as Liv has started to remind us that she misses her school friends 😔.
Winner winner, golf club dinner! Loz and Deb wiped the floor with Bingo again, bringing back a date night’s worth of club vouchers for us to spend that night. Deb and Stu kindly offered to mind the chook back at camp, so we grabbed the best view in the club, overlooking the water, and flashed our Bingo dollars around like an early adopter ‘cryptoprenuer’ moving to Puerto Rico to start a new ‘digital dollar’ life with other cryps, and breed a whole new generation of baby-cryps.
Fishing for chicken
Our first weather on the coast was pretty grim – cloudy, windy, and a touch of rain for good measure. This basically removed swimming from the equation, so we tried our hand at using Liv’s fishing rod, given to her when she was born by Uncle Muz and Aunty Mandy. Still in the packet, it has never made the chopping block on any house move, and it was basically the last thing we threw in the WomBatmobile, on the off chance Liv wanted to throw a line in somewhere along the way. You see, I have hated fishing for some time – sitting around with smelly hands, waiting for something you don’t want to touch to bite the line, so you have to unhook it and throw it back – then you get home, can’t wash the smell off your hands for days, and still have to buy dinner. But Liv was keen, so we threw a line in, and it went pretty much as I described above. But more on fishing later…
With the poor weather northbound, we started south, stopping in Nambucca Heads for a cuppa and bo-peep. At Nambucca Heads there’s a man-made rock wall where waves crash onto one side, and the other side is as calm as Loz when Liv has locked herself in the van. The public can paint on the rocks, which adds a unique colourful vibrancy to an otherwise ‘just another small coastal town with a break wall’ place. Perfect for Liv, a Picasso in the making who paints and draws at every chance. She took claim to the five of us’ share of rocks, her first public works, sure to be sighted by scouts ready to sign on the dotted line.
I used the calm side of the wall as an opportunity to test our my new fins and snorkel, which was an almighty fail with 0.5m visibility. Fed, refreshed, and leaving our little artist’s autograph behind, we continued south for another short stop at Macksville, and pulled into Gumma Reserve for the night.
We were tossing up between Gumma, and Slim Dusty’s infamous Pub with no Beer as a place to stay before our pre-booked South West Rocks. Both were low-cost and highly rated options; but when none of us really drink much, and with the Google reviews pointing out the pub’s roaches on the wall, the choice was made easy.
Camp sites are awesome. They are cheaper than caravan parks; you have freedom on where to park; they are often located on the water; and can’t be pre-booked. Gumma Reserve is no exception, and once parked up with the generator giving our batteries some juice while the sun continued to hide, we threw a line in on the river, still no fish.
With Deb and Stu in-tow for this leg of the trip, Loz and I, after eight years of marriage and 13 years of being together, finally played 500 (the card game) together, not against each other. When we first toured Europe together in 2008/09, we played more hours of 500 against each other than we did sightseeing. So much so that we had basically refused to play again since. It’s taken 10 years to recover from our hyper-extension 500 injuries; but this time we were a team, ready to conquer the world.
Turns out our bullish and competitive nature hasn’t subsided, and of the ten or so games we played against Deb and Stu, we only won once 😬, and Deb had never played before! Look out 2028, we’ll be unbeatable then.
South West Rocks
South West Rocks – a place, nay, a unicorn we’d heard so much about, but never managed to visit. Going south on a north-bound trip is generally a no-no, but we couldn’t come this close to the place we’ve wanted to visit for years, and not spend a few nights.
Despite school holidays finishing the week prior, we only managed to book the last two sites in the park, the one right in town at Horseshoe Bay, where we wanted to stay. Deb and Stu took the top of the hill site, and we were lucky enough to plant a spot right on the beach, close enough to leave your thongs and towel inside.
The water was deliciously warm, the wind subsiding, and the clouds were clearing – now this feels like holidays. Taking full advantage of our situation, we spent most of our time at the beach, bike-riding, and at the playground; except Loz and Deb, who conveniently timed our stay with two consecutive days of hardcore Bingo at the club.
(double) Date night
With our next opportunity for a date night unknown, Deb and Stu kindly offered to mind Liv again while we took the esky with a few beers, and ate fish and chips on the headland, how romantic. We discovered that our mate Kunky’s parents were in town and at the local pub, so decided to pop in and say hi on the way through. They visit every year with a group of friends from all over, and their table was chockas when we arrived – no worries, we’re on our way to the headland anyway so we’ll just say hi. A few hours later, with the esky sitting unopened and lonely in the corner, we hadn’t moved, and our quick visit had evolved into a double-date and several drinks with Mr and Mrs Kunky. Not quite the romantic evening we had in mind, but such good fun all the same with amazing company!
Trial Bay Beach
The southern end of South West Rocks has one of the only western facing beaches on the east coast (north is the only direction not used in that sentence 😀). Mrs Kunky had recommended it as a place to paddle, wave-free, so we checked it out on our final full day, and soaked it up, sea-lice and all.
We finally made it to the headland for our beers that evening, accompanied by Liv, Deb, Stu, and snacks for happy hour, and soaked up all this beautiful part of Australia has to offer.
Gap Beach Walking Track
On the morning of checkout, we drove out to try our hand at the Grade 5 (really tough) Gap Beach Walking Track, a steep 6km round-trip, allegedly well-worth the effort for a halfway private dip at Gap Beach. They might as well rename it Spider Track as there are more spiders along the top of the track than there are Bingo players at South West Rocks (ask Loz, she estimates there were a thousand, when you round up to the closest thousand). Too many spiders 🕷. Enough for us to ditch the hike and get back on the road after successfully navigating the steepest part of the track – at least it’s good for our fitness.
On our way out we spotted the biggest kangaroo we’d ever encountered. The ones you see in those viral videos, fighting and flexing like a roided-up fitness guru. He was a scary dude, not one you’d want to cross in a bar fight.
Smokey Cape Lighthouse
On the northern end of Hat Head National Park, we dropped in for a quick gander at Smokey Cape and the lighthouse. The view of the beaches here was fantastic, and well worth the minor detour.
So many memories. Schoolies, Uni Games, road-trips. Coffs, the place my parents met, holds countless hazy memories, and couldn’t be missed as a stop on this trip. Park Beach Holiday Park is the pick of the parks, voted NSW best in 2017, and we could quickly see why. Playgrounds, jumping castles, and the best kids pool with water slides, reminiscent of the west coast of France in 2012 with Abell as our travel buddy. So good, in fact, that we extended our booking an additional night.
Liv’ fishing rod had served its purpose. It had stimulated interest from Liv, and slowly, line by line, sparked enough interest from me to invest in a rod and reel myself. Hers had also been battered and bruised, chipping and snapping wherever it had a chance. So we decided to upgrade Liv’s line as well – families who fish together…
Eager to test the new gear, we rode straight to the closest fish spot, the one where my mate Ben cast a line at schoolies, and waited patiently for 15 minutes, only to realise he’d actually cast it onto the railing on the bridge rather than the water, good times.
Fish on! Loz, with fishing in her blood, was first to bring in the bream, pew pew! Tiny, but hooked, and big enough for us to continue to cast for the remainder of the arvo – still had to buy dinner though 😒.
Kids. Hundreds of kids. Too many kids. The Junior Oz-Tag championships were in-town, which meant the caravan park had more kids in it than a Coles clothing factory in Cambodia. It reminded me how simple life is with one child, the best. The pool was overflowing, absolute chaos. No adult knew the whereabouts of their child, but somehow the kids didn’t care, they just carried on being kids. Each child clicked neatly into a sub-group – the pre-teen boys racing to grow a moustache, doing backflips off the slide and hoping the giggling girls will notice. The shirts-off coasties, beatbox in hand, also fighting for the same feminine attention. Entertaining yet a scary insight into our future. Note to self, never let Liv date a backflip or beatbox boy.
The Big Banana
On our way out of Coffs, we couldn’t ignore the giant piece of fruit to our left, a must-do for all passers-through. Our collective memories of the Big Banana were the train ride up, past the billabong with the Bunyip, through the banana fields, topped off with a chocolate-coated frozen banana.
Things have changed, a lot. Not only is the place a ghost-town, but it has diversified more than a conservative investor’s portfolio. Slides, water park, opal centre, cheese factory, arcade, too much shit, not enough focus, and they’ve totally lost their identity. The train ride is gone, as is the bunyip, and any trace of relationship to bananas, what a shame. However, one positive evolution of that of the chocolate-coated frozen bananas, now available with your choice of nuts or sprinkles – the best.
Over the past year, knowing that our trip was coming up, I’ve been hungry for hot tips and information on must-dos and places to visit. Every time I heard or read about a great hike, beach, town, or thing to do, I would save it in Google, where I could then reference on a digital map and use as a guide for our trip. This has been great, except I can’t remember where any of the recommendations came from, and why they were given.
Anyway, Moonee Beach was one of these places, most likely from one of those Top 100 Aussie Beaches lists that pop up almost daily on likes of Buzzfeed etc. What a ripper of a place it is! We decided on an unpowered site, letting our solar panels soak up the sun, which meant we could basically choose wherever we wanted to park. And so we did, in the most expensive free camp spot to-date (it felt like a free camp but cost quite a lot for an unpowered site), right on the edge of the park, overlooking the beautiful beach.
Similar but different to Urunga, there’s a river before the ocean at Moonee Beach, but super swimmer friendly. So we spent most of our time there, collecting shells and rocks, swimming, floating, fishing.
It was here I caught my first fish, woohoo. Every time I threw the line in, a bream jumped on, although again, as is the story of my fishing life, nothing big enough to bring home. Not that I’d know the first thing about scaling a fish anyway. That’s a problem for another day, a day where we catch something significant.
Speaking of fishing, I’m pretty proud of my little invention to carry the rods on the pushy. I spent what seemed like half a day at Bunnings the other day, getting all the bits and pieces, and advice, to build a rod and reel attachment. A few days on and it’s still there, quite the feat for someone as useful with his hands as a No Trumps 500 call without the Joker.
A month in the road
Well we passed one month on the road in the past few days, and we’re still only a day’s drive from Sydney. I guess we’ll need to get some miles under our belt at some stage. Or maybe not…