Port Stephens to Sydney New South Wales 31 July to 2 August 2007
11 Aug 2007
With our new tyres safely fitted we drove south once more. We were heading for the industrial city of Newcastle, the largest city in Australia that is not a state capital, where we would cross the Hunter River over the big Stockton Bridge. Stockton is located across the river from Newcastle and has a beach that is 32km long and sand dunes that have been used as a backdrop in many films. Crossing the bridge gave us a chance to see the city and its beaches from a bird's eye view. Newcastle is dominated by the BHP steelworks, and like its namesake in England was founded on coal, mined in the Hunter Valley. The road took us along the docks where there were a number of large container ships being loaded with coal, some of it may be on its way to UK. About six weeks ago this area of New South Wales suffered severe storms and heavy flooding around the area and in the Hunter Valley. A large container ship, ignored advice to move off shore, and was washed up onto the beaches around Newcastle. The Pasher Balker became quite a star in the area as lots of people went to see the ship, marooned on the beach. It took about five weeks before they got it a float again, then it was towed into Newcastle Harbour for repairs. We arrived just 2 days too late as the ship had sailed for its home port, so we missed all the action.
We were not staying here but travelling on to Port Macquarie to the south of the city. We took the Old Pacific Highway which took us eventually back to coast. It was getting close to lunch so we stopped at Caves Beach and found a parking spot with a first class view over the ocean. Anchored off shore were 30 large container ships waiting to get into the port of Newcastle. After lunch, we had a walk on the beach and were able to see why the area was called Cave Beach. The cliffs appeared to have a number of caves along the shoreline, we could not go over to investigate as the tide was coming in very swiftly and we would have got stranded. We walked back up the cliff path and were rewarded with a sighting of an echidna; it did not stay about for long and was soon hidden in the grass.
Back on the road we drove down a narrow spit of land which was bordered by the Tasman Sea on our left and Lake Macquarie on our right; which ever way we looked we had a great view. Our chosen camp site for the night was at Mannering Point, on the south shore of the lake, but getting there was another thing. We missed the first turn off and ended up driving further around the point and coming in from the other side. Normally caravan parks are well signposted but around here they are not allowed to put up the blue road signs, so we had to find it the hard way.
Lake Macquarie is just 90 minutes drive from Sydney and it is a place many people come to unwind and take part in the many water based activities on offer. The region's beauty comes from its stunning natural attractions with long sandy beaches and a lake that seems as vast as an inland sea. At four times the size of Sydney Harbour, Lake Macquarie is the largest coastal saltwater lake in Australia, with the Watagan Mountains as a back drop. Linking the beaches, lake and the mountains are over ninety villages and communities with fourteen caravan sites dotted around.
At the camp we were given a site down near the lake side and with only one Jayco caravan at the other side from us, it looked as if we would have a nice quiet time. That was wishful thinking as the cockatoos spent most of the night making such a racket it made sleeping quite difficult. Next morning we found our Jayco caravan neighbours moving to the site next to us, they had been under the tree the cockatoo's were roosting in and got more than a noisy night. In a conversation with them it looked like we were going to be in the middle of a Jayco Owners Rally, more vans would be turning up today and tomorrow.
We left our neighbours re-setting their caravan up whilst we went off for a walk along the lakeside path as far as we could go and then up into the village to do some shopping. We returned for lunch to find two more caravans had arrived for the rally. We were invited to join the group for their happy hour in the camp kitchen, Jeff in his haste to get there grabbed a bottle from under the bed (that is our wine cellar) and took a good swig out of it to discover he had taken over a bottle of Bundaberg Sarsaparilla. To demonstrate he was not normally that silly he then produced Squeaker the monkey, I rest my case. Once again we shared traveller's tales and experiences with our fellow travellers.
Thursday morning we were packing up as more caravans were arriving, it seemed a pity to be moving on as they seemed a friendly group and I am sure it would be a good week-end. There are over a hundred members in the club but not all would be there this time. It was now time for us to depart and head for the northern beaches of Sydney where we would visit with Cathy and Robert, the couple we met in the Lamington National Park. Normally we choose to travel on the smaller roads but today we opted for the Pacific Highway as a quicker route. We joined the road at Wyong and found once we had passed Gosford we were driving on quite a spectacular road. Parts of the road were being upgraded to three lanes and normally road works can be annoying. On this road it gave us a chance to admire the views we were getting of The Brisbane National Park on our left and the Popran National Park on our right. The road had been cut out of rock and was high up overlooking the blue waters of Broken Bay.
We turned off the highway and took the small road up towards Bobbin Head in the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park. This park is the second oldest national park in New South Wales, being created in 1894, and covers some 15, 000 hectares of sandstone and bush land, which is only 15 miles from the centre of Sydney. It is now established as one of Sydney's best known national parks and has over two million visitors a year. Being so close to the city it is a testament to the early conservationists who recognised the importance of establishing such reserves before urban expansion robbed the future generations of its beauty. The park has another claim to fame, it was used for the filming of 'Skippy the Bush Kangaroo', now how many of you will admit to remembering that programme?
Not far into the park we came to the Kalkali Visitors Centre where we stopped for information on the area. The centre is staffed by volunteers and they were very welcoming. We went for a walk on the discovery track and saw lorikeets, kangaroos, a swamp wallaby and a pair of ducks with 7 very small ducklings. They were very cute and it was hard to move on from watching them, but we eventually did. Not far away we met one of the volunteers, Karen and asked her what type of ducks they were. She did not know at the time but e-mailed us later to inform us they were Australian Wood Ducks. Karen also suggested we do the walk through the mangroves at Bobbin Head.
Our next stop was at Bobbin Head where we had lunch before setting off on the mangrove walk, we continued on a little further up the track to see some Aboriginal art work and stone axe sharpening groves in the rocks. There are lots of bush walking tracks in the park but we did not have time to do any of them. Before leaving we went down to the marina for a coffee and were adopted by two local ducks, even though we did not have anything to eat they still sat with us. We do seem to be making lots of friends on this trip.
Then it was time to find our camp site at Narabeen, one of Sydney's northern beaches On our last visit to Sydney we did not get to any of the northern beaches, and we had been recommended them by Cathy and Robert. We found our site with no problems and had just enough time to nip across the road, at the back of the site, and walk up to the lookout point to get a view of the beach before dark. We also saw a few happy, if not cold, surfers leaving the beach.