Visitors are an excellent excuse to travel in your own area. Not that any excuse should be necessary, but sometimes it is. Ben & I live on the northside of Brisbane, and this road trip was taken with my friend from high school Jaina, her husband Chliu and Jaina’s ex-housemate Shan.
Ben & I left home at about 6.15am and drove down to the Gold Coast, where we met with Jaina, Chilu and Shan. We swapped cars at this point – I drive quite a small car, far too small for 5 adults and a days worth of food to all fit. At least comfortably. I’m sure everyone would have fitted in my car, but we weren’t about to try. A 4WD (Four Wheel Drive, or SUV as some may know it) was a much more practical car for a long day trip.
By 7.50am we were heading off, all people, food and swimmers packed. By 8.05am we had already missed the exit to Springbrook National Park, and 8.07am brought us to our first u-turn for the day.
Once on the correct road, the road rapidly grew smaller and rougher. The road to Springbrook curves its way up a mountainside, so there is just one narrow lane in each direction, with lots of sharp corners and potholes to mind. The speed limit was quite fast and frankly, unsafe. We crawled up the mountainside at our own pace, much to the displeasure of some cars behind us. There are a few small gravel areas where we pulled over to let others past, but that’s all we could do. The other hazard of the road is that the drivers coming down the hill appeared to be going slightly over the speed limit (or safe driving speed), and sometimes liked to take up more than just their lane.
Some sections of the road went down to one lane, usually as we passed over a cute wooden, rattling old bridge. The drivers coming down the hill have to give way to those going up for the one lane sections. Then it gets a little less cute when you see scaffolding under one of them, presumably holding the bridge up:
As we pulled into the parking lot for the Natural Bridge, there was only one other car there, so we had most of the park to ourselves! There is a sign at the entry to the car park warning that thieves operate in the area and that you should take any valuables with you. So of course we labelled the other car the ‘thieves car’. There are no rubbish bins in the park, so you have to take any rubbish with you. There is a toilet block with composting toilets at least. And apparently people live in the area! What a place to live:
It’s a fairly short walk to the Natural Bridge, though sneakers or shoes with a good grip are a good idea. After all it’s a forest, so the path is damp and covered in wet leaves and other such things. Before you get to the Natural Bridge, the path takes you across a few small streams, which are so classically pretty it would make the walk worth it, even if the Natural Bridge wasn’t there:
The walk has little signposts throughout it, telling you about the area:
And then you get to the Natural Bridge. By this point you have been able to hear the waterfall for some time, but the path keeps you from seeing it until you’re fairly close. And it’s beautiful:
You can then follow the path closer, and actually descend into the cave behind the waterfall. This is also a bat and glow worm habitat area. This area is very loud, due to your proximity to the waterfall, and perpetually damp from the waterfall spray:
The path then continues upwards and you find yourself above the waterfall. If you lean on the railings a little, you can see all the way down the waterfall:
Continuing on the loop path, you go over some more streams and find yourself back where you started. There’s a little picnic hut by the start of the trail, for those who want to eat there.
The walk is fairly easy, but does contain quite a few steps. The Queensland State Government, who controls the park, states that the walk is about 1km, takes an hour, and is easier if taken in a clockwise direction (http://www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks/springbrook/about.html#naturalbridge). Very few websites seem to mention the distance or duration of the walk, which caused some troubles for Ben (a type 1 diabetic) as he suddenly had blood sugar low symptoms and had to stop to test and eat throughout the walk. We are both well educated on how to manage diabetes, but having easy access to the information (like the distance of a trail) is kind of central to managing it, so this information really needs to be more prominent on websites about the area.
And it’s also worth noting that it is now against the law to swim or paddle in the creek by the stream – if you do an image search for the Natural Bridge, many photos show people in the water, so this must be a fairly recent (or very ignored) law.
After we had finished in Springbrook National Park, we headed into NSW and the Tweed Valley:
We made a small pit stop Murwillumbah to find the GPS and came across a fantastic pool, the Tweed Regional Aquatic Centre. What first attracted us to the site was simply a parking space to rifle around for things, then I noted a giant waterslide built into the hillside. There are three indoor pools, an outdoor pool, toddlers pool and the ‘Giant Hill Slide’. Unfortunately, the official website
http://trac.tweed.nsw.gov.au/ is a little slim on photos, which is a shame, as this is a really great small town attraction that could be promoted more. The cafe (which has service windows for both pool visitors and not) has a highly appropriate name:
The GPS found, set and plugged in, we set off to our next desintation: the infamous town o
f Nimbin, NSW. Of course, we turned the wrong way out of the parking lot, and the GPS started squawking at us to “complete a u-turn where possible”. It then took us on a route through the backstreets of Murwillumbah, past the river levee with its legal graffiti, before sending us out onto the freeway.
By 1pm NSW time (Queensland doesn’t observe daylight savings, so there is a one hour difference between the two states in summer), we had parked in Nimbin. After a quick walk up the main street, Ben & I settled into a park to eat our picnic lunch, while Jaina, Chilu & Shan went to find a cafe. A critical part of managing diabetes well is eating low GI (glycemic index) food, and that is something you can never rely on finding when eating out, so we had brought our own food for the day. Picnic spot:
We ate, then met up with the others at Choices Cafe. Shan asked the staff where the best toilets for the town are, and they recommended the pub. There was a belly dancer outside the cafe too, which seemed to create quite a bit of through-traffic for males going to the little gift shop next door. Oddly enough, none of them seemed to be buying anything, just walking back and forth…
Nimbin is an odd place. Most people flock there to view the hippy culture, or because they believe that cannabis is legal there. A quick search on the internet tells you that it is not – at best it is just ignored more often than in other places. Like any location that focuses on a drug and has a high official unemployment percentage, there can be a few crazies wandering the streets, but all in all Nimbin is a safe, fairly commercial town. After all, they need tourists to buy the $25 tie-dyed shirts hanging up outside shops.
Most of Nimbin does promote a happy and tolerant atmosphere. One shop we went in didn’t even have any staff in the store – they were too busy chatting out the front to worry about supervising customers. It’s quite refreshing from a usual retail environment! One shop, Perceptio, actually has a book on quitting smoking for sale – this is certainly a diverse town. The main street is made up of little shops selling gifts & knick-knacks, ‘hippy’ clothing, hemp products and other bits and pieces, such as an art gallery. There was also a small church, saying that they were opens from “10am to noonsish”.
Nimbin also has it’s own museum, which is small but one of the best museums I’ve ever been into. http://nimbinmuseum.com/ The museum is quite small, but makes up for this by covering every single wall, floor and ceiling with information, making it much more visually stimulating than most museums. It was divided into three main sections: one for the Bunjalung people (the traditional owners), one detailing the European occupation of the area, and the last for the current incarnation of the town, that of the Hippies. It was nearly 2pm by the time we got to the museum, so we were getting pressed for time and had to get on with our day – we couldn’t spend much time reading everything in the musuem, but it’s a little stop off I would recommend in the town.
The road out of Nimbin was pretty awful – absolutely full of pot holes. They were all over the road and most ended up being unavoidable. We were going slowly anyway, as we were stuck behind a “Hippy Camper” car, but they ended up pulling off soon after. Of course, this wasn’t before I made the accidental joke “Hey, look, the Hippies are picking up speed!!” By 2.15pm were passing through Goolmangar Village, a tiny town of less than a dozen houses and a single petrol pump, but we had noticed on the day that petrol stations seemed fairly few and far between. Or they were just all on side streets and we’d missed them all.
We kept on driving, through Lismore at 2.30pm, arriving at Allstonville at 3pm. Also, we happened to notice that Lismore has a child care centre named “Gingerbread Child Care” … we weren’t really sure if that was a great name.
We had come to Allstonville for one thing – a hedge maze! http://www.amaze-n-place.com.au/ Amaze ‘n’ Place may have a corny name, but it’s a great little attraction and a nice way to break up a day of long drives. They even give you a discount if you book online (which we had forgotten to do). We bought our tickets and headed off into the maze. It was slightly different from the other hedge mazes I had been in before – the hedges were only at the top and the bottom was see-through cross design. That felt a little disappointing to me, but then I realised it actually makes very little difference and just allows you all to split off into little groups but track each other too – that way you can see how everyone else is going. And more importantly, see where they went if they beat you to the middle first. The middle of this maze is a raised hut with a bench at the top where you can take a rest and enjoy the gentle breeze. Amaze ‘n’ Place also has a cafe with a nice deck, and lots of puzzle toys to try (and buy).
Ballina was our next destination. Continuing Australia’s strange obsession with Big Things, we drove past the Big Prawn. We were going to stop and walk around it, but found out that it’s in an apparently abandoned complex. There was a “sold” sign out the front, so hopefully it will be refurbished & reopened, rather than bulldozed. Ballina itself felt like a bit of a disappointment to us. We didn’t really know what we were going there for, so we set the GPS for Ballina Town Centre. Of course, once we had gotten to the centre of the town the GPS kept telling us to make a u-turn. I think the NavMan is powered by the car performing u-turns. I’m sure Ballina is nice, it certainly seemed busy and lots of people were wandering the streets or swimming in the inlets, but there didn’t really seem to be a reason to stop there. We saw a sign for a lookout and drove up to it, but there were no contextual signs or information on the area:
Instead of trying to find something to do in Ballina, made the decision to keep going. Still trying to keep an eye out for anything interesting along the way, we found ourselves stopping just down the road at Lennox Heads at the Pat Moreton lookout. From there, you can just see a tiny speck in the distance that is the Byron Bay lookout. We were all getting fairly tired by this point (we had all had a late night the night before, for different reasons, and all got up pretty early to get the day started) but in the end we all decided that we would climb the stairs to the higher lookout. Which turned out to be fairly disappointing. The stairs look fairly new and well cared for, and that’s about it – at the top it just stops dead and turns into a dirt path, not so much as a seat for you to enjoy the view. The path goes on for a few bends, but the mosquitos were so terrible we headed straight back down. All in all, this is one place where the view from the carpark area is pretty good and you can feel good about taking the lazy option of not going up the stairs!
We pushed onto Byron, where we headed straight for the supermarket to get some food. We were worried it was going to be closed, as it was just before 5pm at this point. Many of the supermarkets in suburban areas are only open 9-5 on Saturdays, so we were quite relieved when we showed up at Woolworths in Byron Bay to see that their opening hours were 7am-10pm, 7 days a week. And that was one busy supermarket!! Not to mention empty – they were clearly doing a roaring trade as some aisles had nearly nothing left on them. It reminded me a little of early 2011 when Brisbane flooded & supply trucks couldn’t get through.
After finding out that the main beach car park charges for parking (the one by the swimming pool), we turned down Bay street to find free car parking and an unoccupied picnic bench. Score! We sat down to a picnic of roast chicken, bread rolls, tomato, potato salad, ice cream, and my new favourite food – spinach and pine nut dip. I have got to learn how to make that!
We relaxed there for a while, enjoying eating. You always know when it’s a good meal because no one is talking – we were all to busy enjoying the food to care about conversation. When we had finally digested everything, we packed it all back into the car and headed onto the beach. It was about 5.30pm by this stage, but the beach was still fairly busy. Ben decided he’d had enough of walking for the day, so he took up a spot on the sand. We dumped our stuff with him, then headed off. Jaina and Chilu went to check out the markets in the town, while Shan and I took a walk along the beach and in the water. Though we had all brought swimmers with us, no one could be bothered to change, swim, and then deal with that ever annoying prospect of finding sand in unpleasant places for the rest of the day.
As it was starting to get late in the day, and we had a lot of driving left to do just to get home, we were debating if we should go up to the lighthouse or not. But we decided it was a shame to drive all this way and not go up there, especially since Chilu had never been there. It turned out to be a great idea, as we got there at 6.15pm, just as the sun was going down. It’s still quite a small car park at the top of the hill, and once again there is only a tiny road that takes you up there. However, as there is a charge for parking, you’ll find a lot of people walking the entire way up. As always, the second you step out of your car you really do get a spectacular view. There are quite a few walking trails from the lighthouse, but we stuck to top area on this trip, both because we’d done them before & we were tired and lazy!! The strangest thing this time was that there was a goat on the hillside, happily chewing away. I really don’t know if that’s common, where they would come from or anything like that, but it really was strange to see.
From Byron, it was a long drive back up to the Gold Coast, where, with a quick swap of cars, Ben & I headed on back to our house. We got home at 9.30pm (Queensland time!) that night. A very, very long day.
Overall, Google Maps tells me that the round trip was 525km. That explains why we were so tired by the time we got home! I’ve certainly been on longer day trips in terms of distance travelled, but the roads were pretty awful in some parts, so it was slow going over those terrains.