Newcastle – Port Macquarie, 19th – 22nd September
Today we are only traveling from point A to point Newcastle. One of the things we might get used to by the end of the trip is the names in Australia – the options are three: either they originate from the local Aboriginal language (Wooloomooloo, Kata Tjuta, Nitmiluk) and more and more European names are “forgotten” in favour of the local ones; or they are given an underwhelmingly simple name by the first British captains and settlers (Green Island, Big Sandy Peninsula, Whitsunday Islands), but about Captain Cook we will talk more when we reach Quensland; or they have been entirely plagiarised from the original home of the settlers (Newcastle, Liverpool, Denmark). It is clear that coming from Sheffield it would be easiest to call your new village of three houses the same way but let’s make one thing clear – Liverpool is not a neighbourhood of Sydney and Denmark and Albania are not neighbours. But, okay, I’ll let it go. That’s how it came to you when naming them, we won’t be too scandalised.
Last night we slept in a hostel to finish up the warming and drying up process after the snow storm. This way we can also enjoy the comforts of a hostel kitchen and have toast for breakfast (such luxury!), plus we can take our time leaving.
We leave, eventually, but the trip itself doesn’t allow many topics for storytelling. Our first stop is about an hour away from Newcastle by the lake where we make salad for lunch. In order not to accidentally misjudge the proportions of chickpeas to veg we are carefully overseen by a pelican squadron; Quite big pelicans too. We’ve got no choice but to be careful with the recipe with such strict quality control. We decide to bribe the jury with some apple core but they are adamant – no bribe is accepted. Excuse me, but who has ever heard of a vegan lunch judged by picky fish eaters. The whole thing is starting to smell fishy – like sabotage.
Well they should mind their own business! My chickpea salad is a top recipe in my collection – as strict as they are looking at me, I can’t make it wrong:
Compulsory ingredients – a tin or jar of chickpeas (if you eat as much as we do – one per person)
Optional ingredients – tomato, cucumber, onion, red pepper, leafy greens, sweetcorn, roasted peppers, olives, avocado, apple, gurkens, almonds … You get the idea.
Dressing – olive oil, lemon, balsamic vinegar, salt, greenery (parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, mint …)
Method – mix everything that you’ve found in a bowl and eat directly out of it with a spoon. If there are two of you, it is still recommended to eat from that bowl so your husband has less washing up to do. If you have a nice view, take a picture with your bowl with that background. And most importantly! To be remembered! … Never be left with less than two tins of chickpeas! If for some reason this unforgivable event happens, we could allow the substitute of one the tins with red kidney beans, canolini beans, sweetcorn or any other favourite of yours from the beans family.
We are done with the pelicans and our next quick stop is the nearby beach the name of which we, unfortunately, don’t remember. The walk reaches only the sand dunes for quick pictures of the panorama and we quickly go back … shoes full of sand. Great – now I will forever have sand in my trainers!
For tonight we set up at a luxury caravan park on the opposite shore to Newcastle. Our spot is right next to the ocean, although the view has been blocked by bushes. Even from the tent I can’t see any nature from all these trees! Somehow we will have to settle for the sound of the waves as a bed time lullaby. However, in order to apologise for the greenery misshap, the day sends me a pinky-purple sunset as I make the bed (no, no … we are’t going to bed at sunset – we’re not retired).
We spend the afternoon reading books and relaxing. Dinner is prepared in the equipped and enclosed camp kitchen, but as we return to the tent I realise it might have been better to cook outside. Tonight the weather is wonderful – mild and soft, warm and welcoming. After our struggles it feels like this is what I needed. Therefore I stay back I little longer before climbing up. Actually, in out bed you are never closed off – the tent is our in the open. There are no brick walls or doubleglasing to keep us away from the elements.
We start the morning same as any other morning for the next few months. But here’s a spoiler – very quickly we will ease breakfast with ready bars, making tea and coffee will become a rarity and morning yoga is completely given up on. If I am not mistaken this morning might have been my second to last session. Only the daily pack up of the tent will stay a constant that can not be avoided.
Completely packed up we move the car to the small harbour and get on the ferry to Newcastle. After about half an hour’s walk we can establish that the city isn’t one of the very interesting ones – sorry Newcastle, but it’s true. Yes, the idea of the train with the benches at the old train station is good. And yes, you can see a nice house here and there. But other than your beaches you can’t impress me with much. And let’s be honest – what beach isn’t nice? It is not like it’s difficult to be a city with a nice beach on the Australian coast.
And where is your human buzz? Today is 20th September – day for Clobal Climate Strike, mainly for students but since the latest events more and more people join so the cause can be heard. And even so, the streets are empty. You can see neither students, nor striking adults, nor Friday-working ones. Some people wander the streets here and there but so much less than was expected for a city this size (322,000 in population). I am surprised by the calmness around, as if no one is living … (which would also prove as typical for Australia). And even so we continue the tourist walk – there will be something interesting, right?
After the Cathedral we reach Civic Park and finally see real life! People have started gathering for the protest. Babies, kids, teenagers and adults of every age. Everyone, with their sign or t-shirt. Everyone with their worries and struggles. Everyone, with their will and goals. Everyone, together. To be heard! For change! For a better future!
This event, as we all know, was highly discussed worldwide and many opinions were shared towards politicians, protesters and, of coruse, Greta Thunberg. I personally strongly believe in the ideas supported by the strike, but naturally my feelings reach a much deeper level than this. This is not the place to discuss my opinions, but I would be happy to share if anyone is interested …
We leave the strike early while the kids from different schools deliver their speaches. Our next stop is just a quick walk away – right over the park where the local library is. There we find a comfortable sofa and settle down with laptops on our laps. Nic is programming away while I start to focus on telling our stories. A few weeks will pass before they are published for reading but I need to start from somewhere. So I start in a public library – free and welcoming just as if we are a part of the community.
We finish the visit with an (almost) sunset on the ferry jetty, many pictures and a great feeling after a productive day. We get back into the car, drive past the campsite to pick up everything we forgot in the fridge and continue to the location of tonight’s camp. To get there we need to test the car on gravel roads in the dark which, I am sure you can imagine, is an absolute torture for me. I can’t stop imaginining how we’ll puncture a tyre in this darkness or that a wild animal would jump in front of us. Nic, unlike me, is having fun like a little child. He loves adventures like this and can’t see the dangers that lurk (obviously just for me) around the corner.
We arrive in full darkness. It is a free and very wild camp – right next to the river, although, we can’t see it currently. There are plenty of people around us so even I am not worried. The only thing I am not sure about is whether a crocodile would decide to get a taste of my legs while I cook so I do it as quickly as I can. One of the best advantages of a rooftop tent is that no crocodile can come up to visit. Our neighbours are clearly an organised group and keep us up till late with singing and dancing … Should have gone up and joined them, at least then being kept awake would have made sense.
Due to the slope we parked on last night we had to sleep the other way which means now the big window is right opposite me. The pink light reflects in the river, travels through the trees and arrives to me. I wake up with the sunrise; well, I open my eyes enough to enjoy it and get a few pictures and then cuddle back into our warm bedding.
We have parked ourselves right next to the river under the trees. When we finally get up my first point of business is to get my feet in the water and welcome the day with some yoga (while the neighbours’ kids are throwing stones right next to me and one barely misses my head).
We don’t know what to do – we don’t quite want to leave. It is so wild and calm; beautiful and natural. However, there’s one big problem – we are almost out of water and there are no drinking taps around. It is clear that we will have to leave, even though we don’t want to! We will postpone it for as long as we can. I go back up into the tent – I will read next to the window with the view. And Nic starts the Australian branch of his woodworking shop. If you’ve hiked with us you know he likes to make things out of the local wood. The first year he made a set of dice for “General”. The second, with his brand new knife, a gift from grandpa, he made a little train locomotive. We will see what will come out of this Australin red wood.
Just as we’re about to leave we find a little flood in the car (we found it last night but taking measures now means we can stay longer). Our water tank has leaked in the boot and unfortunately the only way to deal with it is to take everything out. And from this moments for the rest of our stay we go around this “unleashed” camp of ours while the mat from the booth leaks streams of water – we have obviously lost quite a bit.
Meanwhile, we also meet a creature for our “New Animals” list – a big lizard. Nic quickly takes the camera and goes to meet it. Just as he’s about to get real close a car passes which makes the animal go straight up the closest tree. But even there the intense exploration work of Nicholas the Zoologist continues. Google shares with us that the animal is a type of varan – a tree guana (Lace Monitor). And the first thing in the character description says they climb trees when scared. Yes – this is the right animal, we haven’t confused it.
But … it is now time to end our endless procrastionations. It is more than clear we don’t want to leave but we need to get to the next campsite and before that wash our two bags of clothes and shop, which will take at least hour and a half. Bye, nice, wild campsite! We might not know it yet, but you will remain the best place that we will sleep at in Australia.
We reach the next location once again in the dark. This one is free too, but at least has drinking water. We are located on a public golf course right next to the motorway. It is not the best place but with limited resources we can’t be too picky. Bad free campsite in exchange for amazing paid experiences (bridge climbing, tickets for national parks and …).
We might not have slept in the best place last night but we start the day with the view from the Whoota Whoota Lookout in Wallingat National Park towards Lake Wallice. The place is truly wonderful, we’re surrounded by busy bees and it starts to rain. I am not giving up (yet) on the yoga in beautiful location. I climb the picnic table not to disturb the busy workers and quickly stretch my sleeping in a tent muscles.
For a few days now we’ve wanted to hike but haven’t yet found a nice path. However, today Nic find a loop around Cabbage Palms. A walk in the Bush.
The Australian Bush is a vital part of life here. We all know the meaning of the word Bush so it took me awhile to understand why people are walking in the bushes, call themselves people of the bushes and lead a life in the bushes. I had to ask Google to understand it further.
Here the word Bush has a much greater meaning than that what the English language had intended for it. I am still not sure that anyone can give a precise and full description, but I will still attempt to explain. Other than the name for the forest regions, to be distinguished from the Outback (the desert) or the villages, the Bush is a way of life – something like “to be one with nature”. To live your life according to it, surrounded by it. To know it like the palm of your hand. Yes, that’s what it means to be a Bushman.
But, as we expected, we are not Bushmen. We are so scared by all the stories of meetings with snakes, spiders and other local creatures (as everything in Australia can kill you) there is no way we can relax and enjoy it. The forest is incredibly beautiful but every jumping twig gets my heart going. We’re just spoiled Europeans, that’s it. Not children of the Bush.
Wet, we climb back into the car now calm – here the snakes can’t reach us. We pass quickly through the closest town. It is Sunday today and other than a nice cup of coffee (at least that’s easy in Australia – they love their coffee) and lunch, there is nothing else to do. Not that we have no desire to, just the whole village (and all others like it in Australia) is made up of closed shops and cafes (often quite cheap looking). But that won’t stop us to find pizza (from one of the few open people-feeding establishments) and take it to the river shore. It is clear that you don’t come to Australia for culture and villages – you come for the nature! We will take advantage.
Next stop is Port Macquarie which immediately sends Nic into a Scottish mood and his “new” accent can’t be replaced by anything. He has suddenly turned into a distant relative of Captain Macquarie and their Scottish “roots” sends me in uncontralable laughter. Nic might not be able to do many other accents but his Scottish one is perfect.
But nevermind that … To get to it we again test the car on gravel roads but Bertie pulls through once more! Our route passes through Eucalyptus forests and I am paying close attention to find some koalas on the branches. But, unfortunately I don’t. We meet a few kangaroos (we’ve seen those already) and short-beaked Echidna (like a hedgehog but Australian).
We get to the campsite and set up once again. This time we increase the number of activities as we pull out the awning which hasn’t yet been tested. I am surprised how well engineered it is and just stands by itself. But we don’t stay too long underneath as we have a scheduled call with Nic’s parents tonight. Before that we need time to shower and … soak in the pool.
Yes, there is a pool here! Well, hardly. It’s more like a deep puddle with walls. But we haven’t showered in a few days so we need the soak. The water is cold but the therapy is worth it. And the shower after that – long and hot. Of course though, the perfection couldn’t last forever. Getting out of the shower I see a little leaf on my leg and brush it off. Not only does it now fall but it also hurts! A horrible tic has latched onto me and won’t let go.
I breath in and get to the car speedily to find help – without panic while, naturally, panicking! I have seen many tics – we’ve had enough cats and dogs. Even I had one as a child. But the techniques and home remedies are countless and everyone says all the others are wrong. Google advices we pull it very carefully; I’ve seen people put oil and twist; it even says to get to the hospital. But we are completely setup, I don’t have the patience for a hospital. We get to the camp office, maybe they have more experience or at least the right tools – they have neither. Therefore, I trust my tweezers and Nic as he carefully pulls out the monster; which doesn’t want to let go and twists to stay in, causing me more pain.
But Nic manages! The whole thing comes out with the head and all legs and there is no need to worry anymore. It is clear it wasn’t there for long – it either got on this morning in the Bush or even as I was taking my leggings off before the pool. We squish it hard and go to find the Karmolis – with sixty two percent alcohol it is my cure for everything and antibacterial liquid for many years now (I don’t drink Rakia so I have to use real medicine).
The panic is taken down to a minimum! It is time to facetime England and we show them the tent. Unfortunately it is already dark (time difference is nine hours) and we need to use torches to show the detais of our set up, but we did fine. We prop the phone here, a torch here or over there. We turn the cameras and lean left and right and everything is explained.
I gladly finish this day full of emotions. It was good but also tiring. Tomorrow’s plans are once again big and we need to get enough sleep!
Vassya (and Nic)