34 – Touring the Towns of the NSW North Coast

Byron Bay – Newcastle

19 – 26 November


As per usual we were now on the hunt for a cheap campsite after leaving the beautiful beaches of Byron Bay.  We headed through Ballina stopping off at a lookout or two, and deciding that their caravan parks were too expensive, and that Ballina was the old person’s Byron Bay as it was just as nice, just without the 19 year old backpackers.  If Ballina is the old person’s Byron Bay, then Alstonville is where they go after they retire and want to go shopping mid-week.  We ended up in their showgrounds, and ironically were kept up by oldies partying in the showgrounds hall.


Continuing our slow progress down the northern NSW coast we happened across a town called Evans Head and caught a glimpse of a small blue street sign with F111 Museum.  Following sign after sign like clues in a treasure hunt through the streets of the town we ended up at the airport and a new looking hanger with the picture of a Jet fighter on the side.  This was the home of one of the Australian air forces scrapped F111 fighter aircraft.  The volunteers of the museum were extremely friendly and took great pleasure in showing us their swept wing supersonic aircraft.  It was pretty cool to see one of these up close and lean about its technology and shortfalls.



We ended up at Iluka that evening set up right on the banks of the Clarence River with a beautiful sunset, large lizards running around doing strange stuff, a family of ducks with nine ducklings moving through our camp looking for food, and some exciting news coming through from back home.  It was a very pleasant night.


The next morning we wandered down to the river mouth and along the beach for a bit before hitting the road again and continued visiting towns down along the coast to see what they had to offer.  There were plenty of roadworks along this section as NSW is building a concrete dual carriageway up the coast in sections, it’ll be great when it’s done but hard work driving through the roadworks until then.


Grafton, one of the northern rivers towns was built as a river port in the heyday of river transport in the area.  The highlight for us here was the two story steel frame bridge; the lower story able to take two rail lines and the top two lanes of cars. Being over a transport river however it also needed to open to allow boats through, which it achieved with a crazy hinging mechanism towards one end.  Some poor bugger lost one of his front wheels just as we were crossing the bridge creating a huge traffic jam extending through town.


Coffs Harbour is known for its Big Banana, supposedly the first of the ‘big things’ which now dot the country hoping to attract your tourist dollar.  What can I really say about it? It’s big, and it’s a banana. I got the photo, let’s move on.  We spent the night in Coffs, mainly because it was a convenient spot, and explored the town, its harbour and wandered along its breakwater.



Uranga is one of those rivers which was intermittently used for shipping up and down the east coast, however due to its sand bar it claimed more than its fair share of vessels. We stopped there because it had a heritage boardwalk which follows the river, out along its ‘training’ wall to the beach.  A training wall is like a breakwater, but is used to try and train naughty rivers so they are more accepting of ships.


Port Macquarie; one of the larger towns along the coast, and a very popular spot for holiday makers, as demonstrated by its enormous caravan park right in the middle of town.  As a convict settlement it does have history which dates back hundreds of years, however very little of it is left or visible leaving it as a rather modern town.  We particularly enjoyed the Koala hospital which takes in sick and injured koalas from the local area and nursing them back to health.


South West Rocks.  We had booked in for some diving here, but were foiled by the weather. Huge easterly swells and wind was making it impossible for the boat to get out of the river, so we delayed a couple of days.  In the mean time we checked out the old convict gaol, lighthouse and even went to the movies in the local community hall.  The Gaol was built to house the good behaved convicts from further south while they were put to work building a 1500m breakwater across the bay at south west rocks.  Unfortunately the bay didn’t want to be breakwatered and after years of hard labour they had only gotten about 300m out, bad design and shortcuts in the construction then meant that when a big storm came through the breakwater collapsed in sections.  On top of this the breakwater caused the bay to start to silt up, effectively negating the use of the breakwater to create a harbour of refuge for ships as the bay was now shallowing.  After 17 years they called the whole thing off, now all that is left is a 30m stub sticking out into the bay.



The attraction of diving at South West Rocks is Fish Rock, a rock off the coast a mile or so which is a grey nurse shark habitat. When we finally got out there a few days later the swell was coming in from the south and was huge and built during the day until by the time we left was in excess of 3m.  We did however get down and see the magnificent sharks cruising around the rocks, which was a pretty special experience.

The last town on the coast was the city of Newcastle. Its coal loading facilities at the wharf were pretty neat to see up close. Fort Scratchley on top of the hill at the harbour mouth was pretty cool to wander around, till we got kicked out for a wedding party.  We whittled the afternoon and evening away wandering around town to get a feel for the place and having a beer and some nibbles at the brewery.


Finally, a special mention goes out to the old bottlebutt tree, a big old tree with a huge ass south of Kempsey. A very entertaining walk. Ha, Bottlebutt.