I'm a freelance writer living in Brisbane. I love bushwalking, kayaking, wildlife, history and travel.
Published December 31st 2016
My friend Jenny from Darwin suggested the road trip. She had bought a house in Bellingen in NSW a year ago and wanted to visit the town in winter to see how cold it got before deciding to move there. She fell in love with the town after four visits for Camp Creative music camps. She had made a lot of friends in the area.
Camp creative has five days of classes in art, craft, writing, quilting, music, dance, singing and woodwork every year around January. You can even learn to build your own canoe. We met one of Jenny's friends who showed us a beautiful silky oak hall table and jewellery box she had made at camps.
Three of us left Brisbane early in July and headed to Yamba on the coast where Bea had booked us into the YHA. We had packed all our winter woolies including ugg boots, thermal underwear and jumpers expecting freezing weather in mid July, but it turned out to be hotter than Brisbane. Everyone kept saying it was unseasonably warm for winter so I guess Jenny still doesn't know how cold it can get.
We stopped off on the way at the small coastal town of Sawtell. At a lookout overlooking the water the dolphins were acting strangely. Two groups joined together and started swimming in a circle around a lone surfer. We thought they might have been protecting him from a shark. We didn't see any sharks, but a photographer on the headland showed us a photo of a whale surfacing close to another surfer he had taken earlier that day.
The Yamba YHA was a great place to stay. They upgraded us into a three-bed room with our own ensuite. I was so impressed I even joined the YHA organisation. I had been a member about 30 years ago. We walked around town and found the beach baths. The pool was deserted and there was only one lone woman reading in a deck chair while occasionally watching her son surfing. A rogue wave almost soaked her.
We drove from Yamba to Bellingen with a stop at Coff's Harbour. We planned to walk to mutton-bird island but it was closed.
Jenny's house was rented out so we checked out a few possible accommodation places including the YHA, the Federal hotel (known by locals as Feral hotel) and the Digger's Rest hotel/motel. We settled on the Digger's rest. They gave us a good deal for a week stay with a huge room and our own bathroom and toilet. The YHA was being painted and looked full of young partygoers so it wouldn't have been very peaceful. Jenny and Bea were also put off when the man showing us around mentioned the two pythons living in the rafters.
The Diggers Tavern was comfortable and clean and Bea even won the meat raffle one night. She is a vegetarian so they gave her a tray with a vegetarian pie and cheese platter instead which we took to her sister's place near Byron Bay on our way home.
Bellingen is a beautiful little town on the banks of the Bellinger River. The town had lots of interesting shops, markets, galleries and a thriving music and arts scene. We visited the old butter factory, galleries, shops and cafes. The Hammond and Wheatley Emporium has original beautiful pressed metal ceilings.
We ran into well-known journalist George Negus at the markets. He told us he was a local and lives at "The Promised Land" just outside Bellingen. He told us he was regenerating a forest. I asked him if I could take his photo and he said most people just took it without asking. He was also surprised I used a real camera and not a phone camera.
Bellingen (Bello to the locals) is halfway between Brisbane and Sydney. David Helfgott, the famous musician also lives in the area. The Bello population is 5000.
Over the week we visited beautiful long white beaches and headlands, world heritage rainforests, waterfalls and the skywalk at Dorrigo national park. We walked on boardwalks through mangroves at Urunga, and visited a fantastic folk museum and chocolate shop at Bowraville. The Bowraville folk museum was one of tbe best museums I've ever been to. It showcased the area's logging and farming history. Locals call Bowraville "Bowra". The Indigenous Gumbaynggir people have inhabited this area for thousands of years and a large population still lives in the area.
We went to markets, galleries, great cafes and antique shops at Bellingen, Bangalow, Newrybar, Lismore, Dorrigo and many other interesting towns. We just missed out on seeing Migaloo the white whale. He swam past Nambucca Heads the day before we arrived.
One day we went to visit some friends of Jenny's who had moved down from Darwin to live in the bush near the tiny town of Missabotti about eight years ago. They lived at the end of the road in the bush on their 100-acre property.
During lunch I learnt snakes have different personalities. Sue said red-bellied black snakes try and stay out of your way, but death adders refuse to move. She told me she was burning off some wood one day and a red-bellied black snake slithered out of the woodpile after she started the fire. It saw her standing near by and went back into the wood. She moved away and the snake came out again. Sue said it made eye contact with her and looked at her gratefully, then went off into the bush. Sue was convinced she had made a connection with that snake.
By an amazing coincidence, Sue's husband Jim had been Bea's Honours supervisor at James Cook University in Townsville 44 years ago in 1975. It took them awhile to recognise each other.
Sue and Jim love living with all the wildlife and even have an Antechinus (native marsupial mouse) living in their house.
We had our own snake experience on the way to and from their house. We had to negotiate a large python sunning itself on the dirt road. It was still there on our way back but was lying right across the road. Bea and Jenny encouraged it to move off so I could drive past.
I was a bit frustrated when we visited Dorrigo. There was a fantastic looking junk/antique shop in the main street, but it was closed. I love old and interesting things and would love to have explored that shop. An old man walking past told me the owner lives in Sydney and the shop is hardly ever open. I could see the shop was full of interesting things, including cowbells, old bottles, lamps, crockery, old signs and china. I'm not sure if I'll ever get back to Dorrigo.
We went for a walk in the Dorrigo National Park and visited the rainforest centre, which is a major interpretation centre for the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. Dorrigo locals are worried about mining threats around their town.
We visited Urunga, which is a pristine seaside village 530 kilometres from Sydney. The town is situated where the Kalang and Bellinger rivers meet the sea between Nambucca Heads and Coff's Harbour. Urunga is the Aboriginal word for long white sands. The town was uncrowded in winter when we were there, even though the weather was warm. It has a beautiful 1.2 kilometre boardwalk through the mangroves of the river estuary out across the break wall to a whale watching platform overlooking the beach. We didn't see any whales but we did see some stingrays and a large fish, which jumped out of the water.
On the way back to Brisbane we stayed at Bea's sister and brother in law's converted cow bails near Byron Bay for a couple of nights and explored Byron Bay, Lismore, Bangalow and Newrybar. We went to the beach, bought dresses made from bamboo in Lismore, explored antique shops in Bangalow and had lunch and coffee in Newrybar.
A week after I got home I got a letter from NSW transport saying I had exceeded the speed limit in Urunga. That day we had gone into Nambucca Heads to watch a concert Jenny played her clarinet in with the Coff's Harbour City Orchestra at the Nambucca Community and Arts Centre. Before the concert, we explored the town. We visited the Captain Cook lookout then walked along the Vee Wall where people have painted rocks. My favourite was a painting of a dog. There was a beautiful sculpture in the main street outside the police station. A local woman going by told us the artist was Guy Crossley and he created it about twenty years ago.
After the concert, Jen, one of Jenny's saxophone playing friends invited us back to her home on the Kalang River at Urunga for some champagne, biscuits and cheese.
I had been very careful with my driving on the whole trip with either Jenny or Bea sitting in the front passenger seat telling me all the speed limits. There were so many changes of speeds and lots of road works.
Luckily the letter was a warning and not a fine. NSW transport is more generous that Queensland. In Queensland, you just get the fine.
Jenny is off to Camp Creative again this January and still hasn't decided whether she will move down there from Darwin yet.