4-May 2008 to 9-May 2008:
Julie and I were nervous. Clearly darkness had fallen by now. The kangaroos and wallabies (who knows what else was out there?) seemingly conspired to jump right in front of our vehicle. There was no one else on the unsealed road weaving through this eerie forest. And that sinking feeling of our fear of kangaroos so familiar from the near misses back in Western Australia's Outback two years ago started creeping in. Even though we're committed on our path, I couldn't shake the thought that I had made a mistake and now it might cost us...
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Day 1: NOT SO BLUE IN THE MOUNTAINS
It was about 8am when we arrived in Sydney after our red-eye flight from LAX. With this being our third trip to Australia, we knew that we had lost a day as we had crossed over the international date line. So even though our flight took off late at night on May 2nd, it was now the morning of May 4th Oz time.
It took a while before we got through passport control, then got our luggages, and then finally cleared customs. Julie and I were a little fatigued from the flight and we couldn't wait to check in, but we knew that it wasn't feasible to check in this early in the day. So after getting ourselves a little Brumby's meat pie from the airport, exchanged some money, and then got our rental car, we finally left the airport at around 10:30am.
Since we still had a lot of luggage with us, we figured that with the good weather we mind as well go drive to the Blue Mountains then return in the evening. By then, our room should be ready and we should be all checked in.
So off we went. After about 90 minutes of driving, we finally made it to the familiar Echo Point by Katoomba. However, the immediate car parks were all full so we started to drive a little further on Cliff Drive until we found some parallel parking at 12:15pm.
Julie and I took some time to get changed into some hiking gear in the car. Once I got my clothes on, I was having a little trouble with the zipper pocket on my REI hiking pants. It was stuck. Eventually, I gave it one heave to make it unstuck, but then the zipper head broke off. That really sucked because it was one of my better hiking pants. So now I had to deal with the zipper pocket a little differently (i.e. zipping and unzipping without the handle to make it easier to pull).
Not a good way to start the trip, but at least we were still sightseeing the beautiful Blue Mountains (or at least part of it) on this beautiful day.
Eventually, Julie and I walked to the familiar Echo Point which was quite busy. We were busy snapping away at the nice panoramas here while also noticing the SkyWay cable car slowly making its way across the panorama by the Three Sisters.
When we had our fill of this place, we then made our way over to the Katoomba Falls kiosk at 1:10pm. From there, we quickly walked over to where there were views of the familiar Katoomba Falls, which to my surprise, was actually flowing quite well! I thought it would only flow during the Spring, but here we were during the Autumn in Australia, and we were getting our best photos of this waterfall as they were clearly way better than the rainy and foggy visit two years ago.
We were back in the car at 1:30pm. We didn't bother walking further down into the bush though. We figured that with this being our first day back in Oz, why push ourselves like that? So we took off from the Blue Mountains and headed back to Sydney. By 3:40pm, we were finally able to park at the Park Regis Hotel. Once again, the one-way streets were confusing, but we managed. Now we had to pay the pretty exhorbitant overnight parking fee.
The rest of the afternoon was pretty much spent napping, getting the rental car all set up for GPS tracking and navigating, and grabbing a quick bite downstairs. We wouldn't be going back to Sydney Harbour like last time though it probably would've been beautiful there on a day like today.
And so ended this half-day in Sydney. Tomorrow, we would embark on some longer traveling as the road trip from Sydney to Cairns would begin in earnest...
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Day 2: THE LONGEST 2.5 HOURS
Having just arrived in Sydney from Los Angeles yesterday, we were itching to see parts of Australia that we previously hadn't seen. So we wasted no time in hitting the road this morning. It was around 7am when we checked out of the hotel and proceeded to follow our newly bought MapSource Australia to help us navigate through the city.
It was already busy with this being a workday for the locals. It was a bit frustrating that there were no freeways or more convenient means of getting out of the city. Instead, it just seemed like we were just driving local city streets along with thousands of other motorists just to get out of town.
Oh well, at least we got to listen to Robbie, Marieke, and the Doctor on Triple J. We could always count on being entertained (as we had during the last two trips down under) when driving.
Eventually after what seemed like forever (it was really more like an hour), we got out of Sydney. But before we could build momentum and head further north along the East Coast of Australia, the GPS software had us turnoff towards Somersby Falls. This was the first waterfall we hadn't seen before (as far as Oz was concerned) so we looked forward to it.
By 8:05am, we got to the cool, shady Somersby Falls car park. There was a rather steep parking fee (especially given how weak our dollar was as the Australia Dollar was almost one-to-one with the US Dollar), but after surrendering that, we wasted no time descending some steps towards a flat rocky area right in front of the cascading waterfall.
Given the cool, autumn air, it felt nice to be here. It was also a relief to see an Australian waterfall flowing after the disappointment from our last trip back in November 2006 when Victoria, Tasmania, and South Australia were in the grips of a particularly bad period in the drought.
Anyhow, Somersby Falls had good flow and we wasted no time taking what photos we could of it.
We noticed the trail continued further downstream and proceeded to follow that towards a small, lower tier of the waterfall. There were many cascades along the way, but they weren't photographable given the amount of foliage.
The Lower Somersby Falls required a bit more scrambling to get a good view of it, but I relished the opportunity to experiment with the tripod to get nice long exposure closeups.
By 8:55am, we were back at the car. Now, it was time to drive all the way to Port Macquarie.
By 1pm, we finally made it to Port Macquarie. We were there just in time to be able to check into our room. But being that we were not that far (by my estimation) from Ellenborough Falls (the first real big waterfall of this trip), I wanted to devote the rest of this afternoon to visiting it. But still, we didn't even buy groceries at this point. So we did that and didn't finish until about 1:55pm.
On the map, it didn't look like Ellenborough Falls was that far from Port Macquarie. So we confidently proceeded thinking we'd at least be on the main road back to Port Maquarie before the kangaroos were out in the dark.
Well, it turned out that the drive seemed to take longer than we had hoped. This was complicated by the fact that we wasted an additional 15 minutes following the GPS's directions down a road that didn't seem to take us anywhere. We knew something was up when we didn't see any signs leading us to Ellenborough Falls.
When we finally realized that the GPS could be wrong about these things, we got onto the desired road, which turned out to be unsealed and a little slow going considering the time constraint we were on.
It wasn't until 3:30pm when we finally got to the well-signed Ellenborough Falls car park. It took us about 90 minutes to get here (and that included getting lost momentarily) so I knew we would have to face our fears and stomach some driving in the dark (when the kangaroos are out).
There were already a few other cars here this weekday evening so apparently these falls still get visitors even when most people are working or going about their daily lives.
We wasted no time getting to the nearest overlook, which was of the top of the falls and the accompanying gorge behind it. There was still a lot of light at this time, but I knew that if we came back here later, I could experiment with long exposure shots as the whole scene would be within shadow.
So we proceeded to follow the well-developed trail around the rim of the gorge towards the other side. There was a fork in the trail that immediately descended down a series of steps. Even though it was getting late in the day, that didn't stop us from going down there. Who knows when we'd come back? We had to seize the moment now, I always say.
Julie and I went down the steps. It seemed like we were the only ones going down. The steps seemed to have gone down forever as it kept going and going and going. That all meant the climb back up would take a while and be rather tiring. Indeed the sign wasn't kidding when they said it takes at least 30 minutes each way. Plus, there were a couple of sections where downed trees forced us to do a little limbo on the stairs.
Eventually, we made it to the moist base where mist made it difficult to take a photo without getting waterspots on the lens. We didn't spend a whole lot of time down here. We just took our shots and proceeded to go up the steps knowing that darkness was quickly approaching.
Back at the top of the steps, Julie and I were sweating despite the cool, crisp Autumn air. We proceeded to walk further from the car park towards a view of the falls that was opposite the gorge. There, we took more photos of the falls from the platform. Even though we were looking against the setting sun, the shadows were dominant enough to allow us to take long exposure photos.
With the afternoon sun sinking behind the trees, we hastened our steps to try to minimize the amount of night driving back to Port Macquarie. When Julie and I heard some rustling, we caught a glimpse of what looked like a small kangaroo.
"Great. They're out," said Julie sarcastically.
At 5pm, we were back at the car park. But not before reading some signs of the area as well as taking a few parting shots from that first overlook we vowed to come back to. As expected, the falls were in better lighting conditions at this time. Julie and I also noticed that the sign had the height of Ellenborough Falls at 160m, but someone wrote in marker 200m over the old number (incidentally, 200m is the number that's reported in the literature). We thought that was a little strange that they did that. Could it be an honest mistake? Or could it be an attempt at exaggerating numbers to make this more of a tourist attraction?
Anyways, we left shortly thereafter. When I looked at the map, it looked like the main road was closer if we continued going north instead of going back the way we came (east then north). So I expressed this idea to Julie.
"Are you sure? I don't know about this," she said.
"Well, I'm sure it's the same amount of unsealed driving as the way we came," said I.
Despite Julie's reservations, we proceeded to go further north and give this "shortcut" a try.
It was probably about 30 minutes later when the skies went from orange to pink to a navy blue. And we were now driving between dusk and dawn.
Julie and I were nervous. Clearly darkness had fallen by now. The kangaroos and wallabies (who knows what else was out there?) seemingly conspired to jump right in front of our vehicle. There was no one else on the unsealed road weaving through this eerie forest. And that sinking feeling of our fear of kangaroos so familiar from the near misses back in Western Australia's Outback two years ago started creeping in. Even though we're committed on our path, I couldn't shake the thought that I had made a mistake and now it might cost us.
Still, I kept telling myself, Hwy 34 is just moments away...
And so with both of my hands on the wheel and my eyes wide open (trying to pay attention to Rosie Beaton's Total Request shift on Triple J to keep my mind occupied on happier thoughts), we proceeded onwards seemingly aimlessly amongst the darkness. I swore the GPS made us take a couple of wrong turns. The high beam wouldn't stay on and I had to keep one hand on the lever to keep the high beam going.
"Watch out!" said Julie suddenly.
Just then a kangaroo went right in front of the car. It was a good thing we were on unsealed road because I was able to slam on the brakes and let the 'roo pass by without hitting it.
And with frazzled nerves (who knows when the next 'roo will jump out in front of us), we kept going forward on the winding road.
Where is that damned Hwy 34?
It was about 6:30pm when we finally made it to the highway. There was one section where I made Julie freak out when we almost dropped into a ditch as I was putting the GPS back on the dashboard after it fell off.
At least we were now back on the tarmac. However, that also meant that we'd be going at a faster speed and we'd have less time to react to a 'roo jumping out in front of us.
So we cautiously proceeded towards Port Macquarie. It turned out that we went way further west than anticipated. And it wasn't until 7:50pm that we finally arrived in Port Macquarie.
What should've been a 90-minute drive turned into 2.5-hour "shortcut."
With both of us hungry and cranky from my error and a few close calls with kangaroos, we ended up eating fish and chips. It was the only thing in town that was open as our Lonely Planet book was way outdated.
Finally at 8:30pm, we were back at our motel.
Indeed it was only Day 2 of our Trip of a Lifetime, but it felt like we just got by this day - especially considering the fact that I kept having this sense that we might repeat the calamity in WA two years ago...
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Day 3: FROM PORT MACQUARIE TO ARMIDALE
With the long drive ahead of us, we woke up at 6am and left Port Macquarie at 6:45am. We barely got to know what this town was about, but given our late arrival from our bad shortcut yesterday evening, we now had to press on.
We had to go west on the Hwy 34 so we were essentially backtracking the route we took last night. We were driving at a deliberate pace due to the fear of kangaroos and the insufficient daylight from all the long morning shadows.
During the drive on the curvy highway, we realized that the bad shortcut we took last night was actually even worse when we realized that we were pretty far west on the highway (about 97km west of Port Macquarie) when we finally caught sight of the familiar road junction.
Eventually at 8:55am, we arrived at the car park for Tia Falls after going on a 7km unsealed road off the Hwy 34 to get there. At least the route was very well-signed.
As Julie and I got out of the car, we then proceeded onto the 30-40 minutes return walk that skirted the Tia Gorge until we reached an obvious lookout with railings of Tia Falls, which was tumbling with a muffled roar from across the canyon. The falls was definitely tall and attractive, and it easily trumped practically all of the waterfalls we had seen during our November 2006 trip to the southeast of Australia.
Julie and I almost forgot what it was like to visit a big waterfall like this in Australia for it seemed like it had been quite a while. Meanwhile, the track and experience so far had been very tranquil and quiet. It seemed like we were the only ones here.
Anyways, there wasn't a whole lot we could do at the overlook other than to check out the falls. We continued on the track towards the Tia Gorge Lookout, which was the turnaround point of the hike we were on. The view of the gorge was against the sun, but we could totally see the V-shaped contours of the valley below.
We were back at the car park at 9:45am. Since we were now in the Oxley Wild River National Park, we knew that there would be more waterfalls to bag before settling in at Armidale.
So the next stopping point was Apsley Falls, which we arrived to its car park at 10:20am. This was after a futile attempt at 10:05am in search for Stoney Creek Falls. I suspected that we must have missed some side road on our left prior to the Stoney Creek Bridge. I guess I might regret not backtracking to find it, but since we were already determined to see Apsley Falls, we mind as well visit that one then deal with what would come next.
At Apsley Falls, we descended onto a lookout with a close but shadowy view of the falls after going down several steps. This seemed to be the short way to see some part of the waterfall. But we noticed there was another trail (called the Oxley Walk) on the other side of the gorge, and I was keen to at least see what the view of Apsley Falls might be like over there.
So we returned to the car park at 10:45am, then proceeded to walk towards the Apsley River where the watercourse seemed to be calm with some purple growth on it.
After crossing the bridge over the river, we then followed along the gorge rim on the opposite side. Eventually, we were able to get more direct views of Apsley Falls (albeit a little more distant) though the shadows didn't help our cause too much in terms of photographing it.
We then continued further down the gorge until we got to an overlook that let us look down at the Lower Apsley Falls, which fell right into the steep gorge below. Again, the morning sun was working against us on this day, but at least the whole falls was in shadow so we were able to resolve it on our photos.
Anyways, the both falls were pretty much look-but-don't-touch. The walk ended up taking on the order of an hour (not including the initial McMillan Lookout).
After some more driving northwest, we passed through Walcha and then eventually went straight north towards the town of Armidale. We arrived at the accommodation we'd be staying at in Armidale at 1:30pm, then we checked in, examined the brick interior of our room, dropped off our stuff, then headed out 15 minutes later at 1:45pm in search of Dangar Falls (or Dangarsleigh Falls).
We'd ultimately take a road from Armidale right to the Dangar Falls and we'd arrive at 2:15pm. However, when we eagerly went to the overlook hoping to see the falls (especially after having seen both Tia Falls and Apsley Falls perform), we were quite disappointed to see the Dangar Falls totally dry. That was a real bummer.
I guess the drainage situation must've been different between the falls. Either that or the precipitation distribution must've been unfavorable towards the drainage of this watershed.
So at 2:35pm, we returned to the car. We were back in Armidale at 3pm. We were a little fatigued from all the driving and perhaps a little waterfalled out. So we spent the rest of the afternoon just chilling out in our motel room. There really wasn't a whole lot to do in town so we only left the motel room for dinner (don't remember much about it) before returning to our room to get all cleaned up and to catch up on some sleep.
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Day 4: THE CAMERA-KILLING MANTIS
It was about 6:35am when we left Armidale. It was quite chilly on this morning. However, the skies were quite clear so right off the bat, I was a little concerned about whether I was going to regret not fitting in Wollomombi Falls (which we were about to see this morning) yesterday. All I knew was that if Dangarsleigh (Dangar) Falls was going to be dry, why go through the extra effort to visit yet another waterfall not knowing whether we would be met with similar disappointment?
So off we went with our early start. It was light enough that we weren't as concerned with kangaroos hopping in front of the car, but I remained cautious was we drove along the so-called Waterfall Way along Hwy 78.
First up, we caught a sign that said something to the effect of Bakers Creek Falls. On a whim, I figured why not go for that waterfall if they devoted a signpost to it that caught our eye while driving the Waterfall Way. So we went ahead and went onto the unsealed Old Hillgrove Rd and within 2km, we made it to a not-very-well-signposted car park for Bakers Creek Falls at 7am.
At first, we weren't sure that we stopped in the right place. But it didn't take long before we dashed our way to an overlook and could see in the distance a struggling cascade that we presumed must be the Bakers Creek Falls.
By now, the sun was starting to breach the hills around us so we also had to contend with shadows in addition to the poor flow of the waterfall. Even though we saw water in Baker's Creek, it was stagnant as the trickling waterfall didn't do much to perturb the watercourse.
However, the deep gorge in which the falls was nestled was pretty attractive.
But we were back in the car in 10 minutes as we didn't see much of a need to linger much longer. Struggling waterfalls tended to hasten our stops, I guess.
So back on the Waterfall Way, we eventually made it to the well-signed and well-developed car park for Wollomombi Falls. I had two fears concerning this waterfall. First, I was worried that it might not be flowing well given our Dangar Falls experience yesterday. Second, I was worried about the sun's position. Well, it turned out that we were screwed on both fronts.
Not only were we totally looking against the rising sun as we looked into the shadowy gorge containing both the Wollomombi Falls and the nearby Chandler's Falls, but the waterfall wasn't flowing all that well, which made it even harder to see it given the dark shadows against the bright lights. So my bad lighting regrets from yesterday afternoon were confirmed.
Julie and I tried to make the most of the situation by killing some time around the overlooks across the gorge. However, there was no way we were going to take the time to go all the way into the gorge on one of the longer hikes considering we already got a pretty good indication of how disappointing this waterfall was.
I guess the consolation was that the waterfall was still flowing when we had expected more Bakers Creek Falls-type flow. Even Chandler Falls was flowing. Still, the bad lighting made this one of those moments where hindsight was always 20/20.
Both waterfalls were on the north side of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, and perhaps this was more of a springtime waterfall than an Autumn waterfall. But then again, that made it even stranger that Tia Falls and Apsley Falls did relatively well towards the south while Dangar Falls, Bakers Creek Falls, and Wollomombi Falls weren't doing so well. I guess the Oxley Wild Rivers drainages all got different rainfall amounts and/or some watercourses were more affected by agricultural developments and clearing further upstream than others.
At 8:05am, we were back in the car, and we continued our drive further east on the so-called Waterfall Way. By 8:40am, we arrived at the Lower Ebor Falls car park. Unlike the two earlier waterfalls, this one had some pretty nice flow. Unfortunately, the bright and harsh lighting meant this lower waterfall was in shadow while the rest of the scene was brightly lit. Again, it wasn't the greatest lighting conditions and I tried to make do with the limited amount of time we had here.
The Lower Ebor Falls was pretty much a plunge waterfall. However, there was some kind of closure that kept us from getting all the way to the edge or even trying to somehow get into the gorge (if that was possible). So we had to be content with our more-or-less distant views of this waterfall. We knew there was another car park for the Upper Ebor Falls that we had passed by on the way here so we didn't feel the need to do the walk to go to the other lookout (knowing we'd have to be walking all the way back).
So by 9:05am, we were back at the car park. And about 5 minutes later, we were now at the car park for the Upper Ebor Falls.
With this waterfall tier, we still had to contend with the harsh morning light. Even still, Julie and I appreciated the rippling texture of this falls as it was the type that Julie would describe as "having character." Plus, the Guy Fawkes River was flowing quite well.
Around this waterfall, we also noticed basalt organ pipe-like formations in the cliffs just to the right forefront of the falls. Clearly, the presence of this waterfall had to do with the basalt layer being harder than the remaining layers of rock around it.
Meanwhile, we also looked downstream and got a decent view of some valley on the other side of the river with better backlighting from the sun (since we were looking away from the sun instead of towards it).
After having our fill of this waterfall at 9:40am, we then continued driving further east. We'd ultimately get to the town of Dorrigo where we picked up something to go in anticipation of a picnic lunch at the next waterfall. We also checked out a visitor centre here and realized that there was another waterfall nearby this town (as well as another one further south of town).
So we wasted no time heading north from the town centre, but we had to contend with some delays as there was road construction that essentially halted the flow of traffic for nearly 15 minutes or more at a time. So it wasn't until about 10:55am when we finally got to the signed car park for Dangars Falls, which was the waterfall just north of Dorrigo.
Once we got out of the car, we went right to an overlook where we could see the impressive block-type waterfall in context. After getting our fill of this lookout, we then took a track that went away from the falls further downstream before making one switchback and heading right back towards the falls. The path was in shade but we could see the falls was quite bright against the surrounding shadows.
Once we made it to the bottom, we got what views we could of the falls without trying to get too far into the Bielsdown River. Obviously, the further the went, the more direct the bright falls were. We also met some guy who joined us at the falls who was apparently from Santa Barbara as he was on a four-month holiday to New Zealand, Fiji, and Australia. We suspected he was American from the American accent like ours, and Californian no less. Small world.
But we eventually got our fill of this falls and headed back up eager to finally have our little picnic lunch. While Julie and I were having our lunch, we noticed there was a very interesting-looking leafy praying mantis or some kind of bug that was a dead-wringer for a leaf. That got us to try to photograph it with Julie's camera, but I must've been quite the clutz because I dropped the camera and it fell from the table to the ground.
Initially, I thought it was nothing and was ready to go take more photos of the insect. But then I realized that the camera wouldn't let us turn it off and on because the camera lens was stuck. And when we realized that there was going to be no way we were going to get the tiny lens to be unstuck, I knew that we had just killed Julie's point-and-shoot Sony Cybershot. Bummer!
So there went the movies that we could've taken of more waterfalls on this trip...
By 11:55am, we were back at the car. We next headed south past the town of Dorrigo towards the Dorrigo National Park. At first, we must've missed the turnoff leading us to Crystal Shower Falls because something didn't seem right when the GPS told us to turn on some other road that we weren't allowed to do so. Then, we had to look for a place to U-turn, but that wasn't easy to do on the curvy mountain road we suddenly found ourselves on (we were still driving on Hwy 78, the Waterfall Way).
Eventually, we went far enough downhill to see an opportunity to U-turn at a small car park near what turned out to be an unexpected waterfall signposted for Sherrard Falls. We figured that we mind as well go into that car park, take some quickie photos of this waterfall, then get back in the car and drive back up the other way towards Crystal Shower Falls.
Ultimately, we would find the correct turnoff on our right for the falls, and we'd ultimately follow the road towards the Glade Picnic Area, which was the car park for the walk for Crystal Shower Falls. The time was now 12:30pm.
We knew that this waterfall required a little bit of a hike. But at least the hike on the so-called Wonga Walk was more like a pleasant walk where most of it was under the shade of the surrounding tall trees. The track started in a fairly big grassy area near the car park, and we were faced with a choice of doing a loop that was 5.8km or a shorter out-and-back hike (though it turned out to not be that much shorter). The benefit of doing the longer loop was that it also went by the Tristiana Falls. However, Julie and I wasn't really feeling up to doing another long hike while we still had to check into Coffs Harbour when today's waterfalling was done.
So we ultimately decided on doing the out-and-back upside down hike. We probably saved about another 1km of walking so it was debatable whether our "shorter" hike was that much shorter or not (and we were better off going on the longer loop anyways).
Well, at least we were paying attention to some interpretive signs along the way. In fact, we were actually quite glad we did because some of the broad-leafed plants were said to be poisonous! It said something about neurotoxins. Yikes!
Well, we ultimately made it down to the Crystal Shower Falls where it had a somewhat weepy but satisfactory flow. The track actually kept going behind the waterfall so we got more unusual perspectives of it. And when we had our fill of this falls, we then did as we intended, skipped the Tristiana Falls, and headed back up towards the car park.
At 2pm, we finally made it back to the car park. Both of us were sweating from all the uphill hiking (although it was a pretty gradual uphill hike).
Next, we then continued east on the Hwy 78 curving our way towards the main highway between Sydney and Cairns (Hwy 1) along the east coast. But as we were past the Sherrard Falls, we saw another similar roadside and signposted waterfall called Newell Falls. So Julie and I stopped for this one as well at 2:20pm.
I guess with all of these waterfalls both expected and unexpected, we could now see why the so-called Waterfall Way earned its name!
Five minutes later, we were back in the car and we continued on. Eventually, we'd get back down the mountains and rejoin the Hwy 1 as anticipated. Then, we headed north and eventually found our way into the town of Coffs Harbour where we found the Big Windmill Motel at 3:15pm. We couldn't miss it since the motel was the big windmill itself.
So after checking in, we then headed towards the beach where Julie and I enjoyed the remainder of the afternoon feeling the wet sands and seeing these tiny little sandballs in interesting patterns. It turned out that these sand balls were caused by some colorful crabs that just so happened to be residents beneath the sand. So as the sun was setting, we were seeing more and more of them coming out. I guess our timing was right for seeing them.
When we had our fill of the beach as darkness fell, we then walked into what seemed to be the happening part of town where we went to this place called Scoff's at 5:30pm. The place had OK food, but the sticky date dessert was kind of different from the other sticky date pudding desserts that we've had in Australia up to this point (not necessarily in a good way).
Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
By 6:40pm, we were back at the motel. This time, the GPS took us back there on a more efficient route to return to the windmill. And so ended this very eventful day where we'd probably be seeing waterfalls in our sleep!
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Day 5: SECURING A REPLACEMENT CAMERA
It was 6:30am when Julie and I left the Big Windmill at Coffs Harbour. These early starts were becoming a pattern so it was pretty natural for us to leave by this time and wake up some time between 5 and 6.
We knew we had a bit of a drive going north along the Hwy 1 (Pacific Hwy) as we made our way up towards Byron Bay, which would be our accommodation for the next two nights. So I looked forward to not having to vagabond it for the first time on this trip.
But before then, we still had a couple of waterfalls to visit in the hinterlands west of Byron. We knew we wanted to stay in Byron because of its hippie scene but that was checked by the waterfalling we had to do which would require a few hours of driving inland.
So we spent quite a bit of time driving north, then as we got close to Byron Bay, we knew it was way too early to check in so we kept going west towards the Nightcap National Park.
The drive was indeed long, but at least we were still getting Triple J reception even through the forests here. However, our GPS took us on some wrong road, and it costed us about 30 minutes (plus some car scratches against overgrowth possibly) on this out-and-back detour.
Mercifully, we finally made it to the car park for Minyon Falls. Up here, there was a lookout right at the brink of the falls. It looked like there was a track that went to its base, but it seemed too long for us (4.5km or 3 hours one-way) considering that the falls wasn't flowing all that well. That said, it was still fairly tall and nice though the view of the falls was still partial.
At least the view looking out from the brink of the falls was expansive and panoramic.
We also shared this falls with a few other people making it seem like a pretty popular waterfall despite how out-of-the-way it was.
By 11am, we were back in the car. Next, we drove out towards a separate car park called Minyon Grass. It was too bad Dr Karl was on at the time because I would've loved to listen to the science hour while we were driving, but I guess we'll have to listen to it in parts around our visit to Minyon Grass.
Well we showed up at 11:15am, but we didn't stay at Minyon Grass for too long because we were content with the distant but frontal views of Minyon Falls. A sign here said the best view of the falls was from here, and I guess I could see why they said that since we were able to see the front of the falls.
However, the falls was wispy so it seemed kind of wimpy even though we did get a decent full-on view from a distance. Something we noticed was that the gate leading to Minyon Grass was closed when we first showed up and went to the top of Minyon Falls, but the gate had since opened when we came back. I guess we showed up right around the opening time or something. Pretty late opening time I reckoned.
At 11:20am, we were back in the car. Next, we were going to drive out to Protestor's Falls, which was also in Nightcap National Park. I was hoping the GPS waypoint I had set up before the trip would be good enough to get us there, but sometimes guesses like that don't work out too well in the field.
So we drove through a lot of unsealed forest roads through Nightcap National Park, and all along we found ourselves fighting the GPS which kept insisting we should've gone on some other road in violation of some signage telling us we should've done otherwise.
In any case, we'd eventually make it to the car park for Protestors Falls car park, which was quite out-of-the-way. Actually, when we parked the car, it took some time for Julie and I to figure out exactly where the trail started because all the picnic areas around the car park didn't have trails. Yet we knew the falls was here somewhere.
It wasn't until we figured out that we had to walk across the final concrete ford before we'd finally find the trailhead, which was actually before
that road ford!
Once we were on the track for the falls, we were beneath the canopy of subtropical rainforest. It was a little on the slightly humid side even though we were technically about to enter the Dry Season in the tropical north of Australia, which we were encroaching upon.
As Julie and I were meandering about on the shadowy track, we did see one mother and two kids. We said hi to her but she kind of gestured to her kids as if she was trying to protect them from us. Julie thought she might have been racist or had something against Asians or something because we were all smiles. But we kind of passed each other with that weird feeling like "what just happened, there?"
Anyways, we eventually made it to the tall Protestor's Falls, which was wispy. We wind kind of bent the tall plunging waterfall kind of funny. There were some lower cascades a little downstream of the main plunge of the falls, but it was hard to get both sections of the falls together in one shot.
At 1:35pm, we were back at the car. Now we were pretty much home free to go to Byron Bay and check out the town over there. We really looked forward to the happening hippie vibe over there. Plus, we knew that the town typically hosted Splendour in the Grass, which was a Triple J sponsored concert that would happen later in the year.
After a bit of a drive, we finally arrived at the Bamboo Cottage in Byron Bay at 2:55pm. It was actually quite a find that Julie landed here as it was more of a small-time accommodation as opposed to a chain. But the price wasn't too bad. The only thing we had to contend with were a few mosquitos in the area, which was surprising since I thought we were supposed to be entering the Dry Season.
But I guess when you're getting into the tropics, any standing water would be fodder for mozzies.
After getting all checked in and settled, Julie and I walked into town and then started walking around the main area. It was getting a little late in the day, but we happened to find a camera shop in town. That was our opportunity to procure a replacement point-and-shoot camera, which we needed to take movies since my Canon EOS 20D DSLR couldn't do it.
It turned out that our accommodation was quite centrally located. And the town of Byron Bay itself seemed to be quite the tourist-friendly town as there were numerous shops and restaurants in the main part of town. The beach near town was full of young barefooted backpackers, which Julie thought was kind of overrun with them.
That said, there was still a young, energetic and free vibe to the place. It seemed like everyone was out for a good time. Pot smoke and incense filled the air while there were plenty of people in long dreads or wannabe dreads for those not able to pull off the rasta look. It was a cool scene to be a part of even though we were probably getting a little too old to blend into the seemingly target demographic.
I recalled we ate at some restaurant in town that was kind of like a chain restaurant. They served kangaroo at this place, but I learned from past experience that if I was going to have kangaroo, which was a very lean meat, I made sure to ask for it rare, which translated into medium rare in Oz (for some reason, it seemed to be one grade higher cooked in Oz than what we were used to in the States).
In any case, we were back in the room and called it a night. I was certainly looking forward to sleeping in a little bit on this night since we wouldn't have to pack up the car, check out, and leave tomorrow morning...
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Day 6: LONG DAY TRIP TO A TASTE OF QUEENSLAND
So as anticipated, Julie and I slept in knowing we wouldn't have to vagabond it on this day for the first time on this trip. It wasn't until about 7:30am when we finally drove off from Byron Bay headed west.
The original plan was to go to Boonoo Boonoo Falls somewhere near Tenterfield, but it simply seemed way too far away to get to from Byron Bay. So I ultimately decided against doing it (hoping not to regret this decision), and instead was headed towards Daggs Falls, Browns Falls, and Queen Mary Falls.
The drive was long, and it wasn't until about 10:25am when we finally showed up to the Browns Falls Picnic Area. We passed through the New South Wales and Queensland border along the way as we approached the small town of Killarney. So I guess today was the day we finally set foot in Queensland for the very first time.
At the Browns Falls car park, there was a dog that Julie thought was menacing-looking outside the car so we waited until the dog was far enough away from the car before we started on the walk.
A sign at the trailhead stated that the walk was supposed to be 20 minutes, though we weren't sure if they meant return or just one-way. In any case, as we got onto the track, it quickly started becoming more of a streambank walk with a handful of stream crossings.
It turned out that the hike was a bit more involved than we had anticipated. But eventually, we made it far enough upstream on the stream scramble until we finally caught sight of the 10m Browns Falls. There were some brownish basalt-looking walls underlying the falls, but they were definitely not quite as pronounced as the type we'd see in Iceland.
When we returned to the car park, we encountered some Aussies who we conversed with, and they mentioned that there were supposed to be the rare platypus in the stream. Well, we didn't see them, though I wondered how common it was to sight them in the wild, let alone a waterfall excursion.
At 11:40am, we were back at the car. Indeed, the hike was way more involved than the 20 minutes stated on the sign.
Ten minutes later, we were at the car park for Daggs Falls, which was really more of a pullout. There was a lookout for Daggs Falls right next to the pullout or car park, which we looked down at the pretty impressive falls. Nothing huge, but not small either.
Since this falls was pretty much just an overlook, we were back in the car in five minutes after taking our photos.
Next, we drove further to the east as we next targeted Queen Mary Falls (which I'll shorted to QMF). We'd eventually make it to the car park at 12pm. According to the signs here, we learned that this waterfall was part of the Murray-Darling Catchment, which we found was incredible considering that the Murray-Darling River was the endangered river during the Great Australian Drought that we experienced a couple years ago when we visited south and southeast Australia.
I guess my Australian geography was pretty screwed up because I couldn't fathom how someplace in Queensland could stretch all the way south and empty out near Adelaide, SA.
In any case, we only went on a walk that took in the lookout of the falls from the top. We could have done the 2km circuit that seemed to make it to the base of the falls, where the walkway could be visible down below. Unfortunately, we still had the long drive back to Byron Bay ahead of us. Plus, we still wanted to visit the Byron Bay Lighthouse before sunset.
So given that time constraint (or perceived time constraint), we got our QMF experience, and then headed out. We opted not to continue on to check out Teviott Falls, which was also nearby the QMF. I wasn't sure if I would regret that decision, but I had to make an executive decision to leave this out.
So we left Queen Mary Falls at 12:30pm, and three hours later after the expected long drive (a drive that was made longer by having trouble passing some slow moving logging trucks or other trucks on the curvy two-lane roads), we finally arrived at the Byron Bay Lighthouse at 3:30pm. The weather was a bit cloudier than it was yesterday so the lighting wasn't as pleasant for photos of the coast and the lighthouse.
In any case, it was $7 to park here, but we saw a sign saying it was $2!
Anyways, Julie and I were enjoying the walks and overlooks here. One of the signs here indicated that we were at the easternmost tip of the mainland of Australia, and we could see the rocky peninsula jutting out from the overlook where waves seemed to wrap around the peninsula. I'm sure some kind of wave behaviors could be observed and tested from here, I thought.
At 4:10pm, we had our fill of the lovely scenery here and were back in the car. And at 4:25pm, we returned to the Bamboo House. Somewhere near the accommodation, there was a dog that ran out and tried to chase the car. It was still outside somewhere, but at some point, we probably either ditched it or the owner called it back.
And with that, we were back in the familiar Byron Bay centre to walk around, grab some dinner (don't recall which place), and then settle in to sleep for the night. This would be our last night in New South Wales for tomorrow we were heading into Queensland for good. That would be the last state of Australia we hadn't visited yet (or at least until today's little taster)...
Have a waterfall travel story you'd like to share?
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