(Day 13/ 90klm)
Today, we did something a little illogical and continued heading north up the coast, in the precise opposite direction of home, and in the full knowledge that we were coming back this way the next day. We were headed for Port Macquarie, and as it is only a small hop up the road from Harrington, we took the dirt road through the Crowdy Head National Park, rather than using the main highway.
Australia is dotted with national parks, areas of bushland that have been protected from development and which can only be used as camping grounds or hiking. We were now in a northern part of NSW, heading towards Queensland, and the landscape here is sub-tropical.
The bush included densely packed ferns and cabbage tree palms. The rainforest canopy protects the more delicate plants below, so that everything is a verdant green, rather than the faded sun-stroked green of most our bush (usually more kindly referred to as eucalyptus green).
With the windows down we could hear the bell-birds (ding, ding, ding) and the whip-birds – the call of which is very much like the sound of a whip cracking (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kXh5-mw0uU).
Everyone we spoke to was surprised we came that route without a four wheel drive, but the road was quite good, so the council must have smoothed it recently in preparation for Christmas campers.
There are several mountains in this area that were named by Captain Cook or one of the early explorers. Not terribly original names, North Brother and Middle Brother – that sort of thing. After leaving the national park we drove to the top of North Brother. We were afforded a fantastic view of where we had come from (towards Harrington), of Laurieton and the coastline just below us, and of Port Macquarie to the north – which is where we were headed.
First of all, though, we had another call to make, to yet another friend, this one living in Laurieton. Baby Boomers are leaving Sydney and retiring to the coast, and further north to Queensland, so it is not so unusual that we have a cluster of friends along this strip. Our friend here has named his house “thisldo” (i.e. This Will Do). Once again we strolled along a coastal board walk, following the line of a river until it met the sea, yarning with an old friend and checking out the fishermen. Such is the relaxed life of the coastal retiree.
All throughout our trip people had talked about the rain that had been, and the rain that was forecast to be, and yet our experience for the last two weeks was of hot, dry conditions, even in Laurieton. But a few miles further along, and we found Port Macquarie drenched in a light rain. We like to call this “mizzle”. It is a mix between mist and drizzle. In the sub-tropical climate of Port Macquarie, it would send the humidity sky high on a very hot summer’s day.
Port Macquarie is set in a stunning landscape of rocky headlands, beautiful beaches, rainforest, and coastal walks amidst natural beauty. It is also a popular tourist destination with varied activities and good shopping. Bill remembered surfing there forty years before, and I imagined I had driven through on the way to somewhere else, but the town is growing fast and apartment blocks are lining the main street. We didn’t recognise anything.
Our detour here was tinged with pathos. One of my best friends had died suddenly about eighteen months before, aged only 57. Judi lived on her own in Melbourne, but her ashes, and those of her mother, are scattered at Port Macquarie. Her sister and brother-in-law (our hosts) took us to the place, a peaceful, forested area high over a cliff-face.
Standing there and contemplating my friend’s final place, perhaps there was a part of me that could come a little closer to understanding that she was really gone, but there was still a large part of me that could not believe it. All the same, it is nice to know that I can go that place, and remember how much she loved it. How she would tell me the joy she took in long lonely walks along the beach, and the pleasure she had in visiting her family who live here. It is nice to know that her sister and I get on so well too, just as Judi always predicted, and this visit was the first of several that we have had since then.
Next Destination: Fingal Bay, Port Stephens