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25 and Under...and 23...and 22 I'm trekking southern Australia in the World Nomads Ambassador van with my little brother & his girlfriend. This should be interesting.

Looking for the ideal retirement town? This is it.

AUSTRALIA | Friday, 1 February 2008 | Views [1252]



Day 22

Day 22. It began with waves crashing softly on the Putty Beach shores only 20 meters to our right. I woke up not to roommates stumbling in drunk at 6 a.m. but to fisherman pulling in to set up camp for the day. Other than one highly amusing argument at 2 a.m. (“If I had my license I would keep driving! But I don’t! So why don’t you just get in the car and we’ll go!”) it was pure peace and quiet.

With the mania of Sydney 100 Ks behind, Daniel and I felt the stress of previous day’s adventures melt away. Today’s agenda: Drive to Newcastle, get our Internet fix, do laundry, see the Lonely Planet recommended “Giant Penis” (really a tall lookout tower on the wharf) and get to Port Stephens to camp.

We made good on our entire agenda, I’m proud to say — and we even got gas and water!

First stop, Newcastle. To get out of the windy, maze-like peninsula of Woy Woy, Terrigal and numerous other teeny lake-towns, we drove in circles to find out way to the Pacific Highway. This was fine however, because it was some of the most stunning scenery I’ve seen in Australia. Huge mountainous hills rising out of the water, wildlife everywhere and more sailboats than cars. We drove, quiet except for a “left” or a “right” — mesmerized by the scenery. So much so that Daniel actual coined a word for the quality of scenery on the road. Scenocity, my friends, works on a scale of 1-20. Around the Gosford area, we were up to about an 18, which unfortunately dropped to 13 after hopping on the PH to get up to Newcastle.

Good thing it only took an hour. Before we knew it we were surrounded by city once more, only this time our only agenda was to relax, find the beach and eat lunch. First stop, the information center. If you ever plan to travel Australia, I highly recommend them. You can grab every map around the region, get local knowledge (as in, where the hot showers are if you’re campervanning a la Nomalita) and sign up for tours or whatever else you want to do. In our case, I needed to find a Laundromat and Internet, stat. Lucky us, the entirety of Beaumont Street in Hamilton, a boho area Newcastle, had wireless internet. And a Laundromat.

But first, the Penis. According to Lonely Planet, this is what Newcastle locals call the giant 180 step viewing structure at the Queen’s Wharf. Well, this I had to see. We drove down, promptly booked it up the 180 steps and gazed out on Newcastle. “Now you can say you’ve been in a giant penis Daniel, isn’t that cool?” Nervous laughs…yeah, OK fine, but I’m telling my friends when I get home from Australia.

180 steps down later, we jumped back in the van and drove to Nobbys beach. The thing I love most about Sydney is the fact that its beaches are only 15 minutes out of town. Forget 15 minutes. In Newcastle, the beach was practically in city center. Maybe a 10 minute walk, at most. We ate looking out on the beach; and noted, not for the first time this week, that everyone else was at work. Sorry guys.

I did have errands to do though, so after lunch we headed over to Beaumont Street. Just as the brochure advertised, free wireless on the entire street. I threw my laundry in, popped over to the café and got comfortable with my computer and an iced-tea.

I probably could have stayed there all day sipping drinks and playing online, but we had things to do and places to see so by 4:30 we were on the road again to Port Stephens. And a good thing LP instructs to follow the signs for Nelson Bay, otherwise we’d be halfway up the coast by now with no idea where the place was. Turns out it’s actually an entire peninsula jutting off into the sea. Bays, mountains and inlets dot the area, which is actually made up of the towns of Nelson Bay, Salamander Bay, Anna Bay, Shoal Bay and Fingal Bay. We were here mostly because of the dunes. 32 Ks of Arabian Nights-style sand dunes go from here all the way back to Newcastle. We were going to sandboard them.

We spent the evening driving around the peninsula in circles — getting oriented, right? Eventually we stumbled upon Inner Light (how cool a name is that?), the coast guard station. We climbed up to find one of the volunteers working the radios. Only 15 minutes before he’d called the police because one of the boaters was a half hour past his scheduled docking time. The boater was fine, and it was pretty interesting to see him at work. Not to mention, the place had the best view of Port Stephens.

Pooped and ready to chill, we grabbed a $4.95 large pizza from Eagle Boys (cheapy Tuesdays, I love em!) and settled into our spot. I spent the waning sunlight hour sitting on the beach reading Lonely Planet until a local guy came up to chat. He pointed to the water and asked, “Have you seen any dolphins yet?” “No, unfortunately.” I’d just read Port Stephens has a community of 120 Bottlenose dolphins, and I was keeping my eyes open. “Ah,” he said. “I’ve got a friend in there.” Last year, whenever this guy went for a swim, a female dolphin would swim with him all the way to the end of his route and back. He left the area for a while in winter, but when he returned this summer, she was still there, this time with a baby. They all swam together, his first time back in. Out of all the local stories I’ve heard in Australia, I’d say that comes in at #1.

Day 23

There are some places you just don’t want to leave. After seeing the little bit of Port Stephens we had the night before, we decided to make it a day. It was too beautiful a place to leave.

First things first: sandboarding. We drove over to Port Stephens 4WD Tours to sign up for their shuttle from Anna Bay. By 11 a.m. we were driving over Sahara-like dunes in a bright red 4WD Toyota bus. When we arrived at the “hill” (sand mountain, if you ask me) our driver and guide, Warren, showed us how to wax up the black board, hop on and race down the hill dragging our hands behind. Now, like all kids, I’m a huge fan of sledding, but only of the ride down, of course. Coming back up? Not so much. I trudged up p..a…n…t…i…n…g in the blazing Australian heat. “I feel bad for the people coming at 3:30,” Warren said. It was going to be a hot one. Four rides later, we soon discovered it was equally as fun to ride down the teeny hill (on the opposite side of the big one) standing up (*although they don’t recommend doing this, so, you know, do so at your own risk and all) without the huge walk up from the bottom. Half an hour later, I did one last big one, ate sand, and promptly jumped in the bus to get back to the beach. We spent the next 40 minutes splashing in the ocean, doing all we could to get the sand out of…well, everything.

By 1 p.m. we were starving and I’d read in Lonely Planet that one of the coast’s top Aussie pie places was right in Nelson Bay. Red Ned’s Gourmet Pies makes all sorts of homemade pies, including Kangaroo Teriyaki and Lobster, Prawn and Barrimundi with Coconut Sauce, both of which we tried. It was a tough choice between the Beef Stroganoff, but I was happy. Definitely worth a stop, even if just for the incredibly tasty sesame seed covered crust!

Satiated and curious, we gave the teeny town of Nelson Bay a walk-around. I loved every shop — tons of funky Australian clothes and homegoods — I could have stayed all day. Daniel finally managed to drag me away to go for a swim down at Shoal Bay. If you can picture it (not that you have to, because I’m posting pictures but—) Shoal Bay is a huge body of water surrounded by one small strip of blinding white sand and clear green water. We joined some young Aussie vacationers jumping off the jetty and made like crazy 16-year-olds for most of the afternoon.

Thanks to a tip from an awesome local at the Nelson Bay info center, our next stop was the public pool in Salamander Bay. The warm pool water felt clean and refreshing after the salty bay…so good, in fact, it actually inspired me to spend some time doing laps. 20 cents for a hot shower too, thank you!

As night fell we walked up the Tomaree Head trail up to the old gun emplacements built during WWII. We squinted for dolphins out in the bay and finally made our way down as the sun finally set.

As I’m sitting here writing this, I finally realize why the local I met last night came for a holiday and stayed for years. Port Stephens is seriously a place you just don’t want to leave. But tomorrow we would — to Port Macquarie we would go.

Tags: ambassador van, beaches & sunshine


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