Saturday, 30 June 2012

We had our first swim today. Pretty momentous I thought, given it’s mid-winter here in Australia. We just crossed the 31st parallel, so officially we’re in the sub-tropics now.

Not that you’d know judging by the weather these past few days. Since we left Port Stephens on Thursday it’s absolutely bucketed down.

So much so that after just three nights under canvas (well, rip-stop nylon actually but canvas just has a jauntier ring about it don’t you think?) we  cashed in our one-night-a-week-in-a-bed chip early and headed for a roof, any roof, just somewhere to get out of the godawful rain.

Hat Head is where we ended up. Hat Head is a tiny settlement on the NSW mid-coast, about 400km or so north of Sydney. It’s not famous for much, apart from having a head that looks, well, a little like a hat I suppose.

So we pull in at the Hat Head Holiday Park (Fun in the Sun Since 1983) after dark. It’s wet, it’s cold, and there’s absolutely no-one around. The office is locked, but there’s a number on the door for after-hours arrivals. I ring it. No-one answers.

After about ten minutes of standing around looking woebegone, an enormous man in a polar fleece jacket appears, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Are youse looking for accommodation?’’ he wheezes.

No, we’re admiring the view.

Of course we’re looking for accommodation.

“Hmmm,’’ he muses, sucking his teeth. “A cabin? Dunno. Not sure if we have any. We might be full.”

Minnie Water Beach

I look around the deserted Holiday Park. Shutters are up, there’s hardly a light to be seen. Could he please check?

The man disappears, locking the door behind him. Another ten minutes pass. Finally he re-emerges. Turns out there is a cabin spare, and we can have it for the immodest sum of $83.

Any port in a storm.

The following morning the sun’s out, sort of, so we punish ourselves with an invigorating hour-long hike around a nearby headland, which rewards with stunning views of an angry Pacific Ocean and vistas to the north and south. It’s very boggy though, after days of rain, and in places the track falls away to sheer rocks and the sea below. We tread carefully.

Before leaving we check out the nearby settlement of South West Rocks, which in times gone by was mostly famous for its jail, Trial Bay Gaol. It’s called that because in convict times a bunch of prisoners tried to escape on a ship called the Trial Bay.

It sank.

So did another 27 other ships who founded on a nearby reef, before someone finally decided it might be a good idea to put a lighthouse there.

Australians. It can take them a while to work things out, sometimes.

Our campsite at Minnie Water 

We head north, passing more convict towns (who knew that Port Macquarie was once a penal institution for the people who were so bad they couldn’t be housed in Sydney?) and the infamous Big Banana.

Like small Kiwi towns, Aussie settlements share a predilection for large fruit and vegetables. Oakune has its giant carrot; Coff’s Harbour has its giant banana.

It’s a theme park, apparently, including a skating rink and various banana memorabilia. Bananas are big around here – they were the staple of the local economy until tourism kicked in during the 1980s. We pass by.

A couple more hours’ driving on the Pacific Highway takes us to Minnie Water, which is indeed mini. It’s a one-shop settlement right on the beach in the Yuragini National Park. No power, no houses, no cellphone reception. Perfect.

For the past couple of nights we’ve been camped alongside a few other wanderers whose impressive rigs quite frankly make us feel inadequate.

Solar panels, electric showers, gas fridges, and all manner of machinery and genius designed to take the actual experience of camping out of camping pour out of giant 4WDs. I’m dead jealous. 

And I thought we had a lot of gear.

But back to that swim. It’s freezing and dark as I write this, perched on a park table under a gaslight, and it’s 
only 5.30pm. But today was glorious, the sun shining from a clear blue sky and the mercury topping 21 degrees.

And that just a week past the shortest day of the year.

The water is bracing but actually no colder than Sumner Beach on an average summer’s day. We’re Kiwis. This is positively tropical.

Tomorrow we’re heading to Byron Bay, an easy couple of hours drive from here.

It’s hippy central, a blessed-out beach town where your lattes are made with organic soy milk and the mung beans come freshly squeezed.

Nearby is pot-smokers heaven – Nimbin, a weed town where most of the locals are, I’m told, permanently stoned.

I’ll let you know how we get on.

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