From Sydney, our first stop was the Blue Mountains. We took the scenic drive along the B59 to Karoomba, about a 2 hour scenic drive. Scenic indeed – a long winding road, with sweeping views at times, passing by orchards and farms. I am always amazed how fast a landscape can transition from booming city into country life. Along the way we stopped for the most delicious burgers ever at Kurmond Takaway. Tripadvisor was not wrong on this hole in the wall, local café!
We had found a house on Stayz/Homeaway.com this time – selected because of the sweeping views of the mountains. The house itself was a little outdated – think 70’s (or even 60’s) family cabin – but set right on the edge of the cliff. The view was beyond incredible as the sun set over these Blue Mountains. As their name suggests, they indeed show off a spectacular blue haze. At first, I thought I read somewhere that the blue haze was due to the eucalyptus trees in the area releasing little oily particles. But … there’s a far more scientific explanation:
In 1955 the Town Clerk of the City of Blue Mountains asked this question of the Department of Physics at the University of Sydney. Professor Harry Messel, replied:
“The haze which appears to surround any distant object is due to an optical phenomenon called ‘Rayleigh scattering’. This effect, first investigated theoretically by Lord Rayleigh, causes the rays of light which impinge on small particles to be scattered in various directions… Since the atmosphere is always laden with small dust particles, water droplets and the like and since even the air molecules themselves contributed to some extent to the scattering… if an observer look sat a distant object with the intervening atmosphere illuminated by sunlight, eyes will receive the blue scattered rays of sunlight to reflect the object itself. Therefore any distant object will always appear to display”
This time of year Katoomba is a rather sleepy town, but we had a great couple days. We baked pancakes, and ate outside in the flowery garden. We drove and hiked. We packed a picnic, ready to finally swim at a waterfall (that would be our first this trip!). It would be a short hike to Minnehaha falls, but as we got there, it turned out that the trail was closed… No swimming for us! We quickly found an alternative and ended up at the park at Wentworth Falls Lake. We just hung out, read and played at the play structure. The perfect, relaxed day.
Another day we went to admire the “Three Sisters”, at the Echo Point lookout. We didn’t last long as it was in-cre-di-bly hot-hot-hot, 35-39ºC easily. Our kids nodded that the sisters looked like a camel, and then ran inside for a cooling icecream. For good form, at sunset when temperatures dropped, we hiked out to see Wenthworth Falls. Sadly this time of year … no water, no falls!
On our way to the Central Coast, we would meet up with our favorite world-travelling Canadians again! Big hugs and kisses as the Lambers family walked onto our cabin’s porch at Lake Macquarie. We stayed at the holiday park in Mannering Park. Wow – was that a contrast with our accommodations the previous weeks! Our view was lots of other cabins and a factory chimney. But for the kids it was perfect. Skating around the park, swimming in the pool, and running around on the bouncy cushion. We had drinks and chatted while they played. Perfect.
From there, we set out together to Nelson Bay, frankly just another stop on our way to renowned Byron Bay. We stopped at Morisset Park, a private park where tons of kangaroos hang around. This was our first kangaroo siting. They are large! One of the males showed another tourist just how powerful he was – put his front paws on his shoulders, balanced on his tail and gave the guy a good shove with his lower legs. We kept our distance, as we always do, but some tourists are just plain idiots. That’s what you get for shoving your camera into a kangaroo’s face!
Next stop, Newcastle for a quick lunch. We spent an hour or so on the beach. This was a nice stretch of beach, like so so many along the Central Coast. Finally we all made it to Nelson Bay. Here too we stayed at a holiday park. Our little cabin was great with 2 bedrooms, a kitchen and a deck right by the water. Well, with a parking lot in between . Both families took an excursion to go see dolphins. It was a bit of a mass event; a large boat, and just a handful of dolphins who frankly were chased by several boats. The good part about the day was that the boat had a slide in the back, where the kids could play on their way back to the harbor. On our way home, Tracie took the kids onto the water-bouncy-castle; while I took Elyse to one of those bounce-high-up-trampoline-thingies. They all had a blast, but Tracie sprained her knee, immobilizing her for a while. Ouch!
Next stop for us, Coffs Harbour. It was Australia Day when we got there, and we felt like locals as we spread our blanket in the park, got food from the food stalls, and listened to a great live band. The weather was brilliant, and on my morning run the next day, I got to explore a bit of the pier. This felt like such a fun little town, but we were on a mission to get to Byron Bay… So after an incredible breakfast/brunch at O.P.81, we got enough fuel for the next stretch of road.
(By the way – as you drive up north, via the Highway, there really are no views of the ocean. You often have to take a turn-out, and drive another 15-20 minutes to the coastal towns. That’s quickly an hour detour to get to a beach.)
And then we finally made it to praised Byron Bay … I can totally see the allure of the town. Lots of fancy shops, combined with a hipster crowd, cute cafes on every corner and a surfer vibe. We had a super laid back time here… played on the beach, strolled the streets of the town. Our days started out sunny enough, but after a couple days rain set in. The boys took a surf lesson, and M got stung by a stinger making him wary of going into the ocean again. The movie Wonder played its final days, and so when it rained, we went to this quaint brewery-annex-movie-theater, where the seats looked like old church benches. The colorful cushions made it quite comfortable! Together with the Lambers family, we hiked up to the Lighthouse with magnificent views of the bay, and the surfers down below.
We were so so sad to say goodbye to our friends. The Lambers were continuing on to South-East Asia, but we had had such a great time in Australia, that we decided to hang around a couple more weeks. Travel further North, go visit our friends in Melbourne, and go snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef (another bucket list thing)…
As always, including a shortlist of places we stayed, ate and played. Including the ones we loved, and not mentioning the ones we did not :).
Where we stayed:
– Katoomba – Khandala Cottage via Stayz or Homeaway – old and cosy, with great deck and views over the Blue Mountains
– Coffs Harbour – Ocean Paradise Motel & Holiday Units in Coffs Harbour (not to be confused with Ocean Park Motel & Holiday Units). I don’t know why I liked this place so much (and Steven disagrees with me). Just colorful, friendly owner, little funky signs to welcome guests, a large large family room and a nice little pool. It felt a little like those LA motels in the 60-ies. Awesome.
– Byron Bay – First Sun Holiday Park. Perfectly situated. A quick 3 minute walk to town via the beach. The park is fenced off towards the beach, and in all honestly, one night we did woke up from a guy yelling all kinds of profanities over the fence. Your typical vacation bungalow.
Where we ate:
– Kurmond – Kurmond Takeaway. No haut cuisine here, but finger licking delicious burgers with all the toppings. Yum!
– Coffs Harbour – O.P.81. Breakfast here was simply divine. Super healthy and tasty choices.
– Byron Bay – I can’t find the name of this place, but right in front of the public pool there’s a takeaway counter. The french fries and fish and chips are decent, and a good quick bite.
– Byron Bay – Bar and pub at Byron Bay Beach Hotel. The food and drinks were so so, but we loved the live music. E. and I were shaking on the dance floor one sunny afternoon!
– Byron Bay – Orgasmic – Lebanese food. We really loved their falafel.
– Byron Bay – The Farm. The Farm, oh The Farm. The style, the food, the grounds. My mouth waters as I write about it. We spent an entire afternoon here. Lunch, lounging, walking the farm, and playing in the playground.
– Byron Bay – Mokha Café on Lawson Street for great food and coffee. Nice place to sit and watch traffic go by. Super helpful staff. In the evening, there was a 2-man band playing next door. That’s what we loved so much – it feels like those surfers in the early evening morph into musicians, playing tunes on virtually every corner.
Where we played:
– Blue Mountains – Wenthworth Falls Lake Park. It’s just a park. With a lake. And a playground. Nothing special, but we had a very special afternoon here. Just hanging, enjoying our picnic, reading and swimming. Great for a relaxed couple hours.
– Byron Bay – Pighouse Flicks movie theatre. Old wooden benches with colorful pillows!
– Byron Bay – Soul Surf School – both families took a surf lesson with them. They drove the group out to a beach easily 30 minutes away from Byron Bay. That day, the waves were not great – which made for a not so great surf lesson. Some things you can’t control …