Three-week sojourn to the Big Smoke
Frosty reception on Sydney trip
WE received a real frosty reception for the first few days of our trip to Australia's largest city, Sydney.
But it was not the good people of New South Wales who were responsible for the chilly welcome to the southern State ... it was Mother Nature herself.
Being Queenslanders we had forgotten just how cold some parts of Australia can get but we were quickly reminded as night temperatures dived to minus 10 degrees Centigrade.
We had decided to take the inland route along the New England Highway to the Big Smoke, staying in rest areas all the way. But two nights of severe brass monkey weather sent us scurrying into commercial caravan parks and the luxury of powered sites to fire up our electric heater. Sheer bliss!
The three-week, 2787-kilometre trip took us along the comparatively quiet inland Highway 15 (New England Highway), returning to Queensland via the busier coastal Pacific Highway.
We visited Toowoomba, Stanthorpe, Glen Innes, Armidale, Tamworth, Muswellbrook, Maitland, Sydney, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Brunswick Heads and the Gold Coast.
Our Ford Falcon AU, hauling an 18ft Jayco Westport full shower 'van, drank 477 litres of petrol, averaging 5.84 kilometres a litre or 17.12 litres every 100km.
Leaving Gympie, we headed along the Wide Bay Highway before turning south to Cooyar where we spent the first night at a very pleasant rest area. We were fortunate enough to spot a platypus foraging at dusk in the adjoining creek. Total distance for the day was 195km.
We awoke next morning to a winter wonderland of heavily frosted grass and trees ... and frozen water pipes!
Our second overnight was at Warwick Roadhouse where we rubbed shoulders with monster trucks. All very exciting, but noisy at times. Then on to Glen Innes, a wonderful Scottish-influenced town boasting the unique Standing Stones which honour the Celtic people who helped pioneer Australia.
Passing many wineries, we took the opportunity of calling into one high on a hilltop, splurging $15 on an interesting mead wine.
Next port of call was the university city of Armidale, with its beautiful tree-lined streets and stone buildings. We were particularly impressed with the free Heritage coach tour of the city, which left the Information Centre daily.
A few kilometres south of Armidale we passed Thunderbolt's Rock at Aralla. It was from here that the 1860s bushranger known as Captain Thunderbolt ambushed his victims.
Continuing south, we climbed and descended the divide of the Great Dividing Range which really tested our Falcon's pulling power, but she came through with flying colours. At the 1320-metre summit lies Guyra and Australia's highest caravan park.
Then it was over the mountainous Moonbi Range which was so steep and winding that sandy escape roads have been built in case of brake failure.
We were disappointed with the country music capital, Tamworth, because we couldn't find anywhere to park so we continued to the Big Golden Guitar Tourist Centre which we found to be mainly one big souvenir shop.
As we headed into the Hunter Valley the landscape changed dramatically, vast coal mines and power stations scarring the horizon. We drove through Scone, Australia's horse capital where large horse studs and properties marked the wealth of the area. One report claims that the notorious Saddam Hussein had interests in the area.
Traffic became heavier as we continued on through Muswellbrook and Maitland, where we overnighted at the worst caravan park we have ever had the misfortune to stay, and finally to Parklea Garden Village caravan park in Sydney. A reasonable park with good rail and ferry links to the centre of Sydney.
After a very enjoyable week doing the usual touristy things, we hitched up again and headed north to the Lakes area just north of Newcastle. But we were disappointed to discover a new 'no overnight camping' sign at Pacific Palms where we had intended overnighting. So it was on to Blackbutts Road rest area.
Continuing north, we called at Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Brunswick Heads and the Gold Coast.
Near Kempsey we stopped at the Clybucca Memorial Garden, which honours the 35 people tragically killed just three days before Christmas 1989 in an horrific crash involving two coaches. I paid respects to two of my workmates, John and Robyn Harris, who sadly lost their lives in the head-on smash. Their young son was also killed.
It had been almost 15 years since I last drove along what was then the notoriously dangerous Pacific Highway. I hated it. But the highway has now been much improved ... but sadly the upgrade came too late to prevent that awful crash.
All in all it was a pleasant three weeks. For my money, I much preferred the quieter New England Highway which is far more pleasant and scenic. We have promised to return and spend more time in some of the areas through which we passed.
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