The ride down to Montville was quite slow, and with some laughter, it reminded us of the ride through the U.S. with the road slugs … Aussie roads have lots of campervans on them, and where we were, the roads were one lane in either direction- along curvy roads. The roads were quite busy for a weekday, and so you were stuck. This went on for some time, and became a little dreary. Incidentally, the Aussies are also talking about the high amount of road deaths. For an American stuck behind plenty of slow camper vehicles it was painfully obvious – one lane roads, but with the opposite lane of traffic right next to you and curvy roads. Hm, it would be obvious to some to build out the roads and put in two lanes in either direction with medians so no one crosses the middle. There are also an INORDINATE number of speed cameras set up forcing you to drive the speed limit, which isn't a problem in a Hyundai Getz.
Once we arrived close to Montville, we started to climb hills into town, which is perched high up in the foothills, and has an enviable position facing the hills and valleys on one side, and the ocean on the other. It is in a gorgeous location, and the town center is quiet and charming – filled with small shops that close up at 4:30pm, a few cafes and restaurants, and a winery. We tried the Flame Hill vineyard, which has exquisite wines for the dollar. Interestingly, we talked to the wine pourer, who seemed to have a Brit accent, and turns out she was from Philly, and had fallen for an Aussie and lived out here now. We ruminated for a bit about the lack of microcraft beers here in NZ and in Aus. We also made our way to the Big Barrel winery in Maleny and sampled their wines. We found them to be as good as when we had last visited them a few years back. Their building is also a huge barrel on the side of the road, making it memorable. The last time we had visited, it was pouring and the barrel was leaking. Apparently it now has a newer roof. We also stopped at the Maleny Cheese Shop, which was overrun by a Japanese family convinced that they were getting ripped off (I guess aussie is expensive for them as well), and about three families with an inordinate amount of children, all of whom were clamoring for the free tastes. The menu looked good, but, we had eaten earlier in town, and given the insanity there, we just kept on going.
We pulled up to Burleigh Heads, to our rental property, at 11:45am. It was too early for our check-in, so the owner recommended lunch at the Burleigh Heads Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC), which is at the north end of town. In Australia, there is a surf club, bowls club or retired servicemen’s league in nearly every city. In each club, there are very good deals to be had with food and beverages, pokies (slot machines), and bands. Some are very fancy, and others are salt of the earth. This club was pretty fancy and had enormous picture windows over the north head(large cliff head) of the beach. at these type of places, you typically order drinks at the bar, then order food at the other counter, take a number to put on your table, and they will bring it to you. Of course, there is no tax OR tip on the bill, but food and beer is generally more expensive (but cheaper if you are a member of said club).
Burleigh Heads is located to the south of Surfer’s Paradise and to the north of Coolangatta, which are two huge primary areas on Australia’s Gold Coast, famed for the proximity to Brisbane, hot weather and fine surf beaches (non-swimming). Those two towns, viewed from afar, seemed to be very built up, and had a lot of high rises in the distance (one that looked like El Burj). The town itself was quite small and condensed, about 2 miles from end to end between the heads. There were two surf clubs on either end of town, with the south end of town having a small downtown area, small mini-grocery store, with restaurants, a few small cafes, etc. The north end contained the surf club, a bar, and a new complex a few blocks off with a mid-sized grocery store, a few takeaways, and a coffee place (their Zarrafara’s coffee seems to be like the U.S. Starbucks). Everything was inherently walkable! The promenade along the beach was paved and wide, and used by all locals. It connected over the head in the north to Mermaid Beach, and then connected to the Burleigh Heads National Park, which was the cliffhead to the south. The entire hill was a national forest, and had several forest paths running through it. The paths connected to the next beach.
The time we spent in Burleigh was really like a vacation, and we both were really happy to be so relaxed. We thought that the apartment rental allowed us to be more like holiday-makers, and not like round-the-world travellers. We truly felt spoiled and really started to enjoy the trip.
During the five night rental, we ate in for most of the meals, making fine meals like sausage, potato and pumpkin pasta, turkey fajitas, turkey medallions with baked potato fries, salads, and our favorite … Friday night pizza night. It was nice to have a kitchen to ourselves and make out own food. It was not like we felt we had to stick to a budget (true to an extent), but rather, it was nice to have our own kitchen (with no one else around), and though there were some good ethnic places around, we knew that we would be visiting these places soon (Thailand, India, Malaysia etc.)
The beach in town was lovely, and had a fine colored white sand, and right in front of our street, was patrolled by the Surf Club, which would put up flags where it was safe to swim. This was a good thing, as the coast can be an unsafe area. In a few days alone in BH, there were several drownings by locals who were caught in rip tides in the Gold Coast area. While we were there, there was also an infestation of blue bottles, which is a type of jellyfish with a blue bottle body shape, with huge long tentacles. One afternoon they were present, the lifeguards had posted a sign in between the swim flags saying “Marine Stingers Present” and several people requested sprays of vinegar for the stings, meant to be pretty painful.
Every nationality has their official celebration of their history – the US has the 4th of July, New Zealand has Waitangi Day, and Australia has “Australia Day” which fell on Tuesday. We were lucky enough to have a place to stay during the insanity. First, for one week prior, the news kept looping stories about "sickies" who would call in sick on Monday for a four day weekend, as it is a national holiday. Ahem, we did not see anything wrong with that … cough cough. Apparently the news and the government warned of dire consequences for this action, including the necessity of needing a MD note to return to work and millions of lost revenue. However, in the same breath, they urged you to buy Aussie lamb for the barbie. We were up early that morning – 6:20am, and by the time we hit the beach, it was a mob scene! Even the surfers who were walking in front of us said, “whoah dude, this is packed.” And it was …. People were gathered around every picnic table or shelter and had staked their claim --- with everyone else in their party (none of those empty lawn chairs placed in 5-star locations for those of you in the US that know that trick). And everyone had Aussie flags flying to claim their spot! People were grilling out --- bacon --- and drinking --- beer! And the beaches were packed with people swimming and surfing. It was an unreal scene. Additionally, all the Aussie flag and Aussie flag-colored gear that had been sold in the stores was worn by everyone on the beach … Aussie Billabong board shorts and bikinis, hair kerchiefs, T-shirts, shorts, glitter, colored zinc sunblock, body stickers, hats, ballcaps, and curious strange Vietnamese looking straw hats with Aussie colors or of green and yellow. We kept hoping we would find someone we knew to invite us over.
The road south to Woolgoolga was interesting – two lanes down to one lane, with a rough and bumpy road which took us way too long to drive. Additionally, as soon as we pulled into town we realized that we had lost an hour due to the time change. About the only positive thing we did on the drive was to see some rain and cool thunderstorms and also see a few kangaroo. Yawn.
That evening we stayed at the Woolgoolga RSL, which Christy had found using a google search. And lo and behold, when we pulled up, they had free broadband internet! Town was small and had a few shops, meager grocery “market”, and curiously, Indian temples. We did have a flyer for Indian food, but it required walking further than a block, and to be fair, they did not have tikka. (This is when we insert Christy’s intense dislike of mixing rice and sauce. She thinks it stems from the inflicted nights of Chinese sweet and sour food from the wok while growing up, always covered with those crunchy noodles. Ewh. God knows what she will do in India.) We digress… We had a fine night of eating two large pizzas, drinking cheap wine, watching the episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” online and downloading ITunes music.
The drive down to Port Mac was a little slow again ---- however – the drive was a little more interesting. The forests here were thicker and had more density to them, eucalyptus trees and small shrubs. We passed over a number of river tributaries that fed into the ocean, sure they held dolphins and at least crocs, we thought. And as we kept driving south,it began to get stickier and stickier, and the air began to almost seem smokey – and then it smelled smokey. Scary considering all the recent news about wildfires here. We were not sure what was going on …. And then the sky began to grow dark, with the type of clouds you can’t be sure of if they are dark clouds or simply sky.
Eventually after about 3 hours, we pulled into Port Mac, which is a town of 70,000. It had a nice core center, with a nice small mall, and a few blocks of a pedestrian walkway. Town was centered along both a river – which hosts dolphins – and also the coast. Adjacent to the river were a number of small docks boasting $10 BYO sunset cruises and other such things. As cheap as they were we did not indulge. We kept walking along the river which turned into a rocky breakwater which was decorated by huge boulders which locals had painted with various messages and inspirational sayings. This lasted for several kilometers, until one reached Town Beach, which was the local surf beach. We were impressed, but noticed that the sky was becoming increasingly dark. Additionally, we saw plumes of smoke across the landscape from where we had driven, and we were not sure of those were wildfires or controlled burns. Given the fact that there were thunderstorms the night before, we thought they might be brushfires.
We veered off the main highway and decided to aim for the Lakes District, which is a small area with inland saltwater lakes. We had left a few nights open on the trip to see what we wanted to … and this was one of them. We pulled into the twin towns of Forster-Tuncurry, and aimed for the Information Office, and inquired about reservations in town. The nice rep tapped into her computer system and said that we could pay $89 or $129 for a motel style property, and she said we should check with Stan at the Bella Vista Motor Inn, which was two blocks away. Conveniently, they had a room open and she said it was a nice motor style place with wi fi, and the price was right. Stan was also a trip to tallk to. Additionally, the AUS dollar was dropping in value against the USD, so finally the currency was starting to stack in our favor.
Forster was situated to the south of the estuary/river where the dolphins lived. Town was pretty large and spread out, between the river, breakwall and beach. The car/pedestrian bridge that crossed into Tuncurry served as a divider of sorts, with the river at that point starting to turn into the breakwall, where the river flowed into the ocean. An amazing thing happens when the tide is going "out" of the river: while waves are rolling out of the river- the incoming surf waves meet the tidal waters, creating waves that simply stay in one place. It’s a neat thing to see! On the west side of the bridge was a narrow boating canal, and a small sand island, where tons of people had swum or kayaked/boated across to. In this area where was clean shallow water, and it just sparkled brilliantly in the sun. As you went east of the river, you crossed a park like area, where there was a fish cleaning station, which was also where a large group of smart pelicans resided, waiting for scraps. These were not the pelicans one is accostumed to seeing in, maybe Florida – these were gigantic, thigh height Neanderthal sized birds with gigantic beaks and feet. Christy was determined to get a new Facebook picture with the … creatures. A friendly German boater nearby kept asking if we wanted our picture taken together, and then gave Christy a bait fish to give to them so she could get a better picture. He instructed her to go up to the pelicans and to get really close, as if you were going to hand feed the pelican, and then toss the fish to the ground, so the pelican would not hurt your hand (long beaks). So as soon as she got the fish, it almost fell from her hand (it was a huge slimy bait fish at about 9 inches! The guy must have been fishing for sharks!!!) and it stunk. Scary moment for a city girl. The she began the walk to the pelicans, looking for a willing pelican who wanted a freebie, and instead they all ran at her squawking …. And in a fit of panic she just threw the fish, Marcus then missed the camera op, and all hell broke loose as they kept running towards us. Check out the picture of how close one got to Marcus.
After we laughed, we kept walking towards the breakwall and beach, which turned out to be a lovely – and flat – walk. After that, we went back, found a grocery store for dinner (grilled turkey and salad), and then headed off to the beach, where we spent a few hours. The beach was lovely – scarcely any waves, crystal clear and sugar sanded.
Next up: baking more in The Entrance, Terrigal, and Woy Woy, Australia