I wanted to get away. I needed to escape reality for a while.
I asked Nat if she was interested in a girly getaway camping trip. I received the typical teenage groan and accompanying eye roll. She does this before every trip. She cracks me up. The girl loves her bed and her computer, but once we make a plan, she is all in.
We talked through some ideas and decided to not just go somewhere and camp for a week. We would go on a road trip, camping along the way.
Given our limited experience with camping in Australia, I knew that the North Coast Holiday Parks were good place to start since we’d used them before. Big 4 is also a good choice for camp grounds in Australia.
Unfortunately, neither group allows bookings for less than a week when it is high season. Of course, high season occurs during school holidays. (Of course it does)! So, I called and asked why. They informed me that it was a system ‘limitation’ to encourage people to stay a week during those peak times; When I asked about grey nomads and the abundance of campervans continuously travelling throughout Australia, they said that they do take ‘walk ins’. You just have to hope they still have that availability when you arrive.
Did I dare tempt it?
It went against every instinct I had. Yet, I found the idea of uncertainty rather liberating. I was eager to see what it would feel like to just get on the road, finding a place to stay as we went.
With the exception of Byron Bay which was completely packed (as always), we discovered half-vacant holiday parks. I didn’t know why the campgrounds were vacant. Maybe this system limitation prevented people from coming at all? But hey, we didn’t mind! The weather was perfect for camping and we had our choice of campsites. It worked for us.
So, what was our Itinerary?
Overall, we spent about 22 hours in the car, listening to music, audiobooks and answering a road trip questionnaire. I drove approximately 1675 km (or 1040 miles) driving north from Sydney to Byron Bay and back.
It was very much a fly by the seat of our pants trip. We had the destination figured out but the rest, we were winging. We spent 5 days on the road, but could have easily made it a two-week adventure.
We drove from Sydney to Seal Rocks. It’s about a 3-hour drive, but we stretched it out and drove the coastal route through the Central Coast, before reaching Newcastle. From there, it was a pretty straight route to Seal Rocks. The Central Coast is a nicer alternative than the Pacific Highway A1 and it put us in the ‘beachy’ vibe for our getaway.
Taking the road to Seal Rocks off the highway makes you feel like you are truly getting away. It’s remote and peaceful. Nothing can be found here but surfers, campers, and day-trippers for the most part. And we were in luck. Despite the crowded beach road and the number of people around on this beautiful late Sunday afternoon, the Holiday Park was half empty. We had our choice of spots. After setting up our campsite, we took a walk down to beach and found it almost empty. It was perfect timing. Only the pelicans stuck around.
The next morning, we took our time packing up, before we continued northward. We let the time and the miles pass for this trek, as there’s not a lot between Forster and Coffs Harbour. Ok, let me clarify that: There was nothing we hadn’t already discovered on our previous trips along this stretch. South West Rocks houses Trial Bay Gaol but we skipped that for this trip. Hat Head and Nambucca are beach communities and great places to hang out but that wasn’t on our agenda today.
Rather, we stretched our legs at the Coffs Harbour Butterfly House in Bonville, located just south of Coffs Harbour. We spent a good hour mystified by the colours and patterned wings, trying our best to identify each and every one.
From here, we found a campsite (easily) at Corindi Beach. My grandparents used to live in this beach community, many moons ago, so I was excited to share that with Natalie. Looking over the headland down to the beach as the wind blew through my hair, I was in heaven.
Our goal for Day 3 was to stay in Byron Bay for the night before turning back and heading south to Sydney the following day. We stopped in Grafton briefly before continuing north. In spring, the jacaranda trees here are in full bloom and they give this town a romantic touch with their purple vibrancy. Unfortunately, we weren’t here at the right time (usually October through November) but it’s something to see, that’s for sure!
Once we reached Byron Bay, it was absolute bedlam. THIS was where Australia had come to stay apparently. We could not find camping accommodation anywhere. But, that was risk, right? Every time I’ve been to Byron it’s like this. I’ve always thought it best to stay just outside of Byron and come in for the day, but even at this time of year, a campsite was hard to find. Between the plethora of campervans and the Hippies (Byron aka ‘Hippie Heaven’), we had to figure out Plan B.
Nevertheless, we made a day of it in Byron while we were there. We visited the lighthouse (the Australian mainland’s most eastern point), checked out the surfers performing all kinds of stunts on their boards, enjoyed the sunshine and the vibe of Byron, before grabbing an ice cream and heading south again. It made for a long driving day, but we ended up staying at Moonee Beach, just north of Coffs Harbour. I have to say: Setting up a tent on a slope in the dark, with only headlamps and a torch (flashlight) guiding our way, now that’s an adventure!
We left early from Moonee. It was just too noisy from the truck traffic on the Pacific Highway. Even with the beach at our tent’s ‘doorstep’, it didn’t make it my favourite campground. It is beautiful though, that’s for sure.
Heading south again, we took a side trip up to Dorrigo Mountains for a bushwalk. Only an hour from Coffs Harbour, the Crystal Shower Falls walk is one not to be missed. The falls are 1.5km (one way) from the Information Centre. While It’s a lovely stroll downhill to get to the falls, the walk back up is a bit more of a hike. But, it’s truly worth the time to do this bushwalk.
After a picnic lunch at Dorrigo, we took the coast road south via Hat Head and Lake Macquarie. This is a really lovely drive taking you off the crazy Pacific Highway. It gives you insight into the Aussie beach lifestyle. We took our time for this jaunt, stopping at various places here and there to check out the surf and the shops. We enjoyed a peaceful, relaxing day. By the time we reached North Haven just south of Lake Macquarie, we were hungry for some coastal goodness. We found some delicious fish and chips for dinner which we enjoyed in the North Haven Holiday Park’s beautifully renovated camp kitchen.
It was time to head home. We reflected on our favourite parts of the trip as the miles sped by all too quickly. I wasn’t ready to be home yet, but we’d promised to be home that day. Just as we arrived into the Sydney area, the skies opened and deluged us with rain. It was a sign. It’s no fun to camp in the wet anyway.
TIPS: Get a ‘frequent flier card’ with the North Coast Holiday park to earn a free night’s stay.
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