Tuesday 18 March 2014

Brisbane to Bodalla, and Back Again

Another year, another summer, and another excuse for a road trip!

First up, here's the big video edit, for those of you too lazy to scroll. All the explanations and more videos/photos are below…

This all came about because my Swiss friend Anna was visiting for a couple of weeks, and we hatched a plan to explore some parts of the country that I hadn't seen, as well as some I knew very well from when I was growing up.

Her trip was based around Sydney, so first I had to get there. For various reasons I ended up leaving a day late, and I had to compress my journey down a little. That didn't stop me from finding some spectacular spots though!

Day one saw me drive from Brisbane to a place called Wollombi Falls, which is East of Armidale. The drive took me about five and a half hours, and I only just made it to the campground before dark, with just enough light left to make dinner.

In the morning, it was time to get the big quadcopter out (what, you didn't think I'd bring my toys?) and go for a fly. The whole area has been drought-stricken for a while, so Wollombi Falls were completely dry. The gorge was still spectacular though and after a shaky start, I had a couple of nice flights from two of the lookouts there.

Wollombi Gorge
Then it was time to move on. As I had to drive back through Armidale, I stopped off at another (currently dry) waterfall, called Dangars Falls (not to be confused with Dangar Falls, a relatively nearby but completely different spot near Dorrigo).

Dangars and Wollombi were both spots I had wanted to visit for a long time, having seen them (and the rest of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park) from the air many times between Brisbane to Sydney. Despite being dry they did not disappoint; the gorges drop away from the plateau and provide a wonderfully scary place to fly – because if you crash here, you can basically kiss your gear goodbye!

I very nearly lost my mini quadcopter at Dangars actually – due to bone-headedness on my part. I forgot to attach the video transmitter antenna and so lost my signal suddenly, and had to ditch the copter (and hope it was above something soft, and not the enormous gorge!). Luckily I somehow avoided the cliff, the water, and managed to crash without ripping the battery out, so my lost model beeper was still working. Without it, there's no way I would have found the copter in the bush.

Anyway after that little bit of excitement it was time to press on, to my friends Kath and Cameron's place, just outside of Gloucester. I had a fly around their property, then they fed me a yummy dinner and sent me on my way to my other friend Dave's place up the road in Buladelah, for a nice single malt night cap or three.

Day three was all about getting to Sydney. I braved the lovely traffic to grab some mini quad spare parts from my mate Alan's place and then settled in with my parents for the night. Phase two was about to start.

Anna had been staying with friends at Umina, so we met at the station and started our journey South. The first spot we were headed was Jervis Bay, to meet up with my sister and her family for some weekend camping on the Beecroft Peninsula at a spot called Honeymoon Bay.

I spent quite a lot of time in my childhood (and later years) visiting places just South of Sydney, as my Great Aunt lived just outside of Berry (more about that later), but I'd never really explored further South than that, so this would all be new.

After a little shopping detour in Wollongong (that took slightly longer than expected) we made it to the campsite with plenty of daylight to spare.

Heather, Evan and the kids joined us shortly after that, and we settled in for a couple of nights and lazy (and sometimes kid-crazy) days. Honeymoon bay is as ridiculously pretty as it looks, and there are also several other nice beaches and walks nearby.

Bizarrely, it is also located in the middle of army land, and they regularly blow stuff up in the general vicinity, so it's only open on weekends. There's something quite incongruous about seeing families and kids swimming and playing next to a sign that says "Beecroft Weapons Range – open for public access".

I had a couple of nice quadcopter flights there of course, over the scary rocks…

…and then later at Point Perpendicular on our way out. This is a famous climbing spot with vertical cliffs dropping down to the ocean below. It was extremely windy that day, so my quadcopter flight there was very limited – I almost didn't fly, but in the end the shots were worth it.

From Point Perp it was time to explore, so Anna and I headed off South. We spent the first night at Kioloa Beach and then explored nearby Merry Beach and Murramarang National Park the next day, before driving further down the coast, past Batemans Bay and Moruya Heads to Bodalla, and a great spot called Potato Point.

Murramarang National Park
There we discovered a great caravan park, right on the beach and in the middle of the National Park. We spent a couple of nights there, camping under the Spotted Gums, and surrounded by friendly wildlife (plenty of Kangaroos, Wallabies and even Emus were around). It was pretty magical.

The nearby forest was also very pretty, and great place for proximity flying with the mini quadcopter…

Apart from that there was a lot of lazing about, and a little drive through the back country to Narooma and back.

Wallaby in the undergrowth
Sadly though, we couldn't live in this paradise forever, and it was time to move on, so after nourishing ourselves at the amazing nearby Blue Earth Café, we ambled back up North, via one of the prettiest back road tourist drives I've done in ages. Starting at Nelligen, it followed the Clyde River for some time, and we were both slightly sad when it ended and spat us back out onto the highway.

In the end we made it as far as Lake Conjola, where we spent the night after attempting to poison the local Seagulls with some sun-baked blue cheese (it was still good and nobody got poisoned).

Lake Conjola Inlet Panorama
The following day saw us head further up the coast, still making it up as we went along (this was one of the nice things about this trip – the general lack of planning).

Murray's Beach, Jervis Bay
We snuck in a look at South Jervis Bay, and one last beach, and just missed syncing up with Jess, and old friend, before heading to Berry, one of my favourite little towns.

As I mentioned before, we used to come here a lot, because my Great Aunt lived up on the hill behind the town. It's a great drive, and so we headed up Woodhill to see the old house (I even snuck in a flight there), before heading down the back to Kangaroo Valley, where we spent the night at the caravan park. It was less "idyllic" than the previous spots, but that didn't stop Anna seeing a wombat in the middle of the night, her first live one in the wild. Gotta love Australia.

Then it was time to head back to Sydney, and ultimately Zurich for Anna. We made good use of the last day, stopping first at touristy Fitzroy Falls and then much less touristy Belmore Falls. The latter was a picnic spot of choice when we were kids, and it was extra-nostalgic to visit.

It was also super scary to fly off, but I'm glad I did, as some of my favourite shots from the trip are taken there.

We headed on to Burrawang after that, another spot from my childhood where my Grandmother used to live, topping off an especially nostalgic and poignant couple of days for me.

Then it was back to cranky old Sydney for farewells and a few quiet days of reflection and catch up with friends/family. All in all the week felt a lot longer than it was, which is always a good sign. Thanks Anna, for voting me best travel mate (or at least a prime candidate), it was awesome.

Home was still 1000km away though, so after a few days rest I headed back, catching up with my friend Katy and Cousin Andrew in Newcastle on the first night. Lovely meals and quadcopter demos were the order of the day.

Then I pushed on, following the coast this time, to South West Rocks, and nearby Hat Head National Park (how cool is that for a name?).

South West Rocks has the famous and amazing dive spot known as Fish Rock Cave, so I figured I may as well stop in for a couple of nights, do some diving and explore the surrounds.

The diving was predictably awesome, despite bad visibility. Here's a quick video to prove it…

The nice surprise though was the beauty of Hat Head National Park itself – there are sand dunes next to the campground that stretch for nearly 2kms, so of course I had to go and fly over them on more than one occasion.

In fact, my day consisted of early morning flight, diving, and evening photo walk followed by more flights with the mini quad, and a bit of guitar to soothe my camping neighbours' nerves as they put their little boy to bed. So a pretty perfect day really.

It started raining that night though, and the miserable weather continued into the day, as I headed off to New England National Park which was to be my final camping spot for the trip.

Trees in the mist, New England National Park
On the plus side, I practically had the whole campground to myself, but on the minus side, the wet weather really set in. I had an amusing attempt at flying in the fog…

…but it was really too wet for anything else.

The next morning was not much better – wind and rain squalls meant that flying was pretty much off the cards, which was a pity because the lookout (imaginatively named "Point Lookout") is utterly spectacular, and would have been one of the most amazing and scary places to fly of the trip.

Instead though, I settled for some time lapse stuff,  that came out pretty well.

From then it was on to Lismore, and one last night catching up with the lovely Annette and Pietro before heading home to steamy Brisvegas.

All up, it was nearly three weeks of fantastic sights, sounds and experiences. Thank you to everyone who helped make it that way. :)

Now, on to the next adventure! In the meantime, here's my flickr gallery of photos from the trip: http://www.flickr.com/photos/strepto42/sets/72157641340879773/

And here's a second compilation of flights, this time flying in "manual" mode which is much more like a plane.