Northern Rivers Kombi Kruising

Friday, Aug 16, 2013 at 14:07


This blog is an exclusive ExplorOz Not-The-Happy-Walk update.

It was getting close to the time I had to go in for surgery at Lismore Base Hospital so I decided to do a little kombi camping before hand. The doctor had warned that I would not be able to drive for a few weeks afterwards but with the apprehension of being "grounded" I relished doing something I often do anyway.

As a bit of background I had started walking around Australia for Lifeline before pain stopped me walking further than Creswick. I needed surgery but had to wait as it was not life threatening. During the wait I spent 6 months camping with my parent's in Bonny Hills, Camden Haven, and with my brother's family in Tuckombil, Northern Rivers, and a bit of driving and free camping in between and on the tablelands when Reggie, my 40yo kombi, wasn't at the mechanics. Reggie is running well now, all the little problems seem to have been found and fixed (until the next one). I was not able to walk any great distance without discomfort so driving has felt like my only escape during this waiting period.

10 days before surgery I packed up Reggie and hit the road. We burbled along the highway to Halfway Creek stopping briefly to let the engine cool at Woolgoolga on the lookout watching the weather move in across Solitary Islands.

Halfway Creek is one of my favourite free camping places between Port and Ballina as it is relatively quiet tucked away behind the service station and restaurant, girls toilets are clean and free, showers are only $2 for campers. food is good, service friendly and fast, flat grassy camp sites suitable for motorhomes and tents and some clearings under trees, some roos and wallabies to watch while relaxing and it is a Coles fuel voucher service station as well (I had a 16c/lt voucher so I filled up with premium!). I often stop here when driving through alone.

Seeing as I will be staying at my brother's for weeks after surgery I decided to explore locally and find other camps beforehand.

For a few years I have wanted to camp at Broken Head after doing a short walk from Coffs Harbour to Byron Bay. I had walked through a carpark at the northern end of 7 Mile Beach that runs all the way from Lennox Head to Broken Head. All the car parks across the top of Broken head have "No Camping" council signs but this one, right at the end of the 7 Mile Beach Rd, still looks to be okay for free camping. No signs saying don't.

It was a great night. I found a patch of flat ground where the door opened onto grass and at hightide I was just metres from the waves. There was another campervan there for the night with a couple who kept to themselves around their little cooking fire under the banksia. All night the sound of the ocean sang it's lullaby fading as the tide ebbed.

At approximately 05:45 the first of the birds started singing up the sun. Different birds joined in as the sun rose closer to the horizon. I wandered down to the water and took some photos of first light before sunrise and set up my sound recorder to capture the harmony of birds and waves. Looking down to Lennox it was cloaked by a pink and purple sky reflecting on the wet sand softened by salt spray. As the sun made its appearance on the horizon the bird calls intensified and the black cliffs of the headland started to show some definition. There were a few keen walkers and runners taking advantage of the crisp air and about 07:00 the surfers started arriving making the best of the break on the southern end of Broken Head. It was a perfect place but during silly season I imagine there would be a bit of night traffic on the beach as there is 4WD access further south and spring tides or storm surges might get too close for comfort. I heard only 2 4WDs on the beach at about 2am but I was tired enough to go back to sleep.

From Broken Head I took a look at a lookout on Coolamon Scenic Drive someone told me was a good place to camp but council had sign posted it since so I enjoyed a picture perfect lunch and some whale watching before visiting the Crystal Castle.

The Crystal Castle is a unique place in the southern hemisphere. It has huge and impressive collection of crystals from around the world including some of the biggest amethyst rocks from South America, massive chunks of quartz and sodalite. Back in the 80s a couple had a vision for their property to benefit others and since that first seed of a dream they have built a huge bamboo walk, revegetated a large section of the property with endemic plants and wild bush foods, designed walks so visitors can meander around the property and enjoy the views, sculpture, art, gardens and ponds.

One of the most important features of this place, and what makes it unique is the only Peace Stupa to be built in strict accordance with Buddhist instruction and design in the southern hemisphere. there are only about 20 odd Peace Pagodas/Stupas built in the world and we have one here. It was opened last year and has become a popular place for people to send their thoughts, prayers and meditations out to loved ones and the world. You don't need to be Buddhist to visit and use the prayer wheels, it is open for everyone with a guided meditation for 5 minutes each hour and at 3pm it is part of the Peace Experience which includes sound therapy and relaxation exercises.

I was here everyday, not just for the atmosphere and quiet meditation but the food at their cafe was super healthy and served up with generous mountains of fresh salad and edible flowers.

My intentions were originally to explore a different free camp everynight but the second night I had trouble finding a good and safe free camp near Mullumbimby and the sun was setting when I gave up and took a look at the camp ground at Mullumbimby Leagues Club. First of all, the road in was badly potholed and I had to avoid trucks coming out of the industrial estate dodging these obstacles. When I arrived at the camp ground the air was full of dust from vehicles. The club was full of people making a lot of noise, bright lights flooded the sports fields and boys and men were running all over the place. I thought I was going to be hit a couple of times by soccer mums racing out of the car park. I was a bit flustered and couldn't understand the map to find the caretaker's office. I asked a helpful camper how much it is before driving in and finding somewhere to park but $25 unpowered seemed too expensive for what I was seeing. Admittedly, the view of the big hill, without the hectic atmosphere, was good but it was also a busy campground.

Consulting my google maps app I found the campground at the showground and it was a completely different scene. Quiet, not busy, grassy, clear air, big trees, caretaker's van easy to find as I drove in, clean toilets and showers with hot water and only $15. The caretakers are really friendly and obviously love their job. It was a pleasant night and beautifully quiet the next morning watching the sun light up the big hill behind town.

Over the next 5 days I kept coming back to the showground campground because it felt so comfortable. Lots of flat grassy ground, power sites (they even let me plug my mobile phone into a power pole without charging me for a powered site) and on Friday morning the Farmer's Market is on just across the field from the camp so you have fresh local produce, homemade breakfasts, locally grown and roasted coffee and live music within less than 200m of your van door. It is also pet friendly :) and lots of different birds use the big camphors circling the old horse track.

Another advantage of camping in Mullumbimby was it's proximity to national parks in the mountains and the coast. Each day I visited Crystal Castle as well as somewhere else like a waterfall, rainforest or beach. The township of Mullumbimby has lots of kombis, so Reggie felt at home, and lots of little shops, something for everyone including bulk wholefoods, camping supplies, hardware, hippie clothes and a new Woollies supermarket.

There are many winding back roads to explore. Small country roads, you know the ones you need to drive one wheel of the bitumen and hope the other vehicle does too. Small towns and communities with cafes, galleries, BnBs, farm stays. A Farmer's Market everyday somewhere and Artisan and Community Markets somewhere every weekend.

The northern national parks are part of the southern rim of a great volcanic crater and are covered in rainforest and thriving sclerophyll bushland. Some of the highlights are beautiful bushwalks, waterfalls, lagoons, nocturnal wildlife, birds and amazing lookouts.

On the coast there are many creeks, rivers, lagoons, inlets, breakwalls, long sweeping beaches with firm walking sand at lowtide. There are a few pebble and boulder beaches and many headlands with walking tracks giving you the option of safety or more daring close to the edge to see the spectacular rock formations. Between the months of April and November there is always an opportunity to spot whales and Australia's most easterly point, Cape Byron, is a favourite place with the lighthouse standing centre as you walk around taking in the panorama in all directions.

My brother's family love living up here and each time i return i appreciate it more. In the warmer months they dive, snorkel, surf, paddle, swim, fly kites, watch the sand artists, join the street dancers and listen to the buskers.

The BIG news though is the rebuild of Ballina's Big Prawn! Yes, you have heard correctly, thanks to Bunnings, the Big Prawn is open again :)

The Big Prawn

So, as I draw to a close, I am very pleased to say that my 10 days of relaxation and meditation definitely helped put my head in the right space for surgery. The doctors and nurses did a great job and really cared for me in hospital. I had less than 48hrs in Lismore Base before they gave me the all clear to leave and so far it has been almost 5 days since the operation and I have experienced no pain and feel better than I have for a very long time. Getting fit again is going to be fun and here, on the Northern Rivers with my brother's beautiful family, is a great place to start.

If you're looking for a beautiful place to tour and loiter for a while you really can't go wrong here :)

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