We spent half a day exploring Newcastle (not all that much to see save for some good fish and chips) and had planned to go to Stockton Beach for the next few days, maybe even have New Years eve on there. Stockton Beach (you’ll see soon why we were all excited for it) is a national park, and it turned out they have “temporarily” banned camping about 3 years ago. That meant we could only do daytrips on the beach and had to find another place to camp. So into the forest we went again, at Karuah reserve. Some nice muddy roads with lots of big deep puddles.
I get a bit too enthousiastic with these puddles (like a little kid with his new rubber boots) so my car got extremely dirty from the drive. We also started seeing some burnt out and rusted wrecks in the forests here too (these of course alert my rust-sense).
The campsite we ended up on was free and quite busy, but it would do. That night things got interesting, it probably turned into one of the funniest and weirdest nights I’ve ever had. Amanda, a purple-haired Australian girl that had quite a few drinks started talking to us and things just spiraled from there. She insisted on the craziest things and wouldn’t take no for an answer, all while her boyfriend was around talking to us as well. I don’t often laugh this hard while being weirded out at the same time!
Our plan to get up early the next day was foiled by all the crazy antics the last night, but we managed to leave only a little later than planned and said goodbye to Amanda who was just as cheerful as the night before. When we got to the beach and bought a permit at the gas station, the amount of bad-ass 4×4 cars in- and deflating their tires (as is required for driving on sand) was pretty impressive. We were getting pretty hyped for this beach from seeing the crowd attending it.
This guy won my prize for “most bad-ass 4×4 so far”. He only painted it 3 months ago with rattle-cans and it was already peeling and rusting, nice! Just too bad it was a petrol automatic and not a diesel manual like our cars.
I was excited and a bit nervous for the sand, as it is the absolute hardest thing I’ve done with my motorcycle. It turned out much easier in a car if you keep some things in mind like keeping the speed up, shifting a lot, and generally just going full throttle all the time. Turns out that last bit was just barely sufficient with my non-turbocharged diesel engine, some hills I had to try twice or even avoid while Chris and Mike just powered straight up them.
Driving on the beach really was quite special. Only a small area allows driving between the dunes instead of on the beachfront, about 4-5 km or so of the total 28 km beach length. I felt like I could just endlessly take amazing pictures of our cars in the sand with the sun burning down on them.
Another reason I was very keen on visiting this beach, is that there’s more than just sand and dunes to see.
The wreck of the MV Sygna, a 53,000 tonne Norwegian bulk carrier that ran aground in 1974 during a big storm. Half of it was removed but some of the wreck is still there, forming a big attraction on the beach. Lots of cars will be parked up near it on the beach front. It’s believed the wreck will completely rust away within 10 years from now.
We decided we were going to drive the whole 28km of the beach to the other entry and then find some camping.
I wasn’t as enthusiastic with racing around the dunes as Chris and Mike at times, so sometimes I sat around and waited for them to appear again from behind some dune top. Their car was easy to recognize from a distance because of the rooftop tent on top.
I took a drive with them while we were parked up for lunch, we went to try and tackle the biggest, baddest dune of them all. Chris and Mike each had a few tries but they never made it to the top. When we saw a new, fancy pickup next to us struggle with it as well we didn’t feel so bad about failing anymore!
When we set off to drive the whole beach length after lunch, we ran into some evidence of how sand driving isn’t as easy as some people think. An Asian guy had completely grounded his fancy Hemi V6 Jeep Cherokee, and some cool Australian 4wd’ers where all too keen to use their trucks and toys to pull him out. All the while the guy’s lady was sitting in the stuck car rolling her eyes and trying to ignore all the people taking pictures of it! They got it out eventually with the winch. Luckily this couldn’t happen easily with my car since it is so high and has some really big ground clearance.
Another major attraction at Stockton, which we drove by at first but then returned to on my insistence, is Tin City, a hodgepodge collection of rusty old fisherman shacks among the sand. It was such an amazing place that I’ll do a separate blog post on it, this group picture of everybody but me will have to do for now.
That night we went to a free camping on another beach, called Samurai beach. We knew in advance it was a nudist beach and camping, but clothing was optional, not banned. Once we got there, we saw lots of naked old guys. When I got out of the car, and turned around 5 seconds later, Zac had already lost all his clothes and was rolling in the sand exclaiming his happiness. He really likes nudist beaches.
I didn’t get any pictures of nude people (it didn’t seem right, you know), so instead I have one of a really bad-ass Toyota Hilux on the camping (on the left) that I was quite jealous of.
That night me and Chris and Mike had some fun fixing our cars. My horn had broken and we ended up swapping their old horn to mine, and installing a new air horn in their car. They also helped me out with fixing some of the wiring mess the previous owner had left. It’s great having guys like them around, that know how to fix things. Me and Chris both agreed that days where you get stuff like this done, are the best days!
We had been told that evening that we could face a hefty fine for not carrying our own portable toilet onto Samurai beach (understandable, I’ve experienced what it’s like when people go to the toiler everywhere on a campsite). We decided to just get out of there really early. It was amazing how quick everbody could pack up when facing a 400 dollar fine. We decided to just go back onto Stockton beach since it was so fun. The picture is of a burnt out car wreck on the Northeastern entry that looks like it could be straight from Iraq.
Chris and Mike told me all of a sudden there that they felt like they wanted to move on. They had plenty of valid reasons, time pressure being one of them, to not travel and linger as slowly as I do. They decided they’d want to spend New Year in Byron Bay, having about 32 hours to get there from that moment (it’s 630 km). They said I could come, but I decided not to, not in the least because Byron Bay is extremely crowded at this point and even finding a camp-spot would be a difficult and expensive affair.
Seems like Byron Bay is just very attractive to some people, Hedda left us as well over a month ago to head exactly there.
Zac really loved it, here’s a picture of him singing some sad Chinese love song. He decided he’d head back to Sydney instead of stick around with me and Phoebe. She was still joining me until she’d have to leave the country in about a week from then.
“But Laurens, before we go, do you want to go racing on the beach?” Mike asked me. There’s only one answer.
That moment, after we crossed the 28 km again and drove up a dune to chill and have a beer, was the best I’ve had so far in Australia. The music on the radio station (Triple J, I love it) was just great for that moment. Zac busted some cool freestyle moves, I sat on top of Mike and Chris’s car while they drove some slow circles, and everything was great.
Then I said goodbye to the guys.
Me and Phoebe continued on, we headed for an inland campsite in the countryside, as so many things were fully booked (yes even campsites) so close to new years eve. We ended up at Country River Camp, ran by an older couple. Keith offered us a spot on their lawn at a discount, away from other campers. He was quite a talker, we heard at least 4 stories of how he fought with truck drivers (and won) back when he still lived on the coast.
The last day of the year we drove to Seal Rocks. There was a great beach and we just chilled and had lunch. Phoebe’s a good person to travel with, she’s a wise and experienced traveller, more so than me I think.
Here’s a cool contraption I saw there, a boat with wheels that just drives in and out of the sea. I never knew it was possible to drive wheels like that, I’m not sure if it’s driven by the outboard motor though.
Despite how lovely and nice their signs and shacks look, the guys who seemed to run this turned out to be the first locals ever to be unfriendly to me, asking me to move my car in quite a rude way when I’d stopped out of the way to check my phone. Bummer.
We climbed the short but steep way up to Sugarloaf lighthouse, quite a good view and nice surrounding area.
I could see there was another 4wd beach nearby. Despite the fun I had, I didn’t really feel like going again straight away, it burns a lot of fuel and de- and inflating my tires takes a bit of time. Plus it wouldn’t be the same without Chris and Mike…
We camped on a camping in those hills to the right. New years eve was not very eventful, I kind of like it that way. Compared to some travelers we met at the camping in the first photo, who were paying 400 dollars each for some kind of feast with view of the fireworks in Sydney, I prefer just camping in the bush pretending nothing happened.
Here’s me sandboarding the next day. Going down is fun and fast. Going up not so much. I actually ran up the first time and felt OK, but was destroyed by the second attempt. Phoebe tried twice too and felt the same. We barely made the walk back to the car alive.
That evening, things with my car took another turn for the worse. The engine sound changed noticeably when driving. I figured I might have been pushing it hard in the sand and found the air filter dirty and up for replacement. The next morning a guy even came up and said my car sounded like it shouldn’t, suggesting I should talk to his cousin Greg who was also on the camping. Greg turned out super nice, we took the valvecover off and found out one valve was stuck, making the car run on 3 out of 4 cylinders. Unfortunately fixing that would take quite a bit of work and money even when doing it myself. Greg figured I could keep going without too much problems, the car would just be down own power (which I’d noticed already).
The problems with my car are basically my number one source of worry here, and they do put a bit of a damper on my enthusiasm. I’ve gotten to a point where I’ve spent so much on it already, that any more would be crazy. But then again, I did spend so much on it already, so it would be a waste not to try…
Anyway the next day I saw my first Koalas. Not wild ones out in the bush, but at least not in the zoo; we went on a free tour of the Koala Sanctuary in Port Macquarie. They’re not terribly exciting, since they get so little energy from those eucalyptus leaves, they have to spend most of their time sleeping. They do look funny and fluffy.
Bad weather was approaching for the coming three days, so there wouldn’t be much fun to be had while camping. We wanted to stay in Port Macquarie, but all hostels were full and trying to find couchsurfing hosts turned out impossible. I’m getting a bit desilussioned with couchsurfing, it doesn’t matter if I try in advance or last minute, it’s always a no. Often they’ll say yes first and then cancel last minute, or they’ll leave us hanging until the last moment with a “maybe”. Not sure if I’m even going to bother with it in the future. Seems like the only way to find a host successfully is to be a pretty girl requesting with a single guy, haha.
So we just drove on for 2 hours more and ended up in Coffs Harbour, a bit early.
So right now things are just all vague. Phoebe will leave soon, I will be alone I think, which might be a good thing. All these financial issues with the car have me thinking I should maybe get another job. I heard from Amanda’s boyfriend that fishing jobs in Coffs Harbour can be very lucrative and that they might even take anyone. Cold calling around for a job, sounds exciting, I’ve never done that before!
Here’s the map of the past week: