Day 4 Tuesday, March 19th 2013, Port Macquarie to Bellingen
It’s a cool morning with light cloud, it obviously rained overnight but we didn’t hear a thing. We are surprised to find that the duplicated road has now ended so we must be more careful as it constantly changes from one to two lanes and back again, will this highway ever be completed? We leave the highway at Kempsey and follow the broad Macleay River to its’ mouth at the holiday town of South West Rocks. The sight of the morning mist over the river and the small dairy farms is well worth the drive. South West Rocks was once a penal colony it has wide sandy beaches and directly in front of the shops there is a small cove called Horseshoe Bay. The bay is fringed with Norfolk Pines, a few keen surfers are waiting for waves. The caravan park is wedged between the beach and the shops, how fortunate! Down by the creek, the undergrowth is thick with lantana and vines and the air is filled with the smell of the rich vegetation.
A sign somewhere on the highway:
“Your missus called, bring home some hay”
Around the next bend:
“Hay, Straw Mulch”
Back on the highway, we take the Bellingen turn off to the left. After only a few kilometres of heading inland, I believe that we’ve found paradise. There are picture-perfect dairy farms lush with green grass, the Bellinger River, and the Great Dividing Range provide a steep backdrop. The town of Bellingen has some beautifully kept original civic buildings, shops, and houses. There is an abundance of organic produce and cafes and a feel that the population is made up of both farming and artistic alternate lifestyle seekers.
We see a sign declaring $10 lunches at the Federal Hotel and we’re “in like Flynn”. Intending to stay on the coast somewhere but having some time to spare we head inland in search of a free camp that was listed on the Ozcamps website as being one of the best at Thora. We drive through some of the most beautiful country, lush pastures, groves of nut trees, and the wild section of the Bellinger River. Sadly, I think we may have given up the search just shy of finding it. Totally enamoured of the area, we drive back into Bellingen and decide to stay at the showgrounds for the night as it is the only camping area in town.
The showgrounds are quite grassy and in need of a good mow but there are clean amenities, toilets, showers, power, and water. It is a lovely spot and the rainforest is right behind us. The town is only a short walk away across the river causeway and there are a couple of other vans around us. The warm afternoon sun is too good to waste so we settle back with a wine and a book. As the evening draws in our neighbour begins to strum his guitar and he is certainly quite proficient, so Woody relegates me to a seat beyond the poultry pavilion to practice my ukulele, but I do have an audience, a little kingfisher sits on the fence, cocks his head and listens.
We settle in for a quiet night of TV watching My Kitchen Rules. At 9:05 there is a harsh rap on the door and the neighbour tells us to keep the noise down! I reckon he’s just envious of my ukulele skills.
Towing Kms: 149Kms
2020 Note: Thankfully the highway that has claimed so many lives is now duplicated, and most sections are now freeway.
We returned to South West Rocks in 2014 and toured the Trial Bay gaol. In 2017 on our Road to Nowhere trip we camped for a blissful week beside the creek at South West Rocks. It is an interesting town and offers so much for the inquisitive traveller.
Bellingen is still a favourite place for us, and we never miss a chance to pop in. The natural beauty of this valley always takes our breath away. We also never pass up a chance for a lunch on the back deck of the Federal Hotel either. It is a classy pub with an inventive menu and the quality never fails.
If only we’d continued up the Waterfall Way we would have easily found the grassy campground beside the river at Thora.
Over the years I’ve discovered that ukulele playing, no matter how bad, attracts birds.
I can’t believe that I took so few photos of this area that can best be described as perfectly idyllic!