From deserted beaches to packed surf breaks, from colossal sand dunes to littoral rain forests, from serene lakes to crystalline coast lines, from clear blue skies to ominous rain spewing clouds – we saw it ALL on our recent road trip from Brisbane to Sydney. In addition to taking in the sights, we discovered that being a nomad in Australia is possible on a shoestring budget!
A little bit of background – coming to work in Sydney was not something we anticipated doing, but a fellow American friend of ours who’s visa is expiring offered to train Jordan to take over his job. After experiencing the “harvest trail” and living in the middle of nowhere, Australia, we decided to take our friend up on the offer and head to the northern beaches of Sydney for a few months.
I’m not saying we’re ditching our honeymoon on the harvest trail idea just yet, but now that we’re here and have seen the coastline we’ve changed our tune a bit. Why spend a year busting our backs on a farm when we can spend it living and working near one of thousands of beautiful beaches? There is a reason that more than 60% of Australians live on the coast!
We made our decision to head to Sydney while we were still on the farm which influenced a few other decisions we had preconceived ideas about. For example we thought we were going to buy a van to live in while on the harvest trail, but decided to buy a fuel efficient car and some camping gear instead since we planned to live in an apartment near the city. I mentioned this in our last blog post about our volunteer experience at Woodford Folk Festival between Christmas and the New Year.
We bought the car pre-festival and spent four days post-festival in Brisbane collecting the essentials for our next adventure – a two week road trip down the coast of New South Wales en route to Sydney.
The Essentials: Nothing more, Nothing less
- 4 Person dome tent and 1 self-inflating 4WD double air mattress – $60 from http://www.gumtree.com.au (Australia’s Craigslist)
- 1 Sheet set (duvet cover and 2 pillow cases) – $6 from Kmart
- 2 Pillows – $5 from Kmart
- 1 Fleece blanket – $3 from Kmart
- 1 Portable gas burner – $12 from an Op Shop (second-hand store)
- 4 Gas cartridges – $4 from Kmart
- 4 Hard plastic cups – $2 from Target
- 1 Folding Camp Stool – $2 from Kmart
- 1 Esky – Donated from Kate and Millie
- All cooking utensils eradicated from the farm (shh don’t tell) or donated from Kate and Millie
Something we learned early on is that it’s easy to collect more camping gear along the way that other people leave behind for various reasons. We picked up two partially broken but fully functional folding camping chairs and some extra tupperware! Simple, wild, free.
January is peak season because the entire month is summer break for schools thus making camp site prices high, but gas prices are at record lows so the costs evened out for us. The average cost of gas per liter was $1.25 up until Sydney where we’ve found it for as low as 99 cents per liter!
The drive from Brisbane to Sydney is only 12.5 hours if you want to drive straight through, but were weren’t in a big rush and wanted to explore as much of the coast as possible. We didn’t go far before arriving at our first destination Fingal Head, just across the Queensland/New South Wales border.
We stayed at Fingal Holiday Park for $43 per night (yikes!), which was the most expensive night of the trip. While the camp site was packed, the beach was not and we soaked up the sun and warm waves immediately.
We spent the next day exploring the Tweed Coast Road and beaches such as Kingscliff, Hastings Point (where the surf was going off), Pottsville, Ocean Shores and Brunswick Heads. For our second night on the road we landed just north of Byron Bay and found a camp site at Byron Bay Tourist Village for $15 per person/night.
The traffic getting into town was crazy, so we would drive to Belongil beach on the north end and could easily walk along the beach into Byron. There wasn’t much of a swell while were were there, but the water and beach was immaculately clean and the waves were good for body surfing.
In addition to being known for the great surf, Byron is touted by locals and travellers for its music scene. You can find live music on street corners, in the parks and in the numerous pubs that make up the town center. I was surprised by the small size of the town and the hippy vibe. I was happy to see the majority of shops and bars/restaurants are locally owned and lots of organic and locally made products in the stores.
On a random side note, we learned that between 1956 and 1962 Byron Bay was a whaling station which is why there tend to be more sharks in the area. Even after all this time, the sharks still come in search of an easy meal. Thankfully Australia is vigilant in protecting beach-goers and helicopters are always overhead keeping an eye out for sharks.
From Byron we headed West to visit our friend Leon who we met on our boat ride from Belize to Honduras back in May. His family has a beautiful property in Huonbrook nestled up in the rainforest between Mount Jerusalem National Park, Nightcap National Park and Whian Whian State Conservation Area. 1980/90’s kids and parents, this area is what the movie FernGully was based on!
On a bushwalk into the rainforest with Leon we saw evidence of all the logging in the past and while we didn’t find any cute fairies, we did have to stop every 20 minutes to pull leeches off our ankles and feet. Eeek!
On their property we also got to see some new wildlife – a snake hanging out on the side of the house near the roof (the first we’ve seen in Oz) and wallabies!
During our stay we also checked out Mullumbimby a quaint little hippy town that reminded me a lot of Bellingham, WA. We saw a lot of people from Woodford had migrated there post-festival and had set up shop with their ukuleles outside of the store fronts.
At the recommendation of Aussie friends we based ourselves in Iluka next and spent a few days exploring the area including Yamba and Angourie which are just across the Clarence River. For $35 a night we stayed at Clarence Head Caravan Park butt up against the world heritage listed littoral rainforest – one of the last remaining in the Southern Hemisphere.
We visited too many beaches to name, but my favorites were Angourie and Yamba. Both good surf spots. Here are some photos of the area, take note of the picture of the lizard Jordan caught and put to sleep by rubbing its belly. Too cute!
Myall Lake National Park was our final stop before heading to Sydney and we were lucky enough to find free camping on the lake which just so happens to be situated across the street from the coastline. On the opposite side of the street, piping hot sand dunes led down to powerful waves at Mungo Brush beach which provided epic views of Broughton Island.
Myall Lake National Park is a really special area and we encountered more wildlife in the form of a big Goanna and had the rare East Coast Australia experience of watching the sunset over the water (lake). It was also the first camp site that reminded us a bit more of home. No kitchen or hot shower amenities. Just a dirt plot, fire pit and toilet somewhere in the woods. That night we bathed in the lake and slept under the stars – it was the perfect way to end our coastal tour of Northern New South Wales.