Having chosen our chariot to whisk us away on our journey north, we loaded what belongings we had, and departed Sydney. Besides the shift from driving on the right to driving on the wrong (left) side of the road, I began to notice a strange development in my sense of direction. Whenever driving North, I felt as though we were driving south. When driving South, I felt the opposite. I suspect that there is some sort of internal compass we all possess, some sense that is in line with the Earth’s magnetic field. I felt like I could sense the South Pole and its corresponding energy flow, and that this reminded me of the electromagnetic field that flowed North in the Northern Hemisphere. To my seeming extra sense, what I was used to as the feeling of North was the same as the feeling of South, and hence (I reasoned) my confusion. Add to this the fact that it got warmer the farther north we went, and I was feeling like we were in the land upside-down under. I’m sure Captain Cook and the old naval explorers had a much worse time of it than I did, and I was thankful that I had a map to guide me to my destination.
Part of the deal with our rental was that we would be able to drop the car off in Brisbane, some 900 kilometers North of Sydney. Our rough plan was that we would fly out of Brisbane to our next destination, or at least settle in that area during the winter, as the wintertime climate was much nicer than that of Sydney. Again, the reversal of polarity, as North meant warmer climes.
We decided to spread the trip north over 4 days, although the total driving time is only about 10 hours. We wanted to see what the different areas were like by actually staying in them, and as anyone who has done road trips with kids can attest, the shorter the drive, the better. We decided on an area known as Byron Bay for our eventual destination, as it sounded like our kind of place; a nice seaside town of less than ten thousand people known for its alternative lifestyle, with the Green Party running city council, good surf, and still some good ways from the hubbub of the Gold Coast and Brisbane.
Our first day driving was spent largely driving around various towns in search of the supplies we suspected we would need to carry out our quest. This also involved re-purchasing some things that we had bought in Hawaii, but had left behind, being too difficult to travel with. The town of Newcastle proved quite lucrative in this regard, with plenty of thrift stores, sporting goods stores, outfitters, and no coal. As our first full day on the road drew to a close, we started to think about where we wanted to end up for the night. Diligently leafing through the Lonely Planet guidebook, Theresa found a place called Seal Rocks that was supposed to be quite beautiful, but was also quite out of the way. Trusting the intuition of my faithful navigator, we turned down to tree lined road that our map had assured was the way to this legendary locale. As exhaustion crept in, we found ourselves on a bumpy dirt road in the middle of nowhere, with at least 45 minutes of back road driving ahead of us. For a split second, I doubted the research and map reading skills of my wife, only to remember that she had far more travelling experience than I did, and so I put my doubt aside, and put my faith in her intuition, and the fine writers of Lonely Planet.
There came a moment when we debated just pitching the tent at the side of the road, but by the power of our wills, we slogged it out. Finally pulling into Seal Rocks at about 10:30, we discovered that the only accommodations in town were at the Caravan park. For those of you in North America, a caravan park is the Aussie equivalent of a campground, with hookups for RV’s, tent sites, and often as not, private cabins. There was something about the sound of a cabin just across the street from the beach that appealed to our romantic nature, and something about the thought of setting up a tent a 11:30 at night with two tired children that made us ready to rent a cabin. Though dingy, somewhat musty smelling, and definitely the epitome of a beachside cottage rental, the soothing sounds of the waves made it feel like paradise. That feeling was taken to the next level come morning. The sounds of seagulls awoke us, and stepping out of our cabin, the sight of the bay, curving off into the distance, ringed by sandy beaches and bluffs, immediately banished any lingering doubts I had from the night before. Paradise found.
Enjoying some French press coffee and some light breakfast, we meandered down to the beach, expecting to see throngs of people enjoying this magical place, to be greeted by the only person who seemed to share our enthusiasm for early morning beach time. A man in his late forties was busy pulling freshly caught fish out of a bucket, gutting them, cutting off the heads, which he would throw onto the beach, and putting the ‘cleaned’ fish into another bucket. A crowd of seagulls and pelicans had gathered, and were taking turns through an uneasy truce at darting in and grabbing the fish remains. Soon, they had cleaned up the detritus, and the man wandered off to enjoy the remains of his catch. Not another soul in sight, Violet practically tore off her dress, and proceeded to chase seagulls and pelicans, as naked as they. Cyrus and I explored the nearby bluff, giving him the opportunity to test out his camera, purchased in Hawaii for his birthday, and discovered (not for the first time) that large waves violently meeting rocks make for a surefire means to get wet. Luckily, the camera stayed dry, although we did not.
After a light lunch from our meager supplies, we set out in search of a store. Along the lone beach road, we discovered a rundown surf shack that had two packs of twinkies, some eggs, and three bags of chips. Surf lessons, board wax, and leashes, no problem. Sustenance? Not so much. Best head back out of the village, to where some real shops lay. Needs were apparently simple in Seal Rocks, and we had the feeling they preferred it that way. As we spent the rest of the day exploring the other local beaches and checking out the fantastic California style architecture, we fell in love. There was something about Seal Rocks that we could not, or I still cannot put into words.
Although it was a very small community, with an equally small beach, there was a feeling there that left us thinking about it every day since we left. It was 45 minutes from the nearest grocery store, and yet a part of us wanted to just spend the rest of our time in Oz there. Or even the rest of our lives there. We started to browse a real estate mag we found in the surf shack, and wondered if we could make a living shucking oysters and feeding pelicans, but reasoned that we needed to see a little more of Australia than just 200 km of the coast line North of Sydney. The decision was made to continue our journey north. And yet, as we drove away, we couldn’t help but feel like we had stumbled upon a great secret, one that would linger in our hearts and minds for years to come.