31 August to 5 September 2019
Ballina to Evans Head, 40km
to Woody Point, 60km
to Boundary Falls, Gibraltar Ranges National Park, 171km
On Australian Father’s Day weekend we drove to our mystery destination at Evans Head. All we knew was that the billboard promised a caravan park beside the sea and we hoped that meant warmer night time temperatures.
When we arrived we found a small town with an enormous caravan site bursting with families celebrating their dads. We got the tent up in 23 very hot and sweaty minutes!! We also finally realised that the last couple of times we had put the outer sheet on the wrong way round and so finally had it looking right. The neighbours were very friendly including these very tame crested pigeons with their mother of pearl coloured tail feathers. Even the pigeons here are exotic!
Closer to the beach we were warned of less friendly neighbours and hoped that, on the basis that the koala warning signs led to no sightings, these would have the same effect.
Evans Head sits right on the mouth of the Evans River (another example of Australia’s very literal place names!). The river looked very shallow for navigation with sand banks emerging at low tide.
From the caravan park we crossed the river for a lovely, long walk around the headland, climbing up from Shark Bay (none seen) to Razorback Lookout for views back to the entrance to the river and down the coast.
We continued along to Joggly Point where we got views to deserted beaches beyond and descended right down to the rocky beach.
On our return we found the river very low and this pelican just casually hanging out watching these fisherfolk.
There was not much to the town at Evans Head. The focus of community life seemed to be around the Bowls Club (or Bowlo to the locals) and the RSL (Returned Services League, like our Royal British Legion clubs only with a lot more gambling!). We thought we would try the Bowlo for a night out and some promised Chinese food. Inside its bright, cavernous space we found it packed with families enjoying a quintessentially Australian meat raffle. The table groaned with more meat than we’d seen in a while and everyone seemed very eager to win it. Feeling a bit out of place we retreated to try the RSL instead. Stefan felt that experiencing a night in an RSL was an important part of my Australian education! Having signed in as temporary members we went upstairs to a place that is best described as a cross between a JD Weatherspoons pub and a bingo hall. In one corner the pool team practised for their next match, in another solitary drinkers sat at gaming machines. Somewhere in between we sat and had a meal (fish and chips for Stefan again!) and sat staring bemused at the Keno screens. No matter how hard we tried we could not understand how to play it, which is probably no bad thing!
But the relative bright lights of Evans Head could not keep us enthralled for long and we went again in search of a more remote bush campsite.
Just a short drive south from Evans Head we entered the Bundjalung National Park. We stopped first at 10 Mile Beach (guess how long it is!?) for a drive on the sand and for Stefan to take a walk with the seagulls.
From there it was another short drive through the trees to the campsite at Woody Point. Immediately we entered we knew this was going to be a special place.
We were greeted at the entrance by a grazing kangaroo and her joey and once the tent was up (we didn’t time it this time as we’re not sure we’ll beat 23 minutes!) we made a cup of tea and took it to sit and look at the sea. On our way I had my first encounter with a Gould’s Monitor lizard. It wasn’t small, over a metre long, but as long as it was walking away from me and I could keep an eye on it through a lens it really wasn’t that scary. I might have felt differently had I bumped into it in the dark of the night on the way to the loo.
A twilight walk around the campsite gave us an introduction to the variety of birds in the park including the masked lapwing with its funny Batman style mask.
But it was the kangaroos who emerged to feed on the grass as the sun set that had me mesmerised. I sat almost close enough to touch this tiny joey who stuck her head out of her pouch to join her mum in nibbling the grass.
And when I got back to the tent I found we had a very friendly neighbour indeed. Stefan quite rightly said “It’s like living in a zoo!“.
By now we both felt completely back to normal after our Aussie flu experience and having done a few relatively short walks were really feeling the need for a good stretch of the legs. So we set off on a walk along the beach to the tiny town of Iluka on the edge of the park. We started at the black rock platforms that shield Woody Point from the force of the Pacific waves and which are home to large colonies of seabirds.
For many kilometres we walked barefoot along the sand until we reached the Gondwana rainforest, a protected and world heritage listed stretch of rare coastal rainforest. It is home to amongst others the yellow robin and lots of strangler figs.
In Iluka we found a busy bakery serving coffee and pastries to fuel our return to the campsite. We walked back for a bit along the road where signs promised sightings of emus and koalas but really we would have had more chance of seeing Elvis had we returned on 16 September!
After 19 long kilometres, we were greeted home by our new friends
and were invited to join our human neighbours, Steve and Debbie from Bribie Island, around their fire to watch the sunset. They, and Debbie’s brother, Tony were great company and a great source of information and advice about places to see on our travels.
It was hard to leave Woody Point. It was a really special place, right beside the sea and amongst all the wildlife and as a campsite it is going to be hard to beat. It had, however, given us another taste of camping in beautiful remote places so we went in search.
But first we had to go in search of another blanket. The nights were still just that little bit too cold for our two fleecy Kmart blankets and we were heading up to nearly 1000 metres above sea level. So, having said goodbye to the sea for the last time before we headed inland, we stopped at Grafton where we found a Target to get a third blanket and a Woolworth’s to get some more groceries. We knew that the further inland we went into the outback the fewer big supermarkets we would find.
From Grafton we turned west. We had lunch at a rest stop just above the Mann River with lovely pastoral views and the company of chickens. We also chatted to a couple from Tenterfield also enjoying their picnic. They had recently returned to settle there from a six year tour of Australia. We realised we were only going to scratch the surface of this vast country!
From the river we started to climb in the Gibraltar Ranges National Park. There for a small fee we could camp in an area of the forest near Boundary Falls.
Facilities were more basic than any of the campsites we had stayed in before. Just a clearing in the trees for the tent, a small fire pit and a little way away a drop toilet. No running water and no electricity. There was another couple in their caravan about 300 metres away but apart from that we were pretty much on our own. That’s if you don’t count the termites who had made their enormous homes in the trees!
We put up the tent and Stefan lit a fire to keep us warm. By 6.30pm it was pitch dark and after cooking and eating I wasn’t much enjoying the silence of the forest. We had become so used to the rustle of birds and animals in the trees and bushes at night that not hearing them made for an altogether more spooky experience. I retreated to the safety of the tent to read.
Despite our extra blanket we had a very cold night and decided against staying a second night.
Before we left we had time to explore the evidence of the logging activity which has been taking place in the area over the past century including finding this abandoned and rusty old steam engine. We also made time for a short walk to the Lyrebird Falls nearby. We saw nor heard the eponymous lyrebird nor the falls as it has been so dry but its cliffs were sheer and high.
Before leaving the park we stopped at the Raspberry Lookout for incredible views south across the Bindary-Mann wilderness. That wilderness seemed to stretch eternally into the distance
After staring at the ethereal views for a while, it was time to descend to a town which had my name on it…