PERSONAL

With a friend's wedding in Sydney, my wife Michelle decided we should take a couple of weeks off and drive down from Brisbane slowly, stopping at various towns and seeing some of the NE quadrant of NSW.

We took the coast road down and the inland one back, taking in a Hunter Valley wine tour and visit to the famous Dubbo Zoo.

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Covering around 2500 kms, here's where we stopped:

  • Yamba
  • Nambucca Heads
  • Shoal Bay (Port Stephens)
  • Sydney
  • Cessnock (Hunter Valley)
  • Dubbo (for Western Plains Zoo)
  • Goondiwindi
  • Toowoomba

Yamba was the first port of call and it was great to finally discover why people rave about the place. The township was cute, the coastline spectacular, and it was home to Gorman's - one of the best restaurants I've eaten at, where the oysters were superb. Matched with a particularly gorgeous Semillon Sauvignon Blanc, it was hard not to leave the town with a positive impression.

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The railway museum at Dorrigo was a trainspotter's delight.

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The Skywalk over the Dorrigo National Park rainforest canopy was quite spectacular with views over the Bellinger Valley.

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Quite possibly the coolest little public device ever: a mount for your camera:

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The canopy walk was followed by a walk through the rainforest itself.

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A storm was brewing near Dorrigo on the way to our next destination of Nambucca Heads. Of course I had to stop for a closer look and saw a rather impressive gust front develop with some lovely booms of thunder before it eventually fell apart.

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Recent rain produced some lovely little waterfalls by the roadside as we drove over the Dorrigo National Park.

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Nambucca Heads receives rave reviews by most, but unfortunately, our stay was tainted by strong winds and rain overnight pushing our small tent inwards and onto us as we attempted to sleep.

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Well before the Hunter Valley, which we visited on our return leg from Sydney, we stopped at our first winery somewhere between Nambucca Heads and Shoal Bay.

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Being oyster lovers as well as wine lovers, the 'legendary' status of the oysters in this region caught our attention. We stopped at a small town noted for it's great oysters: Karuah near Nelson Bay. We searched the town, but all the seafood places were closed. I finally asked someone at a petrol station and they directed us down to the oyster merchants on the river bank! The location was exciting, the price was great and the oysters, excellent!

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Shoal Bay was gorgeous. More spectacular coastline, but this time, great weather. The lovely tea-house on the top of the point at Shoal Bay:

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Another point on the bay was home to the remains of gun turrets strategically located and built during World War 2. The view from the top was incredible.

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A quick video was needed to show the full view:

WWII gun emplacement and living quarters:

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This area also comprised a couple of wineries so we visited Port Stephen's winery for a great lunch and Wonganella Wines just behind it for even better wine.

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After our less than jaunty evening in Nambucca Heads in a claustrophic tent through what at times felt like cyclonic conditions, we splashed out on a caravan park cabin, which unbelieveably resembled a luxury hotel room.

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A great time was had at our actual halfway point but original destination of Sydney where on one morning we were greeted with a glorious sunrise over the city.

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A Hunter Valley wine tour was another major stop we were looking forward to. The Tempus Two winery was unusual in its architectural design. I found it a little pompous and touristy but they do make great wine... as do many other wineries in the region.

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Cessnock was our base for the Hunter Valley where we got a rather beautiful sunset. I also shot some sunset and star timelapse video.

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Before taking off for our next leg to Dubbo, we went back into town for breakfast where we could receive a 10% discount in exchange for singing for 8 seconds! I'm ashamed to say we paid full price.

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Most of the wineries in the region are based in the Hunter Valley, but Arrowfield Estate is located away from the hub in what is curiously known as the Upper Hunter Valley. The sign "a dozen bottles for $40" caught our eye. The estate was beautiful but strangely deserted. It was ten minutes before a worker wandered out, curious himself as to where the cellar door staff were. We suspected the "on special" wine would be horrible, but tastings happily proved otherwise and we left with two cases for $100.

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Dubbo was our next major stop for it's famous Western Plains Zoo, owned and maintained by Toronga Zoo in Sydney. I'm not a fan of zoos normally but I was surprised and impressed with the open layout of the exhibits, more closely resembling the animals natural habitats than I'd seen in a zoo before.

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Watch the hippo slow chomping in the video below!

The zoo participates in various international breeding programs for species that are considered to be under threat of extinction. It was noted during a visit to the African elephants that because their numbers in the wild have increased to supposedly satisfactory levels, no more African elephants would be introduced into the zoo, even after the current two elephants eventually die.

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Asian elephants differ from the Africans in a number of ways including the size and shape of the ears, shape of the forehead, and of course, their accent ;)

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The otters were playful, speeding around their pen, seemingly unable to sit still for two minutes.

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The Siamangs were probably the most entertaining creatures we found, no doubt due partly to their human resemblence. Watching two of them interact and communicate with each other was thoroughly fascinating.

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A video of the hippo, African elephant and Siamangs:

The option is available to actually drive around the zoo, but we chose to walk it, and I'm glad we did. The slower pace afforded a better look and more relaxed pace. Trouble was that the impending closing time meant we had to pick up the pace to reach the exit in time.

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At least we were able to walk faster than this giant tortoise:

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We had a rather lovely dinner at the nearby bowls club where we were also treated to another gorgeous sunset.

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The rest of the trip to Goondiwindi and onto Brisbane was photographically rather uneventful besides a wedding I was shooting in Toowoomba.

Thanks to my gorgeous wife Michelle for coming up with the idea of driving and then organising the entire trip. If it was left up to me, I probably would've flown to Sydney for the weekend of our friend's wedding and flown straight home again!