I took to the road over the five day Easter weekend (Good Friday and Easter Monday are national holidays here and Anzac Day, the Aussie Memorial Day, fortuitously fell on the Tuesday). Having read that Roadside Australia can be just as impressive as Roadside America, I devised my mission: to see as many of the Big Things in New South Wales as possible. I covered 2100km on this quest. This was my first time driving on the other side of the road but I managed to return my compact Holden Barrina without a scratch. I'll admit I turned into the wrong lane several times, but luckily only in small towns where no traffic was coming at me.
Day 1 - Sydney to Port Macquarie
I started off on Good Friday morning, heading up the Pacific Highway. I had been warned that traffic would be horrendous on the holiday weekend, but I had no problems until I got just north of Newcastle. Then the highway became a parking lot. I think I moved 10km in 2 hours. There seemed no escape. We would inch along, then sit for 10 minutes, then inch some more. People got out of their cars and played football on the side of the road. I'm still not sure what caused the back up--the radio just blamed the sheer volume of cars. Eventually I got to a scenic route turn-off and I took that to Gloucester before rejoining the Pacific Highway just south of Taree.
Along the highway in Taree, I spied the Big Oyster. The Big Oyster made me a little sad because its glory has faded. I don't know if it used to be the Taree visitor center, a souvenir shop, or a seafood joint. Now it's just an empty shell, shucked aside and forgotten. I could see furniture and boxes piled up in the Big Oyster, so I guess it's just being used as storage.
I continued up the coast to Port Macquarie, arriving in time to see the sunset at the beach. This photo it taken from an overlook point where I stopped to have a look at a lighthouse.
I stopped for the night in Port Macquarie at the Port O' Call Motel, where I was welcomed by the very friendly husband and wife owners. I would have enjoyed spending more time in Port Macquarie as there are some beautiful beaches there-camel rides are even offered on the beaches. There is also a rainforest preserve in the area. But, I had no time to laze around on the beach...I had big things to see.
For my $4 admission, I had the chance to tour the bull, the animal nursery and take a hay ride with Farmer John. Farmer John made us nervous by looking back at us in the wagon while driving the tractor. He delivered a steady stream of commentary about everything from the Olympics to his early farming practices such as the use of DDT. His farm angst was worthy of a John Cougar Mellencamp song but delivered with good humor. There seemed to be a little Orwellian Animal Farm action going on in the nursery. Here a goat climbed up on the sink and turned on the faucet. For such a small operation, Farmer John seems to do pretty well-a busload of seniors arrived just as I was leaving. They picked the cow-themed gift shop clean.
After bidding adieu to Farmer John, I headed north to South West Rocks. I stopped there to tour Trial Bay Gaol. Built in 1886, Trial Bay Gaol was a prison until 1903 and then used again in World War II to house "enemy aliens." I continued north to Coffs Harbour, the tackiest resort on the central coast and home to the most commercialized Big Thing--the Big Banana.
The Big Banana is a complete family fun destination. The
Big Banana itself is 11 meters long and you can walk through it. Inside
the banana, some shabby displays talk about how bananas are grown. I took
the plantation tour. A monorail took us around the plantation through
the banana groves and past these frightening Fruit Gods.
if they weren't scary enough, our tour guide told us about the legend
of the Bunyip,
a mythical Loch Ness monster type creature said to live in various Australian
water holes. Of course he told us this tale as our monorail passed a swampy
man-made lake and the head and tail of a dragon-like Bunyip soon emerged
from the murky water, making me recall Jaws on the Universal Studios tour.
We stopped to see banana plants up close and to learn more than I ever
wanted to know about hydroponics and the banana growing process. Our tour
guide pointed out the toboggan run and ice skating rink and showing us
the construction site for the new indoor ski slope they are building.
To keep the theme going, I checked in at the Big Windmill motor lodge, which features an "authentic" Dutch restaurant inside its Big Windmill.
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