After a good and well deserved night’s rest, we were up and ready to explore the treasures of Byron Bay – the Cape Byron Lighthouse which was completed in 1901. The lighthouse built atop a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean still looks pristine in its white facade even though it is more than a 100 years old.
The lighthouse is fully automated now and has a secondary function as the base for many visitors to catch humpback whales during their migration. You can even book an overnight stay in the lighthouse premises if you do so at least 6 months in advance. However prices are not cheap.
By the time we got there close to 10am, there were already car and bus loads of visitors milling around the area. We managed to find a parking lot and paid A$7 for it. There is a mini maritime museum within the lighthouse and there are paid guided tours around the lighthouse on certain days of the week.
After taking a few shots of the lighthouse, I found out that there is actually a long flight of steps leading downhill to Little Wategos beach. It took us close to 30 minutes to reach the base. About midway downhill, we passed a signpost marking the easternmost point of the Australian continent and makes for a memorable photo.
Following the path all the way leads you straight out to a rocky headland which affords the most easterly look out point for whales you can find. We were of course not alone here. We waited for about 15 – 20 minutes cupping our eyes hoping to spot some movement in the horizon. Just as I was about to give up hope, I was rewarded with a sudden plume of water shooting out in the horizon.
I thought that perhaps we were mistaken but it was followed not long after by a second plume. By this time, we were all excited and scanned that area for hopefully more whale sightings. At such a distance though, the best we could catch was the plume from the blowhole and the tail fin.
However we were doubly rewarded when we spotted an entire school of dolphins breaking the surf very near us. We could see how they leap out of the ocean just as the waves crest and continue to do so with the next wave. It was totally awesome!! The children were really exhilarated to see nature so close to them. There was one brave soul surfing near the dolphins. Lucky dude.
We had to make the tedious ascent back to the lighthouse to get our vehicle but the monotony of the climb was broken when we spotted wild turkeys and wallabies in the bush.
We left Byron Bay for our next destination close to noon. We didn’t have time to check out the town but it had the hippie beach town feel albeit not as happening as in Asia. The Pacific Highway is indeed only two lanes which narrows to a single lane with a 40km/h speed limit when it passes through a town. Nope definitely not a North-South highway thingy but I guess what’s the hurry?
Our next stop was Lennox Head about 20 minutes drive southwards. We stopped in town for lunch at a bistro called Lime. The unassuming eatery turned out to give us the best meal we had in Australia. They served a fusion mix of Asian Western cuisine and of particular mention is the mango chicken with brown rice. We had to have two servings.
So after a hearty meal, we continued south for a short while until we saw the signpost for Pat Morton’s Lookout. This according to Lonely Planet is the best place along the east coast to whale watch. When we arrived, the operator of a local hand gliding outfit approached us. He offered to bring us out for a glide for A$100 for 30 minutes as they had a very good wind. Theo and I were very tempted to do so but who would look after the children? So we declined.
Pat Morton is a very pleasant meadow/bush to explore and children would love to run around freely. We went as far out as we could and tried to spot more whales. But we weren’t as lucky this round but the little trek was pretty rejuvenating.
Around 3pm, we began our drive towards Coffs Harbour proper. Enroute we did a mini detour into Maclean, a town with Scottish heritage according to the guide book. There was nothing really of interest here although the architecture does look remotely Scottish. Sometimes I wonder why I follow guide books.
After Maclean we followed the River Clarence towards the industrial town of Grafton. The river was supposed to afford nice scenic views… By the time we reached Coffs Harbour it was evening and it had started to drizzle. The change in climate was really stark as we left Queensland proper (bright and sunny) and entered New South Wales (wet and gloomy).
We checked into Park Beach Resort Motel which looked like a mold out of the wayside motels in American movies. The innkeeper was very friendly and we chatted about Singapore a bit as he had visited my homeland before. I asked about the best way to watch whales in this part and he offered me two brochures.
One for the Spirit of Coffs Harbour, a large boat which could hold up to 130 passengers and the other for Pacific Explorer, a catamaran which carries no more than 23 passengers. Both were offering whale watching expeditions – a 3-hour ride out to the Pacific Ocean and back for a reduced price of A$20 per person. That was a steal as I was expecting close to A$60 per pax based on the guide books. I was tempted to try out the catamaran so I called to place a booking for an expedition the next morning.
After putting down our stuff in the room which was nice and cozy fitted with a king sized bed and a mini kitchenette equipped with oven but no stove, we headed out for dinner. In the drizzly and dark, it was pretty hard to make out the roads of the town. The roads were not very clearly sign posted and were also dimly lit.
After making a few maneuvers and checking the GPS continually, we finally stumbled upon the Jetty Village Shopping Center where one can find many restaurants serving mainly Asian cuisine. We chose a Chinese restaurant and had a dinner of MSG laden food. No complaints though in this wetness and coldness.