After checking out this morning, we took a quick stroll in a nearby park to catch a glimpse of life in Port Macquarie. Contrary to my earlier perception, there seemed to be quite a number of seniors basking in the park and angling by the jetty. We stopped to see a few hobbyists reeling in their catch. Apparently Port Macquarie sits on the mouth of the Hastings River which makes it an ideal fishing spot.
Whale watching expeditions are available too and it was a waste as the day looked to be bright and sunny. I should have explored other activities while in Coffs Harbour and left the whale watching to Port Macquarie. Then again, who could have predicted the weather?
Port Macquarie is also famous for it koalas being known as the koala capital of Australia. There are two places to catch them – at the Billabong Koala and Wildlife Park (a breeding conservation center) or the world’s only koala hospital. The former requires a hefty entrance fee (A$60 for the family) but gives you the opportunity to carry and pat the cuddly beasts while the latter is FOC. You cannot touch the koalas here but you can learn more about their plight with increased urbanisation.
We chose to go with the FOC route and were rewarded by the opportunity to come up close with the baby koala (joey) which survived a recent road accident. Koalas are under threat from domestic pets, form a high percentage of road kills annually and are also susceptible to bush fires. There were several enclosures with injured koala rehabilitating and recovering from burns, broken limbs and scratches.
Most of the koalas are sleeping and it is not unusual as I learnt that they spent typically 20 – 22 hours a day sleeping and the rest eating. Pretty good life if you think about it.
After we left the hospital, we continued southwards towards Forster-Tuncurry. Enroute I suggested making a detour towards the town of Wingham where Lonely Planet had highly recommended an award winning bistro called Bent on Food for lunch. What should have been a 30 minute detour turned out to be an hour due to ongoing road works. Just great.
By the time we got to Wingham, it was past 2pm and we were hungry and grouchy. It didn’t help that the registered address belonged to a cooking school that was closed. We made several rounds in the town and by God’s grace finally spotted the bistro along Isabella Street (no.95). The exterior looked simple but we were surprised at the crowd when we entered the shop even on a late Friday afternoon.
We managed to get a seat after 20 more minutes and another 15 minutes to wait for our food. I am not sure if the food tasted better because we were hungry or that after all the effort we coaxed ourselves into believing it is good. Nonetheless the adults and children attacked their food and finished it within 30 minutes. Theo even managed to capture a shot of the sign post with Lonely Planet’s endorsement.
At this point, we had to top up on fuel for the second time since leaving Byron Bay. Our car could hold up to 50 litres of petrol and based on an estimate of 10km per litre, we have travelled at least 500km since Byron Bay, passed Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and enroute to Newcastle.
After lunch it took another hour to hit back to the highway. The final activity of the day was to visit the Myall Lake National Park. Knowing that we won’t have time to explore the whole area, I stopped at Tuncurry’s tourist information center to get more information. Now this was honestly the first time I ever checked out a tourist information center and asked for places of attraction.
The attendent was a middle aged man with a large bushy beard. I was initially slightly intimidated to approach him but soon found him to be very helpful and friendly. When I asked him for ‘what’s good around here’, he took a map of the park and started to mark it with the key attractions of the area and gave specific directions on how to get there.
Turned out that these were the best recommendations I got for the whole trip. Which brings a totally new perspective about travelling. Guide books aren’t really the true source of information, the locals are. But it really takes quite a bit of guts to seek help from them.
After leaving Tuncurry, we continued on the highway for a short distance to reach our first destination – Cape Hawke Lookout. We parked our car and took a quick 15 minutes hike through the bushes to reach a wooden structure aka lookout point. It is about 3-storey tall and from the vantage point, the views of the Myall Lake National Park was breathtaking!
I took a panoromic shot of the area (best shot I can at stitching) and you can just make out how the varied features of the land blend into each other – bush, ocean, lake, town but what was most amazing is the isthmus, narrow strip of land no wider than 1 km that separates two lakes and where our road south lies on. This lookout was founded by James Cook in 1770 and this little bit of history made the area so much more enchanting.
From the lookout we continued on the Lakes Way to our second place of attraction called The Green Cathedral. This was briefly mentioned in The Lonely Planet. Just after the signpost marked Tiona, there is a small clearing with some wooden benches to the left hand side. You can park further up by the road.
There is an almost hidden path flanked by palm trees that lead you straight to the open air chapel which would instantly take your breath away. The pews, pulpit, altar and cross is wood and stone crafted. But the most amazing feature of the chapel is where two tree branches entwine above the altar to mark the symbolism of the union between man and woman.
Come in the evening and the chapel is bathed in the golden rays of the setting sun sparkling over the calm waters of the lake. No wonder it is indeed accoladed as top ten most romantic places to get married.
After being mesmerised by the scenery and reliving our wedding memories, we left the chapel with a light heart, amazed to have chanced upon a hidden gem. Thanks to the recommendation of a local.
Our final destination in Myall Lakes is Sugarloaf Point Lighthouse. It is situated on a bit of coast jutting out into the ocean and near the settlement called Seal Rocks. This village was named after the colony of fur seals that could be spotted in the outlying rocks in the past. By the time we got here, the sun has set and all we could make out are villas dotting the cliff. I guess this is probably some kind of holiday getaway.
The entrance to the lighthouse, second most easterly point after Byron Bay, is closed. Although we did spot a few adventurous people climbing over the gate in the darkness. We weren’t going to risk it so I took a picture of the sign and left the park.
Our pitstop for the night is Jesmond Executive Villas in the industrial town of Newcastle. This isn’t our destination per se but as accommodation in Port Stephens about 30 minutes away was priced quite dearly, we chose a more affordable location. For S$140 a ight, we got a house with 2 queen sized bed, a full kitchen, a functioning jacuzzi and a garden.
However the place was packed with visitors on the first night of our stay so we had to park a few minutes walk away from our house. The children had a nice hot soak in the jacuzzi after their home cooked dinner before settling down to watch Narnia: Prince Caspian. They were fast asleep and snoring before the movie was over. Theo and I were glad to finally have a break from a week long of travelling.