Following our day trip to the Hunter Valley it would have been very easy to stay another night in Newcastle to recover from all the wine tasting, but instead we asked our tour guide and bus driver to drop us back off at the bus station, not the hostel, so that we could catch the 8pm bus bound for Port Stephens.
We got dropped off in the darkness at 10.30pm in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. We later found it was the middle of nowhere. Actually, the bus stop was only a short walk away from the hostel we were heading to fortunately, and it was much more difficult to find reception than it was to find the actual hostel! After following the reception signs to find it was closed (of course it was!), we followed the sign on that door to another house, only to disturb the owner’s children from their xbox games, who pointed us back in the direction of another hut, we eventually approached a hut with sounds of human frivolity (all in the near pitch black I add).
As we were debating whether this really was the correct house, a huge beast of a man spotted us and came bounding out to greet us. Pete was definitely ‘jolly’ and I don’t mean of the ‘sunny disposition’ kind that everyone talks about when they describe Australian folk. It was late on a Friday evening afterall, and we had interrupted their drunken soiree. He quickly escorted us to our accommodation for the night, telling us to make ourselves at home, watch out for Josie the kangaroo, put the heater on in our room, pinch all the blankets off the other beds if need be, get a good night’s rest and he would sort us out in the morning with a map and local information etc. It was the quickest and most informal ‘check-in’ we had experienced to date.
With five blankets on my bed and tucked up warm, I slept like a log. That was until we were woken up by Josie the kangaroo jumping up and down on the decking outside our door in what must have been the early hours of the morning. Oh the joys of the bush.
After a late start the next morning (we must have needed the sleep after the Hunter Valley experience and all the travelling), we headed off to explore our surroundings. Pete wasn’t around, so we just followed our noses and ended up at One Mile Beach, a stone’s throw away from the accommodation.
We then tried to explore some more, only to find that there wasn’t anything to find, not even a koala bear. We plodded back to our accommodation. Pete was now there and chatting away to a new arrival who we recognised as Eric. We had met Eric at the Newcastle hostel – it’s a small world the backpacker world. Pete talked us all through a local map and what to see and do. Here it was confirmed we were indeed in the middle of nowhere - the local grocery shop was 2.5km away. I am not used to having to travel 2.5km for my pint of
milk and loaf of bread – back home, I simply pop to the local shop around the corner. It was finally beginning to sink in that Australia is a massive country.
We borrowed the push bikes and headed off to the local shops to buy something to cook for dinner that night. As recommended, we combined this cycle journey with a visit to the longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere at Stockton Beach. The dunes go on for some 35km along the coast and 1km inland. As we were there on a very windy day with the sand blowing everywhere, we could understand why they are named ‘moving’ sand dunes!
There wasn’t much else to see in this neck of the woods, and it was still too cold for sunbathing on the beach, so the next day we caught an early bus to Nelson Bay where we knew we could catch the ferry across to Tea Gardens to save time travelling all the way back inland to the highway, en route further north.
Nelson Bay was a small, pleasant and busy harbour town with beach. We stopped for morning coffee and watched the world go by. As we wandered over to the pier later to board our ferry, we were surprised to see a lone dolphin pop it’s head out of the shallow water right next to us. Unfortunately we were too slow and surprised to catch a good photo of it, but we snapped it swimming merrily off!
After an hours ferry ride, now in Tea Gardens, we had a few hours to look around before the bus going north departed. With a little help from Carol, Bruce and Denise – some friendly locals who started chatting to us – we took in the beach at Hawks Nest, Jimmy’s Beach, Windawoppa and Tea Gardens. Carol and Bruce told us how much they loved England and how they wanted to go back for a longer stay and were looking for someone to do a house-swap with. Mark nearly handed our door keys over there and then.
We left Port Stephens late afternoon and headed north. The bus terminated at Taree railway station where we checked the timetable to find out that there was only one train per day – one going south and one going north. Fortunately for us, the north-bound train didn’t depart until later that evening. Rather than stay the night in Taree, we decided to keep moving and jumped on the overnight train with connecting bus to Byron Bay.