PORT MACQUARIE, AUSTRALIA- It’s a stormy day here in Port Macquarie. I spent the afternoon roaming the downtown Opp Shops (opportunity shops, aka second-hand stores) for an ever-elusive set of cheap binoculars. I’ve been after a pair for a while; there’s an impressive ocean lookout from Tacking Point Lighthouse, which is rumored to be a great place for whale watching if one is patient enough, lucky enough, and alas has a good pair of binoculars with which to find a whale. While I was fruitless in this pursuit, I did succeed in getting caught in one of the many springtime thunderstorms. I took the opportunity to sit on a bench and watch the lightning strike across the Hastings River, the body of water downtown Port Macquarie is situated upon, which made for quite an impressive sight.
The past week has gone by pretty much in this fashion- lazily exploring the sights of Port Macquarie and the surrounding area. Sunday morning I woke up early and was given a coastal tour by Roger, a local fisherman whom I was put in contact with through my Aunt Liz. There’s really no match for learning about a place like being shown around by a local, and Roger took me to some places I never would have known about had I been on my own- not the least of which is the above view from the summit North Brother in Laurieton.
Earlier in the week a bunch of us piled into the van, threw some surfboards in the back, and headed to a smaller beach for the afternoon. It couldn’t have been more than an hour before the storm clouds rolled in, and we sensed a big one coming brewing. Back in the van we went, storm-chaser style, to Tacking Point Lighthouse for a better view…luckily, we were some of the first people there, since a crowd soon gathered to view the spectacle that was this storm. Suddenly, Phoebe (lead storm-chaser) spotted a water spout off to our left….and another….and another. I caught a lot of footage of these twister-like phenomena; they’re quite a sight to behold. While the water spouts never approached land they did appear to move in our direction and while this was quite an exciting prospect, it was a daunting one as well since they are sometimes known to morph into real tornados when they strike land. One thing I’ve been told is that Australia (the land-mass) does everything in quite spectacular fashion, weather in particular, and after that day I would quite have to agree.
The following day I went down to the Hastings River at low tide with my German buddies Chris and Hans for a little fishing…they were told at the bait & tackle shop that this was a good time for a nibble, and that a) we would not need any weights for the line and b) that we wouldn’t need any bait either. Wading out until we were waist-deep, we spent a few hours aimlessly casting the line. After conferring with a few local fishermen, we were told that a) we absolutely needed weights for the line, and b) we were never going to catch anything in the river without any sort of bait. Lesson learned. Maybe we aren’t born fisherman, but hey, that’s what this trip is all about, right? Learning new things. However we did see a pair of dolphins swimming in the river not quite 5 meters from where we stood, which at first gave us a start but proved to be a great response when anyone inquired as to whether we caught any fish- ignore the question, but respond with “we saw dolphins!” and our lack of spoils was soon forgotten.
On Thursday I took a trip to Ellenborough Falls with my buds Jess, Phoebe, and Astrid, who all work at the hostel. It was a refreshing experience to drive in a private car as opposed to being in a Greyhound Bus or on a guided tour—you have the ability to stop wherever you want and travel at leisure. Australia’s terrain is quite impressive, and the route to the Falls showcased a good deal of topographical variety, from the tropical palm-tree like feel of the environs surrounding Port Macquarie to the verdant mountainous farmlands filled with sheep, cows, goats, horses, and of course, kangaroos. The Falls are “off the beaten path” to say the least, it takes about 45 minutes on a winding semi-paved dirt road snaking through the Bush before you emerge in a small clearing with a parking lot and a scenic overlook from which you can see the waterfall. After a few snapshots, we descended 500m (20 minutes) worth of stairs to arrive at the base of the waterfall, subsequently checking off a week-long aspiration of mine to swim in a lagoon at the base of a waterfall.
I’ve made the Executive Decision to stay in Port Macquarie for another week, though this was partially influenced by the dearth of cheap accommodation in my next destination, Byron Bay, due to “Schoolies”. Schoolies is essentially a three-week party where Aussie teens flock to the beachside towns to celebrate the graduation of high school, and doubles as a scourge to the likes of backpackers such as myself competing for housing on the cheap. My general plan is to meander up the East Coast for the summer, ultimately ending up in Cairns, where you can dive the Great Barrier Reef. Thus I’ll be passing the next week learning to surf, planning the rest of my trip, and nurturing my rather formidable Fu Manchu--Movember was, after all, started by the Aussies and what kind of man would I be if I didn’t join in on the fun?