Post 12 of a series detailing our Australian adventure. Access the full series here.
Stifling heat. Bright light. Stiff back. I awoke to find myself in the boot of a car and was very confused for the millisecond before I remembered where I was: inside our hired ‘spaceship‘ at a campsite in Port Stephens.
The sun streaming in through the gaps in the skimpy curtains had heated the inside of the car to a near-unbearable heat and I was desperate to get out. Kicking off the sheets and pulling myself up halfway (there wasn’t the head room to sit upright) I carefully slid to the end of our makeshift bed onto the backwards-turned car seat at its end and got dressed.
I’d booked us onto a whale watching cruise off Nelson Bay with Tamboi Queen and this was our first stop after leaving the campsite. As soon as we found the right boat and climbed aboard we were given a pack of biscuits (to accompany the tea we were told to help ourselves to in the hull) and a pair of seasickness tablets – apparently it was looking like it was going to be a rough journey. And we weren’t disappointed on that front!
What felt like mere minutes into our cruise, the captain announced that some dolphins had appeared at a distance from the boat and, sure enough, looking out across the bright blue waves I spotted them: shiny grey shapes bobbing up and down in the water around the rocks along the coast. That was exciting enough, but when we were further out to sea the dolphins reappeared much closer to us. Steve and I anchored ourselves to the boat’s railings and watched in awe as the beautiful creatures leaped out of the sea in elegant arcs, their wet skin gleaming in the sunlight.
To everyone’s delight, the pod proceeded to draw closer and closer until we were surrounded; the dolphins rollicking in the froth at the boat’s sides. Sitting on the benches at the front of the boat we could look down and see the dolphins’ pointed heads and backs rising in and out of the water, looking as if they were leading the boat in a race. It felt unreal, and just so joyful! The captain explained how the wild dolphins love ‘playing’ with boats in this way and we felt incredibly privileged to be participating in their game.
The excitement over the dolphins distracted us from the point of the cruise: to watch whales! Which unfortunately, due to it being too late in the season, never made an appearance. We weren’t upset, though, as our experience with the dolphins had been worth the trip. And having gone so far out to sea in search of whales, we had a long and very enjoyable ride back to shore. The wind had become much stronger and the waves much bigger, so much so that the boat was literally flying off the top of the waves and crashing back down again with a force that almost lifted us right off our feet! Every time the boat came down with a splash water surged not only over the sides of the boat but also up through the metal grate of the floor, soaking everyone stood on the bow. It was a real thrill and tremendous fun!
Back on dry land, our clothes already dried by the sun, we decided to grab a quick lunch from Subway (which in Australia are probably more ubiquitous than McDonald’s). I had a chicken parmigiana sandwich and Steve a steak and cheese sub. We ate them sat on the edge of the pier, gazing out at the boats in the harbour with our legs dangling just above the water’s shining surface.
After a quick dip into a gift shop to buy a gauzy scarf for my mum, we got back in the spaceship to drive to our next campsite in Port Macquarie. This was a much smaller, independent affair and nicer for it. Our plot was a large patch of grass next to the bathrooms and laundry, making it very convenient, and the campsite owner was very friendly and gave us a map of the local area.
We decided to walk from the campsite, along the shore to the beach, which turned out to be a much longer way than we’d anticipated. But once we’d got past the initial roadside walk, the scenery proceeded to get lovelier and lovelier. Walking along the water’s edge the first things we came to were a group of fishermen and some massive birds with large pink beaks, competing over fish on the muddy banks.
We were then walking between trees in a big grassy park, before reaching a roughly hewn wooden boardwalk with boats tiered to its posts. Further on we met our first of several koala statues, each one painted with a different theme!
But the best part of the coastal walk was the winding path bordered by large stones that had been decorated by the public, in more ways than you could imagine. Poems written by friends, stunning mirror mosaics, zany cartoons, colourful paintings and dedications to departed loved ones (some of which almost brought tears to my eyes) – all of these things and more combined to create a crazily varied collage that somehow worked beautifully. We followed them round until we got to the beach, after which we decided to turn back and find something to eat.
By now the setting sun was imbuing the sky with a romantic glow, creating the perfect backdrop for the evening of our fifth anniversary as a couple. Before returning to the campsite we dropped into Woolworths to buy dinner: some mini meat patties called ‘rissoles’ to cook on the spaceship’s portable gas hob, some bread rolls to serve them in and some blueberry rekorderlig, which sounded too amazing to pass up! Back at the campsite Steve said he’d cook dinner while I had a shower. I thought I was getting the best deal… but I was wrong!
Thus followed a shower so calamitous that in retrospect it seems like a sketch from a comedy show. For starters, the place was filthy and crawling with bugs (to be fair, that’s almost a given in Australia) but, undeterred, I carefully balanced my clothes and toiletries in the cleanest spot I could find. Just a few minutes into my shower and – click! – everything went dark. Turns out the lights were on a timer. Soldiering on in the dark, I proceeded to squeeze shampoo directly onto my eyeball! The pain was searing and it seemed that no amount of water flooding into my eye would soothe it.
Just when I felt that nothing else could happen to terrify me, it did. My blind agony was suddenly interrupted by a male voice coming, inconceivably, from directly above me! After my initial second of terror I realised it was Steve telling me through the vented window above that dinner was ready, but my heart was just about pounding out of my chest.
Thankfully dinner was just the calming experience I needed. Steve had done a great job in preparing the mini burgers and we were able to eat them sat at an iron table and chairs sitting on our plot. The blueberry rekorderlig was just as delicious as expected, so much so that I’m still looking out for it in the UK! By the time we’d finished I was utterly ready for bed but was prevented from going by a friendly trucker who wouldn’t stop talking to Steve. Two beers and some banter later, and myself having falling asleep on my feet, the guy finally left us to make up our bed and slip into well-deserved sleep. We had another packed day of driving and exploring ahead, this time in the Australian rainforest…
All text and photos (c) Juliet Langton, 2015.