So how did we end up detouring from Western Australia to Byron Bay? Well it went a little something like this.
Michael – Why don’t we detour 3,500kms and spend 10 days in Byron Bay?
Me – Ok, lets do that..
*Thinks to self – “He’s clearly forgotten how much shopping I did last time we were in Byron”*
If you read my previous posts on this trip, you’d know we had a little bit of drama with bushfires and road closures while attempting to cross the Nullarbor. This left us with the choice of camping in a gravel pit in the middle of nowhere indefinitely – while slowing running out of supplies – or coming up with another plan.
After revisiting parts of South Australia that we skipped past the first time, we began our journey north-east to Byron Bay. Crossing in to NSW, our first stopover was in Broken Hill, as we traded turquoise water for red dust. If you’ve travelled through Central Australia, you know that this red dirt doesn’t just get into your camper, your clothes, your hair and your pores – it gets into your heart, into your soul. There is something magical out there in the remotest parts of our sunburnt country and it breaks my heart to think of the devastation caused by the recent bushfires. I’d also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this beautiful country, and the pain they must feel as they watch it burn.
Broken Hill is a mining town in far west NSW and is quite a large town, given its extremely remote location. We were only here for 1 night, and despite having been in the car all day, I convinced Michael to make the most of it and head to the Living Desert and Sculptures to watch the sunset over the outback. Wow. The colours as the sky changed from blue to black were pure magic – yellow, orange, pink, red, purple – and it went on forever. I highly recommend visiting at this time if you get the chance.
After doing the largest load of laundry I’ve done in my life (the glamorous side of van life!) we had brunch at the Silly Goat Cafe. Aside from the heat, we could’ve been in Melbourne, with great coffee, on trend meals and plenty of atmosphere. Fed and caffeinated, we began what would be our biggest drive of the whole trip. The day was spent travelling across endless red dirt, through dust tornados (not what they are actually called, but its what they looked like) and stopping into tiny outback towns. The landscape out here is tragically dry. Creek beds are empty and cracked. Green is non-existent. Businesses are closing. It’s obvious how much trouble these communities are in and how desperately they need rain.
Driving across NSW.
We planned to stop for lunch at a cafe in Wilcannia, but when we arrived the place was practically a ghost town. The only thing still open was the service station, with thankfully also sold (not very healthy) meals, so we grabbed some takeaway and took it to the park.
Dinner was in Nyngan, at the Australia Hotel. The meals here were good and the staff were really friendly (read: really understanding as our kids who had been in the car all day ran laps around the bistro). We had originally planned to spend the night near here, but we were feeling good and decided to push through to Gilgandra. The friendly owners of the Railway Hotel in Gilgandra allow you to free camp in their car park for the night and use their facilities to freshen up in the morning – how nice is that! They also have a cute dog who scared the crap out of me when he snuck up and started licking my feet while I was washing my face!
On day 3 of our detour, we were excited to be seeing the coast again, although we still had 550km to cover to get there. Passing through Tamworth, who were preparing for their huge Country Music Festival that coming weekend, and then having to be escorted for a portion of the highway that was closed as they repaired the damage from fires, the drive took a lot longer than we anticipated.
Tears were hard to hold back as we made our way through the scorched bushland. Even now, weeks later, I’m staring at this picture and finding it hard to write about the feelings experienced in this moment. Sadness for what has happened, yes. But mostly fear and hopelessness. Fear for what is to come if we don’t change. Hopelessness for what will be left for our children, and their children.
Our first stop along the coast was Flynn’s beach (how could we not stop there??) in Port Macquarie. Flynn was very excited to have his own beach, and also curious to know where Archie’s beach and mummy’s beach and daddy’s beach were.
We stayed at the Flynn’s beach caravan park, and feeling a bit lazy, we booked ourselves for a cabin tonight and slept indoors for the first time in a month. Right next door to the caravan park is the Blue Water Restaurant. It’s casual dining with a playground for the kids and plenty of lizards to keep them entertained too. The food and coffee at Roam were great too and Sandbox looked like a cool spot to grab a casual meal after a swim, but we didn’t quite have enough time.
Flynn and I had a one-on-one date and decided to pay a visit to the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. This fantastic organisation cares for and rehabilitates (where possible) koalas that have been injured or are unwell. You can choose to do a guided tour or just walk around at your own leisure. We adopted a koala named Oxley Twinkles before we left too. If you’d like to donate to this fantastic organisation by adopting your own koala, you can do so here.
Every time we visit this little slice of paradise, I fall more and more in love with it. The slower pace of life, the beautiful beaches with bangalow palms, the incredibly creative people opening amazing small businesses, the nourishing food and healthy lifestyle, the warm weather. It always feels a bit like coming home. I even like the humidity, although my hair might disagree!
We’ve been to Byron Bay quite a few times before, but this was our first time staying out of the centre of town (because it was peak season and we booked only a week in advance – we were really lucky to get a camp site anywhere in this region!). We camped at the Suffolk Beachfront Holiday Park and absolutely LOVED it. It’s a smaller park, without a playground, pool, etc., but it’s right on a beautiful and relatively quiet beach and walking distance to a cafe, grocery store, casual restaurants and a pub. To be honest, I was quite happy to be a little way out of town at this time of year – the town centre was crazy busy, especially compared with the deserted beaches of South Australia.
Tallow Beach. If you’re looking for a long stretch of sand to take your morning walk, Tallow Beach has you covered. Stretching from Cape Byron right down to Broken Head, this strip of sand was my favourite way to start the morning. And also my favourite way to end the day with a wine in hand! It wasn’t a super child friendly beach, with a strong rip right out the front of the caravan park, but the boys are still happy just splashing around in the shallows anyway so it was perfect for us.
Tea Tree Lake. As you walk along Tallow Beach, there’s a break in the palms and dunes that leads to the most tranquil tea tree lake. The water is a stunning amber colour and as warm as a bath. The tea tree oil in the lake has healing properties and was used as a birthing place for local aboriginal women. It’s certainly a special place and if you’re lucky (or early) you might even get the whole lake to yourself.
Whether it’s surf, swimming or sunbathing your searching for, Byron has a beach for everyone. A few of our favourites are:
- Wategos Beach. Framed by beautiful bangalow palms, Wategos is a picturesque little cove. The boys had heaps of fun building rock walls with daddy while we were here.
- The Pass. I think this would have to be the boys’ favourite Byron beach. It’s perfect for playing in the shallow water and Flynn had heaps of fun exploring the little rock pools. The only downside is trying to find a car park!
- Clarkes Beach. This beach is known for its dolphin spotting and was the perfect place for our final dip in Byron.
- Main Beach. With a playground for the kids and a pub across the road for daddy, Byron’s Main Beach is always a hit.
Where we ate (and drank!).
There are no shortage of places to fill your belly in Byron Bay! Because we were camping on this trip, we had a lot of our meals in the caravan park and didn’t eat out as much as we usually would when visiting Byron. But here were a few of our favourites.
The Farm. No trip to Byron Bay with kids is complete without a trip to The Farm. This collective of businesses includes a cafe, bakery, ice cream shop, nursery and working farm that you can explore freely. Oh and a great playground! It was absolutely pouring rain the day we visited, but that didn’t stop the boys from enjoying themselves – in fact the swimming pool sized puddle at the bottom of the slide was probably a highlight!
The Loft. We managed one child free night out for the entire time we were away – we left Flynn in charge (jokes!). A friend of ours just happened to be celebrating her birthday in Byron Bay at the same time we were there, so we started the celebrations with 6 million cocktails at The Loft. This was a really cool spot to grab a fancy drink, but I definitely wouldn’t do it with the kids!
Bang Bang. After drinking my body weight in Aperol Spritz, we made our way to Bang Bang for dinner. This Asian inspired restaurant feels like it could be in one of Melbourne’s laneways. The food was delicious, as were the cocktails, and it certainly isn’t lacking in atmosphere. Again, I probably wouldn’t have come here with the boys though.
The General Store. This is one of my fave places to have brunch in Byron. It’s just out of town, towards where we were staying in Suffolk Park. The food is healthy and delicious, the decor is cute and they have a small play area with toys for the kids.
Combi. My go to for delicious, healthy smoothies. The sister cafe is actually walking distance from our home back in Elwood so the boys know the menu very well!
Treehouse. Located on Belongil Beach, Treehouse is a great place for wood-fired pizzas and live music. It was VERY busy the night we ate here and also bucketing rain. Our little music lover, Archie Pie, was mesmerised by the live music which kept him still for nearly 2 hours! Child friendly early on, but it did get a little busy later in the evening.
The Pass Cafe. The perfect place to grab a casual lunch after a swim at The Pass.
Harvest at Newrybar. We first discovered Harvest on our last trip to Byron in December 2018, when the lovely Alita from Temple Farmhouse had organise the most delicious hamper for us to collect. Harvest consists of a restaurant, bakery, deli, edible garden and wonderful area for children to explore – they even have some friendly chickens. And the sunflowers are an absolute dream. Not that there was any sun the day we visited – it was once again pouring rain, so unfortunately I don’t have any photos of this beautiful spot from this visit. Just this one of the boys and I swinging under the deck trying not to get soaked.
Woods Bangalow. As it was the middle of January, Byron Bay itself was VERY busy. And after spending so much time in quiet South Australia, it was a bit of a shock to the system. So we spent a bit of our time visiting areas just out of the town centre instead. We loved our little visit to Bangalow. Woods Bangalow was great spot to brunch with the kids. They have a little toy/book box and plenty of space for the boys to play. There’s some beautiful shops in this area too and the nature inspired playground was really fun for the kids too!
We’ve used Little Wild Things Babysitting a few times when we’ve been in Byron and definitely recommend their service. After 6 weeks in the camper together, Michael and I were pretty desperate for a kid free evening and we felt comfortable leaving the kids with Little Wild Things again – they even came to the camper to babysit!
If you need a break from the beach, Killen Falls is just a short drive from Byron Bay and a lovely place for a swim. It’s no secret though so expect plenty of company. If you have water shoes for your kids (or yourself for that matter) I’d highly recommend taking them along as the rocks under the water could be both sharp and slippery in places. I also nearly stepped on a snake on the walk out! Despite that, showering under the beautiful fresh falls was worth the effort!
Places to shop.
After my previous effort on our last trip to Byron – where I practically styled our entire new home and filled the boys’ wardrobes in 3 days – I’d like to think I was pretty tame this time around. That said, my wardrobe did have a nice little update…
Some of my favourite places to splurge a little in this region are…
- Spell & the Gypsy.
- Auguste. The Label.
- Children of the Tribe. One of my fave clothing brands for the boys.
- Beach People. Everything you could possibly need for a visit to the beach. Towels, baskets, mini picnic tables and the cutest beach buckets you’ve ever seen.
- Habitat. Beautiful homewares.
- Nikau. Florist that features beautiful dried florals, stunning vessels and has more or less styled every retail store in Byron Bay.
Part of our decision in driving the hour and half to the Gold Coast, was just so we could say we visited every state on mainland Australia during our trip. That’s 2 more than our original planned route. I had’t been to Dreamworld since I was on Schoolies. And no, I’m not telling you how long ago that was (it was a really f**king long time ago). So I was just as excited as the boys to visit the theme park. Flynn is still just short of the 110cm required to go on many of the rides, but we still enjoyed the child friendly Dreamworks experience and ABC Kids world. Archer loved the Flying Dronkeys (no that’s not a spelling mistake, it’s a Shrek thing), his first ever theme park ride.
Hot is a gross understatement of the weather the day we visited Dreamworld. The humidity must’ve been pushing 100% (and it hailed golf balls on our drive back to Byron) so it wasn’t long before we gave up on the few rides suitable for a 1 and 3 year old and headed to Whitewater World next door to cool off.
We had so much fun at Whitewater World! Until Flynn quite literally shat himself when the Pipeline bucket dumped 1000L of water on him. But I’ll save the rest of that story until his 21st birthday.
And so after a wonderful 2 months chasing our little ratbags across the country, it was time for us to begin the long journey home. In hindsight, waiting until just a few days before the Australia Day weekend to book our campsites for the trip south was a little silly. Unlike SA and WA, where there are countless free camping options that require little to no advanced planning, the heavily populated coast of NSW requires significantly less spontaneity.
We managed to get a spot at Flynn’s beach near Port Macquarie again, but as we headed closer towards Sydney, things proved more difficult. I must’ve called over a dozen campgrounds – most of whom laughed at me when I asked for a site on Australia Day – before we finally gave up and called friends in Newcastle who kindly offered to have us stay the night.
We decided to detour to Shoal Bay for lunch at the Country Club. I was keen to check out the area as a potential future holiday spot. The Country Club has multiple areas to enjoy their yummy meals and a few drinks and is right across the road from the beach. Despite the hot day and the very inviting bay, we skipped the swim and kept heading towards Newcastle – but not before stopping to literally carry a VERY drunk woman home after she’d all but passed out in the street. I am still not entirely convinced the house I took her to was her own and really hope some poor soul didn’t return home to find her unconscious on their couch after I left!! I’m not sure Michael was too keen on Shoal Bay as our next holiday destination after that experience…
Our final stop along the coast. Just 10 minutes drive from our friends’ place in the southern suburbs of Newcastle, we grabbed a coffee and bite to eat at the Caves Beach kiosk and let the boys have their final frolic along the sand before we began our drive inland (ok that might be slightly dramatic given that we were literally “inland” for 1 night before reaching our own home which is a 5 minute walk to the beach…).
There was a nippers competition in progress and the beach was very busy as a result, but I could see that it’d be a beautiful place to spend a warm summer’s day.
Famous for the dog on the tuckerbox – which we didn’t visit as we stopped here on way back from Jervis Bay last Easter – Gundagai was our final overnight stop for our epic adventure. We stayed at the Gundagai Cabins & Tourist Park which was in a great central location. Unfortunately being the Australia Day holiday, literally everything in town except for the bistro attached to the Bowls Club was closed. I was taught that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all – so I won’t say much about the attitude of the staff here.
After nearly 12,000kms and 2 months on the road we are home. What a journey. Was it easy? No. Was it worth it? Absolutely. We get just 18 short summers with our children and I can honestly say we made this one count. All of us, together as a family.
We hope you enjoyed following our journey across Australia – now it’s time to plan the next adventure in our family camper! Any suggestions?
Click on the links below to continue reading our journey.