After a journey through central west Queensland which you can read about in ‘Trains, Planes, Automobiles…. And Dinosaurs’, we drove into Outback NSW at Barringun. We stopped for lunch at Bourke and our first overnight stop was at Nyngan where we set up camp for a bargain $20 including power. When camping we use the Wiki Camps app a lot and find it very useful. You get honest opinions of people who have stayed in campsites and a good idea of what you’ll pay. We’ve found sites that we wouldn’t have discovered without the app, and given places a miss thanks to helpful feedback from other campers. It was Wiki Camps that led us to Nyngan but when we got there we were delighted to discover that it lies on the River Bogan, in Bogan Shire, and to celebrate this fact, the town has installed an Aussie icon, The Big Bogan.
For those of you who aren’t aware, a bogan is a slang term for a typical Aussie larrikin who displays stereotypical attributes such as; a mullet haircut, wearing a singlet and thongs, sculling ‘tinnies’ of beer and driving a Aussie built car such as a Ford Falcon or Holden Commodore. It can be seen as pejorative but is more commonly used as an affectionate, humorous label for rough around the edges Aussies and is often worn as a badge of pride. You can read a bit more about the term here.
We learnt in Nyngan that in this part of NSW, Bogan is derived from a local aboriginal word meaning ‘birthplace of the headman of the tribe’. However, in recent, years, the town have embraced the contemporary use of the term and in 2015 unveiled a ‘Big Bogan’. You may be aware from our other posts that we’re fans of the ‘Big Things’ you find along the roads of Australia so this was too good an opportunity to miss. We donned our singlets and thongs and channelled our inner Bogan. Sadly, Andy – being somewhat follically challenged couldn’t muster a mullet for the occasion.
From Nyngan, we were heading west to the coast for a couple of weeks housesitting in Gosford. We’ll cover this in a future post so we pick up our travels again driving through the western suburbs of Sydney towards the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. We have previously visited Sydney quite a lot of times so had no plans to go into Sydney itself on this trip. Instead, during the five weeks we planned to be in New South Wales, we wanted to see some of the regional areas we’d not yet been to.
After the dusty outback we’d driven through in Queensland and New South Wales, the southern highlands were quite a contrast. The rolling green hills reminded us quite a lot of England and we commented that the cows here didn’t know how lucky they were compared to their country cousins who were suffering in the drought.
We had booked into an AirBnB at Cambewarra, but on the way we stopped at Kangaroo Valley, one of the main tourist centres in the highlands. It was a pretty town, and reminded us of places in the hinterland of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland such as Maleny and Montville. However, like a lot of places on the tourist trail, it didn’t seem to have much of substance. We weren’t quite sure how any town, let alone one this small, could support not one, but two, fudge shops.
We continued on to our AirBnB accommodation, ‘The Bothy’ which turned out to be a great find. We love the quirky places you can find on AirBnB and this was one of those. It was essentially a tin chalet but had been beautifully decorated by Rosie, our host and provided everything you needed for a short break. It was lovely to sit on the porch as the sun set with a glass of wine. If you’ve not yet booked with AirBnB, follow this link and get a discount on your first stay – AirBnB discount here.
The next day we drove back to the other side of Kangaroo Valley to walk the Three Views Trail in Morton National Park. This was a pretty flat 10km walk but we’re determined to get our hiking practice up for when we visit Tasmania in 2019. As the name suggests, the walk takes you to three lookouts with fabulous views over the Shoalhaven River, Tallowa Dam and Lake Yarrunga. It had been pretty rainy since we’d been in New South Wales so were pleased that clouds parted and we got a bit of sun for the walk.
After our final night at The Bothy we drove to Wollongong for some brekkie and afterwards dropped in to Wollongong Art Gallery. We didn’t have long as the rain had set in again and we had a bit of a drive north to Lake Macquarie. This was a shame, as we discovered that it was the largest gallery in New South Wales. We looked around the exhibitions on the ground floor and were particularly impressed by the exhibition of contemporary artists who had produced pieces inspired by the extensive Mann-Tatlow collection of Asian Art held by the gallery. We decided we needed to come back to Wollongong to do it justice.
We hadn’t really intended to visit Lake Macquarie and didn’t know much about it. However, when we were looking for somewhere to stay on our way to Newcastle we found a bargain AirBnB room at Valentine, a suburb on the lake. As mentioned above, we’ve used AirBnB quite a bit but have only rented entire properties. We had never chosen the option of a room in someone’s house but Jess’s place, The Tree House looked great so we decided to give it a go. It turned out to be more of a unit than just a spare room. We had our own entrance, a living room, bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor of their lovely house. They had kindly provided breakfast supplies and there was a kettle and toaster but we didn’t have access to a kitchen. Ever resourceful, we put our camping gear to work. The living room had doors onto a covered deck, the ideal spot to set up our cook stand and gas stoves so we could also cater for ourselves during our stay.
We had a good walk around part of the perimeter of Lake Macquarie from Warners Bay to the Lake Macquarie Art Gallery. We discovered that ‘Lake Mac‘ is Australia’s largest coastal salt water lagoon and had been the home of the Awakabal nation for thousands of years before European settlement. There was a power boat event being held on the lake a couple of days after we visited and we saw some of the competitors practising as we walked around. Even though they were several kilometres away, the noise of the engines was like a jet flying overhead.
At the end of our 10 km walk we discovered that the art gallery was yet another impressive regional space, and that it was featuring an exhibition on steel. Steel was a major industry for this region until the end of the twentieth century, and we really enjoyed the artworks using steel as the primary material. Although we’re trying to increase our stamina, 10 km plus a walk around the gallery was enough for us. We tried to get a bus back to our car, but mis-reading the timetable we realised we’d have to wait for an hour for the next one, so opted to phone for an Uber instead.
A short drive on from Valentine was Newcastle, New South Wales’ second largest city. The weather was still blustery but that didn’t stop us walking the bathers walk from Nobby’s beach through to Merewether. We immediately liked the oceanfront at Newcastle, it reminded us a little of Bondi Beach in Sydney but we preferred it to its more famous southern neighbour. Maybe, it was because the weather meant it wasn’t too busy (although some brave swimmers and surfers were in the ocean). We’ve found Bondi to be a bit over-rated and it has always been packed when we’ve been there, so we’ve never really enjoyed it.
The walk took us past a couple of ocean filled swimming pools, Newcastle Baths, which opened in 1922 and Merewether Baths, opened in 1935. Merewether Baths are the largest ocean baths in the southern hemisphere, but with the wind whipping the waves over them, we weren’t game for a dip on this occasion.
A walk around the centre of Newcastle revealed some great heritage buildings. The City Hall from 1929 contrasted beautifully with the Council Buildings next door which were very much a building of 1977 when they were opened. The Newcastle museum is housed in the old Honeysuckle Railway workshops. It has an impressive audio visual presentation about the steel industry which is presented every hour. Unfortunately, the rest of the museum feels like a bit of an afterthought. There’s a lot of good information about the history of Newcastle and its major industries, steel and wine. However, it’s arranged in a pretty haphazard way so the stories being told are quite difficult to follow. Nonetheless we spent an hour or so out of the rain and managed to glean some information about the development of the city.
We’d booked a room above a pub at The Lucky Hotel. This turned out to be the best pub room we’ve stayed in. They had recently been refurbished to a high standard and were in a great location to explore the city. Importantly, The Lucky Hotel is also one of a number of pubs in Newcastle championing craft beer, the final reference in our blog post title. A few doors away was The Foghorn Brewhouse so the first two stops on a bit of a pub crawl were decided on. Foghorn was particularly impressive with a wide range of different types of beer, including, unusually for Australia, a hand pump. Most beers in Australia, even craft beer, are propelled to the glass with the help of gas so it was great to have a pint pulled the old fashioned way.
Another highlight for us in Newcastle was to have a meal at a superb restaurant, Subo. We wrote, in ‘Whats Red & White and can be spotted in Airlie Beach in July’ that we’d rather cook for ourselves a lot of the time and then treat ourselves to meals at great restaurants when we have the opportunity. This was certainly the case at Subo, the five course set menu was superb and matched well with a series of wines. The pictures below pretty much sum up our approach to travel; one night cooking on a camp stove on our AirBnB deck, the next enjoying a starter of Burratina (mozzarella pouch) in green tomato consommé at Subo.