Town Tour Byron Bay

Yesterday I did a walk through the town of Byron Bay. Byron Bay is definitely a great tourist attraction, so you can get everything what you need during your holidays, and as it’s now summer holidays, it’s packed with tourists. I walked up the Tallow ridge track to the Lighthouse, from where I had also a good view south to the endless long Tallow beach, where just a view people tried to get a splash in the waves. The entrance to the national park adjacent to the Byron Bay lighthouse is free, except if you’re entering the NP by car. After a few lookouts behind the lighthouse I reached the easternmost point of mainland Australia, and hence already again the easternmost point of my journey for the time being. But no worries, it’s still far west of Kamchatka 😉. From the viewpoint on top of the cliffs, I saw Cape Byron a bit further to the north, but it’s actually not as east as this point. Additionally, due to the clear water I depicted also two groups of dolphins, who had their fun, or probably were chasing for fish in the surf. On my way down I stopped at Cape Byron, before I returned along the long main beach to the town centre. In the afternoon I had a swim in the marked swimming area, well due to the high waves and strong currents…it’s the Pacific ocean and not the shallow baltic sea, you can’t safely make it behind the surf without a surfboard, so I ended up splashing in the waves, as also the locals tend to do.

Tallow Beach from the Tallow ridge
Old Byron Bay train station, no longer served by trains since almost 16 years, but now coaches stopping just nearby on the street, to get in all the backpacker crowds
The Byron Bay lighthouse.
Easternmost point of mainland Australia. Unfortunately, the sign is dismantled and only the brackets are left.
Dolphins were clearly visible from the top (and probably also a turtle, but I’m not sure about that, as it vanished quickly)…
…and also Cape Byron itself.
This new train station, just a few hundred metres north of the old one, and directly behind a road crossing, is just serving a 3km tourist train…unfortunately, that is all that is left of the 132 km original route

Urunga – Casino

Yesterday morning, after the rain ceased, I pitched down my tent. Surprisingly, everything was more or less dry. Sure, due to the humidity it felt a bit soaked, but taking into account the heavy rain during the night, I can’t complain. Then I walked to the wharf, had my breakfast, took a shower, and sat on a bank in the shade for a while. It wasn’t much more to do around here, as the beach wasn’t that appealing. So I waited for lunch time, and then bought some other groceries for the trip, as I decided to leave with the first train of this day. This is not that easy, because the first train stops in the afternoon. Just followed by two others, one only going up to Grafton, while the other late in the night, will be heading directly to Brisbane. Which makes just three trains in total per day, not a very attractive connection. After lunch I wanted to book my train ticket online, but I was one minute too late. Yeah, they’re telling you, how early you can book, but no last minute ticket available online. So I needed to call again and make an booking via phone, because there’s not even a ticket vending machine at this station, and without pre-booking you’re not allowed to get onto the train. As they wrote my email address wrong, I didn’t receive any ticket, so just 10 min before the train arrived, I called them again and fixed this. Well everything went well in the end. The train only stopped three times until Grafton and then rode directly to Casino, but honestly, there was even just one other village we passed on that way. The rest was just bushland (first burnt and then flooded) and meadows with cows. In Casino the service terminated, but there were connections to buses. I was heading to Byron Bay with one of the coaches, as the former branch line to Murwillumbah was closed just in 2004, and another coach was riding directly to Brisbane. I’ve really no idea, why that’s the case, and the train is not riding further directly to Brisbane. It’s much faster with the train, and for sure much more convenient, as to transfer to a bus in the middle of nowhere, even if the buses are 30 years newer than the trains. Probably the NRMA will advise to shut down all passenger services on the tracks in the future, so that everyone is able to be in traffic jams on congested roads, and use the remaining tracks just for coal transport. That’s an awesome idea I guess, should ask Rupert Murdoch for advise 😋.

This grass is already green again…
…whereas this devastated forest, not looks to good right now…
…and this meadow, was still flooded.
My train ticket

Newcastle – Maitland – Urunga

The day before yesterday I continued my journey back to the north. As there was still heavily rain forcasted, I skipped some beach villages in between and directly headed north. Furthermore, some of the villages only served by local buses during weeekdays, and as it was just Saturday, I didn’t want to stay two other nights in Newcastle, with not much, well precisely nothing, to do. I took the earliest train in the morning, which was already 9 o’clock from Newcastle, and needed to interchange in Maitland, as I didn’t want to go back south to Broadmeadow. So I went to the railway station early enough to get a ticket, but that was a problem. They don’t sell tickets at all. So I needed to call a number, and after 15 minutes waiting time, a woman told me, that also she couldn’t sell me one ticket. She only could have sold me a single ticket from Maitland, or one ticket with transfer in Broadmeadow, but not in Maitland. As the last option takes longer and costs more, that isn’t even an option. And as all trains are operated by the same state owned company, it’s definitely not clear at all, why they can’t sell a through ticket. So, in the end I booked my ticket from Maitland to Urungu online, and bought another single ticket from Newcastle in order to tap on, and get through the barriers. The drive to Maitland only took 30 min, even as the train stopped at every single station. There were four non-electrified tracks, two for passengers and two for cargo, which was also definitely necessary. Every ten minutes a fully loaded long coal train, hauled by 3-4 locomotives rode towards us, and the empty ones were riding in the same direction as we did. I guess they operating 24/7 in order to get the cheap coal out of Australia quickly.
As my train stopped at platform 2 and also the next train left at platform 2, and as it started to rain, as forcasted, I didn’t walk out of the station in order to tap off my single ticket. As it was a single ticket anyway, they couldn’t overcharge me, contrary to an Opal card. Once we left Maitland, there was just a single track to the north. The diesel powered XPT train made its way through the hilly hinterland, where we passed several cattle farms, probably also producers of dairy. Occasionally it started to rain heavily along our way, but once arrived in Urunga, it surprisingly had already stopped. Our train was about 15 min late, the walk to the bus stop would have been 4 min, and the original connection time was 7 min. So, you can do the math at your own, why I missed the second bus of the day to Bellingen. And there wouldn’t be another for this, nor the next day, because it’s Sunday. So I walked a bit around and found after a while a nice place in the bush, just a few metres off the road, where I could pitch up my tent, as during summer holidays, prices are ridiculous high. Then I strolled through the village, to the wahrf, and made even a walk a boardwalk to the sea, with my large backpack. And almost every person which made holiday there with their fancy campervan was watching at me. At the beach there were free showers, which I utilised the next morning. For the night heavy rainfall of about 50 mm was forecasted, so I skipped the idea of hitchhiking to Bellingen, as I didn’t want to pitch up the tent during heavy rainfall. Even as I met two young teenagers in the village, and one of them offered to organise a lift for me. In the end I returned to my place, pitched up the tent, once it started to rain. And it rained continously for the next 12 hours, so I slept in the next morning.

The Xplorer train in the morning
Each 10 min a heavy loaded coal train is riding in each direction
The XPT train is arriving in Maitland
Low hanging clouds hanging in the hills
This single track is the only railway connection still in use to the north of NSW
All seats can be rotated by 180 degree, so that you always sit in driving direction. But no charging options, no WiFi or other things you would expect in a modern train
The mouth of the Bellingen & Kalang river
My train ticket 1
My train ticket 2

Excursion: Hawks Nest

Today I went for an excursion to Hawks Nest, after I went for a walk along the wharf in Newcastle. In the last 30 years this side of the river was transformed from an industrial area, with warhouses, railway lines and so on, into a newly recreational waterfront which finally culminated in the closure of the main railway station. They built a battery driven light railway as replacment for the connection from the new railway station to the CBD. Hence, no wiring is necessary, but the tram needs to be charged at each end point, and there’s an inconvenient transfer necessary nowadays. Newcastle is still the deepest water of Australia and the largest harbour to export coal, which brings a lot of wealth into the region, according to the port authority. I walked all the way up to Nobbys head in order to have a view for some dolphins, but actually I didn’t see any. And also the sunset was not visible due to all the clouds.

In the morning I took the public bus to Nelson Bay. We passed the port area and all the big bucket-wheel excavators were in operation in order to get the coal fastly loaded onto the awaiting ships. After crossing the Hunter River North arm we entered the tourist area of Stockton Bay. The total bus drive of less than 50 km took about 90 min, as we did several detours, such as through the small town of Anna Bay. So after getting off the bus in Nelson Bay I walked to the local ferry, not the commercial dolphins and whale watching companies. As the ferry was late, I had some minutes more than expected to wait. The sailing to Tea Gardens, which is just another tourist destination, and now are summer holidays, so the places are packed with families. Nevertheless, we saw some dolphins in the distance in the bay, and also three in the mouth of the Myall river until we arrived in Tea Gardens. As I had two hours time until I took the return ferry, I decided to walk over the bridge to Hawks Nest. It’s definitely a “Nest”, but again full of tourists. So, I just walked to the other side directly to the beach, which is easily reachable by foot…ehm, no sorry, I mean by car also. After enjoying the sea breeze for a while I went back to catch the ferry. Shortly after our departure I started to rain, and so all windows got closed, and we couldn’t spot any dolphin.

The next empty ship arrives for the cheap coal from Australia
Having a railway station is no longer en vogue, and prevent people from going into the nearby expensive wharf restaurants, eventually closed down in 2014
This road section looks like it’s part of the annual car race in Newcastle
Nobbys Head
The bucket-wheel excavators can still be seen, while we are crossing the Hunter river north arm
Just started our sailing in the small passenger ferry…
…and soon later we saw some dolphins
Ich bin Der Picknicker
Busy beach between the flags at Hawks Nest
The entry of Port Stephens itself is between these two headlands

Sydney – Newcastle

Today I finally continued my travel after being more than two months in Sydney, fixing my gear and other stuff, stocking up my supplies and celebrating Christmas as well as New Years Eve. Shortly before sunrise I went to the beach, but as there were too much clouds today, as rain is forecasted for the next days, not much was to see during sunrise. Then I took the bus to Manly and had a nice ferry sail to Circular Quay in the CBD, before I got to Central. In Central I was able to purchase a single ticket to Newcastle. I took the train to Hornsby via the Sydney Harbour bridge, that was the last means of transport across the bridge I haven’t done yet, as I already walked on and over the bridge, took a car and buses, but not yet the train. On the way to Hornsby we passed several suburbs of the northern Sydney area. In Hornsby I catched the Intercity train to Newcastle, which in essence stopped on (almost) all stations, except one, which was only supposed when requested. After we crossed the Hawkesbury and the Woy Woy at the central coast, the train ride went mostly through bushland. Nevertheless, only at one section it was burnt. After Wyong, as the area is not really densely populated, the train stations are not with a barrier, as in Sydney, there was even a ticket check in the train. But after arrival in Newcastle, I needed to tap off in order to get out of the railway station.

That’s all I got from the sunrise this morning
Ferry ride to the CBD
The Olympic pool and Luna park…
…seen by crossing the harbour bridge by train.
Getting through the hills north of Sydney…
…and finally crossing the Hawkesbury river…
…until the train as well as the electrification (15kV DC) ends in Newcastle
My last supper in Sydney…yesterday evening 😉
My train ticket