Nelson Bay to Hawks Nest (16 km by ferry and bike)
We are on the traditional territory of the Worimi People
July 13: Nothing opened for breakfast before 7:30 am, so we packed up and parked our bikes outside Momas just as the doors were opening. Breakfasts were delicious full cream yoghurt and homemade granola, poached eggs and thick slices of sourdough bread. We then cycled back to the docks and caught the ferry across the harbour to Stockton, where a path took us along the North Channel of the Hunter River, past Newcastle airport and onto the B63 parallel to the Stockton Bight Sand Dunes. At a service station, where we had stopped to look for food for a picnic, we chatted with a man who gave us directions to a good bakery and told us that he had just seen a group of kangaroos near the road that we were to take. Unfortunately, we missed the kangaroos, but we did see an emu! We weren’t sure whether it was domesticated or wild, as it was near farmland and it rather tamely came across the field to check us out.
Saxby’s bakery/cafe was a bustling place, with a huge selection of Aussie pies, not all of which were meat-filled! We chose some to go and then Wayne and Lois each separately asked for what looked like cinnamon buns. This request met with a puzzled look until the server realized we were pointing to savory buns made with Vegemite! Down the road, we stopped at a small store advertising fresh avocados. In addition to various avocado-related kitchen items and other products, the shop sold different varieties of avocado and avocado oil. We bought 3 perfectly ripe locally grown Haas avocados, which, the proprietor assured us, had never been squeezed!
Eventually, we turned off on a road leading to Birubi Beach, the northern most section of the vast beach and sand dunes of the Worimi Conservation Lands. The view was spectacular. These lands cover 4,200 hectares, 1,800 hectares of which are forest, and 32 kilometres of the longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere. “The dunes reach heights of over 40 metres with slopes up to 60 degrees which form a much sought after location for film makers”.
As we ate our lunch at a picnic table above the beach, looking our over the sea and sandscape , we spotted the spray of humpback whales currently migrating north. On land, large 4WD buses and camels carried tourists out on to the dunes.
Leaving the beach, we rode through Tomaree National Park. Posted signs warned drivers of koala bears crossing the road, but none were to be seen today. Nelson Bay was our destination where we will be taking a ferry across Karuah River tomorrow morning.
July 14: After discovering the night before that the 08:30 ferry to Tea Gardens is not running, we had to change plans. The first ferry leaves at 11:30 am, meaning we would not begin the 60 km ride to Blueys Beach until nearly 1:00 pm, too late to ensure arrival before sundown, currently around 5:00 pm. We quickly changed our hotel reservations and booked rooms for tonight at the Hawks Nest motel on the other side of the river.
The crew hoisted our bikes onto racks on the top deck while we piled in below with all our panniers and a full boat of passengers.The 50 year-old wooden boat, originally a military vessel in Sydney Harbour, runs a ferry service across the estuary of the Myall River to Tea Gardens and Hawks Nest on the northern side of Port Stephens. This area is popular for dolphin-sighting cruises and swimming with the dolphins. Approximately 150 bottlenose dolphins live in the estuary. Due to the presence of a large sandbar in the middle of the river, the ferry crossing took more than an hour, passing by a mangrove forest and saltmarsh. No dolphins were sighted.
We stopped in Tea Gardens (after the Australian Agricultural Company’s failed attempt at tea cultivation) for lunch on a sunny but chilly patio and then headed across the “Singing Bridge” (named for the sounds produced by strong south-westerly winds in the bridge railings) to our motel in Hawks Nest. On the way, we cycled around the perimeter of the Koala Reserve, hoping to spot one of these elusive (and nocturnal) creatures. The motel receptionist told us that the bears do not stay in the reserve, but prefer to move around to find eucalyptus and mahogany, their favorite food.