My Local Aussie Escape – Shoal Bay & Newcastle Region NSW 2021
Just in case you were wondering where I’ve been hiding these past months, in not uploading more travel blogs I have finally managed to sell our house (my brother & I) in Northern Gold Coast, just north of the Theme Parks in Queensland and relocated some 300klms South, close to my hometown of Grafton in a seaside village called Yamba. This was no easy feat if you knew the background to this and to ‘downsize’ from an enormous house to a smaller rental property to search for our new abode, whatever that will be. The move required several trips, mostly in the teeming rain & lots of it and it was all done by myself & my brother. We were bone soaked so many times. Relocation brings a few challenges but I’ll endeavour to catchup and find my new routine and/ or purpose in a much smaller community. Yamba brings me closer to my family of cousins and holiday friends plus the amazing six beaches and the Clarence River (The Big River).
Months prior to selling the house and with our Ireland trip cancelled last year (2020) we, (an ex-gf & I) arranged, due to no international travel due to COVID we sought out a more local Aussie trip through my association with Wyndham Resorts and with great luck we scored a 2 week escape to Shoal Bay/ Wyndham/Ramada Hotel for April 2021. These resorts are booked well in advance so to get a rushed holiday apartment is like winning Lotto when successful. I was able to book 2 solid weeks too in the one apartment without having to swap rooms.
The main purpose for this escape is for my ex-gf to get away for a break and a complete chill out seeing her holidays were always a long way off and restrictive. With being in Yamba, NSW In March 2021 I was able to catch the local 380 bus to Grafton ($6AUSD) to be picked up the next day after I spent a sleepover at one of my favourite cousin’s place where it is always a great catchup & company and we throw in a superb pub dinner meal too. Bus travel is required now that I don’t possess a car .. yet.
From Grafton to Shoal Bay is about 5hrs road trip travelling 100klms/hr due South on the new divided and upgraded Pacific Hwy. Such easy travelling now on this uninterrupted roadway (most towns are by-passed). We broke the trip at Port Macquarie and in this case, wasted time & effort. Worst coffee EVER!! Yuk! Travelling further South we took the first off shoot (Medowie Rd) towards Nelson Bay skirting Salamander Bay/ Soldier’s Point first & then Nelson Bay to the neighbouring Shoal Bay, a very quiet bayside village. You have to travel slightly further South East to Fingal Bay to get a full ocean look.
Checking in to Shoal Bay Wyndham Ramada was a breeze and receiving the 1st floor bay views with balcony. The Ramada also incorporates The Shoal Bay Country Club (SBCC) which is the prime dinner/ coffee & nightlife spot for this area. It has a great setup and always quite busy, especially at night time and public holidays. We are central to this little commercial area.
Watching over the quiet bay with sailing vessels moored haphazardly you instantly get a sense of calmness. Notice the straight lines of the night lighting off the headland in one of the photos. Lots of elderly people live here and a significant quantity of young families come here to visit, as it offers the best walking areas and sandy areas and gentle swimming for toddlers and the like. It is the perfect spot for walking or fitness activities. Property here is quite valuable adjacent to the coast and most of the beach shacks have disappeared by replacement, although a few blocks back from the bay they still exist and a few are under major renovation.
Shoal Bay is only 2.5klms wide from the Nelson Bay Lighthouse (Nelson Head) in the West and the Eastern headland supporting the old World War 2 naval defence rock forts at the ocean entrance, just passed the Tomaree Lodge on Tomaree Head. Tomaree Lodge is a vacated nursing home now used to accommodate a few Parks workers, etc managing the Tomaree Parklands (National Park). This 2.5klms stretch allows a full pathway for walkers and cycle riders along the water’s edge with outdoor bench seating & tables to use. If you look closely at times, you can see pods of Bottlenose dolphins and porpoises, coming close to shore. Nothing seems to disrupt them, even with the splashes from swimmers and toddlers enjoying the 100mm bay waves. Surfs up!! Lol.
Unfortunately, the best attraction here is the Tomaree Summit Walk at the headland which is a Gradient 3 trek (Medium) to walk up and look back to a 360° view, mainly to Fingal Bay & Nelson Bay/ Salamander Bay. This walk is barricaded now due to the enormous volumes of rain this region experienced from January to March this year. Over a metre plus of rain water fell here in short bursts causing major erosion, land slippage and tree ‘avalanches’. One photo here shows the volume of water that came from behind and entered the Lodge sheds, smashing the doors out below the Tomaree Summit Walk. Not sure when this walk will re-open as it will take major restoration. I was looking forward to wearing my trek gear again and walking the trek frequently and to take the off shoot down to the War Bunkers on the other side (ocean). To keep our exercise going we walk around 5-6klms each day but it’s not that motivating walking virtually the same coastal path and suburban streets. It also serves the purpose of filling in the day.
Weekends and public holidays are exceptionally busy here and parking is a premium along Shoal Bay Road but keeps the ‘entertainment’ in car & people watching. Are you getting the drift of how quiet it can get? We are balcony viewing for any action. Lol!! Major shopping is done in Salamander Bay (Mall Shopping) and a slightly lesser street shopping in Nelson’s Bay. My Uncle Don lived his best retiring years here at Soldier’s Point Caravan Park and he loved the people and area fondly. He would walk across the road to play his beloved lawn bowls and win the odd meat raffle. Sadly, I never got to visit him here and cook up his meat winnings.
Over the days we are both struggling in what to do to keep active. You can only sit around and read, sunbake and write travel blogs for so long. We are using every opportunity to have good dinners and sometimes that is eating out which is a bit limited here. My sit-in friend cooked up an amazing Salmon meal on a Sweet Potato base one night, purchasing the goods from Salamander Mall. Yummo!! Our apartment only has a kitchenette so it’s a bit of a struggle and you have to be very careful not to set off the fire alarms here or your holiday becomes extra expensive. The Fire Brigade call out is around $1,250.
These apartments retail around $160 on a good deal to the normal $300 a night, depending upon bedroom numbers, season peaks & off-peaks, etc. Belonging to The Wyndham Group my room averages out at around $127/ night all up taking in the formula but I don’t shell out this cost every time, as I’m an “Owner” whereby I have paid over time to get 33,000 points annually. This holiday takes 29,750 of my points. My left-over points accrue for a max 2 yrs. Come this September I get another 33,000 points to book further time away. I do have a monthly levy to pay for apartment maintenance costs, etc though, but it ensures I have holidays & good ones too.
One day we decided to travel to Newcastle CBD river & ocean foreshore for a walk around. The trip via the coast road is only 63klms/ 1 hour away so not too hard. Just before entering the true Newcastle, we crossover 2 bridges and transverse along the wharf setup showing enormous loading plants for grain & coal. Ocean tankers and the equipment were huge!! The Newcastle Coal wharf is the largest coal export terminal in the world so it is impressive.
Getting into the CBD was so easy compared to other major cities. We found free parking at the headland and walked most of the headland walk along the mouth of the Hunter River where the giant coal and grain tankers enter & depart. We were walking into a strong headwind and the temptation was to great, so we took the easy option at the half-way mark and returned for a well-earned coffee break and a late breakfast. We walked about 2klms all up just to find a decent sunny outlook café and that was found high on the road opposite Newcastle Beach at the Estabar Café on Shortland Esplanade.
We walked around after for about an hour, saw nothing special, apart from the Light Rail Infrastructure and surprisingly we headed back to Shoal Bay seemingly slightly unimpressed on the lack of attractions. We were back by 1pm. Go Figure! Newcastle is basically a very large town .. not a city in the full statement.
After a few more days of lounging, I thought I would give my friend a few days grace for her own space and chill out time. It can be quite confining in an apartment. I was hoping I could meet up with another cousin living in Newcastle but that was not meant to be. On Thursday (our 6th day), I booked an inner-city hotel (not cheap either of course) and caught a 2pm connecting bus right out the front of the Wyndham Ramada and it dropped me off at the Newcastle Interchange for a miserly $6, 90mins later. I walked 100m and travelled the Light Rail for 2 stops as my Clarendon Hotel was located adjacent to the Civic Station which is the city council sector and the Civic Theatre. The bus & rail have a credit card system, tap on/ tap off which is fantastic and easy but the locals use an Opal Card for regular use. My Light rail cost was $1.. Wow!
Thursday night, after check-in I went walking for food and a quiet beer. I walked West as nothing was showing up on Google Maps so it was virtually flip a coin decision. My 2nd Eldest son, Matt, rang whilst walking and still found nothing in the 25mins I spent on the phone. It was a great chat, thanks Matt. I finally found a place after walking through some unlit streets (mugging paradise I think) somehow finding my way back to a place when Matt first phoned. I did a large loop coming to rest at The Newy Burger on Hunter St, a hundred plus metres from my Clarendon Hotel. I took the hint and entered and ordered a very spicy Southern Fried Chicken Burger with a beer. The beer schooner was just enough to quell the fire and spice of the chicken.
The next morning, I figured heading East to get the morning sun and surely there will be a brekky café nearing the beach area. It’s a normal business day and surprisingly, there is hardly a soul about .. is there another COVID lockdown I don’t know about? Nearing the beachside I only found one café well occupied but the cold wind tunnel affect and lack of direct sun warmth was not for me. I kept walking further up the steep hill to the South … & came across the same café my friend I spent at a few days prior (Estabar) but wanted to see what the next-door café was like; plus, they had better seating on the footpath dining.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed. What a great café, Liquid Gold Beach Café was. Exceptional staff and service and the most heavenly coffee I have had for ages .. & I mean ages!!! They were so helpful too in explaining the local area setup and facilities. The Acai Bowl was also excellent. Well worth the visit. They are located on the street above Newcastle Beach called Shortland Esplanade.
Walking further South along the coast pathway I saw much more of the aggressive coastal waters and rockcliffs from a high view of about 100m, several parks and nature areas protected by the local council. Below the roadway the council is reclaiming more of the ocean rockshelf for more community activity and access and construction is well underway. Keeping to the coast road I came across the Memorial Walk (Anzac Memorial Bridge), a sky elevated bridge pathway linking up the next headland. It was dedicated to our World War 1 Veterans. The walkway was opened the eve of Anzac Day 24th April 2015 and coinciding with the opening of the Newcastle BHP Steelworks in 1915. A lot of people gather daily to view the ocean on this walkway and you get a great view of the city scape and over to the tanker wharves to the North and the surfing beach below. I showed some viewers the pod of some 30+ dolphins below where it was a case of people looking .. but not really seeing all the beauty below.
I was after a good shopping centre for some purchases I desperately needed (not much available in Yamba), so I kept walking South & turning right into Parkway Av towards Junction Fair, being the closest according to my phone map. This is an upmarket area with very large houses and as you can see in a photo, I came across a replica style Mexican House, complete with mounted cannons, window barriers, a very large typical Mexican door and a lot of security to boot. I sneaked a photo out of camera range in case I was found out. This house was a stand-out, like a red flag and so different to any other street houses.
Junction Fair turned out to be another satellite shopping centre with nothing much to offer. My next attack would be to venture further out into the suburbs so I screened the nearest bus station and picked the route to Charlestown via Kotara. My luck returned when the bus pulled up outside the Kotara Westfield Shopping Centre. Now this is more like it!!! I spent hours here, having a well-earned lunch, buying some essential goods and writing more of my blogs relaxing and people watching. Sitting down, a very old man was struggling with his walking cane and trying to put his foot long Subway into his shopping bag. It seemed obvious he was going to store this at home & for future meals. He was short of a good meal and you could tell he was doing it tough. I offered my table and he was most gratified for the assistance. I tried several ways to buy him a coffee or similar but he was most proud, so I respected that and didn’t want to over force my gesture and he left with a very gracious smile.
Again, I caught the bus back to Newcastle CBD and seeing the former Newcastle City Council building structure (round white building) I decided to get off earlier than expected. Walking about 2 blocks to my hotel I walked past a unique place called the Foghorn Brewing Co. Yay! .. I have found tonight’s eating place, not far from my hotel. I checked back into my room and unloaded my daypack and sat back for a quick recovery and then ventured back to the Foghorn Brewery (Newcastle’s only on-site brewery eatery).
I arrived at peak time and it was completely full. Buzzing! Within a few minutes, a vibrant young lady, Halle appeared and instantly I was most welcomed. She arranged for me to share a high table with other diners and showed me how this place operates and menu choices. She was superb and kept checking on me through the night. In her break she spent time with me, talking about anything plus my travel experiences. We just clicked!! It was fantastic to see such a young person (18) being super-efficient, thoughtful, vibrant and doing such a wonderful job, especially when the place was packed. She even thanked me for my time and said good-bye when her shift was over. We could have talked for hours. Halle loved my Wobbly Chook Brewing Co T shirt I was wearing too. I’m sure the other staff and managers saw my cousin’s brewery T shirt too. It will open in July this year. I even provided my super feedback of Halle and the brewery to the Foghorn website the next morning I was so impressed. I was basically the last to leave the premises too.
The next morning, I checked out of the Clarendon Hotel and had brekky at The Blue Door Café in the adjacent arcade whilst families were enjoying the pop-up putt-putt venue with Disney characters. Such a great family outing. Caught the Light Rail again to the bus interchange and waited for my Shoal Bay/ Fingal Bay 130 bus to get me back there around noon. My friend did miss me but enjoyed the serenity of clear space for those 2 days and I could tell she was much more relaxed. It usually takes a week plus for anyone to start unwinding from their working life.
The rest of our stay was easier and I spent more time at the SBCC to hang out, people watch and travel blog. We came to the decision to return to Grafton earlier to enable my friend more time to get things sorted at her home. It didn’t bother me as I had no urgency to be anywhere. We broke our road trip at Bulahdelah and the breakfast and coffee at Café on Main, Stroud St, was absolutely divine with most of the good’s home grown or baked. A scrumptious brekky and coffee and of course I ventured back into the shop to pass on our applause to which the staff humbly accepted. Country people are just so pleasant.
It was an easy trip back in sunshine which was the complete opposite of our journey down in teeming rain. We got to see so much more from the highway. Before long we were back in Grafton and was dropped off at Market Square in the main Street, Prince Street for the Yamba 380 bus. I had to wait an hour so I perused the local market stall in Market Square. I noticed my Yamba neighbour doing her honey stall there as well. Her stock seemed to have sold well. My bus awaits and this time it cost me $2.50. Bargain!
I’ll leave this blog here, now that I arrived safe at my new rental Yamba home. I’ll start to upload my next blog of my two Sapa Vietnam treks next.
Thank you again for reading my blogs and I trust you will stay safe, happy & healthy, especially through this COVID-19 pandemic and for 2021 to be a far better year. I do not receive any commissions &/or ‘perks’ from the above nominated businesses & locations as I am purely happy to provide the acknowledgement and connection.
I always look forward to seeing the feedback so don’t be afraid to comment. My next blog/s will be more of the amazing Vietnam experiences and quite a few were life changing, & not just for me.
Live life to the most and a quote that I truly love is from Eckhart Tolle ..
“If I am not the hero of my life … who in the hell could be?”