Last weekend I travelled by car to Forster on the mid north coast of New South Wales, Australia. Forster is approximately 4 hours drive from where I live near Penrith and Penrith is about 60kms from the city of Sydney - at the bottom of the Blue Mountains heading west.
My trip to Forster was to visit the younger of my two sons and his house-mate and his labrador, Lizzie. Aaron and Helen have been living in Forster now for a few months and this was my second trip up to see them. Of course my four-legged hairy mate, Shaye, went with me.
It was a beautiful weekend and the drive up was without drama. The only frustration was about 23kms of roadworks that slowed us down to 80kms an hour and made the trip a bit longer. I've been travelling to Forster since I was a child; with my parents for a number of years, then as a parent with my own children for quite a few annual holidays over a span of years. I always loved the time I spent at Forster, but of course as time marches on, so does progress. The Forster of today is nothing at all like it was in my memories. I guess I'm lucky to have had the times I did have there when it was a sleepy little holiday destination with a great caravan park. Most of the holidays I had there were spent in that caravan park and I am happy that it still exists although the water front around that area has changed a lot, and in my mind, not for the better.
There is now a large shopping centre just a short way out of the main drag that caters for almost anything a person would want or need to buy. There are many and varied shops in the township itself where once there was just a handful. Flats and units seem to have taken over most of the land near the water but the one saving grace is there are no high rise.
Driving across the bridge from Tuncurry to Forster or vice versa is one of the most delightful bridge trips anyone could have. The colours of the water are just beautiful to the eye, with the sandy bottom making the colours change with the tides. There's a lot of water around Forster - there's the Pacific Ocean and then there's Wallis Lake and Smiths Lake. Water water all around but none you can drink!
I decided to take the Lakes Way off the Pacific Highway to travel the last 60kms or so to Forster. Never again! We always took that road because the turnoff the highway is quite a distance back from the next turnoff that takes you through Tuncurry. I found the Lakes Way very rough and although it's rated 100kms hour for a good part of it there is no way I would have travelled that fast. The road is narrow, beaten up with potholes and wear, and it made me a bit nervous. I had drivers in 4wheel drive vehicles pounding up the rear of my Hyundai trying to force me to travel faster than the 80kms I was doing. I suppose they were locals and know the road so well and think that nothing bad will happen to them close to home.
By the time I reached my son's rented home I was very happy to get out of the car. I said then that I won't ever take that road again and any trips up to Forster now will be via Tuncurry.
Once the car was unpacked and Shaye happily reunited with Lizzie, we went into Forster and had fish and chips for a late lunch. It was superb, if a tad expensive. That afternoon my son and I took the dogs to the beach and let them romp around and swim. It was delightful to be near the sea again, to breathe in the air and the smells and to just destress.
The next morning we made sure the dogs were okay for the day and then took off in my car for a day out touring around. I had my satellite navigation unit with me and it came in so handy. I doubt I will ever stop being amused and bemused by it and the fact that a satellite in the sky can see where my car is exactly and then direct me to where I tell it I want to go. It knows all the street names, where the red light speed cameras are, where the school 40kms zones are, and no matter whether I go the way it wants me to go or I take a detour it recalibrates and finds exactly where I am and directs me on from the new location to my desired destination.
We headed north through Tuncurry and out to the Pacific Highway and to Taree. From Taree we headed north again on the way to Harrington. I learned a few things that day that I don't remember knowing. My son is very interested in the history of places and he filled me in on things I may have forgotten or never knew. For instance, I don't remember ever knowing that once you leave Taree and head north you go over a number of bridges and some of those bridges are from the mainland to an island! I found that totally intriguing that the Pacific Highway travels across islands that are separated from the mainland by the Manning River. If you would like to read more about the Manning River history then I have pasted a link below.
The two major branches of the river create three very large islands - Dumaresq Island, Oxley Island and Mitchells Island. The Lansdowne River, the Dawson River, Scotts Creek, Cattai Creek and Ghinni Ghinni Creek create a number of other islands that include Jones Island, Cabbage Tree Island and Charlies Island. You can travel along all of these waterways by boat. The 150kms of saltwater estuary is a delight for all fishermen, young and old.
Note that in order to fish any waters in NSW you have to buy a fishing licence. This can be just for a weekend or a few months or longer and of course the price varies. If caught fishing without a licence, anglers risk a hefty fine, court appearance and possible confiscation of all fishing gear. As an Australian who has been fishing most of her life I find this apalling that we have to pay a fee for the right to fish in waters provided to us by mother nature. But I guess we live in an age where anything and everything has a price attached to it. The day may come when we again have to pay for light coming in through our windows (as they did in Ireland centuries ago) and we might even have to pay for air and sunshine. Perish the thoughts!
We turned off the road out of Taree and headed to Harrington. I imagine I have been there before as a child but I had forgotten. The end of the road and what a beautiful sight. The river flows out into the sea and back with the tides at the end of the road, and there are two sea walls for fishermen and others to enjoy. The day was spectacular with a beautiful blue sky and blue water with white horses caused by the wind. I stood there in the cool breeze and just let my senses take over and my mind go blank except for the thoughts of the beauty of this place. How I would love to wake up there every morning and go to sleep to the sounds of the sea.
Another fish and chips lunch by the river and the fish was superb. It was disappointing though to find out it was Hokki from NZ. I had hoped for some local fish but it wasn't on the menu. After staggering back to the car we drove to Harrington Waters, just a little way up the road but on the river tributary not the sea. Here they are developing a large estate with some beautiful homes, many of which have water frontages, well rears actually as the fronts of the homes face the road.
Amongst this new development is the most outstanding pub I've seen I think - Harrigan's Irish Pub. It is just beautiful and statuesque sitting there in a cul-de-sac - so unobtrusive and yet so outstanding to the eye. It is huge. Of course it has a wonderful water backdrop too. I have heard that many performers from Australia and some from overseas are appearing at the Pub which is great news. I hope that one day I will manage to get myself there to watch a show in such beautiful and tranquil surroundings.
I doubt there are many places as beautiful as Harrington because like Forster it has the sea and it has the river flowing into the sea. Anyone looking for a life near the water even just for the views would not be disappointed. People with boats that love to fish or just cruise around have a huge playground to explore and I hear that the fishing is great in the area as well.
We travelled from Harrington to Old Bar which is nice but doesn't have the charm of Harrington from what I could see. Further round the road we visited Wallabi Beach and Saltwater Beach and recreation areas. Saltwater is a great place for picnics with a huge recreational area amongst the trees. Everywhere at the moment is green and lush after a wet winter and it's a great time to go for a trip and see some of our beautiful waterways.
I was sad to have to return to Sydney on Monday, but that's life and I am very fortunate to be able to drive myself to such a beautiful area whenever I feel the urge to go.
For overseas travellers to Sydney - hire a car or go by train or bus and travel up around the areas I have written about. You won't be disappointed. You can't see these hidden treasures from the Pacific Highway. You have to travel to the coast to find the gems and they are well worth the time and effort. The country you travel through from Fallford to Tuncurry doesn't give a hint at what you will see when you reach the bridge that crosses from Tuncurry to Forster. That's the prize you receive for making the trip. The same goes for Harrington although the road out from the Pacific Highway to Harrington does have some very nice farmland and farms.
Hope you enjoyed the trip :)