“The concept of time, as it’s commonly understood by normal
people with normal jobs and normal goddamn lives, doesn’t
exist on the road. The nights spread out like the dark,
godforsaken highways that distinguish them, and the days run
together like Thanksgiving dinner smothered in gravy. You
never really know where you are or what time it is, and the outside
world starts to fade away.
– Tiffanie DeBartolo, How to Kill a Rock Star
The classic road trip…
DeBartolo’s quote captures the essence of modern classic American road trip books. Books like Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Hunter S Thompson’s Fearing And Loathing in Las Vegas, whose drug-soaked character’s drove across America in search of hope and freedom. The American road trip, which resonates with me is, Travels with Charley in Search of America, written by John Steinbeck. He embarked on his journey across America to locate the American spirit and reconnect with the people of this often divided country. It was an epic road trip that wound north through the Midwest, then out to the Westcoast, Southeast to the Mojave, New Mexico and Arizona. Finally, Steinbeck headed to New Orleans and began his last leg through the Eastern states of Alabama, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey to New York.
In May 2015, I flew to Sydney to discover new places, meet new people, spend some time with my cousin. What better way than to take a road trip on the back roads to the Central New South Wales coast, then further north to the Mid North Coast and the coastal town of Old Bar. On the open road, we would have time to breathe and enjoy a small slice of freedom.
Our trip started with a storm and weather warnings suggesting motorists be vigilant when driving on the Central New South Wales coast roads. Not used to Australian weather conditions, we headed north in our rental car.
There was lots of laughter and storytelling despite tiredness and hunger, which enabled us to avoid what could easily have been the highway to hell. So now our adventure is over, I’ve had time to reflect and put together our top 5 tips for an epic road trip.
Tip 1 – allow time for the rental car pickup.
Our only planning was almost derailed by a negligent car hire firm and chaotic Sydney traffic.
Chrissy had offered to pick up the car from Bayswater Car Hire. She had noticed all the car windows were down, but as the traffic outside was horrific and it was nearly closing time, Chrissy didn’t inspect the car. Within minutes of exiting the car hire building and driving to the other side of William Street, her nose was assailed by a rank dog smell. Anyone who knows William Street at rush hour will tell you turning around was not an option. Her only choice was to drive home and then pick me up later at the airport.
By mid-morning the following day, the little bit of sunshine, which shone in-between heavy downpours of rain, meant the dog scent had taken on an aroma rivalling any matured French cheese.
It was back to Bayswater Car Hire. Although we exited in a different car, the non-apologetic Manager had deflated our spirits. The “No Birds” advertising on the vehicle seemed to mirror the patronising attitude of the Manager.
Tip 2 – be fluid.
The storm had caused chaos in Sydney’s CBD. The roads quickly became gridlocked. So we decided to make the best of a bad situation and go out for morning tea. Luckily we found a car park in the back streets of Woolloomooloo. And we were soon entering baking heaven, Flour and Stone. I chose the rhubarb and mascarpone tart; pastry so thin and crisp it rivalled Carette, Patisseries et salons de thé.
Tip 3 – road trip essentials: food and maps …
The constant squalls bringing heavy downpours over Sydney and the unexpected departure delay meant I’d forgotten to stock up on road food, but thankfully not water bottles.
We were on the long and, yes, winding road up the Hawkesbury River heading for Wisemans Ferry. We entered a vortex somewhere between Mangrove Mountain and Spencer; according to time and signposts, we covered only 10-15kms a mile. We eventually got to Wisemans Ferry, only to discover we needed to take the ferry across the Hawkesbury to reach the village, just in time to avert the hangry state of being.
We stocked up on bags of nuts, chips, and blocks of chocolate at the local store.
I can almost hear you say, “who need maps when you’ve got apps” but if the plan is to avoid the motorway or main highway and explore the region, then you can’t beat the old-fashioned map. Plus, a visit to the local area information centre for maps and pamphlets on things to-do-and-see generally means you gleam a little inside knowledge on the region.
Across the road from the store was a typical Australian pub. Thankfully the kitchen was still open; within an hour, we were tucking into burgers and chips.
Lastly, yes, we did use the map app, very grateful for the location finder on more than one occasion; off the beaten track, the give-away maps are guaranteed to stir up my anxiety levels.
Tip 4 – Music…
Thank goodness for USB sockets in rental cars and an eclectic playlist on an iPod or iPhone because sometimes karaoke is fun, other times you want to chill, and if you’re overseas, sometimes you want a little bit of home. Thank you, Nathan Haines, for ticking two out of three boxes.
Tip 5 – Weather…
Crowded House sang, “everywhere you go, always take the weather with you.”
Inside the car, we were trying hard to drift into holiday mode, outside though the sky was a multitude of shades of ash to black grey and the recent text from my son said, “not a good time to be on the central NSW coast, hope you are guys are staying safe.”
The coast had already endured a week of bad weather. Today’s storm had locals concerned that the swollen rivers would gather the upended trees near the banks. Then carry them downstream. The logs are then a risk. They get caught up on the structures of the low bridges, causing road blockages and flooding.
As we left the coast road via The Entrance and joined the Pacific Highway, another rain squall rolled in from the Tasman Sea; there was nowhere to shelter. The rain was too heavy to drive in, so we pulled in off the highway, and Chrissy phoned home to catch up on family news.
My road trip memories…
Except for one, they centre on friendship, reconnecting with my Camino friends, meeting up with friends who had relocated from Sydney to Old Bar and deepening my friendship with my cousin.
The exception was the large mass of seafoam on the foreshore of Old Bar beach. The beach-like myself wasn’t looking its best. My head was throbbing, and I was dusty as the Aussies say from a night of drinking Australian and New Zealand red wines while the beach was dishevelled and battered from two weeks of storms. So I headed up the coast, hoping the sea air would blow away the pain. I soon stumbled over a frothy pale caramel seafoam, which stretched out like an unravelled bolt of raw silk, that reminded me of Princess Diana’s wedding dress, crumbled yet elegant. While photographing it, I decided it looked more like an art installation, vaguely reminiscent of a Christo and Jeanne-Claude (1968-69) project. The one that used one million square feet of erosion-control fabric to wrap the northern cliffs of Little Bay, Sydney.
Originally published in May 2019 – rewritten and republished October 2021, during Covid restrictions.