helping keep hungry backpackers fed:

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Epic Aussi Adventure: Learning to Surf, Newcastle and the Hunter Valley

Today's Scenery:
Newcastle at Sunset
Today's Travelling Track:
Beach Boys- I Get Around

Spot x is an awesome place to visit even if you aren’t interested in learning to surf. Situated on a fantastic, deserted beach and aimed at backpackers it is a great place to waste a few days. The all-inclusive meals package is also amazing and I would have happily stayed there just to lie on the beach and eat. The camp is extremely relaxed and uncomplicated; I’m sure if we had wanted to we could have stayed for twice as long as we paid for, attending meals and surf lessons and nobody would really have noticed. Unfortunately, what myself and the BF learnt from our stay at Spot X is that surfing isn’t really for us, I will sum up why with a list of pros and cons.


· Surfboards are harder to carry than snowboards
· The hardest part is actually getting out to the right spot in the water, you spent most of your time battling past waves which break on your head and send you flying backwards, making your last 5 minutes of struggle pointless
· When you finally make it to the right place to catch some waves, the monster waves which crashed down on you as you struggled deeper into the sea invariably disappear and are replaced by an entirely calm and flat expanse of water with nothing remotely surfable
· So as not to offend anyone else, you then have to wait your turn with the other 50 surfers wanting to rip it up.
· When a wave finally comes, and it is finally your turn you then have to hit it in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time, with exactly the right speed. If you don’t you will either end up popping up in the calm water behind the wave, feeling and looking like an idiot, or nose diving into the swell, just as it breaks and wiping out so hard that you lose track of where your board is, and swallow half of the ocean. You then have to repeat the previous steps.
· This all results in actually catching a wave correctly about once every half an hour, making it somewhat difficult to actually progress
· When you do actually catch a wave correctly, you then have to pop up perfectly, with your feet in the correct position and immediately attempt to turn if you actually want to get anywhere at all.
· After a couple of hours of all this, your knees, toes, fingers, elbows and any other part of your body in contact with the board will be covered in a painful, ugly rash. You are also likely to have swallowed a decent amount of salt water, and have water stuck in your ears. Even if you remembered to apply sun cream, it will have washed off and you will probably be sun burnt

· You look pretty cool
· It is quite fun when you actually catch a wave
· Once you make it past the waves, it’s pretty relaxing sitting on your surfboard out back, and the BF even caught sight of a sea turtle at one point.

 I think I’ll stick to snow.

 We spent 3 days at Spot X, with surf lessons at 7am and spent the rest of our time eating, lazing in the sun, reading and relaxing. We also had a very entertaining Saturday night, when the staff organised drinking games and got everyone involved. The fellow campers were all really friendly and there was a definite community vibe that we enjoyed greatly our whole stay.
Painted Rocks at Port Macquarie
Moving on and back into the real world, we headed south along the coast and stopped late afternoon in a town called Port Macquarie. It was nice to see the seaside without beaches to make a change and the bay was framed with large rocks, which had been painted by different people in a variety of fun and inventive ways. As we meandered along the front looking at the rocks, we saw a pod of dolphins swimming in the sea, just a few meters away from us. The lack of reaction from the fishermen, tourists and locals alike assured us that this was a somewhat common sight. We spent the night free camping at a rest stop and headed towards Newcastle the next morning. We definitely arrived in this city from the wrong angle, and were grumpy because unleaded fuel was proving very difficult to find in New South Wales (where apparently they are phasing it out in favour of bio-ethanol which we can’t use in Turk.) The main strip of pedestrianized city centre was a bit of a dump, and somewhat deserted as Newcastle is a university town, and its students were on Easter Break. In search of food we wondered onto Darby street, a far more lively hub of restaurants and cafes and finally started to warm to the city.
Stockton Bight
We decided to stay in a caravan park to save some money and drove around to Stockton, a charming little seaside town just two minutes on passenger ferry from Newcastle itself. Our second first impression of Newcastle was much better from the water and the ferry deposited us onto the wharf, where there was a brewery and lots of expensive looking restaurants and a historical walk, marked by plaques started nearby. We enjoyed a locally brewed, alcoholic ginger beer and then headed off on the walk. We found ourselves liking Newcastle more and more with its pretty Victorian buildings and naturally beautiful headlands and beaches. We ended up on Newcastle beach as the sun set and watched the surfers catch their last few waves as the sky turned pink. We ended up back on Darby Street and had a fantastically priced curry for dinner, then returned to Stockton via the ferry.

 Stockton is most famous for the Stockton Bight; a 32km stretch of sand dunes which look a lot like a miniature dessert. We tried to visit them the following morning; however they seemed quite difficult to actually access. We ended up driving all the way to Anna Bay, where the dunes end and went for a little walk around them. They were really quite spectacular!
Amazing food at Mojo's
 We headed into the Hunter Valley; New South Wales most extensive Wine country. Following the instruction of our guidebook we headed to Mojo’s on Wilderness, a deli and fine dining restaurant owned by a Michelin starred chef. Surprisingly the deli was very reasonably priced and served us the best meal I have had in Australia so far on a tray whilst we sat on beanbags in the grounds. Extremely happy and full, we headed to our hostel, The Hunter Valley YHA, probably the only budget accommodation for a 100km radius. Despite booking and paying for the cheapest beds possible in an 8 bed dorm, we were moved into a 4 bed dorm of which we were the sole occupants for our entire stay. The owner was very friendly and helpful and arranged for us to go on a wine tour the next morning. The tour was fantastic value for money, and for only $45 dollars each we visited 3 different wineries (with extensive free tastings,) as well as an olive shop with a variety of gourmet spreads and sauces, a chocolate shop which gave us a sample of each of its most popular products, a dairy with some of the tastiest cheeses I have ever come across, and finally the blue tongue brewery where the BF and I shared a tasting paddle of their different brews. The next morning, successfully sobered up after all of the wine, we drove around all of the shops again, also visiting a gourmet smokehouse, and collected up supplies for the best picnic lunch EVER! We drove up to a lookout point in the hills above the valley and ate the delicious food with a great view. After a short walk we left the hunter valley, extremely satisfied. It’s an amazing place to visit if you like food or wine and doesn’t have to be as expensive as you would think!

Turk Meets...A Giant Banana:
Turk gets one of his 5 a day!

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