Australia’s magnificent Old Pacific Highway a surprise
Story and photos by Budd Stanley
Best time to Go: Weekdays from October to April
Places To Stop: Great scenic viewpoints found at Mirror Lakes, Homer Tunnel, Hollyford and The Chasm.
Total Distance: 32 km
Route: Starting point is Moony Moony, just off the #1 Highway in Australia. This highly scenic and windy route takes the long way through the hills of the coastal mountains and on to Kariong.
Road Type: Smooth narrow tarmac road.
Warnings: Not a highly traveled road but nearly every corner is blind, and watch for Australia’s wild motorcyclists making big cuts.
We’re back overseas in search of great driving roads of the world, and little did I know what was waiting for me just as I arrived in Australia. In a late night traveling out of Sydney, I headed across the Harbour Bridge, north along the east coast of Australia. My steed for this journey would not be some high-strung Subaru, VW, Porsche or BMW, but a 4WD Camper truck that would allow me to go where I pleased and provide all the comforts of a camper, as my travels would take me far off the beaten track.
Late in the darkness, I had hoped to simply park next to a beach somewhere and flop into the bed in the back of the Britz Camper, but Highway 1 heading up the coast, only just inland, offers little in the way of scenic stops or vistas, and a truck stop would be where I lay my weary head. With the glimpses of daylight, I was awoken by an unfamiliar sound, a light hissing sound that I thought might have been coming from a leaking propane bottle. However, it was not gas that was making the sound, but the sub-tropical jungle that stood at the foot of the parking lot, coming alive with millions of insects. Within minutes, the sound was too great to bear any longer and I was packed up and back out on the road before the sun had risen.
However, I did not want to keep traveling up the freeway on my way to Brisbane, and to my luck, a sign pointing to exit off onto “Old Pacific Highway” sounded like an ideal plan. Little did I know what was coming would be as spectacular yet frustrating as it was, but the sign at the entrance to the highway was a poignant bit of foreshadowing.
It didn’t take long after the ominous sign that I was inundated with a series of blind bends cut into bedrock, with a lush green rainforest canopy overhead. Very narrow, fresh tarmac with bright green surrounding reminded me a lot of many of the roads I had driven in New Zealand, but this was different. Instead of a fern-filled forest floor, the trees seemed to grow straight out of bedrock, making for a very unique experience. Matched with a humid fog that hung in the canopy, it was almost for the better that I wasn’t rocketing through the scene with my hair on fire at the wheel of a sports car, as the cruise was extremely stress relieving and rewarding. Mind you, an onslaught of challenging corners that work their way through the coastal mountains did have me cursing the big Toyota Land Cruiser Troopy, but I did get to enjoy the senses of this truly impressive road, with the odd clatter of cutlery and supplies rustling around in the back.
The coastal mountains are not the most rugged that I’ve ever seen, however they are a tightly-packed series of hills, peaks and valleys that reach up Australia’s east coast. The road wheels and pitches up and over large hills and back down into deep valleys packed full of misted rainforest, each corner blind and unsuspecting. However, while the road is rather unpredictable and blind, I soon found a rhythm that had me jaunting along merrily, if still within the speed limit. Goes to show just how tight and twisty the road is if trying to hold 70 km/h is difficult; with something sportier, I could have some real fun, though. Only a few villages can be found along the route, but all too soon, it spat me out into the several large coastal National Parks that line the Pacific. I had finally found my beach, set in an epic coastal scene, but it was the getting there that was the most enduring memory that I will likely take away from this day.
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