A few different people along the way told us that Bellingen was worth visiting, so when we left Crescent Head we put it in our sights. Not before a pack up that almost finished me off though.

It was our own fault. Where normally we would have packed up most of the camp the day before, this time a gap in the rain prompted us to decide at 8am, to leave that very day. It was 3pm when we finally pulled the trailer back onto that dirt road. We did Katie’s schooling in the morning right enough, but even still, I was disgusted with our performance. Two out of ten. And that’s being generous.

This also meant we were going to arrive in Bellingen around dusk, so to avoid setting up in the dark, we booked into a room for the night we arrived. Diggers pub was a little average but the room was fine, clean, and once again the kids were over the moon to have a TV. The village itself however, was a fantastic wee place. A wee bit hippy, but a wee bit posh too. A busker outside the fancy fish and chip shop, for example, was playing the song from Beaches on a violin. Surprisingly, it was actually quite nice.

It was a small place with no shortage of odd little shops & cafes, and the entire area proved to be the unexpected hit of the trip so far. In addition to the average pub, there was one beautifully restored heritage pub that we loved, and when dinner arrived we loved it even more. Katie’s best thing about the place was how quickly the food arrived!

It rained all evening and continued the next day, so with an aversion to setting up camp in the rain, we decided to stay the night in the heritage pub this time, which, unbelievably, was cheaper!

I don’t think I had stayed the night in a pub when I was six, or two years of age. I tell you these kids are building up some bank of experiences.

The real highlight of the area however, was the natural environment.

Bellingen sits on the remnants of an enormous volcano called Mount Ebor. 600 million years ago the volcano would have stretched over 600 square kilometres, and Bellingen is situated right at the edge. We drove out of Bellingen toward a place called Dorrigo. There was a rainforest discovery centre we were going to visit, and after 15 minutes driving along a fertile plain of green fields and grazing horses, the road started to serpentine up the ancient hillside.

Now I’ve travelled a fair bit, and I’ve driven through a lot of Scotland so I’m not easily impressed by ‘hills’. This however, was spectacular.

The main problem was keeping my eyes on the road. I was continuously distracted by little glimpses of plunging valleys covered in a thick blanket of trees. Now and again a waterfall cascading down beside the road would encourage you to annoy the hell out of the truck drivers behind, by slowing down to drink in the view even more. The whole place was so green you would hardly believe you were in Australia – land of the red dust.

We had been advised to visit a lookout at the top of the climb, so eventually we pulled off the main route and powered down a dirt road on the plateau at the top of the mountain. We passed a dude ranch, a mountain retreat, and were surprised to see rolling hills and farmland heading off into the distance. Eventually the track came to an end and there was a picnic table, sitting perfectly beside an amazing view where we all had lunch. The kids, of course, were more interested in walking along the fence than anything else. Ha!

After lunch it was only another five minutes along the main road to the Rainforest discovery centre, which is definitely one of my favourite places of the trip so far.

A walk into hishtory

The rainforest at Dorrigo is part of a collection of national parks, that together make up the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia. They’re called that, because they’ve changed very little since Australia broke away from the southern continent of Gondwana, around 180 million years ago.

National Parks have carved out a series of narrow trails that allow you to wind your way through the ancient plants and trees. As soon as you walked in it was cool, dark, and still. Not quiet though. There were lots of little noises going on. Leaves whispering down from the treetops, lizards rustling through the decaying foliage and troops of insects munching away on anything they could get their mandibles into.

It was absolutely beautiful, and you could easily imagine a Velociraptor hiding behind the buttressed root of an enormous tree. Although you wouldn’t need something like that to take you out, everything in there was trying to eat everything else. Even the vegetation was out to get you, there were leaves covered in nasty spikes, Giant Stinging Trees, even a tree that strangled other trees!

We walked, mainly downhill, for about 30 minutes, and eventually the forest opened up into a clearing, and we were looking at a crystal waterfall. Wow. We walked in behind the falls and there were Aboriginal hand prints on the roof of the cave. It felt very remote, and quite special to be there with the kids. Knowing they haven’t seen anything like that before.

What a day.

We spent about a week doing things like that. School up until lunch time, then off on another rainforest or waterfall adventure in the afternoon. I loved it, and we could have easily stayed longer but once again, it was time to move on.

A very short trip this time, 30 minutes down to the coast to stay with friends who had made the move from Sydney, to Coffs harbour. Happy days.