Driving the Pacific Highway

July 25, 2014 | 1 Comment

My final post from last weekend’s break to Port Macquarie is all about the drive north…and then back home again.

There is a part of me that loves driving trips – I love being on the open road, having the time to think and enjoying the countryside but there is a part of me that doesn’t like it much at all – sitting in the one seat for hours on end gets very  uncomfortable (even with my 2 hot water bottles!) and it is so tiring. When I am driving through new places (such as my driving trips in the UK) the excitement factor far outweighs the discomfort.

However, my local trips,  driving a route that I have done for years, the desire to get it over with quickly is the big goal. On the other hand, a little sketch changes the chore of the trip into an adventure! And a scenic spot to stop makes the trip far more enjoyable than a convenient service centre break.

So, these days I always try to take the detour and stop at the Lions Park in Karuah. It is only 5km off the ‘Karuah Bypass’. The river is just beautiful and a lot more peaceful these days and although I don’t want an extended stop, a cuppa from my thermos and a quick sketch certainly hits the spot.

On the way home, I was in a much more practical mood – wanting to get home ASAP. So I stopped at a place that is directly on the highway. The most convenient is The Rock. Somewhat tacky ‘ayers rock’ roadhouse (1/40 scale replica of Uluru) – I haven’t stopped there since it first opened as the Leyland Brothers World.
And of course I have wanted to sketch it for ages. It turned out to be a crazy quick sketch – I wanted to keep driving and get home.

I have grown up driving the route along the Pacific Highway to the Port Macquarie region for family trips on a regular basis. This was our once-a-year-holiday (vacation) to the beach for 2 weeks and so a very important part of my childhood. I have many memories from these trips, coupled with many more from the last 20 years when I have driven the road by myself heading to Port visiting friends and my dear grandmother and great aunt (both who are no longer with us).

This recent trip was the first time I have driven the Pacific Hwy without any roadworks sections – all the bypasses are completed. So it is an easy drive… but you know … it is so boring now, there are only snippets of the wonderful countryside and the road no longer goes through all those places with the memories.

I couldn’t help thinking about all these things as I drove home. For those of you in Australia that know this stretch, you might find these of interest – and I would love to hear about your favourite bits or stories. The experience of sitting in the traffic heading north on Boxing Day is something that a lot of Sydney-siders have in common!

For the rest of you… this is just me rambling to myself  so just ignore the following text till the bottom image (I appreciate it is like having a private conversation in publicly but I hope it means something to some of the locals reading my blog!)

  • Karuah was the most frequent stopping spot for the Steel family but we stopped many other places.  I remember having breakfast with my dad one time when it was just the two of us (must have left early that day!) Another memorable visit was in recent years when the two ‘characters’ having a smoko at the table next to me turned out to be the highway amenities cleaners and they told me all kind of interesting things about the rest areas all the way up to Brisbane. Karuah was one of their favourites!

  • The dual highway carves out so much space that even when we go through bush area – you don’t get a sense of the trees. (ok a distant hill view like this is ok). The favourite bit is just north of Nabiac (the sign to the Bullocky Way) when the two carriageways are separated, we are closer to the trees and the road weaves up and down.
  • Nothing beats the view of the Hawksbury River on the way south – no matter how much you drive the F3 (remember when we called it The Tollway?) the view still impresses. And makes you feel like you are almost home… though of course we all have many queuing traffic memories too that frustrate that feeling.
  • While I don’t miss being stuck behind a caravan (not as many of those on the road these days) I do miss the rhythm of the overtaking lanes – the moving to the left and then indicating and moving back to the right. Driving on dual carriageway is easy but also monotonous.
  • We never stopped at Bulahdelah much – the river there can’t compare with Karuah. Though when the Karuah bypass first opened I did test out Bulahdelah as a stopping spot. Lots of slow traffic memories going through this town – so I didn’t mind missing it! Hey- I love the view of Bulahdelah mountain from the new bypass

  • While I do not miss the winding road over the mountain at O’Sullivans Gap – it was spectacular – and that rest area was special wasn’t it? Those beautiful tall tress with the white trunks – is it a blue gum forest? Am I the only one whose sibling collected a leach during morning tea which added to the excitement as we continued our journey? Seems so many years ago since we drove the hill!(guess who found an old photo of it!!!)
  • The new rest areas are so awful! There is nothing of interest there and the ‘modern’ skillion roof picnic tables are so impractical if it rains. BTW I still like travelling with my thermos and having a picnic still morning tea (I no longer include a pack of tim tams or venetian creams – what were your favourite travel biscuits?)
  • So completely thrown by all the new bypasses north of Taree – totally missed the turn off to the Bago Road (into Wauchope) – very important for me as that is where my family is/was. A sense of loss that we no longer drive through St Johns River and Moorland and Coopernook (not that I have an attachment to them but still it is strange that they don’t exist on the journey anymore)
  • Coolongolook is the only town left standing… not much of a town (especially now that the hwy goes straight thought it) but seriously its one of the best names in the state. Am I the only person that loves saying the name to myself every time I see a sign with it on? “Coolongolook Coolongolook Coolongolook”
  • At least my favourite house on the hwy is still on the road… it is a house just north of Moorland heading north, the road curves to the right and the white house with verandah, sits on a sloping hill and south brother in the background! Ah! makes me smile.
  • I can’t help thinking about all the accidents and bad traffic (Easter or boxing day or Saturday afternoons in the last weeks of the Jan) as well. The time there was an accident in Karuah and the whole highway was redirected through the petrol station on the top of the hill as you come into town.


Ok that is enough… I had many more thoughts as well during the 4 hour drive… but I just wanted to write these down.

Final sketch from the trip was Friday night from the sofa. People often ask me how I find time to sketch but I never watch TV (the cricket might be on in the background but that is it)  and rarely watch any movies… this was a rare occasion watching all old classic movie. I got a little restless, started cleaning my palette and then decided to sketch (I didn’t want to use that clean palette so left it just linework)


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