Life: Long Drives Can Be Fun (Gasp!)
We’ve been talking a lot about day tripping here, but when was the last time you went on a really long drive? It’s been a while since we did a REALLY long drive. By really long, I’m talking over 8 hours. Once we drove to Adelaide, stopping at a camping ground in The Coorong to camp for a few nights. It was desolate and beautiful, and Adelaide seemed like a metropolis after the salty lakes and sandy dunes.
And once we drove to Byron Bay. With 2 kids. That was a really long drive. Let me tell you about that…!
In the Summer of 1998 we lived another life. Max was a toddler at two years old, Rin was just 10 and Ari was waiting in the wings, not yet arrived, waiting to bestow his adorable brand of charm on us all!
That February, we drove from Melbourne to Byron Bay in my partner Cam’s Dad’s old Nissan Patrol. We left our gorgeous 1966 Valiant AP6 Sedan with Dave, snaffled the 4WD and gunned it out of Highett super quick. Well, probably not gunned. I would say trucked, actually. Trucks aside, it had a tape deck, a tinny (as in little metal boat) on the roof-rack and not-so-fluffy-lambswool seat covers. Perfect.
It had a cup holder and Road Atlas too. Neat, fresh rubbish bags hung hopefully from the glove box. We did TRY to be neat. Neatness aside, we’d made heaps of cassettes – mostly compilations featuring Nick Cave and Lou Reed and The Stranglers and Hunters & Collectors. We are vigilant parents when it comes to the musical education of our kids. Rin asks me about that excellent track ‘Sweet Jane’ to this day, which could be considered either bad parenting or very excellent parenting, depending on your point of view. Also she likes that one that starts off ‘Shiny Shiny.. Shiny Boots of Leather’…. what is that track?! She loves it.
Leather aside, on the first day of le drive, we left when it was dark, the car dutifully packed the night before. We drove all the way to Sydney, rejoicing when we jumped the (lovely) hurdle that is Albury-Wodonga (as you do). We got excited butterflies when we got to Yass, just out of Canberra (as you do). And we were most excited when we reached Sydney (very late) but still in time for a swim in the (cheap) hotel Pool (as you must!)
We spent the next day mooching about, tripping down to Bondi, eating spicy food,thinking the coffee and bread were heaps better in Melbourne and generally feeling like tourists, before we took the drive further North on to Byron.
It’s a pretty amazing drive. I’m not sure if you’ve ever done it, but the landscape changes so very dramatically when you travel from Melbourne to Northern NSW. It really does swing from one extreme to the other. Victoria (and probably Southern NSW’s) rural, drought stricken farmland transforms into lush tropical vegetation a wee way out of Sydney. Lightning cracking over cane-fields is no cliche. It really does describe the beautiful, green, big-leafed beauty of that part of the world.
Do you know what else? I’ll tell you something amazing. There was no ‘Are We There Yet?’ on this epic two day journey. Rin was just absolutely relishing sitting in the back, singing along to the stereo, reading books, writing in her lock-up diary, checking out the truck-stops and snoozing under her blanket. Max was too little to even KNOW there was a destination. He just slept and sucked on his sippy cup and ate sultanas and checked out the ‘Big Pineapple’ and the various types of crisps you could buy along the way.
We arrived in Byron Bay a few hours late – but safe and sound. Marvelling at the (even back then) lack of ‘real’ (as in green grocer, butcher and bakery) shops and the amazing array of surf stores and pubs and the like. It was a glamorous place, even ten years ago. Paul Hogan’s best mate was the town mascot and i was totally expecting to bump into Delvene Delaney (the mascot’s chick) at the fish and chip shop. In fact, I was completely expecting to see Olivia Newton John kitted out in a Koala Blue Knit chowing down on a chiko roll. None of that actually happened, of course, but we did see some girls doing topless yoga on the Beach. They seemed less then comfortable in their skin, but were certainly giving the whole flower-child thing a good, hard go.
Post Byron, we headed to one of my favourite towns in all of Australia, Yamba. Such a beautiful place. The gorgeous Pacific Hotel is propped precariously on a cliff top over-looking the extremely blue and (seemingly) endless, sparkling Pacific Ocean. We ate the best fairy cakes ever from the local bakery, bought our Mambo t-shirts end of season cheap and realised the NSW phenomenon of chips and gravy was sadly lacking in our home state.
We visited Nat’s at Angourie, marvelling at the surfers’ Nirvana, the Angourie right-hander and noting the real-estate style spoils of Nat’s World Class surfing career. I’ll tell you something about Yamba… heck of a lot of sandflies. In fact Rin and I spent so much time counting our insect bites that the lady at the chemist suggested the Army Regulation insect repellent ‘Whack-Off’. Whack-Off was thick and white and greasy and looked quite garish with a bikini. But it did seem to help and we realised that if you scratched your bites really hard, they stopped itching and merely hurt.
I don’t remember much at all about the drive home. I guess it was uneventful, or else I would remember something, right? Perhaps the anticipation of GOING away far surpasses that of heading home? Maybe a long drive back in a car full of sunburnt, bitten people is way less interesting. Suitcases full of sandy, grubby clothes and feet no longer shy of thongs are much less exciting, I suppose. There is a certain calm on the way home. A real sense of knowing how lucky you were to get a break and how lucky you were to be together. There’s a sense of satisfaction and camaraderie that’s unforgettable, and probably just as important as the holiday itself. I love a long drive.