For part two of Getaway's Great Aussie Drives, Catriona hopped into her Mini and headed north from Sydney to Brisbane.
The first leg was 160km to Newcastle, past The Entrance and Gosford where people flock to the many wonderful beaches of the area. Newcastle, Australia's sixth largest city, is built around a working harbour and was founded as a penal colony. Coal deposits led to it becoming an important shipping and commercial centre and in 1915, iron and steel mills were built.
Guarded by Nobbys Lighthouse, Newcastle boasts some of Australia's best beaches. Nobbys, Newcastle, Bar, Dixon Park, Merewether and Stockton beaches are all within five kilometres of the city and are patrolled for safe surfing. Bathers' Way is a five kilometre coastal walk and is a beautiful way to admire the spectacular coastline.
Catriona met up with Paul "the Chief" Harragon, the former Newcastle Knights captain, Australian Rugby League legend, football commentator and unabashed and totally biased Newcastle promoter.
The Chief said there are many restaurants, cafés and bars to enjoy, and recommended a visit to the new Honeysuckle Boardwalk, an ambitious project transforming 50 hectares of previously derelict harbour-front land adjacent to the CBD. It is a place for living, working and relaxing.
Nelson Bay, just 60km north, is on the southern shore of Port Stephens and known as a blue water wonderland. It has lots to offer whale and dolphin watching, sand dunes, bushwalking and a variety of nature-related activities and is close to the Hunter Valley wine district.
From Nelson Bay the crew drove 170km to Forster and Tuncurry, towns linked by a bridge across Wallis Lake, famous for delicious oysters and other seafood. Dolphins play in the waters and flocks of pelicans perch on lightposts lining the harbour.
Port Macquarie is 120km north on a network of rivers, canals, lakes and the ocean. The area has 13 beaches offering every imaginable water sport and all sorts of accommodation.
Jordan's Boating Centre and Caravan Park is right on the Hastings River and the family has been looking after visitors' pleasures since 1963. They rent catamarans, sailboards, kayaks and have cabins and sites for rent.
Frederickton, or Fredo, 93km from Port, is just north of Kempsey. The tiny town was sustained by the dairy industry until the 1970s. Its elevated position gives sweeping views across the Macleay River which offers some great fishing. It has a few shops, hotel, arts hall, and a nine-hole golf course.
It has another big attraction that can cause a queue Fredo's Pie Shop. The old style shop is for many people a "must stop". Russell Crowe and Sir Bob Geldof have sampled their wares. They have 160 recipes for pies and sausage rolls, all handmade a minute away from the shop. Flavours range from the good old meat pie to the more fancy crocodile pie.
The Bellinger Valley, another 93km along the Pacific Highway, is home to the pretty town of Bellingen. It lies between the coast and the Dorrigo Plateau and where the Bellinger and Kalang Rivers meet with the sea. A lagoon provides a striking foreground. The town is lush and peaceful, mountains are rugged and there are beautiful rainforests and waterfalls.
Bellingen is home to the Hammond & Wheatley Emporium which was built in 1909 and was the first concrete block construction in Australia. It has cast iron columns and iron lacework, original brass shop front framing and the mezzanine floor is reached by a grand staircase. It is still a shop, with Kakadu Clothing downstairs and Dervish Wares upstairs. It also has a gallery and café.
The 1901 Federal Hotel is part of a streetscape of one and two-storey buildings completed around the turn of the last century.
Heartland Digeridoos make and sell instruments which have been so important to Australian Aborigines for thousands of years. The simple instruments exude wondrous sounds, rhythm and mystery. They are used in rituals, healing sessions or purely for enjoyment and there are many intricate styles of playing. They can be made from hardwood, agave, bamboo, gourds or even plastic and played in the traditional way, or in jazz or blues and teamed with guitar, drum, bagpipes or flute.
So impressed was the wife of an American astronaut, she bought one for her husband and he plays it to his son from the Mir Space Station!
The distance from Bellingen to the big smoke of Coffs Harbour is 37km. It is a popular resort town with three main beaches and known for its fishing and banana crops.
It is equally well-known for the hard-to-miss Big Banana. It was Australia's first "Big Thing". It is yellow, 11 metres long and five metres high and was the brainchild of John Landi who came from the United States forty years ago to study insects which attack bananas. He had seen Hawaii's Big Pineapple and promoted his roadside fruit sales with this large banana.
It has toboggan rides, a hill-climb railway, ice-skating rink and a snow slope lots of family fun for visitors and locals.
Ballina, 210km away, has its own "big thing" the Big Prawn. The sleepy town is centred on an island at the mouth of the Richmond River and surrounded by 32kms of white, sandy beaches and crystal waterways. It is nature's place for beach lovers, surfers, boaties, anglers and eco-adventurers. There are cruises along the river and the town's flatness makes for good cycling. Places to visit include a tea tree plantation, adventure park, Macadamia Castle and Animal Park and there are galleries and golf courses.
Yamba is a beautiful town 98km from Ballina. It has a little lighthouse, the Clarence River for good fishing, marina and fishing fleet, great beaches offering shade from giant Norfolk pines, and great restaurants and cafés. Its beaches are some of Australia's best and favoured by surfing greats such as Australian and world champion Layne Beachley. Its sunny summers and mild winters make it a very desirable place for locals and visitors.
From the quietness of Yamba, another 135km takes you to the bustling town of Byron Bay, a haven for the rich and famous and those wanting to escape the rat race. Those who discover Byron say it can become addictive there is so much to do if you want, or it is a comfortable place to do just nothing. It's a great place to see the migration of the humpback whales as they travel north in July and south in September.
The next town the crew visited is Uki, 65km from Byron. The peaceful village is on the southern arm of the Tweed River, virtually at the foot of Mt Warning. It was founded on timber and dairying and is a heritage conservation area with some beautifully preserved buildings.
The World Heritage listed Mt Warning National Park is less than 20 minutes drive, and Nightcap and Border Ranges National Parks are pleasant places to tour.
The old Norco butter factory is home to Natascha Wernick's Babareki Beads Studio. She creates original and irresistible pieces of art jewellery using handmade, natural and recycled beads, a passion which began in her childhood when she used seeds and shells. Time in the Solomon Islands made Natascha aware of the power of beads.
Uki Café serves all day breakfast, great coffee and is licensed. It has an amazing collection of reading matter, and is the sort of place you could linger all day.
Straddling the New South Wales-Queensland border on the way to the Gold Coast is Springbrook National Park. It has 26kms of walking tracks, lookouts, waterfalls most outstanding are the Purlingbrook Falls and ancient forests make it well worth a detour. It has much wildlife brush turkeys, goannas, pademelons, yellow robins, rainbow lorikeets and whipbirds are likely to be your companions along the walkways and in the picnic areas. The rainforest has tall Antarctic beeches, ferns, palms, orchids, vines and mosses. At night, if the stars aren't enough, the caves are a cosmos of glow worms.
From Uki, if you haven't made the Springbrook detour, it is 74kms to the Gold Coast. It has around 245 days of fine weather every year and has surf and sand for those days and plenty of attractions to fill holidaymakers' nights.
The last leg of Catriona's drive was 72km to Brisbane. They parked the Mini at Kangaroo Point on the south bank of the Brisbane River a good place to think about the beautiful places they had just visited, the lovely people they had met on the way, and reflect upon the magnificence of Australia's east coast.
For our other great Aussie drives:
Melbourne to Sydney
Adelaide to Alice
Rockhampton to Cairns.
Mt Isa to Darwin.
Perth to Monkey Mia.
For other great drives, visit australia.com.