Driving the Legendary Pacific Coast (day 6): Port Macquarie & Forster
On the last day of our Pacific Coast road trip, Diana and I finally treat ourselves to a bit of a sleep-in (7am is now considered a sleep-in, apparently), waking up in Port Macquarie to sunny spring weather and empty beaches. We were originally scheduled to be back in Wollongong this afternoon for more work, but as often happens with research, all of our plans were scrapped by a coach at the last minute and we now have the whole day to make our way back along the coast. Even so, we are anticipating 5hrs on the road, travelling from Port Macquarie to Forster in the Great Lakes region before returning to Sydney, so we try not to dawdle too long in town before we hop in the car (because traffic is bound to get manic in the city).
While Diana heads off to get a coffee from a nearby cafe, I scamper down to Town Beach to check out the colourfully painted breakwall, much like the one we loved so much in Nambucca Heads. Impressive from our hotel room window, it is even more spectacular up close, providing vivid personality to the lovely beach. Although Port Mac is a popular family holiday destination in the summer months, it feels like I have the coastline almost entirely to myself this Tuesday morning in September, which definitely adds to the feeling of serenity.
Before long, Diana returns with her coffee and we set out on the 90min drive to Forster, the only major stop we have planned for the day. Neither of us know much about this town, but a number of people over the years have lauded it as a picture-perfect lakefront destination and Diana seems to have gotten a similar recommendation, so we’ve thrown it into the itinerary in the hopes that we will stumble across some surprise gems. Our initial approach is certainly promising, as we drive over the impossibly clear and beautifully blue Coolongolook River, quickly parking and hopping out to take in the views up close.
Bennetts Head Lookout
From the centre of Forster, Diana navigates us to a lookout she read about online— it’s hard to go wrong with a viewpoint, so we both figure it’s a pretty good place to start. Still, we are blown away by the rugged coastal beauty, so different than I had anticipated given the calm river we just strolled along below. There are about half a dozen locals at Bennetts Head, all with binoculars pressed against their faces on the lookout for humpbacks travelling south on their way back to Antarctica, and it doesn’t take long before they are hollering and (attempting to) point out the whales for us. As much as we both love seeing whales, though, it’s hard to get excited about an indistinct splash in the distance when we don’t have any binoculars ourselves, so we soon move on to the other smaller lookouts along the coast, enjoying the scenery and the wild headland instead.
One Mile Beach
As we walk further around the headland, we eventually come out of the trees and onto a beach that literally knocks me speechless. Framed by a few small hills on the neighbouring headland, the beach is an endless crescent of white sand and cerulean water, probably one of the loveliest beaches I’ve ever seen in my life and yet there are literally no people whatsoever (I think we see 3 people over the course of the hour we spend at the beach). If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, but you’d struggle to find beaches like this anywhere else in the world (gorgeous and empty), and it’s just one of the many reasons why this country is so incredible. The scenery is certainly not wasted on me or Diana, both running around like headless chickens in all directions, flopping in the sand and scouting out every inch of coastline.
Just when we think One Mile Beach couldn’t get any better, Eagle-Eye Diana (a well-earned nickname) spots a family of humpbacks immediately off the coast, so close to the shore that I wonder how they are navigating around the rocks. We follow the whales for a few minutes before another family appears at the front of the headland, and then finally see a mum and two babies swimming through the bay, splashing and playing as they make their way south. Awe-struck and screaming at a volume usually reserved for bungy jumping or murder, we watch as the mum breaches and her two babies follow suit, as if she’s showing them how to jump and they’re having a go themselves. I don’t capture anything more than a measly splash on camera, but it’s truly one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and I can’t even describe the excitement of experiencing such a natural yet unbelievable performance from our sand mound at the beach.
We watch the whales as they travel all the way out of the bay before we finally turn around and head back to the car, and I’ll admit to feeling a little smug as we pass the whale watchers back at Bennetts Head with their binoculars, all of whom have missed the incredible show we just witnessed at the beach. Time and time again on this trip, we have found ourselves in the right place at the right time to see wildlife that no one else sees, and I’m genuinely beginning to wonder where all this luck is coming from. Either way, it has made for daily “once-in-a-lifetime” experiences, so I won’t question it too much.
Wallis Lake & Booti Booti National Park
Riding on the excitement of our morning whale spotting, Diana and I opt to take the scenic Lakes Way drive out of Forster, which winds us through Booti Booti National Park and past some of the crystalline lakes the region is known for. We whizz by many of the most incredible views, screaming out the car window, but we do find a couple spots to stop and stick our toes in the water. Both times, we find ourselves completely alone, wading across the silky white sand, wishing we could just pitch a tent here and delay our return to the city. Eventually, though, we have to call it a day and settle in for the remaining 3.5hr drive home, all of which is spent reminiscing over the places we’ve seen and mentally planning return trips to all of our favourite spots (it’s a long list).