21 April 2014
I’ve quickly discovered NSW is a state that loves its festivals. Huge events provide the perfect excuse to get thousands of people together to have as much fun as possible. Bluesfest is a classic example. This five-day annual musical festival brings more than 100,000 people to the small, coastal town of Byron Bay. Typically a place to surf, relax and enjoy the sun, the village bustles with people seeking a festival experience. In the spirit of the event, I decided to do a road trip from Sydney to Byron Bay, with the purpose of discovering as many hidden gems as possible along the way.
One of the best ways to travel through New South Wales is by car. The Legendary Pacific Coast Highway stretches from Sydney to Brisbane, covering 930km of breathtaking landscape. I wrangled a 1970 Ford Fairlane 500, “Bertha”, to escort me north through the winding roads and cruise-ready highways.
One of the first places I arrived at was the Black Head Bowling Club, where I played a few games of lawn bowls. I’d never played a game of lawn bowls before, so I was in for a thrashing! I played against Jason, one of the local club members, who only had 23 years of experience under his belt. He taught me the game in about five minutes and I became an immediate fan of the sport, despite my overwhelming loss. Lawn bowls has become an increasingly popular activity for young people wanting to have a good time, without breaking the bank. I fully subscribe to that idea!
Driving up the coast, I noticed every NSW country town possesses its own unique virtues. Take Dorrigo, for example. The town’s Red Dirt Distillery is run by locals Susie and David, and one of its feature products is potato vodka – when was the last time you heard people praise spirits for their flavour? Exactly. They also sell Ring of Fire chilli chutney and other preserves, as well as a wide range of liqueurs (rhubarb, pistachio and ginger, to name a few) which are all made from locally sourced produce. Just across the road you’ll find Dorrigo Wholefoods, a small market with fresh, healthy produce and an amazing kitchen.
As I continued further up the coast, I began to encounter more of nature: untouched, serene and beautiful. Destinations such as Boomerang Beach, Booti Booti National Park and Coffs Harbour all delivered the incredible experiences I expected, but hidden gems surprised me the most. Rushing to catch the “Golden Hour”, as photographers call it, the film crew I was travelling with made an impromptu decision to look for the nearest spot to shoot before the sun faded. A fated turn off the highway lead us to a rural farm one night, and Woodford Island the next. None of us had heard of either of these places before, but once we saw the sunset, we knew the decision to chase the light was the right one. These visuals are something I’ll never forget.
Arriving in Byron Bay, we headed straight to Bluesfest. This year’s lineup touted big name acts including John Mayer, Jack Johnson, John Butler Trio, Dave Matthews Band and KC & The Sunshine Band. To my surprise, the age range at Bluesfest spans from kids to grandparents, all enjoying the festival. As I mentioned earlier, with more than 100,000 people, it’s a great concert, but the general energy and vibe were incredibly chilled out. If you’ve never heard of it, the title of Bluesfest can be misleading because it hosts so much more than just blues music. I jammed out to The Soul Rebels’ funk tunes and really got into Matt Corby’s incredible vocal range and song composition.
I could devote an individual blog post to each of my Byron Bay experiences, but to keep things succinct, here are some incredible highlights I recommend:
Driving up the Legendary Pacific Coast Highway is a must for anybody who wants to see the real NSW. Genuine places and people are spread along the coast and make for a very authentic Australian experience. Of what seems like an endless list of things I’ve done while on the Funster Experiment, this road trip has been one of my favourite experiences to date. Check out the rest of my trip in photos on Facebook.