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Brisbane to Sydney, Australia | Down under overdrive

Brisbane to Sydney, Australia | Down under overdrive

australia--621x414Encounters with kangaroos, kangaroo pies, hilltop lighthouses and the prospects of a Dhoom Dhmaal Dinner Dance.

Rishad Saam Mehta Mint(Wall Street Journal India) – May 3, 2014

 The prospect was tantalizing. But was it worth cancelling a flight ticket and disrupting well-laid plans for?

“It’s one of Australia’s defining drives—the drive along the blue Pacific,” he had said. I imagined myself cruising in a car next to the infinite blue waters of the Pacific for hours on end. This could be the experience of a lifetime.

But here we were, with flight tickets in our pocket—and an assured, comfortable flight ahead of us. Should we cancel the flight ticket from Brisbane to Sydney, and yield to the temptation to drive instead?

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My friend Gev and I were flying from Singapore to Brisbane, from where we were planning to fly on to Sydney. We had decided to flight-hop in this way because the direct Singapore-Sydney flights were sold out.

On the Singapore-Brisbane flight, we had started talking to a fellow passenger, Jonathan Drapes, who had told us about the 1,000-mile (around 1,600km) ride on the beautiful coastal highway from Brisbane to Sydney. He had said the drive was not only picturesque, but also on a fast, open highway, perfect for a blazing fast drive. Indeed, the World Rally Championship also goes through part of that route, we found out.

I had shrugged my shoulders and said it was a pity we had flight tickets booked already. “You should just cancel your flight tickets, hire a car and drive there,” he had said with a laugh, not quite believing that we would actually do it.

I thought about it for a moment. Argh. A 90-minute flight—or a drive that might take us a couple of days. Dammit.

Okay, I decided, we would pick the road if we could drive a Holden. That was the only way the drive would be worth it. We walked to the Hertz counter—and they indeed had a Holden Commodore available. Within minutes, keys in hand, I was walking towards the airline ticket counter to cancel our flight tickets.

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At 9am, within just 2 hours of our landing in Brisbane, I turn the key into the ignition of our blue Holden Commodore. Its sleek, shining body throbs to life. Within minutes, I am speeding south on the M1, the Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a beautiful day with blue skies and just a smattering of clouds. With every mile we fling behind us, I am grateful I am sitting out here with the wind rushing past me.

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kangaroo 310x465

I feel like a horse left unbridled. I cannot take my foot off the accelerator. Apart from a stop to still our stomachs’ rumblings, I drive continuously for 6 hours. It takes Byron Bay’s seaside to make me want to take a breather. I have heard and read about the quiet beaches here and I figure this would be a great place to stop over for the night.

The next morning, Byron Bay’s relaxed vibe ensures I don’t want to start driving immediately. We take a 90-minute walk to the Byron Bay Lighthouse, which goes up a hill through rainforests and then breaks out by a seaside cliff before climbing up to a promontory on which the lighthouse stands. Then it goes down the other side of the promontory, where there is a signboard that declares “the most easterly point of the Australian Mainland”.

I feel I have reached the edge of the earth. The sun rises out of the blue Pacific. We are one of the first people in Australia to see it that day.

I want to stay here forever, and keep this sunrise with me. But the road beckons and I can’t wait to press my foot on the accelerator again.

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Three hours and 210km later, the impetus to stop comes once again from our stomachs. Our lunch break this time is at a small town called Woolgoolga. We find out that Woolgoolga’s Punjabi community hosts a fete called the Curryfest every year. Curryfest’s highlights, our waitress tells us, include a Dhoom Dhmaal Dinner Dance and a Kabaddi Tournament. Tempting as it is to stay and attend the Dhoom Dhmaal Dinner Dance a couple of weeks later, we have to drive on. The loss is entirely ours, I tell myself.

New South Wales’ Pacific coast boasts of the best oysters Besides, the waitress who had told us about the Dhoom Dhmaal Dinner Dance had also told us that just 10km from Woolgoolga we could see kangaroos. Drive through Australia and not see kangaroos? Not even an option.

Soon, we are at the Moonee Beach Nature Reserve, in a scrubland packed with scores of kangaroos. There are more of them here than I have seen on all my previous trips to Australia. I look at them hopping around without a care. When I tear myself away, it is only to head to a nearby restaurant to chomp down oysters that taste like fresh sea breeze.

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The next morning, we aren’t yet in the mood for a long drive. These seaside towns can do that to you.

We drive 47km south to Nambucca Heads, to see its brightly painted breakwater wall. Tour- ists and locals alike have painted the rocks that form the breakwa- ter, with pledges and memories. I walk next to this wall, and read the stray strands of thoughts left behind by people who have been here before me. I can’t help but feel an unspoken kinship with all these people, who had visited the same strange corner of the universe that I was at, and had left their mark.

Our next drive lasts just 60km, and is brought to a pause by, you guessed it, our stomachs. Our waitress at the oyster bar the previous evening had told us that we absolutely must try Fredo’s Pies in Frederickton. Having allowed strangers’ advice to brighten up so many of our days, it wasn’t too hard for us to add Fredo’s Pies to our itinerary.

Fredo’s serves pies made with ingredients that you expect to see on the menu, like chicken, vegetables, steak, kidney and spinach. But it also features camel, crocodile and kangaroo meat pies. I wonder if I should dare to sample any of these. I’m tempted, but I play it safe and settle for a steak pie. It’s hot, crispy, thin-crusted, and has generous fillings inside.

On this day of filled stomachs and quiet waterfront walks, we drive only 58km to Port Macquarie, where we call it a day.

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The next morning, we drive non-stop to Sydney. I blaze away on the open road, almost as if to make up for the quiet and slowness of the last couple of days. What’s a little quiet if not balanced by doses of frenzy?

Yet, as I coast and take my mind off the road, I can’t help but think back over the last couple of days, when I had stopped at places I never knew about or thought I would visit. I had seen the interior of a continent that I would have just flown over in a closed jet if it hadn’t been for a serendipitous conversation. I had seen strange villages and an open oceanside simply because I decided to follow not a booked airline ticket, but the call of the open road.

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