If there’s one difference between the towns on the east coasts of Queensland and New South Wales, it’s that NSW is alot less touristy. And despite being a tourist myself, I like it this way.
For a start, it feels more like Australia. When I visited Port Macquarie I stayed at the Beachside Backpackers, which despite it’s mainly European (with even some Dutch and Scandinavian thrown in with the German) visitors, is one of the very few hostels I have been to where the majority of the staff weren’t just other people on working visas. Not only were Nic and Dan Australian by birth, but rented out surfboards, and with dreadlocks and a big beard respectively, they were also most definately Australian by nature. Admittedly Doug came from Luton, but he’s a nice guy so we won’t hold that against him. The fact that socialising was actively encouraged, combined with the decor and artwork, all adds up to this being the cosiest hostel of my travels.
Ideally situated between Coffs Harbour and Sydney, Port Macquarie is great for backpackers, but seemed to not have many. Not only does it break up the journey but there are also a small number of attractions, and the outskirts offer a scenic hike along the coast. Dropped off by the lighthouse, I spent the best part of an afternoon enjoying this walk, rambling between dense forest and sandy beaches. As I got to the edge of town I also noticed another feature that added to the town’s individuality; the rocks all along the sea wall had each been painted by previous visitors, leaving their own artful mark long after they have left.
Of all the attractions on offer, it is has to be the Koala Hospital which is the most visited. As the name suggests it is a treatment centre for ill and injured koalas, but one which is open for the public to come and look at the patients whilst they are waiting to be rereleased. It also offers a daily tour, in part because of the fact it relies on public donations to help fund their work, and may be familiar to anyone who watched the BBC series John Bishop’s Australia. The Liverpudlian comedian also visited the hospital as he cycled from Sydney to Cairns, and it was here that he asked if koalas mate for life, having just been told how quickly chlamydia can spread through a koala population.
Another reason I enjoyed staying in a far more ‘normal’ town than somewhere such as Airlie Beach or Town of 1770 (which I have to say I didn’t visit due to time constraints and a recommendation not to), is that it gives you a chance to have a more ‘normal’ day out. Spending 8+ weeks travelling is a great experience, but sightseeing is hardly a full time activity in Port Macquarie, and even the fact that Australian cinemas have just as many adverts as British ones is a nice reminder of something familiar.
Not that I was simply pretending to be back home, the fact they have much more leg room is yet another bonus of being in a country with so much more space.