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I arrive at the pick up point carrying a backpack heaving with home comforts better suited to three months on the Arctic ice than a weekend away on the beach – and a blinder of a hangover to boot.

Staggering onto the bus, my vision begins to darken somewhere in North Sydney. 

Before I know it, a dull sensation of pain runs through my head as it bounces off of the bus’s window – we have arrived. It seems I must have fallen asleep somewhere after Hornsby and snored peacefully throughout the majority of the trip north on the Pacific Highway, my eyes opening occasionally to take in the rolling swathes of unmolested forests and manicured paddocks dotted with livestock.

The inside of the bus is warm, stifling almost, and the suspension is dealing poorly with the gravel tinged off road we suddenly find ourselves on. 

The sun is shining through the scrub outside the window, spindly trees rising thickly on either side of the vehicle as it begins the decent down to sea level. The road narrows to one lane and the corners become more precipitous, winding tighter as we drive down. 

Suddenly, and quite without warning, we crest a small rise, past a farmhouse cut deep into the undergrowth and we spot the ocean glistening in the distance, a few buildings dotted around the distant coastline and the whole cabin seems to fill with the sudden tang of sea salt. “Tiona,” says Nicole, the driver, happily. “Let the adventure begin.”

A whale of a time

The first stop on our road trip is the Tiona Tourist Park, 290 kilometers from Sydney on New South Wales’ beautiful mid-north coast. 

Once a tiny fishing village caught uneasily between Wallis Lake and the sea, Tiona and the surrounding coastline has blossomed into a playground for Sydney’s nouveau riche, with huge holiday homes springing up in the last 20 years along the wooded hillocks that look out over the Tasman. 

As Nicole drives us into Sundowner Tiona, a smattering of cabins greet us with their uniformed sides backing onto the car park. Thankfully they do not tell the whole story. 

We pull up to an area deeper into the park, heavily shaded by palm trees and I think I can spy a body of water through a roughly cut trail  “Here we are,” says Nicole. “It’s time to make camp!” 

We begin to unload the bus and with every tent roll and sleeping bag that comes out, my heart sinks further. I’m no rugged outdoorsman and will freely admit to rather spending a night in a five star hotel room than under the stars, so the prospect of pitching a tent fills me with dread. A trepidation that is utterly misplaced. 


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