(June 30, 2020 – written by Dave)
Our third night in the YHA was the best one, but to achieve this, I had to be a bit of a grumpy old man. We’ve found that most of the hostels on this trip are full of semi-permanent residents, mostly international travellers. They can’t get home and they need a cheapish place to stay, fair enough. However, they sort of move into the hostels, taking over the kitchens, forming their own little cliques and making their own rules.
In Byron Bay, one of the house rules they ignored was the 11PM quiet hours. We heard loud voices outside our room both nights up to around 2AM. Nancy shooed the offenders to bed with a proper “stink-eye” one night but before the third night, I decided to be proactive and asked the folks at reception to do something. To their credit, reception pulled the offenders up and at least for one night, the rebels behaved. Good thing, Nancy was ready to give them a proper serve if they repeated the first two nights. That’s travel with Covid I guess.
Anyway, so what is the “hinterland” thing mentioned in the title to today’s blog? The word is from German and it means a remote area of a country away from the coast or the banks of major river; the area beyond what is known. Terms that are similar include: “the back of beyond”, “the middle of nowhere” and “the boondocks”. In this part of Australia, the hinterlands are the areas away from the coast or west of the M1 motorway, up the escarpment, kind of where the hippies live.
We are almost old enough to be hippies but don’t go much for the tie-die. We like places like hinterlands mainly because they are typically crisscrossed by narrow, twisty, low traffic country roads. Or at least we assume that’s what they will be like. Until today, we didn’t know anything about the Byron Bay hinterlands.
Traffic leaving Byron this morning was pretty thick but almost on cue upon crossing the M1 we started climbing the escarpment and entered a magical hinterland. The first road we found was called Possum Shoot Road – I mean how can a road with Shoot in its name not be a backwoods road? There was some traffic but it was forced to go slow because the road was so narrow and so twisty. It was just what we were looking for.
We snaked up and down fantastic ridge top roads, down into hollows, back up to the escarpment and then repeated it all over again. We did this for the entire morning. For the first part we got some nice views out to the ocean and could even see way out to Cape Byron. Yesterday when we were at the lighthouse, we looked off to the distance mountains and hoped our hinterland ride would take us to these very hills. Lucky us, we got to enjoy a really fantastic ride in the new found hinterlands.
Keeping with the hippy theme, early on, we started seeing signs for the Crystal Castle. We didn’t plan on it but it just happened that at every junction whatever way we turned, there was a brown tourist sign for the Crystal Castle pointing the same direction. The last kilometre was the only off route section and it was a steep uphill. Nancy decided that she would wait for me at the bottom of the hill. I was happy that I didn’t have to pedal up the steep grade – rather, the pull of the magical crystals zipped me effortlessly to the entrance gate.
The Crystal Castle is so magical that they have a “you can’t see without paying” big green fence blocking most of the magical crystal garden. They only wanted $38 per adult for entry. Darn it, if Nancy had come up with me, for sure we would have sprung the $76 and done a full tour. Darn. As it was, I didn’t want to keep Nancy waiting so I snuck a few photos from up on the entrance road where they didn’t have any fencing. I feared afternoon bad karma but figured if I noted how outlandishly magical the whole place felt to me here in the blog, well, I’d probably be fine. It was stupendously magical- there I said it, so far, so good.
The hinterlands were rainforest-like full of vines draping down to the road, lots of tree ferns and giant fig trees. There were also heaps of stag horn ferns, more than I’ve ever seen in a natural setting. We didn’t spot any koalas but we came across a bunch of signs asking us to drive slow and protect them. With only one more day riding on this trip, we’ll have to be on our toes tomorrow.
Hinterland elevated rainforest hills are obviously a great environment to grow macadamia nuts. We passed heaps of orchards cascading up and down the hills once we got one ridge away from the coastal views. We even took a short lunch break in Dunoon, the town that claimed to be The Australian Macadamia Capitol. I’d be surprised if a Queensland town doesn’t claim this title but for us today, Dunoon is it.
After lunch, we eventually made it to the end of the hinterland mountains and dropped the last little bit into the bustling inland town of Lismore. We nearly doubled the mileage and tripled the climbing today over the direct route between Byron and Lismore but riding the hinterlands was fun, we’re really glad we did it. In Lismore, we checked out a couple places to camp but ended up getting a room at the Comfort Inn. It looked like it might rain but really, neither of the caravan parks felt 100% safe. Getting our bikes “nearly” stolen the other night is still on our minds.
Lismore is nice little country town but clearly things are not great here. It was probably suffering from the general country town shrinkage then along came Covid. Shops are trying to get going again but many have hours something like Thursday to Sunday – 10:00 to 2:30. In other words, business is not great. Covid-wise, it feels safe being here. And it is nice being able to make a contribution to the recovering economy.
Last day of the ride is tomorrow – we head to Casino. We’re looking for a “long-cut” as it’s a short ride if we go direct. Perhaps we’ll head back into the hinterlands, might as well finish with some hills eh?