By Susan Roberts
At the end of March I found myself in Port Macquarie, NSW, for two days. The third stop on our epic road trip, this seaside town was a true delight. We had left far behind us the tall buildings and racy lifestyle of the Gold Coast, and in their place was a tranquil town where the trees were taller and more plentiful than the buildings, which is exactly how we felt it should be.
The atmosphere for our stay there was firmly set on our first evening with a visit to the local observatory. Joining a few others, we lined up outside the modest building, watching as the domed roof swivelled into place, a panel slid back and the enormous telescope peeked out at the stars.
Once inside, we lost ourselves in those stars for a few hours. Despite the lofty subject matter, the members of the organisation that runs this venue were down-to-earth, friendly and informative. Clearly their public evenings are a well-known local attraction, and several children in the audience were a good deal more informed than my companion and I!
First we gazed at Orion’s Belt through the telescope, then watched a PowerPoint presentation which pointed out to us just how miniscule and insignificant our tiny blue planet is in the greater universe. All this might have made us feel less than important, were it not for the attitude of everyone in the little building. The whole town seemed to be saying: “If we’re that small, then let’s just enjoy being small and continue to be nice to each other.”
We also watched an amusing video about how a female astronaut in the space station washes her hair in zero gravity. The organisers rounded off the evening with another look through the telescope, this time at Jupiter. Our walk back to the hotel was chilly, but we were oblivious, our heads turned up to the heavens, gazing at the stars with new appreciation.
The following morning dawned warm and bright, and we set off from the simply named Town Beach on a long walk down the coast from one beach to the next. Not since the Otter Trail back in South Africa have I seen such magnificent coastal scenery as I did that day.
Sadly, my level of fitness did not match the level I had when doing said Otter Trail thirteen years ago. By the time we reached Flynn’s Beach, two and a half kilometres later, we had both had more than enough exercise, so we took a (very expensive) bus back to our hotel.
That afternoon we drove to the Koala Hospital which has an open viewing at 3 pm every day. The hospital itself is set in the tree-rich grounds of an historic Victorian home called Roto House. The koala hospital is run almost entirely by volunteers, and their care and attention to these lovely little creatures is awe-inspiring.
Most injuries to koalas are from cars, dogs or fire, and several of the animals we saw will never be re-released back into the wild because some of their injuries include loss of a leg, loss of some claws or partial loss of eyesight, but they are comfortable, happy and well-looked after where they are.
On the same property, Roto House was once the home of the Flynn family – after whom the aforementioned beach was named. The style of architecture, furnishings, and personal belongings gave us a nostalgic but vivid idea of what life was like in the time before World War 1 took the Flynn family’s sons away and left most of their daughters without husbands.
To anyone who is planning a holiday on the coast of New South Wales, I would highly recommend a few days in Port Macquarie. And if you’re there on a Wednesday night, don’t forget to visit the observatory – it’s well worth it!