OFF THE TOURIST TRACK IN AUSTRALIA
"Ting! Tong! Ting! Tong!" The mellow notes float down to me from a thicket of eucalyptus trees, but although I crane my neck to peer through the branches I can't track down the songsters. They are Australian bellbirds that I'm told are very hard to spot, so I'm content to merely listen, fascinated.
Like the bellbirds, many of Australia's feathered inhabitants are unique. There's the iconic kookaburra whose maniacal laughter lies on the morning air, the shoals of Major Mitchell cockatoos flying across the twilight sky with harsh screeches, and the cluster of greedy lorikeets that crowd my balcony railings, looking for breadcrumbs. Cheeky and curious, they look as though they have been dipped in paint cans, their heads bright blue, and feathers scarlet, green and yellow. I have other visitors too: pink and grey galahs that survey me, heads cocked to one side, and a host of other birds which provide a morning wake up chorus of trills, coos, crooning riffs, whistles and flute-like calls.
Greedy little Lorikeet
Unlike the more popular resort of Bateman's Bay which is about an hour's drive further north along the coast, Narooma isn't your typical foreign tourist watering hole. With a population of about 8,000, the seaside town boasts a few motels and family owned restaurants, a movie theatre, a couple of servicemen's clubs which offer gamblers a chance to hit the jackpots at slot machines, known locally as "pokies", and a golf club that sits on a rise overlooking a panoramic view across its greens.
A shady boardwalk lined by spotted gums and feathery-leafed eucalyptus trees (where I pause to listen to those bellbirds) runs along Wagonga Inlet. This is where, of an afternoon, locals along with their kids and grandkids come by to hang a fishing rod over the boardwalk railings, lick ice-cream cones, ride their bicycles, or merely sit on a bench and enjoy the summer breezes off the water.
Going Fishing with Grandpa
Stingrays lurk shadowlike in the shallows, and on an evening walk, we spot four fat and lazy seals sunbathing on one of the two rocky breakwaters that extend out to the sea. They are unfazed by the incessant crash of enormous white-capped waves that lash the rocks-surging tides and furious seas which are notoriously perilous to boaters heading in or out of the bar. On a drive further along the Inlet's bar "Australia Rock" is a natural formation that resembles the continent's shape. A great subject for my camera.
Seals cavorting on the breakwater's rocks
We explore neighbouring towns leisurely driving past colonial brick bungalows with tiled roofs, deep verandahs and balconies embellished with lacy wrought-iron fretwork. Crepe myrtle trees are in extravagant bloom-purple, orange, pink and white-and purple fronded jacarandas droop over sidewalks. At sheltered groves off the main highway, we stop for picnic lunches, washed down with swigs of wine (designated driver excepted!) and indulge in impromptu renditions of Waltzing Matilda.
Surfers on the beach at Dalmeny
Seven miles north of Narooma, the beach at Dalmeny is dotted with surfers riding waves that unfurl along the shore. Undulating meadows interspersed with groves of eucalyptus thickets, lead to seaside villages like Mystery Bay where blonde sands crunch warm between my bare toes. Just a few miles south of Narooma we browse through the craft shops on the crooked sidewalks of the pretty little town of Tilba Tilba, in the heart of wine country. Always, a turn of the coastal road brings into view, the cobalt sea, and stretches of white sandy beaches, or inlets with boats moored against the shoreline
All Saints Church, Bodalla
The old Anglican church of All Saints in Bodalla completed at the end of the 1800s, is of particular interest to me: it commemorates the memory of a prominent Australian businessman Thomas Sutcliffe Mort, whose great, great granddaughter, now living in Canada, is a personal friend.
Perhaps the most poignant stop of all, is at the Memorial Gardens at Tuross Heads where the pine tree grove commemorates Australia's role at Gallipoli in World War I. Below the garden, waves rush the shore along the crescent-shaped cove.
It's our last evening in Narooma and as we sip our pre-dinner drinks on the patio of our suite at the Apollo Holiday Units, lorikeets squabble in the nearby trees and I fancy I hear the tinkle of a bellbird in the softly falling dusk.
IF YOU GO:
Air Canada runs daily direct flights to Sydney Australia from Vancouver B.C. aircanada.com/en/flights/Vancouver-to-Sydney.html
Where to Stay:
Apollo Holiday Units at 16 McMillan Road, Narooma, NSW, 2546, is conveniently located and offers clean, comfortable "home away from home" units with two bedrooms, living-dining room and a fully equipped kitchen: apolloholidayunits.com.au/ Contact Jan or Ray Gale for bookings at their e-mail:
PHOTOS: By Margaret Deefholts and Phyllis Beavan
1. Fishing off the Narooma Boardwalk
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