A Bong-Free Trip Down Memory Lane
By the time I was old enough to get my driver’s licence, surfing and smoking pot was a huge part of my life and regular road trips to Seal Rocks, Crescent Head, Angourie, Lennox Head, Byron Bay and the Gold Coast had become the norm.
The big difference was that in those mad days the Pacific Highway was nothing like it is today. Huge stretches of the highway were only just one lane, and it wasn’t always in the best condition.
Back in those days, with every little town you passed through you’d know exactly where to stop for your stoned munchies – chocolate milk, pies, sausage rolls and thick homemade vanilla slices could be found in abundance along this pothole-filled route to freedom.
One of my most memorable times driving up the coast was a mid-week surfing adventure to Treachery Beach, just south of Seal Rocks, in my late teens. It was about 1980 and I was accompanied by one of my good mates, David ‘Baddy’ Treloar, who also happened to be one of Australia’s best surfers of that era.
As we arrived in Newcastle, rain was bucketing down and some loose gravel from the roadworks had been flicked up from an oncoming vehicle and smashed our windscreen. While I was cleaning the glass out of the car I was berated by my older mate for driving way too fast and “like an idiot”.
Replacing the windscreen was never an option, so we wrapped towels around our heads, put our sunnies on and continued driving in the rain. Twenty minutes later the weather had cleared so we pulled off the road onto a quiet bush track to smoke some bongs.
A few hazy minutes passed when a huge emu stuck his head in where our windscreen should’ve been. Moments later another emu appeared, and then 2, 3, 4… perhaps 10-plus, all craning their ridiculously long necks while sticking their big beaked heads into the car in an attempt to peck us, inquisitively rather than violently.
By this time our fear of losing an eyeball had subsided and we started laughing uncontrollably – genuine uncontrollable laughter where you can’t breathe. Still to this day it’s one of the funniest and most ridiculous moments of my life.
Fast forward many years down the track, not only have the bong and drug abuse been confined to the history books, but that same drive north up the coast is now a breeze. Depending on your timing, for the most part it’s a dual carriageway and you’ll rarely be confronted by oncoming vehicles. But with progress comes change and unfortunately most of the little local towns where we used to stop off along the way have been bypassed by the motorway.
Today, however, the trip is definitely a more mature and comfortable experience. My partner packs an esky with moreish food and our snack stops are also utilised for nanna naps – a change from days gone by when we’d punch a few bongs and have a slash.
Driving from Sydney, the first day’s main stop is usually Seal Rocks – about three hour’s drive away – for a mandatory stretch, walk on the beach, quick swim and a feed. These days pot has been swapped for dry ham sliced off the bone, hummus and baba ganoush with cherry tomatoes, baby cucumbers and Mary’s gluten-free crackers.
From Sealy’s our next stop is a favourite of mine, Scotts Head, for another walk and a swim before we roll into Coffs Harbour. Coffs is the ideal stopover; by the time we arrive the sun has disappeared and night-time driving is definitely not my favourite thing to do. Our choice of motel is the Bentleigh Motor Inn.
After a night’s rest we hit the road head for a 2.5-hour drive to what was once a hidden little gem of a town but is now all grown up: Bangalow.
With its single main street, Bangalow is still the dreamy little town from another era with its charming cafes, restaurants, health stores, boutiques, real estate offices and inviting local pub. The only difference today is the exorbitant price of absolutely everything!
We ended up staying for a week with friends. The 15-20 minute drive to overcrowded Byron Bay winds through some of the most beautiful and lush hinterland and it’s definitely a town that one could easily end up retiring to.
We also visit Nimbin, only a pleasant 45-minute drive from Bangalow. I hadn’t been there for about 28 years and it’s still an endearing little town with its roadside stalls, cafes and colorful shops selling a multitude of hemp products, but there’s an underlining feeling of despair with the old junkies hanging around in what once was and still should be a gorgeous little town.
The return trip to Sydney sees us leaving early in the morning so we can spend a few hours walking and swimming at the back beach of Angourie, just south of Yamba, before making it down to Port Macquarie and crashing at a motel near the beach.
I did take my board on this trip, which is a 9’6 mal these days, but if the swell is over 3 feet it doesn’t come down off the roof racks. Gone are the days surfing boards under 6’6 and praying for huge swells – long gone, along with the old bamboo bong!
Where to stay
Bentleigh Motor Inn
Phone: 02 6652 2566
How to get there
Vicky Gilden at Rose Bay Travel (02) 9371 8166