April 27, 2010 ~ Grafton, Lawrence, Maclean (This posting is a bit out of order. This came after Nambucca Heads and before Byron Bay)
A stop at the “i” center let us know that we were in Grafton, “the jacaranda city” famous for “The Jacaranda Festival, Australia’s longest running floral festival…held from the last Saturday in October when the streets are lined with vibrant purple blossoms.” (Clarence River Tourism brochure, www.clarencetourism.com). Though our timing was off for the festival we still enjoyed driving around this stunning city that boasts over 7,000 trees. (Later, our hostess Dulcie shared dozens of pictures from the 2008 festival with the town glowing in purple blossoms and a carpet of purple blanketing the ground.) We crossed the majestic Clarence River over the famous ‘Bendy Bridge’ that is considered an “engineering marvel” and was built in 1932. Chris, a volunteer at the information center, directed us to Breimba St. that is lined on both sides with massive fig trees with their enormous twisted trunks, and Chris also told us of an alternate route that would take us through pastoral countryside to the lovely town of Lawrence situated on the banks of the Clarence River. We were to cross the car ferry and head through the Scottish town of Maclean and on to the coastal surfing town of Yamba but fate lead us to Dulcie and Roger and an evening amongst the sugar cane. We’d had a stop in the pretty Lawrence Park where we admired the river and played on the equipment before headed to the toilet block. As I waited out front for the boys I said hello to Brien who then enquired where I was from. As we visited, Brien’s wife, Dulcie and finally Roger, soon joined us. They had just finished having their Monday musical practice session and were loading instruments into their vehicles. We chatted for a half hour or more about our trip, sugar cane and other local crops and a variety of other topics and could have talked all night but we finally went on our way thinking we had to make Yamba before dark. Well, as we were lined up in the number two spot for the car ferry, Roger walked up to the camper van and asked if we’d like to see a sugar cane farm. I instantly said, “We’d love too!” And, just like that Mike whipped a “U” turn and we were off to Roger and Dulcie’s for the evening.
We were thrilled to get the grand tour of the sugar cane farm (right across the street from their home) complete with a bit of Roger’s family history mixed in along the way. Roger retired a couple of years ago and sold his land to his brother Roger who just happens to live across the street! It was his grandparents who originally settled the area. We learned that the cane is usually harvested after about 2 years and that it can be cut just inches from the ground and will grow back up to full height in about 8 months. This can be done about 5 times before the roots are tilled under and they have to start from scratch. Roger cut a bit of cane for us and showed us the inside where the “eye” can be found and explained that if it freezes the cane will stop growing and you have to harvest it then. We even had a bit of cane to chew on and found it to be quite sweet though, Roger explained, that it wasn’t at its peak.
Gregory also got to meet Scruffy, Robert’s dog and his horse Leah who whinny and pranced around for us. She was quite worked up and had a roll in the grass to dry off her sweaty coat. Dulcie was quite busy while we were on our walk and had a lovely meal prepared for us. She also made sure Gregory had plenty to play with. She got out her son’s Legos and cars (she even gave him one to take with him), colored pencils and Frisbees. On the kitchen counter we discovered a bowl of dark brown, almost perfectly round objects filling a bowl. We learned they were macadamia nuts with the shells still on! We’ve eaten them but never seen them in their shells. Dulcie got out the hammer and let Gregory have a whack at them on the back porch. He sat one in a little dip in the concrete and swung away! We’ve had roasted, salted macadamias from the store before but fresh was even better!
Later that evening, while the adults had a visit, Gregory was allowed to pick a movie from Roger’s wide collection of John Wayne and Bonanza. Though he almost chose a western he went for the Sherlock Holmes instead!
We’d had a full afternoon and though it felt quite late when we went to bed around 8:30 P.M. after “plugging in” in the driveway. At dinner, I had explained to Dulcie and Roger about my mysterious rash from the night before and all agreed I might check at the chemist (pharmacist) the next day. Though I’d been relatively rash free most of the day, with my hands just a bit itchy, I’d had a flare up again that evening and my back was covered in massive red patches. I went to bed only to wake up in the middle of the night scratching my palms until they felt like they would bleed! My feet were also unbearably itchy and I couldn’t stop the incessant scratching. I’d woken Mike and he said, “Don’t scratch!” I wanted to throttle him because he had no idea how out of control I felt. I went inside to the bathroom and scratched away taking care not to break the skin. Fortunately for me, Dulcie left a note that said, Dorrie, maybe an antihistamine would help. She left a box of Fexal (fexofenadine hydrochloride) for me and I took one right away. (Last night I’d taken a Singulair I had with me but didn’t think to take one that night.) After about a half hour of washing my feet and hands in cool water, applying lotion, scratching and rubbing, things finally calmed down and I felt I might get back to sleep. I slept until morning and woke to the clippity-clop of Leah’s hooves in the paddock next to the house. It was a chilly night and as I peeked out the van window I could see the mist rising off of King’s Creek that runs behind their home. Warm air also was visible coming from Leah’s nostrils as she stood amongst the dew-covered grass framed by the sugar cane growing on King’s Island in the background. It was a picturesque pastoral setting and made better by the fact that I was rash free at least for the moment.
After leaving our new friends in Lawrence we crossed the Clarence River on the car ferry and had a beautiful drive to the town of Maclean, “The Scottish Town In Australia,” which has a highland gathering each Easter. The many power poles are painted with Scottish clan tartans and each has the appropriate clan name.
In Maclean, the chemist speculated that I’d had an allergic reaction to something, most possibly the fish or oysters I’d eaten in the past couple of evenings. It could also have been the little midges that fly about or mosquitoes and they guessed that the bloody bite between my toes was probably a leech! Geez! They said to keep taking the Fexal for a week or so and gave me an anti-inflammatory first aid cream called Paraderm Plus. We found a good deal on some snorkeling equipment at Maclean Outdoors and enjoyed takeaway in the park. Gregory had a Pluto Pup (basically a corn dog), I had a Satay Chicken Wrap and Mike had the John Dory fish and we all shared an enormous portion of chips (fries). We don’t eat out often so this was a nice treat.
We spent the entire afternoon with the camper van in the shop trying to sort out our battery issues and even after the install of a new “main” battery and pulling the alternator we still couldn’t find the reason that the auxiliary battery won’t take a charge off of the engine. The guys at the shop were terrific and dealt directly with Apollo (our rental company) and in the end we decided we would just have to swap out vans when we get up to Brisbane. We are fine as long as we can plug in each night but when we get to more remote areas it will be more crucial that the auxiliary battery can hold a charge to keep the fridge going. We closed the place down around 5:00 P.M. and it was already starting to get dark. Fortunately, we had a recommendation from one of the guys in the shop who grew up in Yamba, and we pulled into the Calypso Holiday Park well after dark. We had access to private ensuites (bathrooms complete with shower, toilet and sink all in one room) and had lovely steaming hot showers.