By Jacob Aldridge

Today’s Itinerary

Beach Sunrise - not just blue

Sunrise in Yamba, northern New South Wales. Photo by Mark Wassell, Licensed under Creative Commons

Australia has a reputation for being a big country. It covers 5% of the earth’s surface all by itself, is twice the size of India (but with just 2% of the population), and is the only country that is coterminous with a continent (we like big words).

Australians also have an infatuation with ‘bigness’, and no Australian road trip is complete without visiting at least some of these … attractions. As we continue our drive down the east coast, we bypass the Big Prawn in Ballina but make sure to stop at the unmissable icon that is Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana.

The Big Banana

Australia’s Big Banana, in Coffs Harbour. Picture by Adam. Licensed under Creative Commons

Since it opened in December 1964, the site has grown into a theme park of sorts and the Big Banana itself has featured on an Australian stamp!. We’re happy to settle for a walk-through the icon, a photo in front, and a banana split (what else?!) in the cafe.

Friday afternoon we arrive at tonight’s pitstop, the¬†beach-side¬†town of Port Macquarie. We’ve missed the May-November whale watching season, but there’s always time to grab a cold drink and enjoy a 90 minute sunset cruise with Port Venture Cruises.

Sunset over the water

Sunset in Port Macquarie, NSW Australia. Photo by Eugene Regis, Licensed under Creative Commons

Saturday morning dawns, and while the humidity decreases with every hour we drive further south, it’s still warm enough to justify an early morning swim before we jump in the car. They call it the Pacific Highway for a reason, as the Pacific Ocean is never too far away.

Until, that is, we turn inland, headed for the regional town of Cessnock. After a few days of relaxation by the water, it’s time to amp up the adrenaline again, and we have just the experience: a 35 minute joyflight in aboard a Nanchang Warbird!

Joyflight - joy?

Joyflight in a 1957 Nanchang Warbird. Picture Copyright Freeman X Experience

The angry flying dragon on the side of the plane speaks to the power the engine creates, as we find ourselves alternating between enjoying the 360 degree cockpit views and feeling the g-forces in manoeuvres at almost 400km/h (250mph). And just when you think you’ve got the hang of this, wham, the canopy opens! It’s intentional – so we can say we truly “felt the wind in our hair” as we zoomed above Newcastle.

Wine Barrel Hunter Valley

Wine Tasting. Photo by Wendy Harman, Licensed under Creative Commons

We’ve earned our drinks on Saturday night, and the town of Cessnock (like all good Australian country towns) offers plenty of local pubs to choose from. We’re really looking forward to Sunday morning, however; Cessnock is the heart of the Hunter Valley, one of Australia’s premier wine producing regions.

So from a heady plane flight yesterday to the heady flavours of a good Hunter Valley red wine – and as a sensible precaution, we’re taking a tour and letting someone else do the driving as we explore 5 of the regions 25+ vineyards … plus a cheese shop and some chocolate after lunch.

Two weeks ago it was Viennese Gluhwein, and here we are drinking a room temperature red wine under the Australian sun. How do you explore a big country? One unique experience at a time.

Want to go? Need to know!

  • The Big Pineapple in Queensland is another icon, though the ‘road trip tourist attraction’ is sadly dying in an era of discount airlines
  • Port Macquarie is a popular stop on the east coast Australia road trip, neatly breaking up the distance between Brisbane and Sydney. A longer alternative is to head inland, via towns like Tamworth, Dubbo, and Bathurst
  • Whale-watching season along Australia’s east coast runs from mid-May to mid-November, but there are never any guarantees even during the August-September peak period
  • 20 minute flights are also available from Cessnock, and there are a range of planes and experiences all around Australia
  • Australia’s 3 best wine regions are Margaret River (Western Australia), the Barossa Valley (South Australia), and the Hunter Valley (New South Wales)

Agree or disagree with our east coast Australia road trip suggestions? Want to recommend a winery elsewhere in Australia? Let us know in the comments below.