From the happy cows chomping in the paddocks; to the ancient trees and rain forests sprawling through hills and valleys; to the magnificent community garden of vegetables, fruits and herbs (including that delectable peppermint - who needs gum!); to the magical water holes in the wild, the stunning Bellinger River and the isolated beaches in the surrounding towns (all warranting a skinny dip, if only we had the guts); to the just-perfect mix of shops, eateries and mind-body-soul services on tap in town (not forgetting the well stocked fruit n' veg barn on the outskirts)..... the whole Bellingen region rocks with an earthy, wholesome, creative vibe that presses all our buttons, even those we didn't know we had!
We stay for three weeks, parking ourselves for most of that time next to the awesome riverfront house that is being built by our Bello buddy Bruce, and shared with his stoic partner Sam and the dynamic mix of kids and inlaws visiting at the same time as us.
We are, for all intents and purposes, camped in the wild - powered by batteries, gas cylinders and the sun, tank water in use, and portapotty at the ready. It rains, heavier and more frequently than we knew to expect, which adds another layer of challenge to the whole experience as everything... bikes, toys, books, shoes, clothes, faces, floors, fingernails... is covered, mercilessly, in mud.
It does nothing to muddy our enthusiasm for the magical block of land on which we are staying (THAT river! THAT decking! THAT view!), much less for Bellingen itself.
Long time Bello fan Uncle Josh joins us early on for five days with Auntie Karen, and we delight in being shown around his favouriate spots and discovering new ones together. We chew the fat with the Kornhauser clan, whose Around Australia journey of '09 was inspiration for our own. We catch two weekend's worth of markets, gathering funky threads and fresh food. We meet lots of interesting folk, share lots of wonderful big meals with friends, and find that we are inhaling the Bello country air in big grateful gulps.
For our last few Bellingen days we relocate to the Undarra caravan park and avail our dirty selves of the laundry and shower facilities. Then its time to hit the road again. Less than a month left of our epic adventure. Next stop: Sydney.
|Chilling out on Bruce's deck. Nothing finer!|
|Rikki and Bruce's daughter Nell playing on the deserted Hungry Head beach, before stripping to undies and hitting the surf.|
|Rikki and Jack paddling out to the "island" in the Bellinger River at the bottom of Bruce's block. |
Next day when Jack attempts a similar river crossing, the currants up the ante, leaving him stranded and needing a heavy rescue mission. Cue: Daddy.
|It's overcast. It's nippy. It's windy. And we haven't packed bathers. |
But at Undarra, undies are the go. And the kids just go... go... go...!
|Budge at the big fire where we roast spuds, corn and marshmallows... |
(The spuds, unfortunately, are tossed in way too far and it is a sweaty, skin-peeling exercise extracting them.)
|The kids build their own fire next to ours. A perfect spot for Rikki to kick back and eat her 'taters.|
|Hitting the mighty monthly market. Over 200 stalls, food, rides, bands ... The week before we'd done the Bellingen Farmers Market and thought that was tops! This leaves that for dust.|