Road-tripping on New South Wales’ Grand Pacific Drive

I couldn’t hold it any longer. I had to pee. In a feat of gymnastics, I twisted myself around in the back of my rental car, a silver Subaru Forrester, and climbed out the rear side door. It’s summer here in Australia right now. Even at 4:30 am, the weather is warm. I took few steps from the car – for the sake of decency – and peed.

Above me, the sky sparkled with a million stars. I could make out the southern cross, but few other constellations. It has always been on my list to learn more about them. I have so many things on my list. We all do, but mine seem to swirl around travel and the longing to explore, to simply wander and live. That’s what I’m doing right now, well aside from peeing. Actually, I’m peeing anymore, that was earlier, but I think you got that.

What I am doing right now is heading home to visit my family near Melbourne, at the southern tip of the Australian mainland. No matter how you spin it, it’s a long way from anywhere. Unlike any normal person who would fly directly to the city they are visiting, I decided to fly into Sydney and road trip roughly 1000km down the coast of New South Wales. The coastal route, which roughly follows the A1 highway before it turns inland near the border of New South Wales and Victoria, is a beautiful strip of road, meandering its way through even more beautiful seaside towns and sapphire blue beaches and bays. This is where the area gets its name, the Sapphire Coast.

My first hour in the car, after leaving Sydney airport was spent admiring the endless traffic from within one the many tunnels burrowed under the city. It gave me time to get used to driving on the left side of the road again. It also gave me time to be welcomed warmly by my fellow drivers as I changed lanes flicking the wiper blades instead of the indicator. It’s funny that all the controls in the car save for the pedals are reversed, but the middle finger is still the middle finger no matter what side of the road you are on. Hello, Australia, good to see you again. Eventually, I got the hang of it again, and before I knew it I had left the city, and the one-finger salute behind.

I headed south following the Grand Pacific Drive, before entering a region called Shoalhaven where a road, or precisely a bridge, has been constructed adjacent to a vertical cliff, and above the ocean, some 50m below. In typical Australian style, the creatively named Seacliff Bridge, It’s a short, ~700m, but beautiful drive and hard to keep your eyes on the road. I stopped for a quick snack before jumping back behind the wheel, driving on the wrong side of the road for a moment, corrected my mistake, and hurried out of town.

I stopped 30 minutes later in a tiny hamlet, barely a smudge on the map. The sky ahead was a brilliant blue with barely a wisp of a cloud. The air was filled with bird songs as hundreds of native Gallahs sat perched on the electrical wires. I listened to the melody for what seemed like an eternity letting time slow down around me, dipping like the wires under the weight of my feathered choir singers. This is the Australia of my youth. Pure, vibrant, and natural.

I pushed on. All adventures feel that urge to keep moving. The car rumbled into life, and I continued south. A few hours later, jetlag began to set in. It was time to find somewhere to sleep. I turned off the A1 towards Jervis Bay hoping to find a quiet place to pull over. I drove through Vincentia, collected supplies at a local grocery store before heading to the bay.

Jervis Bay is a large, protected bay with golden sand beaches and a collection of small towns clustered around its edges. Huskisson, Hyams Beach, and Myola are all spectacular in the way only sleepy Australian beach towns can be. Despite it being 6 pm, the cafes all bustle with lazy energy as patrons, wrapped in towels, hair still wet from swimming in the ocean, sip strong coffee and chat with warm smiles. Life is easy here. People are friendly. And road trips endless.

I pulled my car into a quiet turnout with a few of the bay. My dinner considered of cheesy bread roll and a bottle of water. I watched the sunset through the bug-splattered windshield. By the time I sun disappeared to the west behind me, I had strummed the last notes of Let it Be by The Beatles, upon my guitar. I let the G chord ring out fading like the light in the warm evening sky. There is something pure about the fading chord of a guitar that I love. It’s simple, understated, yet serenely beautiful. Just like now, overlooking the ocean with nothing but a car, a backpack, and my guitar. I drifted to sleep to the sound of waves gently caressing the shore.

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