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23-28 March 2017
An opportunity arose for me to have a few pleasant days at Sawtell, so I grabbed it! Sawtell is a peaceful and rather typical coastal retirement and family recreation centre on the far north coast of NSW. It is technically a suburb of the City of Coffs Harbour which is an administrative area that includes the town of Coffs Harbour, 6 km to the north. Sawtell is that area which is bounded to the west by the railway line, to the north by Boambee Creek and to the south by Bonville Creek. It is 26m above sea-level. In recent years its population has increased rapidly to over 5000. Image above is looking north along the beach.
It was a 386 km drive for me from Newcastle, and I travelled through lots of road works and rain on the way north. However I took the required rests along the way, and arrived late afternoon at Sawtell. Pete had beaten me to it on his drive south from the Gold Coast. After a short walk around the main shopping centre we decided on the local RSL Club for dinner and had a nice lamb roast with a glass of Merlot.
The entrance to the Phantom Art Show (left), and Pete tries out the Phantom’s chair and telephone
The following day still held some light rain as we made our way to the Bunker Cartoon Gallery and their Phantom Exhibition in Coffs Harbour. From all reports this was an outstanding exhibition and attracted a large crowd, interested in seeing The Phantom works in an underground cave like setting – their natural habitat. More than 1700 people took advantage of this spectacular show, keeping the art of the Phantom alive! This wasn’t a Phantom memorabilia show, rather it was an art exhibition featuring many of Australia’s leading artists. There were paintings by Reg Mombassa, Charles Blackman, Euan MacLeod, Michael Leunig and Peter Kingston to name a few. All of the artists painted their impressions of the Phantom, often in an Australian setting. There were also carvings, moving models, diaramas and videos – something for everyone.
I had an interesting conversation with the curator of the gallery when I asked if there was any work there by Jim Russell who was a friend of my parents and a great cartoon artist of the 1930s, he illustrated The Potts which appeared regularly in the newspapers. Jim was art director of Smiths Weekly from 1940 to 1950. In 1976 he received an MBE and in 1988 the AM (Order of Australia Medal). The curator found him on their records, and it was a real treat to browse through some of his works. He had done two cartoon drawings in Mum’s Autograph Book years ago – I must get them out and frame them!
We had a couple of trips into Coffs Harbour as it is so close to Sawtell, on the first occasion the weather was light rain, but the second time was a glorious sunny day and I was able to take some great photographs from the lookout and around the harbour.
View over the harbour from the lookout (left) and the harbour pier (right)
On the Saturday morning we discovered that the local CWA was having a small fete, so we had a look around and couldn’t resist a morning tea of scones with jam and cream and a cup of coffee (below left and right).
We wanted to explore the beaches and towns south of Sawtell and set off on another glorious day. Lying immediately to the south of Sawtell, and edged by Bongil Beach, is the Bongil Bongil National Park, a quiet and peaceful destination which is ideal for fishing, bushwalking and barbecues. The park’s main attractions include the 2km Bluff Loop Walking Trail which begins and ends at Tuckers Rocks and reaches a lookout over Bundageree Creek. It passes through jungles of vines and palms and is home to a significant colony of koalas. We drove through part of the National Park through Repton, Mylestom and eventually Urunga with its beautiful beach (below left). After some lunch we headed west through Bellingen and through the winding road to the town of Dorrigo.
Dorrigo is a beautiful country town and the gateway to Dorrigo National Park, which is part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area. You can walk above the rainforest canopy on an elevated boardwalk to the Skywalk lookout for spectacular views. Unfortunately it was late afternoon by the time we arrived in Dorrigo, only enough time to walk around the town, have an icecream, and photograph the lovely old Dorrigo Hotel (below right). It is an area I would love to return to and explore further.
I had heard about The Butterfly House at Bonville, near Sawtell and was keen to have a look. Visitors can stroll amongst hundreds of Australian butterflies in an indoor subtropical rainforest setting. The Butterfly House also has a cafe, a maze and a gift shop. It was such a great experience to walk though the Butterfly House to see the variety of beautiful butterflies.
The North Coast Regional Botanical Gardens is one of the major regional botanic gardens, situated in Coffs Harbour. It covers 20 hectares of Crown Land and is bounded on three sides by Coffs Creek, a wide mangrove-lined, tidal estuary. The Garden was designed to feature natural forest, rare and endangered Australian species, and exotic plants from other sub-tropical regions of the world. Officially opened in 1988, the Garden continues to expand, with the newest addition being a Japanese Garden featuring a lake, arched bridge and teahouse. There are five kilometres of well-made paths and boardwalks for visitors to explore this lovely botanic garden. It was a very hot day but we wanted to spend time wandering through as much of the gardens as we could. We chose the Mangrove Boardwalk mainly because it offered some shade.
Over the five days we spent at Sawtell we made lots of time to walk along the beach, especially enjoying the early morning sunshine. One morning we had breakfast in the cafe overlooking Sawtell Beach, a fabulous place to relax and enjoy a meal, watching the waves and the sea birds, and the Little Nippers going through their training.
The Sawtell Memorial Rock Pool was closed for repairs when we first arrived, a bit disappointing as I was looking forward to a dip. Sited on the south side of the Bonville Headland, the Sawtell Memorial Rock Pool is unique to the Coffs Harbour area. It is the only ocean pool in the region and it offers a family friendly, protected swimming facility for the community and visitors alike. The pool is protected from the strong permanent rip that runs out past the pool and is ideal for summer bathing as it is during this time that the north easterly wind is an ever present element for beach goers.
The pool was unofficially used for the first time in the summer of 1962, however it was in 1963 that the pool was officially dedicated as a war memorial pool. In 2000 the pool was finally listed on the Coffs Harbour Local Environmental Plan (LEP) as a heritage item. Today, the Sawtell Memorial Rock Pool is utilised by a wide variety of people within the community. There is ample parking and a new amenities block, which has been decorated with a fascinating mural, reflecting the natural elements surrounding the area. The headland boasts the most spectacular views and is the perfect place for a sunset picnic with plenty of grassed areas for the family. The image (below left) was taken on our first day when the weather was inclement, but on our last day the pool was finally opened. On the hill overlooking the pool was an elderly man at a picnic table, with fantastic views over the ocean, feeding the seagulls – had to take a photo!
I really enjoyed our five days in Sawtell, it brought back lovely memories of a family holiday we had there many years ago. The town has certainly changed since then, but retains its original charm, beautifully captured in the main street with its elegant trees, and wonderful cafes and restaurant. I’ll certainly be back there again!