The thought that keeps coming back to tickle me, shimmering underneath all my cognitive whirrings throughout the past couple of days in the Nambucca Valley, is how much our backyard is and should be our destination.
I’ve lived in the UK for the past two years, travelling extensively throughout Europe, loving every minute (some seconds not so much) of the rich differentiation in culture, landscape and people everywhere I have gone. I’m one of those people who falls in love everywhere they go; I am happy in that moment, fully relish that place, live deeply in whatever I am doing. Having arrived back on our sunburnt shores a month ago after so long away, I felt a deep yearning, however cliché that may seem, to know what it is we have around us; to put into place all the lessons I have learnt travelling to gain a fuller, richer perspective of my own backyard.
And the NambuccaValley was the perfect springboard into such a personal pledge.
There is a sense of community here that cannot be faulted, beautifully crafted alongside a natural beauty that I feel is unparalleled when it comes to overseas exotica. You just don’t need to leave.
After a peaceful night in Marcel Towers with its stunning view we went to check out in the morning, only to find a little handwritten note with a smiley face, stating ‘we have just nipped to the house for a cuppa. Press the doorbell and we’ll be right with you’. It is this sort of relaxed, community feeling which we have so enjoyed in this part of the world. Normal, with an old feeling of sameness, which you so relish when coming from the bigger cities. We dropped off the key with Terry and Penny, who seem born hoteliers what with their easy going and frank attitude towards their guests; nothing is too much trouble, as Penny proves when she dug out flippers for us to snorkel with, and rummaged through her garage searching for paints for us to graffiti (legally) on the V-walk rocks.
Walking through Nambucca we head to Sam’s Bookshop café; a little oasis in the middle of town that feels apart from the early weekday morning business. Sam, who has been in Nambucca for 15 years and owned the café for 3 (the building has been a café for many years, with locals calling it a variety of its past names) laughs at the idea of localism.
“The locals say you aren’t a local till you’ve been in the area for 25 years,” she says.
“But I feel like one anyway.”
The cosy shop, with a library of shelves crammed with worn and loved books, begs for you to sit down with one of their Gluten Free homemade cakes and cookies and a cup of coffee and read to your hearts content, as many do. The café’s location in the heart of the town also gives you plentiful advantage for what my friend calls ‘gazing creepily’ or as I like to say, people watching.
Sufficiently fed and watered, we board the weekly Wednesday morning Nambucca River Cruise , which sets sail from the Tourist Information Centre. It was fully booked and I noted we were the youngest by approximately 40 years, however the cruise surpassed my every expectation; the morning tea of homemade fluffy lemonade scones with jam and cream were worryingly delicious, the commentating by the Captain often hilarious and exceptionally informative, and the views of the beautiful Nambucca River really very lovely. I particularly liked the Captain’s induction speech; his dry humour rather evident in his pleading for all passengers to please “refrain from planking on the side rails”, and “if a fellow passenger should fall overboard, would someone kindly throw a life ring. As duty of care demands, we will at some point be obliged to turn back and pick them up at some point.” His commenting on various parts of the river tour was fascinating, intermittently and statically broadcasted between Dolly Parton songs. Apparently the golfing island of Nambucca (a golf course situated on, funnily enough, an Island) is the only true golf island in all of Australia (“When my friends go to play gold there,” the Captain says, “they take two pairs of socks in case they get a hole in one – a couple of the holes are a little short.”) There are 46 different species of birds to be seen along the river, as well as oft seen loggerhead turtles and playful dolphins. There is an enormous Osprey nest perched atop a power line alongside the riverbed that has been there for 20 years, already moved from a degrading tree by the council and reinhabited by its owners. The Nambucca oyster economy is worth around 3 billion dollars to the local economy annually. And the local Gumma Wetlands is one of six significant wetlands in New South Wales. It really is true; every day is a school day.
Coming back to port, we were left with a real treat; several dolphins, their rolling metallic sides glinting silver in the sun, made their way around the boat, filling their bellies with the river fish that ran plentiful around us. There is something about seeing an animal in its natural habitat, so foreign to ours, that leaves you mesmerised, straining your eyes for further glimpses on the horizon, every wave and water disturbance a fanciful possibility of further sightings.
We made our way to Valla, only 7 km down the road but what feels a million miles away from Nambucca, to meet our new proprietor, Linda Wells of Drifted Away Luxury B&B. From the moment we met I knew we would get along. Bright and free spirited, with a healthy glow that speaks volumes about her job (she is involved in nutrition) and her lifestyle (she swims every day at the beach a mere three minute walk from her home) Linda is a pure and easy going host; interested and interesting, discreet and friendly, her home she and husband Peter built six years ago a haven of taste and practicality. We can see the ocean peeking blue through the trees and Linda regales us with a story about sitting on her couch just the other day, watching a whale and calf pass by. ON HER COUCH. On closing the door and taking in the clean soothing lines of our room, the sound of the ocean through the window, Jai and I grin idiotically at each and gurgle at our luck. This is a happy place and having been designed and built by Peter and Linda themselves, who both boast a long history in hotels, the amenities and thought for detail is near perfect.
Linda walks us around the beautiful beach near her home, known as South Valla, where four kilometres of pristine, golden sands baked biscuit colour stretch empty before us. The water is clear clear clear and we know what we will be doing that afternoon. But first, to lunch, where we dine at The Beach House, manned by the affable Dylan who is gracious and warm. The setting is divine (again, peeking ocean views) and the food even better, and we tackle our way through ample portions of lime grilled fish tacos, chicken thai salad and green smoothies. The Beach House is everything you want in a café; superb and friendly staff (Linda tells us when she stops in for her morning coffee and standings chatting on the steps for 15 minutes, she finds her order being placed in her hand before she steps through the door) a great vibe, cool beachy décor and delicious, nutritious food.
We amble, stuffed to the brim, down past the café to North Valla beach, where Deep Creek feeds into a lagoon that stretches clear pistachio green through the sand. Again, not a soul to be seen as we walk as if we own the place, mystified and delighted at the empty stretches. Valla, with a population of 2,000 is what you assume a coastal village should look like; wide streets brim with faded weatherboard houses and fronds, relaxed tanned people have happy faces, a community vibe emanates from every one you meet, who seem genuinely happy and interested to meet you. It has to be one of the best-kept secrets of the Pacific Coast and I’m tellin’ no one. Except for you guys.
We pass a couple of hours perusing Scotts Head and checking out the millpond smooth Forster beach and the pounding surf of Little Beach, mere meters from each other. Then it is time for our last meal of our trip and we go out with a bang. The Headland Café, situated only 500 meters from the highway into Valla, is something special on entering. Tripling as general store, postal agent and soon to be pharmacy, the eatery is run by couple Kat and Maxim (she a graphic designer, he a former and now again chef, as well as an entertainer (stilts walker and fire breather!)) who are simply passionate about what they do. The food is delicious; simple quality ingredients are combined gracefully for maxim-ine tastebud delight and sitting on the veranda, a handpicked posy of flowers decorating our table and salt air on my tongue, I feel content and truly happy. This is a place chosen by the owners; the couple moved here ten years ago after coming up from Sydney to help a brother move into his place, and fell in love with it themselves. This seems a reoccurring trend for everyone we’ve met; those who have come across Valla quite by chance, serendipitously, and stayed, choosing to carve out a life for themselves amongst the sounds of surf and the squeak of the sand underfoot. It sure is a little piece of paradise, and again, I will leave you with a message emblazoned on a sign, this time found in The Beach House on the café wall – “Another day in Paradise. Welcome to the beach! No shirts, no shoes, no worries.”
Thank you following our trip, as Bean & Jube do the Bucca. If you would like to read more of Emily’s writing, please follow www.emilyherbertsays.com. Thankyou, and goodnight!