PA R A D I S E F O U N D : : B Y E L I S A PA R RY
he excitement hits at Taree. Four hours down, two to go. Fibro shacks cluster in groups like cattle in sheltered corners of the highway and I imagine what it would be like to lie so close to the road every night, a semi trailer scattered sleep. There is something almost sad about the lone houses that sprout from the elds on rotting stilts. The landscape doesn't change much from there until the turn off for Grassy. It's 12ks off the highway. The road snakes its way through avocado, macadamia and banana plantations. But it's the smell that brings it home, a richness in the air – and salt. Always salt.
After six hours in the car we're sweaty-backed and itching to get wet. To reach the park you have to cross a wooden bridge that reaches over a small arm of the inlet. The bridge has just been re-done. It was teetering on the edge of collapse for the last 25 years, but the sound it made was quintessentially Grassy Head, a xylophonic rumble of tyres on wooden planks heralding our arrival. There's no mucking around with unpacking. The boards are straight off the roof and we're straight in the water. We paddle in on a sharky coloured dusk.
I've been coming to Grassy Head since I was two years old. By now our family has earned that quasi-local status. We're down with the headland chat. We've seen the banks come and go, mourned their loss and celebrated their triumphant return. Other than my family home on the South Coast, this little pocket of northern NSW is my favourite place in the world.
About ve years ago we bought a semi-permanent van at the caravan park so we didn't have to keep lugging camping gear, as well as sur ng gear on the regular road trip north. The van is a classic. Straight out of the 80s – brown vinyl interior, orange oral curtains – but it's got a certain rustic charm. I love being woken at night by semi-tropical rain on a tin roof and that musty dampleaf smell that seeps through the cracks and reminds me of old, quiet places, like the inside of libraries and cold stone churches.
The park itself is tastefully primitive. Our van squats in the centre, a respectable distance from the toilet block, but not an unmanageable distance for a late night wee. The whole place is only the size of a small oval with a sheltered BBQ area near the bindi-infested path to the beach. On the climb over the dunes its best to keep your eyes on the ground and your feet clear of the stsize snake holes in the sand. Once you reach the top, if you're lucky you won't nd another soul between one pandanus-speckled headland and the next.
When a place like this gets under your skin, there's no getting away from it. In fact it's contagious. Now every New Years a growing crew of us make the classic road trip north for a week of sun, salt and no mobile phone reception. It's strange how simple places hold such allure: it seems small coastal towns have a magnetism over us all, whether your originally from one or not.
One headland up from Grassy is Scott's Head. It's a mal rider's wet dream. On a good day, the wave breaks out the back and curls round for hours. It's perfect for surfers of all abilities, you can sit anywhere pick up the corner and still enjoy a long clean ride. If the place has one aw, it's that during school holidays it can feel like you're sur ng in the wave pool at Wet and Wild. But the same could be said of every beach on the central to mid-north coast for those eternal two weeks. Usually the break is consistent enough to share around and there's none of the macho bullshit you can nd at city beaches. If you're getting too frustrated weaving in and out of people – then it's just time to head in for a Splice.
I guess it doesn't really matter where you escape to – Crescent Head, Bendalong, Yamba take your pick. I just hope these little pockets of paradise remain untouched, ready and waiting for people who still crave the kind of getaway where all you need is a tank of petrol and a tent.