PA R A D I S E F O U N D : : B Y E L I S A PA R RY

Tracks - - Win This -

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.

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