When I recollect my weekend plans with friends, we were usually quite ambitious in our planning. Once we had planned to go to Malaysia for a weekend trip while studying in Singapore. In Dubai, we decided many times to do a day trip to Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah and explore the other Emirates but we would usually spend our weekends either lying in bed binge-watching Netflix or ended up in Dubai Mall.

This was our 2nd year in Sydney and we had been planning to visit Jervis Bay, known to possess the whitest sand beaches in the world, for over a year. A few of our friends had already been to the scenic NSW South Coast, while I was sitting on a couch, pissed off at my friends, Ankit and Saumya for not making it happen.

One sunny Friday while returning from college, I finally managed to convince them for a day trip. The plan was simple; we would start at 8 AM, reach Jervis Bay by 11:30. Chill at the beach for a few hours, have lunch in a sea-facing restaurant, and get back home by 7 pm, just in time for their evening Play Station cricket battles.

Now, generally, I am the one among my friends who plans all our trips. Whether it is for 1-day or 7. I make sure we do everything that the group would enjoy while adjusting for my own comforts and bucket lists.

But this time, and mind you this does not happen very often, Ankit used Google to find a place of interest and stumbled upon the Don Bradman Museum in Bowral, a couple of hours from Sydney and mid-way to Jervis Bay. Not being a fan of cricket, I was reluctant at first but gave in since it was on the way. A new plan was made. We would drive up to Bowral, check out the museum, have lunch, and reach Hyams Beach by 2 pm.

Itinerary on the map

Australian summers were in full support. It was January and the sun doesn’t set until 8 pm so we’d have plenty of time to enjoy the beach. I had even thought of staying overnight in the region but our student wallets could not afford the hotel tariffs. It was January, peak holiday season, and prices were 2-3x the normal and all hostels were booked out.

Day of the trip – 13th January 2018

We had a perfect plan. But it included waking up early on a Sunday morning. Ankit only managed to get up by 10 AM. We were about to cancel but one of us (I don’t remember who) forced the group to get off our asses and get on the road and see what happens. 20 minutes later, we were on our way to Bowral.

Bowral is the largest town in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, about ninety minutes southwest of Sydney with a population of 14,000. We arrived at the Museum at noon and Ankit saw a cricket match going on in the Bradman Oval adjacent to the museum. He longed to play with them instead of being in a museum on a fine Sunday afternoon. I feel the same way when I cross a busy basketball court.

I was a big fan of cricket until the age of 13. Heck, I even used to wake up at 6 AM during my summer holidays to go play in the stadium, spent my evenings playing with my cousin on the front porch, and finished the day watching cricket on the tv. But then I found basketball, got engrossed the game and cricket slowly faded away. I don’t hate the game, but find it utterly disinteresting. I finished reading Down Under by Bill Bryson last week and he summarises my emotions for cricket aptly:

“After years of patient study (and with cricket there can be no other kind), I have decided that there is nothing wrong with the game that the introduction of golf carts wouldn’t fix in a hurry. It is not true that the English invented cricket as a way of making all other human endeavors look interesting and lively; that was merely an unintended side effect. I don’t wish to denigrate a sport that is enjoyed by millions, some of them awake and facing the right way, but it is an odd game. It is the only sport that incorporates meal breaks. It is the only sport that shares its name with an insect. It is the only sport in which spectators burn as many calories as players (more if they are moderately restless). It is the only competitive activity of any type, other than perhaps baking, in which you can dress in white from head to toe and be as clean at the end of the day as you were at the beginning.”

Bill Bryson, Down Under, p. 145

Given that, I wasn’t expecting much from the museum, known as the Bradman Museum and International Cricket Hall of Fame. It was not a prepossessing building; glass-walled in the front, a statute of Sir Don Bradman accompanied by a small cafe (also known as the Bradman cafe) outside. The cafe had more people than inside the Museum.

Donald Bradman grew up in Bowral (also known as “the boy from Bowral”) and started playing cricket at the age of 20 in 1928. He is known to be the best batsman in the history of test cricket with an average of 99.94. In the first inning of his last test match, he got out at zero, otherwise, his earlier average was 100. He was knighted in 1949 for his achievements and remains the only Australian cricketer to receive the honor. Rad!

Anyway, we got ourselves three tickets for $20 each and went in. I was holding my ticket out hoping that someone will collect it, tear it and return the stub, but no such thing here. We could’ve easily gone in, come out, and be on our way back without paying that fee. There was no one checking the tickets. No official in sight except the friendly ladies at the ticket desk. Australians are a trustful lot. There was just a sign saying please get tickets before going in. That’s it.

The museum was fantastic, surpassing all my expectations. Very technologically advanced too. It wasn’t just a see and read text kind; there were interactive touch screens where you could test out game strategies, huge video screens with on-demand videos from the greatest games, and displays featuring original match equipment. It was a mecca for cricket lovers.

Saumya in the museum

In this news piece, museum curator Andrew Summerell mentioned a strong Indian interest in the venue. He said, “We get around 30,000 visitors per year, a large number of whom are of Indian origin. Indians know cricket history and statistics inside out; their knowledge is amazing.”

There was a great deal of info about the Indian team as well where I proudly spent a good amount of time and thought about the time I used to enjoy the game.

Our next task was to find a good spot for lunch. We left the museum parked the car in a breezy little street just 3 minutes away (parking is never a problem in these small towns) and ventured on foot to the city center. It was a lovely afternoon; bright, cheerful houses with little gardens, locals drinking coffee in tiny outdoor cafés, kids enjoying their holidays in the parks. We were starving and decided to set base in the empty Jack Style Thai restaurant, tucked on a corner of Boolwey street, close to the train station.

We strolled for a while after the meal and sat on a bench on a walking street to decide what to do next. Our initial plan after lunch was to head off to Jervis Bay. The museum didn’t take as long as had expected so we were on time, but I thought now that we’re in the area, why not explore other attractions. While eating, I had found Fitzroy Falls on the way to Hyams Beach and we decided to make a stop there.

Fitzroy Falls

25 minutes later, we arrived at the Fitzroy Falls Visitor Centre. It sits under the Morton National Park and run by National Parks and Wildlife Service. There was a $4 entry fee per car. Not too bad.

If this was India, there would be a person sitting in a cabin issuing tickets, only letting the car in after paying. But this is not India, so there was a coin-operated pay machine which issued a ticket. I repeat, Australians are a trustful lot. But I realized that all of us comply with the rules because the fines are so heavy. If you are adventurous, you can go in without paying the $4 fees, but prepare to be surprised with a fine in hundreds of dollars if the inspectors come for a visit while you’re inside.

We explored the visitor center which had extensive information on the local history, wildlife, and birdwatching and then started for the 3.5 km return West Rim Track walk. The track is full of interesting descriptions of local flora and fauna. It’s more of a boardwalk than a bushwalk. There are about 3-4 lookouts on the way leading to the final Renown Lookout after which it’s the same way back to the car park. It’s an easy but nice walk with spectacular views of gorges and waterfalls through the lush rainforest and superb stretches of eucalypt wilderness.

Fun Fact: The waterfall was originally named Throsby’s Waterfall after the explorer Charles Throsby but, when it was visited by Sir Charles Fitzroy, Governor of New South Wales (1846-51) in 1850, it was renamed in his honour.

Yarrunga Valley
Lookout over Yarrunga Valley (waterfall was on the left)
Me (left), Saumya (center) and Ankit

It was already 4:30 PM when we reached our car and Jervis Bay was another hour’s drive away. “Who goes to a beach at 6 PM?”, I asked the boys. Saumya was reluctant to go but Ankit said we were not carrying our swimming clothes anyways and the point was only to see the white sand beach, not to really take a dip in the ocean. And we were on the road again.

Hyams Beach

After 45 mins on an empty highway entered the South Coast Area. Big departmental stores started popping up, the road started getting busy and we knew we were closeby – google maps said 10 minutes to Hyams Beach.

We parked our car in a tiny street and slipped our slippers and went for a walk. There was a narrow entrance to the beach which opens to a huge expanse of white sand and the blue ocean as far as the eyes could see. Hyams Beach is renowned for it’s pristine, powdery white sand, and the crystal clear water.

It’s surrounded by many natural attractions, such as the Booderee National Park, clifftop walking trails, and other gorgeous beaches nearby such as Murrays Beach and Greenpatch. There’s plenty of ways to enjoy the wonders; do the White Sands walk, diving, snorkelling kayaking or even dolphin/whale watching cruises depending on the time of the year.

We were too late to enjoy any of that. It was still bright as the sun sets at 8 pm but the beach was practically empty and lifeless. The sand was the whitest I’ve ever seen and we enjoyed the serenity that came with it until we got hungry again. Saumya kept asking to leave and we didn’t resist.

Imagine driving to see a beach 3 hours away and leaving in just 20 minutes. But don’t get me wrong. It was absolutely beautiful; we’ve just seen so many beaches in Sydney and on our road trip to Gold Coast so there was nothing special here except the white sand.

A few weeks back, our other friends had left Sydney at 5 AM to catch the sunrise at Stanwell Tops in Wollongong, followed by a nice breakfast, and then enjoyed the morning on Hyams Beach playing volleyball, had a nice lunch nearby, and arrived back in Sydney by 5 PM.

At first, I was a bit jealous and angry on why we didn’t do the same, but after leaving the beach I was content – we had seen the Don Bradman Museum and Fitzroy Falls as well 😉

Dinner at Huskisson

We drove 5 mins away to Huskisson Beach and to see what else this town had to offer and were pleasantly surprised. This is where all the people were. The Jervis Bay Marine Park was bustling with activity and a huge sea-facing Huskisson Hotel was jam-packed. Suddenly, a bolt of liveliness passed through us.

The Huskisson Hotel opened it’s doors in 1932 and has remained the center of local social life since. We went in to grab a bite overlooking the bay but sadly the hotel did not care much for vegetarians. Disappointedly, we walked around the marine park when I spotted a vegan-friendly Mexican restaurant called Pilgrims on the other side of the road.

When you’re hungry, I should rather say starving, any cuisine becomes your favorite. In the afternoon, we were thanking Thailand for the brilliant Pad Thai and Green curries, in the evening, it was Mexico being blessed for the delightful burritos and tacos.

Vegetarian Burrito

It was only 7’o clock when we finished our meals, and dreading the 3-hour drive back home we made our way to the car.

Huskisson Carnival

On our way into town, I had seen a Carnival sign and a huge Ferris wheel from a distance. I convinced the boys for a quick stop and 10 minutes later we were watching kids bump their cars into each other.

My hometown in India is popular for its mega carnival (known as mela/fair in India) before Diwali, the festival of light. It runs for 20 days and I was a regular visitor. On average there would be 100,000 people at the fair on a given day, mostly people from nearby towns and villages. Similarly, I have been to many other fairs in Dubai and Sydney, crowded with tourists.

Huskisson Carnival was the complete opposite of these mega fairs. It wasn’t huge but big enough for an 8-year-old to spend his entire evening here and still miss out on a few attractions. The crowd was mostly teenagers and parents with young kids and it seemed like most of them were locals (I’m just guessing, the point is, it wasn’t crowded).

We walked around a bit and I suppressed my inner child not to play stupid games (ok, not stupid, but who wants to pay $10 to shoot a basketball for a stupid soft toy).

Ferris Wheel
Only picture I clicked at the Huskisson Carnival

The Drive Back Home

After ticking off things from our imaginary list, we got back on the road, followed the Princess Highway/A1 and the M1 motorway for the drive back home.

And what do 3 friends do in a car when they’re tired and bored with their playlists? Make fun of each other. What ensued was a healthy banter for half an hour. Sometimes 2 friends team up and make fun of the 3rd one. I’d recommend avoiding being the 3rd one, but it’s never up to you. Luckily, I wasn’t the one being hammered. Ankit and I teamed up inadvertently and Saumya was our bait.

This can usually lead to 2 scenarios. Either your friend is a sport and plays along, laughs on himself, and accepts the reality knowing that they will get a chance to roast the others soon. The other side is when they lose their shit, get pissed on the friends they have chosen, and drown in the sea of silence.

If you notice your friend not reacting to your jokes, you have gone too far. There is no coming back. We had reached that stage. Realizing our fatal error, we slowly shut our mouths and turned the music volume up, resuming watching the endless road.

An hour or 2 later, we reached home, happy with a successful trip. I went into my room and passed out, while Ankit and Saumya resumed their cricket battles on the PS4.

Trip breakdown:

400 km return road trip
Start/End: Rhodes, NSW
Stops: Don Bradman Museum – Bowral, Fitzroy Falls, Hyams Beach, Huskisson Beach/Carnival
Trip Cost: $83.4 AUD per person (Food, Petrol and Museum fees)

Thank you for reading! This is my first experiment with travel writing. If you liked this blog or have feedback on how to improve it, please reach out to me at ayush.jairaj at gmail.com

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