There is something about a road trip that feels like freedom. I am not sure if it’s the sun on my ruddy skin or the wind-whipped hair in my face, the music blaring over the road noise, or the time to let thoughts drift in and out. Maybe it’s moving, getting somewhere, looking forward to a destination that gives relief from routine, or the possibility of playful adventures along the way.
I have the same sense of wonder driving south now as I did in my childhood. The dipping hills near Byron Bay and golden sugarcane fields of the Clarence stoke memories of a sibling-full car, windmill spotting, song-singing and pure obnoxious excitement. I still gasp at my first glimpse of the hazy ocean horizon. The sickly taste of molasses still assaults my nostrils in a strangely satisfying way. Camphaloral trees still line fences (hiding whole villages of fairies) and farmers still have rickety roadside stalls selling fat pumpkins, zucchinis and multi-coloured tomatoes.
One thing that has changed along this road is my appreciation for half-time that seems to tick in the sleepy highway towns. My parents used to stop in these three-shop villages to eat pickle sandwiches and peruse the musty op shop with incomprehensible glee. My sisters and I would sit with impatient whines, wanting the road to resume, urging the adventure to continue. Now I see that these quiet little towns and their hidden treasures are half the adventure.
I also have a richer appreciation for the familiar beauty of the New South Wales landscape as it flits between sub-tropical rainforest to scrub, then mangroves and swap; from wide majestic river country to open-sky floodplains and then rough mountain passes.
In all my travels throughout the world so far, I must admit I have not yet found a single road that gives me more satisfaction than the road south along the Pacific Highway.