A gentle sail with dolphins joining us as we head to Ballina
Ballina has one of the more notorious bar crossings on the coast. This was mostly because the entrance silted up during a storm a couple of years ago. It has been partly dredged since, but the approach is still a little unnerving. The entire width of the entrance isn’t dredged, so it is necessary to come in at an angle, wait until it feels like you are about to hit the breakwater (all while in a swell with a fast current running), and then turn to angle towards the opposite breakwater until it seems certain that you’re about to smash into that big pile of rocks. Then you have to repeat the whole process all over again after that. I was more okay than Maryanne was because I was at the wheel and knew when each turn was coming. All she could see out front was a big wall of boulders rapidly approaching. I think she was worried that I had become distracted chasing a fly or something and thought I might be unaware that we were careening towards our doom.
Once inside, the river widened substantially as we approached the town waterfront. Tweed Heads was compact, with a narrow river and closely spaced hills. Ballina, by contrast, was wide and flat, like a sprawled-out East Texas town. Most of the homes there were ranch style (one floor), which only increased the effect. Everything looked like it would involve a lot of walking, but at least it was flat.
Deciding on our first order of business was easy. We were going to Bunning’s, Australia/New Zealand’s big box hardware chain, like Home Depot in the U.S. or Home Base in the UK. We always need hardware and spare parts for something, but this time we had no need to go into the store itself.
Australia has a love of Big Things. The tradition was started in the U.S in the 1950s as merchants tried pulling curious customers off of the freeways with outsized creations. I think it all started with a hot dog stand in the shape of a giant hot dog in Los Angeles. The fad passed and most of them are gone now, although I have seen a couple of five-story Paul Bunyans in my time on America’s roads.
Big Prawn & the big-ish pineapple
Australia took the fad and really ran with it. There are Big Things everywhere in Australia. Any road trip of more than two hundred miles (at least in the populated East) is bound to pass at least one of them.
The Big thing at Bunning’s was the Giant 'Big Prawn' and it was our first. It was apparently erected by the local fish co-op at 30,000/1 scale. They have moved on, but when Bunning’s bought the land, they kept it and even did a big overhaul.
It really is quite big. It stands over three stories high and they did a pretty good job of scaling it up without compromising the form. The antennae must be 15 meters long.
From the Big Prawn, we meandered into town, eventually stopping at the Maritime Museum. Here, they claim to have the world’s largest collection of ship models - big things rendered small. I think they cheated a bit by counting a whole case of little toy boats, but they do still have more of the giant table-sized ones than I’ve ever seen.
Las Balsas Raft on display - or one raft made up of the surviving parts of the fleet)
Central to the museum was the story of Las Balsas, The longest recorded raft journey in the world, sailed in 1973. They departed Ecuador in three rafts with a diverse international crew, plus monkeys and even kittens. They were heading for Brisbane, but they got becalmed in the East Australian Current and were swept too far south to land there. They finally arrived at Ballina to huge crowds, and were estimated to be within a week or two of their waterlogged rafts sinking. The museum had built a replica of the lead raft from the salvageable parts of all three for their exhibit.
A walk via the beaches and lighthouse, and a break for lunch at the Lighthouse beach cafe
It was hot and I was ready to go home, but Maryanne got it in her head that she wanted to walk to the end of the north breakwater at the harbor entrance. What the hell, it’s only a few more miles... She sweetened the deal with lunch at the Lighthouse Beach Cafe, which allowed us to rest and fortify before the long walk home. We arrived limping and sore, glad to have another sailing day off from walking.