“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Day 299 – 27th February, Saturday. Melbourne – Byebye Betsy.

A major thunderstorm during the night meant we got very little sleep again and with everything soaking wet, our last day down under didn’t start off too well.
We managed to get out of the park just after 10am and took a brief tour of the old port of Echuca with its forge and traditional wood turner. Some of the stuff they make is stunning – it’s such a shame its over here and not back home, our holdalls are already bursting at the seams and GollyPearl is going to have to ride on my lap (along with all my camera equipment and my handbag). I dread to think how hot it will be in Hong Kong when I am wearing 4 layers of clothing because I simply can’t fit them in the case.
We stopped at the small township of Kilmore on the way to Melbourne and I finally bought myself a bull whip. The aussie souvenir collection is now complete.
Betsy was delivered back home safely to her depot and the ludicrously large deposit was refunded to us without issue. She did well. A little over 7,000kms in 3 months and only a couple of minor hiccups along the way. I will miss her in a way, but I certainly won’t miss her leaky back window which forced me (sleeping closest to the door) to leap out every time a storm came in the night and shut everything up. I won’t miss the one ring cooker, the dodgy clutch, or the irritating noise she made when reversing. But all in all, she was a bargain and she made our trip so much more hassle free than if we’d tried to buy something of our own. So thanks Betsy... may you continue your adventures with another set of travellers on another set of roads.

Day 298 – 26th February, Friday. One last hangover in Echuca.

Slept all morning and only made it out of the van in the afternoon for trips to the toilet, the camp kitchen and to take a photo of the strange Echuca tradition which is the ‘thong tree’ on the banks of the Murray River. Never again will I be persuaded that ‘depth-chargers’ are a good idea, especially ones involving Jagermeister.

Day 297 – 25th February, Thursday. Echuca.

Swam and lounged by the pool all day before deciding to hit the town in Echuca (to sample its two bars). As usual we were only intending to go out for a couple of pints, but met up with another couple of girls from the campsite, (Mandy and Gosha) and ended up dancing, drinking and staggering back to their cabin for a more dancing and singing and a go on the Bongos. I think we eventually made it to bed about 3am.

Day 296 – 24th February, Wednesday. Echuca.

Said a sad goodbye to Karizma and the kids and drove north to the Murray river and the old port town of Echuca. We sorted and attempted to pack everything back into our two tiny holdalls for the return journey to the UK before wandering down to the river to see the Paddle Steamers. The ports of Echuca-Moama have the largest collection of working paddle-steamers in the world. All restored to their former 19th century glory and now used to provide lunch or dinner cruises up and down the Murray.
Thankfully the campsite on the river has a lovely part shaded swimming pool too which we sunk into when we got back; the temperature was still ridiculously hot.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Day 295 – 23rd February, Tuesday. Maldon and Castlemaine.

After a slow start, but a very good night’s sleep, Karizma drove us out to a tiny old-fashioned village called Maldon to peruse the antiques and craft shops, (only to discover that most of them are only open at the weekends) so we had fish and chips (with a minor paddy from Ant due to the incessant flies) and moved on to the next township of Castlemaine which was again very pretty with tin roofs and upper balconies covered in iron fretwork: very typical of old mining towns in the area. I had my first ever liquorice flavoured ice-cream and managed to return having bought only one more second-hand book. Restraint is definitely going on my list of things to learn.

Day 294 – 22nd February, Monday. Central Deborah Goldmine.

Rofey a retired miner, motorbike rider and our comic mine guide took just the two of us on the most amazing tour of the Central Deborah Goldmine in Bendigo. We were kitted out with overalls, gum boots and hardhats before being shown the original (and still working) cage lifts that transported both the miners and the trucks of rock up and down the 17 levels of the mine shaft.
We went down as far as level 3 which was 85mtrs below ground and the furthest of anyone else that day. The mine itself is now flooded from level 13 down and a new mining company continues to drill the quartz reef about a kilometre below the old mine. It is believed that there is still a large amount of gold spread around underneath the entire city of Bendigo.
We spent the journey down the mine shaft listening to Rofey explain the geology of the area and the theory behind the creation of the quartz reefs where the gold is found; it surprised me how interesting and obvious it was once it was all explained. He showed us the difference between real gold and ‘fool’s gold’, and pointed out examples in the mine walls of both types. We were shown areas where the miners would have eaten their lunch in near pitch darkness, we watched as Rofey demonstrated the ‘Bogger’ and the different dynamite patterns that are still used today. We climbed up and down numerous skinny ladders in the dark, had a go on a working drill and were given some time to shovel through the last quartz blast for any finders-keepers before lunch (unfortunately I only managed to find a rock with some fool’s gold and another silver looking metal in it). Since it was the Cornish (and some Welsh) miners that were sent over to teach the Aussies how to mine gold in the early days, we were given traditional Cornish pasties and cakes for lunch before trying our hand at gold panning up on the surface. A really worthwhile and very surprising day; not only that, it was only 16 degrees down underground, so we managed to stay out of the heat for a few hours.
We arrived back at Karizma’s place to the mouth-watering smell of a roast dinner in the oven, and I am very pleased to say that for the first time in my life I ate roast lamb and it was very very nice.

Day 293 – 21st February, Sunday. Bendigo.

It was way too hot to sleep last night and not a breath of wind to breeze through the van, so we woke fairly groggy and still very tired and decided to spend the afternoon laying on the grass in Rosalind Park, reading under the shade of the trees, (still got a few too many books to fit in the suitcase!!! Lol).
We were going to have a Sunday roast too, but it was just too hot to cook one, so we all opted for a Chinese takeaway and another attempt at an early night.

Day 292 – 20th February, Saturday. Bendigo with a hangover.

Dragged ourselves out of bed to rehydrate and clean up before meeting the children, Jaxon (3) and Eva (1). Eva is a gorgeous smiley little girl with her mother’s tight curls, and Jaxon is much darker with huge chocolate brown eyes, but he was a little tired and shy since he had just returned from a sleepover with his cousin.
Ant and I ventured into Bendigo to peruse the monthly craft market which had some beautiful Australian wildlife photographs by Chris Cope on display along with some stunning statues (figurines I guess) made out of fabric that had then been hardened; very clever. If only we had more space to carry stuff. Just down from the market we found a wonderful treasure trove of second-hand books for sale inside a wooden-beamed building typical of the old gold-mining town that Bendigo began as. Needless to say we bought yet more books and took them to a cafe in the pedestrianised part of town to down much needed iced milkshakes (still hanging) and listen to the busker-bloke playing his guitar in the shade (or should I say scorching 32 degree heat!).
Nadine came over in the evening with her son Zane for a gorgeous BBQ followed by an early night.

Day 291 – 19th February, Friday. Bendigo.

Got to Karizma’s house early in the afternoon and began catching up on the four years since we last saw each other, before showering and getting ready for a meal out in town with ‘Blocker’ and his new girlfriend Carmella, ‘Pop-eye’, Katrina and Arun and Jodie’s Mum, Bev. Was fantastic to see them all again and swap travel stories over good quality pub grub.
A few of us continued on to another pub with a very impressive live covers band made up of the oddest mismatched sorts... a young female lesbian drummer, a middle-aged-looking bass player, a front-man dressed more like a rapper in baseball cap and I don’t think I even glanced at the fourth member over the back somewhere. They played three sets long into the night to a jam-packed hot and sweaty crowd and finally gave up somewhere around 2am! Fantastic night – lots of screaming, dancing, jumping up and down and of course lots of drinking.

Day 290 – 18th February, Thursday. Smith Mill to Maryborough.

We had purchased a National Parks camping permit from the local cultural centre and so spent the night at the Smith Mill camping area which had a bush shower and toilets. Unfortunately the creek-water tap which was to be used to fill the bucket for the shower only flowed at a trickle and so we gave it a miss and opted for a bush-strip-wash-beside-the-van instead!
We woke to the kangas munching in the low early morning light, had brekkie, then moved deeper into the outback towards Ararat and on to Avoca, finally reaching Maryborough at lunch time.
We found a quite little place with a pool and free wifi and met a couple of gold prospectors who are quite disappointed because they haven’t found anything in the last week. They have been prospecting for over 30 years now and no longer pan, but use a metal detector. How times change eh!?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Day 289 – 17th February, Wednesday, The Grampians.

Very poor night’s sleep thanks to the four American lads’ loud late night in the tent next door. Grrrrr.
Had breakfast and fed peanuts to the sulphur-crested cockatoos round the van before sticking a huge lump of kangaroo poo to the bottom of one of my flip-flops! Thankfully I was on my way to the loos at the time and so was in the right place to kill two birds with one stone. I dread to think what the woman in the cubicle next door thought of the smell it generated when I scraped it off!
We left Halls Gap and headed for McKenzie Falls. 267 steps down to the base of the problem. 267 steps up from the base of falls...was admittedly a slight problem... particularly after the mountain climb yesterday. But it was a magical place and made all the more impressive when you contemplate the aborigines and their use of it for thousands of years before anyone else put their labels on it.

Day 288 – 16th February, Tuesday – ‘Gariwerd’ (The Grampians)

Today we climbed a mountain, the biggest in the Grampians no less. Mount William, 1187m high (or is it tall? What is the correct term for a mountain’s distance above sea level?). Strictly speaking we didn’t climb all of it, only the climb from the car park to the summit and back. But it still took nearly two hours, lots of huffing, half a bottle of water and almost continuous fly-swatting.
Then we ventured into the small tourist village of Halls Gap. We parked up, watched the Kangaroos munching their way through the campsite, I chased a Red Wattlebird through the bush and fed ‘Bushmans’ breakfast cereal to the Currawongs.

Day 287 – 15th February, Monday – Last day on the Great Ocean Road

Spent the morning stopping at various points along the last stretch of the Great Ocean Road; The now collapsed ‘London Bridge’, The Grotto and The Bay of Martyrs, before stocking up in Safeway’s in Warrnambool and driving North (inland) to Dunkeld at the southern edge of the Grampian Mountains National Park. Dunkeld is a tiny township with a campsite run by local volunteers and a number of small shops which only open a couple of days each week which was weird. The owner of the campsite lives on-site in an old bus and I think the place did funny things to Ants brain; For some reason he disappeared into the laundry-come-kitchen-come-tourist-brochure-exchange-room and brought back a copy of ‘OK’ magazine from last year which he then read cover to cover! (Something I’m sure those of you who know him would agree is a little shocking, but highly amusing at the same time). When I finally prized it away from him and had a flick through, the only 3 people I recognised were Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and Madonna - I have definitely gotten old.

Day 286 – 14th February, Valentine’s Day – Port Campbell.

Not the most productive of days. Both feeling a little subdued. But we made the effort to walk the beach and the jetty in the morning before the rains came and we were forced back to the van. Cooking inside the van in the rain and competing for the stinkiest farts passed the time in the afternoon – such a romantic couple! (I did get a card this year though - Whooohooo – there’s hope for me yet! Lol.)

Day 285 – 13th February, Saturday. Port Campbell. Happy Birthday Mum!

Today was a tourist day (which is unusual for us)... we started out beating the hoards of campervans to see the Twelve Apostles, which used to be called ‘The sow and piglets’, but the powers-that-be decided ‘The Twelve Apostles’ was much more dignified. They are basically naturally occurring piles of rocks in the water as a result of thousands of years of headland erosion by the sea. They have a sort of interesting history but more fascinating is how the aboriginals lived amongst them on the surrounding land.
Next we visited the ‘Blowhole’ and the ‘Thunder-cave’ both of which were better than the Twelve Apostles, but all still very windy and quite cold. The south coast is definitely considerably cooler than the east. We continued on to the point where the Sherbrooke River spills into the sea (sheltered from the sea winds) and sat in the sun contemplating our future back in the UK – it seems we are getting too close to coming home now and need to slowly ease ourselves back into reality... i.e. find somewhere to live, jobs to do and vehicles to drive. (Yawn yawn.)
So almost as if our thinking of home had driven us to it, we drew a line under the tourist activity, pulled into Port Campbell slightly further along the coast, bought fish and chips and cold beer and sent emails to various letting agents.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Day 284 - 12th February, Friday. Princetown.

Still wet, still foggy and starting to get a little fed up now. I really wanted to get out and about with my camera on the Great Ocean Road, and so far we’ve barely been able to see it, let alone photograph it.
Although this morning we did have a wild Koala munching his breakfast almost within reaching distance which was pretty amazing. There were two in the same tree – probably the same two who had kept us awake all night with their snorting and grunting.

Day 283 - 11th February, Thursday, Cape Otway.

Chucked it down all day and all night. We couldn’t see the other campers in the park through the fog, so we stayed in the van and had a ‘duvet day’. I read 2½ books in 24hours!

Day 282 - 10th February, Wednesday. Great Ocean Road to Cape Otway.

We set off again from Wye River, passing the Kennett River and stopping at a small beachside town called Apollo Bay, where I bought a beautiful Golly called ‘Pearl’. The weather wasn’t great and still the mist hangs over the horizon tainting the scenery slightly. We decided to go see the Cape Otway Lightstation, but when we got there and realised they had grown bushes up all around it to ensure they could extract a fee from you to even be able to catch a glimpse of it, we returned to the cover of the Otway National Park and camped under the Koalas and parrots instead.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Day 281 - 9th February, Tuesday. Great Ocean Road to Wye River.

We set off fairly early and went to Teddy’s Lookout which is said to be the best view of the Great Ocean Road from anywhere along it. It was pretty spectacular and had two viewing platforms; one was 100mtrs below the main one and actually gave a better view of the St George River which was our next stop. I covered myself in bug spray, donned the hiking boots and ventured into the forest with my camera. The place was magical; a mob of 6 kangaroos were lazing about in the grass beside the river, one with Joey almost fully grown hanging out of her pouch. A bit further on I stopped on a wooden footbridge to watch the birds having their morning bath in the shallow river pools, and then continued on, chasing a group of electric blue Fairy-wrens through the bushes. I could have walked and wondered all day in there, but frustratingly, the battery on my camera ran out. Time to get to a powered campsite.
We found a posh ‘Big4’ on the Wye River where we checked our email, charged all electrical appliances and met a Swedish Kiwi who told us all about his unsuccessful morning fishing trip, before launching into a rundown of most of Australia’s birdlife, followed by selected bugs, bites and resultant diseases, a few highlights from his knowledge of current astronomy and an invite for us to stay with him at his place in Dunolly. I’m not sure he took a proper breath throughout, I certainly didn’t managed to get more than a few words in at any one point.

Day 280 - 8th February, Monday. Great Otway National Park.

We awoke to more rejoicing, more hallelujahs and a thick blanket of fog over everything. Very disheartening. We had driven over 1,000kms in 3 days to make sure we had enough time to see the Great Ocean Road, and it’s shrouded in fog! Typical.
We plodded on to Airey’s Inlet hoping the sun would burn through it; took a picture of the lighthouse (which looked invisible in the fog) and then moved on to Lorne where the lifeguards announced they were shutting the beach because they could no longer see the swimmers. Shopping was the only option we had left.
I consulted my ‘Where to Watch Wildlife in Australia‘ bible and we decided to go in search of the yellow-bellied glider (a sort of wingless, flying squirrel I suppose) which was apparently a “sure bet” at the Sheoak Picnic area a couple of kms from Lorne. Unfortunately there is no camping or sleeping in vehicles allowed at the picnic area (which is way deep in the forest along a gravel track), and the gliders are nocturnal, so we back-tracked a little to the Allenvale camping ground a little closer to Lorne and took a brew into the woods to see what was about. I’m so glad we did, we saw a large Kangaroo bouncing through the tents, an Eastern Yellow Robin, and a Koala up a tree in the middle of the clearing, which we later heard grunting out his territory calls long into the night.

Day 279 - 7th February, Sunday. Anglesea.

Drove straight through the middle of Melbourne – with only the one wrong turn and a very mild case of city-stress. We reached the start of the Great Ocean road around lunchtime and parked up in Anglesea, where we were soon joined by some God squaddies. Now I have absolutely no aversion to religious people, their needs or their beliefs - Christian or otherwise, but when one chorus of their Sunday morning worship song is repeated over and over by their pre-teen daughter, skipping past your van first thing in the morning and continues throughout your shower, finally lodging itself in your boyfriend’s head for the rest of the day I start to get a little tetchy. Ant of course found the whole thing highly amusing and insisted on humming it periodically throughout the day – just to keep my irritation at an entertaining level.

Day 278 – 6th February, Saturday. Narooma to Drouin.

Drove all day and slept at a campsite off the Princes Highway in Drouin. No-one in the office when we arrived and so we had no access to the amenities (they are generally locked permanently in Oz. Leaving a deposit for a key is the only way in). We managed to find a baby’s bathroom tucked-away at the back of the laundry room which we used for the evening and figured we’d get a shower another time. Shattered. Too many miles today.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Day 277 – 5th February, Friday. Eden, still!

Still trapped inside the van choking on the stench of our combined methane output, we may not come out of this storm alive! Torrential rain hammered the van all night and a short break in the downpour early in the day allowed us to leap the small river that was formed on our route to the loos, clean our teeth, pay for another night and jump back into the van before it came sheeting down again.
Thanks heavens for YouTube and Stephanie Meyers! (even if none of the pages are actually stuck in the book anymore!!)

Day 276 – 4th February, Thursday. Eden.

Drove most of the morning to a place called Eden. I’m sure on a good day it is a beautiful place which lives up to its name, but unfortunately we could barely see out of the windscreen for rain, mist and condensation. Spent the afternoon in the van catching up on emails, uploading photos and drinking endless cups of tea.

Day 275 – 3rd February, Wednesday. Mogo and Narooma.

Drove most of the day, stopping at a saddlery, (I’m looking for a stock whip now that Jozie has taught me how to crack one successfully) and an antique shop where Ant almost bought an old handmade tin chopper motorbike (to go with the tin campervan and the tin station-wagon with trailer that we already have to fit in our holdalls on the way home. Argh – and they say women are the proper shoppers!). We then reached the old gold mining town of Mogo with its hippie guru shops, old bookstore and fantastic fudge, where Ant bought a fabric bag and I resisted the urge to buy yet more books.
Passed through endless Gum tree forests before we reached Narooma on the coast and took a swim in the infinity pool which was still 27 degrees! Lovely. Then the heavens opened and we were pretty much confined to the van for the evening listening to the waves thundering onto the beach.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Day 274 – 2nd February, Tuesday, Dee Why to Huskisson. NSW.

We drove into Dee Why and went to Gabby’s house before all venturing down to the beach for a swim. They have wonderful seawater swimming pools at the shoreline here which fill up with the tide and then get pumped out to be cleaned once a week only to fill again by morning with the new incoming tide. Fantastic – you can swim in the sea every day without battling the strong waves or losing your bikini.
We said our goodbyes to them around lunchtime and drove south through the Kangaroo valley which is beautiful – green rolling hills and vast lush farmland – not unlike some parts of England – except much more spacious of course and with stilted wooden houses.

Day 273 – 1st February, Monday, Sydney City Centre.

We first took a bus to Manly Surf Beach on the outer Northern edge of Sydney and went in search of the third Stephanie Meyers book. We found that and then had a right result in a second hand book shop when Ant found a Charles Bukowski that he hadn’t yet read and I found a book with 200,000 Indonesian Rupia inside!!
We caught a ferry boat into the centre of Sydney and wandered the streets to Darling Harbour where we had the most amazing seafood lunch (with Cocktail, and posh Brandy coffee) at Nicks on Cockle Bay Wharf. Lunch fuelled a shopping spree which included a real kangaroo-paw back-scratcher (awesome), a new cap from the surf shop (khaki) and two more drinks in a bar overlooking the water. Then we ventured over to the Aquarium which is said to be the best in the world – I haven’t been to many so I couldn’t possibly agree, but I have to say it was amazing. They had sharks galore, stingrays and penguins, jellyfish, seahorses and starfish, corals of every colour, fish of every kind (including Nemo) and best of all... two dugongs; beautiful, gentle creatures which were once supposedly mistaken for mermaids.
Our return trip was impressive – every bus and ferry connection were perfect (the opposite of London transport) and we were back with Betsy by 9:30pm; ear-wigging and giggling at the couple next doors drunken argument... that is until security came over to sort them out. (Ant later heard them ‘making up’ too – I couldn’t wait to see their faces in the morning!! Lol.)

Day 272 – 31st January, Sunday. Palm Beach (‘Home and Away’)

We awoke amidst the preparations for a teenage horseshow! – a bunch of girlie horse fanatics were plaiting and dressing their ponies in the stalls immediately surrounding our van – oops. We got up and set off for Palm Beach; the outdoor filming set for ‘Home and Away’. Ant was very excited – especially when we found Alf Stewarts Surf Club with its’ ‘Summer Bay’ signs above the door... so excited in fact that he bought a souvenir pencil case to take home with him – bless.
In the afternoon we drove back south to Narrabean and booked into a campsite where the beach and lake collide. A friend of mine from school back in Sussex, came over with her two small children for a swim in the lake – which was lovely and warm, but whiffed a bit and Gabby had said it could well have had ‘Pelican Itch’ in it, whatever that is. The only thing I saw was a puffer fish.

Day 271 – 30th January, Saturday. St Ives, North Sydney.

Slightly worse for wear and still laughing about the previous night’s antics, we said our very sad goodbyes (am so glad Narelle was at work, my eyes wouldn't have held back the tears) and drove south towards Sydney where we found a horse showground in the middle of nowhere. The ranger said we could stay overnight. The facilities were almost non-existent, but the wildlife was fantastic (more possums, very friendly Kookaburras and large bats), and the token cost was a bonus too.

Day 270 – 29th January, Friday, Stockton.

Back down the ‘Gladdy’ pub mid afternoon for a lengthy, sweaty, drunken, but fantastic last night in Stockton. We watched Jack’s band play and continued drinking with them all at a house party afterwards and into the early hours.

Day 269 – 28th January, Thursday, Shoal Bay.

After another slow start, we drove up to Nelson Bay, and after a brief look at the lighthouse, we moved on to Shoal Bay; a beautiful white sandy beach with calm waters, perfect for an afternoon of reading and lazing about on the shore. I don’t even want to think about how close we are to our trip coming to an end. We left around tea time and stopped only for a mooch about another second hand bookshop, and to let a Koala cross the road on the way home. Our first wild sighting since we’ve been here.

Day 268 – 27th January, Wednesday, Stockton.

Reynolds came over with a copy of the Twilight series DVD#2, “Vampire Saga” and Narelle gave me a copy of the fourth book so I just need to find the first film and the third book and I can get stuck in again. We had a pretty lazy day today – Ant didn’t surface until lunchtime and so another arvo spent in and out of the pool and chatting to the numerous people who drop in and out of Narelle and Gav’s place. Such a wonderful open attitude to life these people have, we will definitely be coming back here again. (Narelle wants us to move in!!)