Saturday, 27 February 2010
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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 falls...no 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.
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.
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
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.
Saturday, 13 February 2010
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.
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.
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.
Friday, 5 February 2010
Thanks heavens for YouTube and Stephanie Meyers! (even if none of the pages are actually stuck in the book anymore!!)
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
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.
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.)
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.