New South Wales through Victoria - heading to Melbourne
Since visiting the zoo, we’ve been driving down the coast again, leaving Queensland and heading into New South Wales, covering a further 400 miles. We’re now at a campsite at Mount Warning, inland from the coast. The site is in a field bordered by the edge of the forest, and is basically a big open field with power points dotted around (so that we’ve got lights and tea-making!). We prefer these kinds of sites, where we’re not packed into regimented lines, and things are a bit more natural. As the sun set, we had a campfire near the van, and toasted crumpets for tea, and then watched the wallabies running around the campsite as it got dark. Perfect.
We’ve now driven almost 4,000 miles in 5 weeks, so the picture on the left is what I’ve been looking at for a long time now. It seems amazing to both Sarah and I that Charlotte and Emily have adjusted so well to travelling around so much. They seem happy sitting for hours in the back, drawing, chatting and sleeping, as long as we stop at a play park for lunch. They have become so tolerant of travelling, that 3 hours is regarded as a short drive. But they are always happy when we settle down somewhere for a couple of nights, because it means that they can spend a day exploring the area, finding new play parks, and playing with the other children. Even though its during term time here in Australia, there are often children of Charlotte’s age travelling with their parents. Here in Oz, employees get an extended holiday after every 7 or 10 years service, when they get 10 weeks fully paid holiday. It seems that many of them use that to go around the country in a caravan, taking their children out of school – and the schools see it as a positive experience for the children. It is a bit of contrast to back home, where the prevailing attitude to taking children out of school for holidays is that it’s evil!
Just in case you’re following our trip with a map, we’ve now reached South West rocks, south of Coffs Harbour. We stopped for a night at Nambucca Heads, which was a nice estuary, but the caravan park was packed tight, so we’ve moved further south. We’re now in a state park campsite, right beside a beautiful white beach, with huge wild kangaroos bouncing around the site. It’s so nice that we’ve decided to settle down here for a few nights. We’re a few miles from the closest town, but we’re going to drive off there tomorrow night to see England thrash France (wishful thinking?), having heard Australia unexpectedly beat the Kiwis on the radio tonight
A Prison, a park and a beach – what more could you want?
We’re staying in the Arakoon State Park, which is a great place to stay – the campsite is spaced out, and pretty quiet normally (although its busier today because it is the weekend), and there’s plenty of space for tents, plus a dozen spots with power for caravans and camper vans (basically, we pull up and plug in an extension lead, which powers the kettle, lights, fan etc). Although we’ve got a backup battery, which can run the fridge and lights for 24 hours, and a gas stove to cook on, it is still more convenient to be able to have mains electricity.
The campsite is in the shadow of an old prison, Trial Bay Gaol, which was used in the 1890’s, and again as an internment camp in the First World War. Now it’s a ruin, with all of the walls standing but no roof left. The girls loved it for the two cells which had been restored to show what they looked like as a prison – Emily felt very sorry for the two stuffed dummies which had obviously been locked up for a long time!
Like all parks in Australia, whether it’s caravan parks, national parks or even some car parks, there’s public barbecues available to cook on – but this here they’re wood burning, rather than the normal gas or electric ones we’ve seen. So tonight we had our sausages burned on the barbecue for tea!
(By the way, we watched the England-France game at the South West Rocks Country Club last night, enjoying an all-you-can-eat buffet for £13 for the whole family, and then watched England kick the French into touch on a 20-foot screen! Altogether very enjoyable, even if we were surrounded by Australia fans who had quite a bit to say about England’s playing style. We’re obviously going to have to consider where we watch next weeks’ game – it would be nice to find at least a couple of other Poms to watch it with!
We've been playing around with some more video editing, and have finally edited some of our Fiji video and one of our campervan (so that you can see just how squished we are in it). In the Fiji one you can see what life on a desert island is really like - toilets and all! Use the menu at the top of the page, under the 'Albums' button.
We woke up on Monday morning (the 17th) to strong winds and grey clouds, and the forecast of rain for three days. So we packed up, and instead of staying for a few more days at Arakoon, set off inland. Before we left the coast we called into the local library in Kempsey town to catch up with some important emails. After that the first 5 hours of driving seemed to be mostly uphill, with windy roads and steep drops. As we climbed, the weather closed in more, until eventually we were driving through the clouds, with rain falling around, and the road slippery with water. It was just like the November weather at home! But it was great scenery – tropical forests filled with parakeets and cockatoos.
When the mist cleared, we were driving across cattle country – rolling meadows – all the way to Tamworth, where we arrived at dusk. Its weird pulling into towns with the same names as towns from home – today we drove through Oxford Flats – but they are normally completely different from each other (who could compare grey, cold Newcastle in England, with warm, Oceanside Newcastle, New South Wales. Anyway, Tamworth (New South Wales) seemed a depressing town mainly there because you have to drive through it (aha – maybe they’re not all that different after all).
Anyway, I was able to forgive Tamworth its blandness once I discovered that it was the “Home of Australian Country Music”, which manifested itself in the big “Golden Guitar”. This is perhaps our last chance for a ‘big’ photo, having missed the Big Banana and the Big Peanut on both the way up and down. I still wonder what its all about? Why build ‘big’ things all over the place? It mainly seems to be as tourist attractions? Had somebody heard “Build it and they will come” out of context, and set to building as many big things as they could think of?
So with our big guitar photo safely taken, we headed off further south, and further inland. The inland drives are pretty boring – I think we’ve proved that to ourselves twice now – and about the only distinguishing factor is how many dKpM (dead Kangaroos per Mile) we’ll see. Some stretches of road have huge numbers – maybe 3 or 4 in a mile – while others escape without one for 10 or 15 kilometres. But every road has got one! Sometimes they’re pretty inoffensive – just a small body lying on the verge – but often the bodies sit their for quite some time, roasting slowly in the sun. And if you drive past one of those, with your windows open and the wind blowing towards you, it can smell horrible. The smell of a decomposing kangaroo is like nothing I’ve ever smelt before – worse than a wheelie bin at the end of a hot summer, and a lot worse than a broken down freezer a month later – and it’s the smell which I’ll always associate with the outback. Mmmmm, nice.
Anyway, our bed for the night ended up in Gilgandra (the home of the Cooeeii – yes, the calling sound, which was invented here at the beginning of a march of conscripts towards Sydney during the First World War). I was stunned to see that they hadn’t built a “Big Cooeeii” in memory of it – probably too difficult to visualise!
We continued to drive south, through Dubbo (nope, don’t think there’s a town with that name in the UK), and stopping for lunch and sightseeing at Parkes Radio Telescope. Perhaps, if we’d not seen the film “The Dish”, we’d have driven straight past, but who could resist visiting a film star, and the place where the pictures of the first moonwalk were received. But a radio telescope isn’t exactly the most exciting thing for a 4-year old (or even an 8-year old for that matter), so although it was interesting, it wasn’t fascinating. We did learn some stuff about the speed of light and light years, but perhaps the most fascinating for the girls was the replica telescope control desk made for the film – every button and dial worked, and they soon had all the lights flashing away like a disco. (Its at times like these I’m glad I’m not a teacher – and when you remember that its not the Christmas toys they play with – it’s the boxes!)
Anyway, its worthy of a mention because the radio telescope was big, although it wasn’t listed as the Big Telescope or anything. In fact, one of astronomers was keen to point out it wasn’t the biggest in the world, and there were plenty of other ‘big’ telescopes around.
Our overnight stop was going to be in Young, but we found the campsite full (Young is the “Cherry Capital of Australia”, and has an annual Cherry Festival which is on now, so the campsite was full of itinerant cherry-pickers and retired couples with nothing better to do than drive thousands of miles to visit an invisible cherry festival). Apart from the Big Cherries (it was late, I really couldn’t be bothered to stop the van to take a picture, I’m sorry) there was nothing else that looked even vaguely Cherry Festival-like, so I can only assume that cherry-type celebrations are deliberately low key! So we ended up driving to Cootamundra (another town with seemingly nothing to make it stand out in our memories), the birthplace of Don Bradman (celebrated by a bronze statue in the park, which Emily though looked like a golfer!).
And so we ended our evening – after three days of inland driving, covering 700 miles, we’ve seen very little of outstanding interest, except some pretty ugly post-mortem kangaroos, which will be memorable for their smell!
In one of those curious coincidences that turns into a treat for the girls, we drove back into Jervis Bay this afternoon (where we’ve been staying since Thursday night) at the same time as the official weigh in for the “White Beach fishing competition”. They were catching Meiko sharks, and when we arrived they were hoisting the winner – a 143 kilo fish about 8 foot long. The girls were fascinated to see it all going on, and especially when it ghoulishly starting dripping blood from its mouth when it was lowered from the scales. It was all a long way away from a Friday afternoon at home!
Tired and frustrated with all the Pom-bashing going on over here for the rugby World Cup final, we thought we’d get in the spirit. So today we’ve tarted up the van with a nice logo and tomorrow it’ll be the turn of the face paints. Oh, and a nice official England RWC T-Shirt and hat for the bargain price of $12 (about £5!) – apparently there’s no demand over here for England stuff. If we’d been Kiwi’s it would have been even cheaper - $5 for a T-shirt, hat and scarf set!
Anyway, tomorrow night we’ll be in a pub in front of a large screen, and an even larger crowd of Wallaby fans. Ooh Err! This might be my last ever diary update!
Like Christians to the coliseum
Well, although we’re not the biggest rugby fans in the world (I don’t even understand the rules), there seemed to be only one thing to do today, after all of the Pom-bashing in the papers. We decided to go completely overboard and put our head into the metaphorical lion’s mouth – by painting our faces and heading down to the local Aussie-filled pub. Australia, until a week ago indifferent to the cup and critical of the Wallabies, has performed an astonishing turnaround. Suddenly the radio is full of World Cup items, there was an official “Green and Gold Friday”, where everybody was encouraged to wear team colours, and we’re sick of hearing of recipes for Green and Gold food. Astonishing, considering that a week ago nobody seemed to care (because they didn’t ever expect to make the final). But any chance they’ve got to bash a Pom, they’ll take it.
Anyway, I’ll describe the scene – 300 hundred Aussies standing in a pub, watching the pre-match commentary, and in we walk. Suddenly silence descends, and everybody looks in our direction (just like when I walked into the Banff swimming pool with the Victorian swimming costume on...). It was slightly unnerving, and we weren’t sure what would happen. Anyway, it was okay – three lonely English fans on the far side of the bar cheered at us, and started a chorus of ‘Swing Low’, and we managed to get to the bar without a mauling – but barman decided with a smile to add a “World Cup Tax” to our drinks prices, because according to him “I shouldn’t be serving you with an offensive T-shirt on!”.
During the game it was predictably rowdy, with us 6 England fans trying to cheer at the right times in opposition to 300 “Go Aussies Go” calls. It was a nerve-wracking game for everybody to watch, but as English we really didn’t want to lose and hear the Aussie’s go on and on and on about it. Of course, in the last few seconds of normal time, the pub erupted when Australia equalised, and the game went into extra time. Then it went alternately quiet and noisy for the next 20 minutes, until it was all over and we’d won. Phew!
Of course, we were generous in our praise of their team (who wouldn’t be in that setting) but it didn’t stop us rubbing it in by posing for this photo in front of them all, and getting the biggest Wallaby fan in the room to take it! As we made our way out, lots of people good-naturedly shook our hands or patted our backs and said things like “Good playing today mate”. It was a great night, and the girls loved it, even if it did get a little bit noisy at times. Charlotte especially left really excited, even more so when the other fans gave her the flag to take away.
The whitest beach in the world - not
According to the Guinness Book of Records, we’ve been staying on the “Whitest Beach in the World”. But sadly we’ve been staying here (Huskisson in Jervis Bay) on the greyest days of the year – it has rained virtually non-stop for three days (There, that’s a bunch of you smiling with a very smug grin, now that you know that its not perfect for us every day!). Apparently it never rains for three days in a row, and it never, never rains all day. So I guess we should be happy that we’re here to celebrate the drought-busting weather. But its just not fair – the whitest beach in the world is a dull tone of grey, the blue sea is mucky green/brown, and the sky is horrible. And every minute the clouds seem to move closer and closer to the ground. So there you go – Australia isn’t always sunny, and isn’t always dry.
To add to our gloom, we listened to the radio for three hours this morning and they only mentioned the World Cup twice (funny, it was 24-hour world cup before the final), and then only to remark that “really both teams won”. Well, Mr Pommy-Basher, they didn’t. England won. You lost. You came second. And NOBODY EVER REMEMBERS WHO CAME SECOND.
We’re convinced that Australians and Americans are the same thing – sure their accents are a bit different, and their countries are in different hemispheres, but there are waaaay too many similarities to them. Remember I wrote that nobody ever remembers who came second. Well, that isn’t quite true.
In the table of “Countries clearing most native rainforest”, Australia comes second, behind Brazil. So this nice eco-warrior earth-mother image that Australia shows off, isn’t really true – they’re bulldozing the countryside faster than any developed country in the world.
And in the “World Obesity Tables”, we were surprised to see that Australia came second too, behind America. Now, when I heard that America was the most obese country in the world, I wasn’t at all surprised – we’ve all read the stories of people being trapped on toilet seats by their weight, and airlines charging obese people for two seats. But Australia – that’s the home of Bondi beach, healthy BBQs and Kylie Minoque. That image doesn’t go with Australians being obese. But since we got here we can believe it. It’s not through eating too much food – which is America’s problem – it mainly seems to be because Australians drink beer like Sarah drinks tea – gallons of it from the moment they wake up in the morning. Their first reaction to anything is “Strewth – chuck us a stubbie” (A ‘stubbie’ being a can of beer, which looks the same size as a normal Coke can, but seems to only last 20 seconds in an Aussies hand).
And Queensland seems more like America than anywhere in Australia – arriving in the Gold Coast from New South Wales was like arriving in Las Vegas. The road went from a normal two lane road into an 8-lane motorway (complete with ‘car pool’ lanes), and having seen one McDonalds in 800 kilometres, we then saw 8 in the next 20 kilometres. And given that Queensland is where all the rainforest is (or was) they must be the ones driving the bulldozers through it.
We’re sitting in the seaside town of Pambula Beach – well, it’s a village with a shop and a petrol station, but here in Australia that counts for a town (you should see what counts as a city!). The good news for us is that the weather is improving, and although its still cool, the sun is starting to shine a lot more again. Phew! The girls love this campsite, because there’s an indoor pool (as well as two outdoor ones), a big playpark with trampolines, and kangaroos hanging out all over the caravan park. As you can see, they relax right between the caravans, always scrounging for food! Its also nice that there are other children of their own age to play with - although we’ve met a few families as we’ve travelled, it has not been as many as we’d expected, because most children are in school!
At this site, we were right next door to a tent with Emma and Bryce, around the same age as Charlotte and Emily, and they became partners in crime – seeing how close to the vans they could throw the Frisbee (Aaargh!) and how easily they could sneak off to the trampolines without an adult spotting (Very, very it seemed!). For three days we’ve had a relaxing time here, around the camper and on the beach.
Driving round the world
Today we left Pambulla and drove around the south coast into Victoria, and to a village called Lake Tyree. We’ve just gone through 8,000 kilometres of driving here in Australia – added together with all of the other driving we’ve done on the trip so far, it works out at 11,000 miles. That means we’ve driven the equivalent of halfway around the world – so we didn’t need to fly anywhere at all! Half of them have been driven in this camper, in the last 7 weeks. While it has been good to have the van, its started to drive us all a little crazy, especially the last week when we were confined inside by the rain for long stretches. Probably one of our greatest expenses will have been petrol, although fortunately we’ve not come across a country where its as expensive as at home (which is a bit of a relief, as we’ve not come across a vehicle as fuel efficient as at home either!). Here in Australia petrol is 90 cents a litre (about 36p), and in the States it was around the same (90 cents) a gallon (about 60p a gallon). Amazingly, in both countries we’ve commonly heard people complaining about the price of fuel – they must be a bit shocked when they come to Europe on holiday. Mind you, you’d be hard pushed to drive 4,000 miles around the UK in 7 weeks!
The long drives, and the constant travel, has sometimes been a bit disorienting – with places starting to look the same the world over. Especially things like churches – this one was in Eden in southern New South Wales, but it could easily be on the North West coast of the States, or in California, or Sweden, or Canada etc. You do have to stop yourself occasionally and remind yourself which country you’re in.
We’ve seen quite a lot of wildlife in the wild while we’ve been in Australia – kangaroo, emu, eagle, dingo, parrot, crocodile, tree kangaroo, platypus, wallaby, cockatoo, blue tongued lizard, koala, snakes, monitor lizard, iguana, possum, shark, whale, brumby (wild horse), turtle, dolphin, tree-frog, cane-toad and probably others. But today the highlight was spotting an echidna running across the road. We stopped to take a good look at it, and couldn’t believe how weird it looked in real life. In many ways its like a cross between a hedgehog and a porcupine, but with a strange snout borrowed from an ant-eater. Without a doubt, the wildlife has been a real treat for the girls. And when their Nana and Opa arrive next week, I’m sure we’ll be led by them to spot many more animals and birds. The two things we still want to see are the Thorny Devil (a lizard), a Sydney Funnel Web spider (the world’s deadliest spider, so perhaps we don’t really want to see one!) and a Taipan (the world’s deadliest snake, ditto!)
Oh I do like to be beside the seaside ?
We called today "TomDay" in honour of our good friend Tom, who thinks that this year is just one long holiday, and who sees nothing arduous at all in our year of travel. So in honour of Tom, we decided to call any "day off" a TomDay. So we've had a total slackers day today. We drove into the town of Lakes Entrance, to do our shopping, and amused ourselves afterwards playing crazy golf, then had a winners and losers prize of McDonalds ice-cream, followed by spending the afternoon on the beach here at Lake Tyree. The beach is remarkable because for starters its 90 miles long, and was completely devoid of people as far as we could see. Behind us on the beach was Lake Tyree itself, originally a huge inlet, but now a cut-off lake with no route to the sea, having been dammed by an unusually high tide last December. The town of Lakes Entrance, just 6 miles down the coast, is a bustling, charmless tourist resort, with wall-to-wall motels, caravan parks and cafes, but here we've found it much more laidback - there's just one shop, which incorporates a chip-shop open between 4 and 5.30pm (how weird is that? All over Australia the chip shops close around 6 o'clock, except on weekend nights when they'll stay open until 6.30!) - and not much else. We can't believe that you can have two towns of completely different character side by side. When things start to get really busy towards Christmas, and the schools break up on 20th December, we're obviously going to be looking for places like this to get some peace!
Melbourne - arriving back in a big city
Well, for the first time in 2 months we're in a big city - and a confusing one at that! We bypassed Brisbane, so this will our first 'real' city since Sydney at the beginning of October. And it was a nightmare - the traffic was all over the place, especially after being used to straight, long country roads with nothing much on them. The worst thing about driving in Melbourne is the trams - to allow for them on many streets the right turn is called a "hook turn", which means pulling over to the left while indicating right, and then waiting for the traffic lights to turn red, and then shooting across the junction suddenly. Sounds odd? Try doing it, in a campervan, with two children in the back shouting about the fact you're a mad driver! After the second time, I wimped out, and took three lefts at the next junction rather than one right. But the nice side of Melbourne are the houses in the suburbs - full of cute, picture postcard cottages like the one in the picture. It gives the city a cosy feel which is absent from most big cities.
The reason that we are here is to meet Gloria and Michael, who arrive in Melbourne on Tuesday. They are expecting us to meet them at their hotel on Thursday, but we plan to surprise them at the airport at 6 o'clock tomorrow morning (something that we couldn't say about here until they were on the plane). So there they'll be - 26 hours on a plane, 3 hours in transit, arriving at 6am, which is really 7pm for them, and then they get ambushed by 2 grown ups and 2 hyper-excited girls. Confusion won't be the word for it!
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