Final drive to Sydney – Monday 16th April 2012


Funny, how things turn out when you’re traveling! We use our IPad to plot the route, wherever it might be. Googlemaps usually gives us one or two choices in route and off we go. So it was today, but suddenly I saw a sign “Pacific Ocean Drive”. I remember before we even started to travel and I was browsing the net to see what we might find in Australia. This drive came up with its own website. An image stuck in my head of a road clinging to cliff face, over the ocean. I want to do that, I thought.

“Turn right here!”
So we increase our journey length by about one hour but…
Much of the drive steers you through seaside towns, which makes for slow going. Much of the drive has no obvious relevance to a coastal drive at all. Frequently we are maneuvered back onto Princes Highway for a spell but…
Just past Woolangong, the drive takes a spectacular turn for the better: lots of coastal driving and then…
The road swoops around the massive perpendicular cliffs, hugging its side and hanging over the ocean, just like the photo. It’s impossible to stop for a while (roadworks, would you believe!) but, when we did, you could look back…

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Just beside us is a field, atop the cliff, where hang-gliders and para gliders land and take off.

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From here the road takes a totally different character as it plunges into National Park forest, twisting and turning.
Then, without warning we are in suburban Sydney and a new style of driving is required. Oh, but this is second nature to me. It’s just like London, crammed with traffic, traffic lights, roundabouts, lane changes…yes, this feels like home already.
It was a good drive: a kind of tribute to the many beaches, seascapes, forests and wild bush we have seen over the last six months.
The car is dropped back, the apartment, which is lovely, is found and we unpack, like professional travelers. Unpacking is also second nature now!

It’s wonderful to have a top of range bathroom, large white fluffy towels, table lamps, nice smells, a balcony with a view of the CBD.

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I have arranged to meet an ex-colleague, who had taken the post as deputy in my school as a maternity cover, and had proved very talented both as a teacher and a leader. I meet his new partner and we enjoy a drink and meal together, exchanging gossip of how our school is faring without us!

Back in our apartment, we luxuriate in our new space. It’s so clean and modern!

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Too many beaches to choose from – Saturday 14th April 2012


Overnight, the sky has clouded, but the heat remains. We are no quicker getting out of bed, still recovering from our travels. Suddenly, I remember the couple we met on Bondi beach in October 2011 when we began our journey. They had been travelling for three months through Vietnam, Thailand and were on their way to meet their son in New Zealand. “Don’t do what we did,” they advised, “staying only one night over and over is so tiring!”. Damn right!
Still we are up by 10.30 and ready for action, of sorts.
I’d like to see the end of Jervis Bay peninsula so we drive past Hyams Beach to find a pay booth for Jervis Bay National Park, $10.
It is so similar to Wilson’s Promontory where we went with my Melbourne friend: beautiful, wild and full of beaches. We begin with Cave Beach, (yes, it had a cave!): half a mile of buttermilk sand, which brushes off like talcum powder. John rushes off to the sea, leaping through the waves. There are boogie boards and surfers in the sea, but I reckon the surfers were beginners because the waves were not that strong.
There is little sunshine, but it is warm enough to lie for an hour, people watching. We also walk the length of the beach and find crab sand ball patterns like we did in Northern Queensland. We nearly forget that we wanted to explore all the beaches.
Off to Green Patch, such a sweet beach with a stream down one side and greenish sea. We explore Jervis Village briefly, mostly related to the marine corps I think. Then there is Murrey beach and, suddenly we have run out of daylight. If only this was UK. Our summer days last until 9pm! Here we have darkness by 6 on a dull day!

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We have run out of food, so drive the 30km to Nowar, the nearest big supermarket and buy up.. What to eat tonight? Pre-cooked chook! It’s a Tudor feast with no vegetables just roasted chicken and some bread, all the better of not having to do any cooking myself.

The whitest sand in the world – Thursday 12th April 2012


Just a 2 hour journey today. After weeks of traveling relentlessly towards Sydney, we are going to stop for a few days and enjoy ourselves. Jervis Bay was recommended by our friends in Melbourne, but we have seen it rated as on of the top ten “whitest sandy beaches in the world”. Who could we not want to come?

We have two hours before we are able to book into our ‘budget bungalow’. After the past few cabins in holiday parks, I am beginning to get an eerie feeling that the title of this is not good. There were beautiful photos of bungalow 1 and Waterfront Bungalow, but only a stark ‘older kitchen in budget bungalow’ photo. Still it is considerably less expensive than the others and brilliantly located as absolute waterfront on the river.

First we head off to Hyams Beach. This is said to be the beach with the whitest sand, according to the tourist books and Internet. We look at the smaller section first, to the left of the main beach. Yes, the sand is white, but seaweed covers much of the beach and the grain of the sand is slightly course. I feel irritated with myself for having such high expectations.

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John insists he has not warmed up yet from the cold of yesterday, which had actually been warmer than the day before. He stubbornly sits on the beach with his jumper on. My concept of tropical beach has difficulty coping with this.
We move onto the larger Hyams Beach. This lives up to my imagination. The sand is talcum fine, and brilliant white. It is truly hard to see without sunglasses. The water contrasts beautifully with the white. Even John is warmed by the view and his jumper magically disappears. We sit in awe of the beauty that surrounds us, envious of those in the sea; we have swim wear lodged in the murky bottom of our cases back in the car.

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Eventually, we quit the beach for an impromptu lunch of hummus and bread from the food bag out the boot of the car.
Finally, at two o’clock, we arrive at Husskison at the budget bungalow. The setting is just as I wished for, grassy, well kept with a long wooden jetty protruding into the estuary. Two wood chairs and a small table invite us to take coffee and admire the view.
We spend the late afternoon wandering round the town. They too have a sandy beach, where we have brought our swimwear and simply soak up the sun, until the evening shadows force us to return home.
But the bungalow itself is, also, as expected. The kitchen is large with two modern yet already aged sofas and a smell of unkempt, unloved cupboards. The bedrooms are good enough and we set to making it comfortable. The best bit is the verandah, where we bask in the evening sun and eat our meal.
Best of all though, we are staying here a while. Four nights to recover, to relax, to get to one the area better.

Outback of beyond – Wednesday 4th and Thursday 5th April 2012


Even cleaning our YHA near Adelaide had a certain pleasure. It’s been an unexpected refuge from all our traveling. If I’d stayed here back in October 2011, at the beginning of our trip, I’d have hated it! Cold, stark, scary, I might have said!
But now, it seems perfect!

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Back in Adelaide city, we hand back the keys, and linen to the YHA, and set off North. Partly because of the build up of Easter holiday travelers, and partly because we have not seen much of the ‘interior’ of Australia, we’ve chosen to drive down the A20 highway. This will take us through as near outback as we are going to get on this journey.
There are vast farms along the first part, before it gives way to the kind of landscape that puts me in mind of billabongs and jolly swagmen – and snakes, and spiders. It’s arid, yet somehow plants survive this semi desert.

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Miles and miles and miles of space….
At Nuriootpa, we stop for coffee and John has an inspiration. We are short on instant coffee but have loads of ground. What if we buy our own plunger from a charity shop. Then we could drink good coffee wherever we go. I know what you are thinking. Why didn’t we do this 5 months back?
This is the first time we have been in a car, able to carry a fragile object without a plane journey etc. when we fly back to UK in a few weeks, we can jettison it.
We’re in luck! The town has one in good condition: price- $2.50 a bargain!
As we head towards the wineries in South Australia, lakes and rivers appear on the landscape, making a welcome relief.

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We are headed for Banrock Station. Their wines are widely available in Uk via supermarkets. The tasting station must be far from the production factory, but gives out to the view above. Their ‘good earth’ label must be partly due to the fact they manage this wetland.
I sample almost all their range, before we sit to eat scones and drink coffee in their restaurant admiring the view.

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It’s the first time we has stayed in a cabin. This is an ‘executive’ one on a campsite near Lake Bonny. Although the kitchen cupboards have broken handles, the rest of it is spacious and reasonably comfortable. The best bit is the lake itself, on the edge of the campsite. It’s ridiculously hot, now we have lost any ocean breeze. Walking by the lake cools us, and is simply stunning, inspiring photos below.

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And as the sun sets, we cannot resist another sunset photo.

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The following day we realise we need to do nothing, nada, niet, rien! So the most activity we do is a load of washing. We’ve done nothing but travel for the last three weeks, and we have over 1500 km to go before we start to head home. Sitting still seems a wonderful plan!

Fremantle – Saturday 31st March 2012


I could live in Fremantle, it’s brilliant! The buildings are well proportioned and older than we have become used to in Australia. There’s a sense of solidity, grandeur even. But, on the other hand it is a very manageable size, has lots of art galleries and two lively markets, where things are really a good price. It buzzes with energy.
Initially we are attracted to the shops and the markets. Time to buy a few things to take home! All the while I look at the sky; huge clear blue, with a massive pattern of white cloud gently laid over it.

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This homecoming work of art graces the area near the E-shed market. Love it!

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I love the way the artist has provided a seat for interaction here.

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Throughout Fremantle we find groups of teens undergoing the same kind of team building we had seen with business men and women in Perth. Seems to be a big thing here. This tall ship was also used by teens on a team building exercise prior to going to sea for a while.

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Little Creatures Brewery has a great range of ales and offers a sand pit and toys for little ones while Dad and mum have a beer together! Great idea!
Opposite the brewery is an ‘eye’: well that’s what we call it in London.

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It’s easy to spend the day in Fremantle: honestly I would have loved to spend a week there but…

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On the way back we stopped at Cottesloe beach where we saw a wedding being photographed. Perhaps a little chaotic but lots of fun.
Once we got back to Perth, the serious work began. We have to find somewhere to stay for Easter weekend. For about three hours we scour the websites and maps to make a meaningful link within our journey of available accommodation. Sometimes we find ourselves dragged into the pros and cons of one particular place, endlessly we consider the price, always we look for somewhere with a kitchen to keep our costs down.
Motel rooms, hotel rooms, cabins, YHA are all considered.
Slowly the jigsaw forms a picture which we can live with. There is only three days missing from Easter Monday to the Wednesday but I am sure we have cracked the worst of it.
Breathe a sigh of relief and go to sleep exhausted!

Albany: a town with history -Friday 23rd March 2012


So, it was a commercial campsite,and it was windy, but the view from the van door over the estuary is so lovely. Hundreds of ducks, scores of black swans and tens of pelican inhabit these waters with many migrating companions.

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We feel refreshed after our two night stay. As a final destination with the van, we want to head to Albany, and it’s only 50km away.
Proves to be a very large town, sprawling with history.
What a strange concept, for someone brought up in England. In UK things date back to 1066, well even earlier because there’s Stone Henge and Roman towns like Bath and remnants of Roman roads and Saxon kings and Sutton Hoo…so, local history has always been long, for me.
Albany goes back to 1840 with the first consecrated ground in Western Australia, an early goal, a whaling station (no longer used, of course) and a brig on which the first Europeans arrived (sadly a replica). Even things from 1926 are worthy of merit as part of their local history.
There is a large area dedicated to WW1 and the Battle of Gallipoli, where ANZAC landed in 1915.

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This pie shop serves excellent pies but we are not persuaded to stay the night. Camp fees are twice what we have been paying and they seem overcrowded and unappealing.
Our strategy is to
1. Find some more sun- but the forecast is not favourable
2. Find somewhere pretty with space to stay
3. Find somewhere cheap

We end up far further East than we had intended at Cheyne Beach, 19km off the highway with immediate access to a beautiful white sand beach. At one end of the beach a mountain of seaweed has built up, but at the far end, it goes on forever, white, clean and squeaky. It’s true, the purest, finest white sand really does squeak underfoot when dry!
We walk for miles enjoying the space and tranquility.

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Back at camp a family of kangaroos graze and it’s warm enough to have the van doors open while we cook. Things are improving but, we really want to end our travels with more sun. Tomorrow we consider heading back to Perth and then further North to find more warmth.

Wilson’s Prom – Sunday 11th March 2012


We have been planning this trip for ages. My friend from Melbourne has promised to drive us to Wilson’s Prom and we set off at 6 am. It’s a much swifter journey than any of us thought. We experience dawn on the move. Gradually the roads slow and wind and Wilson’s Promontory hovers into view.
It’s a wonderful wilderness space, full of forest and surrounded by sea.
Almost exactly one year ago the area was devastated by floods and huge swathes of it are still cut off for reparation.

There is a massive site for camping, and although I cannot see the appeal of cheek by jowl pitches near the shop (I guess families probably like the convenience) there are some gorgeous wooden cabins which are staggered through the bush and isolated pitches which are surrounded by trees which seem very appealing. We ask about staying the night but it is a holiday weekend and everywhere is full to capacity. Shame!

Just a little way from the campsite is an estuary, which opens onto a wide sandy beach. I had forgotten how well Australia does beaches! We stroll over the river bridge and follow the path to Squeaky Beach.

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I love the feel of this place. It has less boardwalk and feels more natural than many of the National Parks we’ve visited in Australia. There’s plenty of evidence of wombat claws clearly scratching for food along the path. At every scratch there is a poo dropping marking its presence. I places the earth is carved into deep ravines by the flood damage. I love the ancient tea tree, whose grey bark weaves together to create a tunnel, so eerie that it should be in a story, and the boulders, streaked in red as is scared by rusty rain rushing over their surface.

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My Melbourne friend climbs energetically over boulders like a mountain goat. I have always admired this agility and enthusiasm. John and I take a more sedate route.
Squeaky Beach is white sand which, of course, squeaks as you walk on it. Clusters of families sit on the near end, we walk along the beach to the huge boulders at the far end and enjoy a picnic.

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As the day progresses my friend and I catch up. Strange that I know his house so well but it has been several years since we spent much time together.
As we drive out of the National Park we notice a dead wombat, road kill! He looks comfortable by the side of the road, poor thing!

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Back home we watch Tinker Tailor Soldier… But I nearly fall asleep: too much fresh air and exercise!

Dandanongs – Sunday 8th and Monday 9th January 2012


The Dandenongs are friends of mine, although they’re rather small (many apologies to the Night Garden and Derek Jacobi for this) But if you get there early, they are hardly there at all! Mostly because of low cloud.

I know anyone without a child under 5 will look at this and wonder! Believe me In The Night Garden in a a bizarre programme with tombliboos and pontipines – seriously, they should also have Dandanongs.

I digress!

We arrived at 8.30 in the morning. The Dandanong National Park is full of the tallest trees, (maybe red gum) and home to many cockatoos. We’ve not really seen many cockatoos since Queensland. Their screech is raucous and their flight beautiful and bold. Please never capture them and make them sit on perches all day long.

This is a centre for cycling. It would seem that an early breakfast in a cosy cafe followed by a strenuous cycle is the order of the day for many. It’s a densely wooded area, with double bends and steep roads. Many of the villages have lovely boutique shops. It’s the first time I’ve seen such good quality toy shops full of wonderful puppets and wooden toys. There are also many many cafes.

For us it rained, and rained. The cloud was so low that at one point we pulled up to ‘look out’ and could only see cloud!

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Eventually the cloud lifted to reveal the scene. But it soon returned to cloud again. At times when we drove around we could only see 50 meters ahead.

It occupied our morning well. This afternoon we resumed our travel status, by moving into the Stay Safe motel, and then popped back to my friend’s house to thank him for such kindness over the last few weeks.

How wonderful it was to talk to someone who had a history with me. To be able to refer back, make ‘in’ jokes, talk about mutual interests. Perhaps that’s the one thing I really miss when traveling. Being with friends for a long chat over life.

In the evening we returned to the pier at St Kilda to say ‘goodbye’ to the penguins.

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We ended our day with another photo competition. Who could take the best moon photos?

The Great Ocean Road – Tuesday 3rd January 2012


So, yes, we did dawdle over breakfast at Quamby Homestead. First time in ages that we were made such a fuss of. Thank you William and Ailsa. But we finally did get going.

I’d seen a sign for Tower Hill Nature Reserve on the route here. The guidebook said if we did not see a koala here, we needed to see the optician. So…

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Our first view of Tower Hill was incredible. The usual ‘lookout’ sign, a lay-by and a few steps between a curtain of road side trees, reveals this prehistoric panorama. Far below less a massive lake, which appears shallow and clear. Yellow ochre patches of week pattern the lake and the surface is covered with patterns of thousands of black dots.

Over your head 20 or more butterfly dance in pairs or trios. In the mid-distance 50 dragon fly hover.

On the far side of the volcanic blast crater, the trees wrap the hillside. But the body of water! It’s massive! Still, massive, reflectingly peaceful and this commands your attention. Those thousands of dots turn out to be ducks! Brown, simple but overwhelming in number. In addition, there are black swan and white egret punctuating the setting.
I can’t wait to get in!

A couple with a motor home pull up and share their map – leading to a conversation about mutual journeys, families, retirement. They show us the way to the entrance.

Once in the reserve, a single road leads us round and almost the first thing we saw was a pair of emu.

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One of which had no qualms about coming right up to the open window. Sadly, I felt compelled to close the window rather than take its photo!

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We walked up the side of the crater, whilst it was only 35 degrees, that’s enough to break into a sweat, yet the geology of the place makes it so worth while.
We met emu, but a koala? We need to visit an optician!

The Great Ocean Road follows a particular rock formation in beautiful tans, coffee, creams, caramel and burnt sienna limestone. It has eroded into amazing patterns.

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It rises up exhibiting its layers as we follow a spectacular cliff top forming a massive plain above.

All along the Great Ocean Road, literally every half mile of so, look outs allow you to pull up, get out and marvel. A series of stacks, arches, broken arches and doors build up your anticipation. We were lucky because we are traveling East towards the famous 12 Apostles landmark, so our expectation was built gradually and each site superseded the last.

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Not only is it an incredible distance of similar geology but the quality of colours, their balance, intensity and clarity are amazing.

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At the end of the day we shared a bottle of wine on the porch of our motel and had a long chat with the owner who had spent the previous three months sorting out his new acquisition. We left him to wander down the street away from the street lights and marvel at the stars.

It really is a wonderful world.