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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Long drives – Tuesday 10th April 2012


Time is now divided into long drives. Days have ceased to have meaning. One motel is definitely beginning to look like another. The standard of them is not getting any better. We are now living out of a suitcase instead of unpacking. Although we stop, share the driving, listen to The Hobbit, the car journey predominates all time.

This is strange really: the day is about 10 hours long, with a lazy morning and twilight coming at 6pm, we only drive for half a day at a time, but we have been doing this for quite a while now. If you count the two weeks in Western Australia in the campervan, the drive from Adelaide has been mainly one nighters. Its been like that for 10 days now. It is wearing us out. It’s as though we cannot stop. We HAVE to get to Sydney.

Today however, we stop at Cape Conran. It’s a detour that leads to the ocean road and a little beach. Strewn with seaweed, surrounded by forest, it’s a rocky beach which has claimed lives in the last 30 years with shipwrecks. There’s a walk through the forest, which loops back along the beach. Although not as cold as yesterday, we set off at a brisk pace, glad to be out of the car and walking. It proves to be a tonic, and we indulge in our favourite pastime of photos. Waves occupy John, while I find some pretty seashells.

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Marimbula is a resort town and our ‘villa’ turns out to be an ordinary cabin on a caravan park. We have searched for cheap accommodation to balance our campervan expenditure back in Perth. This place only cost $99 per night and yesterday was even cheaper. They are plain affairs and usually smell of over-powerful disinfectant, or dirt. I prefer the former. Their textures feel soapy, but that might be grease from millions of hands. I’d rather not think about it too long. There is often the odd stain or two, but we have learned to settle quickly, focus on cooking a good meal and getting as comfortable as possible. We usually walk around the town, mostly for the exercise and to get the lay of the land. Marimbula’s character seems defined by its oyster beds.

Traffic jams – Monday 9th April 2012


We enjoy a leisurely morning with our friends in Melbourne. All the time we have been traveling through Western Australia, we had borrowed their IPod. Rolling Stones and Led Zeplin, gave way to Damian Rice and Tracy Chapman as our mood oscillated. Now we have to give it back! We also pick up a large box of goodies which we had stored with them so we could get a cheaper flight with Tiger Airways. These wonderful people spend their time this morning making copies of The Hobbit audiobook, so we won’t be too bored over the next long drives!

It’s 320 km to Lakes Entrance. There is so much Easter traffic making its way back to Melbourne. For what feels like the first time in all our travels (highly subjective this statement) we witness traffic jams stretching back. But our journey is easy, The Hobbit helps us keep awake and concentrating.
But we also need to stop for coffee.

Sale offers us a good cafe. We stop more frequently than usual, to raid our store of food from the boot, as we had been shopping in Melbourne before we left.

Lakes Entrance is cold and windy. The Holiday unit is only £62 and provide us with two bedrooms and a kitchen. Luckily it also has a room heater and an electric blanket. We use both!
Before settling we go for a walk by the water. We need the exercise. The wind cuts into us but we stay wondering about for a while. The room seems even more cosy when we get back in contrast!

We don’t even take photos today, but I offer this photo from our 5000 that we have taken in the last 6 months.

Travel seems to have narrowed to getting there! At the moment, I feel the destination is Sydney, but I know really it is London, UK. Home!

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Changing scenery and a salad bug – Saturday 7th April 2012


Robinvale looked little better in the morning light. Our room was totally not equipped for eating, although it had a toaster and kettle. There were no spoons, or plates, so we ate our muesli, mixed in the yogurt carton and used a teaspoon, eating straight from the carton itself. We may have hit rock bottom!

On the road by 9.00: farm, vineyard, bush, outback. The wind had dropped sufficiently for the sky to resume normal coloring and the red soil remained on the ground. Cruise control helped the scenery pass, and not another car either way.
Remote, eh?
Hundreds of miles melted behind us.

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Gradually the world turned greener and gold mining towns came into view.
Dunolly is such a contrast to Robinvale. It has charm, ‘antique’ shops, and a cafe with pie and coffee. I love it!
Maryborough is really large by comparison, with an ex-mining college, a station and two main streets with shops!
Our bed and breakfast is a Victorian house with massive high ceilings and small windows, making the rooms dark even though they are well proportioned..
We walk into town and chat to two sisters who are doing up their mum’s garden. They tell us all the eating establishments in the area and we choose the most expensive as a treat.
The Supreme Court had a simple menu, steak, chicken in Parma ham, fish of the day. We both chose steak. It took over half an hour to come, but we understood. The restaurant was very busy; it is Easter!
When it came, John began eating and a beetle, one cm long crawled out of his salad onto the table, where I beheaded it. Of course we told the waitress, who was very sorry and said unhelpful things like, “That’s the third bad thing that’s happened today. We have been very busy.”. And “sorry!”
We agreed to have another, they offered us some more drinks. We only paid half price for the food. Still, just as we were thinking we had reached civilization… Yuk!

Quarantines and dust storms – Friday 6th April 2012


From our terrace, outside the cabin, we has watched many families unpack a cubic meter of stuff from their car and rearrange it to form a tent, with chairs, table, bikes, cookware, plastic buckets and other necessities. This seems to take at least an hour if the family works together. If, as in at least one case, the family has borrowed the equipment, and needs to phone for instructions, it can take much longer!

Children who are used to campsite life are up early and onto the climbing frames in their pyjamas, feral and joyous. We must look strange as we throw our two suitcases into the boot and leave the Easter holiday crowd. The campsite is now full to bursting, whereas only the other day there was wonderful space. The lake looks totally different now; grey, ruffled by wind and intruded upon by boats and bathers.

We drive the 280 km to Robinvale.
Farm, vineyard, bush, bush- outback scenery.
Much of the road is straight and we learn ‘cruise control’, laughing at no feet!

We cross the state line from South Australia and see queues of traffic halted on the way in, through quarantine regulations. Checks are being made for fruit fly. Fines are being imposed! All fruit and veg have to be jettisoned prior to arriving at this point.

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Then we pass a sign indicating we too should have no fruit or veg. This is difficult as we had some and with some irritation, I threw it into the quarantine bins by the side of the road. We drove on but never saw a similar stop and search station as we had seen going the other way. So my lovely veg could perhaps have been saved.

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Approaching Robinvale, we crossed the state boundaries between Victoria and New South Wales. Here the soil is red and spirals up from the hot wind. Strange sensation: hot wind! The clouds become tinted with red earth.
Robinvale Motel cost $75, a record in cheapness for us! Robinvale was the first town I had seen in Australia which I felt was failing. Shops boarded, some houses in tatters, lots of immigrants, large caravan park by the river. (The last two do not necessarily mean ‘failing’! I am just describing the town!)

The dust spirals have now turned the whole sky dull red. The wind continues to blow as we wander the streets looking for food. We eat in the Chinese restaurant and the food is ok but (as so often in Australia) salty.
Opposite is a rural museum: a collection of rusted implements scattered and piled. They would pass as scrap, if there had not been a single label on the gate claiming museum status.

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Campervan – Thursday 15th March 2012


I love the YHA! Not that the rooms were sound proofed- which they were not- but a clean bed, inexpensive, right in the centre of Perth, with an ensuite, near all transport…and breakfast! Coffee, raisin toast and orange juice for two costs $14.

I also love Australia for its connected sense of public transport.plane, shuttle us, free bus circuit round town for sightseeing, underground just around the corner connecting with a bus service just over the road in Rockingham. All pretty impressive and easy.

By 11 o’clock we are at the camper van hire depot to pick up our Ford Transit. It takes nearly two hours to complete the paperwork, briefing and packing. The Welsh lady who owns Go Camper likes to explain things, mostly how well she is doing and how brilliant her business is and, of course her vans. Woe betide us if we have any problems with the van. I can tell, it will be deemed our fault!

We decide to leave our suitcases at the depot, so unpack (and re-pack) in the yard. There is very little room, of course. Dinky little cupboards, lift up storage under the seat/bed, a minuscule wardrobe, a safe (!): all get crammed with our things.

We had chosen a top of range, because I cannot see us being happy if we are too cramped or too uncomfortable. We have a shower, toilet, sink, cooker, tv with satellite dish, air conditioning and microwave which will only work if we are plugged into the mains. Then of course we have the solar powered battery and fridge.

We set off, very nervy with the odd judder of unknown clutch, to the supermarket to stock up. We cram the remaining space with food and drink.

It feels like such a massive, heavy vehicle, but John seems confident and parks in the car park like a pro, maneuvering it round bends and between parking bay lines, although I am aware it is slow to respond.

We drive to the nearest caravan park but recoil in horror! It’s more like a small city than the rural idle we had in mind. We retrace our path and park on the esplanade, making coffee and delighting in the experience of our new mobile lifestyle. But where to spend the night?

Out of town we head South, still trying to get the feel of our monster.

Our map feels inadequate and sketchy, but we take a right to a National Reserve. At first the road is straddled with houses but on the boundary of the National Park we get the feel we have been searching: rural, isolation, forest. Within a few km the road becomes dirt and very quickly after that sand, fit on,y for 4WD. John makes a three point turn and tries a different road, only to find the same!
In just an hour it will be dark. Best quit while we are ahead. On the other side of the main road is another campsite. Shady, better spaced pitches, quite friendly and for $30 we have power in a reasonably isolated spot. By the time we are settled it is dark. We have dinner, enjoy a beer and learn to set up the bed. It is large and reasonably comfy, it’s warm and we sleep well.

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Banks Peninsular – Thursday 1st March 2012


The Banks Peninsular has a strong French influence. To me, it feels like a mock Fiordland, in miniature. The hills fold down in fingers and troughs from the centre towards the coast. At times, the land reminds me of stiff material folds. Pausing at a lake we find Pukeko and black swans battling the waves.

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SH 75 from Christchurch to Akaroa merely hints at the beauty that is to come. Akaroa itself has some nice shops and good restaurants. We each fish at Ma Maison overlooking the sea. The food is good and the experience of eating lovely food in good surroundings is one I savour.

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Wandering around the shops we find a toy Pukeko, who reminds me of the story book we bought our grandson, so I buy the toy to go with it. Then we find a green t-shirt with “Sweet as BRO”: John and I laugh because when we first heard someone say that, John thought it was “Sweet airs…” and attributed it to Shakespeare.

We drive on down “tourist drive 1” and then take “tourist drive 3”.

Simply the most stunning scenery ever. It reminded me of a Lakeland artist, which John’s mum loved, Heaton-Cooper. Despite the grey weather, the sea regained its fantastic blue with the slightest of sun and the clouds added a purple over this.

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The road rose and fell over each finger of land. We explored bays and stopped at will because there were so few cars about. Most often when we stopped we climbed out the car to drink in the view. But at times we felt we might get blown away, by the strength of the wind. Once John struggled to close his car door as the wind was behind it. Another time the car was rocked so violently, we decided not to venture out!

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You can well understand what this artist might paint! We loved this sculpture found in Akaroa.

The road to Christchurch – Tuesday 28th February 2012


We are taking the scenic route to Christchurch, inland, via Twizle. It adds several hours to our journey, but, proves worth the effort.

The first big feature is a series of dams between lakes Waitaki and Aviemore. These were some of the first dams made for New Zealand and date from 1930, when the government clearly had a massive man power scheme up and running to deal with the latent unemployment and global depression. Most of the hard core earth moving was achieved by pick and shovel. Incredible achievement! The turbines they used were huge too, and examples litter the lay-bys.

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At Omarama we stop at the Wriggley Ram for coffee, where you can pay to watch sheep being sheared.
We drove on to Twizle and the colour of the lakes was outstanding.

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Seriously, no photoshop enhancement needed! I don’t have the software for that sort of thing while I am traveling!
We learn that a fine powder is held in suspension in facial melt water. This helps the light refract off the water, giving it that amazing blue. It’s the same principle as finest dust floating in our atmosphere, refracting light to make a blue sky.

We had imagined Burke’s Pass might be winding, torturous and steep, but it’s a lovely drive. The area is used for skiing in inter and John and I, who have never skied, feel it would be a good place to start.

By Geraldine, we think we must be returning to civilization. We near the coast again and the lorries become more frequent and gradually the traffic builds up.
By Christchurch, there are traffic lights, road works, roundabouts and traffic.
Of course, it’s sad to see whole sections cleared for rebuilding, but our first impression, driving through the city is how incredibly hard people have pulled together to withstand a duel earthquake on such a massive scale, plus hundreds of aftershocks.
The city centre is closed but the sprit of the city lives on.

The Southern Scenic Route – Friday 24th February 2012


The Southern Scenic Route from Invercargill to Dunedin has a coastal option, featuring a dozen or so stop offs, including the ‘concrete horse trough’, which we gave a miss!

It would seem that New Zealand is practising the “4 seasons in one day” scenario but the trump card today is definitely wind.

The Caitlins has a dangerous coast line. At Waipapa Point in 1881, the SS Tararua ran aground: 131 out of 151 passengers and crew died. The lighthouse is stout and built after this disaster.

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The rocky coast also has patches of golden sand and large swathes of ribbon seaweed. To my great joy, I notice a lone, lumbering seal, heaving itself onto the beach to rest its head on a rock and have a good scratch.

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Next stop: a short walk over farm land to Slope Point, the most southerly point in New Zealand.
No! That was the most Southerly road in Bluff, which we saw yesterday!
True South is a bleak place (yes, bleaker than Bluff!) Even the grass was having a hard time growing there and in places had given up, in favour of the smallest succulent I have ever seen. Tiny spores, like duck week spread out, clutching at thin soil.

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At the cliff edge, by the official sign post to both the equator and the South Pole, the winds buffeted us ferociously. For an instant, it grabs your whole body, but mostly it wraps my hair around my face so I cannot see anything at all. Not safe on top of a cliff!

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Next stop: Curio Bay is fascinating because an ancient fossil forest litters the beach. Rounded tree stumps and large fallen logs, certainly not coal, but hard as rock with a wood texture.

Here we also see a yellow eyed penguin, some 60cm tall, lying rotund as a submarine, just under a bush. They are an endangered species who are very wary of humans and it is difficult to get close. I think we were lucky this one was asleep with his head under the bush. He stretched occasionally and wriggled his toes but never suspected he was posing.
We find two more of these lovely creatures at Roaring Bay, standing on the beach waiting for parents to return home with supper. .Two more seals laze at the far end of the bay. I hope they are not contemplating their own supper of penguin! I’ve seen those David Attenborough programmes!

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Next stop: Nugget Point/Takata lighthouse.
Up this hill we see hundreds of fur seals in their colony. And again am amazed how agile they are. They climb really high up on islands out at sea, over incredibly steep inclines. We certainly need binoculars to see them but they are a wonderful sight.

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The Southern Scenic Route, Ocean option road is metaled, but not sealed, for much of its distance. It’s the first time we have traveled on this kind of road for so many kilometers. It took us ages to cross is as the road was bumpy and we stopped so often for sights. By the time we finished I felt quite jarred!

It’s good to have reached Dunedin. It’s a university town of some size. I look forward to learning more about it.

Well…
The Bella Vista motel is average and, for a two bedroomed place, is honestly cramped. There are student lodgings next door and they are on Orientation week, meaning alcohol and shouting from 10pm to 2 am.
Reminds me of Kingston!

Oh and Dunedin has a long one way system.

Dawn on Doubtful Sound, dusk at Invercargill – Wednesday 22nd February 2012


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We are awoken by the sound of the generator, signaling pumping of water has resumed. The light, this morning is enhanced by a hint of pink dawn layered over threads of clouds. The stillness, the isolation is overwhelming.
We eat breakfast, see yet more dolphins, but this time in the distance, body flipping and then penguin. Three little ones, swimming ahead.

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Next task is to try to find a crayfish for the next cruise. Our captain set traps last evening, I volunteer to help raise them.

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Sadly nothing! Poor people will have to catch their own supper!
The scenery is simply beautiful here and I am sad to be leaving. This will live in my memory for many years to come.

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But we must leave, so re-trace our journey, 50 minutes on a minibus, 50 minutes on a boat over Lake Manapouri, and a short ride home to collect our car and bags, before we start for Invercargill.
And first on our route is Manipouri – again! This feels rather ridiculous but inevitable. The rest of the journey follows the Southrn Scenic Route but after the majesty of Doubtful Sound, it feels a little flat. Both John and I try to relieve the journey with stop offs.
Clifden Bridge: suspension bridge which improved communication, but more amusing was the pig!

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There he was, this black boulder, lying under a tree, until we, tourists, started to arrive. He staggered to his feet, grunting with pleasure and wagging his tail, persuading people to rush to their cars and find apple cores for his consumption. He was massive! (that’s not my hand in the photo)

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By the time we were 30 km off Invercargill, both John and I were exhausted. We had shared the driving as much as possible, taking shorter and shorter legs for each section of the journey. Eventually w pulled off the road, and for the third time in this entire epic travel, admitted defeat to sleep! We pulled the seats to maximum recline and slept for 20 mins.
This provided us with just enough energy to find the motel and unpack, but not enough to buy food or search for a restaurant. We dined on apple, an orange, an apricot, 3 crackers with Vegimite or Philadelphia and a muesli bar washed down with a Gin and Tonic and coffee.
Believe it or not the saga of the Heirtz/Rentalcars.com fiasco where we ended up paying twice while in Melbourne, has not yet ended. John makes a valiant effort to conclude it but fails because of time difference in UK and the right person being unavailable.