The Bumpy Road to Coober Pedy

A perfect straight line of tarmac flanked by vast plains of sparse straw-like grass, burnt in patches in preparation for ploughing, runs to the horizon. In the distance streaks of dust cross the landscape, trails of a lonely tractor and nomadic flocks of sheep grazing on slim pickings, their wool as red as the dirt. This featureless landscape is broken only by man made structures- a weathervane, a water tank, the ruins of a small farm building.

Through the settlements of Orroroo and Hawker we pass as the afternoon wears on and the grey outline of the Flinders Ranges begin to form on the horizon, the serrated silhouette of Wilpena Pound at its head our destination. Dusk brings with it a marvellous display of colour in the wide desert sky as scores of wallabies emerge from their daytime slumber. The campsite at Wilpena is our base for the next few days and we pick a pitch on the wide expanse of red dust, it hasn’t rained here since March.

An early start as we set off through the loose woodland of scanty pine and native red gum heading towards the rocky outer slopes of the elevated basin that is Wilpena Pound, a huge arc of mountains resembling a massive crater. We’re accompanied only by striking green budgerigars as the track inclines steeply up towards the Tenderra Saddle leaving the cover of the bush below as it climbs across the carotine rocks. The view from the saddle sweeps down into the centre of the pound while outside the crater the vertebrae of the Flinders Ranges stretch to the hazy horizon like a huge fossilised spinal column. Above us is St Marys Peak (1171m) where the panorama is emphasised by the extra few hundred metres of altitude; the whole pound is revealed arcing out from our position in a perfect circle of peaks and across the vast plains below an expanse of striking white ground- the salt lake named Torrens.

After lunch at the peak we descend into the centre of the pound, once used by early settlers to contain their cattle (hence the name) a 12km loop that takes till late afternoon and returns via the Pound Gap where the red gums grow in abundance between its steep walls and shady watering holes. Speckled light sprays onto wallabies that graze in the undergrowth around the path.

A few kilometres out of Wilpena is the Solar Station Lookout, the perfect spot to enjoy the sunrise; walking out onto the exposed hill we watch as the cloud layer over the horizon gradually turns from flat grey to a beautiful soft pink, the first rays of the morning sun hitting the peaks turning them a deep glowing red like the coals of a fire, a great start to the day.

Lake Eyre and the Oodnadatta Track 

A quick coffee at the visitor centre and we’re on our way back to Hawker where the road splits south back towards the main Stuart Highway or north to Leigh Creek. The highway route is a massive backtrack but the sensible option in a two wheel drive but we’ve been convinced by Trevor to go via Leigh Creek and follow the dirt track past Lake Eyre to William Creek and across to Coober Pedy. The route will take us into some real outback and give us the opportunity to experience Lake Eyre in a very special way but it’s a risky move all round and we’re a bit apprehensive.

The drive north to Leigh Creek is a breeze on the smooth tarmac, the ridge of the Flinders to our east. Dust devils spin across the road and huge wedge-tailed eagles rip at carrion lying by the wayside. Leigh Creek is an oasis in the dust and a great place to stock up on provisions before reaching Lyndhurst where the bitumen ends and the dirt takes over. The route follows the Old Ghan railway line, the only remnants a bank of earth and the occasional pile of dusty sleepers; ruined settlements long since abandoned crumble in the distance. Somewhere to the west the new line runs almost 3000kms to Darwin and the Indian Ocean.

A general store, a pair of dilapidated fuel pumps and a collection of rusting locomotives spread around the deserted platforms of the old railway station are the sights of Maree. Back in the day the town was an important link on the Ghan’s route north to Alice, the railway brought life to this part of the desert and took it away when its tracks were re-routed, these days it’s exists only as a stopover for weary off roaders tackling the famous cross country routes of the Birdsville and Oodnadatta Tracks.

A warm morning sees us set off on day two in the dirt: we’re taking the Oodnadatta Track north-west to William Creek over 200kms away and we’re certainly the only campervan headed this way! The track is in relatively good condition, deteriorating in patches where the route crosses the vast network of dried creek beds, each dip in the road a mess of corrugation that threatens to shake the van apart. Traffic today is unusually heavy and we’re blasted by huge clouds of dust and shale as the 4WD’s thunder past at 100kms an hour causing the track and oncoming traffic to completely disappear. Thankfully the ‘traffic’ soon becomes spread out far and wide lowering the potential for collision and after 90kms we reach the southern banks of Lake Eyre South, its salt encrusted rim giving way to a glimmer of water in the distance. Surrounded by a swarm of flies we make our way down to its edge where we roam about on the sparkling white salt, the crunch under foot further adding to the impression of walking on snow.

Passing Coward Springs the track begins to deteriorate as the corrugations become more common. In addition the surface becomes incredibly stony and recent grading has left a deadly central reservation of sand and rock that has to be crossed on numerous occasions when searching for a smoother route, only to then be re-crossed in the face of oncoming traffic. The best way to deal with the corrugations is to drive on the opposite side of the track, one wheel in the desert but this poses serious risk at false horizons and banking turns.

By the time we reach William Creek (population 3) we’re shattered and a little broken.

‘where’ve you come from?’ asks a dusty looking woman outside the campsite. ‘Marree!’ I reply triumphantly.

‘In that? Must have been a hell of a ride!’ She’s not wrong!

After a drive like that we both decide we need a strong drink. The William Creek Hotel is as fine as example of an outback pub as you’ll find: the walls and ceiling are plastered with thousands of id cards, drivers licences and the like as well as a wide collection of pieces of clothing and bits of vehicles. After a large slug on a cold beer I add my own piece of memorabilia to the lot- my New South Wales RSA card!

We’re up early next day as we’ve booked a flight over Lake Eyre (north), big brother to its southern counterpart we strode across the day before. Eyre has been in the spotlight the past few years following successive annual flooding of an area approaching 8000 square kilometres in size that, until 2009, had been dry for decades. A change in weather patterns attributed to the La Niña phenomenon has seen water collected in a catchment area covering a sixth of the continent flow down creeks such as the Cooper and Warbuton into the lake. With water comes life and an extraordinary collection of birdlife has migrated inland to nest and breed.

We take off a little after sunrise in a small 6 seater Cessna, its fixed wing and tails casting long shadows across the dusty strip in the early morning light Climbing to 1200ft we soon leave the red scrubland behind as we cruise over the carpet of salt and approach the waters edge someway into the lake. The colours are beautiful from above: the water, a soft algal pink turns a dull grey as it seeps effortlessly into the chalk white salt. Descending to 500 feet we cruise over the Madigan Gulf, scene of Donald Campbell’s successful world land speed record in 1964 and then north over a vast network of arterial waterways, their brackish channels home to a profusion of birdlife. Looking down from above we spot squadrons of pelicans skimming across the water, silvery trails tracing their route;  duck, swan and a scores of indistinguishable breeds gather together in their thousands along the branches of the swollen creeks, a quite incredible sight. Swooping back into the north of the lake we follow the Warbuton Groove, a deep channel that carries the main body of water into the lake, from here the water grows increasingly shallow turning from brown to electric green as the colour is diluted by the salt bed below. Returning to base its back to plain old salt for the remainder of the route, the lake’s only 30% full this year but the flight has been spectacular and who knows when water will reach this place again.

Breakfast amongst the flies: the damn things head straight for eyes, nostrils and mouths goading one into a fit of rage and uncontrollable swatting. The only way to keep them at bay is to continually keep walking and we must make a curious sight as we circle the van munching our cornflakes.

Spirits are high as we leave William Creek, the road ahead has been described as ‘a dream’ by the lady at the bar and its 160 km back to the Stuart highway and the smooth bitumen, but within ten minutes of leaving civilisation we’ve hit rock bottom- the track is far worse than the day before, heavily corrugated and coated in a thick layer of powdery red sand. Driving at snails pace I’m cursing the lady and Trevor Manning out loud as we begin to realise we may not reach the highway today. The track undulates over the long dunes that run across our path, an undeniably beautiful scene of deep red and bleached sage coloured scrub, difficult to relish in our worrying predicament, and then amidst the foliage an upturned 4WD, the last victim of bad advice?

After 70 agonising kilometres we witness a miracle- smooth hard-packed dirt as far as the eye can see, elation all round. By late afternoon we cross the ‘Dog Fence’ a barrier that runs for over 9000km to keep the dingoes away from the flocks down south and  Conical heaps of pink ‘slag’ begin to sprout from the land- by-products of the extensive Opal mining in the area. A final flurry of dust and we rattle onto hard tarmac for the first time in four days and approach Coober Pedy, a real culture shock after the sparseness of the outback.

We’re both in agreement that it’s been an epic few days as we reminisce over a bottle of plonk and some greasy pizza in town, definitely worth the stress and a van full of dust! We may have taken his name in vain on numerous occasions but if it wasn’t for Trevor M we would never have experienced the marvels of this crazy detour and the beauty of Lake Eyre, a very strong contender for the highlight of the trip so far. An e-mail a few days later delivers Trevor’s congratulations and to quote ‘well you wouldn’t have done it if I told you what it was really like now would you?’  You’re absolutely right!

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Wine, wombats and wursts

After a damp night camping in Mt Clay Forest we cross over the South Australian border leaving the dairy country behind for the forests of tightly packed pine that stretch for hundreds of kilometres- this is logging country, a huge resource of wood that is sustainably managed by the government. The monotony is broken only by patches of saplings and juvenile trees replanted after an area’s cleared: a melancholy scene, occasional pairs of emu look out with disapproval as we roar past.

The city of Mt Gambier is our first stop in SA, a place to refuel and to visit its chief attraction, an old triple crated volcano that overlooks the city. As amazing as this might sound it really isn’t and after a brief cycle around the rim and quick admire of the striking blue lake at its centre we hit the road as the rain sets in.

Heading north the dark forests of pine give way to a sea of russet vines as we enter the Coonawarra wine region, famous for its fabled ‘Terra Rossa’ that produce Cabernet Sauvignons that rival the greatest Bordeauxs. The road from the town of Penola is lined by vineyards and we start our tour at the oldest establishment, Wynn’s, established in 1897.

The winemaker at Majella, Brian, is an amiable fellow in his late sixties, his flushed cheeks a testament to a lifetimes enjoyment of the grape, times have changed since he started out in the 70’s when ‘the only people who drank wine were European or queer, real men stuck to the beer’ A further few days exploring the wineries by bike and we leave the region with a few choice bottles in tow armed with some excellent local knowledge for the road to Adelaide.

The coastline north of Robe is dominated by the Coorong National Park, a hundred kilometres of flat water sheltered from the ocean by the Younghusband Peninsula, a huge sand spit. The park is famous for its varied birdlife, most notably Pelicans who breed on the islands that dot the area and it’s a good place for a few days of isolated exploring. Skirting lakes’ Albert and Alexandrina we drive onto the Fleurieu Peninsula, the south eastern limb of Gulf St Vincent; the peninsula has a distinctly Mediterranean feel to it and the coastline around Victor Harbour rises and falls to a shallow blue ocean that plays an important role as a nursery for Southern Right whales in season.

Further north the road rises to the top of the Willunga Escarpment, a giant horseshoe in the land sheltering the wine region of McLaren Vale and on the horizon the sprawling suburbs of Adelaide stretch to the glistening waters of the gulf. Every inch of land here is fully tamed and rows of vines stretch as far as the eye can see. McLaren Vale itself is very civilised and we treat ourselves to a few meals out as well as exploring the numerous wineries that dot the area; Shiraz is the leading grape here but unlike Coonawarra the terroir is more varied allowing for a greater range of styles and there’s a trend towards the more boutique operations.

Adelaide

It’s a straight flat 14kms by bike into the compact centre of Adelaide from our campsite on the outskirts. With a mere one million inhabitants to city manages to feel comfortably uncrowded, a belt of green parks encompassing the central district adds weight to this sense. The Central Market is bulging with fresh produce and Stinky Cheese provides free tastings, we giggle as the lady offers us some cheddar ‘from Devon, in Wales’ and correct the rather mortified cheesemonger, a reminder that we are in fact very far from home!

An Asian lunch in the food courts of Chinatown before we pedal down North Terrace past the impressive heritage architecture of the university, museum and state buildings to the Botanic Gardens where we roam around the expansive and well manicured grounds. The glass Palm House contains specimens from Madagascar while the Santos Museum of Economic Botany is holding an exhibition of Bank’s Florilegium – a collection of watercolour botanical drawings made by Sydney Parkinson during Cook’s first voyage to Australia. Further into the gardens is the modern Bicentennial Conservatory, a massive glass house containing a living rainforest. A computer controlled ‘cloud system’ monitors and maintains the perfect conditions for the plant life to grow but it feels unusually cold inside: we learn from the lady at the desk that the government has cut the budget for heating this wonderful exhibit and are laying off the six staff working here, a sad end to the project.

A day later we hook up with a friend from our last trip, James Brown who’s holding a Mexican themed party in an abandoned warehouse in the city. We met James while volunteering in The Elephant Nature Park in the north of Thailand and we join his group of artist friends for the final preparations. In return for our hard work we’re invited as guests and the party goes off although the following day ‘hangover’ is a serious understatement for our condition!

After leaving the city we head east up into the Adelaide Hills following an invitation to stay with Trevor and Sue Manning, the couple we met in Tasmania. We catch up over a delicious dinner and meet their daughter Toni, also a 4WD enthusiast. The family are incredibly hospitable and have a wealth of knowledge about the outback having crossed the state on numerous adventures: Lake Eyre in particular crops up on numerous occasions and we start to think about changing our route to see this incredible sight for ourselves (more on this later!) Trevor has a full itinerary planned out for us and we tour the local area on his excellent advice.

On our last evening in the area we meet the family in Hahndorf, a town of Lutheran origins, at the local inn where Wurst and pretzels are on the menu.  It’s -2 °c by the time we finish our excellent meal and it’s a chilly farewell to the Mannings as they’re up early in the morning. Many thanks again to you both for a wonderful few days!

Descending the eastern slopes of the Adelaide Hills we’re surprised to find ourselves steering for a barren and dusty plain that stretches as far as the eye can see, a total contrast to the woods and hedgerows of Birdwood. The precipitation here is far lower than Adelaide’s environs, a fact that’s hard to understand considering the proximity of the two areas. This is wombat country and a dirt track leads to an old bungalow surrounded by numerous enclosures, home to Bob and Jan Cleaver who run a wombat sanctuary out here. Bob gives us the tour of his rescued animals including a particularly angry looking wombat called Bilbo who, despite his predisposal to nocturnal activity, is charging up and down his boundary line menacingly.

“He’d kill you if he got out”, Bob explains as he shows us a scar from their last run in. Far more docile are the kangaroos that inhabit Bobs 300 acre plot, they bounce up behind us as we wander out to the wild wombat tunnels that crisscross the land, Bob explaining how he and Jan ended up running the sanctuary. Before we leave we’re introduced to the most recent additions to the family, two orphaned joeys the couple are hand rearing.

Up the road is the Barossa Valley and further north Clare, two more incredible wine regions worthy of exploration; by now even our palates are beginning to flag and we’re ready to leave civilisation for the dust and landscapes of the outback. A final stock up of supplies at the last supermarket for hundreds of kilometres and we’re ready for a change of scene.

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The Great Ocean Road

It’s quite intimidating arriving back on the mainland after six weeks in Tasmania; Melbourne seems huge as the fiery sun rises behind the city’s skyscrapers casting long shadows over four lanes of highway already filling with the morning’s traffic. Joining the road we drive west against the flow leaving the outskirts of the city behind as we head towards the town of Torquay, gateway to The Great Ocean Road.

Torquay is something of a surfer’s paradise; the town is home to the world famous Bells Beach break and hosts the Rip Curl Pro each year, the main drag has a few coffee shops squeezed between the surf stores, the crowd are golden locked and tanned. Refuelled we drive out of town to Point Addis, a great spot to view the corrugated ocean surging into the coast, frothing lines of breakers stretching as far as the eye can see to the east and west, this is the Surf Coast.

The Great Ocean Road is one of the world’s great drives and it doesn’t disappoint: the road, built after World War I by the returning soldiers, sweeps and turns along the hilly coastline alongside pristine white bays with the beautiful southern ocean as company. Laid back little towns each with a coffee shop, bakery and surf school line the road and provide the perfect excuse to stop awhile and enjoy the warm autumn sun.

Halfway along the route the road pulls inland as it passes through the Great Otway National Park rising up over the Otway Ranges as the scenery changes to forest and pasture. A dirt road here leads to a free camp spot at the Aire River mouth, its dead still waters reflecting a landscape of rushes and grassed dunes under a pastel hued sky, the roar of the ocean ever present.

We rejoin the coastline next morning for the short drive to Princetown perched on a hillock above the Gellibrand River; the town’s camping reserve provides an excellent base to explore the world famous Twelve Apostles, a short 6.5 km cycle ride away. These huge limestone towers rise over 150 feet out of the ocean and were once part of the ever eroding cliff face that suffers a constant barrage of wind and ocean. The Gibson Steps allow us access to the beach below via butterscotch cliffs where two of the Apostles stand proud, the surf creating bubbling eddies around their base. It’s quite magnificent to view these natural wonders up close and we sit awhile to take it all in.

A few kilometres up the coast is the main viewing platform that oversees the most famous group of pillars stretching into the distance, their sandy bulks in striking contrast to the storm grey sky. The view is fantastic as the light fades but it’s a chilly ride back to camp as a storm sets in.

The wind and rain grow in intensity during the night but we wake to a clear blue morning. Back on the road we revisit the apostles for an alternative view, the sea raging in a huge white swell in wake of the storm. The coastline continues its dramatic reveal at Loch Ard Gorge and London Bridge where sandstone arches and outcrops litter the ocean.

As we near the end of this reputable drive the coastline descends to the level of the ocean, the sandstone outcrops reduced to groups of little cays that form the Bay of Islands Coastal Park.  As the road moves inland it passes through endless pastures of grazing cattle that spread to a horizon studded with huge turbines, part of the Codrington Windfarm that spreads to the South Australian border.

 

 

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Penguins and Parties in the North East

Bicheno

It’s our wedding anniversary today, 3 years of marriage, how time flies when you’re having fun! Unbeknownst to Polly I’ve organised for a few nights out of the van in a little chalet up the coast at Bicheno. The day doesn’t start too well: the weather has turned filthy and breakfast in a café on the way conjures scrambled eggs like papier- maché, Polly’s looking decidedly depressed at the thought of a romantic meal at the ‘campsite’ we’re heading to and I’m just managing to keep the secret…

The butcher in Bicheno provides us with a juicy crayfish and pink ocean trout before we take the track out of town to Bicheno Hideaway set in a few hectares of bush on the edge of the sea. Semi-circular chalets dot the grounds and there’s a whole menagerie of animals running around including some tame wallabies and peacocks. The surprise is complete and we jump in side to shelter from the storm.

It’s a wonderful feeling to have rooms again! An actual bathroom, bedroom and a couch, it’s the little things in life when you make your home in a camper van. We start the afternoon as we mean to go on; lunch of crayfish with fresh crusty bread and a bottle of Chardonnay we’ve been saving since the Mornington Peninsula. A walk along the coast followed by champagne and ocean trout for supper and the fourth year gets under way in style!

Our planned two nights at Hideaway turn into 3 and, on the morning of the fourth, we’re offered a final night for free! How could we resist. The terrible rain outside provides an excellent excuse to take it real easy although we do manage a big walk along the rocky shoreline into town where the local blowhole is going off as giant waves hammer the shore.

Aside from the blowhole Bicheno is perhaps most famous for the penguin rookery just to the north of town. Having spotted one of these little critters on Bruny Island we’re keen to see a busy colony in action. The rookery is very well managed by the local population so as to minimise any disturbances to the penguins and we join a group on a tour after dusk. Our guide Les has been studying the little penguins for years. We’re led down to the land’s edge where his torch illuminates the first ‘parcel’ of little creatures as they make a dash from the foaming sea across the beach. It’s an extraordinary sight but even more so as they appear right at our feet as if completely oblivious to our presence. We’re literally holding our breath as these little animals run around us returning to their burrows while Les explains they know we’re here and, after so many years of tours, it’s possible that they look to the torch beam as a singnal of safety.

Bay of Fires to Launceston

Further up the coast is the famous Bay of Fires conservation area. Free campsites sit back in the dunes behind a dramatic coastline of white sand, striking red rocks and an ocean of spearmint blue. ‘Cosy Corner’ is our campsite of choice and we spend a few days exploring the inlets and warming ourselves round a campfire: winter is now really starting to set in on Tassie and sun is a rare thing, it’s certainly reminiscent of home!

As we come to the end of our time on the island we start to head east back towards Devonport. Breaking the journey at the Weldborough Hotel for a night we meet Brit Mark and his wife who are holding the fort while his son returns to Canada for a while. Mark is first to admit that he’s not quite sure how long he’ll be running the show here but has countless beers from the local micro-breweries to keep him company and he professes to enjoying life in the slow lane.

Launceston is a base to stock up and thaw out before the arrival of cousins’ Winky and Paul and little Felix, their one year old son. We can’t wait to see the family again and as today is my birthday we’re going to make a big celebration of it! Longford campsite, not far south of Launceston, has a lovely spot down by the river where we set up camp around a large fire pit before the Skevington’s arrive in a camper of similar proportions. It’s awesome to see them again, particularly so far from home and we get stuck into a fun filled night around the fire. Balloons, party poppers, Chilli and birthday cake washed down with a few gallons of beer and a bag of red wine, what more could I ask for!

The morning of the 26th April is a chilly one and a heavy mist hangs around the site of last night’s party. Winky and Paul, fresh from Queensland profess to being more than a little cold but Felix is still smiling and that’s all that matters! Whether it’s down to a few too many glasses of goon or the sudden increase in group size packing up camp is incredibly slow this morning but it doesn’t seem to worry any of us (perhaps that’s the problem!) and its gone midday by the time we roll out of the campsite and into the bakery for a hearty lunch.

Early afternoon and our little convey heads west on the Bass Highway through Deloraine, the dark silhouette of the Great Western tiers looming to the south. We’re running low on firewood and as it promises to be another freezing night we probe the locals and come up with a potential source.

Jack the farmer looks a little bemused to see me walking up his track and I half expect him to pull out a shotgun and shout ‘Get off my land!’ so hastily ask if he’s got any firewood to spare. Ten minutes later we’re loading the vans with piles of half rotten wood, the massive spider that had taken up residence in its very own log cabin safely in a nearby hedgerow- the only side effect being that Polly’s nerves are in tatters! Jack refuses payment and takes off with a beer for his troubles mumbling something about the wood being there for a number of years anyway…

Passing Mole Creek the road climbs into a forested valley that widens to hold the waters of Lake Parangana near the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. A deserted spot overlooking the lake is perfect for camping and we set a big fire to enjoy the night around, we’ve even remembered the marshmallows this time!

 A predictably chilly morning in the wilderness is dulled by strong coffee cooked on the stove before we take the dirt road into the park and start up on the track that climbs through gum woods towards the rocky outcrops above. With Felix safely strapped to Paul’s back we manage a fair distance before returning to our little patch of tranquillity as the sunset lights the sky in vivid pinks and purples.

Mole Creek Karst National Park, home to Marakoopa Cave, is on the itinerary as we head east the following day. The cave is a labyrinth hollows and tunnels carved through the limestone by powerful underground rivers, a treasure trove of stalactites and stalagmites, still growing in immeasurably small increments. The highlight, The Great Cathedral, is a huge cavern that exhibits the fossilised remains of coral that once inhabited the inland sea that covered this area. As well as stalactites resembling a monstrous organ the chamber gets it’s name from the marvellous acoustic it produces and a rendition by Polly and Winky of ‘somewhere over a rainbow’ in the pitch black of the cave completes the tour.

Our final night in Tasmania is spent near Lilydale, just east of the Tamar Valley where we’re joined by Emma, a friend of Winky and Paul. The campsite is not that great but the company makes up for it- another big fire, delicious dhal cooked up by Paul and a bit of guitar courtesy of Winky rounds off a fantastic 6 weeks on this incredible island.

Farewells the following day all round as we say goodbye to family and the Tasmania winter to return to the vastness of mainland Australia where hopefully it’ll be a little warmer….

 

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Freycinet National Park

Back in Hobart for the third time we follow the usual customs- long hot showers, food shop, laundry cycles and an afternoon cooking up a massive batch of chilli for the next leg of the trip. Chores over we jump on the bikes into the city where we meet up with Pia for a night of pizza and a few too many drinks!

Next day its time to say a final farewell to Hobart after a visit to the internationally acclaimed MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) The museum is set entirely underground and is Australia’s answer to the Tate Modern and British Museum rolled into one. A spiral staircase descends down a bore hole, as if left behind from some colossal core sample, the rocks earthy layers exposed. From the lowest level the architecture of the space can be fully appreciated before examining the extraordinary exhibits, among them a sequence of giant light bulbs that measure your heartbeat, a machine that digests food and a giant metal head whose interior reveals strobe lit mechanical workings. The ‘old’ is equally well represented and at times marvellously blended with the new: 3000 year old cuneiform tablets are showcased in a modern catacomb, its walls decorated with binary code, and deep white noise pumping through a surround sound system.

Back on the surface the sun is out as we drive across the Tasman Bridge and up into the fielded hills towards Triabunna on Tasmania’s east coast. A little way past town is the Mayfield reserve and a camp area set off the road; the site runs down the hill straight onto a perfect sandy beach, the crystal clear water stretching off to the rocky outcrops of the Freycinet peninsula on the horizon. We while away a few days at the spot, lounging on the beach and taking life slow, chilly nights wrapped in a blanket gazing at huge starry skies.

Breakfast on the beach this morning feels like the ultimate freedom. The weather continues to be perfect as we drive through Swansea and pick up supplies. Rising above Great Oyster Bay the road provides spectacular view points before it drops down to the lagoons below and the turn off to the Freycinet peninsular, home to another spectacular national park.

Nearing the visitor centre we get our first taste of the epic scenery around us: the Hazards, four huge pink granite mountains, dominate the skyline ahead of us. The campsite here is so popular that in summer that a ballot is held for spots so we’re thrilled to turn up and find there’s a perfect site next to the beach awaiting us, the benefits of travelling out of season!

There’s not a cloud in the sky so we jump on the bikes and ride into the park to the base of Mount Amos (454m) as the views from the top are not to be missed. The track steepens as soon as we leave the car park and before long we’re clambering almost vertically over huge slabs of pink granite; dotted around us are giant boulders precariously balancing as if about to fall at any time while dried rivulets course their way over the smooth rock.

Climbing higher the going gets tougher and tougher and before long we’re climbing not walking and feel dreadfully exposed high on the rock. Polly’s beginning to look more than a little worried but eventually the gradient evens out and the flat summit is in sight. The view over the south side is quite simply spectacular: the perfect crescent of wineglass bay and the low isthmus behind separate us from the peaks of Mt Graham and Mt Freycinet. Evening approaches so we make the steep descent as the rock turns deep red in the setting sun, the whole peninsula glows like hot coals in the final hours of daylight.

There’s something magical about Freycinet, at breakfast each morning we’re joined by troops of little blue wrens, the pink rock never ceases grow dull and the sunsets take on shades of pink we’ve never seen before. Our final day in the park and we set off early on the bikes back to the car park before embarking on a big loop over the hazards down to Wineglass Bay. Up close the bay is even more beautiful; the sand is so white it’s blinding in the midday sun, the water so inviting its impossible not to dive straight in. Crossing the isthmus we emerge on the vast expanse of Hazards Beach consisting of entirely different hard-packed sand and trudge back to the start by the long and undulating path at the base of Mt Mayson. Feeling hot and weary we decide to treat ourselves to a few drinks at the sprauncy Freycinet Lodge whose decking commands more stunning views back to the mainland.

 

 

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Mountains, mammals and monsoons at Mt Field National Park

Back in Hobart its time for a few days of chores; cleaning, washing and sorting out our registration renewal for Wally (a fairly complicated process in Australia) Things don’t go entirely according to plan and the MOT sees us having to fork out a hair-raising sum on repairs. As Wally gets patched up we wander round the docks where we decide to take a look at the Bob Barker, one of a fleet of ships involved in the campaign against Japanese whalers each season in Antartica. Having seen the series Whale Wars we’re intrigued to see the ship in the flesh and are completely baffled when we bump into a friend amongst the crew! It’s a serious case of small world syndrome as we catch up with Pia, one of our dive instructors from the Gili Islands in Indonesia last year; plans are hatched for a night out when we return from Mt Field.

Tasmania is starting to take on a distinctly autumnal feel: there’s a chill in that gentle breeze, the sun is beginning to lower and a beautiful array of yellows, gold, russets and amber tinge the trees that flank the rivers and fields en-route to Mt Field National Park, some 100kms NW of the city.

Arriving in the deep shaded valley at the base of the park we set up camp by the river before donning a few extra layers of clothing. Russell Falls, a beautiful three tiered waterfall, marks the start of a 2 hour wander through an ancient forest of spectacular proportions; the giant Swamp Gums can reach 100m in height and many are over 400 years old. Filling in the gaps between these monsters are dense clusters of fern trees, myrtle-beech and piles of fallen wood covered in a rich carpet of moss and clusters of little funghi. The dense canopy above allows only the occasional ray of light to penetrate spotlighting little oases of vegetation amidst the gloom.

That evening we meet Trevor and Sue Manning from South Australia on a trip with their 4WD club through Tasmania and we’re invited to join them on a search for the mysterious Platypus as one has been spotted in a nearby creek. Torches in hand we set off into the night and spend a good hour roaming along a network of streams and soon find ourselves back at Russell Falls where we turn off the lights to admire the impressive glow worm display in the undergrowth. The rest of the group continue their search as we make our way slowly back in the dark; a final detour by the river on our return is timed perfectly with a platypus’ nightly swim and our torches illuminate the curious creature in all its glory, its massive bill and beaver like tail quite an extraordinary mix of features!

Mt Field West

An early start as we take the 16km dirt track up into the park to Lake Dobson and the start of a 23km circuit that will take us up to Mt Field West: the highest peak in the park. As we set off on the ascent to the Mawson Plateau the bow of Seal Lake appears below us and we get a real sense of heading out into the wilderness. Before long we’re climbing the rocky ascent up onto the Rodway Range with magnificent views down into the valley filled with morning cloud. Navigating the Rodway to K.col is pretty tough going as we traverse a huge moraine of massive boulders covered in curious orange lichen; small spots of red paint and the occasional cairn are our only indication of a route that punishes knees and ankles.

By 11am we’ve reached the Peterson Memorial Hut before an ascent to Naturalist Peak (1430m) where we cross a boggy plateau, home to patches of unfamiliar cushion plants and at midday we’re scrambling up the rocks to the summit of Mt Field West (1435m) where we’re rewarded by a panoramic view of the wilderness stretching out in all directions, jagged navy blue peaks rising above the network of valleys below. There’s not another soul in sight.

Grab a few photos and wolf down our lunch before retracing our steps to the hut where we branch off on a different course towards The Watcher (1294m) on a path that eventually loops down to Lake Newdagate and Tarn Shelf. A product of ancient glacial erosion the shelf juts out like a giant step below the Rodway range before plummeting over a thousand feet to Seal Lake below. A series of Tarns (small glacial lakes) pock mark the site and their crystal clear water perfectly reflect their surrounds: mossy boulders, dwarf pines and pineapple shrubs bask in the golden light of the evening sun while the bare twisted branches of the native fagus, silver in colour, play patterns in the reflective water. It’s a magical scene that lifts are tiring spirits. The final hour is a race against the darkness and we finally make it back to the camper more than a little exhausted.

Mt Field East

Easter Sunday 2012 and after a day recovering from our long hike to Mt Field West we decide to tackle the smaller Mt Field East (1270m). The weather today is very wet and windy so we follow the route in an anticlockwise direction so the ridge above lake Nicholls shelters us from the worst of the weather. Lake Rayner marks the start of the ascent over the ridge to the exposed Windy Moor which true to its name is blowing a gale. Making a quick judgment we decide the climb across the boulder field to the summit is doable as visibility is adequate and the gusting wind is bearable; there’s no view from the top and we’re quick to turn round as the gale rises in intensity and the rain turns to hail. Back on windy moor we begin to get really cold as it’s just too exposed and we make the decision to turn around and get below the ridge as soon possible. As we descend we’re surprised to see a couple coming towards us dressed in jeans, throw away ponchos and trainers! They’re looking lost and ask for the summit so we advise them to be very careful: it’s dangerous up here right now.

Back in the warmth and safety of the park visitor centre we report the couple to the rangers as we’re more than a little worried about them and learn that a man has been missing for 10 days on that exact route, the rescue team has given up the search.

It’s been raining heavily all night and everything is damp and dirty. Mt Field has been an epic few days and another great wilderness experience but we’re ready to return to Hobart and those hot showers at Treaure Island before tackling the East coast of the island.

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Hobart and the Huon

Driving south towards Hobart the landscape becomes more undulating, its colours faded. Fields of bleached grass, parsnip coloured, are dotted with twisted and leafless trees of faded ash grey, branches resembling roots, as if planted upside down into the hillsides. A backdrop of navy crests marks the coastal mountains and the tarmac begins to widen as little settlements start to appear by the sides of the road.

Before long we’re driving along the broad Derwent river into the outskirts of the city where we find Treasure Island Caravan Park and it’s glorious hot showers.

The following morning we complete our spring clean and feeling energized by the warmth of the day we jump on our bikes and cycle the 12kms along the river into the heart of the city where we grab fish and chips from one of the floating stalls in Victoria Docks. Stomachs lined it’s time to try some of the local whisky at the Lark Hill distillery before we amble into Salamanca place with its coffee shops and delis. Running the length of the boat filled harbor are Davey and Macquarie streets, whose Georgian architecture attest to the city’s right as the second oldest city in Australia after Sydney.

At 1271m Mount Wellington towers over the expansive bay of the Derwent river and the city’s limits. Unfortunately an ominous line of grey cloud is growing to the east and we don’t hold up much hope of a view from the summit. Fern Tree (400m) is the start of the ascent along a steep path engulfed by giant ferns and intersected by fallen trunks of massive trees. The increase in altitude brings with it the usual thinning of vegetation before we arrive at the start of the Zig-Zag Path that will take us through the boulder fields to the summit. By now we’ve been engulfed by the cloud and visibility is down to only a few metres; the tops a complete whiteout but we still feel a sense of achievement at getting to the summit.

The descent precedes a damp and chilly lunch stop and we detour via The Organ Pipes, a collection of dolerite pillars at the mountain’s south face, imposing in the misty conditions.

Feeling a little wiped out by the time we get back to the car park so we pay a visit to the Cascade Brewery, its iconic 7 storey brew house dating back to 1824. The bar in contrast is a much more modern affair with walls of glass and polished copper pipes that carry chilled beer straight from brewery to glass, the perfect energy booster!

 The Huon Peninsula

Leaving Hobart behind we head south towards the Huon Peninsula, an area of islands, wineries and orchards set amongst the rolling hills and pastures of this idyllic area of the island. After 30 minutes or so we spot Nandroya, a pretty little winery set back from the road. Owner John is incredibly nice and we chat on his balcony overlooking the vines as he describes the hardships of producing in this area of the world.

“Let’s leave the romance to the French, its bloody hard work here”

Weather conditions, possums and irascible birds make John’s life hard but his spirit is undeterred. As there’s no one else around he joins us for a drink and produces a large waxy Pecorino from a local cheese factory and we while away an hour talking about the history of Pinot Noir and John’s trips through Europe. We leave with a bottle of his pinot, a gift in the form of a tasty late harvest and a promise that, should we be in the area, we will return to help him harvest in a few weeks.

Down the road and we stop at a little fruit stall where we buy a bag of local Tassie Snow (the apple of the moment down here) and munching happily on a couple of fruits we roll into Kettering where we wait for the ferry to take us across the channel to ‘off the radar’ Bruny Island.

Bruny has a population of a mere 620 people and stretches around 100kms from North to South. Driving across North Bruny we reach the narrow isthmus that separates the D’Entrecasteaux Channel from the Southern Ocean providing a sandy link to the landmass of South Bruny beyond. We pick a spot nestled in sparse woodland next to the beautiful Neck Beach to camp , a perfect base to explore the island and we set off at once to a large dune that provides a lookout over the isthmus. In the distance to our right the outlines of the Mt Wellington Range and the calm grey waters of the channel while to our left a white strip of perfect beach bordering the azure blue ocean. Supper that night accompanied by the sound of the ocean and John’s delicious Pinot, the night sky is crystal clear, the bright cluster of the Milky Way arcs above us.

Day 2 on Bruny and we jump on the bikes taking on the rather too hilly coastal road to idyllic Adventure Bay home to white beaches, a grocery store and a tiny museum. This place is the stuff of legend; Cook, Bligh and d’Entrecasteaux all laid anchor here in search of fresh water.

Leaving the bikes we climb the path towards Fluted Cape (272m) crossing paths with curious wallabies and a not so curious black snake of worrying proportions! Polly is more than a little worried by this encounter and the rest of the climb is a little uncomfortable! We are however rewarded at the top by a fantastic view out over the wide expanse of the ocean and below the familiar pillars of dolerite rock rise up towards us.

We’re feeling like we’ve slightly overdone it by the time we have to cycle the 10kms back to camp so stop off at the local berry farm for a sugar hit in the form of scones and milkshakes making it back by dusk.

Make use of our solar shower this morning before driving around South Bruny and visiting Bruny Island Winery, the most southerly of Australia’s offerings. That evening we set off in search of the elusive White Wallaby at Adventure Bay and crawling through the bush in the dark we spot a couple of white smudges, even managing to bag a blurry picture as proof! The final stop of the night is back at the isthmus, also home to a little rookery of the foot high ‘Fairy Penguins’ Although out of season there’s a couple of these little birds hanging out in the dunes, a rather exciting find!

Back on the mainland the road hugs the coast and we stop for lunch at GrandVEwe, a local sheep’s cheese producer. We can’t resist the cheese plate for lunch after our frugal few days on Bruny and the view over rolling fields to the channel beyond deserve and good hour’s enjoyment.

By Cygnet, some 40kms further west, the landscape changes dramatically as the channel narrows into the sparkling Huon River, the land entirely devoted to expansive fruit orchards. Huge sorting sheds dot the landscape, each one with honesty boxes and bags of apples on offer while rows of manicured trees are heavy with ruby red fruit. Quiet Geevestown on the opposite banks of the river provide good free camping before the return trip to Hobart the next morning.

A trip to the Huon wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the incredible Apple Museum, housed in an old sorting shed off the highway. Proprietor Jeff, a Pensylvanian, has been adding to a collection started more than 30 years ago and its quite astonishing, a shrine to all things apple. It’s amazing to think that Tasmania once exported millions of tones to the UK before politics and palates saw a drastic decline in the industry…

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A Touch of Frost at Cradle Mountain

Tasmania. Roughly three quarters the size of Ireland but inhabited by a mere 500,000 people this island if famed for its incredible natural habitats and wilderness that designate over 40% of it’s area to national parks and world heritage sites.

We pull into Devonport, to the north of the island, early morning on the 22nd March. Feeling a little weary after not the best nights sleep in a reclining chair and it’s really rather chilly outside. Wally starts ok and we’re soon rolling on Tasmanian soil, first stop quarantine. As we drive off to pick up supplies the sunrise behind the metal colossus of the ferry is fiery bright and starts to burn off the early mist that seeps into clothes and bones.

 Devonport is really pretty ugly so we’re thankful to hit the winding open road that immediately plunges us into picturesque countryside; fields of cattle and rolling hills are looked over by tattered trees, having long suffered ferocious winds. Further afield great rocky outcrops rise from the fields below, pulling the meadows with them as they rise to eggshell blue skies, home to whispy clouds.

The meandering road slowly takes us to higher ground and before long we’re engulfed in a damp cloud of condensation that saturates the surrounding vegetation. Sponge like mosses take advantage of the excess precipitation covering branches, bushes and an occasional telegraph post accentuating their forms.

Our first stop is Cradle Mountain National Park and as we check into the campsite at the visitor centre we’re informed that snow is forecast for the following days with temperatures dropping to around 3°c! As luck would have it we’ve timed our arrival with the first low pressure of the season and its going to be very wintery the next few days!

Undeterred we kit up with what warm clothes we have and pull our walking boots out of storage before setting off up the road to Dove Lake at 950m where the usually impressive view of Cradle Mountain is obscured by cloud and rain. Do a circuit of the lake before heading onto part of the Overland Track that takes us through beautiful scenery and back to the road. The area is boggy and interlaced by numerous tributaries of dark tannic water. Buttongrass and fern fill the gaps between the streams, green fronds tinted brown at their edges as if stained by taking nourishment from the waters around them. Back at camp the water we’re boiling for our noodles is a similar colour!

A cold night and we’re visited by some of the locals; a squat kangaroo, much furrier and compact than mainland ancestors; a possum, pink nosed and beady eyed, rather hoping to snuggle in with us!

Sure enough it’s snowing in the morning and the mercury has dropped considerably, in fact the weather is really bad and it’s a complete white out. There’s no way we can attempt one of the big walks today so we take refuge in the van, by evening its really beginning to settle and we have to clear snow from the tarpaulin and van with a broom.

Day three in the park and its still bitter but the weather has eased leaving behind a snow clad scene of great beauty. The Tarpaulin’s collapsed under the weight of more snow and its cold work packing away the metal supporting poles. We gear up and catch the shuttle bus back up to Dove Lake before heading off in the snow up the steep link track to Marion’s Lookout (1273m) The going is initially good but as we near the top the path disappears under heavy snowfall and its not too easy to make out the route, the views back down to the lake are first rate and there’s hardly anyone around save a few locals making fresh tracks.

Weather looks like it might be taking a turn for the worse again so we take the path over Crater Lake, a perfect bowl of ink black water contrasts strikingly with its white surrounds. We drop down to its shores and into the shelter of lower ground, down here the trees are heavily laden with fresh snow and occasional patches of blue sky lift the scene from a dull grey to startling white. The track leads us down to the impressive crater falls, swollen by melt water before the path flattens out to snow covered boardwalk and back to the pick up point, a fantastic walk.

There’s a slight feeling of relief the following morning as we prepare to escape from the cold to the warmth of lower elevations. 4 days of cold and wet have taken their toll on our little metal home and it’s impossible to get anything dry. The curving road takes us out of the national park over high moors before descending into pine valleys. Zeehan, a small town en-route, has a store to stock up on supplies as well as a few historic buildings of note clad in old weatherboard.

Midday and we find ourselves in the little port town of Strahan. Beautifully situated on the edge of enormous Macquarie Harbour Strahan provides a breath of civilisation amongst the wilderness. A touch of the old world and a few rays of sun lend a cosy feel to this little settlement and we feel ourselves finally beginning to thaw out.

After lunch of delicious local ocean trout at a friendly little café we head towards Queenstown- a scar of a place, surrounding countryside destroyed by over mining in the area. We’re quick to pass through and back into beautiful wilderness as we climb up into the south of the national park towards Lake St Clair and an elusive free camping site where we’ll spend the night.

By late afternoon we’ve located the boat jetty sign that takes us down a short track to the flat bank at the edge of Lake King William. The outlook is a bit eerie but quite beautiful all the same; water levels are low in what seems more like a river than a lake, the opposite banks littered with bleached tree trunks lying on rich brown mud banks. We’ve parked up next to a large fire circle so as Polly sets up camp I head off into the bush in search of fire wood.

Sitting down in front of the potentious beginnings to a serious camp fire with a glass of wine in the middle of nowhere feels magical, even more so as it’s free, we vow to do this more often. Later that night as the fire begins to glow with warmth we’re joined around it by fellow campers Ian and Maevis from Western Australia, who’ve also discovered this magical spot.

Smelling like a couple of smoked kippers we pile into bed to dream of the hot showers and laundry that await us in the city of Hobart, tomorrow’s destination.

 

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Memories of Melbourne

It’s a warm early autumn evening as we stand aboard the enormous Spirit of Tasmania ferry docked in port. Looking out over the city in the warm orange light of the fading day we take time for reflection on a busy few months in the city of Melbourne.

The beginning- 5 days in a campsite and after getting our bearings we’ve enrolled on ‘Happy Housesitters’, a brilliant website that matches home owners planning an extended holiday with nomads planning an extended stay- it comes up trumps and we find ourselves moving into Mal and Annie Brown’s lovely home in West Footscray where, for a month, we look after Duke, a Great Dane Bull Mastiff and Princess, a Staffordshire Terrier. The home is a bit out from the city and warrants commuting by train and bicycle and while Polly begins exploratory visits to find a venue for the party she’ll be organising I meet up with Paul Jewson, an old friend and colleague from our London days. Paul and husband Marco own and run a beautiful restaurant in trendy St Kilda, their food showcasing the best of Victoria’s local produce while the front bar holds a manual brew Synesso coffee machine, an attestation to how seriously this city (and Fitzrovia) takes its coffee. I start working some shifts behind the bar while learning the secrets of the barista trade.

Time goes by at city pace, we get really into the Australian Open and watch a couple of brilliant matches down at the Rod Laver Arena weekends are spent exploring the fantastic array of restaurants and bars nestled in the graffitied side alleys of the CBD and we move East to Burnley where we look after two beagles- Buster and Kira.

Our final month in the city is spent in an apartment on the 27th floor right in the centre of the town which we rent off Minwoo Kim, a Korean in need of some rent while he returns home on holiday. The apartment comes with fantastic views from the balcony and a pool, sauna and gym on the ground floor! We take up Tennis and get some coaching, manage events for Pauls growing business and have visits from friend Steve who we last saw in Port Douglas as well as Alice and Neil, London friends embarking on their own world trip.

As time nears the ‘big event’ work really starts to rev up and we both become consumed by the looming project. The final weekend, a heavy workload and we move into Paul and Marco’s house before the big night, it’s a huge success and the culmination of two crazy months in Melbourne.

The sound of the horn and the waters around the ferry begin to churn, we’re off on a ten hour trip across the Bass Strait to the Island of Tasmania, Wally’s safely below deck and we settle in to what might be a bumpy ride. It’s time to shed off the complications of city life and get back to basics as we continue to explore Australia.

Our time in Melbourne gives us a powerful insight into what life would be like if we lived in this country. For the first time in 18 months we’ve put down some roots and stayed put somewhere long enough to feel an attachment to a place; the closest we’ve been to real life for a long time. Inevitably this ‘glimpse in the mirror’ draws parallels on our London lives but too different to ever feel like home.

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Road trip to Melbourne

The city of Melbourne lies around 1000kms south of Sydney in the state of Victoria. On the south coast of the great continent it’s lapped by the turbulent water of the Bass Strait that separate the mainland from the island of Tasmania and its somewhere we’ve always wanted to visit. Rather than rushing the journey we’ve decided to take 8 days to get there, taking the slow route right down the coast and stopping as we go at the numerous idyllic spots that occupy south coastal New South Wales and the area known as Gippsland, south eastern Victoria. We leave Sydney behind on the 2nd January not knowing when we will return and take the deserted Princes highway into new territory.

As soon as we’re in open countryside we turn off onto the winding road through the expansive Royal National Park and are amazed to find ourselves in the middle of nowhere so soon after leaving the outskirts of the city. We surrounded by heavy forest, occasionally coming up for air at the top of a big hill where we can see nothing but the bush for miles around. We’re overtaken by the occasional car and pass small pelotons of cyclists puffing and panting up the hilly terrain. As the road descends the woodland closes in and there’s not much of a view although the feeling of isolation is definitely good for the soul.

Abruptly the forest comes to an end as we climb a steep hill and emerge high on a cliff at the Otford lookout. We can see for miles down the coast and the twisting road that will take us south snakes along the cliff edge while to the left the blue ocean stretches off to the horizon. It’s a stunning outlook and sign of good things to come! Sea Cliff bridge, a few kilometres on is quite the drive; a perfect curve of suspended tarmac pushes out from the cliffs to arch over the crashing sea below.

The afternoon is spent at various stops; Kiama, famous for its blow hole (not blowing today); the rest stop where we buy a huge box of sweet mangoes for a steal at $10; and Jervis Bay, a sprawling wilderness of lakes and forests.

Late afternoon and we’re driving through Mollymook, home to a Rick Stein venture- Bannisters Restaurant and Hotel. Being fans of Rick and Chalky we decide we have to pop in for a quick glass of Pinot Noir Rosé although we don’t get to try the food as the kitchen is closed, and Rick is nowhere in sight.

Narooma’s a great spot to while away a few days and to get to grips with setting up the awning on the side of Wally. It takes a bit of effort but by mid morning we’re proudly looking at our new extension, it completely transforms the van into a mobile home. Cycle routes around town provide a great way of exploring the pretty bay and nearby beaches while restaurants such as the shabby Quarterdeck, decorated with a lifetime’s collection of flotsam and jetsam, serve up delicious local fish and chips.

Continuing our journey south we travel through expansive farmland; fields of cattle surrounding quaint little villages that feel distinctly more ‘old world’ than their northern counterparts. Central Tilba is a great example of these, the main street flanked by colourful little weatherboard stores selling candles, incense and chimes, there’s an ancient gas station, post office and cheese factory too, it’s as if time has stood still in the Tilba valley.

Crossing the border into Victoria we’re once again surrounded by forest and petrol is running seriously low. Thankfully it’s not long before we’re turning off down to the coast to the pretty town of Mallacoota, situated on the water in the middle of Croajinglong National Park.

Mallacoota feels as if it’s in the middle of nowhere; entertainment comes in the form of a makeshift cinema set up in the local sports hall and 10 minutes cycle out of town in any direction and you find yourself on huge deserted beaches backed by impenetrable forest.

A few hours further south and Lakes Entrance couldn’t be more different to Mallacoota. Crowds are drawn to the incredible Ninety Mile Beach, a huge sandbar that shelters the town from the ocean and although impressive, the whole place feels really tacky. Thankfully nearby is the lovely Raymond Island, a short ferry ride from the mainland and home to a large population of Koalas, Kangaroos and dozens of bird species.

The lazy streets of the little settlement to the south of the island is our first port of call and we cycle around looking up into the trees to spot the koalas, not as easy as it sounds! Sure enough our gazes are met by the brown eyes of a dozen or so furry critters chilling up their individual trees. The north of the island is home to scattered homesteads and acres of tall grasses, the perfect environment for the Roos that live here. We’re on our own as we follow the track and spot packs of the animals bouncing through the undergrowth, it’s amazing to see them in their natural environment like this.

 The end of the trip south sees us speeding over the final few hundred kilometres and into the suburbs of Melbourne city, we taken aback by just how different the city seems to Sydney on first impressions. Graffiti covered streets, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian enclaves, old trams plying the streets our welcome to the city. We’ll be here for the next few months in order to make some money to continue our trip, back to reality for the while at least……..

 

 

Posted in A SUBCLASS 417, Gippsland | 1 Comment