Saturday, December 13, 2008

Trip ... interrupted, but only momentarily

Andy here. I try to pick reasonable pictures for the blog but this is a sign from Green Patch which has amused me over the years. It's for the baby change room apparently but it normally gives me a giggle and I couldn't resist sharing.

Sydney came and went, as did Scone, and we're currently at the delightful Seal Rocks, soaking up the sun and the xxxx gold listening to the first test against the saffers from the WACA.

The stop in Sydney was a necessary evil (the troopie needed a $1500 of tlc) and I went into work for a couple of days. In the knowledge that some of my co-workers will read this and use in evidence at their discretion I have to say that the trip into the office was a great reminder of how important this trip is. Maintaining any relationship with the working world was not in our initial trip plans as I was really expecting I'd have to resign when I first broached the subject with my boss. Jen surprised me with the flexibility of one day a week (on average) remote working but it was always a trade off. Everything in life is though. It was great to see everyone in the office and catch up with how people were feeling about the GFC and by the afternoon of the second day I'd been sucked completely back in to it all. It was a reminder of how much I do actually get out of my work despite it's apparent worthlessness compared with the great things my social ecology buddies are doing in their respective fields. Challenger (generally) is a fairly cerebral exercise which stimulates me, and I feel recognised (and missed) for what I do there, but there is more to life, and that's what this year is all about. Enough said probably.

Being slap bang in the middle of Silly Season the stop also gave us a chance to drink about a month's worth of our current grog consumption in three nights - a good reminder of how toxic our lives were there and how different things will be when we're stationed on Dangar Island rather than 100m from King Street.

Between Sydney and Scone we stopped at Mogo Creek in Yengo National Park. This was supposed to be the destination of our last trial trek but the weather intervened. It did again this time but being on tour now we can't let the small matter of bad weather spoil our fun. It's a great little spot and it have me the first opportunity to try out my new wind up radio. It even has short wave but I've not managed to get hold of Radio Moscow which I used to listen to secretly as a child - very corrupting it turned out to be.

The trip to see the Johnston's was interrupted by Jean having to take herself to hospital for a couple of nights of urgent intravenous antibiotic action which thankfully quickly resolved the problem. The good thing is it's less than a week before we all reconvene at Dangar for Christmas so we can get another look at the photos from their European adventure and spend some proper time together. Millie is clearly loving her time in the country and I'm looking forward to hanging out with her some more over the Christmas break.

The rain continued the whole time we were in Scone but it did brighten on the Saturday and we set off into the Barrington Tops. To be truthful I was probably keener than Ness to head off as she knew the terrain better than me and the radar was still pretty dodgy, but anyhow we headed off up on the climb in the mid afternoon after restocking with enough food and booze to see us through the last week before Christmas.

We stopped the first night at Polblue camp ground in the National Park and dutifully paid our $10 per head for what are really fairly limited facilities. I don't mind paying for the sites, but it so disappointing that NSW charges so much relative to the other states and territories. The NSW joke of a Government may be bankrupt, morally as well as financially, but blaming the importance of maintaining "competitive neutrality" with private facilities for the increases is a crock. While we really don't like using caravan parks, for the same price you get a powered site and better cleaner facilities. Rant over, but I will write a letter when I have access to a printer.
My tickly moe in close up.

The weather was very kind to us in the Barringtons and after our night at Polblue and a lovely bush walk we relocated to into the adjacent State Forest for some free camping right on the banks of the Manning River. Not normally a great call to camp by a creek after heavy rain, but given we were so close to it's source I figured we would be safe, and so it proved.

While fine, it was pretty cold, due to us being almost as high as we were in Mt Buller where we'd had the snow just a few weeks ago. I'm hoping I won't need the beanie again until mid 2010!

This is the view from Thunderbolt look out - absolutely sensational.

Our spot by the Manning River was perfect, apart from about a 15% lean on the Troope which corresponded with a 15% lean on the tent. Heavy feet when we woke up each morning.

We stopped for two nights, and had a couple of sensational fires to keep the cold at bay.

A cheesy shot by one of the look outs.

We managed to squeeze in some lovely walks too and found some interesting rocks on our travels.

Me gathering some wood to sustain our fire.

On Tuesday I had to head back towards civilisation to get some coverage so I could do a few things for work so we headed to Booti Booti NP via Gloucester for one night. The whole drive down from the Barringtons was so different to the arid landscapes we've become used to. The density of cattle here and the lusciousness of the pastures is amazing.

Once I'd gotten over the camping fees ($14 each per night), Booti Booti turned out to be a top little spot, biting green ants aside. Booti Booti is at the south end of Seven Mile beach, seven sweet miles of Australian beach perfection.

We set the alarm early to get up for sunrise over sea which was a real treat after a pretty frustrating evening of trying to work in the dark with poor coverage and failing batteries (which led to a frank discussion about the impact of work on our experience). After sunrise and another cup of joe we headed off on the walk/climb over Booti Booti and then back around on the flatter lakeside. What a start to the day!

We then made the fairly short journey down to Seal Rocks for a look around and decided we liked it so much we'd stay the night. We've had some time on the beach (sunny, 27C), some swimming, and a walk up to the lighthouse.

I'll save some of the pictures for later, but this has to be one of the nicest spots I've been to in NSW. Even beats Jervis for my money.

After our swims we set up camp and have been enjoying (mainly) listening to the first test against the saffers, interrupted only by me having to wind the radio up occassionally and the odd trip to the fridge to get another cold beer. While I'm sure there is more to life than this, I reckon you could spend a long time looking.

We'll be heading slowly south down to Sydney for the weekend so maybe catch some of you at Candi's Crazy Christmas party on Saturday, and then up to Dangar through until New Year. En route we'll pull in for some Scuba at Nelson Bay which Ness is really looking forward to (and I was amazed our gear all fitted in perfectly in the Troopie with only minor rearrangements and purging when we picked it up from Scone).

Merry Christmas to all and safe times if you're travelling. I think a lot of people will be looking forward to putting 2008 behind them so let's hope our new man in the White House is as good as he says he is and Roy and HG's dream of the ASX hitting 10,000 and gold hitting $1000 come good for all our sakes.

Regardless, we'll be back with more reports on our all aussie adventures in the new year!!! Hopefully even my twin brother Dave will have mastered the internet sufficiently on his first laptop to see how we're travelling.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Early reflections on the journey so far

In less than 24 hours we'll be making a 3 day pit stop in Sydney so we can get the car serviced. A few things have fallen off the engine as we expected and the handbrake has not taken too well to my co-pilot forgetting to take it off from time to time as well as some perilous hill start practice in the Flinders. It's also a good chance to catch up with friends and for me to pop into work just in time for the team Christmas night out.

Given I was about a 7 or an 8 out of 10 in the social retardation stakes before the trip I'm quite interested to see how many times I can tragically disgrace myself in these impending social and professional situations.

[Marvellous Mallacoota during a rare bit of clear sky]

This 'opportunity' has got me starting to reflect on how best to condense my experiences over the last 9 weeks into the 30 seconds I reckon I'll generally get before the people asking me about the high/low lights to date either lose interest or let their envy get the better of them.

And to be honest it's incredibly difficult to do without coming up with some banal generalisations or cliches but I'll let you be the judge. Anyway I don't think I'll really get to the heart of it until long after the trip. At this stage though the highlight other than of course experiencing the amazing natural beauty of my adopted homeland and spending heaps of time with VJ has been the time to think without interruption.

What an absolute luxury to just be able to spend hours thinking about stuff. The day before yesterday I was doing some maths questions from an Age liftout and I spent about four hours trying to do a seven bridges puzzle, only to find when I looked at the answer on-line that "There is no solution - it is impossible". It's funny but it really didn't seem like it had been a waste of time. I did alright on the other questions and can't wait to start inflicting these sorts of problems on a classroom. All this free time has also allowed me to clear out of a lot of the rubbish in my head that I'd been busy piling other things on top of over the years. The dreams are not as intense as they were at the start of the trip but without doubt I have made peace with a lot of things and situations I'd forgotten I was ever angry about.

Anyhow, that's about has far as I've got making sense of the last two months. I've got more time to think about it and I'll let you know what it turns into after I've tried to explain it a hundred times in the next few days.

Going back to Sydney does feel very weird though and I'm ever so glad we're travelling for a year and not just 3 months.

The journey up the east coast has been a return to the familiar. This is probably why we've not taken so many photos over the last couple of weeks. Before the trip the furthest south I'd been on the NSW coast was just down from Bateman's Bay. Naturally I'd always wondered what it was like a bit further on, but the very boring answer is, it's the same, just further away from Sydney and closer to Melbourne.

[Cheeky durrie while rugged up at Mallacoota.]

Looking south over Disaster Bay in Ben Boyd National Park.

We camped at the Bittangabee site as the one Damo had recommended was closed and once again our decision to have our tent on the roof was richly rewarded as the storm clouds came in. It just poured and poured for hours and the campsite turned into a swamp.

I recommended we push north more quickly as the bureau were predicting better weather the further north we could get so after a brief stop at Eden to visit the whaling museum we followed the tourist routes up to Narooma. It started pouring just as we pulled into town and didn't stop until the next morning. I pulled up the radar on my phone and we'd managed to pick the wettest place in a 256km radius from Canberra. It wasn't even raining in Eden, so naturally I copped it from VJ. It did mean we could go to the golf club for a counter meal and we also won a cask of Stanley's best claret in the meat raffle.

When the clouds cleared the next morning we found we had the primo real estate at Narooma Surf Beach. There were even hump back whales and calves passing by from time to time. Earlier in the season there are groups of up to 40 going passed here at a time and they tend to go through the channel between the mainland and Montague Island so they're especially close in. (There's also a top golf course so I'll organise a trip back down here with anyone who's interested for next October)

Other than nippers on Sunday and the occasional fisherman, dog walker and personal training class we pretty much had the amazing beach to ourselves. The weather even cleared up enough after a couple of days to make it worthwhile getting up at 5am up for a Tequila Sunrise with some Nescafe.

[Sunrise over Montague Island]

After four nights at Narooma I was pretty keen to pull into Pebbly Beach, where I'd spent an awesome birthday with my folks five or six years ago. Key standouts that time around from memory were sneaking outside for a birthday spliff and then demolishing the birthday cake in one sitting and less enjoyably arriving back in Sydney to find we'd been broken into and the thieves had stolen my stash (kindly replenished by the guys two doors down) and all of mum and dad's cash (luckily covered by their travel insurance). They caught the guy from his finger prints - after about two years I got a call to go into the station and make a statement.

I picked a cheeky camp spot at Pebbly Beach in the overflow car park which gave us the best view in town. Ness didn't sleep very well and wouldn't come down when the campsite manager came for the rent in the morning as she was worried that we'd get into trouble but all was sweet and we stayed on for another night.

[VJ getting up close and personal with some of the local birdlife

We're currently at Green Patch, where it our camping adventures started almost two years ago. That time VJ forgot her clothes and our masks and snorkels (which we realised after I'd paid to hire some fins). This time of course we're a bit more organised.

Inching up the East Coast

We are definitely on our way to Sydney now. We are camped at Greenpatch on Jervis Bay where Andy's and my camping adventures began, somewhat shakily (no clothes, no swimmers, mattress didn't fit in tent, rain etc etc) just under 2 years ago. Without a doubt more organised this time around.

*The photogenic pelicans of Mallacoota.

Mallacoota was a great little stop and the first of the crawl up the east coast towards Sydney. It was a bit windy to start with but as long as you got away from the absolute water frontage it died off really quickly and was lovely. I did a giant walk to get out of Payniac's hair so he could get some work done and saw my first pod of dolphins of the trip frolicking in the surf. It's always a good start to any day when you see dolphins in the morning.

After leaving Mallacoota we made for the stunning Ben Boyd NP. Nicole had tipped us of about Disaster Bay so we did some touring and visited the old lighthouse and various lookouts before camping at Bittangabee Bay. Choosing a camp site when the sky is dark at 3pm is a vital skill we have developed and being near to a shelter essential. It absolutely poured, non-stop from 4pm until about 9am the next morning. We are now fairly confident that the cubby doesn't leak. While sitting down to dinner a little wombat waddled past in search of his/her own victuals. Very sweet.

*Payniac at the Narooma Pub with million dollar view.

*The camp set up at Narooma Surf Beach holiday park - yep, that's the surf in the background.

We didn't have a concrete plan after leaving the soggy Ben Boyd NP and decided to follow our noses and the B.O.M weather reports up the coast stopping where we felt like. The rain was making things tricky and when we finally pulled into our "destination" for the night we couldn't make a choice on the flattest bit of ground for parking, and there was no shelter. We kept driving. After an already fairly full day in the car things can go awry fairly fast and we spent a good 5 minutes on the side of the road in the car in the rain waiting for accommodation answers to come from the blue, while not talking to each other. Not sure I believe in serendipity but the result was a 4 night stay (cos we loved it so much!) in Narooma holiday park right on the beach. It also helped that we were a stones throw from Narooma Golf Club which served hot meals and cold beer out of the rain.
After a lot of the other small towns we passed through on the south coast Narooma felt quiet and sleepy and less developed.

It's taken me so long to get this instalment done that we're now back in Sydney - had a bit of a reunion and the car has been serviced. Payniac filled in the activities up the coast although he neglected to tell you all how BRAVE he was while removing ticks from my head at Pebbly Beach. My head is still sore but am unsure whether that is related to the tick bites or the quantity of hair removed in the process. Have found that Swiss Army knife tweezers better at pulling hair than embedded bugs. Am starting to feel like a bug-pub, the one stop bug blood shop as they don't seem to bother Andy so much. No photos of the ticks you'll be pleased to know.

Thanks to CJ and Steffen for having us these few days and for coping with all the hilarity of Sunday night - still laughing! It's been great catching up with friends although we are both pretty anxious to get out of town again. Heading off to Scone to see the Johnno clan (and pick up the dive gear - YAY!!!!) before heading for the hills and the coast again before Xmas.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Route update

We're now up to about 11,500 kms. Following the extensive iron bark burnathon at Heathcote Graytown and our Mt Buller post dinner emissions we must now be in the order of several million tonnes of CO2 which we'll plant some trees for when we get back to Dangar.

Something I didn't see in South Australia by the way was any recycling depots. The whole thing is a fking rort. We were counting on the deposits on our beer cans as being a major source of funding for this trip and now whether VJ gets to swim with whale sharks again is up in the air. We have though learned how to get 12c / litre off our fuel. If you're not already doing it (and if you don't have a 90l tank maybe the maths isn't so compelling) the trick is done by shopping at woolies, fueling and showing the woolies receipt at a participating caltex, grab the original 4c off plus get another 4c by getting tobacco or otherwise spending $25 and then, and this is the clincher, you take the fuel receipt to IGA for yet another 4c off when we get beer or wine. By the way I promise I'll quit when Obama gets round to it, but it doesn't count if he gets assassinated.

To Mount Buggery and beyond ...

Can't believe it's been almost 2 weeks since I've had reception good enough to blog (as adding photos seems to need two or three bars or it just leads to a false hope and ultimate frustration and potentially some foul language).

In those two weeks we've crossed from the Spencer Gulf in SA to the far south east corner of Australia and are currently in Mallacoota on a tip of from Shaef. He was right, there is an awesome camp ground right on the water, however I only realised after handing over two nights rent that there is absolutely no protection from the gale force south easterly which means we'll be sleeping in the one man tent in the shade of the truck tonight.

After our two nights at Port Germein we headed over the Flinders and into the Clare valley, stopping at Skillogalee winery for a posh lunch on the terrace. We camped at another site called Redbank, then an Australian Geographic dud recommendation called Gluepot and then a more successful night in Murray River National Park. Unfortunately our first camera misfunction means we don't have any pictures from that part of the trip but it all looked a lot like the Darling River but with a bit more water in it.

We followed the Murray into Victoria and then turned north to avoid the first predicted bad weather and went to Mungo National Park. Mungo is full of aboriginal history, going back 40+ thousand years. All the history is under clay and the stuff which has been unearthed has been put back under clay to preserve it so there isn't really all that much to see, but there was an awesome visitor centre (with hot showers), the sun was shining and the kangaroos in the campsite were extremely friendly, especially a group of about half a dozen which followed us around and posed for pictures.

The predicted rain arrived a little ahead of time so we made a quick early morning escape to avoid being trapped on the dirt roads. Our next stop was Swan Hill with it's Giant Murray Cod - an obliging Japanese tourist took this photo for us, always nice to get one back for all the ones I've taken in Sydney. We ate and drank at the RSL but had to give the much anticipated bingo a miss.

More bad weather was predicted and it was also set to get colder (which we're not equipped for) so we set up camp for a few days in the largest iron bark forest in Victoria (Heathcote Graytown NP). This ensured a ready supply of hot burning wood and we also had a great little covered facility all to ourselves, with the exception of a guy who came past each afternoon on his horse.

The three day lay up gave us a chance to really relax and do some fairly easy forest walks, and also for VJ to try out an exploroz Damper recipe - all it needs is some flour and a can of VB and hey presto in around 30 minutes you have a delicious double helping of carbs. This was apparently the staple of early explorer types such as Burke & Wills and it was so yummy we ate the whole thing (about a foot across) and had no room for dinner.

The bureau were predicting that the weather would get worse so we decided to push on into the Victorian high country. There had been talk of some snow so we headed through the amazing Eildon NP and then all the way up to Mount Buller where it was already snowing a blizzard. Thongs off and shoes on was the order of the day and as many tee shirts as I could manage and still move my arms. Mount Buller is quiet this time of year and the only other residents were a dozen subbies working on a new resort, some of whom had never seen snow before.

[One of the views while we were going through Eildon NP - note to self, as many 4wd tracks as you can shake a stick at in Eildon and camping is free almost everywhere - go the Victorians and thanks for helping us get back in budget after the Mt Buller blow out!]

While we were offered the opportunity to eat chicken wings with the other guests we decided to brave the elements and try and find the local restaurant for a decent feed. It was en-route I discovered you can't operate an iphone with gloves on in a blizzard even if you're lost and need google maps. We eventually found the entrance to the Grand Mercure and settled in for some rich food and some non cardboard red wine. While we didn't over do it by Sydney standards our digestive systems put up a bit of a fight during the night and we both felt quite ill. The room wasn't as fresh anymore either. It was strange sleeping in a bed again after 8 weeks but at least it was a bad one with a foam mattress thinner than the one in the tent.

Troopie started first time the next morning despite the freezing cold. It was minus 3 with a 70kph wind which apparently made it the equivalent of minus 15.

[Ness looking to the sky for Jonny Wilkinson-esque inspiration before launching a snowball at my head, which missed by the way.]

We headed back down the mountain on the Sunday morning before the thaw set in and made our way over some great country to a top little camp spot by a river on the slopes of the enticingly named Mount Buggery. Finding Mount Buggery was an unexpected bonus - it was the end point of quest in a book Deano had given me (The Road to Mount Buggery) about a couple travelling round Australia when we first told him we were doing the trip. There I did it, three buggeries in one blog.

By the way, we've got lots of photos now of Ness screwing her face up when I pull in for some romance, but she reckons this time at least it was more to do with the fly on her chin.

Not deterred by the threat of more bad weather we turned off the Great Alpine Road to take in Falls Creek. It was a massive climb up the hill, a winding road with a sheer drop off to the left and a good chance you'd meet a construction truck from the half built hydro power station coming the other way on the wrong side of the road. I (and it seems my parents) thought I'd die out in the desert but let me tell you we came a lot closer to disaster on this road than at any time so far. The drive was also quite eery as all of the trees were dead. For miles and miles and miles the whole mountain side was filled with trees that had been killed in the massive fires here two years ago and they obviously take some time to re-establish themselves in the harsh conditions

There was quite a lot of snow on top of the mountain and while we did go for a walk (me in my thongs and shorts) we decided it was better to get down to lower ground to set up camp as there was plenty of weather still to come. The drive down the other side was also pretty exciting as the road was unsealed, had snow on bits of it and also had a lot of debris from the weekend storms. Some we went round, some we went over (a bit like speed humps) and some I had to get out and lift over the car. Top stuff.

Another corker of a campsite at Joker Flat where we had premo real estate on a bend in 'Big River' and even though we were still at 600+m it was relatively warm, but still low single digits, which meant an early night and sleeping with our beanies on.

I couldn't recommend the Vic high country enough and while we have done plenty of dirt roads this time we have had to put some of our more adventurous routes on ice until we come back in the new year. We had another left or right question just short of Omeo which offered the chance to go up to Jindabyne and then over to the coast but we decided it was time to go back to the coast whatever the weather may bring. Subconcious at work here I think as I really don't like the thought of heading back to Sydney, despite all the fun we'll have when we get there and the knowledge that come January we'll be leaving it behind again.

Last night we camped at Conran Coastal reserve and almost had the 100 place campsite by the beach to ourselves. One advantage of our travels so far is we've pretty much had everything to ourselves. Normally you have to book things month in advance or win your place in a ballot but we've had entire campsites to ourselves almost all the way around. Can't say I'm looking forward to the school holidays.

So, that brings me back to Mallacoota. It's still blowing a gale and we're also a way away from thge amenity block. Good practice for me I guess to get used to not being able to piss wherever I want to. You can get away with a lot of things on King Street but public urination in daylight is not one of them.

We'll be passing through Sydney on Sunday 7th December if anyone wants to catch up.

We're planning a sunday session (probably the shaky) but I have to go into work on the Monday for a pretty important preso to our new chief so go easy on me - I drink mid strength these days (I'm also already stressing about turning up for said preso in shorts and thongs and heavily bearded so if anyone can lend me some 32/34 waist semi smart trousers for a couple of days I'll shout you a few beers).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Some more photos

We are currently camped up in Heathcote-Graytown NP, Vic due to subby weather. We have a whole BBQ/picnic shelter acting as our "entertainment area" while we ride out this cold front before heading for the hills. Pretty good really as none of our stuff gets wet AND Payniac can have a fire - it's the largest iron bark forest in Vic so they are good, hot fires.
I thought I'd add a few more photos from various parts of the trip for your viewing pleasure.
*A fiery sunset in Murray River NP, SA near Berri.

*A silly moment . Trying to keep the flies off and shade my head all at once. Dalhousie Springs, SA

*Inspecting the ancient lake bed now on top of Kings Canyon. Now part of the Kings Canyon (NT) Rim walk, a super 6.5km to walk NOT to be done in the heat of the day.

*The wonderful, the magical, the brilliant sanity saver that is the mozzie dome tent (MDT). Making sandwiches is no longer a race against the flies and it's much easier to drink icy cold beer without a really daggy head net on. Pictured here at a bush camp on the river plains of Owen Springs NP, N.T. Note the use of river rocks for mainting fly free integrity - brilliant!

*Camping on the banks of the mighty River Murray near Berri, SA.

*The beautiful and unnatural Purni Bore in the Simpson Desert.

*Driving in the sand dunes somewhere on the Old Andado track between Mt.Dare, SA and Alice Springs. Magic.

*Full moon setting in the Simspon.