We wander in and wonder at the beauty of our "Land Down Under".

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The Run Home

Hiking on Hinchinbrook Island was a great way to finish our Far North Queensland sojourn.  After that, apart from a couple of highlights visiting friends in Brisbane and Sydney, the journey home was pretty much a beeline for Melbourne to catch the ferry across Bass Strait back to Tasmania. There aren't many pictures to look at in this post, so if looking at the pictures is your thing you might want to skip along to Day 7 where you'll see some photos taken at Crowdy Bay National Park in New South Wales. If you want to hear about our journey south, which is actually pretty boring, well ... read on ...
BTW, there are finally pictures of a kangaroo and a cockatoo (well, lorikeet actually) again.

Day One: a long slog on a road of tragedy

We made a good early start from the Lucinda Caravan Park with the idea of being able to pace ourselves over the fairly long drive of about 520 kilometres that we had planned. (Our idea was to have a couple of long drives to begin with followed up with a couple of shorter ones.) Here is what our journey for the day looked like:

Lucinda to Bouldercombe ~ 570 kms

Well, day one turned out to take quite a lot longer than we'd originally anticipated. We made good time as far as Townsville where we stopped at the Next Byte shop at the northern end of the city. Di had bought a "lightning to SD card reader" for her iPad Mini which wasn't working. As with the Next Byte shop in Cairns, the folks were extremely helpful and obliging.  One fantastic thing about using Apple products is that there is generally no fussing about when things go wrong. Within minutes a replacement was provided and we were on our way.

After a spot of lunch we were back on the road. We soon found ourselves being regularly stopped due to frequent roadworks along the Bruce Highway. A bit tedious but okay to deal with. We just decided to suck it up and get on with it. Sadly, however, just south of McKay and not far from our destination for the night we were held up yet again - but this time due to a tragic accident that killed a couple of young kids. At first we assumed that it was just more roadworks and that we'd be underway before long, but with emergency vehicles screaming past it soon became obvious that something very serious had happened.

After talking with folks over the next couple of days we discovered that the Bruce Highway - and this section in particular - is notorious for accidents and near misses. Really, it seems like this road just hasn't been upgraded to the standard it needs to be at for the traffic it's getting in the 21st century. In a way it reminds me of what the old highway up the east coast of Vancouver Island between Nanaimo and Campbell River was like when I was growing up there. Way too much traffic without enough opportunities to pass, especially during the warmer months when all the American tourists arrived. It's hard to blame the government of Queensland for the situation. They have lots upgrades in the works and more planned, but when you see the repairs needed around the state where flood damage has occurred you realise how difficult it must be to manage infrastructure in that state.
One last word on the state of the Bruce Highway: we've got a road here in Tasmania called the Midland Highway running between Launceston and Hobart that people have been complaining about for decades. A lot of work has been done on it over the past ten years or so, especially with the addition of passing sections dotted along the route. And quite a lot of re-routing took place twenty to thirty years ago. Still people complain, and our leader of the opposition has promised to upgrade the road to a dual carriageway for its entire two hundred kilometres. Utter bullshit of course, but still there are lots of people who believe him. Well, The Bruce Highway is much, much more dangerous. 'Nuff said.

Eventually we were detoured a long way around the accident site via a series of tiny roads through the cane fields then back on to the highway and arrived at our destination for the night. The Armstrong Beach Caravan Park is just a tiny little caravan park right on the water. It's a little off the beaten track, which is kind of nice. We had hoped to spend an hour or two on the beach the night before but as it was dark by the time we arrived we just decided that dinner and bed was the way to go. All things being equal, it did seem like a pretty good place for a layover if you're making the long trip up the east coast but we didn't can't really comment on the environs as our schedule necessitated us continuing our southward push.

Day Two: a niggly noise sorted then more driving

Armstrong Beach to Bouldercombe ~ 325 kms

The next morning we had a slight change of plan. The day before, as we were inching our way along the highway while waiting for that terrible road tragedy to be sorted (the details of which were only revealed to us the next morning) we'd noticed a slight but persistent squeak in the Prado which seemed to be coming from the region of the front right wheel. It was still there when we finally got to Armstrong Beach, which was a bit of a worry. Although I couldn't hear it the next morning we thought we ought to get it checked out as a precaution so I rang the RACQ to see if there was someone nearby that could look at it for us. Luckily there was and approved repairer right in Armstrong Beach to which the customer service rep directed us. When I explained what we'd been experiencing the mechanic concluded that a bit of grit must have got trapped in between the brake pad and disk, which had then been flicked out in the morning when I'd backed out of my parking spot from the night before.

Greatly relieved we hit the road by about 9:30. The long drive from the day before and hearing the news of what had held us up for so long just south of McKay left us feeling a bit shagged and weary of the road. We resolved that we'd potter along and, sometime in the afternoon, when we found somewhere suitable to pull over  we'd make sure we stopped for the night. We'd also decided to get off the Bruce Highway and take a more inland route for a while.  After many more sections of roadworks, lunch and a refuelling stop in Rockhampton we turned off towards the historic gold mining town of Mount Morgan, stopping in a paddock beside the Royal Hotel Bouldercombe just a couple of kilometres after leaving the Bruce Highway. Free, fairly quiet camping with a couple of beers in the pub and some tunes on the jukebox, a good meal in the camper and an early night helped restore our equanimity.

Day Three: pretty much just more drivin' ...

Bouldercombe to Gayndah ~ 370 kms

Off we headed the next morning with the intention of having a bit of a look around Mount Morgan. More roadworks detoured us up onto the range where the town is situated. Apart from the mining museum - which we didn't really feel like looking at - it turned out that there wasn't much to see in Mount Morgan apart from a few buildings harking back to the mining era so we didn't stay long. 

However, this turned out to be a great day of driving. Quite varied, rolling terrain with the odd small town along the way was the order of the day with just light amounts of traffic.

What was quite sobering at one point - near the town of Thangool if my memory serves - was evidence of the 2011 floods. Di spotted a sign to a farm stay which was draped with bits of vegetation. But even more sobering another kilometre or two down the road was an entire orchard of trees perhaps 10 - 12 metres tall, all dead and and vegetation matted throughout their uppermost branches. One could only wonder at the consequences for the orchardists.

We drove about 350 kilometres, almost to the town of Gayndah. The only thing to take the gloss off the day - apart from another one without any exercise - was some of the company we had at the rest area where we stopped for the night. It turned out that the five Frenchmen who occupied the spot next to us partied - loudly - until midnight when Di finally gave them a blast. Still, we can't complain too much as it was another free night of camping ...

Day Four: glass houses and a late night

Gayndah to Landsborough ~ 310 kms

Although it would have been shorter - and probably quicker - for us to go back out to the Bruce Highway and through Gympie to continue our southerly run home we decided to stick with the Burnett Highway, reasoning that we'd have less traffic to contend with and see some different country. 

An early start and just over 300 kilometres of driving got us into the Glasshouse Mountains for a spot of sightseeing. You won't see any photos of them here though, as we just weren't that inspired to take pictures. We had lunch in a little park in the township of Glasshouse Mountains, then a pleasant twenty minute walk at a lookout on a little bump that provides good views of some of the volcanic plugs that constitute the "glasshouses". We were a bit disappointed actually, as the name of the park had suggested to us smooth and shiny domes, maybe a bit more like those of Girraween

The next thing was to find somewhere to stay for the night. We ended up at the Landsborough Pines Caravan Park, hoping to treat ourselves to a night in a so-called "chalet" so we could watch that night's stage of the Tour de France. They didn't have have a chalet vacancy - which did save us quite a lot of money - but a couple of caravan sites were available and the manager assured us that we could watch Le Tour on the big screen TV down in the recreation room. 

We had dinner, and whiled away the hours until the live broadcast came on at 10:00 p.m. and duly took ourselves off to the promised entertainment. As it turned out the TV got all channels except SBS so we took ourselves back to the comforts of Ulysses, turned on the Macbook Pro and streamed the broadcast live. Not such a big picture, but nice and cosy tucked up in bed with the laptop and fantastic viewing of a struggle of prodigious proportions in the Pyrenees.

Day 5: a visit with the Borrows clan

Landsborough to Lawnton via Scarborough ~ 85 kms

A short drive of about 70 kilometres took us to our friends Max and Prue in Scarborough, north of Brisbane. They'd contacted us and invited us for lunch. This turned out to be a real treat, not only to see Max and Prue again but also to meet the whole Borrows tribe.  Their eldest sun Stuart rang just after we'd arrived and asked if it was okay if he and a friend dropped in for lunch. Then their daughter Alice, who lives just around the corner dropped by and brought little Evie - the granddaughter - over for a visit. She's a gorgeous little thing and, endearingly - but much to Max's chagrin - calls her granddad Max rather than granddad or grandpa. Finally, Douglas (now that's a good name), the youngest offspring arrived to complete the picture. We suspected that - just maybe - Alice and Douglas were dropping in to have a stickybeak at Stuart's friend Mel, but that is pure conjecture. Anyway, once Stuart had whisked Mel away for a spin in Alice's MG we had a great chat with Douglas and Alice - who are both keen bushwalkers - about our walk on Hinchinbrook Island. After a great lunch, including some Atlantic Salmon from Tasmania - which isn't of course in the Atlantic - Max and Prue took us for a little tour of the lovely area where they live. They offered to put us up for the night but we had decided to stay at the Lawnton Showgrounds so we could get Ulysses in to Springers - which is almost just across the road - for a bit of electric work.

Day 6: Out of Queensland and a short drive to a bad night's sleep

Lawnton to Ballina ~ 210 kms

It's a long and somewhat convoluted story about Ulysses' electrics. I won't go into it. Suffice it to say that some work, some expensive work, had been done in Hobart to upgrade the electrics and things weren't working as they should. Max had put us on to Springers as they are renowned 12 and 24 volt experts, although much of their business is now installing domestic solar systems. Anyway, we wanted to be at Springers good and early so we could get away before too late in the day to drive south some ways. Anyway. Springers fixed it all up, and much cheaper than the botched job done previously. We are converts, but they are a long way away. (I tried today to have a chat with the proprietor of the botchers to express my concerns, but he was away. Hoping to catch up with him on Friday to present him the facts of the case  and see what he has to say.)

We were out of Springers and on the road by about 1:30. Leaving Queensland behind, we thought we'd be free of roadworks. Not so. Just over the border - maybe they felt a need for solidarity with their northern cousins - we were held up for quite a while. Finally pulled into a rest stop just off the highway for what turned out to be very disturbed night. Word to the wise: if you're on a road trip in Australia and have to fit a night in at a rest stop near the highway, try to avoid ones that are near the crest of a hill! Unfortunately, you can't always pick in advance ...

Day Seven: an old friend and a walk with whales

Ballina to Crowdy Bay ~ 410 kms

We got on the road early, as we wanted to enjoy a bit of nature and have a walk before the day was out. Our plan was to get to Crowdy Bay National Park, which had been recommended to us by at least three different sets of people. Along the way we stopped off just south of Port MacQuarie to visit an old friend and colleague from my days at Distance Education Tasmania. Steph Todd and I had worked together and run quite a few outdoor excursions for kids all over the state. We'd had a lot of fun doing it and liked to think we provided a bit of enrichment for students who didn't otherwise get much of a chance to explore their natural environment. Steph now does a bit of relief teaching around Port MacQuarie and spends as much time riding her bike as she can.

Back on the road, we got to Crowdy Head a little after noon and settled in to the Kylie's Beach camping area. There are a few camping areas, but this one is perhaps the least crowded and most laid back. No power but, hey, we've got Ulysses. With his electrics fixed and running perfectly, thank you very much.

Sure enough, both the park itself and Kylie's Beach (thanks, Max) turned out to be just as good as everyone had said. I haven't got a photo of Ulysses set up here, but this photo of a kangaroo will show you what the environment is generally like there:

After a quick lunch we headed straight for the beach ...

Hmmm. Just a little overcast?

 where we were greeted by a fantastic sky. Check it out ...

There is a rain a'comin ...

We walked to the end of the beach where we saw these interesting bits of weathered rock ...

Not bad legs for an old duck, eh?!

... then up and on to the head where one encounters this plaque at Kylie's Lookout:

Kylie's Lookout

Kylie Tennant - known as Australia's John Steinback - initially studied art at uni but became focussed on writing novels, championing the cause of the underdog in society. She spent a great deal of time exploring Diamond Head and had a studio built near what is now the Diamond Head camping area.

The lookout provides a good view looking back along Kylie's Beach ...

There's something special about Aussie beaches ...

Further along the track we were able to catch glimpses of whales spouting out in the whitecaps, which were being pushed along by a fairly strong southeasterly breeze. Below the head is this attractive arch ...

The coastal scrub was teeming with birdlife - mostly small thornbills and honeyeaters. Unfortunately they were a bit too quick to capture on film. But we did get a few pictures of the banksias that they were mostly feeding amongst ...

Saw-leafed Banksia 1

Saw-leafed Banksia 2
Saw-leafed Banksia: looking more closely
Happily, Di managed to get this great photo of a Scaly-breasted Lorikeet which paused long enough amongst the banksias ...

Scaly-breasted Lorikeet
She was rapt: another new sighting easily confirmed! If you were paying attention, you might have noticed that this banksia is significantly different from the previous three photos: different blooms and very different leaves. Apparently this area is quite special in that it contains three different species of banksia in quite a small area.

Despite it being the middle of winter there was actually quite a number of plants in flower including these button-sized red things  (sorry about the fuzzy photo) ...

... and these three-petaled beauties ...

We ran into one of the park rangers when we were walking. He and another chap were working on upgrading the track, which seemed like a good project. We tried to find out the names of the two flowers above but, disappointingly, he didn't have a clue. Surprising really. He explained it away by saying that he "wasn't a plant person". Hmmm. Doesn't really wash, does it?

We  managed to get back to the camper before the rain that had been threatening hit. In fact, we sat out in the sunshine for half an hour or so before the storm was upon us, forcing us inside. It poured down for quite a while before finally letting up. So, that was about it for our visit to Crowdy Head: short but sweet. It's likely we'll travel up this coast again some time and this little park will surely be on our list of places to stop.

Day Eight: off to an oasis in the Big Smoke for a brief stopover

Crowdy Bay to Lilli Pilli ~ 375 kms
We'd wanted to catch up with two sets of friends in Sydney. James and Deidre are mates from climbing and still part of the working world, doing the bit to prop up the economy. With Ulysses in tow, them living in a fairly densely populated area around Olympic Park and the time being mid-week it sadly just wasn't practical to try to see them.

Chris and Bob, we met when we were on our long mainland trip in 2011. We first met at Carnarvon Gorge, then bumped into each other again at Undara then again in Cooktown. It seemed fated that we make a connection.  Not long after we'd last seen them in Cooktown, Di and I had committed to buying our Ultimate Off-road Camper Trailer. About four months later Bob and Chris had followed suit. Like us, they've got a strong love for the environment and wanted to see more of our beautiful country in somewhat greater comfort afforded by tenting.

Bob and Chris were keen for us to stop by and visit them at their home in Lilli Pilli, a small suburb south of the main city centre, and had plenty of room for us to park the car and camper. (In case you couldn't be bothered following the hyperlink above, I'll insert a short quote about Lilli Pilli from that page, which I found rather charming: "Lilli Pilli was named for the Lilly Pilly, the native myrtles that grew on the point". When Bob their place (sometime during the last Ice Age) this little suburb consisted  largely of small fibro holiday shacks. Now, most of them have been knocked down and replaced with mega-expensive dwellings. Some of those with water frontage have even installed "Infinity" pools. Not much wonder, given the fabulous location on the north shore of the Port Hacking estuary. Bob and Chris did the renovations on their cottage back in that Ice Age when they bought the place, meaning that they've got a lovely and unpretentious home with a wonderful garden - and a bank balance rather than a millstone around their necks in the form of a gigantic mortgage.

We arrived in time for a late lunch of some fantastic soup that Chris had made earlier, then they showed us some fantastic images from the trip to Morocco they'd had earlier this year. Gorgeous pictures of a very exotic and seemingly well-run trip, which have made us think that maybe this is something we'd like to do at some stage.

After terrific, Moroccan inspired dinner - more reason to visit that exotic location1 - we hit the hay fairly early as Di and I were pretty tired after a week or so - and abut 2555 kms! - on the road.

Day Nine: southward, ever southward

Lilli Pilli to Moruya ~ 270 kms
The next morning, Chris, Bob, Di and I all went for a stroll to the little jetty and boat ramp down at the end of their street. They really do live in a brilliant location, especially for Bob, who loves taking his canoe out for a fish fairly regularly. Bob and Chris had invited some old friends for lunch who they hadn't seen for a while and we had a lovely time exchanging travel stories. So much to see, so much to do ...

We really enjoyed catching up with Bob and Chris and hope to do a trip together with them before too long. However, we needed to push on that afternoon as we'd booked Ulysses in for a service at the factory the next day and wanted to get as close to Moruya as we could so that we'd be at the factory when they opened. We got away about 2:00 o'clock. Good thing it wasn't any later as the traffic south of Nowra was horrendous, with major road works slowing things up considerably. There is a major upgrade happening to the highway through this part of the coast which will make travel there much smoother when it's all done, but at the moment getting through the section around Gerringong is pretty tedious. (An interesting bit of info: Charles Kingsford Smith took off from here when he made his historic flight across the Tasman sea to New Zealand, way back in 1933.) Anyway, on we drove to a secret location up in the hills near Moruya. It was fantastically quiet and we had a great, long, long night's sleep.

Day Ten: streaming southwards, we cross the border

Moruya to Cann River ~ 300 kms
Since we'd put about fifteen thousand kilometres on Ulysses since his last service and the Prado had had two services in that time it seemed to make sense to drop in at the factory on our way south to have another service done. They do a pretty thorough check on everything and replace the wheel bearings as part of the service. At this stage of our ownership of Ulysses - just two years down the track - it seemed like a good idea to have them run an eye over everything. It was pleasing to see that the bearings were all in good shape, which gives us a benchmark for future review. We had a pleasant walk and a great cup of coffee - sorry you northerners, but the quality of java really improves as you move south! - and were just finishing lunch when the call came from the factory that they'd finished the service.

Off we headed, initially on the Princes Highway, and then inland to the Monaro Highway and via Bombala to Cann River. It's about twelve kilometres longer this way than sticking to the Princes Highway, but once you leave the road to Cooma and turn south towards Bombala there is some fantastic high country driving on a beautiful open highway. (I have to admit, in our eagerness to get to a camp for the night we did overstep the speed limit just a little on this fine bit of road.) Bombala, a tiny little town was proposed as the seat of Australian government way in 1903, as it is pretty much equidistant between Melbourne and Sydney. Well, Canberra got the nod and the rest is history.

Thirty kilometres or so south of Bombala you pick up the upper reaches of the Cann River and start the winding descent to the township of Cann River. We had picked out what looked like a suitable rest area for another free camp. Thankfully, this lovely picnic spot ten kilometres or so south of Cann River was far enough off the highway that we weren't disturbed by passing traffic. We had it all to ourselves, which was kind of nice.

Days Eleven & Twelve: Cabbages, The Lone Ranger (!) and FOOTY

Cann River to Werribee South ~ 475 kms
Keen to get to our destination relatively early, we made a crack of dawn start the next morning with the intention of getting breakfast along the way. This was an excellent move, as traffic was very light and there were no roadworks! A little less than two hours driving got us to Bairnsdale, where we remembered that back in 2011we'd been to the Paperchase Bookshop and Cafe, which does very good coffee and food. Suitably fortified we hit the road again, eventually arriving at the Werribee South Caravan Park. "Why?", I hear you ask. Well, it's pretty reasonably priced, in a great location right on Port Phillip Bay and pretty straightforward getting in and out of the city by public transport (from Werribee itself) and to the ferry. 

I'd persuaded Di to accompany me to THE FOOTY! the next day before we caught our ferry back to Tassie on Monday. We also like to visit the outdoor shops in Little Bourke Street to see how stoic we can be in resisting new and seductive gear. Di in particular has developed a weakness for Icebreaker stuff, and I like to tease her a bit with the new lines before dragging her away from the racks. It worked pretty well this time as there was mostly winter gear in the stores and we just don't need any of that right now! Checking in at the outdoor shops also gives us and excuse to have lunch at our favourite pizzeria while in Melbourne, which happens to be in outdoor gear central.

But all that indulgence was ahead of us. We arrived in Werribee South around midday. This area is perhaps the brassica capital of the southern hemisphere. Field upon field upon field of cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower occupy pretty much the whole area. Especially cabbages. There's obviously something in the soil here that suits cabbages. And they do add a certain pungency to the atmosphere. Not really unpleasant, but certainly distinctive.

Di had done a bit of internet searching in the car while I was driving. We hadn't seen a movie for quite some time, and we were both a bit keen to spend a few hours vegetating in cinematic delight, especially as, we'd driven into rain as we'd neared Melbourne. It turned out that The Lone Ranger was showing at the cinema in Hoppers Crossing. We both love Westerns, Johnny Depp and corniness. All fit the bill beautifully. Although some critics have suggested JD might be losing his touch we thought he - and the film in general - great fun. Also, for what it's worth, we thought the footage of Monument Valley alone was just about worth the price of admission. Not everyone's cup of tea, obviously, but we loved it!

After breakfast the next day we drove to the train station in Werribee and caught the train into the city. A bit of browsing at all the outdoor shops followed, finishing up at our new favourite: Backpacking Light. Di swears by the Aarn rucksack she bought there last year. It served her beautifully on the Overland Track in December and she is looking forward to hiking the GR20 with it later this year. On this visit we managed to escape with only a few small purchases: a new lightweight shirt for me, and three pairs of socks between us. On to lunch - as good as ever - then the footy! 

This seems like as good a time as any for my customary diversion, don't you think? This time it's footy. We spent a lot of our mainland sojourn in Queensland, where Rugby League is king. Looking at the sports pages in the newspapers, you'd be forgiven for thinking that no other sport is played in the so-called sunshine state. But here's the thing. All over the state there are billboards depicting a bunch of guys clawing at each other with the caption "This is football". Not a word of a lie. And yes, "is" is italicised. Made me chuckle a bit, actually. For a while Queensland, via car registration plates, was marketing itself as "THE SMART STATE". (Northern Hemisphere readers, this is no lie!) Well they've stopped doing that. Good thing, I reckon. You'd think at least the billboards would boast
This is footy! Well anyway, that's what I think. Yes, a bit subtle, but ... anyway. That's my two bob's worth. No offence intended, Queenslanders!

At THE FOOTY the Bombers duly accounted for the Doggies, but not without a bit of a struggle. Happy with the day, we caught the train back to Werribee where we emerged from the station in the rain and drove back to our snug little home on two wheels.

Days Thirteen & Fourteen: Home Sweet Home Hobart!

Yes, it's a cliché, but all good things must come to an end.  But, if you play your cards right, new good things then come along. Monday morning dawned clear and still, a good omen for our overnight sailing from Port Melbourne to Devonport. After a delayed pack-up to let Ulysses' canvas dry out from the overnight drenching it received we motored in to Port. We had a late brunch at one of the many trendy cafes that now crowd this once working-class suburb. I poked around in a couple of bike shops while Di had her hair cut. Later we had a walk. Well. Two walks, really. Di had a walk. I had a walk. Yes, we'd finally had enough of each other's company for a while. An hour or two to ourselves and all happy families again.  Whew! 

The sailing across Bass Strait did turn out just as it looked like it would and we both slept like babies on bourbon, well a beer each and a half bottle of good red wine between us at least. The drive south from Devonport - via Exeter to visit Susie - went smoothly and we were home. Not much else to say, really. Except that, after fifteen thousand and six hundred kilometres on the road, we were very happy to be home. That's it for now, folks.

1 comment:

  1. A great recap of the final leg of your journey despite the absence of explanatory photos! I won't be doing the same thing for our 4-week Canada holiday as I'm not retired......yet....but I'll try & get some photos posted when I find the time to get them organised! We had a couple of short stays with Cathie & Jamie & they said to say "Hi". Take care & stay in touch.