Oz Road Trip
We head out in our gas thirsty campervan in what is to become the highest recorded rainfall for a summer in Australian history.
Now that we are back to being "Van-tramps" instead of "Boat-trash"...we make our first overnight stop at...... a greyhound race track???? in Grafton. Speaking of tramps....Yep, we have the latest greatest "Extra Economy Travel Vacation" guide. (Dave's idea). Walking through tall wet grass in the dark and rain to an unlit restroom, Cockroaches scattering in the dark.... YUK!!! From here on we had to step up a notch on the amenities.
Headed for Coober Pedy
On day two of our big adventure the rain fell heavily. It came down in sheets and buckets. We drove straight through Coff's Harbor and didn't get to even see the beach. We didn't stop driving until we arrived at our friends Pat and Greg Whitbourne's Dad's house in Lake Macquarie. They kindly let us park in the carport for the night. (We said, step-up, right?), Greg and Pat from the yacht "Rascal 2" are fellow cruisers who have also adopted a family in Vureas Bay, Vanuatu. They have been sailing to there for the past few years. Greg has been instrumental in developing plans for a hydro electric plant on the island.. Still pouring, we left the next morning after celebrating Greg's birthday with him and his family.
We were headed to Sydney but they were predicting flooding for the next week. We just kept driving. We made a day stop at the capital city of Canberra but it rained so hard we only visited the National Gallery and drove around the capital mall. Canberra is a planned city that has a fabulous layout of grounds poised on a lake, loaded with greenery. After we climbed to the top of the tallest building, the Telstra communications tower, to try and see the city through the rain, we called it a day and headed back to our campervan park.
We decided to head west until it stopped raining. It took 2 days to get to the outback of Australia. Coober Pedy is opal capital of the world and famous for it's desolate landscape. Seventy percent of the people live UNDERGROUND. Most of the infrastructure is also underground. Hotels, resturaunts, theaters, ....everything! We're talking really HOT here. Most of you can remember the MadMax scenery, right? It was filmed here. It was on the top of my must see list but not so high on Dave's. After lengthy discussion, we flipped a coin and I won! So after two extra days of driving we arrived at noon, took the afternoon tour, had dinner and were gone by daybreak the next morning. Fortunately, he really enjoyed the tour. Our guide, Jimmy/Dimitri grew up in the mines as a kid. He even saved a few lives. He had great some pretty vivid stories. A lot of the hopeful refugees came from Europe after WW11 and tried their hardest to strike it rich in the opal mines. Very few actually made a living. Most stories have sad endings. The Serbs carved a whole church out of the stone underground. It's adorned with statues carved right in the walls of the underground cathedral. It was phenomenal! Well, I almost won, no opals for me there, way too expensive!
Onward we go, back down South toward the city of Adelaide. We so wanted to get to Perth, but remember, just 4 wks..... and we are already into it one week by now. YIKES
Then there's the gas/fuel/diesel thing. When we drive all day it's $160 big ones in fuel, not counting the "caravan park" or the cost of renting the van. This is going to add up!
Serbian Church Downtown Coober Pedy
Fun in wine country
But the good news, along the way is the Barosa and Clare Valley's Wine Country. What a great diversion. We even had an extra day because we didn't stay in Coober Pedy. That meant we could bum around wine country for a few days. We toured vineyards, restaurants, and sampled all the local sights and tastes. Some of the wineries were a couple of hundred years old and built around Franciscan Monk's Monasteries. It was fun and it wasn't raining either!
One of the more unique sights in the area was "The Herbig Family Tree House" that an immigrant family lived in for 5 years while they started their family. Mr. Herbig was 30 when he married his 18 yr old illiterate Polish /Russian bride. They raised 16 children and had 100+ great grandkids when they passed away. The Herbig name is very common in the Barosa valley.
The Herbig Family Tree House
Next stop: Adelaide for Australia Day at Gleneig's seaside resort/campervan park. Lots of dogs on the barbie there. Fun! We checked out the Art Museum and managed to almost take the whole top of the van off in a parking garage. Luckily we backed down and only had to replace the vent cowling.... We're starting to wonder if we should have taken out that extra $800 insurance policy after all. The botanical gardens had the most excellent water lily exhibit ~ ever! The first conservatory was built over 100 yrs ago. The new glass conservatory houses lily pads from the Amazon as big as large inner tubes with massive white and purple flowers the size of a turkey plate! It was right next to the Sacred Lotus Garden, oh my, sublime.
Finally, starting week 3, we are on Australia's Great Ocean Road, one of the most picturesque drives in the world. Dave's been chomping at the bit for this part of Australia. We pretty much turned down, stopped, found and went to every beach, lighthouse, view, grotto, cape along this stretch of the road till we got to Melbourne. Lorne was Dave's favorite beach town along this coast.
The Great Ocean Road
Surf Museum Torquay
We toured the National Surf museum in Torquay. This whole town is devoted to surf culture. There are outlet stores for all the big name brands of surf ware.
Spectacular Ocean Road
While at a very remote little lighthouse restaurant, the owner/chef mentioned he has some dear friends that were in the new play, "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert", one of my favorite movies. I was reading the Sunday paper over some yummy cocoa and chocolate cake at the time, while Dave was busy slurping down his tall double strong dark cappuccino and mentioned that it was playing in Melbourne. So we flipped for it, again I won !!! Tickets to Priscilla by cell phone.
So, it was a big day in the city for us. All day tram passes from the campsite. Found the Melbourne International Art Gallery. We did the walking tour all around the old city. A lot of the buildings had the original stain glass windows dating back to the 1800's. It was interesting the way they filled the alleys in with overhanging roofs which incorporated them into the buildings. A highlight was visiting the oldest hotel and pub ~ Young & Jackson, famous for Chloe, a scandalous 19th century nude painting which still adorns the wall. We had a drink there and watched out the second story window as a movie was being shot using the classic old architecture for a backdrop. Bryce Courtney mentions this famous landmark in a many of his books.
Dave really liked the play. First of all, it was housed in the most opulent theater in Melbourne ~ The Regents. Then, they used the original Pricilla (bus) that was in the movie. She was on a turntable so you could either be on the road with her or inside of her. Next, Dave, the mechanic from the movie, was actually in the play. I had bought the movie so our Dave could see it before we went. The costumes and choreography were stellar! Melbourne is a classic old multicultural city. We wished we could have stayed longer as we enjoyed it so much.
New South Wales Coast
No time for Tasmania, it's up the coast now towards Sydney and home to Mooloolaba. Way out at the end of the peninsula in Cape Conrad National Parke, we met 5 couples of retired cruisers. Dave asks: "where can we drop the hook mate,?" They point out a space close by. They hailed us over and ask us to join them for sundowners. Amazing. They actually know our buddies back at the dock; Greg and Leanne on the yacht "Leahona" who we sailed with back in Vanuatu. We traded stories for the rest of the evening and were off again the next morning up the coast. It's back to raining again...
On the road again, does it sound like we drove every single day? Yes, that's almost right. We stayed only 2 days in a row in 3 places. Yeoowzer So, at our next stop, we went indoors to our first real room & bed. You probably forgot we've been sleeping in our campervan all this way ~ rain or shine and it's pouring out now. Well, we've taken a LONG HOT SHOWER in our own room, the one with a bed & TV in it. WOW huh? We brought back Thai take out, did 5 loads of laundry and internet. OH BOY! We stayed the next day too. Took in a movie, came back & broiled steak & corn on the cob in our own room, listening to the bellbirds chirp all night. It's hard to believe we haven't lived in a house since 2002.
The Southern New South Wales coast is really beautiful. It's much like Northern California only with less people. We stopped all along the way for quick hikes, spotted a couple of koala's in the wild, lots of cockatoos, a few kangaroos & wallabies. We've enjoyed all of the lilies that are planted beside the roadways. With a gallery guide in hand we've just missed a few that weren't open. Kiama was one of our favorite stops. It's a quant little costal town that inspires some watercolorists. They have a pretty impressive blow hole there with iridescent foam. The beach has crashing waves and there are nice walks all along the coast.
We're on our last week. Brother Bruce and his buddy Matt are coming to stay with us for 10 days back in Mooloolaba so we are hustling back up the coast. We have one big last stop to make.... Sydney. We put off coming there because it was raining so hard when we came down and it still hasn't stopped! Our friends from way back in Mexico/Panama days ~ The Kolo's (yacht name). Kathy & Kevin have started their new family in Sydney. Now we get to meet the impressive Tristan, the "Bilingual Boy". His mom speaks to him in French and his dad in English. He is an amazing child. So gifted. We stayed overnight with them for two nights and they took us everywhere in Sydney. We loved being with them and finally meeting Tristan.
Kevin, Kathy and Tristan
Hopping....no....sloshing up to Brisbane to return our camper van undamaged, without the extra $800 insurance we were feeling pretty good....Oh oh, a truck throws up a huge rock and shatters our windshield on the last day! We stop in all the towns along the way looking for a replacement with no luck. Arriving back at Uncle Tony's for the night we find a shop that will replace it the next morning. Dave backs our trusty Fairlane down Tony's steep driveway. YEoooooooooooooo The brake peddle goes to the floor. No brakes! The old girl picks up speed. He's headed backwards down the windy driveway. Next stop?....the living room of the house across the street. . He cranks the wheel, misses the camper van and various cars parked on the road and comes to an abrupt halt by slamming into the curb .As Tony and I are making breakfast we hear a loud noise but quickly forget it in our haste to be ready to leave for the windscreen shop. Dave comes up pasty looking and explains how he almost died. We look at each other and say, "Oh, that must have been the noise we heard". So now, it's the tow truck thing. Tony takes one of us to the Windscreen place and then the other to the brake shop. The windshield is $300 so we are still ahead by $500 on the extra insurance - the roof vent.... We pull into the van return at 3:00 in the afternoon, an hour early. They love their new windshield and roof vent. Our "trusty" Fairlane is repaired in time to make the two hour run home to Freebird where we meet Bruce and Mat that night.