2009-2010 - Australia

 

Monday 14th December 2009

Our plane arrived pretty well on time but we had to wait half an hour for our luggage and then a further hour while Europcar sorted out our car!  They struggled to find what we had ordered and in the end supplied a bright blue and almost new Ford XR6.  The trouble was it was 10.15 pm by then and we had a journey of at least one and a half hours to Vineyard near Windsor.  We had planned the route via Google and this took us via the centre of Sydney and various toll roads, instead of the way we had gone earlier this year when going to Katoomba which is on the same Blue Mountains road that we would need for the latter part of the journey.

It was a fairly trying trip through the city as we lost our bearings early on and then had to struggle to link up with the roads we needed.  However we duly arrived at Alexander the Great (!) Motel at 12.45 a.m.

 

Tuesday 15th December

We knew today would be a long drive as our destination was Tamworth, over 400km away.  In fact it proved no hardship as we crossed mountains on modest roads and arrived at Tamworth by mid afternoon.  We had lunched on the way in one of the very few settlements (Singleton) in that long distance.  The meal at a Thai restaurant was exceptionally good.

Tamworth was very hot when we arrived (about 37 c).  Our accommodation was in a newly built motel about 9km out of town and we think we were the only guests.  However, as we often find the case, the proprietor was happy to chat at length and we learn a lot through these exchanges.  In the winter the temperatures can drop below freezing.  In February the town becomes a live with a country music festival.

We remembered the town as we were here just 10 months ago as we headed from Port Macquarie towards Broken Hill.

 

Wednesday 16th December

The journey to Armidale was only 100km and so we took it slowly and stopped in Uralla to look at a book shop and an antique shop.  Lunch in Armidale proved quite difficult. There was no shortage of fast food or cafes but little else.  Eventually we had a cheap lunch at a Chinese restaurant where we were accompanied by perhaps 20 teenage girls and some teachers.  One of the girls gave a brief word of thanks for what the teachers had done for them.

After locating the Cotswold Garden Motel (Best Western) we visited the shops and blessed a second hand book shop with the sale of 6 books – that will keep us going for a few days!!

Finally we booked a tour of the town with the Information office – and it was free!!!!

 

Thursday 17th December

Naturally the highlight of this day was our free heritage tour.  Our guide/driver was a very jolly, early 60’s man, who had previously spent many years plastering and then in charge of maintenance at the University of New England – all of this in Armidale.  Unfortunately his accent was such that we lost perhaps  a quarter of what he said.  However he was very good. 

Much of the town of 26,000 seems to be centred on education.  A large private school, and several other schools and also the University formed the basis of our tour.  The town is very green with several parks and many trees.  There are also numerous old houses and some interesting older public buildings such as the Court House, Town Hall, hotels and the school buildings.  Possibly the most spectacular, however, is the administration building of the university.  This was an Arts and Crafts style house very reminiscent of Lutyens.  It had been built for a wealthy family and subsequently given to the university. 

We also visited the best provincial art gallery in Australia which was built upon a gift of the collection of a wealthy local man.  We even found an 1820 portrait of a young woman “attributed to Sir Thomas Lawrence”!

A small museum and art gallery concentrating on aboriginal matters and a visit to a railway museum at the station completed our tour.  Certainly there was a lot more to Armidale than we had first thought.

The afternoon we spent reading and buying a “TomTom” satnav which should help us in our travels.

 

Friday 18th December

Most of the evening and the first part of the Friday morning was spent with Jill seeking to upload the latest maps for the satnav.  This proved successful and we were aided in our days journey and in finding our night’s accommodation at Mirama Motel in Nambucca Heads.

Our route was along Waterfall Way.  We stopped at Wollomombi Gorge but this, the second largest  waterfall in Australia, was totally dry.  However, the narrow very steep sided gorge created by two rivers joining each other was spectacular in itself. 

The countryside was rolling green meadows with many trees and in due course mountains – but where were the waterfalls?  We then passed through Dorigo and began the descent of the scarp slope of the Great Dividing Range mountains.  It was extremely reminiscent of the road we took less than a year ago from Cooma to Merimbula.  There were a few significant waterfalls but not the profusion we had hoped for.  We had been told at Armidale that the day before we arrived they had had a storm with huge hailstones and with over a foot of rain in 20 minutes.  Clearly this had not helped the mountainous area and we do not know how much of the Tablelands had received this.  There are currently over 70 bush fires burning in NSW and the firemen need all the help rain can give.

Speaking of which, within a short time of our arrival in Nambucca Heads it rained!  Fortunately, as we were out walking, it did not come to very much.

 

Saturday 19th December

 A day at leisure!  We walked along the river bank towards the sea and sat and read for quite a long time before heading back to the RSL (next to our motel – Miramar) for lunch.  We knew from previous trips that these institutions offer food that may not be exciting but is always good and also modestly priced.

In the afternoon we set out to find a church that we intended to visit on the Sunday.  Eventually we located it some 4 or 5km out of town.

 

Sunday 20th December

As on the previous morning we woke to hear sounds of birds having the previous evening watched several lizards catching flying insects in the grounds.  It is great to have sounds of nature on many days rather than the sound of traffic!  We laughed as we heard the call of the kookaburra – it is such a wonderful sound.  The bell bird is also very distinctive and attractive.

We set off shortly after 9am for the morning service at this AoG church, wondering what it would be like.  It proved fairly welcoming with quite a number of people coming up and introducing themselves.  The service was like many other charismatic services and with probably 120 -130 people it was quite good.

We decided we would go up the coast a bit to Coffs Harbour as Jill felt this was a place not to be missed.  It proved rather bigger than we prefer and seemed to have nothing particularly special although the beach was very attractive and relatively empty.

 

Monday 21st December

For the next 2 nights we would be up the coast about another 200+km at Ballina.  The journey proved quite a strain as the traffic was very heavy and under such circumstances the rather basic Australian main roads are hard work.  There is very seldom any dual carriageway.  About every 5-10km there is a section of 3 lane road for about 1km where one has to try to pass and then the traffic on the inside lane has to force its way out as the lane is taken away.  This is all made more difficult as people rarely exceed the speed limit by more than 1km and so take the whole length of the overtaking lane to pass a single car.  Add to this speed cameras and you will understand that it was not much fun.  Christmas is very near now. The children broke up from school last Friday and the roads are busy!!

Ballina proved an attractive location where a large river meets the sea.  The town seems to lack character, as does the Colonial Motel where we are staying.  However, we spent a good afternoon, lunching at the RSL and then sitting by the river reading.

 

Tuesday 22nd December

Tourist info had indicated that the villages in the vicinity were of particular interest so we  made our way to Alstonville.  This was given a glowing description with which we did not agree!  “Alstonville is an Aladdins cave for curio hunters and culture buffs with its historic buildings, classic Australian architecture, antique shops [there is one and very poor], galleries and cafes”.  There were some old buildings but also many that were not.  In addition a main road brought heavy traffic through it.  So, making use of a good map and also our sat nav we headed through much smaller roads to Newrybar.  The road was beautiful with lots of trees, meadows, hills and bends and quite a number of houses which showed either more wealth or more care as they were built of permanent materials and were designed to appear attractive rather than utilitarian.  It was very much reminiscent of England.

Newrybar proved a disappointment as the antique shop we were seeking was an open ended garage with a pile of clutter and a blackboard proclaiming “Dead people’s possessions for sale”!

We returned to the coast and followed it down through Broken Head, Lennox Head and Shelly Beach.

After another lunch at the RSL we spent the afternoon at another antique shop run by Bert Elliott who talked with us at considerable length.  He told us he visited England three times a year to buy stock. Despite this he did not have a good portrait miniature for us and we left to sit and read looking out over the sea.

 

Wednesday 23rd December

Today: Brisbane.  This was a fairly easy 3 hours or less, so we set off by the coastal route and spent an hour or so climbing up to the lighthouse at Botany Bay and thus attained the eastern-most point of Australia.

Having stopped for lunch at an RSL at Tweed Heads we started off and within a few hundred yards stopped at a zebra crossing but unfortunately the lady behind didn’t and she ploughed into the back of the car.  The damage was not great but the hassle was.  She did not have all her details with her and said to phone her.  The number she gave was a mobile and was very expensive for us to phone.  The line failed on the first call and she did not answer the next three.

We had stopped at the beach to recover our composure and then headed up the motorway to Rydges Hotel in Brisbane.  This is a high rise on the south bank, a cultural and leisure centre with a big wheel – not unlike London’s South Bank in its aspirations.  The hotel had very kindly upgraded us to a junior suite on the 10th floor.  As well as a large lounge, a kitchenette, and a bedroom, it had 2 balconies and a glorious view across the river to the city.  It is close to many restaurants, the bus station, train station and ferry terminal.  Excellent in every way.

 

Thursday 24th December

Christmas Eve!  But not filled with the usual anticipation.  We spent the morning at Europcar central city sorting out about the accident and filling in forms.

In the afternoon we took a train into the north of the city to find a bookshop, but it had closed down.  However, we did find the church for the next day and also had a good walk through the centre and back across the river to our hotel. Jill took the opportunity to have her hair cut at a Station hairdressers!

 

Christmas Day

City Tabernacle, a Baptist Church, likes an early start!  By 8am we were on our way to the station and then walked a short distance from Central Station to the church for a 9 o’clock service.  It was rather staid and traditional and neither did anyone welcome us.  Oh well!

The weather was indifferent with much cloud but high temperatures and occasional sun.  We spent  part of the afternoon on Streets Beach, a man made beach adjacent to the river and complete with a large lagoon for swimming and paddling.  It was pretty crowded but we did not mind as we don’t usually spend Christmas Day on the beach.  A few drops of rain sent us back earlier than we had intended, to get ready for our Christmas Dinner at 6.30pm. 

The dinner itself was quite satisfactory but not particularly exciting – no sense of the party spirit we had at Grand Chancellor, Launceston, some 4 years ago.  What rather put a dampener on it was that there was a large party next to us who created queues and also seemed to crowd us to a dark corner of the restaurant.

We spoke on Skype to the girls, having already spoken to them in the morning when we were amazed by how late they had been up.  Zoë and Mark had been to a midnight service in Bournemouth.

 

Saturday 26th December

The weather remained cloudy with sunny intervals but we spent the morning sitting on South Bank reading and then went to the cinema to see “Have you heard about the Morgans?” a new release with Hugh Grant.  It proved good fun and we enjoyed it.

 

Sunday 27th December

We had to leave Rydges Hotel having enjoyed a lovely suite of rooms plus 2 balconies with outstanding views of Streets Beach, the river and the city.  Just before we left, we had a call from Keren at our house to say they had just arrived and the light and the heating were off.  It seems this time to be the new long life bulb on the automatic lights.  So far we are not doing well, the curtains having caused a problem before Nathan arrived 2 weeks earlier!

The trip to Toowoomba took about 90 minutes or so.  We stopped on the way at Scotland Yard Antiques Centre run by a Scotsman!  The road was good and at the end climbed steeply to Toowoomba which is a city of 91,000 situated on the edge of the Tablelands at about 2,100 feet.  It is known as a garden city as it has nearly 200 parks and gardens!!  The streets are generally wide and tree lined with oak, elm and beech trees.

The Applegum Motel came as a bit of a shock being a single room, no kitchen and no soft chair.  It was also dark and drab.  But there we are!

We went out to Picnic Park with a dramatic outlook over the lower plains we had traversed from Brisbane.  Jill was excited to get some good shots of a kookaburra that was very close to us.

 

Monday 28th December

Another visit to Europcar where Wayne confirmed they would chase the other driver and we need do nothing further re the accident.  The town seemed to be almost completely shut as part of the Christmas holidays and with no real alternative we again ate at the simple Thai restaurant where we had eaten yesterday.   

The uncertain weather limited us a little but we went to the Japanese Garden at the University of South Queensland and then returned through an absolute cloudburst to Picnic Point where Jill was able to sit in the car to finish another book.

 

Tuesday 29 December

We begin our long journey in a bit more earnest.  Leaving the gardens and parks of the large town of Toowoomba (91,000 pop), we quickly found ourselves on quieter roads and in the more arid landscape of the bush.  Although this is a wheat growing area and important also for dairying and vegetables it was certainly less lush.

As is the case with the outback we found that in a journey of 360km we passed through a couple of small towns and little else.

Our stop for the night was Roma.  Being small there was little choice in where to eat and we had to succumb to MacDonalds.  The rain was very intense and when a lull occurred we walked back to the car about half a mile away.  We then went to our motel,  The Explorers.  Being just 3 years old and rather more expensive than some, the room was large, airy and nicely furnished.  It did not have the kitchenette that we have become used to on this trip but was otherwise fine – unlike the weather.  Rain continued for the rest of the day and for the night.

 

Wednesday 30th December

This time our trip was around 280km and the Outback was even more familiar.  Now the roads were emptier and there was eucalyptus and scrub for scenery.  There was some excitement when we found cows all over this main road.  A cowboy and several dogs made a half hearted attempt to marshall them.  We waited for a while but found from a car coming the other way that the accepted practice is to edge your way through them – so we did so.

The long straight roads, ditches now full of water, the eucalyptus, the dead kangaroos by the roadside were all very familiar.

We passed through Mitchell  (a small town) and Morven (pop 280).  We had considered this latter for a break as the guide books spoke of its murals (on the outside of the public toilets!) and its museum of old buildings.  The settlement was minute and the attractions similar!  One thing of interest was a hut built from flattened kerosene cans and dating from the recession.  Apparently there were 5 such in Morven at the time and also in many towns during those hard times.

Our proposed stop for 2 days including the New Year was Charleville.  We had booked as we wanted to be certain that at such a busy time we would get a bed.  However, the town was very small and more than half of its shops had ceased trading.  The Waltzing Matilda Motel had a few other guests but we quickly realised that a huge party-going crowd was not likely to be a problem here. 

The rain continued now very heavy again.  We had planned to go to the open air observatory for a night talk.  This was rained off.  We spent half an hour or so trapped in the Information office at the observatory by the heavy rain  and talked with an Australian couple who had been travelling for 3 years!  The husband left Corsham for Australia 40 years ago.   

 

Thursday 31st December

A day of adventure!  Following a night of very heavy rain, close to a foot, we immediately found the road to Longreach closed.  The council had posted 2 men by the sign.  They looked at our low, sporty car rather disdainfully and said the road was under water about 30 miles ahead.  We could wait a half hour or so when hopefully it would be better.  We set off thinking that it would take us at least that long to get there anyway. 

There seemed to be a lot of kangaroos around and we came close to a halt several times whilst they bounded away.  We also saw emu and an armadillo.

We saw signs of water at the road side but all was well and we continued for about 2 hours until Blackall, a small settlement with a shop or two and pub. After a brief stop we moved on for about another 45 km.  Then…Home Creek!  The road was completely submerged for about 150 yards, the marker showing 0.2 metres.  The rain was falling heavily.  A four wheel truck came past us after about 10 minutes and went through.  A short while later one came the other way, followed by a saloon car.  We talked with the drivers, husband and wife, who said the road was clear after this until Barcaldine. They reckoned we would make it through the water but with the rain lashing down we weren’t sure.  We waited about 20 minutes and then decided to head back. Within a few minutes a police 4x4 came the other way and asked if we had come through the water.  We explained and the kind policeman suggested we try and follow him through.  So, with our police escort we tackled it, and just kept going and hoping.

We arrived at Barcaldine without further incident and found the road to Longreach closed.  We had lunch in a traditional hotel/pub where the cook said he had no supplies getting through.  The Tourist Info confirmed his view that we wouldn’t get through for a few days!

We checked the motel situation – there were about four with perhaps 12 to 18 units each.  At 3.30 we took the plunge and took a group of rooms above the petrol station in an old Queensland wooden building.  Rather like a YHA in general standard, it could sleep up to 8!  But things were basic and rather scruffy.

We went down to the road barrier and learnt that the road was flooded in 3 places.  It had been a metre deep but this was dropping.  However a truck and trailer had jack-knifed and was blocking the road.  In due course we learned from a 4 wheel drive highways dept  truck driver that the road was becoming passable but cars should not try it till tomorrow.  There were a number of cars waiting to cross from the Longreach side of the flood.

We chatted with a mother with two top teen children who was moving from Sydney to Darwin for 3 years for her husband’s work.  Like us she had taken a motel but was wondering if she might have got through.

Oh well.  It is a slightly better place for New Year’s Eve than Charleville – though Jill didn’t much like sharing it with the mouse that scuttled across the floor!

 

Friday 1st January 2010

After talking to the children on Skype as they were all at our house we tackled the road to Longreach.  We could see immediately the problems that must have existed the previous day as there were numerous Floodways (a section where a temporary stream or river crossed the road or where a bridge is too low to accommodate flood waters). Debris and mud were evident and the ditches at the side of the road were often full of water.  After probably 30 miles or so we came across “the big one” where the water was 6-9 inches deep and covered the road for perhaps 100 yards.  We took it slowly and whilst it was deeper than we anticipated all was well.  To our right the railway track was up in the air in two sections where the supports had been washed away.

At the only settlement on the route, Ilfracombe, we stopped to see the kilometre of old vehicles lined up on the edge of the road.  Longreach was arrived at around 9.30, about 90 minutes after we left Barcaldine.  As with everything in this settlement of around 3000, the Tourist Info was shut as it was New Year’s Day.  We called in to the Police Station to give details of the accident which were noted but not really of interest to the police as it is a different state.  We then fixed up a pleasant little Golden Chain Motel:  Abajaz.  We then visited the QANTAS Founders Museum, the airline having been started here (or really in nearby Winton and then moved here) in 1921.  Two war pilots saw the need for quick and reliable transport in an area of great distances and one prone to flooding. As well as exhibits and videos the visit included a guided tour of a Boeing 747.  Our guide explained as simply as possible some of the technical and behind the scenes features.  Very interesting.  It was fortunate that it had big wings as the tropical downpours continued intermittently. 

 

Saturday 2nd  January

The Stockmans Hall of Fame was our destination for the day and excellent it was.  A large and elaborate hall built in 1988, it deals with the Aborigines, the explorers, the first settlers, the various Outback roles of stockman, hawker, coachman etc.  As well as the big names there were many accounts of individual families and their lives in the Outback.  Truly life was hard.

Today there was no rain but instead very hot sunshine.  I am writing this as we seek to lower the room temperature from 34 whilst outside at 8pm it feels like being in a tumble drier.  We talked at length with the wife of a policeman who lives about 3 hours west of Mt Isa where the only other building is a toilet and rest area.  She and her family are heading to the Gold Coast and plan to leave in the early hours tomorrow as there is a threat of further heavy rains and flooding in the area.  The distant skies have been black for about 4-5 hours but so far nothing else.

The Tropic of Capricorn passes through Longreach – in fact our motel probably straddles it!  We took  a photo of a very insignificant marker.

 

Sunday 3rd January

Fiona, the policeman’s wife, and her husband left at 3.15 to avoid the storm.  This started about 4.30 and the rain cascaded down.  Another family left somewhere about 5.00 a.m.  We did not sleep after 3.00 but thought we would go when the rain stopped provided the weather radar and the highways reports showed all would be clear. 

We left at 6.30 and soon saw where problems would occur.  The Landsborough Highway is on a long causeway, just out of town and there was deep water on both sides for at least a mile.  As it was early in the day we had to watch out for kangaroos on the road.  The other day we had to slow right down until they slowly bounded off when we came too close.  However, today it was not a problem  - but we did see an Emu with 4 young ambling over the road ahead of us.  Later we had a sheep must taking place close to us on the nearside with two quad bike musterers and a huge flock of sheep.  In the main it was groups of 4-6 cows grazing in an enormous area of sparse grass and then nothing for quite a way before another small group.  At one time we had stock grazing over both sides of the road and straying across it. Entrances to stations occurred periodically.  We also saw a particularly large lizard on the other side of the road with his head in the air.  He took no notice as we passed.

We arrived at Winton (previously known as Pelican Waterhole) a little before 9.00 a.m.  Everything seemed to be closed for the New Year weekend although a rather unwelcoming lady at the Tourist Info told us as little as possible about somewhere to stay and what to see.

Having found the Outback Motel we left our things and set out for the Australian Age of  Dinosaurs.  This was 11km off the road on a cattle station.  The owner had discovered some dinosaur bones and 10 years have so far been spent on locating, extracting and cleaning them.  Three new species have been discovered.  The owners’ daughter who had just finished at university acted as guide for the two of us.  Some of the bones are tiny fragments and some are huge.  They are put in plaster casts to hold them together and keep them moist during transport.  They have a workshop which doubles as this display centre and volunteers plus a few paid workers slowly reveal the bones, cementing where necessary and chipping off the stone accretions.  It is certainly unusual and they have great plans for a multi million dollar centre to open in just 5 years.

Lunch was difficult to find as the few eating places were shut but we did find the Tattersalls pub open and they produced a perfectly acceptable vegetable stir fry. 

Later we visited the Musical Fence (yes, some strands of wire you hit with a stick!), the cemetery and a wall made of odds and ends including a motorbike, microwave, a cooking range and even the kitchen sink.

The water here and at Longreach and Barcaldine is artesian and comes out of the ground at up to 99 degrees C and smelling of sulphur.  It then needs to stand or to be boiled to get rid of the gas and smell.  The locals claim it is then very pure water.  More than half the town needs cooling equipment to be able to use this supply.

EMUS – A side note:

Male and female emus start pairing up around December or January. Emu courting is a lively affair. The sound alone is said to be unforgettable. The birds, particularly females, fill their throat pouches with air to make a drumming sound, which can be heard hundreds of metres away.

Feathers are fluffed and there ís a lot of dipping and ducking, grunting and bobbing around. The males may also fight, chasing each other away from females by powerful frontal kicks.

 

Broody Blokes

The pair mate every day or so, with the female laying an egg every 2 or 3 days, until a clutch is formed. Most clutches have about 8 to10 eggs but can go as high as 20.

After about seven eggs the male gets 'broody' and sits on them for the entire incubation period. It takes 8 weeks (56 days) to hatch an emu chick! During this time he doesn't eat or drink - just lives off his fat and any nearby dew on the grass. The only time he stands up is to turn the eggs, which he does 10-12 times a day. The father also stays and looks after the chicks for up to 18 months, leading them to feeding areas and showing them what to eat.

Shabby female behaviour: the girls take off

As soon as the male goes broody the female stops mating with him, although she often continues to lay eggs in the nest. These eggs, however, can be fertilised by other male emus. One survey of 106 chicks showed 51% were not fathered by the nesting male! Eventually the female leaves the first male altogether. She may mate with one or two other males after the first one and can have up to 3 nests per season, especially if the rains have been good.

Masculine sacrifice


Male emus seem to be able to count - to about seven!

The broody male loses up to a third of his body weight and becomes increasingly dazed and forlorn. It is thought he could be in a state of ketosis - when the body’s metabolism burns only fat it produces ketones which are toxic. By midsummer, though, males are able to aggressively protect their young.

As to the advantages of breeding in autumn-winter, this means that the chicks will hatch two months later in spring, when the weather is warmer and there is the best chance of food being around.

The chicks begin to hatch as early as June and as late as the beginning of September. July and August are generally the peak times. In the wild there is a very high predation rate on the eggs but if the chicks manage to hatch out they then have about a 70-80% chance of reaching adulthood.

Chicks grow very quickly putting on 1 kg/week at first. They reach their full height when they’re about a year old, but don't breed until their 2nd year, at about 20 months.

Survival in a hot dry land

Emus are well adapted for living in a hot dry land. Unlike other animals such as kangaroos, emus remain active even in the hottest parts of the day, foraging and walking. Scientists have found that the emus two-tone plumage gives them very clever protection from the sun. The trick is in the colour.


Emus are well adapted to Australian conditions.

The black tips of emu feathers absorb large amounts of heat from the sun, but the rest of their plumage then keeps that heat away from the bird’s skin. Only about 2% of the solar radiation that hits an emu gets through to the skin. Any wind then convects the heat in the feather tips away from the bird.

The emus walking speed, about 1-2 metres/sec, provides just the right amount of breeze to remove this absorbed heat. Without their feathers the heat load on an emu on a hot day would be more than they could dissipate and they would soon succumb to heat stroke.

In the hot times of the year emus pant to keep cool. They increase the rate of their breathing which in turn increases the amount of water evaporated from the emu into the air. This cools them, but does mean the emu must drink regularly.

Emus can pant for hours without getting light-headed from low levels of carbon dioxide (alkalosis). Humans trying the same thing would quickly be out for the count.

Their diet in the wild varies quite widely. They like green autumn shoots, winter herbs, seeds, and some fruits and flowers. They’ll eat insects when they’re available, such as grasshopper plagues. Green shoots of wheat and later on ripe wheat are also regarded favourably. They need to drink every day.

 

Monday 4th January

This was a day of travel – 460km.  We had to give up the hope of seeing dinosaur tracks about 110km from Winton on an unmade track as no-one was taking trips there.  So, after further heavy rain in the night we set off to Mt Isa.  As we said goodbye to our hosts at the motel, Debbie showed us a baby kangaroo that she had in a shopping bag hanging on the door handle.  She had found it beside its dead mother at the side of the road.  Apparently she has nursed orphan roos on several previous occasions.

The Lansborough Highway  was one of those long empty roads.  The first settlement was about 160km and comprised a roadhouse, “hotel” (of sorts) and a police station – population 20.  The next settlement about 80km later was similar and the real big one was around 100km further: Camoweal which offered a short strip of shops, but very few seemed in business.  We had no choice but to find our lunch at the coffee shop.  This was a veggie breakfast of egg, mushroom, onion and  tomato on bread.  It was quite acceptable.

The countryside had been dry pasture with occasional trees.  There were groups of 4 or 5 cows from time to time and then large distances with no animals.  Once again we encountered a group of perhaps 10 on the road, having escaped from the fenced areas.  Again we simply crawled by, edging between them. We recognised the entrances to occasional stations but saw no buildings between the 3 settlements mentioned.  Again we saw a group of emus and stopped for a picture.

When we stopped, we saw that the front of the car was covered with dead locusts.  We had seen large numbers of them as we drove.

After Cloncurry, the centre of an old copper mining community, the landscape changed dramatically for the last 120km.  Now the scenery was rugged and often tree covered hills and a winding road.

Our first view of Mt Isa was of a very high factory-type chimney.  Later we found that this took away fumes from the copper smelting.  At a height of 243 metres(?),it was at one time the world’s highest structure, we understand.  The town has 22,000 people and so was quite different for anything we had seen for a number of days.  Also it is primarily a mining town and tourism is small in comparison.  It has similarities to Broken Hill.  

Motels seem more expensive in Mt Isa - our first attempt had a price tag of $168 per night.  Even a very small and basic unit was $119, reducible to $110 for our cheek.  However we then found a very nice room with kitchen area for $116.

 

Tuesday 5th January

Mt Isa has a very good modern Visitors’ Centre where it tells with video and displays the mining and social history of the area and separately the fossil record of the Riversleigh Area  - a mere 300km away.

We concentrated on the first of these and saw the development of silver, lead, copper and zinc mining since discovery in 1923.  Times were difficult at first and profit only came around 1937 and especially with the copper demands of the war a few years later.  Initially it was a company town –indeed a tent town as it grew up as a mining community on one side of the river and a supply town on the other.  Gradually housing improved and independent providers took over the supply of food and necessities to the miners.

The tall chimney, the lights and machinery and the large slag heaps are reminiscent of Broken Hill but somehow the town appeared to us less attractive.  Maybe it is because it is more recent and the utilitarian appearance of buildings appears less quaint than at Broken Hill.

Lunch was at the RSL but one very different from the huge gleaming buildings we had seen at Ballina and other places on the coast.  This was a small shabby building with a few tables and even fewer customers.  Despite this we had to wait about ¾ of an hour for the meal to arrive as it had to be individually cooked. It was quite palatable however.

Wednesday 6th  January

We returned to the “Mt Isa Outback Experience” for the Riversleigh Fossil Display.  Riversleigh is a cattle station to the north of Mt Isa where an extraordinary number of fossils have been unearthed - many of previously unknown creatures.  The water in the area is spring fed and heavily laden with lime.  This makes fossilisation very easy.  Most of the fossils date from 25,000 to 5,000 years ago.  The exhibition included a talk by the chief palaeontologist working on the find as he poured over his boxes of bits of bones.  There were only 4 of us and so it was quite personalised!  Although we know very little, by the end we were finding it very interesting.

We spent some time hunting down tent house owned by the National Trust and typical of the 1930’s miners’ accommodation.  The main feature was two roofs, leaving a layer of air between to help cool the house.  It was quite basic but relatively large with about 5 rooms plus kitchen, bathroom and toilet.  There were numerous artefacts of the period and plenty of dust and dirt!

We lunched at the Irish Club (like the RSL but much bigger and better than the RSL at Mt Isa) and it was quite good. 

Our final excursion was to a look out point to see the town.  We quickly saw just how much it is still a mining town with the mine dominating the hillside and then the cluster of typical Outback shops at the foot. Further away were the red hills with light tree cover.

The weather remained very hot (37) and humid with late afternoon rain.

 

Thursday 7th  January

Event of the day: 670km drive to Tennant Creek.  Highlights on the way: Camooweal, population about 200; a few picnic areas and Barkly Homestead roadhouse!

The scenery at first was the red rocky hills with light tree cover.  Then we moved into dry grassland with a few grazing cattle – mesquite country we believe it is called.  A delightful change was that we did not pass all the dead kangaroos that we had seen around the Longreach, Winton area.  For many hundred kilometres we encountered corpses every 100-200 metres.  Now there were none.  Somehow birds of prey continued to find things of interest on the road.  Indeed we saw a kite (I think!) lifting off just 2 or 3 feet above us, as I had slowed to avoid hitting it.  It was carrying its prey  in its claws and made for a very dramatic photo – but we did not get one!

Camooweal was of interest to us as we had met at Longreach a policeman and wife whose daughter went to school there each day from where they lived – Avon Downs Police Station.  There was no sign of very much there, let alone a school. There were a couple of fuel stations and at one we met a couple who had been staying at our last motel and would be at our next!  They live just north of Port Douglas north of Cairns and were on their way to Alice and then across the Nullarbor to Perth.  They would be away for another 3 months.

Some 70 km further we came to the police house which we wanted to photograph.  As it happens we were waved down by a couple of policemen with their police car right outside the police station.  It was just a spot check with a breathalyser (waste of your time with me chaps!) and a check of the licence.  We chatted for a while and got their consent to continue with our photo-shoot.

The speed limit had increased to 130km from 110 km when we crossed into Northern Territory from Queensland but I decided that 110 km was quite fast enough for a single carriageway bumpy road with lots of birds and the occasional lizard on the road and the possibility of kangaroos.

Jill shared some of the driving before our stop at the functional but very basic roadhouse.  Jill expressed relief that we had not stayed there as I had thought a possibility as 670km (425 miles) seemed a long way to drive.  There was nothing very tempting on the menu and the girl serving lacked some of the social graces one likes to encounter, so we stuck to the basics of breakfast cereal and an egg sandwich.

We arrived at Tennant Creek at around 2.00 p.m. (1.30 p.m. in previous time zone) and tried to find the motel.  The sat.nav. took us round and round as it sought to take us into the local health centre and when we declined took us round a long circuit to repeat the process. After the third time the novelty wore off and we asked someone in the health centre car park.  Our sweeps through the town reminded me of Africa – large groups of people walking around or sitting on the pavement.  They were all aboriginal and apparently aboriginals make up over 50% of the town’s population.  We did not know if this was a tribal thing that they walk round in groups or whether it is unemployment and a lack of anything else to do.

The Eldorado Motel did not live up to its name but is a basic motel format of perhaps 30 years ago which is currently being updated by new owners.    

 

Friday 8th January

We checked the weather and road on the internet only to find that the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs was closed by floods to all except 4 wheel drive vehicles.  After some indecision we took the risk and set out as it would be about 4 hours to reach the affected area south of Ti-Tree and it might have subsided by then.  We did not want to stay in Tennant Creek and had booked the Elkira Motel (Best Western) In Alice.

The speed limit in NT is 130.  We did not feel that this was safe with the threat of kangaroos, birds and lizards on the road plus flood waters.  We made good time at about 110 kph.  The various places listed on the map were no more than roadhouses and we did not stop for long.  We did pause at the Devil’s Marbles, strange huge round rocks apparently the eroded remains of granite.  In complete contrast our next break was at Wycliffe Well Roadhouse and caravan park which majors on being a place where UFOs are spotted and so they have green aliens etc on display!!

Barrow Creek was an unattractive dark roadhouse in the midst of an aboriginal settlement .  Then the first of the water across the road.  This continued in several places up to Alice.  Floods seem to be following us as places that have had no rain to speak of for a year have now got floods.  Jill read in the papers about floods in the Barcaldine, Longreach, Winton area which were isolating these communities.  We know – we’ve been there!  Again, these are areas that had been drought stricken for months and this was the first substantial rain for a year. 

Further rain overnight.

Saturday 9th January

The rain continued to pelt down, easing in mid-morning and replaced by cloud and the extremely occasional hint of sun.

We had to go to the airport to speak with Europcar about the replacement of the car so that they could repair it and pursue the woman who drove into us.  We would have to pay AUD3450 and then hopefully we will get it back from American Express under our travel insurance.

Just a mile out of the centre of Alice we passed the River Todd which was cascading down the bed and surging over a side road.  This is unusual.  The map marks the river as “usually dry”.  A newspaper showed a picture of some children paddling as the “Todd River starts to flow”.  When we saw it, it was a flood rushing around trees.  Quite a crowd stood and watched and took photos including a good number of aboriginals. 

Finding lunch was difficult as most places seemed to be shut for annual holidays, especially the Chinese/ Thai etc. The town appeared relatively prosperous with many new buildings and no boarded up shops.  We recognised some parts from our visit in 2005 when we stopped off at Alice from “The Ghan”.

Sunday 10th January

In the morning we went to the Baptist Church in a new industrial warehouse type building.  It was well attended and a good service.  We spoke at some length with a couple who were working with aboriginal communities near Ti-Tree.

We had experienced great difficulty finding anywhere to eat yesterday and so decided to eat at the motel.  It was a wise choice – within a few minutes monsoon style rain started and continued for an hour or so.  It continued at intervals through the rest of the day which made the transfer of the car more difficult.  However this was duly achieved and we then had a white Mondeo.  The girl at the Europcar desk was very helpful as we continued the paperwork re the accident.

 

Monday 11th January

More business today.  In the morning there was washing and ironing!  Still the sun shone brightly for the first time in Alice.  Apparently they had as much rain in the last 3 days as in the previous year!  No wonder the flowing of the River Todd made headlines in the paper and people flocked to see it.  The roads still being blocked by floods, we had extended our stay by a day and are hoping that we will be able to get to the Kings Canyon tomorrow.

We visited a cultural centre art/gallery with paintings made by aboriginals at Utopia a settlement several hundred kilometres to the north of Alice.  There was also a video about the people and their paintings.  We believe that 30% of the 26,000 population of Alice are aboriginals.  This would certainly seem to be the case from what we saw but unlike on some other occasions at Darwin and Wilcannia we did not find them to be as aggressive and argumentative.  Apparently emergency action was begun 2 years ago to reduce alcohol availability and this may be part of the reason.

After lunch at the RSL (OK rather than brilliant) we spent time getting documents scanned in connection with the car claim.  We also did a deal with the book exchange and equipped ourselves for a few more miles!!  

Tuesday 12th January

A long trip to King’s Canyon – about 5 hours but we both found it quite tiring.  We had checked with the Tourist Info before setting out and were told the road was still officially closed but that vehicles were getting through.  We saw plenty of evidence of water having been on the road by the flurries of red sand over it. Apart from a few areas beside the road we saw nothing of significance.  Even the Todd River in Alice was reduced to a narrow stream.

The resort is a collection of different types of accommodation set in desert scrub about 10km from the canyon.  The only thing the types of accommodation have in common is that they are incredibly expensive.  But as it is in a desert and about 300 miles from Alice and even more from Coober Pedy with only roadhouses nearer, it is not surprising.  We elected for a motel style room at $260 per night rather than the most basic with shared external bathroom block at $110.

The evening meal was good but again pricey.  Obviously the only choice here is to have it or go hungry!

Wednesday 13th January

An early alarm 5.15am to speed us on our way for our walk of around 6 km.  The advice was to begin at 5.30 to 6.00am to avoid the heat of the day.  I helped further by leaving my pack at the motel and having to go back and start all over again!  On the way we had seen a dingo (our first in the wild) but our picture was not very good.

At 6.30 we started a very steep climb up to the canyon rim.  Then we encountered what they call the Lost City.  The area is one of uplifted sandstone with deep cracks both ways to produce square blocks of stone.  The cracks widen and then round so that one is left with large beehive shaped hillocks. 

The weather was cool and windy but warming up.  The canyon itself was about 240 m below us and had ancient plant forms (cycads) lining the water course.  Immediately after heavy rains there is at least one waterfall but despite the really heavy recent rain there was little more than a stream and waterholes.  One area is know as the Garden of Eden and the water and lush vegetation hidden in a higher section of the canyon is certainly a contrast to the stark and arid sandstone of the top.

The canyon walls are in many places sheer sided flat surfaces that look as though they have been cut with a cheese slice.

In the distance we could see the more typical flat bush land that occupies so much of this part of Australia.

Truly a great walk.

In the afternoon, as gluttons for punishment, we returned to the canyon and walked the canyon floor.  This time it was hot and we were just so glad we had done the rim walk in the cool where really we at no time felt too hot.

To complete our day we did a tour of the ridge around the resort and watched the hills of the canyon including waiting for the sun to set and light up the range – it didn’t as there were some clouds on the horizon!

Thursday 14th January

An enormously long journey under blazing sun.  770 km to Coober Pedy, an opal mining town which Jill had hoped to visit for some years.  The reason is that the old mine workings and the heat make it a wise option to live underground, so half of the 2,500-3,500 people who live there do so underground.  There are underground motels, shops and churches.  There are not the slick modern buildings but neither the old shacks on unmade roads that make up a similar community at White Cliffs which we visited last February.

Our accommodation (at about £100 per night!) was an old mine that was enlarged starting in the early 90s.  The Coober Pedy Experience Motel is owned by a Christian couple of our sort of age.  They did the conversion and also constructed an underground church next door.  It is very well done.   The natural rock is white with red/brown streaks and areas of shading.  Add to this the lines of the cutting machine and the result is a beautiful interior decoration requiring nothing but a coat of glue to stop dust and then appearing as if a modern work of art.

 

Friday 15th January

We slept quite well and had no nocturnal mammals visiting us as had been the case in White Cliffs!  We looked round a more up-market 4* hotel with underground shops and information and later had a good reasonably priced lunch there before taking their afternoon town tour.  At $90 this was not cheap but proved excellent. 

Our driver/guide had been an opal miner for about 30 years.  He took us to the weird opal fields that surround the town and showed us what areas he had worked.  One time he had clearly been successful, speaking of earning $35,000 in one find.  But he also spoke of a back injury 10 years ago and he now does tours in the Land Rover type vehicle we used.

The claim is leased from the government for a very modest sum of around £100 for the year.  But there are additional expenses and licences.  The shaft is dug by hand plus the aid of explosives or a special drilling rig.  A network of galleries are then cut underground.  All one sees above ground are piles of white waste next to an unfenced hole.  It is thought there are about 1 million of these!!  The waste is sucked out by a blower and some of these are left about looking old and dilapidated.  This is apparently because the equipment isbuilt onto the back of old lorries that do not need to have working engines.  A grader is also used to sieve out larger rocks and leave a finer material to be inspected – “noodling”.  The mines are all on a small scale and worked by individuals or small syndicates.  It all seems very amateurish but 85% of the world’s opals are produced here!

We then visited “The Breakaways”.  This is a former inland sea that at one time occupied 1/3  of Australia.  The Breakaways are a series of ancient cliffs that have amazing colours from the various minerals.

Adjacent is the Dingo Fence which stretches 3,500 km up to the Queensland coast and keeps out the dingoes from the sheep of South Australia.  Apparently a dingo can destroy 20 sheep in a night and so can ruin a sheep farm.

There are many different nationalities mining in the town and these group together for clubs, churches etc.  We visited a beautiful underground Serbian Orthodox church that shared the internal appearance of our motel but sculpted into a series of convex tiers for the roof.  It also has some lovely sculptures worked in the living rock by a man dying of cancer who made it the last of his life’s projects.

Finally a talk on opals and the inevitable shop.  To complete this part we visited a home that had been constructed in 1918 and extended in the 1970s to give large cool rooms.  This was attached to a second shop where Jill bought some earrings!

Saturday 16th  January

 A really, really long drive (770km) to Port Augusta.  Initially stony desert then some bush of varying types, then salt lakes.  We walked to one of these - Lake Hart - and saw it at close quarters.  Even in these hostile conditions there were occasional signs that there were stations “somewhere out there” and from time to time we even saw a cow or two trying to find something to eat.

We stopped at Woomera  where the Australians had launched rockets in the 50s and 60s and had tracked later satellites.  It is still a military base somewhere out of sight and the town itself was a shop, church and several unattractive 1950s/60s blocks of town houses or flats.  There was a small museum and some disused rockets and planes!

We had been to Port Augusta on the trip where we crossed the Nullabor 3 years ago and so we recognised parts.  We stayed at the Augusta Courtyard Motel (Golden Chain).

 

Sunday 17th January  

We had been really uncertain of where to go from here.  We knew we wanted to get to the coast but we had been along the Great Ocean Road before (2005).  There were 3 possible ways across the state of Victoria to the coast on the far side of Melbourne.  Even as we drove off we were undecided.  In the end we opted for the mammoth drive to Horsham – another drive in excess of 700km. 

We recognised the exit from Adelaide up over the Adelaide Hills.  We then took the A1 to Adelaide and then the A8 across the Mallee to Horsham.  This area is just huge tracts of wheat growing with a gently undulating topography.  It was more interesting than bush alone.  Here the trees were large eucalyptus.  There are very few settlements but obviously considerable farming.  We had been near here in 2005 when we visited Ballarat and also took a tour to the Grampians.

We arrived late for us – about 7pm and after booking into the Best Western Golden Grain motel (rather pricey) we had a good meal at the adjacent traditional type motel.

 

Monday 18th  January

The internet was costly and so we moved to the Westlander Sundowner Motel and then looked round Horsham.  Clearly this has been a town since the early days and now it services the huge wheat belt that surrounds it.  Although 14,000 is not a large population to us, it has the feel of somewhere much bigger – indeed, rather more the size of Horsham England. 

There are a number of turn-of-the-century buildings plus several striking churches.


Tuesday 19th
January

Our new motel was largely wooden but with a concrete block front.  In consequence all noise travels.  Last night we had a couple next to us who kept us awake literally until 4.30 or later as they had the television on all the night long.  We could not bear to stay longer and so headed off through another 200 miles of wheat fields but with the properties becoming more built upon and smaller than at the beginning.  We had been amazed at how one could travel nearly 3 ½ hours and pass through about 3 small settlements of which only one could be thought of as a town – and that was very small.  Until the last part there was literally only wheat fields.

Nearer our destination of Echuka -there were numerous irrigation canals and far more farm buildings.

Echuka is one of the Murray River towns.  It majors on its past as a paddle steamer port, having restored boats, museums, horse and carriage rides etc.

We had both developed colds over the past 2 days and so did little today.

We stopped at another Best Western, Pevensey, a brick-built motel this time!!

 

Wednesday and Thursday 20/21 January

We spent a couple of days recovering from long journeys and short nights.  Echuca is a pretty little town on the Murray which has taken the trouble to preserve old buildings around the wharf and also a number of paddle-steamers.  It now makes a pitch for tourism but whilst we were there it was not unduly crowded.  Indeed it was a rather pleasant change to see shops and also to find these open.  For the past couple of weeks we have been in low season outback towns and many shops were closed, either for a break or permanently. 

The eucalyptus lined Murray River was reminiscent of what we had seen last year at the cattle station and at Mildura.  Very relaxing and rather reminiscent of southern Mississippi areas.

The time was used to catch up on e-mails etc and to read and do washing.

The weather having been very cold at the start of the week (10-15C in the mornings, it became hot and humid with temperatures in the mid 30’s.

 

Friday 22nd January

Today a trip of about 225km to Albury which is just over the border in NSW and is again on the Murray.  The journey was again flat wheatfields with irrigation ditches.  On the way we stopped at Rutherglen which is noted for its historic buildings and the number of eating places suggests it is true tourist country. 

We then joined the Hume Highway which is the Melbourne to Sydney road much of which we travelled last year when we went to Gundagai and to Mt Kosciusko.  Our motel for the next 3 nights was the Meramie, another Best Western.  The clientele seemed much more teenagers and 20s than anywhere we have been before.  However, after Australia Day next Tuesday everyone should return to work and study and we shall head for the coast.

Jill had seen a trailer at the cinema at Christmas for Bran Nue Dae, an aboriginal musical that has just been made into a film.  Since it was mainly filmed at Broome this added to the interest.  It was lively, comic and musical but otherwise was probably not our thing.

Saturday 23rd January

We were uncertain how to spend today.  Albury is an inland town on the Murray River and reasonably attractive.  The tourist website found 200 things we might do, but perhaps 20 of these were for example to see different exhibits at one local museum.  We have often found that the literature makes the most trivial things sound so unique that you just dare not miss them.

A visit to the tourist info at Wodonga immediately made us feel that a visit to an historic settlement of Beechworth would be good.  This was some 45 minutes away taking us over low hills heavily wooded and settled much more in the English pattern of properties occurring at frequent intervals along the road.

Beechworth was a gold mining town of the mid 19th century and had numerous old buildings.  These had been saved in the small town centre and in consequence it was something of a tourist town with its shops and eating places.  Having said that, it is a small settlement and whilst there were a fair number of visitors it was far from crowded.  In fact we liked it and its surroundings so much we decided to stay there when we move on from Albury.  There are a couple of guided walks that we decided we would take on our return.  Saving these for later we felt it was worth looking at another old gold town about 20 minutes away at Chiltern.  However, this was far smaller and seemed totally devoid of anything other than closed shops apart from a number of  second hand/antique shops, a supermarket at a tea garden.  Having sampled the antique shops we felt it only fair to support also the tea garden, which seemed very English!

 

Sunday 24th January

Another day of considerable heat (low 40’s we think) and cloudless sky.  We visited the City Central Church at Albury.  This proved to be a little noisier and informal than we have been used to for some time.  It is part of what seems to be a large group of churches and had probably 300-400 people.

After lunch we called in at the twin town of Wodonga which had no special merit that we could see.  We therefore moved on to the Botanical Garden at Albury which was planted in 1877 and has come on nicely!  It provided a cool and attractive setting for an afternoon’s reading.  

 

Monday 25th January

A return to Beechworth where we had booked two nights  at the Carriage Motel.  The town is a small old gold-mining town which saw prosperity following the discovery of gold in the 1850s and its exploitation until about 1920.  The population reached 20,000 at its peak but declined and continued to do so.  This enabled it to avoid the “improvements” of the 1960s we read, and thus retain seemingly its entire town centre streetscape.  It is very attractive and whilst being aimed at tourists it has a very good feel about it and a good sense of community.  This community has restored a group of old public buildings in the centre that are now open to the public and are largely run by volunteers.  These buildings include the town hall, a telegraph office, court room and Chinese house. Also there is a museum with recreated shops.  Add to this the fact that Ned Kelly was tried here and you have a recipe for considerable interest.

On the first day we visited the heritage buildings.

 

Tuesday 26th January

As this was Australia Day we had been a bit concerned about what would be open.  However, being a tourist centre probably more than half of everything was open as usual – so we were able to eat!

After a morning mainly on the phone to the children we had a visit to the Burke Museum, referred to above, and spent the rest of the day reading and on the computer.  In the evening we had booked to go on a ghost tour of the former mental asylum – well we are on holiday!! …

Well that was not quite what I had expected!  I thought it would be a history of the asylum with a few strange stories.  Instead we were met by a 1880s nurse (well appearing as one) who took us through all the dark premises of the largely empty asylum which had finally closed only in the 1990s.  Part of the premises were used by La Trobe university but the parts we went into were mainly semi-derelict and unlit apart from her torch.  These rooms included the admission room, wards, , cellars and  mortuary.  With each there was a story of strange spirit activity.  Sharon, our guide played everything up but clearly believed in the existence of spirits and that every time there would be “incidents”.  Naturally we started cynically but certainly in the mortuary heard three sets of footsteps.  We don’t think this was a set up as there were plenty of other accounts that were not so accompanied by “appearances”.  That night I dreamed of that visit to the hospital!

Wednesday 27th January

We moved on down the Great Alpine Road to Bright, a winter sports area.  This was a complete contrast even to the wooded hills of Beechworth.  The hills were turning into mountains and these were becoming forested.  Some were obviously forestry commission plantings of pines but I think some may have been native.

In most of our travels there is emptiness between settlements, but on this occasion it was more like England with houses dotted along much of the road.

Bright itself is well sited in the forested hills and is a pleasant small town.  We called in at the Tourist Info and opted for John Bright motel.

After lunch we went further into the mountains to a tiny ex-gold mining settlement known as Wandiligong, where we followed a suggested route through the old gold diggings.  There was some interesting information and the shade offered by the trees on much of the route helped when the temperature was again in the mid-30s, but we saw nothing much of the workings.

 

Thursday 28th January

We decided to move on again.  Our route was the Great Alpine Way, over Mt Hotham, about the 3rd highest mountain in Australia.  This area is part of the Great Dividing Range and relatively near Mt Kosciusko. 

After a small ski town of Harrietville, the road narrowed and twisted, winding its way up through thick forest.  This was all unusual for Australia.  The scenery was increasingly beautiful but the road progressively demanding with its sharp bends and steep drops at the side.

Eventually the trees gave way to Alpine grasses.  Still the road wound upwards until Mt Hotham which is 1861 m. This was a ski resort close to the mountain top.  Taking the opportunity for a coffee break at a café in the resort we were surprised to see a couple of cyclists!  The other surprise was the cold.  I had noticed the previous day that the forecast was for 15c for Mt Hotham.

From the resort the road changed dramatically and became wide, gently descending and lacking in sharp bends.  There were soon even cattle grazing.  However, after a few more miles the road became narrower and twisting.  Clearly it has been improved from the Melbourne approach and there were many cuttings and embankments. 

After somewhere near 100 km from our stop we arrived at Omeo, another old gold town.  This had been ravaged on several occasions by forest fires.  We had seen many thousands of acres of woodland on our journey where a fire some 7 years ago left many dead trees.  Nevertheless re-growth had taken place and the region was very much one of green forests but topped out by dead wood.

Finally we arrived at Lakes Entrance.  This area comprises many large coastal lakes hemmed in by sand dunes.  These were artificially breached in the 1890s to give shelter to shipping.  This was to be our home for our first real rest in Australia, apart possibly from Christmas in Brisbane.  Our motel  for the next week (after some visiting some of the ones on offer) was to be the Heyfield.

Friday 29th January

Day at rest, as the tour brochures say.  Lunch at the RSL.

 

Saturday 30th January

 Visited the small coastal village of Metung.  Very attractive lakeside settlement, small but prosperous.  Sat and read most of the day.  Then called in at Bairnsdale to see what it was like.

 

Sunday 31st January

We had checked out the churches and opted for the Baptist.  They made it difficult as they did not give times of service on the website and Adrian had to visit the site (5km away) and even then the information was hidden away as though they didn’t want visitors.  However, we found that several welcomed us.  It was a very conservative evangelical church that was still using Golden Bells type songs but it’s good to visit other churches and see how they are run.

In the afternoon, after a swim in the motel pool, we walked through the town to the footbridge and over to the sea-front. 

 

Monday 1st February

More rest!  Just a visit to nearby Lake Tyers Beach - a pleasant little hamlet with lots of birdlife on the lake.

 

Tuesday 2nd February

We have found in the past that the local Tourist Info publications “oversell” attractions.  We went up into the Snowy River mountain area to visit Buchan, a town noted for its limestone caves.  We were less interested in the caves but thought we would take a look at the scenery.  This proved very attractive .  The bright sunshine helped make the varied eucalyptus forest particularly beautiful covering the folds of the hills.  Buchan itself however was a small settlement of no significance but with a myriad of strange flying insects that made it impossible to get out of the car.

We moved on to Bairnsdale for lunch and then to Paynesville.  Again quite small this “town” looks across the lake (Victoria) to the sand bar that separates it from the ocean.  In addition there is small Raymond Island, just a short distance from the shore.  In fact it is linked by a chain ferry and we took it.  To be more precise, we took a wrong turn and found ourselves in the queue for the ferry.  Fortunately the fee was only $8 return so we were not too perturbed.  Raymond Island turned out to be mainly private and holiday accommodation.  It appeared to have no shops.  In addition we were limited in our explorations as most roads were unmade.

 

Wednesday 3rd  February

A stormy windy day.  We walked along the water front to see if we could get good pictures of the pelicans landing but there were men working in their favourite space and so the birds seemed to glide around, tantalising us by being out of satisfactory reach of the camera.

 

Thursday 4th February

After a week at Lakes Entrance we left, intending to stay at Mallacoota.  The road became increasing hilly and winding as we neared the south-eastern wilderness area of Victoria .  There was heavy tropical rain forest.  Occasionally a small area had been cleared for agriculture but this was certainly a remote and unspoilt region.

We left the Princes Highway and travelled for about 20 minutes to the small seaside settlement of Mallacoota.  This was a fishing and boating area with a few shops and a café or two.  One of the latter provided a good prawn salad.  We could not find exactly the accommodation we wanted.  Rain was imminent and indeed arrived while we were there.  We knew that it was sufficiently widespread that we would not be able to travel out of it and that it was forecast to last several days.

With the weather in mind we felt that Merimbula in NSW where we had stayed last year, would provide more for us.  On arriving there we had thought of staying at the Pelican Motel which seemed to Jill to give what we wanted.  Somewhat to our surprise we recognised it as we crossed the road.  We had stayed there 12 months ago!! We were made welcome and got preferential rates as returning guests.

Jill felt under the weather and apart from a brief shopping trip by Adrian we stayed in.

 

Friday 5th February

The wind and rain increased overnight and continued throughout the morning.  Bruce, the motel proprietor said they needed it – it was the first real rain they had had since this time last year.  We do seem to be rainmakers throughout  Australia!  Perhaps there is an opportunity here!

We made a return trip to the RSL for lunch.  Maybe we made bad choices but our Chinese meals were felt not to be very good.

Saturday 6th February

Stayed locally.

Sunday 7th February

Went to church at Pambula.  Good friendly bunch and felt more at home with this service than any other so far..

After church went to Thai restaurant in heritage building in Pambula.  Nice place – Jill wants to emigrate here!!

 

Monday 8th February

Moved to Beach Cabins overlooking Short Point at Merimbula.  Can sit in armchair and see surf and views over sea to distant headland.  Beautiful.  We had been here last year although not to this accommodation.

 

Tuesday 9th February

Stayed at our new accommodation. 

 

Wednesday 10th February

Went up into the hills to Wyndham and Collina, small places with heritage buildings.  Beautiful views over the lower hills of the Great Dividing Range.

Had lunch at “The Sea Horse” hotel at Boydtown, just south of Eden.  Very upmarket and whilst twice the cost of most of the places we go to, it did provide a lovely lunch.  The building was originally built for Boyd who hoped to develop a town that would become the capital of Australia.  It was a whaling station and also a port for timber and agricultural produce.  Now largely rebuilt it is an attractive 19th century looking building with spacious grounds immediately on the beach.

We then headed on to the Whaling Museum at Eden.  Definitely of no interest to us for the whaling but more in respect of the whales and also the local history.

 

Thursday  11th February

Went to the boardwalk at Merimbula and did the return walk.  Warm and sunny.

 

Friday 12th February

Overcast with rain later.  Drove up the coast to Tathra which we had visited last year and then inland to Bega.  The latter does not merit an entry in Lonely Planet and is a service town with a few old buildings and a cheese factory. We limited ourselves to a brief look at the shops and lunch at the Red Café which served vegetarian food and produced a good bean coconut curry. 

We proceeded up the Princes Highway through rolling foothills of the mountains.  Some were now cattle pasture but a lot remained forested.  Our destination was the “historic town” of Cordoba but as with many other places it proved less dramatic than its description suggested.  With just a few older shop buildings and some older houses it was OK rather than startling.

To complete our tourist loop we went to Bermagui on the coast and then south again to Tathra and home.  We had done this road in the opposite direction last year but it seemed largely new to us and also attractive.  Once more, rolling hills and woodland.

 

Saturday 13th February

Heavy rain all day!!  Stayed in and booked trip to Fiji for a fortnight.  This had been inspired by a leaflet we noticed the previous day in Bega for cruises to Fiji – these proved not to be available and would have been much more expensive and for a shorter time.  The remainder of our time away is therefore now fixed, including hotels, until we leave for Fiji on Thursday and for the night before we return to the UK.  Our choice? Rydges at Sydney. 

 

Sunday 14th February

Returned to church at Pambula and again were given a good welcome.  Best church in years!

Lunch at golf club at Pambula – very good Mediterranean salad.

Rain all day.

 

Monday 15th February

Left in heavy rain for Milton where we had booked online for 2 nights.  On the way we went down to the beach below our cabin where the proprietor told us they were breaking the barrier of sand between Back Lake and the sea in order to prevent the lake flooding nearby properties.  This was last done 18 months ago.  The sea is left to silt it up again over the course of time.  There was a great crowd of people peering out of their cars through the heavy rain.  Apparently the fish in the lake include red mullet which only spawn in the sea and they get excited when they sense the sea is close and about to be open to them.  We saw the JCB complete the cut and the water start to flow.

Unfortunately the water started to flow from the sky too.  There were small waterfalls all along the Princes Highway and the rain was torrential.   We stopped at the golf club at Narooma for lunch (nowhere near as good as yesterday!).  About 10km north of Narooma the traffic was being turned back.  We went to the Tourist Info at Narooma and were told the road was blocked by floods in about 6 places and would not re-open today.  We later saw on TV that about 1 foot of rain fell on this area. It was the usual story for us – people can’t remember rain like this.  They haven’t had any for a year!  As usual, we appear to be the rain makers!

Rain continued heavy all day.  We took a motel in Narooma (Farnborough Motel) and sat it out.

 

Tuesday 16th February

The road was open and we had an uneventful journey to Milton.  The part that had been blocked in so many places was the 40 km to Morayu.  There were small rock falls, mud on the road and bits of trees.  In addition the Highways People were already repairing a section of road that had been damaged.   Also we noticed far more potholes than we had experienced anywhere in Australia. 

Morayu was a pleasant small riverside town where we found a good place for coffee.  For lunch we stopped at Ulladulla and were glad that we had chosen to stay at the nearby village of Milton.  Somehow Milton had retained its old buildings and now clearly traded on its past.  It had been associated with Ulladulla for the shipping of timber.  Now it is all the passing trade of tourists.

We stayed at a motel (Miton Village Motel) run by a lady who had left Britain 37 years ago and loved it at Milton. She was very friendly and even took our two carrier bags of books, promising to drop them in at a charity shop (Op Shop).

 

Wednesday 17th February

After a brief look at Milton we headed for Sydney, passing Kiama where we had spent time last year.  At this point the scenery is particularly hilly and beautiful.  Then a dual carriageway until the Sydney suburbs where we used our sat-nav to locate a restaurant before then using it to find Rydges.  This particular hotel was a lot better than the Sydney Airport International where we stayed last year, but lacked much of the general appearance and services that we had enjoyed at Rydges Brisbane. 

Then we returned the car to Europcar and took a taxi back to the hotel.

Then Fiji.