Team VA's Wonderings

Monday, February 19, 2007

Elvis has now left Melbourne

We spent just 2 nights in Melbourne after leaving Tasmania; the first barely counted as it was nearly 1 a.m. when we checked into our basic, but just round the corner from Wicked Campers, hostel. We were late, as the plane was late. Jetstar phoned everyone unless they had a non Australian mobile! Bit parochial there, not knowing mobiles work internationally. When you're an airline.

As you know I am a fearless flyer, so was totally unruffled when the clearly shit scared pilot came on the tannoy to tell us 'the seat belt light won't be going off, there'll be no service-the cabin crew have to stay strapped in, it was very unpleasant on the way over.' This was 30 seconds before take off. You know, when it's too late to get off. The plane of death. Of course we made it.

Sunday was taken up with laundry, writing the last post, a visit to AFL world and meeting up with Helen and Shirley (Helen really should give serious thought to changing her name to Pepsi). We had bonkers pizza (nachos topping), drank some wine and in between the showers observed some Australians losing at cricket. Again. This appeared to please a large man called Freddie. Most considerably.

Today I left Melbourne. For the third time. I think it will be the last time.....on this trip. It could have been a bittersweet moment, but we drove out of Melbourne in our Elvis campervan

We'd been on the road about an hour, when John received a text announcing the birth of Lisa and Elvis impersonating loon Deneal's first child. Some kind of Karma there I feel. We were even listening to the so-called King at the time (John's iPod). The King has had some interesting effects-my favourite was the girl who'd dropped back 30m from her bus for a pee, only for us to drive by. Her huge smile and cheery wave made it clear she was pleased to see us and rendered a chorus of 'we know what you're doing' a touch redundant.

The van comes with a number of rules

I reckon the dickhead rule is for vegetarians, so we may be in a spot of bother. You see some interesting other road users in Oz. The other day we parked behind a van with a bumper sticker 'I drive like a c***.' Now, I don't usually leave much to your imaginations, but I think it's best on this occasion. Let's just say it wasn't cock. I do wonder where you get such a sticker; perhaps, like a Nobel prize, they are awarded rather than purchased.

We spent our first campervan night sleeping in a house on Mornington peninsula. This was thanks to the massive hospitality of the very Aussie Max and Barbara, who are tenuously related to John, but very nice. We were treated to a tour of the peninsula,

Max's marvellous home brew (including take out for the van), dinner, the sight of Max in a Boony Army shirt and were promised a game of golf when we return. I was again reminded of how nice people can be, when they haven't met me before. Max has a caravan with a fridge, flat screen TV, integrated sound system that Des would approve of and a tank to pull it. I'm not sure what he made of Elvis, but parking him outside for a night has certainly helped to realign the street's property prices.

In one of my sporadic attempts to behave like a backpacker, I stocked up on breakfast before driving to the Queenscliff Ferry to cross Port Philip and get on the Ocean Road.

As we travelled to Lorne for our first stop on the Great Ocean Road we had a pretty easy day, tho the road was a little bendy in spots

and simply majestic in others

There wasn't much to do in Lorne when the sun went down, so we went to see Blood diamond at their wonderfully old fashioned cinema. The multiplex really has drained the romance out of the cinema, not to mention making obsolete the need to go out of the cinema, turn left, walk down a sidestreet, turn left, cross a yard and head down an alley to get to the gents. It was great stuff (and properly comfortable seats too). The film wasn't half as silly as I had expected. I'm still wondering if that was a good thing.

Today is Valentine's day. I shall be spending it in a campervan with John. This made me realise it is the 14th of the month, so its 4 months since I left England. I missed the 2 and 3 month anniversaries until a couple of weeks after.

We carried on down the great Ocean road, with frequent stops for scenic lookouts (we made a mistake in not keeping a tally of all the scenic lookouts we've been to, while we've had a car). We visited the Otway Fly Treetop walk: this is one of only 3 in the whole wide world. Since I'd been to one in Western Australia, I was a bit peeved that we'd missed out on the one in Tassie last week, which would have given me the set. It is an amazing experience as you wend your way through the canopy of the rainforest, seeing how your view develops as you go up and down and how the rainforest changes due to the geography.

I just love the ferns, they rule.

Onwards then to the 12 apostles, which is the jewel in the Ocean Road crown (nothing like a bit of cliché, I always think). We planned to see the apostles in the light, find a site for Elvis in Port Campbell, then return to watch the sunset over the apostles. Sadly a cloud festival wrecked the sunset idea, but we did see some 'fairy' penguins come home to roost (I fully suspect that fairy penguins and little penguins are one and the same). So it was just as well we went to the 12 Apostles in the light. What follows is a selection of the pics, it was pretty stunning.

(I'm leaning backwards OK and have been on the King's diet. Also I'm getting the photos off CD and can't orientate that damn things).

Can you see the face in that last one?

As we left Port Campbell the following day we visited London Bridge.

London bridge used to be connected to the mainland, there was a second arch. In 1990 the link collapsed, leaving a couple on the new island and prompting a helicopter rescue (well you wouldn't jump would you) and a massive media invasion. The couple fled as soon as they were rescued as they both had to get home to their spouse-you see there was a bit of hanky panky going on. Rumours that both were single and on a diet within the week are unsubstantiated.

Honestly, coastal erosion was never this interesting in geography. Teachers take note!

In various stops and national and state parks we've seen a lot of animals in the wild as we've headed towards South Australia.

For some reason today, I was reminded of a girl I met on a beach in Tassie. She asked me if I was a backpacker and I hesitated before mumbling yes, as I wasn't really sure if I was or not. After all, I'm staying in a lot of hostels, but my backpack is on wheels, I'm eating avocados and I've been to the opera. Perhaps I am an executive backpacker. Maybe that should be the title of this blog. This bit of reflection may have been caused by the fact that I have felt the shadow of planning descending once more. When we get to Adelaide, we have no plan and just 2 nights booked in. I need to start thinking about whether I will change my ticket out of Oz at the end of March and where the hell I'm going to be in May when I need to get back to Europe, hopefully on air miles.

Unfortunately, the path was a touch rough to get Elvis down 'In the grotto', so I've had to deputise.

It had been a while since John and I had played crazy golf. Something we rectified in 40 degree heat at Warnambool on the way to Port Fairy. It was pretty obvious that this was a serious venue

The competition was appropriately fierce-level with 3 to go, John said the word pressure and folded. I repaid the favour at 17, and had to hole a good putt at the last to force the playoff. Given the grueling nature of the course (1 hole in one between us in 2 rounds) and conditions, we decided on a US Open style playoff (that's 18 holes for anyone not called McClure). It looked like being a typical US Open playoff when John led by 3 after just 2 holes. Some Poll grinding got it back level at 12, and although John was an award winner with that only hole in one

he was the loser. The glory, the non-existent trophy and the bragging rights were all mine. Until we got to Port Fairy that night, found the crazy golf course on our caravan park and he hammered me. I did win a revenge match-72 holes in the day, pretty good effort I reckon.

Did I mention? We both love crazy golf.

We cruised round Port Fairy for a bit, until the police started following us, but there wasn't much to see so the next day we headed straight off to Mount Eccles. I'd slept surprisingly well after insisting on watching the first episode of the new series of Lost-I'm not sure why I did it to myself, as I have no chance of seeing more than one or two more and you can't watch them out of sequence.

There was quite a detour to get to Grampians, but we knew we were on to a good thing. The Rough Guide enthused and we'd had recommendations, but when we arrived we saw that the Grampians had been awarded Australia's highest tourist honour and when you see that, you know you're onto a top class experience. Once we arrived, we got details of the best walks and scenic lookouts; as it was 1, we thought we'd have a spot of lunch before moving on and then we saw it. When a tourist attraction has a photo of the staff with Neighbours' Karl Kennedy and his seal of approval, well you simply know it's the dogs. If it's good enough for Dr Karl......

After our fairly brief Grampian exploration, we looked at the map and were suddenly presented with a whole heap of driving-we wanted to stay at Mount Gambier for the night before making the big (450k) push for Adelaide. Mt Gambier was not close. It was in South Australia 250-300 km away. Oops. Time to put the pedal to the Elvis metal. Running out of fuel and having passed 3 closed petrol stations, we narrowly avoided camping on the forecourt of a petrol station, when a friendly local told us someone would take our money a bit further up the hill. I was very excited about crossing the State Line-I put this down to spending Saturdays when I was a child watching the Dukes of Hazard. In many episodes it was crucial to stop someone/get someone across the state line or the good old boys would be in jail. Sadly South Australia didn’t share my excitement and couldn’t be arsed to mark it-you think they might at least point out the very odd half hour time difference from Victoria. We were saved by Victoria, whose 'Welcome to Victoria' sign I saw in the rear view mirror; a quick three point turn (not much traffic on these roads) and a happy man got some sort of a photo.

We've been on the road a lot this last month and I have got very interested in the Hoons. Hoons are essentially boy racers. And they're everywhere. At traffic lights you have to leave some rubber behind when you screech off, or you obviously like the colour pink. Newspapers scream about P Plate Hoons using technicalities to avoid driving bans. Hoons hang out of car windows and make rubbish attempts at harassing people (I saw one Hoon shout 'Nice mudguards' at a cyclist). TV news reports 'death of a youngster after Hoon racing tragedy'. The country's had to pass Hoon laws to try and reduce Hoon incidents. They're a menace and a danger; I realise there is a serious side to this. But I love it. It's just such a brilliant word: someone drives like a tool, or is driving a ludicrous car and you can nod sagely and say 'Hoon'. Something roars up in the rear view and you just say 'Hoon coming'. And if someone's being a total arse, you just say they're Hooning around, which is my favourite; boy-racering just doesn't work. I found Hoons, tho far worse than UK drivers, have completely eradicated road rage. You just say Hoon and laugh. Brilliant. The joy of language.

Mt Gambier has an excellent curry house and the Blue Lake, which is very blue at this time of year. So we stopped off before getting stuck into the drive to Adelaide.

Saturday was big drive day, the kind of driving down empty unremittingly straight roads, where a brick and a shoelace make a very effective autopilot. When you've a big drive, you need distractions to keep you sane. You need goals to help you break the journey into manageable chunks and you need things to look forward to. Let's face it 450km is a long way for Elvis in a day; aside from being dead for 30 years, he's in crap shape (we don't think there was any oil in him when we picked him up, despite all the burgers he's had). So he needs shellfish to keep him going; big shellfish.

The Big Lobster, Larry to his nearest, was my first contact with an Aussie Big Thing (I'm sure google/wikipedia can enlighten Big Thing virgins). There's a chance of a stand by your statue appearance here. Larry rules. Big.

It's fair to say that there wasn't much else in South Australia until Adelaide. When you've seen a Big Lobster, who cares?

But there wasn't much. We made a few stops, but it was stupidly hot. When we walked 10 minutes to see pelicans, we nearly expired. Bastard pelicans had decided it was too hot and pissed off somewhere cool. So we turned up the air con, flogged Elvis to his limits and got to a lovely caravan park about 20 mins from the centre of Adelaide. Couple of phone calls and we went to the Bombay Bicycle Club to meet Nicky C. If anyone has been to a Bombay Bicycle Club with me, then please tell me. The name rang a bell all night long.

This morning we had to return Elvis. I was sad to see him go, but am pleased to report that we had no 'those aren't pillows moments', tho John did kick me apparently. Only the Saturday night was hotter than the centre of the sun, which was a pretty good result really. We had a good look at the other vans at the Adelaide depot and although there were a couple (Hendrix and Sgt Pepper Beatles) that had us drooling, most were disappointing. It seems that Rod Stewart had designed the Adelaide vans, so they were all plastered with amusing innuendo-the MasterDick van was accepted by women everywhere. That was the 'best'.

We had a big session yesterday on what we're doing next. It looks bloody marvellous. After a wine trip to the Barossa tomorrow, we get on a bus on Wednesday. Bus takes us to the Flinders range, Coober Pedy, Lake Eyre, King's Canyon, Olgas and of course Uluru en route to Alice. It is a long way-2800km, which in 8 days is about the distance John and I covered in Tassie and Melbourne-Adelaide combined. But we're not driving, we stay in an underground bunkhouse at Cooper Pedy, there's camping, swags and I've heard that Uluru is that rarest of things-something you expect to be wonderful, but is better when you do it. From Alice, we fly to Cairns, there'll be some diving. There'll be my birthday celebrations, then John will head to Perth via Sydney to recuperate, while I work my way down the Queensland coast-sailing in the Whitsundays, Australia Zoo (crikey), Fraser Island, Byron Bay, try to surf and a chance to complete the set of cricket grounds with a visit to the Gabba in Brissie. Then I will fly to Christchurch after a stop at Sydney and the blue mountains.

All these plans do mean we only have a day and a half in Adelaide. I'm sorry to miss Kangaroo Island, but with due apologies to Kate Parish a day and a half seems ample. We've seen the Bradman Collection at the State Library and a little cricket at the Adelaide Oval.

And we're going to give the Botanic Gardens and the Museum a go. Oh and I've bought a NZ rough guide. Not sure when the next post will be-depends on outback internet!

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Photos can't do it justice part 2

Oh blogger is a joy. 2 posts at the same time, page down to get the first one.

Port Arthur was our next stop, en route to Hobart and was rather strange. It seems a strange juxtaposition that a place so feared and so renown as a home of human suffering, could be so breathtakingly beautiful. Port Arthur was where convicts who had reoffended in Oz were sent, so there were hard nuts and solitary confinement. There was also a timber and boat building trade in this location.

The solitary confinement church ensured the prisoners stayed in solitary even when talking to God. It was here that the Reverend van de Poll

(Photo to be humorously inserted when I get if off John’s camera)

Showed the prisoner Adams the error of his ways.

I learned a great new bit of Australian tonight: 'I've got a couple of straight guys need a room' means 'do you a twin room available tonight'. Fortunately they did and we spent two quality nights in a backpackers above an Irish pub. The first night England won another cricket match, qualifying for the one day finals against Australia

On the second night we got stuck into what the pub had to offer, starting with a pint of moo and moving on from there....

Come on ladies, you won't have to drink that much.

We should probably have just spent the one night in Hobart. The crazy golf had closed down and the historic walk, Bellrieve and Mount Wellington

could only amuse us up till lunchtime, which is doubtless why we ended up drinking so much. Still, we managed to book the campervan to Adelaide and accommodation in Melbourne before the shambles really kicked in.

John did sterling work driving most of the windy, windy way to Strahan, while I groaned in the passenger seat. The small number of roads in Tassie leaves little navigating for the hungover co-driver.

At Strahan, we went on a non-gay cruise. We couldn't find the quoits or sequin encased warbler, so we settled for enjoying the buffet and tour of the stunning world heritage area.

We also saw a 2,200 year old tree! I again thought about Man's impact on the earth. Can Michaelangelo, Sydney Opera House, Mozart, the pyramids, Eddie Izzard et al really make up for the endless human destruction of such environments? The boat ride was pricey and we felt rather young (as in much of Tasmania), but it will live long in the memory.

Tassie is just overrun with what you might call ‘places of outstanding natural beauty’, and we had time for one more big one-Cradle mountain. This is favourite to be Tasmania’s representative on the Australia Special Edition Monopoly. That’s how good it is! We drove over from Strahan, taking in a couple of viewpoints, checked in, got a very small map, didn’t prepare properly and headed off walking about lunchtime. We had a small circuit in mind and decided to do the most difficult part first (it was rated as rough and steep). We completed this in half the recommended time-still being competitive as we are in Australia. This expanded our horizons and we greatly expanded our route. We did stop short of the summit; I’d like to think my rational argument persuaded John against it, but I suspect it was the experienced walker when she said ‘You’d be silly to set off up there at this late hour.’ Anyway it was wonderful.

Cradle mountain

Rough and steep

The lookout

Lake triple

And in the evening we found a nice bar, where a lot of Australians spent 3 hours telling us there was no way England were going to win the first final of the tri-series. Once England had won by 4 wickets, they all disappeared. Quickly.

By Saturday, I'd hit the wall. Tasmania had worn me out totally, with a little help from the 4 preceding months. I'm looking forward to doing very little in Melbourne on Sunday. We wound our way back to Launceston via a couple of eateries and one final rainforest walk to a hidden away waterfall.

All told, we drove about 1500kms, didn't run out of petrol or damage the car. I loved Tasmania and despite my best efforts, photos cannot do it justice. If you get the chance, go. Shame our flight was delayed and we spent 6 hours in a very entertainment light airport.

Photos can't do it justice part 1

The new blogger is giving me trouble. I've lost this post once already, so I'm breaking the rest of Tasmania into two parts. Here's part 1.

We headed out of Launceston on what we expected to be not much more than a day of driving to move us down the East coast. So we were pleasantly surprised by the diversions we found from the Rough Guide, the tourist info office and by following random road signs. How else can you find Chainsaw carvings?

All of the carvings in this fly infested spot were dedicated to local victims of the first world war. It stated that some of them still had rellies in the area. So we had to be sensitive, but rest assured some will be appearing on Stand by Your Statue. This is also where we started to be stalked by one of the bus tours, who kept turning up where we were quietly being odd. From there we moved onto a cheese farm at Pyenga, where we supplemented the already bountiful provisions we’d bought at Coles that morning. A walk around the St Columba Falls

worked up our hunger for a picnic lunch

And then we headed down to St Helens and the Bay of Fires before ending the evening with another bus tour in Bicheno, where we went to see little penguins again. We didn’t stay long as there were very few birds and it was a bit of a circus as people rushed to get a glimpse. I think they were quite scared. The pub clearly didn’t know who was in town, as it was closed for refurbishment, so we had a bit of a read and a pretty early night.

'That's what we need Diggs, Superman.'

Thus spoke Zarathustra; well actually it was an Aussie dad to his son as we walked past (me in the super-t-shirt) in the Freycinet National Park, which is gorgeous and worth the trip alone. It was tough going, as we clambered over rocks and steps to get up to the viewpoint. We even had to calm down a lost Indian lady, who was getting panicky (and had a longer, more difficult way to go than we perhaps led her to believe). It is the kind of place where you commit yourself to finish-there aren’t roads/taxis/buses etc for you to bale out. You walk, or find someone to carry you. John and I walked.

Tough hike up, great view

When you’re surrounded by so much rock, it’s only natural that thoughts turn up to 11 and you wanna rock. For those about to rock, we salute you

For me, this photo sums up philosophy of this whole trip. I’m trying things I don’t normally do (hiking here), enjoying some of the most marvellous sights the world has to offer (famous and tucked away), but I’m still a bloody idiot. Anyway I hadn’t played my air guitar in a while. As we descended to wineglass bay (in the background of the first photo), there was a potent reminder that no activity in Oz is wholly safe as I dangled across Snake Gorge

Not sure if anyone else calls it Snake Gorge, but I thought it sounded rugged and adventurous. Down in Wineglass Bay, there were fewer people and a wonderful combination of natural beauty and tranquillity (and John).

I did my bit for nature and stopped a Wallaby eating plastic (if they want to write ‘enjoy responsibly’ on things, they should write it on plastic and leave my booze alone). I’ll let you into a natural history trick of the trade here-Attenborough only does it off screen. Animals only really respond to being called Dude. So as I inched towards the Wallaby, softly calling ‘Dude, don’t eat that’ (terrifying the nearby couple, who hadn’t spotted it or me), I immediately had Wallie’s attention. A couple more steps, ‘Dude, it’ll kill you’ and he dropped it and hopped off. Still on a community spirit speedball, I placed the Wallaby spit encased cling film in my rucksack. Wallie was so grateful, he even posed for a photo.

We also saw Dolphins at Wineglass Bay, lots of them in fact. However, they are very difficult to capture on photo with a digital camera with no view finder.

We headed back via Hazard beach, which had me thinking of the Dukes. There are some great place names out here, I loved 'Break me neck hill' and am looking forward to Iron Knob in SA. The down side to touring is the terrible toll on the roads, the amount of road kill is unreal-I reckon I saw 5 bodies in 2km yesterday. Fortunately, we haven’t hit anything as yet and are trying to avoid night driving.