South Island Interlude

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It has been a long time since anything was posted on E-Bus Stop, which is strange as the past 5 months have been momentous and pivotal in our plans to travel where we can in the campervan.  With both of us now officially retired some serious routes need attention, however, while we gather ourselves, an opportunity to take a short interlude in New Zealand’s South Island arose so here we are for a week. 

We flew into Queenstown from Auckland where we spent quality family time,  big thanks to Debra who braved torrential rain and evil traffic to collect us from the airport and Anne and Willy who got up at an unforgivable hour on Sunday to return us there.  Still say Auckland Airport is the best in the world.                                                                             The main event was to see Mum. First day visiting was hard, the next day we went earlier in the day and had a happy visit with “old Mum” – significant nod and raised eyebrows at man slurping tea, a shake of the head when someone referred to someone else as a”silly old bugger” and finally a great effort to see us to the gate with a cheery “be good children”!!! I dread the time when she truly forgets our names, but hope there will always be flashes of her quirky sense of humour.

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We picked up our Britz campervan, stocked up basics at New World and had first night in Arrowtown.                   All the superlative adjectives all strung together do not begin to describe the spectacular scenery which unfolds at every head turn in Queenstown and South Island. When I figure out how to get photos from the camera to the iPad, I will have the satisfaction of publishing the finest ones – this will be in spite of unappreciative comments on the quality of my photography from various people, and suggestions of a photography course…

We spent a freezing night in Arrowtown, but were unfazed by chilli ness.  After an exceptional dinner, Trust the Chef, at Amisfield Winery we opted for a hook-up and ran the cabin heater all night. Lovely Britz lady had  also given us 2 duvets so we we put one on the mattress and one for over, also, intrepid camping skills from 34 years ago – we lined the base of the cushions mattress with thick sheets of newspaper so the cold draughts could not creep up through the cracks. Hah such skills…..As we have spent time previously in the environs of Queenstown we decided not to hang around as the rest of the island called.

So we made our way over The Lindis pass towards Mt Cook/Akorangi. I slipped and fell on my bum on the icy mud trying to take a photo of the amazing tussock grasses in the Otago High country,damn boots have totally lost their tread. Happiness though is a campervan so I could immediately change into dry clay and ice free clothes and nurse my dignity.  The Kea Track at Mt Cook was better and amazing.  The whole area is a World Heritage site and once again defies mere words to describe, we had a good view of Mt Cook before the clouds rolled in and cold rain turned us back.  Not so intrepid here.  Stayed raining but much warmer at overnight stay on banks of Lake Pukaki, an incredible blue colour even with overcast grey skies;  need to look into this as I thought the water colour was mainly a reflection of the sky.  I am thinking of the grey lochs in Scotland?

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Now on our way through Timaru to Moeraki Boulders and seals.  Maybe a penguin.

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End of the First Epic Trip

How really to sum the month-long trip up in my mind? What comes first to mind that says it all in a nutshell?
Maybe I have learnt a great deal about Australia as a relative newcomer to this vast island. One can fly from city to city and experience the hubbub and vibe of each different place with their different priorities and widely different paces of life and not know more than to prefer this city over that one, decide you could live there but not here – too hot too cold, too wet, too isolated, too materialistic, too …whatever. Is Australia really just one huge wheat field?  I think that taking a year or two to drive slowly around is going to be a peak life experience, filled with the pleasure and novelty of seeing places for the first time, with excitement, with boredom and irritation, but mostly because it is fun and we can.  Yes we can.

Going west we had company, a wonderful companion who was everything a van could want, enthusiastic, keen to take diversions, rush when necessary, slow things down, take the wilder option, look things up, add more podcasts and mostly add  many a huge laugh to the day.  We travelled with a James we haven’t seen in a long time, happy and optimistic, exuding joy exuberance and confidence, our best gift was to travel with a son become a man.  Catherine, Adrian and James, how proud we are of you.  AND, now we can safely spend their inheritance!  (Lucky James cannot edit this blog – told you James to come back with us…..)   Anyway enough of the introspection already!  And he never saved my sequined leopard cap, so there is a photo of a fatso in a cricket cap exiting a dunny inspection!

Tonight we are back in The Grampians.  It is ever so chilly at 15 degrees, a once in 100 year event to have these temps in Jan, but hey, I way prefer this to 40!  The weather changed during the last night in the Nullabor, we went to sleep with the wind nice and cool howling off the Southern Ocean and woke to a wind change from the North and sweating.  Stayed sweaty I think forever,but maybe 24 hours. Then a totally unseasonal downpour.

Anyway, the Clare Valley was enchanting.  Sandstone and slate buildings, food and wine to die for, an easy 20 km stretch of wonderful vineyards.   We started with breakfast at Wild Saffron to line our stomachs for upcoming day of wine tasting but couldn’t then squash in a lunch at Skillogalee.  This is a must stop lunch  venue requiring better planning than us and I shall regret limited stomach space until we get back there.  We tried wines from both the iconic Clare Names and the lesser known vineyards, filled our portable cellar and more – thank you Dad for teaching us a sock drawer can take more than rolled and sorted socks.  Then reeled through the Barossa Valley and their Reds before camping the night on the banks of the Murray River at Tailem Bend.  This was an idyllic spot with Pelicans sailing majestically past, coots and Pukeko (Jacanas) pecking outside the door, all marred by yobbos galore lining the banks.  Somehow this was Yobbo City, half hoped the riverbanks would break and swallow them all up.  We of course would make a quick getaway in the souped up Van!
Tonight we own the North Grampians, but the devastation of last years’ fires is all too evident, we need to learn about cooling fires vs hot fires – controlled burning in mosaic patterns that always allows a wildlife refuge.

Tomorrow, Melbourne and a pile of washing.  Monday, I am quite sure a diet.    Life goes on.

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Nullarbor, bugs and rocks

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A bobtail or shingleback lizard at the stop over at Tcharkuldu Hill, Minnipa, SA. It has made it’s home in a derelict stone cottage near where we camped. After seeing this we did not venture in.

 

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IMG_0439 Roo on the side of the road. Good opportunity for an anatomy lesson. Road kill is huge in the Nullarbor.

 

 

 

 

 

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This fella blocked our way on a walk. The web was at least 3 metres wide and high.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rocks on Tcharkuldu Hill below. Granite that has been carved out. This little hidey whole is fit for a leopard but luckily none exist around here.

 

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The bus parked in the middle of the Nullarbor at a free camp close to the head of the bight.

 

 

 

 

 

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Typical Nullarbor scenery

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Return to real life – with text this time

And so we began our trip back to Melbourne, were we horrified at the thought of so many miles back on much the same route, there being only one way across South Australia, so soon after the westerly trip? No. That’s all, no. Decided 5 stars is not a room, it’s the incredible optional way of living, each to his own, and ours for a while is a Motorhome and uncluttered living.
It was hard to leave Loraine, she is not settled at all. At present she is classified as a CAP, living? in a regional hospital – Care Awaiting Placement, nothing to do and not willing to anything for herself either so a double whammy. Only good part is that the burden of high care is off the Geraldton Jamiesons. Much like my own Mum, visiting regularly and often is currently all that is required. And for us that is not possible, so we rely on news from the other family members. She was very very ill, so we are glad to have hotfooted it. Mom is currently enrolled on the waiting list at two nice high care residential homes, and hope enough people in there pop off to make space for Loraine very soon. Otherwise she may end up in a place less good. How callous we become.

We left around 10am with absolutely minimal fridge contents as the fridge decided to puk itself last day in Gero. All 3 “fixing” places in Gero closed until the new week! So what to do but trust that the freezer would continue to freeze and just manage somehow. Half the drive was through stunning wildflower/fynbos type of vegetation and then into the dreaded Wheatfields.
The harvest is long in and the grey stubbly fields stretch away into the distance. A major improvement in WA is they try to keep a “ribbon of green” running along the verge, also the major water pipeline, The Golden Pipeline” and the Transcontinental railway track run parallel a lot of the way and also have ribbons of green. It is just that we are so high we can see the wheat!

The pipeline is an incredible feat of engineering – still the longest freshwater pipe on Earth, built 100 years ago, it runs from Perth to the vast goldmine we visited in Kalgoorlie. There are various pump stations along the way and it is a listed heritage trail drive over 3 days. We went over a visible fault line in Meckering – not sure what I was expecting but surely something more than just sommer a ditch! Last earthquake was in 1968 and flattened the town. Some ditch.
Night was spent at Karalee Rocks and dam, a lovely stopover despite the flies, (not as bad as Boondi Rocks, James!). Rob went for a swim in the dam and I watched the beautiful parrots coming to drink. The site was well known by the aborigines as a semi permanent soak due to the runoff from a 6 km “roof “of flat granite rock.
Funniest thing to see here are the tiny lizards – they sort of raise themselves high on their legs, front legs higher, puff out their chests and run like hell over the hot rock to a shady spot – self important citizens of the rock. No snakes or emus, seen but 2 Roos spotted. Hopefully Rob can upload some photos now.

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Bad photo of the Karalee rock at sunset. In real life amazing grandeur of granite

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Aqueduct from rock to dam

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Day 7 and 8. End of Nullabor/Kalgoorlie

Sadly peeps, this account will be written I a factual manner, no wild flights of fantasy involving lobbed onions.
Our last night on the plain was spent at a spot found by James studying wiki camps. Between the two traveller’s bibles of paper version Camp Australia and digital Wiki Camps, we find a site each night, pulling into caravan parks when we have to, the growing pile of dirty washing may be one such reason tomorrow – we have own washing machine but need more water and this lack of water in Western Australia is a worry. Our first experience has been on the coastal road bitumen, (in case anyone is thinking we were more intrepid) at the beginning of summer – the plain was incredible in terms of its range of vegetation, the scenery anything but monotonous, ever changing, and so green with flowering bushes and shrubs. Wonder what it will be like in 3 weeks when we cross in the other direction, certainly not as cool – max of 23 degrees for us ! Our last stop was in Van Nuytsland Regional Park, as per the end of the last blog, not a soul anywhere, not even a hairy nosed wombat popped by although I2 kangaroos checked us out and that was that.
Strangest part was pulling in to the small hamlets along the way. Dotted at about every 300km would be a “roadhouse” – going by names like Nullabor , Cocklebiddy, Madura, Mundrabilla, Caiguna etc with populations of 6, 15, 9, and they have a transmitting tower! So hello Telstra 3G . Jeez, we have more people round our Christmas table! They all have fuel at extortionate prices but not necessarily water, not that we had a problem with our huge water tanks, but it does make you very aware of the scarcity and value of it. I loved seeing the golf holes along the way – appeals to my sense of humour, these tiny green tees and the fairway barely distinguishable, to the putting greens. One teeny tap and the ball is off the green again. I hope the photos come out.
Mainly I can’t wait to go the other way now we know stuff!
Bus has been doing well but the waste water gauge has been lying to us, registering quarter full when overflowing and air conditioner is squeaking, but it works – at 42 degrees in the sun this is good.

Today we booked at a tour of the Super Pit in Kalgoorlie-Boulder – well, words fail me. An open pit gold mine of epic proportions, sorry Kimberley Big Hole, hand dug and titchy! We have been moving onto the side of the road to let through “wide loads” for the past week, massive mining trucks with fuel tanks of 3790 litres, they cost $4.4 million each, Their tyres cost 4k each and only last 6 months , there are 40 of them on the mine, the crater extends 3.7 km across – the mind boggling stats go on and on. But most crazy of all; out 7 of these crazy trucks of rock, they will get a golf ball of gold – and the price makes it worthwhile. Humankind is mad. Completely mad.
A cool front has come through thank goodness – last night was 32 at midnight. Sies.

Now Sunday 21, and just got news Rob’s Mum in hospital, so we gunning it to Geraldton. Should arrive in 9 hours.

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Day 6 – Melbourne to Geraldton

Our night outside the Australian Bight gate was rather uneventful. I’m not sure what could have happened but it doesn’t matter as it didn’t. At 8.34am the gate opened and shortly after we made our to the cliff edge. The scenery was spectacular as these epic cliffs extended out to our left and right for as far as the eye can see. The Great Australian Bight actually looks like how a continent should end with its 80m vertical drop into the ocean. I imagine it’s how people envisaged the end of the world back when they thought the earth was flat.

To our great delight the Robster spotted a sea lion splashing around close to the cliff. We unfortunately only managed to glimpse it before it disappeared underwater. I was hoping a great white had maybe taken it (double whammy!) but alas we saw no such thing. The Nullarbor plateau is a significant karst region that led to an amazing diversity of ecosystems. But like many fragile/sensitive systems around Australia significant deterioration has occurred due mainly to rabbits. The three major limestone formations that form the Nullarbor were distinct as we observed the cliffs at the head of the bight. Dissolution of the limestone formed karsts that feed vast freshwater systems that eventually discharge at the ocean. These points of discharge form obvious discolouration of the water and were areas targeted by indigenous communities that once inhabited the plains.

I give you these details as they are interesting but also because if one to view today through my eyes they would observe an endless flat earth dominated by saltbush and bluebush, no trees in sight. The customs officials did take our onions, much to the disgust of the Robster. He was agitated during the whole process and kept shouting at people to move along. At one stage he grabbed the bag of onions and threw them at a customs official while declaring his love of pumpkin pie. This all happened… I think, although I was asleep at the back for quite some time.

During mid afternoon we arrived at Mundrabilla, the accommodation booked weeks in advance by the Robster. When we arrived we all realised why the person on the other end of line laughed at poor Robster when he diligently called the caravan parks we may potentially stay at. Suffice to say remote mining camps in Siberia would have been more appealing. They did host the fourth hole of the Nullarbor Links course, which we duly played (consisted off a tee and a hole on some artificial turf 330m away, nothing in between).

So we continued and have made camp somewhere in the bush just east of Cocklebiddy. It is very pleasant and I am quietly confident a hairy nose wombat will accidentally stumble into our camp and onto my lap.

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On our way to WA day 5

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The big galah in Kimba. More Australian art. Then on to Streaky Bay.

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Streaky Bay CP. Functional.

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This is where we really should have stayed. About 10 km’s from SB. Only discovered this this morning.

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The Granites is a well-known surfing beach in SA. For those who are observant – a left hand break.

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On through to the Nullarbor. We considered the Nullarbor Roadhouse and went to have a look at it. Filled up with diesel at $1.91 a litre. The same person owners all the filling stations through the Nullarbor and is gouging the travelling public. We filled up in Ceduna 200 km East and the price was $1.38.

We weren’t staying there. On our way past we wanted to see the Top of the Bight, a view point that is great for whale watching in the season, about 10 km from the roadhouse. The place was closed but they do have a free camp area, so here we are.

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We are the only one in the spot. Wind howling. Middle of nowhere. Dinner though was marvellous. Baked butternut, potatoes, peas. Generator worked a treat.

Tomorrow will be further into the Nullarbor. Mundrabilla Roadhouse is where we are booked in but based on what we have seen so way.

 

 

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