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SOUTH EAST ASIA – Sep 2010
Part 1 – SINGAPORE & JOHOR BAHRU
With our son (Deej) and his wife (Gen) enjoying a laid-back lifestyle in Kampot, Cambodia, for the next 6 months, it’s a no brainer to make the place our choice for a holiday destination this year. Combine the experience of visiting this historical country with the opportunity of visiting my brother in Singapore for Aidilfitri (Muslim celebration after the fasting month of Ramadan) for the first time in 30 years, joining in Deej’s 37th birthday celebration in Kampot and throw in the fact that there would be no kitchen duties for me for THREE weeks’ I could feel it in my waters that this would be a super-duper holiday indeed! It took my MOTH next to no time to organize all things related to an overseas holiday which left us with plenty of time to watch the clock and cross off the days on the calendar. Finally, our departure day arrived. Nina drove us to Melbourne International Airport to board an Emirates flight on the afternoon of Sep 2nd.
We landed at Changi International Airport just before midnight to be warmly greeted by my lovely neice Aisyah and her friend Richard who drove us to the Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen where we had booked in for the first four nights of our stay. Our time in Singapore literally flew by with visits to various eating establishments, from the famous Muthu’s Curry Restaurant in Race Course Rd in the Little India district to little specialty restaurants known only to local foodies like Aisyah and Richard. In between eating, shopping and going to the money changers at regular intervals, we managed to fit in visits to the Singapore Zoo in Mandai and knowing my penchant for bird photos, Aisyah and Richard also took us to Jurong Bird Park.
Our first day was spent at the Singapore Zoo where, with our respective cameras in hand, we snapped a few, er… well, ok, a couple of hundred photos, of various animals and colourful feathered creatures during the day and returned for the Night Safari to watch the Thumbuakar Tribe (from Borneo) as they performed their nightly spectacular fire-eating, fire-breathing stunts. [‘Thumbuakar’ is the Westernised spelling of the Indonesian word ‘tambuakar’, the name of Sabah’s swamp ghost.] As a part of the Night Safari, we went to the amphitheatre for the 30-minutes’ “Creatures Of The Night” show where nocturnal animals performed along with their trainers. During the show, I almost crapped in my pants when they pulled open the ‘trap door’ from under my feet to reveal a huge reticulated python which took 4 men to pick up! Show over, we joined the crowd like sheep going through a dipping process as we slowly meandered through the turnstile like a giant conga line to get on the night safari 45-minutes’ battery-operated train carriage tour. What a fascinating experience it was as we were able to observe many, many nocturnal animals going about their nightly activities through the use of special lighting techniques from the comfort of our carriage with full running commentary from our tour guide. To ensure that I wouldn’t faint from lack of nourishment, we were taken from the zoo to Zam Zam Restaurant in North Bridge Road, opposite the Sultan Mosque for a hearty meal of Murtabak (an Indian savoury pancake filled with spiced minced meat, eggs and diced onions) and Briyani (Indian rice dish) accompanied by yes, more curry… It is only fair to say that by the end of our first day, we were all curried out…
The highlight of our second day in Singapore was visiting Jurong Bird Park where once again, our cameras were put to work. Jurong Bird Park is currently the world’s largest bird park in terms of number of birds with over 8,000 birds of 600 species, (including 29 endangered species) in a beautifully landscaped area of over 200,000 square metres. Upon entry, we immediately headed for the “Birds n Buddies Show” to watch the antics of talented birds from mimicking cockatoos and ping-pong ball-playing macaws to a multi-lingual singing parrot at the amphitheatre. Showtime over, we walked to the “World of Darkness” to see owls and night herons in their nocturnal surroundings. We continued on our tour of the park, from the African Wetlands to the African Waterfall Aviary, which is nationally claimed as being the world’s largest walk-in aviary, featuring Jurong Falls, the world’s tallest man-made waterfalll at 30 metres (approx. 100ft) high. No visit to the bird park is complete without taking in the 3,000 square metres Lory Loft with over 1,000 free-flying lorikeets happily drinking special nectar mix offered by visitors. More photos were snapped as we went on to admire the stunningly beautiful scarlet ibis and many more equally beautiful feathered creatures. At the end of the Bird Park visit, our thoughts turned once again to appeasing our bellies, so it was off to the East Coast Lagoon Hawker Centre where we hovered like vultures waiting for a table to be vacated before laying claim to it. We sat down to feed our faces with 45 sticks of satays, chili mud crab served with mini deep fried bread rolls, crispy fried baby squid and a plate of Chinese Rojak [salad of bite-sized pieces of pineapple, cucumber, jicama (Chinese turnip), fried bean-curd and ‘eu char kway’ (deep-fried dough sticks) freshly mixed in chili, dark prawn paste and sugar mixture, sprinkled with chopped peanuts]. For thirst quenchers, I had a SGD2 huge green coconut while the MOTH enjoyed a large bottle of Tiger beer for SGD5. Getting our desserts entailed a drive to the red light district of Geylang where the best durians are sold – durians for Aisyah, Richard and me and mangosteens for the MOTH who strongly resisted the temptation to try the southeast Asian “king of fruits”. Afterwards, Richard took us for a leisurely drive-by of the Geylang lanes to check out the ladies of the night on parade before dropping us back at the Hotel Bencoolen.
Father’s Day was celebrated with dinner at my brother’s place at his insistence as he has become rather introverted over the years and feels uncomfortable dining out. The day started out with a spot of jewellry shopping before heading off to Tampines for a lunch of the best Indian Rojak this side of the globe, according to our expert foodie, Aisyah. [Indian Rojak consists of a variety of savoury fried fritters, bean-curds, boiled potatoes, cuttlefish, hard boiled eggs, etc, served with a thick and spicy chili sweet potato sauce.] I also indulged in a huge bowl of Bubur Cha Cha (Nyonya dessert of coconut milk with sweet potatoes, yam (taro) and tapioca pearls). My MOTH chose to have a plate of Fried Bee Hoon (thin rice vermicelli) ‘ la Indian which he polished off with gusto. It was then off to Changi Village to say ‘G’day’ to my old friend, Jeremy, proprietor of Hock Lee Shoes. After an icy cold beer, my MOTH gave in to temptation and indulged in the purchase of a couple of pairs of super-comfortable footwear. A few sips of fresh sugar cane juice later, I, too, succumbed and bought myself a handbag. A trip to the money changer at Suntec City Mall was necessary to convert AU$ to MYR (Malaysian Ringgit) in preparation for our few days stay in Johor Bahru, the next sector of our holiday. We got to my brother’s place half an hour before Deej and Gen’s arrival from Batam Island where they had been holidaying before they fly back to Kampot in the morning. We sat down to a scrumptious spread lovingly prepared by my Brother who happens to be a great cook. A couple of hours of reminiscing later, Deej, Gen, the MOTH and I left to share a taxi to our respective hotels.
Just before lunch-time the next day Aisyah and Richard got us on a brisk short walk from the Ibis to Mackenzie Rex Restaurant in Princep Street with the promise of a feed of halal white chicken rice while the MOTH settled for bee hoon hor fan with seafood. ‘You’ve gotta try some bean curd, and the best eu char kway, Auntie,’ Richard insisted so off we trotted down a couple of alleyways to enjoy a lunch-time dessert. Before the bean curd had time to get intimate with the chicken rice in my belly, we were back at the Ibis to grab our bags before the late check-out time of 2pm expired. With the help of Aisyah and Richard, we found our way to the Rochor Road Singapore/Johor Bahru taxi and bus interchange on foot.
There was no problem with finding a taxi (SGD40) and an hour and a half later, we arrived at the Puteri Pan Pacific Johor Bahru to check into our room before traipsing off to the nearest mall where we purchased mooncakes, 2 pairs of Lacoste’ thongs (no, not the bum-hugging kind, these are thongs for our feet) and a few trinkets. We then decided it was time to revitalize ourselves so we headed straight to the Old Town Coffee shop for a delicious iced “kopi-0” (black coffee) each, with a serve of kaya toast for our afternoon tea. You couldn’t half-tell that the Chinese Autumn Festival was about to begin as assorted moon-cake stalls occupied one half of the huge ground floor area. As the Chinese festival also coincided with the Muslim Aidilfitri this year, the other half of the area was chock-a-block full of stalls selling festive outfits and fashion accessories for the Muslim shoppers.
After depositing our purchases in our room, we got the concierge to get us a taxi that would take us to Taman Sri Tebrau Hawker Centre. We arrived at our destination just before 7.30pm and made a bee-line for Stall 59. With watering mouths we watched our seafood meal being picked, cleaned, chopped and cooked to our order right before our very eyes. I was on my third drool-soaked tissue before we all stopped salivating and got stuck into yummy crispy oat king prawns, crispy oat crayfish, chili mud-crabs, a plate of mini fried bread rolls for dunking in the chili crab sauce, BBQ skate (sting ray flaps) and sambal kangkong (water convulvulus) for our vegetable dish. All these tucker were washed down with fresh sugar cane juice for the three of us and an icy-cold Tiger beer for the MOTH. A 7MYR taxi ride later saw us back at the Puteri Pacific where we said goodbye to Aisyah and Richard so they could make their way back across the Causeway to Singapore.
The next morning, after breakfast, we sauntered over to the concierge to make enquires regarding a tour of Johor Bahru. However, our initial desire to do a spot of sight-seeing died within minutes of speaking with him. For example, a trip to the historical town of Kota Tinggi, situated approximately 42kms north-east of JB, would cost 80MYR in taxi fare each way, with an additional 35MYR for every hour or part thereof charged as ‘waiting fee’. My MOTH gasped upon hearing the info and his hand immediately went into his pocket – I sensed the whitening knuckles as he tightened his hold on his wallet… He was visibly relieved when I opted for a shopping spree instead! So off we trotted to the City Square Shopping Centre where we spent some considerable time looking for a luggage shop. While having a look-see session in one shop, an American bloke and his Filipina wife struck up a conversation with us and just as I started to feel my feet beginning to take root, we managed to make a polite exit. I think the bloke who lived locally was hungry for a conversation with a fellow “orang putih” (White Man)… We continued with our luggage hunt and finally got lucky in the third store where after some haggling, 400MYR changed hands and we came away with a matching pair of suitcases to replace the one that was damaged en route from Melbourne to Singapore. We lugged our purchases back to our hotel room and returned to City Square for lunch and a bit more shopping before heading back to our room for a short siesta. [The worst part of our ‘walkabouts’ was to get past the obnoxiously odorous drains as quickly as our legs could carry us, while we held our breaths to the point of almost losing consciousness.]
My MOTH was the only Caucasian at the Ramadan ‘breaking of fast’ fancy buffet at the Puteri Pan Pacific (75MYR per adult, 35MYR per child, complimentary for hotel guests.) so he stood out like a sore thumb… After eating to our hearts’ content from the excellent fare on offer (exotic salads, mouth-watering satays, murtabak, wide range of seafood, countless selection of Asian dishes and various scrumptious desserts), we retired to our room as quickly as we could, just so we could unbutton our pants and breathe easier. What a feast!
We awoke to a gloomy-looking morning with rain clouds fast gathering on the horizon. After another complimentary breakfast, we returned to our room and surfed the ‘net to kill some time until the stores at Plaza Kotaraya open their doors for trading. I purchased a pretty “Free Size” top yesterday without trying it on in the store and found it to be too figure-hugging for my liking when I put it on back in the hotel room. ‘No worries,’ I thought, ‘it shouldn’t be a problem in exchanging it or getting a refund, if all else fails.’ Oh how wrong I was! Upon reaching the store, I went to the register to explain my return and this was what transpired… “Oh, this one, no bigger size… all free-size should fit-lah!” My protest was met with a rather nonchalant, “Can change for something else, same price.” (They don’t do refunds!) So began a hasty look around for something else that I could get instead. “Aha! This will do,” I exclaimed, as I darted off to the fitting room, just to be sure. Unfortunately, the top I had selected was 4MYR cheaper and therefore I was met with, “No, sorry-ah, cannot exchange this one-ah, can get something same price,”. The salesgirl then disappeared to return with her supervisor as I don’t think she speaks English very well and she could see that I was getting a tad irritable’ I couldn’t frickin’ believe it! I explained that I was not interested in getting the 4MYR difference and was quite prepared to forfeit it. A few ums and ahs later, the supervisor grudgingly gave the all clear and the problem was finally resolved. Man, all that hoo-hah over 4MYR. Sheeesh!
When we made our way to exit the building, we were dismayed to see it was bucketing down! Hmmm… now what could we do while waiting for the rain to ease? I know, get my hair washed! The MOTH was quite happy to wander around the shops while I received the best shampoo, complete with a most relaxing 10 minutes of full head massage, for the princely sum of 16MYR (AU$5.20)! So pleased was I that I gave her 2MYR tip which made her eyes light up as tipping is uncommon in this neck of the woods. Once again, we headed for the entrance… the rain had eased a little and lacking the patience to wait any longer, we made our way in between the raindrops to City Square Shopping Centre for lunch and yes, more shopping! (Thank goodness the downpour had washed away most of the stench that had attacked our nostrils the last few times that we had to take the route to and from the shops.)
After shopping and lunch at Kenny Rogers Roasters, we checked out all five floors of stores retailing mainly clothing, shoes (many, many shoes), gazillion handbags and food. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the local folks like nothing more than putting on nice clothes before spending most of their time walking around (thus the numerous shoe stores), carrying lots of money (explains the many bags stores) to indulge in their favourite past-time of throwing food down their throats in the many restaurants and food stalls…) From there, we headed back to our hotel room for an afternoon siesta until we were awakened by the Muslim call to evening prayers from the little Indian mosque near the hotel which signalled the break of fasting for the day. Our last dinner in JB consisted of KFC special Ramadan treat of Hot n Spicy Shrimps and chicken meal deal with mashed potatoes, coleslaw and rose essence drink at 11.20MYR each. With satisfied tummies, we returned to our room to shower and pack our suitcases, in preparation for our return trip to Singapore tomorrow.
For our final breakfast in Johor Bahru, we decided on a KFC breakfast – Chicken porridge and coffee for me and KFC ‘Riser’ (chicken fillet, scrambled egg and sauce in an oval sesame seed bun) and coffee for the MOTH (total of 10.25MYR). A bit after 11am we dragged our luggage downstairs to the foyer to check out and walked to the JB-Singapore interchange depot, a mere block away from the hotel. It wasn’t long before a Singapore Comfort taxi arrived at the terminal to drop off passengers from Singapore so after confirming that we would be dropped off at our preferred destination (Grand Mercure Roxy) on the East Coast for SGD40, we jumped in and practically sailed through both checkpoints of the Causeway.
In summary, our Johor Bahru trip was a little disappointing as we had expected to be able to indulge in a sightseeing tour of JB and surrounds but on the bright side, the shopping was great and choosing to stay at the Puteri Pan Pacific hotel turned out to be an excellent decision on our part. We couldn’t fault the services provided – the staff were helpful, courteous and super prompt. The meals were superb and all these added up to making our JB stay a memorable one, after all.
As a result of the speedy hassle-free ride back, we arrived at the Roxy a lot earlier than we had planned so had to kick our heels until our room was ready at 2pm. Our luggage was taken away to the storeroom so we were free to wander over to Parkway Parade across the road. Finally we got our key so we raced up to our 8th floor room closely followed by the porter with our luggage. To ensure that we wouldn’t collapse from starvation, Aisyah and Richard appeared as if by magic to take us to lunch at a Nasi Padang stall, Hajjah Mona, where our tastebuds were treated to super-delicious Malay food. Then it was off to do a spot of shopping before heading off to the East Coast Village Food Centre for, you guessed it, more food – we indulged in chili crab, small fried bread rolls, shark’s fin soup, BBQ skate, crispy fried baby squid, satays and sea snails in chili sauce with Richard finding just enough room in his belly for a plate of Duck Rice. After some time spent chin-wagging while munching on yummy durian puffs, we finally decided to call it a night.
Today (Sep 10th) is Aidilfitri. We had breakfast with Aisyah before doing some last minute shopping for two smaller bags for stuff we would need for the next sector of our holiday (Cambodia). We managed to cram our luggage in Richard’s car and arrived at my brother’s place just as he was leaving for noon prayers at the mosque. Hari Raya greetings were exchanged and we were told to help ourselves to the food he had prepared for us before he hurried off. We sorted out and repacked our stuff with the intention of leaving our main suitcases at my brother’s place until our return from Cambodia. After sampling brother’s cooking of what he remembered as being the favourite desserts of my childhood, we left to take our travelling bags back to the Grand Mercure Roxy before another eating session – this time it was a bowl of delicious Penang Laksa at Katong Laksa. (By now it is almost impossible to tell if I am merely swollen from being unaccustomed to the tropical heat or just plain fat from all the food I had consumed in such a short time!)
After lunch, we went for a drive to check out the last 3 addresses that I had stayed at in the 70s and 80s. Afterwards, Richard made a stop at The Changi Chapel and Museum where we spent almost an hour reading the horrors suffered by the POWs and the locals under Japanese rule during WW2. Unfortunately, no cameras and video recordings are allowed so I couldn’t capture the history through photos. It was a sobering and sad experience as we quietly read the stories that accompanied the shocking photos’ A quick glance at our watches told us we were running a wee bit behind time so we scurried out of there to hurry back to Brother’s place.
It was no surprise to be greeted by the aroma of Brother’s home-cooking as soon as we stepped into the apartment! Soon after our arrival, my nephew, Ridhwan, and his family arrived for their Hari Raya visit. After dinner and a few family photos, we took our leave and headed off for’ yes, more food! Richard tempted me with the promise of the best Cheng Tng (a light refreshing dessert soup with longans, barley, agar-agar strips, lotus seeds and a sweet syrup, served hot or cold) this side of the island! Finally, I managed to convince Aisyah and Richard that there was absolutely no other local dish that I had a craving for… They then drop the MOTH & me back at the Grand Mercure Roxy Hotel in Marine Parade. We received a message from Deej that there would be a car with an English-speaking chauffeur waiting for us at the airport in Phnom Penh. Tomorrow, our Cambodia adventure begins!
SOUTH EAST ASIA – Sep 2010
Part 2 – CAMBODIA – Kampot, Kep & Sihanoukville
An uneventful 1′ hour flight from Singapore Changi Airport to Phnom Penh International Airport saw us being waved nonchalantly through the Khmer customs and walking out of the terminal to a horde of Khmer taxi drivers desperate for fares. I spotted a vertically challenged Khmer dude holding a huge sign with our names on it and figured he must have been sent by Deej to pick us up. We got into the Camry taxi and headed out of the airport, destination: Kampot. Just as well I don’t have a weak heart otherwise I could have easily collapsed from the shock of sitting in the taxi as our driver nonchalantly weaved his way against oncoming traffic amidst vigorous tooting of horns from various modes of transport coming from all directions! Finally we got on to the right side of the road but my huge sigh of relief was short-lived as I watched the chaotic but strangely organized driving etiquette of the Khmer road users continued on all the way to Kampot.
During the two-and-a-half hours’ ‘interesting’ drive, I experienced a culture shock like you wouldn’t believe – it was as I imagined what Singapore would have been like in the 1940s’ We passed a village a little out of Phnom Penh and I was amazed to see both sides of the main road lined with countless bakeries. We drove through many road works in various stages of progress along the National Highway No. 3, passing countless paddy fields on both sides with waterways teeming with water convolvulus, water-lilies and hyacinths. Little lopsided stalls by the road-side sell young coconuts, dried cuttlefish, baguettes and unusual looking local snacks that would have attracted the interest of ‘Bizarre Foods’ presenter, Andrew Zimmern. Gigantic ceramic pots which serve as water ‘tanks’ are transported in lots of three or four, precariously placed on a narrow open trailer hooked up by a tow-bar to the back of a motor-bike, nonchalantly ridden by sun-baked scrawny-looking Khmer men. We drove past wee little towns bustling with morning shoppers doing their daily marketing, buying meat from roadside butchers who randomly hacked away at the carcasses hanging from hooks under the blazing sun, generously coated with plumes of dust from nearby roadworks and in the presence of the ever-friendly flies. Local modes of transportation consist of Hi-Ace type vans with passengers very tightly packed like sardines inside with a minimum of two passengers hanging on out the back and about half a dozen sitting on top’ Another mode of transport is the motor-remorque (long open trailers with bench seats attached to a motorbike) ‘ the passengers sit patiently and wait until the driver is satisfied that his trailer is completely packed with no room to move before he starts his engine. I think the operators work on a ratio of 10 drops of fuel per passenger’ The slightly better-off folks will spend a bit more to travel in the Camry taxis with a minimum of 4 passengers in the back and at least 3 in the front with the driver. Finally, there’s the tuk-tuk – small 125cc motor-bikes with a carriage-style roofed trailer attached, designed to carry 4 to 6 passengers. These tuk-tuks are very popular with the tourists.
We finally arrived at the RikiTikiTavi Guesthouse in Kampot. Cost of taxi service was US$40. We were shown to our room by a sweet petite Khmer young lady named Rumdoul (after the fragrant national flower of Cambodia) who manages the guesthouse during the Expatriate owners’ absence. Upon learning that we are Deej’s parents, she decided to play a little prank on us by telling us that there was someone (not Deej) waiting to see us in the restaurant upstairs. While wondering who it could be, we hastily changed into shorts and T-shirts before heading upstairs to meet this ‘someone’. It turned out to be Deej and Gen after all! We were then introduced to the rest of the staff before sitting down to a late breakfast.
After that, Deej drove us in his Toyota Camry (nicknamed ‘Cameron’) to his home by the river for a tour of the compound before we went for a little drive. Failing to find the rambutans I wanted (out of season), Deej drove on to Utopia Guesthouse overlooking the Kampot River for our first taste of the local fare (Prawns in garlic and Lok Lak Chicken). From there it was off to the market to get some fresh tropical fruit before heading back to Rikitiki for the happy hour (2 for 1) session. Gen and I then wandered 2 doors down for an hour-long massage (legs, head, shoulders and back) for a mere US$6 each. Dinner was enjoyed at Wunderbah (US$19, for the four of us, inclusive of wine and fresh fruit juice). We parted company after dinner and looked forward to a sightseeing session with a river boat cruise booked for 3pm.
Today’s sightseeing started off with a tuk-tuk drive with Deej to check out Elephant Cave (Phnom Chhnork cave). It started out as a fairly tame ride down the main street of Kampot, continuing on the major highway until we reached the turn-off to the cave. That was when Dina’s (our tuk-tuk driver) expertise came to the fore ‘ he expertly maneuvered his tuk-tuk along the unpaved dirt road full of huge potholes without incident. In between clutching the hand rail of the tuk-tuk to prevent myself from being tossed out, I managed to click my camera a couple of times, err’ a few dozen times, to capture scenes of paddy fields and quaint attap farm houses with pigs, chickens, buffalos and the odd dog or two. We cheerily reciprocated with ‘sues dei’ (Khmer for ‘hello’ pronounced ‘sue-saw-day’ ) when the local kids raced out of their homes to cheerily yell out, ‘Hello!’ at the top of their voices. We finally arrived at the bottom of the hillside where Elephant Cave is. About half a dozen local kids had followed us on their pushbikes a few metres before our destination and all eagerly volunteered to be our guides. One kid offered to keep an eye on the tuk-tuk, a couple decided to just hang around while the remaining three decided that they will be our guides, come hell or high water.
It was stinking hot but we soldiered on following the walking track to the base of the hill to where wild monkeys were cavorting happily among the branches. We paid US$1 each to the keeper of the cave and proceeded to climb up 103 steps to Elephant Cave. After my puffing and wheezing had eased slightly, I snapped a few, err…. several photos before we made our way back down the hill’ We got back to Kampot in time for lunch before our date with Bart the Boatman who took us on a fantastic 3 hours’ cruise which included a swimming stop and a most interesting ride through nipa palm-lined waterways. We got back just after sunset as the swallows flew home to their nests under the old bridge.
Back to Rikitiki for happy hour drinks before the guys head off down the road for a couple of beers while Gen and I once again made a beeline for the massage parlour before joining our men for dinner of Sunday roast lamb – NZ lamb roasted in Kampot! We parted company after dinner – it was back to Rikitiki for the MOTH and me for a refreshing shower before settling in to watch a documentary entitled ‘Cambodia/Kampuchea’ by James Gerrand.
After breakfast and a quick trip to the jeweller’s stall in the market to get a couple of jewellery items hand-made, we convened at Deej & Gen’s to be introduced to their landlord (Chinn) and his wife, Ung. Upon learning that I like young coconuts, Chinn immediately got Dina to climb up one of his coconut trees to cut off a whole bunch of young coconuts for me to enjoy. Within minutes, I was drinking the best tasting young coconut ever! After Dina’s departure, I headed into the kitchen to show Synat how to cook fried bee hoon with water convolvulus and sliced chicken. We must have been ravenous as the wokful of noodles was consumed within minutes.
After lunch, Gen drove the MOTH and me back to Rikitiki for the MOTH to watch motor-racing on cable TV while I went walkabout in search of a beauty salon for a facial. I had no trouble finding the beauty salon and after an impromptu impersonation of Marcel Marceau, I managed to get my message across. I enjoyed a most relaxing hour-long facial treatment for US$5 before making my way back to Rikitiki. Deej and Gen arrived soon after to take us to Traeuy Kaoh Wat on Fish Isle. A monk, obviously keen to practice his English with us, proceeded to tell us his life story and also about Buddhism’ There we stood in the middle of the wat and man, was he well and truly wound up! Finally, we managed to leave without appearing rude and we headed off to Bodhi Villa for afternoon drinks and dinner before we were dropped off back at Rikitiki.
Today it was off to a pepper plantation at Phnom Voar. We left the plantation with a bag of black peppercorns and went on to Kampong Trach Cave and Kiriseila Pagoda, near a gemstone cave which unfortunately is not easily accessible. As soon as our car pulled up at the cave checkpoint where we paid US$1 a head entrance fee, a gazillion kids appeared from out of nowhere to be our guides and despite our refusal, the persistent little tykes jumped on their pushbikes and followed us all the way to the cave. It was a rather irritating experience trying to take photos of Buddha statues and cave formations while little heads kept popping up at random intervals. We very quickly lost interest and left shortly afterwards to Deej & Gen’s for lunch of yummy Fish Amok (a semi-spicy coconut milk based fish dish containing garlic, onions, turmeric, lemon grass with a mild hint of chillies) cooked by Synat, the housemaid.
After lunch, Gen opted for a siesta while Deej accompanied the MOTH and me to the market where our eyes and noses barely stood up to the challenge of the heat-ripened odours of rotting fish guts, prawn shells, various dried seafood, seaweeds, etc’ I purchased a few sapodillas before we left the market scene behind us and headed back to Rikitiki for a refreshing shower before refreshments while waiting for Gen to join us for dinner. Tomorrow we will head for Kep where the MOTH and I will be staying for a couple of days before returning to Kampot to celebrate Deej’s birthday.
As soon as breakfast was over, I wandered down the side street and after another Marcel Marceau miming routine, I sat down for a manicure and pedicure which took care of two hours of the morning for the princely sum of US$1! Back to Rikitiki I raced to join the MOTH and it wasn’t long before Deej and Gen arrived to take us to Kep for a couple of nights’ stay at the Veranda Natural Resort where we had booked accommodation at ‘The Residence’ suite. Deej drove us in Cameron into Kep but our suite at the Veranda wasn’t ready, so we left our bags at the reception and headed down to the waterfront restaurant called Kimly for a hearty lunch of pepper crabs freshly taken from one of the many crab baskets that were floating gently to and fro in the ebbing tide and other equally delicious seafood. From there we had a brief drive around Kep before checking in at the Veranda. Deej and Gen drove back to Kampot to await the arrival of my Singaporean niece, Aisyah and a couple of their mates who were coming from Battambang.
‘The Residence’ suite was awesome! It was HUGE with every creature comfort catered for! After admiring the views from our private terrace, we went downstairs to check out the amenities – a large swimming pool, a restaurant serving food in a huge dining veranda with WiFi access, a fully stocked bar, a bakery and an ice creamery! Back upstairs for a siesta before booking a tuk-tuk for a sightseeing tour of the area. A polite Khmer guy named Soph@t showed up after a bit of a wait and he suggested a little tour which included catching the sunset before bringing us back to the Veranda for the princely sum of US$8. The tour was worth every cent, especially the final stop at a seaside park to see the statue of King Khorn with a beautiful sunset as a backdrop. We gave him US$2 tip and he was so happy that he gave us his contact number, should we need his services again.
We then chilled out in the restaurant/bar area where the MOTH enjoyed his couple of beers while I sipped my Margarita. A mutual decision was made to have our dinner there before retiring for the night and as we were both feeling rather peckish, we ordered a plateful of French fries served with aioli (garlic mayo) while waiting for our main meal of seafood pizza. Well, our pizzas arrived soon after and they were super huge! There was no way either of us would be able to finish them so we arranged for the second pizza to be sent up to our suite for a midnight snack. Tomorrow, Deej and Co. will meet up with us at the jetty for a long-tail boat trip to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island).
After a scrumptious complimentary buffet breakfast, we went back upstairs for a morning siesta until 11.30am when a phone call to Soph@t soon got us to the Rabbit Island long boat jetty to meet up with the rest of the “gang” for our boat ride to Koh Tonsay (Rabbit Island). We had to take two boats (US$20 return trip per boat) and a slightly bumpy boat ride later saw us enjoying a refreshing swim after placing our lunch order at the beach restaurant on the island. After a yummy seafood lunch, we decided to call it a day as it looked like a storm was brewing and the boatmen were starting to get a tad twitchy.
An unfortunate incident when attempting to get into the long boat saw me taking an impromtu swim before a quick ‘rescue’ effort by my MOTH. From the jetty, we headed back to the Veranda where the young ‘uns enjoyed a few drinks by the poolside while I showered and changed. After pre-dinner drinks, our belly worms began to growl for something more substantial, so off we set in two vehicles to get to Kimly by the sea for our lavish seafood dinner. Dinner over, we parted company with the young ‘uns who returned to Kampot.
The next morning, after breakfast, the MOTH checked his phone to see a cute message from Soph@t wishing us well and a return message of thanks together with a request for a trip back to Kampot soon had him appearing at The Veranda. Our bags were loaded into the tuk-tuk and off we went. He stopped to show us where he lives – in a wee little house on a fairly large block of land which belongs to a widowed friend who couldn’t manage the fruit plantation so, in return for a rent-free house, Soph@t and his wife would pick the fruit and sell them in the nearby market with profits going to their widowed friend. He explained that his two kids (6yo boy and 5yo girl) were on their own in the house as his wife was in the market selling fruit. I had earlier packed up the uneaten seafood pizza so I offered it to Soph@t, who delightedly accepted it.
We had a great tuk-tuk trip back to Kampot with Soph@t ever obligingly stopping whenever asked, so we could take photos of the local scenery. Feeling extra generous, we doubled the usual US$10 fare and in return, we were heaped with Buddha’s blessings’. After arrival at Rikitiki, we met up with Aisyah upstairs while she was enjoying a late breakfast. To kill some time, we went for a leisurely walk to the market with Aisyah. I don’t think Aisyah was too impressed with the stench of the market, especially in seafood section so we didn’t linger for too long’ The MOTH and I bought a couple of Oxford Khmer/English dictionaries at a little book-store (which I nicknamed “Officeworks”) outside the market as a present to Rumdoul, who is studying for a degree in business management in the tourism industry and goes around with a tattered dictionary which she constantly refers to like a bible. Needless to say, Ramdoul was speechless with delight…
Dark clouds were gathering fast as we waited impatiently for Deej to arrive to take us to his house for lunch, after which, we went to the gazebo by the river at the back of the house and before we could blink, their landlady came racing out with her granddaughter with 4 rolled up mats for us to sit on while we took in the river views. Her husband soon appeared and insisted that we should try some summer rolls (fresh shrimp rolls) and dumplings with the special dipping chilli fish sauce from a passing vendor. Delicious! Afterwards, Gen stayed back for a little siesta while Deej took us for a walk on the old disused railway bridge where we spent 20 minutes waiting for the Cham Khmer (Muslim Khmer) fishermen to go out in their boats after their late afternoon prayers. We then continued walking to Rikitiki while perspiring like hogs in the very humid condition left by the downpour earlier.
After a quick shower and change of clothes, we got into Dina’s tuk-tuk to get to Bodhi Villa. We enjoyed a fine dining experience with thin sliced potato chips, vegies sticks with a hummus dip and super yummy beef spring rolls. This was quickly followed by a chicken curry and a beef curry served with rice and hot crusty bagettes. Drinks all around and after presents were opened and the 3 birthday cakes cut, (rainbow cake from Dina, chocolate cake and a cheesecake from Gen), the band started playing. The joint was soon rocking but we oldies decided to call it a night at about 11pm. Dina brought us back to Rikitiki before heading back to Bodhi Villa to give more rides to those who have had enough. For us old farts, sleep beckoned’
Aisyah and I went for a full body massage at the Khmer Lady Massage (US$6 each) after a quick trip to the market to pick up my jewellery. Back to Rikitiki to learn from a phone call that birthday boy Deej had stayed up till 3am at Bodhi Villa drinking shots from all his mates after Gen left for home at midnight! Nursing a massive hangover, Deej only got out of bed 4 times…to throw up! Gen arrived at Rikitiki to farewell Aisyah who left by taxi for a night in Phnom Penh to catch an early flight back to Singapore tomorrow morning. The MOTH and I spent the afternoon with Gen at the rapids at Prek Thnout Community Based Ecotourism reserve (US$3pp entry fee and 75cts for parking). There were quite a few people there who had come to indulge in fully-clothed swimming sessions in the rapids before socialising happily in the picnic huts along the stream.
That done, we returned to their place and hung around the gazebo and again watched the Cham Khmer (Muslim Khmer) fishermen to go out in their boats right on 5pm, while waiting to see if Deej felt well enough to have dinner with us. Unfortunately, he was still feeling a bit under the weather so he missed out on a delicious dinner with us at Blissful, an ex-pat backpacker-type restaurant that Gen took us to. Tomorrow, we will check out of Rikitiki to go to Sihanoukville with Deej and Gen to spend the day and a night there before they take us to Phnom Penh for an early morning flight to Singapore on the 21st.
Soon after our arrival in Sihanoukville, we checked into the Beach Club Resort in Tola St (US$25 [off peak rate, buffet breakfast @ US$4pp]). After s short power nap, we joined Deej and Gen by the poolside and a bit later, the four of us sauntered down to Ochheuteal Beach. [The name Ochheuteal Beach comes from the name of the small river at the southern end of the beach. In Khmer, Chheuteal is a type of tree. The creek is called O-Chheuteal and the beach is named after the creek.] We decided to have our afternoon drinks at Kaya Shack, one of many, many beachfront restaurant shacks desperate for business in the off-peak tourist season. One drink led to another as we waved away about 200 masseurs, bling vendors, youths selling sunglasses, maidens selling fresh fruit, fried mantra shrimps, cooked sand crabs, various Khmer hawker foods and beggars galore. What a relaxing experience it was to lie back on the beach chair and sip on a Mai Tai while getting a leg massage and pumice treatment on my feet (US$8)…
We continued our happy hour drinking until sunset and as if on cue, our bellies began to rumble for a re-fuel so we paid for our drinks (US$21) with the intention of checking out another restaurant shack. Feeling a bit on the lazy side, it didn’t take much for us to be convinced to stay and dine there instead. We sat down to a candlelit dinner of a seafood platter for 2 (US$12) and a whole barbecued fish for Deej and Gen to share (US$6). With our full bellies, we walked leisurely back to our rooms at the Beach Club Resort and re-grouped 10 mins later to walk to the night market near the Golden Lions Traffic Circle. Not at all what I was expecting – visions of souvenir shopping very quickly disappeared as we set eyes on some bizarre foods on offer – deep fried crickets, bbqed snakes, fried grubs, crispy fried frogs, bbqed chicken wing tips, chicken feet, snails and so on – the kind of bizarre foods that would have Andrew Zimmen licking his chops! Photo session over, we made our way back to the Beach Club Resort. We called it a night and will meet at 8.30 in the morning for breakfast.
Thought we’d lash out and have breakfast at the elite Independence Hotel..Got there and checked out the buffet spread at US$12 but opted out when we found out that 70% of the food there had some form of pork product. So back in the car to head off to Sakal Bungalows at Independence Beach for a Western breakfast (total cost was US$15.25]. On the way back to Beach Club Resort, Deej stopped at a section of the road that had a roadside stall selling water, bananas and peanuts so tourists like us can buy food to feed the many monkeys there. We gladly parted with 4000 riels (US1) for a small bunch of bananas and a small packet of shelled peanuts to hand-feed our furry friends. Came back to check out of the Beach Club Resort to get on our way to Phnom Penh. We stopped for late lunch at a modern restaurant ‘Yi Sang-Ppsez’, not far from the city. Total cost was US$26 with a complimentary mini moon-cake each.
We drove through the city in peak hour traffic and I was very, very impressed by Deej’s driving skills in Cambodian traffic – I just hope he does not bring it home to Australia. We finally found our way to the Feeling Home Guesthouse, checked in and reconvened half an hour later for a spot of shopping at the Shopping Center Sorya Ltd. Deej felt like Vietnamese Pho (Beef Noodle Soup) so we jumped into a tuk tuk but Deej lost his sense of direction and we got off in the wrong street. Oops! Not to worry, the night was still young so we walked right around the block, nervously following Deej and Gen as they casually cross the busy streets almost as well as the locals. Wouldn’t you know it, when we got there, the establishment was shut for renovations. Well, no choice but to walk for another block to find another restaurant that has Pho on its menu. Aha! Found it! High fives all around as we eagerly entered. We chuckled over the dishes on offer in the extensive menu – a few penis dishes and funny misspelt English translation of local dishes. After a complimentary dessert of banana with sago in coconut milk, we had a leisurely stroll back to our guesthouse. Tonight’s dinner cost US$16.80. We said our goodbyes as we will be leaving early tomorrow morning and declined Deej’s offer to drive us to the airport. Arranged for a wake-up call for 7am and for a taxi to take us to airport at 7.30am (US$10 fare).
We thanked our lucky stars we decided against taking a tuk-tuk to the airport as we would probably have arrived at the airport a lot greyer! The morning peak hour traffic was horrendous to put it mildly – motorbikes, bicycles, tuk-tuk, taxis, motor cars, pick up trucks, vans and vendors pushing or pulling their food carts went in every which way in the most disorganized manner I have ever seen. Motorists drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other permanently fixed on the horn! FINALLY, we were able to breathe a sigh of relief as we turned into the Phnom Penh International Airport…
The last three days of our holiday were spent with my family in Singapore, eating, shopping, more eating, more shopping and yet more eating… What a fantastic three weeks’ holiday – one we’ll reminisce about while we sit in our rocking chairs in our future years.
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Before his scheduled Radical Prostatectomy in early December, my MOTH wanted to enjoy a pre-op pain-free holiday so with the doctor’s blessing, we went ahead with our plan to re-visit Tasmania to check out the places of interest that we had missed during our first trip. By mid-October, we were ready to rock and roll’ Look out, Tassie, here we come again!
Day 1 OCT 30:
I woke up early this morning to make a dozen lamb curry puffs for our lunch before the MOTH drove Just Trip’n home from storage in the warehouse so we could re-stock the food supplies and throw in our clothes and other bits and pieces associated with a long road-trip. By 4.30pm we were on the road to Station Pier to join the boarding queue to sail on the Spirit of Tasmania. As it was on our last trip, this road-trip also coincided with the National H.O.G. (Harley Owners Group) Rally scheduled to take place in Tasmania (this would be their 19th rally) from 6th to 8th November. Similarly, there were many, many Harley owners waiting to board with their machines, several of them accompanied by their chicks/partners, eager to get to Tasmania to begin the celebration. (H.O.G. rallies are held around the globe to celebrate Harley-Davidson motorcycle riding. This year, over 2,000 members from all parts of Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France and as far away as Alaska, USA, gathered in Launceston to take part in the Thunder Run, a scenic ride through the northern part of the island.) During the waiting period, we munched on KFC chicken that we had bought earlier while we surveyed leather-clad Harley owners mingling happily amongst themselves. After an orderly and smooth boarding procedure, we immediately went to check out our twin cabin – small but comfortable and furnished with twin beds and a couple of chairs. What a cool set-up ‘ complete with our own toilet, vanity unit and a shower to boot! The porthole offered a view of the water so we were quite pleased about that. Next, we made our way to Deck 7 where I headed for the gaming room while the ever-practical MOTH went to the tourism information centre to look into the business of getting a pass for entry to the many national parks that we will be going through during our stay. It must have been my lucky evening as within 20 minutes I had won $50! Woohoo!!! Wary of being too greedy and thus in danger of feeding all the coins back into the poker-machines, I decided to quit while I was ahead and much to his surprise, I joined the MOTH on one of the observation decks where he was enjoying an icy cold beer while airing his armpits’
We wandered around on Deck 7 for a bit and had a snack of a meat pie each from the bar instead of having dinner on board as neither of us felt like a full meal. After polishing off our meat pies, we sauntered over to the theatrette and watched ’17 Again’ amidst a couple of annoying brats climbing on the poles and a few ignorant foreigners talking rather loudly in their native tongue. About ‘ of the way through the movie, we felt the Spirit beginning to sway, just before the announcement came over the PA system advising everyone to vacate all the observation decks as they were locking everyone in. We were sailing straight into a thunderstorm in the middle of Bass Strait! That was kind of exciting as after the movie, we got a cup of latte each from the bar and tottered our way back to our cabin to watch the lightning play as it lit up the water each time a lightning struck. We finally gave in to sleep to be awoken by the wake-up call at 5.40am for the scheduled 6.30am arrival at Devonport.
Day 2 Oct 31:
While waiting for the announcement to go down to Vehicle Decks 5 and 6 to prepare for disembarking, we enjoyed a piping hot cup of latte each. Excellent timing on our part as no sooner had we finished our coffee, the announcement came so we joined fellow travelers in making our way to our respective vehicles. We drove out of the Spirit, went through the quarantine business of getting checked out in case we were importing the strictly forbidden fruit and veggies. Over the bridge we went in search of a supermarket which, from memory, wasn’t too far away. Didn’t buy any fruit and veggies as after a shudder at the exorbitant prices, we by-passed the fruit and veggies section and got a loaf of bread, a tube of toothpaste and a three-pack special of canned spaghetti. Declining the MOTH’s offer of breakfast at Macca’s (McDonald’s), we drove west, heading for Stanley. On the way, we noticed a road sign that boasts of Penguin Market as we approached the township of Penguin. ‘That’s worth checking out,’ we decided, as we followed the signs right through the town centre where it all turned to s**t – no more signage and after driving around for a bit and not seeing anyone around on an early Saturday morning, we came to the conclusion that it must have been an invisible market for a privileged few that did not include us. Not to worry, we drove onwards through Burnie following the scenic coastal route, by-passing Table Cape, etc, until we reached Stanley where we stopped to do a tour of the historic site of Highfield homestead. (We found out the following week when we passed through again that the Market is held every Sunday.)
Highfield homestead was built from 1832-35 as the residence of the Van Diemen’s Land Company’s chief agent, Edward Curr. He lived in a weatherboard cottage erected in 1827 and in July 1832, he claimed the new residence built adjoining it. In 1838, the original weatherboard dwelling was demolished to make way for the construction of new servants’ rooms and kitchen. Highfield remains remarkably intact after the Van Diemen’s Land Company period of occupancy.
After dishing out $10pp entry fee, we were allowed to tour the Homestead at our leisure so we stepped back in time for a general feel of life way back then. We wandered around from room to room, all with period furnishings. After checking out and taking photos of ‘The Room of Reflection’ (master bedroom), ‘The Room with a View’ (possibly a guest room) which provided the viewer with a fantastic view of ‘The Nut’ (Circular Head) at Stanley, sitting room, office, ‘Rooms of Games & Laughter’ (Children’s room), etc, we ventured down to the ‘Room of Provisions’ (the Cellar) and then the kitchen before venturing outside to continue our tour. A two-storey stone building nearby was used as ‘The Room of Preaching and Piety’ (chapel) downstairs and a schoolroom upstairs.
We left the chapel and wandered over to the Funerary monument in the garden erected by Curr as a monument to his daughter Juliana Teresa Curr who died tragically on 24 June 1835 aged 2 years, 11 months and 14 days. [She was playing in a cart harnessed to a dog and when the dog suddenly rushed to fight with other dogs outside the yard, it caused the little girl to hit her head on the fencing.] In 1838, this part of the garden was described as providing a ‘winding, bowery walk’ to a tomb surrounded by honeysuckle and sweet briar in an alcove.
From the monument, we continued on to view the Agriculturalist’s Cottage built for Alexander Goldie, the Company’s agriculturist (c. 1830), next door to the Freeman’s Cottage which is now a private residence. After checking out the stables, the threshing barn in a stoned section of the barn, pig sties and boiling house and the stone cart shed which included a loft for storing tools and provisions, we drove out of the homestead to head to ‘The Nut’, stopping on the way to snap a photo of what remains of the Convict Barracks built from 1834 and used to house half of the 41 convicts assigned to the Circular Head establishment from 1836. What an interesting tour it has been.
Next we drove to Hursey Seafood Restaurant across the road from Stanley Village motel (which used to be a railway station called Wiltshire in days of old) to pacify the worms in our bellies. We baulked at the price of the crayfish roll ($19) so instead we settled for a feed of fish and chips (Blue Grenadier fillets). Unfortunately, the meal turned out to be rather disappointing ‘ the fish was very oily as the oil they were cooked in mustn’t have been hot enough or perhaps the oil was due to be changed. Oh well, better luck next time.
The MOTH suggested that we spend the night at Arthur River so we could do the Arthur-Frankland River Cruise the next day. ‘Brilliant idea!’ I declared delightedly until we got to the Caravan Park at Arthur River where the sign ‘NO Vacancy’ glared at us as we drove up. Enquiries at the reception revealed that most places had been booked out as it was a holiday long weekend and our best hope would be to try another place up the road, over the Arthur River Road bridge. Failing that, we would have to drive all the way back to Stanley where again, we might not be successful in finding a powered site. Fingers crossed, we went over the bridge and came to the recommended site. With high hopes, the MOTH went in to make enquiries and was delighted when he found out that the owner of the site also happens to operate the A.R. Reflections River Cruise! As luck would have it, he had one last powered site on offer in a packaged deal consisting of a couple of nights’ stay and the 6-hour river cruise that included a rainforest nature walk and a gourmet lunch complete with wine and other beverages’ It wasn’t long before some hard cash exchanged hands and we were guided into our site. I was teased by the owner when he saw me munching on pumpkin seeds’ I promised not to squawk too much should I decide to spread my wings like a galah and fly around the place. [I quit smoking on Valentine’s Day this year and have since taken up munching on pumpkin seeds instead.]
After the usual routine of connecting Just Trip’n to the power point when we get to a powered site, we armed ourselves with our cameras and walked over the Arthur River Road bridge to check out the anglers all along the mouth of the Arthur River as we were told the salmon were running. Sure enough, just about everyone young and old were pulling them out of the river. After a couple of photos of waves pounding on Australia Rock, a jagged outcrop standing defiantly in the middle where the Arthur River flow meets the ocean, we returned to Just Trip’n for a little siesta. Our eyelids re-opened at 6pm and after a refreshing shower we sat down to a dinner of Beef Rendang (beef slow-cooked in coconut milk and spices) from home, served hot on basmati rice which the MOTH had cooked in the microwave oven, before settling in to watch a movie on DVD, prior to sweet slumber. We were excited about the upcoming Arthur River cruise in the morning, leaving at 10.15am and arriving back at 4.15pm. The Arthur River was named after Sir George Arthur, Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemens Land between 1824 and 1836. The tiny west coast township of the same name (Pop: 121 in 2006 census) is set at the mouth of the Arthur River which runs through tall eucalypt forests and rainforests out into the mighty Southern Ocean. Early explorers named this awe-inspiring place ‘The Edge of the World’ because the battered coastline and isolated river mouth stand before 15,000km of unbroken, untamed, unforgiving longest stretch of sea in the world (the Southern Ocean), extending all the way to Argentina.
Day 3 Nov 1:
I woke up bright and early to make a few curried egg sandwiches just in case the cruise lunch consisted of ham sandwiches and little else and by the time 9am rolled by, we were all ready to rock and roll. What a glorious day for a river cruise with the promise of plenty of sunshine and just a light breeze blowing. Laden with 15 tourists, Captain Rob took his boat about 15 km up the Arthur River, right up to where the Frankland and Arthur Rivers meet before the turn-around. Captain Rob has some free-flying feathered friends in the form of two pairs of White-bellied Sea Eagles which had built their nests in two separate locations along the Arthur River. We stopped the boat to feed the first pair about halfway up the river and when we reached the part of the river where the two rivers meet, the second pair of Sea Eagles were already waiting in anticipation of a free feed. After feeding the birds, we turned around and came back to Warra landing where we disembarked for lunch.
It was quite amusing watching the smokers hastily leaping off the boat, with unlit cigarettes hanging out of the corner of their mouths and their thumbs poised over the flicking button of their lighters’ (I must admit a part of me was rather envious though, as I listened to the harmonious flicking of cigarette lighters). The resident Tasmanian Pademelon (small bush wallaby) (pronounced ‘paddy melon’) and a Currawong (medium-sized black passerine bird) were eagerly waiting for their free feed of mixed fruit and vegetables that the Captain had brought along for them. Naturally, we all got our cameras out and began clicking away before enjoying a very yummy lunch of a variety of sandwiches, (egg, salmon, corned beef, ham and tomato) which was followed by an assortment of cheeses and biscuits, fruit platter of figs, dried mango pieces and fresh grapes and dessert of carrot cake and peach strudel. The lunch was liberally washed down with our choice of wine or soft drinks and orange juice for the teetotallers. After tea or coffee, anyone who wished to go on a nature walk was given a little handbook each with descriptions of the native flora we could expect to see along the walking track. Off we set, the younger ones leading the way with slower old farts like us ambling along at our own pace. Such a pity we didn’t get to see Warra Falls in its full glory due to the shortage of good rainfall’
During our absence, Captain Rob re-loaded all the leftover food and drinks back on board and by the time we got back from our walk, he was ready to give us a free lesson on botany, pointing out a Gunn’s Tree Orchid (Sarcochilus australis), native laurel, Bushman’s Bootlace (Pimelea linifolia) and various Australian native plants growing near Warra Landing. [The bark of Bushman’s Bootlace (rice flower) can be processed into strong string by a traditional method that involves wetting, drying, beating and rolling the strips of bark.] After the learning session, we all re-boarded Reflections and continued on our return boat ride, stopping one last time for another feeding session of the first pair of Sea Eagles. By this time the evening sea breezes had strengthened and whipped up a few whitecaps on the water. We hung on tightly to our hats after we pulled up the zippers of our jackets and it wasn’t long before we were back on dry land. Those who were staying at the Reflections Park walked in single file across the single lane Arthur River Road bridge and every time a vehicle approached the bridge, we all stopped with our backs against the bridge railing and sucked our guts in to let the vehicle go past, exchanging waves as we did so. We did it ten times altogether. We spent another quiet night watching DVDs again as there is no TV or radio reception in this neck of the woods. Tomorrow we will head off to our next stop – destination unknown. Roast chicken for dinner tonight followed by coffee and banana cake from home.
Day 4 Nov 2:
We drove out of Reflections Caravan Park a bit after 9am and followed the Bass Highway, heading east for Bridport. About 10km east of the Stanley turn-off, the MOTH made a detour south to the Dip River Forest reserve. He decided that we should check out Dip Falls and what a great decision that turned out to be. First of all, the MOTH had to make sure that the public toilets were in good working order before we followed the 200mtrs beyond the falls to the viewing platform for ‘a couple of photos’. We then walked back to the car-park to descend to the base of the cubic-basalt formed falls. Like a couple of teenagers, we practically skipped all the way down to the base to snap a few more photos. However, we aged very, very quickly as we slowly climbed up 158 steep steps to get back to the car park. After I stopped huffing and puffing, we had our lunch of the curried egg sandwiches that didn’t get eaten yesterday before driving 26km back to the Bass Highway to continue on our way.
When we got to Port Sorell, the MOTH got a tad panicky as we couldn’t locate a petrol station on our side of the road ever since Burnie and the gauge was dropping, dropping’ Not only was he getting panicky, he was also becoming rather irritable. Somehow, his optic nerves became entangled with his auditory nerves, thus confusing his senses… He testily reached over and turned the volume of the music way, way down just so his eyes could focus a little better in an attempt to spot a petrol station! We finally stopped to ask for directions from a couple of local teenage girls who cheerfully pointed us in the right direction before bidding us a happy holiday. My MOTH’s mood changed for the better as soon as we got to the petrol station and he even cracked a smile as he filled up Just Trip’n with diesel. He cheerfully made a stop at a roadside orchard stall so I could jump out to get a 2kg bag of Fuji apples and pop $4 into the honesty box. We then continued on over the Batman Bridge to reach Bridport to spend the night at the Bridport Caravan Park.
Bridport is a popular holiday and fishing destination overlooking Anderson Bay. The town was named by the English surveyors who chartered the coast by boat and named many of coastal towns after the coastal towns in the county of Dorset in Southern England. The bay was named after Andrew and Janet Anderson who were among the first settlers that arrived in 1833 after the district was explored by surveyor Thomas Lewis in 1830. The district enjoyed a short-lived rush in the late 1860s when gold was discovered at nearby Waterhouse and tin was discovered along the Ringarooma River. A substantial wharf was built for supplies and arriving Chinese miners and for the great quantities of tin to be transported out. The port declined in importance after the railway line between Launceston and Scottsdale was opened but by 1900, Bridport became a favourite summer resort because of the mild climate, sand and sea. Bridport today has a population of approximately 1,200, swelling to 2,000 – 3,000 over the holiday season. It has a thriving fishing and boat-building industry and many surrounding farms.
As soon as the power was hooked up, we grabbed our cameras and went for a walk along the path adjacent to the water in the hopes of getting some photos of birds but the only photo worth getting excited about was of a yellow wattle bird. I reckoned all the birdies had gone to bed as the day had been rather overcast with possible showers predicted, so we gave up and headed back to Just Trip’n. After a lovely hot shower, we sat down to enjoy our dinner of braised lamb in soy sauce served over piping hot basmati rice. Dessert consisted of a couple of slices of my banana cake to go with our coffee before settling in for the night to watch a bit of TV – yes, there is TV reception in this part of the island!!!
Day 5 Nov 3:
It rained all night at Bridport so both the MOTH and I didn’t get a sound night’s sleep. The MOTH managed to dash out between the raindrops to disconnect the power cord before we drove out of Bridport through the slushy main street in drizzling rain. What a gloomy day for sightseeing, grumbled the MOTH as he drove through intermittent buffeting wind gusts that was just about strong enough to topple Just Trip’n over! We couldn’t get out of Bridport soon enough. As we headed south, we noticed with some cheer that the weather was slowly improving and by the time we reached the Pub in the Paddock, the rain had stopped and the sun was peeping shyly through the clouds. We dropped in at the Pub for morning tea – we both had a coffee and carrot cake treat ($12) while admiring the d’cor and learning a little of the historic significance of this quirky pub. The heritage listed Pub in the Paddock, licensed since 1880, is one of Tasmania’s oldest country watering holes located in a beautiful little valley of Pyengana (an Aboriginal word meaning ‘meeting of two rivers’). Local yarn has it that the pub was built by a farmer on his property to solve the problem of his sons’ preference of going to the pub instead of working on the farm. A sign by the road advertises ‘Pub in a Paddock – Come and meet our beer drinking pig”. The beer-swilling pig is Priscilla, who can scull a watered-down stubby in seven seconds. Unfortunately, Priscilla was nowhere to be seen when we checked out her pen named Princess of the Paddock, with a sign that says, ‘Priscilla ‘ Hi! Geez I’m dry ‘ I’d Luv a Beer.’ The sign on the sty next to it says, ‘Priscilla Babe ‘ ‘I’d luv a drink too!’ but again, no porker was in sight. We figured that they both could be nursing hangovers from last night’s sculling session…
When we found out from the bar-maid that St Columba Falls is a mere 10mins drive up Mt Victoria Forest Reserve AND it’s accessible via a bitumen road, the MOTH had no hesitation to go and check it out. Of course by now, the rain had tracked us down from Bridport and Mother Nature gleefully waited for us to get our cameras out before spitting on us’ Undeterred, we donned our jackets and with our cameras safely tucked underneath, we set off on the 1km return walking trail which would take approximately half an hour. It was certainly worth the effort as we were rewarded with spectacular views of the falls at the end of the tree-fern lined walking track. Luckily, the rain stayed away long enough for us to get a couple of photos apiece’
Leaving St Columba Falls behind us, we turned around and drove past the Pub in the Paddock to get back on the Tasman Highway to our next destination of St Helens. About 24km before St Helens, the MOTH spotted a signthat screamed out ‘Halls Falls 1km’ so a swift turn of the steering wheel to the left saw us heading for this waterfall that did not rate a mention in the touring map that we had. When we reached the car park of Halls Falls, we read the info board to learn that seeing the falls entailed a 900m (1.5 hours return) walk, steep and slippery in places’ Hmmm’ should we or shouldn’t we, was the $100 question of the day. As we stood there procrastinating, two young ladies emerged from the walking track and in answer to our question if it was worth the lengthy walk, they both gave us the thumbs up. That gave us the impetus to go ahead and sure enough, it was worth the time and effort. From Halls Falls, it was back on the Tasman Highway to get to St Helens for a delicious lunch of crumbed ling fillets and chips ($15.95pp) from the Captain’s Catch on the waterfront.
No more detours – from St Helens, it was straight on to Bicheno to the Seaview At Bicheno Holiday Park ($22.50 for a powered site) to spend the night, with the intention of visiting Nature World (a few km north of Bicheno) in the morning. Our dinner that night was a can of spaghetti (jazzed up with some home cooked bolognaise sauce) on toast, topped with grated cheese.
Day 6 Nov 4:
We woke up to a glorious morning full of sunshine with the promise of more to come. We left Bicheno just before 9 and got to Nature World at 9.15am. It cost $18.50 for adults and $15.50 for seniors and we think it was worth every cent. We spent almost 3 and a half hours there checking out the native animals from kangaroos to Tasmanian Devils but to us, the main attraction that brought us there was the mention of the walk-through aviaries. We walked and we walked and took gazillion photos of our feathered friends. We watched the feeding of the Tasmanian Devils and the Forrester kangaroos with the free-loading sea-gulls gate-crashing the party when the Cape Barron Geese and Pacific Ducks were being fed. After the 10am feeding session, we were free to wander and roam the nature park at our leisure. Fortunately, it was the mating season for the birdies so we got to see peacocks fully displaying their tail feathers to impress the peahens, roosters cock-a-doodling away in front of the hens, and even the parrots were in courting mode. Having taken our fill of bird photos, we wandered over to the reptile section where we saw numerous enclosures full of tiger snakes and copperheads sunbathing. A few more photos later, we started to feel a bit fangy so decided it was time to leave and get a bite to eat.
While deciding on where and what to eat, we chomped on an apple each before heading back to Bicheno to find a store that sells crayfish (lobster). Yay! We found a butcher that advertises fresh crayfish for sale, so gleefully, we stepped inside only to be told that the last one they had was sold a little earlier. Well, that was that’ Somewhat disappointed, we jumped back into Just Trip’n and headed south. As we approached the Coles Bay – Freycinet turn-off, we impulsively swung off the Tasman Highway into Coles Bay Road and drove on to the Freycinet Marine Farm where we had supped on freshly shucked oysters and steamed mussels during our last visit in 2007. We ordered the exact same delicacies and they tasted just as good as we remembered ($14 for a dozen oysters, $15 for a bowl of mussels). Just as we were finishing, a small group of Harley Davidson motorcyclists roared down the driveway, hungry for a meal. We left soon after and got back on the Tasman Highway to get to Lost Falls.
When we finally got to it after driving through over 5km of rough gravel road in almost total silence broken only by the Moth’s occasional muttering of, ‘By George, how much further is this delightful drive going for?’, we were surprised to find that we were the only two souls there. “Hmmmph’ well, we’re here so may as well pushed on,” muttered the MOTH, so we went ahead following the non-descript walking track in search of the waterfall. Finally, we reached our destination – what a fantastic view! NOT!!! No bloody wonder it’s named Lost Falls – only fools like us would go looking for it! After a few half-hearted photos just to prove that we’ve been there, we hoofed it back to Just Trip’n and drove back to the Tasman Highway and onwards past Swansea to Triabunna ($25 for a powered site) to spend the night. Neither of us felt like warming up frozen food so we opted for a takeaway dinner of hamburger with the lot (minus bacon) for the MOTH and a steak burger with the lot (also minus bacon) for me. Tomorrow we will head for Richmond’
Day 7 Nov 5:
Woke up to another lovely day and after making a few chicken sandwiches for today’s lunch, we filled up Just Trip’n with diesel and headed for Richmond. On the way there, near the township of Buckland, I got my MOTH to make a stop off the road so I could get photos of Break-Me-Neck Hill and Bust-Me-Gall Hill that I had missed on our previous trip. Break-Me-Neck Hill was supposedly named after an exclamation uttered by a wagoner during his first trip negotiating the steep hill, and the ascent and descent of Bust-Me-Gall Hill were so difficult that in days of old, travellers often had to dismount from their wagons or horses to negotiate it. Camera-clicking over, we got back on the road to Richmond in search of curried scallop pies as recommended by Nina (who came with her students on a school trip in September), to be super delicious and a ‘must have’. ‘If you get to Richmond, you must try the curried scallop pies, no, not from any caf’ but from the bakery. You can’t miss the bakery, it’s the only one and is in the main street.’ Up the main street we drove, but there was no sign of a bakery so we turned around and drove down the main street again. Unfortunately, we still couldn’t find the bakery in question so I suggested to my rather exasperated MOTH that we should find a parking spot and take a walk and maybe ask a local? We drove around the block and just as we spotted a side street which offered a parking space large enough for Just Trip’n, both the MOTH and I simultaneously saw it – THE RICHMOND BAKERY – not in the main street but in the very side street where we were about to park. Yes, we both had a super delicious curried scallop pie each and also bought a loaf of bread and all together they cost us $15.90.
From the bakery, we went to Zoo Doo Wildlife Park, a park that was also recommended by Nina. It cost me $18 and the MOTH $16 as he flashed his Senior Card. We spent a delightful two and a half hours seeing cute baby animals in the nursery, chuckling at the sight of some funny-looking fancy poultry wandering around the place and taking photos of several species of our feathered friends, some of them roaming freely throughout the park. We also hopped on the open shuttle bus on a feeding tour of the park, feeding alpacas, emus, goats, ostriches, chickens and the two camels, Matilda and Clementine, all the while entertained by the running commentary of the friendly, humorous driver for the duration of the 20 minutes ride. We sauntered around for a few more minutes before it was time to view the feeding of the lion and see the tigers having their afternoon siesta. One last look around and we finally departed for our next destination, a wildlife sanctuary Banarong Wildlife Park in Brighton. Upon enquiry, I found out that the only birds they had there were a couple of cockatoos and a kookaburra recovering from injury. My interest in taking a tour of the place quickly dissipated so we saved on the entry fee of $16pp and drove on to New Norfolk to spend the night. We got to the New Norfolk Caravan Park ($25 for a powered site) on the Esplanade by the Derwent River in the early afternoon and went for a walk along the Derwent River following a walking track with several steep steps that took us to the top of the walk offering splendid views of the Derwent River and some of its surrounds. Dinner tonight was the fresh bread we bought earlier, dunked in the lamb curry from home. Tomorrow will be spent in the Mt Field National Park to check out a couple of waterfalls’
Day 8 Nov 6:
Woke up to another glorious day in this island paradise and after breakfast of coffee, we emptied the black water from Just Trip’n in the disposal pit of the caravan park, before heading off for our destination of Mt Field National Park with the intention of re-visiting Russell Falls and also take in Horseshoe Falls and the Lady Barron Falls, the two waterfalls that we did not visit the last time we were in the area. On the way there, we saw a sign which drew our attention – Salmon Ponds Heritage Hatchery and Gardens so we zoomed down the track and into the car park. After parting with $14 ($8 for me and $6 senior rate for the MOTH), we purchased two tubs of fish pellets ($1 a tub) and wandered over to the ponds to feed the salmon and trout before visiting the Museum of Trout Fishing and the Tasmanian Angling Hall of Fame. We then strolled along the Riverside Walk which meanders alongside a section of the Plenty River before returning to the booth to purchase another couple of tubs of fish pellets. We did another lap of the grounds stopping by the different ponds to feed the Rainbow Trout, Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Albino Rainbow Trout, Tiger Trout and Atlantic Salmon. That done, we retired to the Pancakes By The Ponds Restaurant/Caf’ for a delicious serve each of Lemon Butter Pancakes served with whipped cream and ice cream, decoratively presented with a light dusting of icing sugar. It was the pancake of the week costing $7 a serve.
With satisfied bellies, we jumped back into Just Trip’n and continued on to Mt Field National Park Visitor Centre. We walked for 10 minutes along the tree-fern lined track, passing Glow Worm Grotto on the way to view Russell Falls. Night visitors wishing to see the twinkling glow worms along the track must switch off their torches and let their eyes adjust to night vision. Neither of us expressed an interest to return at night for the experience, so we continued on to Russell Falls. From there, we intended to follow another track that would take us to Horseshoe Falls (30 minutes walk away – one way) or the 1 hour 10 minutes walk to Lady Barron Falls. Unfortunately, the tracks leading to the other two waterfalls were closed for repairs. Bummer!!! No choice but to just do the 1.3km circuit walk that took us back to the Visitor Centre. We enquired at the counter for an alternate route to see the two remaining waterfalls and were delighted to learn that by driving about 2 km up the road, we could park in the Tall Trees Walk car park and get to the respective waterfalls that way.
We had a chicken sandwich and a drink each at the car park before walking for 30 minutes on the track that led us to Horseshoe Falls before back-tracking to the junction to walk for another 35 minutes in the opposite direction to view Lady Barron Falls. By the time we finished taking a few photos of Lady Barron Falls, my knees were starting to ache at the mere thought of the uphill walk back to the car park’ However, the thought of being left behind wasn’t an appealing one so I soldiered on, huffing and puffing all the way. We spent 3′ hours at the Mt Field National Park before coming back to New Norfolk Caravan Park to spend another night there. Dinner tonight ‘ another tub of Beef Rendang served over basmati rice.
Day 9 Nov 7:
After a good night’s sleep, we were ready for more adventure but before that, we need mo’ money as one cannot live on love alone. We went to New Norfolk town centre to an ATM and then across the road to Chickenfeed, a discount variety store where I purchased a hair brush set for a princely sum of $2.99 – top quality, naturally. Having filled our respective wallet and purse with some moolah, we set off for the town of Maydena, driving past the Salmon Ponds again, then Mt Field National Park and onwards past the hops plantations with new hops seedlings just starting to climb up the wire trellis, cherry orchards with tantalizing ripening cherries, apricot orchards and a large raspberry plantation, unfortunately all displaying ‘Closed’ signs’
On and on we travelled and as we approached the township of Tyenna, we started looking for the Marriot Falls sign but despite both of us being on the look-out, we didn’t see it. ‘Well, we’ll just keep going then and check out Junee Cave instead,’ the MOTH declared. It wasn’t long before we reached Maydena and saw a sign, ‘Junee Cave 4km’ with the arrow pointing right. It was obvious to us that Junee Cave mustn’t be a tourist Mecca as the dirt road we were travelling on showed little sign of being well maintained. The further we went, the worse the track became and if not for the fact that there was nowhere that the MOTH could turn Just Trip’n around, we would have called it quits. We finally reached the car-park and from there we followed the non-descript walking path for about 15 minutes before we were pleasantly surprised by the sound of running water and a river magically appeared! We didn’t have to go much further before we got to Junee Cave, the source of the Junee River. A few photos later saw us heading back to the car park, stopping now and again to see little tiger trout swimming in the shallow river.
From Maydena, we decided to head for the east coast and despite craning our necks once again on the way past Tyenna, we failed to see any sign for Marriot Falls. We continued on to Dunalley stopping at the Fish Market for lunch of a seafood basket for 2 ($15). How terribly disappointing to find out that we will totally miss out on the crayfish season which will begin on Nov 15, the day we get back to Melbourne! Bummer!!! Not much we could do about it, we sighed, while enjoying our lunch in Just Trip’n and watching a couple of fishermen cleaning their catch of flatheads with the gulls hovering around for handouts. After lunch, we travelled on to Nubeena to pick up some groceries from the IGA supermarket there before making our way to White Beach Holiday Park. As soon as we had settled into our powered site ($26 a night), we did a load of washing (2x$2 coins for a load and $1 for 10mins use of the dryer). We took turns having our showers and it wasn’t long before our washing was done. I went for a walk around the park with my trusty camera and managed to capture a few shots of the Green Rosella, native to Tasmania. We waited for sunset, hopeful of getting a few nice photos of it, before having our dinner of savoury mince on toast and then we thought of settling in for a relaxing night of TV viewing. Tomorrow, we will head north, through the centre of the island’
Day 10 Nov 8:
We had a lousy night sleep as soon after dinner, the MOTH began experiencing pain in the chest and complained of both arms aching. He totally disregarded my suggestion that I contact the Park manager for info regarding the nearest medical assistance if required and just kept going outside for some fresh air which seemed to help a little. He tried to get some sleep but the most ‘comfortable’ position for him was to stand upright. I was worried sick but tried my best not to show it as I massaged his neck, shoulders and back to afford some slight relief. It was midnight by the time he finally fell asleep while I lay awake praying and checking to make sure he was still breathing! What a relief when morning broke and he woke up feeling his normal self again’ The MOTH spotted several galahs feeding on the lawn while on his way to the restrooms and when he noticed them still feeding on his way back, he told me to grab my camera for a few photos.
Having already checked out Port Arthur during our previous trip two years ago, we decided to scrub around doing another tour of it as the only activity we didn’t participate in the last time was the Ghost Tour. Back then, I didn’t feel like soiling my britches unnecessarily and my sentiments remained unchanged so we left White Beach to begin the drive to Launceston. We made a quick stop at a fruit and veggies market just off the main road near Sorell, where we bought half a kilo of shelled scallops, a couple of T-bone steaks (for tomorrow’s dinner) and some nectarines. From there we travelled on to Ross, a historic town situated on the Macquarie River, noted for its convict history, historic bridge and original sandstone buildings [Not knowing its historic significance beforehand, we missed out on checking out the old bridge.]
Town Hall is “RECREATION“.
The Roman Catholic Church of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart is “SALVATION“.
The old Gaol (now a private residence) is “DAMNATION“.
After a lunch of a curried scallop pie @ $6.95 each (nowhere near as good as the pies we had in Richmond) and a fruity icy-pole apiece, we had a bit of a look around the town centre. We then hit the road again and headed for Launceston. Just as we reached Launceston, a call came through from Bill, one of the MOTH’s mates, who had come down from northern Queensland for the H.O.G. rally. We stopped at Coles in Wellington St to stock up on a few grocery items before heading for the Treasure Island Caravan Park to spend the night there in one of their $29 powered sites. Within an hour of another quick phone call, Bill appeared on his 2008 Harley Davidson to say G’day. Tonight’s dinner of scallops in oyster and chili garlic sauce with Asian veggies served on a bed of 2-minute noodles was quite delicious ‘ it turned out a bit like scallop chow mein. Tomorrow, we’ll take in Tasmania Zoo. Yay!
Day 11 Nov 9:
We left the Treasure Island Caravan Park at a bit after 9am, quite pleased with the news that our Aussie boys had won the 6th ODI cricket match against the Indians which meant that we won the series leading 4-2 with one final match to go. Following the route charted on the GPS, we travelled on and on and on until we reached Tasmania Zoo which is located in Riverside, out in the boondocks. We paid the entrance fee of $18 pp (no discount for senior card holders) and also lashed out and bought the layout map of the zoo. The beautiful fish swimming in the numerous aquariums in the foyer of course called for the clicking of our cameras before we followed the keeper to watch the feeding of the blue penguins. Feeding time over, we wandered down to the island haven housing two wedge-tailed eagles living out their remaining years in retirement. The two wedge-tailed eagles were rescued from being euthanized by Dick Warren, the owner of Devil’s Heaven Wildlife Park. They are permanently injured ‘ one was shot and the other electrocuted by power lines’
Temperature rose quite rapidly and by the time we finished doing the round of the zoo’s various enclosures to view the animals, we were rather hot and sweaty. Upon leaving the Zoo, the MOTH decided to take a different route to our next destination, the charming historic town of Deloraine, via the Meander Valley following the gravel road. I remarked that I vaguely remember there is a waterfall called Liffey Falls in the area. So’ up and down and around and around over hills and vales we travelled on gravel road for some 30km until we got to within 2 km of the falls – a sign that states the road leading to the falls is only accessible to vehicles with short wheel base. What a bummer!!! No choice but to turn around and detoured to get on the A5 Lake Highway which took us to Deloraine.
Deloraine, situated on the Meander River, was first explored in 1823 by Captain Roland, searching for agricultural land and was named after Sir William Deloraine, a character in Sir Walter Scott’s poem ‘The Lay of the Last Minstrel’ (1805). Sir Walter Scott’s kinsman, Thomas Scott, first surveyed the district in 1824 and in 1825 the area became the first land in Van Diemen’s Land where leases could be purchased. In the 1850s, the government sold the land outright for ‘1 an acre which resulted in a dramatic increase in population. The township flourished and in the early 1870s, the first rail link in Tasmania was established between Launceston and Deloraine, greatly reducing the poor transport problems. The town has been classified by the National Trust as a town of historical significance and is now a major agricultural centre. Historical buildings from the 1830s and 1840s are still in use today as private dwellings and commercial entities.
Upon reaching Deloraine, we located a chemist where the MOTH insisted on getting me some antihistamine before he became too accustomed to my perpetual sneezing caused by hay-fever. It wasn’t long before the worms in our bellies demanded to be fed so we darted off to a takeaway joint to sink our teeth into a delicious sirloin steak sandwich each, complete with beetroot, onions and the works for $6 each. The MOTH even loosened his purse strings long enough to fish out $13 for a couple of mango smoothies. If we had lubricants for our creaking joints we would have liked to walk up to the summit of Quamby Bluff, about 20 minutes drive away but we opted to take a leisurely stroll around the town centre instead, before jumping back into Just Trip’n to get to Mole Creek where we got a powered site for $20 a night in the Mole Creek Caravan Park right beside the Sassafras Creek. The MOTH volunteered to cook tonight ‘ he got the portable BBQ happening and it wasn’t long before we sat down to a delicious meal of T-bone steaks with fried onions, grilled tomatoes and fresh mushroom gravy.
Day 12 Nov 10:
Bummer! We arose to a dull-looking day with an overcast sky so decided to run away to, hopefully, better weather down the road to check out Alum Cliffs. [This place is also called Tulampanga and was a place of social and spiritual significance to the Aborigines because of the presence of ochre which they used for ceremonial body marking, colouring wood craft products and various other uses.] We arrived at the car-park to find there wasn’t a single soul in sight and no vehicle of any description parked there. Undeterred, we marched enthusiastically to the beginning of the walking track to read the info on the Alum Cliffs short walk – 800m to the lookout – fairly easy with a few steep sections. Some kind soul had the foresight to place several makeshift walking sticks near the info sign. I was wise enough to grab a sturdy specimen and it proved to be a good move as I found myself resorting to using it to ease the stress on my knees. About a third of the way through our walk we came to a clearing with what looked like a bunch of old timber pieces somehow attached to form a strange semi-geometric shape. Reading the plaque nearby we learned that it is actually a sculpture by a David Jones called Soulevement – Triangular (Soulevement refers to the geological context, to lift upwards, the space between the ‘form’ and the earth and Triangulaire takes account of the journey to Alum Cliffs, the series of triangulated stone ‘viewing platforms’ at the cliff edge). We got to the forest lookout perched high above the Mersey River as it flows along the valley through the Alum Cliffs Gorge and left after a couple of photos each to drive on to our next destination ‘ Gunns Plain.
There we were driving along until I impulsively got the MOTH to drive into the car-park of the Ashgrove Cheese factory in Elizabeth Town on the Bass Highway. What grabbed my attention were the colourful, bigger than life-sized statues of cows strategically placed in the huge paddock by the main highway. As we drove up the driveway, our eyes were met by more of these cow statues, each cleverly painted to appear as if they were wearing football socks, boots, award ribbons and so… What a clever, eye-catching form of advertising! More colourful cow statues decorated the place – even in the outdoor undercover eating area and along the front of the building. We had a jolly good time tasting various cheeses from mild to fancy wasabi cheddar before enjoying a latte each ($3 cup) and watched the cheese making in progress. We left the place with 3 blocks of Danish style Claus Havarti (mild, smooth and soft) as we both liked it the best and also a block of Double Brie – total cost $14.15. What a bargain!
From Ashgrove Cheese, we drove on to Gunns Plains Cave which was discovered in 1906 by a local man, Bill Woodhouse, while game hunting. (He followed a possum that eluded him down a hole which led into the cave.) Early tourists had to descend three storeys by rope through the original entrance until a series of 54 steps were constructed from concrete, leading from the natural cave floor to the new entrance which was cut into the hillside and remains as the only public entrance and exit to the cave which contains many beautiful natural cave formations. We went on the 1.30pm guided tour of the cave ($12 for me, $10 for the MOTH who once again flashed his Senior Card). The tour lasted an hour. We were a little disappointed at not getting very many photos of the cave formations as the lighting wasn’t camera-friendly. Negotiating the steep and narrow staircase was a bit of a challenge and I protectively shielded my camera from getting damaged as it swung from side to side with every stair I tackled. I reckon whoever designed and constructed the stairway must be of a rather small stature. Along with the other 4 adults and 3 children tourists, we were reminded and advised on when to duck and bend really, really low by our friendly cave guide, Trish, as we maneuvered from one section of the cave to another. All in all, though, it was an enjoyable cave tour.
After the cave, we drove to Ulverstone, a coastal town at the mouth of the Leven River, to spend a night at the Ulverstone Apex Caravan Park at $24 a night for a powered site. The latte I had at the Cheese place must have given me some extra drive as I was still feeling energetic so I decided to clean the back window of Just Trip’n. I was sidetracked by the sight of a pair of plovers sitting in the middle of the lawn so I ventured over with my camera after I finished cleaning the window. Well! Neither of the plovers liked having me invading their space so they both began to dive-bomb me. That kind of put a damper on my camera-clicking idea so I beat a hasty retreat back to the safety of Just Trip’n. Tonight’s dinner of Lamb curry on basmati rice was quite enjoyable before a late night snack of some yummy cheese on cracked pepper Savoy crackers. Tomorrow, we will go back to the Gunns Plain area to check out Wing’s Wildlife Park.
Day 13 Nov 11:
I helped the MOTH clean out our toilet cassette and also cleaned the inside toilet before we headed off to Wing’s Wildlife Park. We drove into the car-park to see a huge busload of tourists and in one corner near the entrance, I noticed 3 Aborigine youths – one white, one caramel and one dark, busy applying their war-paint. Hmmm’ rather ‘touristy’, I thought and definitely not my choice of a place to visit so I told the MOTH to give the place a miss. A quick U-turn in the car-park and we were off to check out Preston Falls not too far from Wing’s. We pulled up at the car-park just in time to see 3 middle aged ladies getting out of a taxi and together with the taxi driver, they set off on the walking track leading to the falls. It was a short easy walk and we met them halfway when they were on their way back. A couple of photos snapped and we were good to go on to the next destination – Leven Canyon. Not feeling that energetic, we opted for the short 20 minutes return walk to Cruickshanks Lookout instead of the longer, more challenging Fern Walk. A few minutes into our walk and who should be heading back on the walking track but the 3 ladies and their cab driver! We stopped to exchange pleasantries and managed to convince them that we were not stalking them’
We reached the Lookout to be awed by the majesty of the canyon. Leven Canyon is a dramatic canyon with the Leven River twisting and roaring through limestone cliffs almost 1,000 feet below the Cruickshanks Lookout. The Lookout was named in honour of George Roland Cruickshank (1904-1968), whose vision started the Reserve more than 40 years ago. Walking out to the Lookout platform that over-hangs a cliff sent a shiver up my spine – it was worse for my MOTH who is afraid of heights, even though he used to fly around in airplanes! Nevertheless, we steeled ourselves and managed to walk out to the end of the platform to snap a few photos before hastily stepping off the metal mesh to get back on terra firma for a more leisurely stroll on the 570 metres track back to the car-park. We noticed there are 3 bench seats situated at the quarter way, half-way and three quarter way of the walking track with these etched messages –
“HAVE A SPELL <– 436m 134m –>“,
“HALF WAY SEAT <– 242m 328m –>” and closer to the Lookout was the last bench seat with
“NEARLY THERE <– 136m 434m –>”
[<– = to the Lookout; –> = to start of walking track].
We decided we would track down another waterfall, Guide Falls, near the township of Ridgley but first, we would stop to get more biscuits to go with our havarti cheese for tonight’s late night snack. Of course we couldn’t go into the mini-mart and just buy a packet of biscuits so we did a quick scan of the premises until our eyes caught sight of the ice-cream freezer. We selected a frosty treat each, grabbed a copy of the daily newspaper and had a bit of a yarn with the friendly proprietor before continuing on our way to get to Guide Falls, Ridgley’s premier attraction. The waterfall is about 187m above sea level and is about 35m high.
We reached the upper level car-park at Guide Falls and an easy few minutes’ walk later saw us gleefully clicking our cameras at the top cascades before we ventured down a few flight of stairs to get to the second level cascade. It was breathtakingly beautiful and worth every step of the way. From Guide Falls, we thought it would be a good idea to check out the numerous falls in the region, so off we went. Unfortunately, after travelling a further 35km and failing to locate Sanderson Falls and St Georges Falls, the MOTH gave up on them so we turned around and headed back towards Ulverstone where we planned to spend another night. On the way back, I remembered passing a sign that advertised the Emu Valley Rhododendron Garden on our way out earlier on, so I persuaded the MOTH to turn into it for a bit of a look-see.
For being so obliging, I treated my MOTH with afternoon Devonshire tea at the visitors kiosk caf’ which, in our case, consisted of 2 piping hot cups of latte accompanied by 2 platefuls of freshly baked scones served with lashings of homemade raspberry jam and whipped cream. Reasonably priced too at $5 per person… The scones were polished off very quickly, giving the fresh whipped cream very little chance to go off. A $6 entry fee per adult allowed us to tour the garden at our leisure so afterwards, armed with our cameras, we wandered around opting for the short walk as it was getting a bit late for a full walk around.
This beautifully landscaped award-winning garden near the town of Burnie covers a 13 hectare site sloping towards the Emu River with over 20,000 established plants, including many wild species of rhododendrons from various parts of the world specially planted to reflect their geographical origins. There are three small lakes (Lake Pearl, ‘Sea of Japan’ and Lake Grebe) formed by several natural springs feeding the large stepped basin in the sloping terrain. What a pity our visit was just a little late to fully appreciate the vibrant colours and fragrance of the rhododendrons at their flowering best in October. It was still colourful enough with the late-flowering species though… We left the garden about half an hour later and drove back to Ulverstone without any more detours. For dinner, I whipped up a quick crab foo-yong which we enjoyed on toast. Tomorrow we will head off for Cradle Mountain.
Day 14 Nov 12:
On the way to Cradle Mountain, we passed the township of North Motton where an unusual ‘garden’ caught our eyes – the whole front yard of a house named ‘Dunny-Doo’ was ‘decorated’ with old toilet cisterns! We made a quick stop at Wilmot, a tiny township with one claim to fame – the original G.W. Coles store established in 1912 which subsequently became an important retailing chain throughout Australia. After snapping a couple of photos of the store, we continued on our way and arrived at the Cradle Mt car-park just before 11am.
We were quite excited about doing the short walk Dove Lake Circuit rated as ‘Easy – one graded uphill section’. It is a 6 km walk that supposedly takes up to 2 hours to go right around Dove Lake. Armed with our four cameras, two bottles of Coke, two jackets, and wearing a jumper over our summer tops, we went into the Transit Terminal where we were issued with tickets for the shuttle bus service when the MOTH showed our Tasmania Parks & Wildlife Pass. (Without the pass, it would cost $16.50 per adult.) We jumped into the next shuttle bus and went all the way to Dove Lake to start our ‘short easy walk’ around the lake. Easy-peasy, we thought as we jauntily set off. Spotting a makeshift walking stick at the start of the walking track, I decided to grab one for myself. A few minutes into our walk took us to Glacier Rock which we climbed to snap some photos of Cradle Mountain. We continued on, stopping every so often to get more photos of Cradle Mountain from different vantage points’ About a third of the way into our walk, the MOTH suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and took a backwards jump with his hand held out to stop me from going any further. ‘Shit! it’s a tiger snake!’ he yelled. I was struck with fear and it was a wonder I didn’t poop in my pants. What a pity I didn’t have my wits about me to snap a photo of the snake before it slithered away. My MOTH then began warning other tourists coming in the opposite direction about the snake. From then on, I rattled my walking stick along the boardwalk to scare off any other snakes that could be lurking around the place.
Fortunately, the rest of the walk was uneventful but I would like to meet the person who rated the walk as ‘Short’ and ‘Easy’. I’ll bet you he or she is a physical trainer as we certainly would not rate it as such and many others agreed with us. Two hours, it said on the info board. It took us 3′ hours to complete the walk! Maybe if I am still a smoker, I would think differently as I could have had a packet of smokes during the walk. I realised how unfit I really am – my knees were hurting even though I was wearing knee supports and was I glad I grabbed that walking stick! I had to have many, many stops as my heart rate soared and I became breathless. What a welcome sight it was when we came around the final corner and saw the car-park up ahead’
We caught the next shuttle bus back to the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre where we went for a quick jog (NOT!) around the 500 metres Pencil Pines Falls & Rainforest Walk to view Pencil Pine Falls before ducking across the road to view Pencil Pine Cascades. We then caught the next shuttle bus (runs every 15-20mins between 10am – 5pm and after that every hour till 7pm.) back to the Transit Terminal where we slowly made our way back to Just Trip’n. I kicked off my shoes, took off my knee supports and changed into a pair of shorts while the MOTH made a phone call to book us a powered site at Mole Creek Caravan Park for the night. The MOTH was chatting with another of the Caravan Park user and it turned out that he and his son were also at Cradle Mountain at the same time as us and they too saw a tiger snake during the walk around Dove Lake. They also heartily agreed that it was not such an easy walk at all. A hot relaxing shower later and we felt almost human again. Another serve of braised lamb in soy sauce over basmati rice would be our dinner. Tomorrow we will find out a bit more about the Great Cathedral Cavern…
Day 15 Nov 13:
Both of us woke up this morning feeling suitably refreshed after an early night to rest our weary bones. We got to the Mole Creek Caves ticket office a wee bit early and started chatting with the park ranger there who filled us in on the difficulty level of Cathedral Cave. When we told her that we tackled the Dove Lake walk yesterday, she quickly assured us that if we did that ok, we should have no problem tackling Cathedral Cave with its 250+ stairs. The first Cathedral Cave tour for the day is at 11am so to fill in some time we went for a 40mins return walk through the Fern Glade with the high possibility of see plenty of birdlife – yea, right! We could hear them alright but not a single bird could be sighted. Oh well, it was a pleasant walk anyway. By the time we got back to the ticket office and purchased our tickets ($16 for me and $12 for Senior MOTH), had a drink, changed our camera lenses and donned our jackets in preparation for the cool temperature of the cave (9C), it was time to drive up to the cave car-park and walk the 120 metres to the meeting place near the cave entrance.
After a bit of a chat with our group of cave visitors regarding the dos and don’ts once we got into the cave, our cave guide, Brian, opened the gate and the entrance door to the cave. For the first section, we were not permitted to use our cameras, which was a bit of a bummer as we couldn’t capture images of the massive and stunning flowstone formations there. Once we were given the okay to use our cameras, one could be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that we were paparazzi who had just caught sight of Brad Pitt kissing his ex-missus in the shadows of the cave! There were camera flashes from all the visitors – all eleven of us began clicking our cameras as we gazed in wonder at some pretty awesome formations – from straw stalactites on the cave ceiling to shawls on the cave walls and flowstones and stalagmites on the cave floor. The highlight of the tour was towards the end when we returned to the section of the cave near the underground river close to the entrance/exit of the cave. We were told once again to turn off our cameras and when the dim cave lights were also switched off, we all stood in the pitch-black darkness, too afraid to move in case we trip and fall. We were then asked to lift our heads and look at the ceiling. An awed chorus of “Awwwww…” echoed throughout the cavern as we gazed on what looked like a moonless night sky, with hundreds of tiny stars the only source of light. The tiny “stars” are of course the glow worms, the larvae of large mosquito-like flies. All too soon, the dim lights in the cave were switched back on so we could see our way out of the cave… The 50 minutes tour was over.
Once again bathed in sunshine and after answering the call of nature, we jumped into Just Trip’n and it was onwards to Deloraine… and lunch! On the way to Deloraine, we spotted a sign, ‘Lobster Falls’ so the MOTH did a U-turn and parked Just Trip’n by the roadside while we went for a walk to check it out. Apart from stating, ‘No cars past this point’, there was little else info but we thought we’d just go for a short walk and hopefully see more signage along the track. Well, on and on and on we walked for a good 15 minutes before deciding that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all and we could be wasting a lot of time and energy for nothing. There was no more signage and no sound of running water although we were fooled a couple of times mistaking the sound of the wind through the trees as being that of running water. The MOTH decided to call his mate, Bill, the Harley Davidson fanatic who grew up in the area, for any possible info he could share with us. Unfortunately, there was no reply. Not long after we got back into Just Trip’n to drive on to Deloraine, Bill returned our call and told us that Lobster Falls was about an hour’s walk each way! Whew! Lucky we gave up when we did…
When we reached Deloraine, we headed straight for the same takeaway shop for another mouth-watering lunch of delicious steak & salad sandwich, a small serve of crinkle-cut chips ($2) and yes, a mango smoothie each for ‘dessert’. Afterwards, we strolled along the river bank and over the footbridge to get some nice photos of the Meander River, the Weir, the old mill, and the old bridge before making our way back past the Baptist Tabernacle and the Apex Train Park. Conscious of our light pockets, we then wandered over to the ATM for a re-fill before a leisurely stroll through the Memorial Park to get back to Just Trip’n. We decided to call it a day and began the drive back to Ulverstone to spend our final night in Tasmania. Tonight’s dinner will be Beef Rendang on basmati rice.
Day 16 Nov 14:
We left Ulverstone and drove straight to Devonport ‘ parked at the same car-park that we used on our last trip two years ago. We then hoofed it to the Devonport Showground to check out the Farmers’ Market (held every second Saturday of the month). After the ‘cut lunch and boomerang’ walk to get there, we were somewhat disappointed to see merely a few stalls set up for business ‘ a few dealt with farm produce, a couple were selling country craft and knick-knacks, a couple of honey stands and a cake stall or two. We were both feeling a bit peckish but didn’t particularly feel like hamburgers or sausage rolls so after one lap of the place, we left and headed back to the town centre to Maccas for breakfast of hotcakes and coffee.
From there, we went for a long, leisurely stroll along the Esplanade to take a few photos of the Spirit docked on the other side of the Mersey River being prepared for our departure that evening. We then walked up and down Rooke St Mall and went into a few stores for a cursory glance at the goods on offer. Our only purchase was The 12th Man Box Set of 7 CDs from Sanity. By this time, our bellies told us it was time for a re-fuel so we decided on a $45 lunch of Grilled Pink Ling fillets with gourmet salad and chips at Sharkies Seafood Restaurant with their rather cute napkin holder in the shape of prawns. Bit pricey for fish and chips, I thought but they did give us an after dinner chocolate each before we left. We sauntered back to Just Trip’n and rested for a while before a bit of a freshening-up session and a change of clothes before we headed off over the bridge and onward to join the queue to board the Spirit of Tasmania. Our mate, Bill, who was also getting on the Spirit to get home to Queensland saw us in the vehicular queue and came over to say G’day.
As it was a full load, it took a while for all the various vehicles to be loaded but finally, it was all done and we made our way up to Deck 7 where I headed for the Star Gaming Room while the MOTH met up with Bill and the blokes spent the best part of the evening drinking beer and telling lies while I tried to bait more gold coins to come out of the poker machines. After four long hours of hard work, I managed to get a machine to cough up $22. Not exactly a cork-popping champagne win but a win nonetheless. I hung around in the gaming room because I felt a bit nervous about making my way to the bar where Bill and my MOTH were seated as the Spirit was sailing through a pretty rough patch of water. I didn’t want to make a fool of myself by swaying like a drunken sailor. It was just as well I decided against having dinner or I could have easily done a chunder DownUnder on the Spirit’s carpet!
Bill decided to call it a night just before 11pm, after which, my MOTH came looking for me and we both went up to Deck 8 to get to our ocean view recliners. We couldn’t find our seats in the semi-darkness so the MOTH went looking for assistance from the security bloke. What a lousy arrangement ‘ we had to wake up the young dude who was fully stretched out in his recliner so we could squeeze our way into ours by contorting our bodies between the dude’s recliner and the three recliners in front of his and ours. Never again! Should we decide to visit Tasmania again, it will definitely be cabin accommodation both ways. If the cabins happen to be all booked out like they were on this return trip, we will postpone our travel just so we can sleep in comfort.
Day 17 Nov 15
The Spirit docked at Station Pier just in time for us to see several sunrise balloon riders taking in views of Melbourne from the air. We drove out of the Spirit of Tasmania and arrived home a few minutes after 7am. After unloading Just Trip’n, it was taken back to the warehouse to hibernate until our next road trip. A half-hearted attempt at unpacking and two loads of washing later, the MOTH and I opted for a little shut eye. We’re not as young as we used to be, after all’ The amount of walking when compared to our last trip is open to debate but one thing is for sure ‘ I felt a lot better on the previous trip when I was able to light up a cigarette during pit stops! All in all, this has been another happy holiday for us and we got to visit all the caves we wanted. Alas, the same cannot be said of the waterfalls as we missed out on visiting those only accessible by 4WDs or involving way too many hours of cross-country trekking. Should we decide on another trip, we will make sure that it is a summer holiday so we can pig out on lobsters and stone-fruit.
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In the Enid Blyton era of my childhood, a cave brought on visions of smugglers gleefully gloating over their loot or buccaneers yo-ho-ho-ing with their bottle of rum as they surveyed their ill-gotten treasure or a secret laboratory operated by a mad scientist… As I grew older, the vision changed to associating a cave as being a cold, dark and damp place inhabited by bats, creepy crawlies or worse still, things that go ‘bump’ in the dark! My eyes were finally opened to the wonders of how beautiful a cave can be when my MOTH took me for a visit to the dolomite Newdegate Cave (Hastings Cave) in Tasmania in November last year. I managed to overcome the initial apprehension of leaving the daylight behind me as I stepped down into the dark, mysterious atmosphere of the cave and am I ever so glad that I took that first step! The magnificence of the various speleothems that decorated the cave took my breath away and ever since then, I can’t seem to get enough of them. While in Tasmania, we also took in the limestone caves of Marakoopa and King Solomon at Mole Creek.
My MOTH surprised me with a new digital SLR camera in July, 2008 (I think it must be his way of showing his appreciation of my cooking as it couldn’t possibly be for my housekeeping!) and whisked me off for a trip to Buchan in S.E. Victoria to visit Fairy Cave with its beautiful limestone formations. Fairy Cave was discovered in 1907 by a pioneering speleologist Frank Moon, a man with a wicked sense of humour who was so pleased with his discovery that he named his first daughter, ‘Fairy’. Years later, Fairy fell in love with Frank Hansford, a cave tour guide and they wanted to marry inside Fairy Cave. They wrote to the authority to ask permission, but the request was denied. But Frank Moon had the keys to the cave so they went ahead with the wedding at the “Crystal Altar” in April 1930. Fairy obviously inherited her father’s sense of humour as she named her first son, ‘Cave’. [We made a return visit to Buchan in early December to visit Royal Cave (discovered in 1910 by Frederick Wilson) which was closed for renovations during our first visit.]
I received a message from my MOTH while he was at work one day telling me to find out more about Naracoorte Caves National Park in South Australia, one of Australia’s fourteen World Heritage areas. This national park was added to the World Heritage List because of extensive fossil deposits found inside the caves that have revealed so much about Australia’s unique marsupial heritage. Later that same evening, he suggested that we should go on a road-trip to check out the caves. Ever obedient, I resisted the temptation to decline in favour of my favourite pastime of doing housework. Yeah, right! In actual fact, I had my suitcase packed by the time he came home from work the next day. While waiting for the roadtrip to commence, I cooked up several meals to see us through the week in Just Trip’n (our motor-home) and threw them into our freezer.
I woke up with the birds on the day of our departure to re-fry up some curry puffs I had made the day before to feed our faces during the long drive to Naracoorte. After loading up Just Trip’n with enough food and clothing to last for at least a month, we were ready to set off. It was an uneventful drive heading north-west to Horsham, passing sleepy townships, many, many golden fields of canola, countless vineyards and cattle farms. From Horsham, we headed south-west and made a detour to check out Mount Arapiles, Victoria’s climbing Mecca. Mount Arapiles offers over 2000 quality climbing routes in one fairly small mountain of super-strong sandstone.
On the way to Mount Arapiles, we passed Declaration Crag, one of the most easily accessed crags in the country, a mere 15m from the road. Declaration Crag is a big self-contained rock often used by instructors as a beginners’ training ground for rock-climbing enthusiasts with climbs of all grades up to 29. The sight of this impressive crag naturally got us reaching for our cameras and after several happy snaps of it, we resumed the drive to the Pines campsite to get photos of Mount Arapiles before continuing on our journey to Naracoorte.
We arrived at the Naracoorte Holiday Park in the late afternoon and as soon as Just Trip’n was connected to the power source, we went for an unhurried walk through a nearby park to stretch our legs and watch a few Pilgrim Geese frolicking in the pond. Dinner that evening consisted of lamb curry and rice followed by coffee and home-made banana cake. We challenged our eyes with some TV viewing but my MOTH surrendered to sleep well before midnight. I was too excited to sleep so I played games on my Nintendo DS before succumbing to sleep at about 1 am.
Bright and early the next morning saw us on the road to Naracoorte Caves National Park. Altogether, there are 26 caves in the Naracoorte National Park although not all are open to the public. Some are set aside for scientific research and study while some are closed for the preservation of its precious historic contents. Several caves are open to the public with regular guided tours – from short easy tours to long more adventurous ‘un-developed’ cave tours by torchlight (eg. Cathedral Cave). We opted for the four unit ‘easy’ cave tours which included free admission to the Wonambi Fossil Centre walk-through diorama “museum”. First on the agenda at 9.30am was a half hour guided tour of Alexandra Cave, discovered by William Reddan in 1908 and opened to the public in 1909. The cave was named after the wife of King Edward VII of England, Queen Alexandra. After going down 25 steps into the cave, we were treated to awesome views of speleothems formations that decorated the three chambers and a fascinating “Mirror Pool” before going up 35 steps to exit the cave.
As soon as the guided tour was over, it was a mad dash to drive 1.5 km to visit the Victoria Fossil Cave for the one hour guided tour. This cave was discovered before Alexandra Cave by William Reddan in 1894 and soon after the discovery, it was partly developed as a show cave and opened to the public. The entrance to Victoria Fossil Cave was last blocked by sediment around 16,000 years ago and it is estimated to contain about 5000 tonnes of bone and sediment. Major discoveries of ancient animal bones, notably the ‘megafauna’ of giant marsupials were made in 1969 and the subsequent years. Six fossil deposits are now known to be in this cave and in 1994 the park was inscribed in the World Heritage List. We descended 30 steps into a chamber beautifully decorated with speleothems before winding our way through 250 metres of passages and chambers to a large fossil deposit chamber. We spent about half an hour in this fossil chamber that has a dig site and two re-constructed fossil skeletons – ‘Leo’, the Marsupial Lion (Thylacoleo carnifex) and ‘Stanley’, the extinct leaf-eating kangaroo (Simosthenurus occidentalis). After an interesting talk on the world heritage values of the cave, we exited through a 150 metre sloping passage to be greeted by sunshine.
We ignored our tummies which were beginning to growl for lunch and hastily drove back to the Wonambi Fossil Centre to take in the Bat ‘tour’ which commenced as soon as all the visitors were accounted for. The tour group headed by our tour guide then made a bee-line for the Bat Observation Centre, a few minutes’ walk away. I was sort of half-expecting an up close and personal look at the Southern Bentwing bats (Miniopterus schreibersii bassanii) which would have been rather exciting (despite the foul odour of bats’ urine) so I was a tad disappointed at what we got to see. As we entered the Observation Centre, we were asked to be seated around a row of monitors showing behind-the-scene views of how bats live in their natural habitat via infra-red cameras installed in various chambers of the 300 metres long bat cave. We were given the opportunity to examine a box of bats specimens and marvel at how small, soft and furry the little critters felt to the touch.
After the Bat Observation Centre and as part of the one hour Bat Centre tour we followed our guide to Blanche Cave where Bentwing bats can be seen at certain times of the year. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any, as the action begins at dusk each night in the summer when the bats start their warm-up laps around the Blanche Cave chambers before they make their way outside in search of their food of insects. The first cave in the Naracoorte National Park to be discovered, Blanche Cave was found by a group of local settlers who were trying to recover some sheep which had been stolen by local Aborigines. Back then, Blanche Cave was known as the Big Cave. In 1859, Pleistocene (from two million to 11 thousand years ago) fossil bones were found in the cave by the Rev. Tenison-Woods who believed he had found evidence of the ‘biblical flood’ in Australia.
The site where the bones were found became a popular venue for picnics and various social functions and up till the 1960s, caves such as Blanche Cave were visited more for the decorations of their stalactites and stalagmites than for their precious scientific importance. In recent times, occasional special events such as “Carols by Cavelight” are held in the first chamber. On July 18th 2000, the Olympic Torch Flame was passed from torch to torch to a backdrop of 1,500 tea-light candles in the same chamber. That must have been an awesome sight indeed! We walked about 400 metres through the cave’s three enormous chambers, with daylight streaming in via three large roof collapse ‘windows’, awestruck at the sight of gigantic columns and stalagmites that fill the chambers.
After the conclusion of the Blanche Cave tour, there was no longer any need to race around as we were free to explore the Wet Cave and the Wonambi Fossil Centre walk-through diorama at our leisure. We decided to starve our belly worms and went to check out the Wet Cave while the other visitors were at lunch, in order to avoid a crowd. Wet Cave has two large collapsed ‘window’ entrances – we descended into the first chamber with its enormous limestone formations via a metal stairway down one of the entrances. Many of the formations are green in colour due to the effects of Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) which thrives in the damp climate and natural light – so green that I was almost fooled into thinking we had wandered into a jade cave! We also noticed that the natural light coming through the entrances made it possible for some healthy looking tree ferns to grow. Following the marked trail led us into a large dome chamber with the lower part of the cave having a flat roof with many avens (cylindrical holes formed when water dissolved into limestone). I believe animals such as opossums, bats and birds inhabit the dark interior of this cave, especially during winter. Wet Cave is also used for adventure tours where visitors go beyond the regular tour path and into the darkness of Stick-Tomato Cave. They squeeze and crawl through passages in the cave, eventually coming out beneath the second collapse window. By the time we finished our half-hour self-guided tour, other visitors were beginning to trickle in so it looked like we had our tour timed to perfection.
From Wet Cave, we headed back to the Wonambi Fossil Centre to view the model of the skeletons in the foyer titled “Life’s Struggle” which shows the Marsupial Lion (Thylacoleo Carnifex) wrestling with the giant madtsoiid snake (Wonambi naracoortensis). These two animals are symbolic of the many extinct species found at Naracoorte. Wonambi is the Aboriginal Rainbow Serpent of the Dreamtime. The name has been used for the large snake first described from fossil remains at the Naracoorte Caves and after which the centre is named. Thylacoleo is derived from the Latin terms thylacis meaning pouched and leo meaning lion. This animal was Australia’s largest predatory mammal. Fossil remains of this animal are relatively common throughout the Naracoorte Caves. [Excerpt from information plaque.] We then stepped back in time in the walk-through diorama “museum” filled with animated life-sized models of extinct Australian animals in their re-constructed natural habitat of over 200,000 years ago. What an interesting tour that was as we also got to view the skeletal remains of extinct reptiles, birds and mammals that existed in the Naracoorte region all those years ago. We exited the diorama “museum” and went around checking the courtyard where we saw the “Nest Robber” display. Before our final exit, we went for a stroll around the Information Centre garden and took a few photos of some of the flowering shrubs they had growing there. All in all, it has been a great tour which we both thoroughly enjoyed.
Leaving Naracoorte Caves behind us, we drove on to Kingston SE to spend the night. The old coastal town of Kingston SE, “Gateway to the South East”, famous for its lobsters, is approximately 297km/185ml south-east of Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. Kingston SE with a population of about 1500 is not to be confused with Kingston on the Murray River. Originally called Maria Creek after a ship wrecked in the bay, it was given its present name in 1840, after a government surveyor, George Strickland Kingston. It is a paradise for anglers and lobster lovers with a fleet of about 40 lobster boats operating from the port during the fresh lobster season from October to April. Kingston SE has the 18.2mt/60ft high fibreglass “Larry”, the Big Lobster, as its dominant landmark. The town’s main industries are fishing, wine-making, sheep and cattle farming. We left Kingston SE the next morning and travelled along the Princes Highway – destination: Tantanoola Cave! But first, my MOTH stopped at Downs Lookout in the coastal town of Robe just so I could put my camera to work by snapping up photos of wildflowers growing in profusion on the hillside and sand dunes. It was rather windy that day, so a lot of patience was required to get nice close-up shots in the all too brief intervals between the wind gusts. I could tell by my MOTH’s body language that he would like to get home by Christmas so about 5 or 6 dozens clicks later, I decided it would be in my best interest to get back into Just Trip’n and continue on our way, as I didn’t fancy being left behind…
We drove along until we reached the rural township of Millicent. [Situated 50km from Mount Gambier, Millicent was surveyed in 1870 and built on land previously owned by Mayurra Station. It was named after Millicent Short, the daughter of the first Anglican Archbishop of Adelaide.] Nothing of interest to us in Millicent so we travelled on… There we were, driving along, singing a song, when what should catch our eyes but lots and lots of wind turbines. The sign indicated that we were approaching the Canunda Wind Farm so the MOTH decided we should make a slight detour to have a bit of a sticky-beak at this wind power project. Formerly named Lake Bonney Central Wind Farm, the Canunda Wind Farm at Stage 1 is made up of 23 wind turbines, each turbine is a 67m/220ft high tower with three 40m/130ft long blades (total of 107m/351ft high to the tip of the blade). This $92.5 million wind power project located on grazing land approximately 16 kilometres south of Millicent was opened by the Premier of South Australia, Mike Rann on March 31st, 2005. Work in Stage 2 began in Nov 2006 and finished in April 2008 with the addition of 53 wind turbines, (each 78m/256ft steel tower has a 90m/295ft rotor diameter and 44m/144ft blade length). The 16km (almost 10 miles) long Wind Farm distribution line transports the generated electricity to a nearby substation at Snuggery.
Several photos later, we jumped back into Just Trip’n, got back on the Princes Highway and continued on to check out Tantanoola Cave. Tantanoola Cave, named after a nearby town where its discoverer hailed from, is located between Millicent and Mount Gambier. The first person to discover the cave was no speleologist or cave expert but a Tantanoola lad named Boyce Lane who was out hunting rabbits with his pet ferret. His ferret wandered off so he waited patiently for its return, got impatient and so decided to investigate by moving some rocks. He found the beautiful cave on Mar 28, 1930. It is a single-chamber dolomite cave about 30m across and 8m high, located inside ‘Up and Down Rocks’, an ancient coastal cliff. The cave is notable for its spectacular cave decorations and reflection pool. The entrance of the cave was lowered in 1983 during renovations to make it Australia’s first wheelchair access cave. We were delighted when told by the guide that we could stay behind and take photos to our hearts’ content as the tours are not time-limited. Two million photos later, we exited the cave and followed the steps leading up to a walking track along the top of Up and Down Rocks which offered spectacular views of the surrounds. In the horizon we could see the wind turbines of the Canunda Wind Farm. I gave Tantanoola Cave full marks as being the most beautiful cave I’ve seen so far.
We left Tantanoola Cave and headed for Mount Gambier to spend the night at a caravan park there before an early morning departure to get to Princess Margaret Rose Cave which is located 30 minutes from Mount Gambier, 2km east of the SA/VIC border, on the Victorian side. Princess Margaret Rose Cave was formed when the Glenelg River flowed 15m above its present level. In 1936, grazier Keith McEarchern lowered himself 17.5m/57.4ft by rope down a shaft he discovered on his property and discovered the stream-passage cave with its beautiful speleothems. He explored and built an entrance, carved some steps in the limestone into the cave which he named in honour of Princess Margaret (1930-2002), (younger sister of Queen Elizabeth II) and began charging for guided tours from January 4th 1941. The present day entrance was dug through the soft limestone as the original entrance was incredibly steep (notches are still visible in the sides of the cave where the timbers for the stairs were located). We followed our guide down 82 steep, slippery steps to begin the 40min tour. We saw excellent examples of actively growing stalagmites, stalactites, gravity-defying helictites, straws, shawls and the rarely seen “cave coral”. I was fascinated by a freaky half face (to me it looked a bit like Christopher Lee as Count Dracula) which seemed to be sneaking a peek at us as he hid behind the speleothems… The tour goes as far as the final but unsuccessful dig. In 1980, the cave became part of the Lower Glenelg National Park. After the cave tour ended, we went for a nature walk following the trail from the Information Centre to take in views of the Glenelg River and gorge and I also managed to snap a few photos of some native ground orchids and other flora. We continued walking until we emerged near the car-park and after a brunch of tuna sandwiches, my MOTH cranked up the engine of Just Trip’n and hit the road to get to our next destination – Port Fairy.
All good things must come to an end so the next morning, we pulled the plug from the power source and hit the road to head for home. It has been another great trip we will long remember and we left after promising ourselves we will be back to re-visit Tantanoola Cave… next time, armed with a tripod!
[Please click on the link for each cave to view more photos.]
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Tasmania is Australia’s Apple Isle ‘ our historic island state with rugged mountains, magnificent lakes, beaches, rivers, waterfalls and quaint townships with plenty of history, originally named Van Diemen’s Land (1803 ‘ 1856) by early Europeans. I’ve always wanted to visit this idyllic island so my M.O.T.H. (Man Of The House) decided to make my wish come true as his birthday gift to me this year. He made the necessary bookings for a return trip for us to take our motor-home (Just Trip’n) on the passenger and vehicular ferry, ‘Spirit of Tasmania’. We had an early celebratory family lunch at Cho Gao, a Korean restaurant in Melbourne Central on Sunday (the day before our departure) before a bit of a flutter at the Casino afterwards to use up my $40 complimentary voucher. We didn’t win so we came home early to finish some last minute packing, with mounting excitement at the thought of the adventure ahead.
Day 1 Nov 12:
After completing various pre-travel chores and a quick bite of lunch at Macca’s (McDonalds) we stocked up the freezer of ‘Just Trip’n’ with various frozen meals that I had pre-cooked the week before. My MOTH, not wanting to spoil our holiday with me falling off the perch, made sure that I had enough supply of my prescribed medication as well as the travel-sickness pills that his sister had strongly recommended, in case we encountered rough weather during the 11-hour oceangoing ferry ride across Bass Strait. This was followed by a super-early dinner before we eagerly set off for Station Pier at Port Melbourne to board the Spirit of Tasmania, arriving there at 5.20pm.
We joined in the loading queue with a gazillion fellow-travelers in various modes of transportation – campervans, caravans, farm trucks, mini buses, motor-homes, all makes and models of motor-cars and 4WDs, vintage cars, etc., and what seemed like at least half the members of Hell’s Angels – from all corners of mainland Australia. Went through the routine security checks and then they tested our patience with the long, long wait before the loading process began. As we patiently waited, we scoffed down a bagful of home grown cherries.
By 7.15pm, loading smoothly completed, we made our way to our allocated ocean view recliners on Deck 8 and to kill time before the scheduled 8pm departure, we went for a little walkabout on Deck 7, the main hive of activity on board. I bought a souvenir fridge magnet for my collection while my ever-practical MOTH bought a multi-entry pass for the National Parks. On the way back to Deck 8, we happened to stray into the Admiral’s Gaming Lounge… Much to my surprise, my MOTH dipped his hand into his tight pocket, pulled out a $5 note, fed it into a poker machine and told me, ‘Go on! Then you can say that you’ve played the pokies on the ‘Spirit’!’ Before I could open my mouth to thank him, he barked, ‘That’s it though, we’re not staying here all night!’ Needless to say, I quickly punched a few buttons and within minutes, we headed back to Deck 8 with a pocketful of $1 coins – 25 of them, to be exact. We both got our respective iPods happening and comfortably settled into our recliners listening to songs while feeding our faces with Zigzag Twisties‘. It was a fairly smooth ride except for a slightly bumpy session in the middle of Bass Strait but certainly not enough to bring about a chundering performance from me. As luck would have it, my watch strap decided to literally have a break so I was watch-less for the rest of the ride.
Day 2 Nov 13:
The ‘Spirit’ docked at Devonport, a major regional centre in north-west Tasmania, situated at the mouth of the Mersey River, at the scheduled time of 7am and we went through another more rigorous security check at the quarantine station. There seemed to be at least half a million diligent quarantine officers and their highly trained dogs checking on all vehicles in compliance with the Tasmanian strict quarantine law against bringing flowers, fresh fruit and vegetables into the island.
As soon as we were cleared through the quarantine station, my MOTH made a bee-line for the city centre as his main priority was to buy me a watch so I wouldn’t keep looking at the invisible one on my wrist. We drove over Victoria Bridge to get to the CBD and very quickly located a car park, only to discover that we had to pay for the privilege of parking there – $1 for an hour. My $1 coins from the pokies win thus came in very handy. Not knowing our way about town, we stopped to ask a council worker for directions to the nearest K-Mart, to be told it was situated ‘a couple of blocks up the road – you can’t miss it!’ Off we set on foot and we walked and we walked and we walked’ We finally got to the car-park but of course it was way too early for businesses to start the day’s trading so instead of cooling our heels at the entrance of the shopping centre, we decided to walk back to Just Trip’n and bring her around to the free car-park at the shopping centre. As to be expected, no ‘el cheapo’ watch caught my eye so we temporarily gave up on the watch purchase and bought essential groceries from Woolworths instead. We then drove around looking for a shopping mall and spied one not far from the original council car park, so there goes another of my $1 coins’ We walked for what felt like hours desperately looking for a jewellery store, without any success. Just as I became convinced that Tasmanians aren’t into jewellery, we came across a jewellery store in the Rooke Street Mall where I found an affordable watch I liked and a rather relieved MOTH gladly paid for it. By this time, my MOTH was busting his guts to attend to his morning devotional so we did a quick lap of the Mall before spotting the ‘Toilet in Car Park’ sign boldly displayed on the side of the road. What a relief that was!
At last our exciting road trip was ready to commence. Yay! We both agreed from the start to just drive along and make spontaneous stops wherever and whenever anything of interest catches our eyes. We left Devonport heading north-west following the scenic coastal route and made the first stop at the town of Penguin, (first settled in 1850 as a timber town and named for the Fairy Penguin rookeries common along the less populated parts of the coast) to admire the lovely flowers blooming in profusion in home gardens as well as all along the railway track. Just about everything in this seaside town had a penguin theme, right down to their rubbish bins. We had yummy beef pies and a can of Coke each before driving on to Burnie (a port city originally settled in 1827 as Emu Bay and renamed in early 1840s after William Burnie, a director of the Van Diemen’s Land Company) to find a chemist for more ‘flu medication for my poor sniffling and coughing MOTH but unwilling to pay any parking fees, we drove on to Wynyard. Wynyard, originally named Table Cape, is a rural town 16km (10miles) west of Burnie notable for the scenic attraction of Table Cape. Oh goody! We found a double car space just outside the chemist and it’s free parking!
From Wynyard, ‘Where Green Meets Blue’ (green landscape meets the blue ocean) we drove towards Smithton (an industrial centre for the surrounding district with a large timber mill and a potato processing plant) but made a little detour to see Table Cape Light Station established in 1888, Van Dieman’s Bulb Farm and the Table Cape Geological Site. [Table Cape is a magnificent example of a weathered volcanic neck which was once a lava lake (hence its flatness) in a volcanic structure in a volcanic terrain.] It was a bit late in the season for the tulips to be in bloom but visitors were not terribly disappointed as it was the flowering season of Dutch iris (from late Sep till early Dec). Row upon row of the pretty blooms danced gaily in the sea breeze, providing a delightful vision for all to behold. After checking out the historic 25m (82ft) high light station at 190m (623ft) above sea level, we drove a bit further on to the Geological Site as we didn’t feel like taking the walking track to get there. The picturesque scenery of well-fed sheep and gamboling lambs grazing contentedly in a paddock against a background of the vast fields of multi-coloured blooms and the light station with the blue, blue ocean to our right would have been worthy of a Wordsworth poem or a painting by Van Gogh. It would be difficult to find a more delightful view. Alas, being neither poets nor painters, we brought out our cameras instead.
We eventually left the area and drove to the township of Smithton but there was nothing there that grabbed our attention and besides, there wasn’t a caravan park in sight so we traveled on to Arthur River after making a phone call to confirm the availability of a powered site at the Arthur River Cabin Park. Both the river and the small township were named after Sir George Arthur, Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (1825-1836). Wespent the night there and shared the park with a couple of other tourists, a Maltese couple traveling in a caravan that hailed from Melbourne and another couple also traveling in a caravan who have been on the road for the last 18 months. Seeing their spare wheel cover with ‘Di Di Mau’ on it, my MOTH knew the bloke had to be a Vietnam Vet, so the two of them started chin-wagging about their time in ‘Nam while I prepared our simple dinner for the night – a portion of my homemade spaghetti sauce tossed into a saucepan, followed by the contents of a can of Heinz spaghetti, heated up together and slopped onto hot buttered toasts and topped with grated cheese. No dessert tonight, just a few homemade macadamia nut cookies with our coffee. We also shared the $20 a night site with a whole mob of wallabies but by the time I thought of grabbing my camera half an hour later, it was too late as they had moved on. Tried to watch a movie on DVD but all we ended up seeing were the inside of our eyelids!
Left Arthur River at 9.15am, decided to forego the Arthur and Franklin Rivers cruise and headed to the Edge of the World landmark instead. After reading the touching poem on the monument, we each cast a pebble into the ocean, snapped a couple of photos, well ok, a dozen or so’ and left the scene. The inscription on the monument:
North West Coast Tasmania
To be washed by the Ocean of Time.
It has shape, form and substance.
It is me.
One day I will be no more.
But my pebble will remain here.
On the Shore of Eternity.
Mute witness for the aeons.
That today I came and stood.
At the edge of the world.
From Arthur River, we went to check out West Point but after only a kilometre up the track, a kind fellow tourist driving from where we were heading to, stopped us to advise that the track further on is pretty rugged – too rough even for his sedan to tackle. After thanking this kind soul profusely, we did a turnaround and set off to check out Woolnorth, only to find out an appointment for a tour of the wind farm has to be pre-arranged! ‘Stuff that idea!’ we muttered as we left the area and went on to Stanley (the last major township on the north-west coast named after Lord Stanley, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies in the 1840s), for a shared lunch of a delicious cray roll, scallop pie and chicken curry pie from Hursey Seafood Restaurant & Takeaway. After lunch, we decided to snap a few photos of our surrounds. The owner of the restaurant saw us taking a photo of the ‘Big Cray’ atop the building and told us about a nesting fairy penguin under some rocks in the front lawn of Stanley Village Boutique Motel and Restaurant on the waterfront just across the road. Off we trotted with our cameras and got a few photos of the wee penguin. From there we ventured up Circular Head, commonly known as ‘The Nut’ and geologically speaking, is the stump of an old volcano, with steep sides and a flat top, rising 143m (469ft), like a weird box above Sawyer Bay. Climbing ‘The Nut’ is a bit like climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock) and no easy feat as it is a steep and difficult walk that requires fitness and commitment.
Anyway, we decided to make our way, very slowly, I might add, up the steep walking track to reach the top and were rewarded with magnificent views of the peninsula and its surrounds (including the gracious 1830s Highfield mansion built for Van Diemen’s Land Company chief agent, Edward Curr, on the next headland), from the two strategically-erected lookout platforms. It wasn’t easy trying to handle our respective cameras and take photos while tightly hanging on to the railing for fear of being blown away by the freezing cold gale force winds but somehow, we managed. By the time we made our way back to level ground via the same steep track, my knees were trembling and wobbly but I felt triumphant at having made the climb. Not only did we get some much needed exercise but we also saved $20 (cost of chair-lift for 2 adults)! We spent the night at Stanley Cabin and Tourist Park ($22 per night) situated with The Nut on one side and the beach of the tranquil Sawyer Bay on the other. We had a very short leisurely stroll to the beach before a nice hot shower and dinner of boneless lamb roast with baked potatoes, carrots and gravy. Dessert was mulberry yoghurt, made by mixing home stewed mulberries in tub of plain natural yoghurt. Yum! Brief moment of panic when I started my laptop to jot down today’s events as the battery of my laptop showed it wasn’t charging. After several attempts at re-booting, it finally dawned on me that I hadn’t plugged in the power cord. Doh!
Day 4 Nov 15:
We left Stanley at 9.30am and headed for Devonport, stopping at Sisters Beach for brunch of hastily assembled curried egg sandwiches before continuing on to Wynyard to get bread (free parking!). From there, we followed the coastal road back through Burnie and Devonport, continuing on to Port Sorell, a sleepy holiday retreat for boating and fishing enthusiasts, stopping at a roadside fruit barn for apples and garlic. We checked out Squeaking Point but there wasn’t much there except for a little jetty and three blokes fishing. We travelled on through the Dazzler Range to Beaconsfield but didn’t make a stop. It was onwards to Greens Beach for us to check in at the Greens Beach Caravan Park where we would be spending the night. After connecting Just Trip’n to the power supply, we went for a ‘short’ 2-hour return walk along the coastal trail, where I caught sight of an echidna in the act of scrounging around for its dinner. Quick as a flash, I whipped out my camera and managed to capture a couple of shots before it beat a hasty retreat into the bush. As our walk progressed and as we reached each turn of the trail, all we saw were more blooming rocks so decided to call it a day. We would check out the West Head Lookout in the morning on our way out of town. Dinner tonight consisted of yummy South Australian gourmet beef sausages and fried onions on bread, followed by dessert of crisp Royal Gala apples before settling in with a movie on DVD.
Day 5 Nov 16:
We left Greens Beach Caravan Park about 8.30am and drove through Narawntapu National Park to get to the West Head Lookout for a bit of a ‘look-see’ and a hundred clicks of our cameras later, we drove on to view Garden Island just outside of Kelso. To our great disappointment, all we could see was a sewerage farm so we gave up in disgust. We then drove to Beaconsfield, near the Tamar River, north of Launceston, for a look around the gold mine that collapsed on April 25th 2006.
Beaconsfield was originally known as Cabbage Tree Hill and when gold-mining began in the 1870s, it became known as ‘Brandy Creek’ and later renamed in 1879 in honour of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield, the then Prime Minister of Great Britain. Afterwards, we had a leisurely walk around the historic park across the road to admire the beautiful roses in full bloom growing in profusion there. We took our time wandering around breathing in the rose-scented air while we peered through the windows of the rebuilt/restored old miner’s cottage, the Flowery Gully School (a one teacher school built in 1892) and an itty bitty general store stocked with products of the period. To satisfy our rumblingtummies, we ended our walkabout and headed across the road to buy lunch of crumbed Blue Grenadier fillets and chips. As soon as they were devoured, my MOTH cranked up the engine of Just Trip’n and made our way to Beauty Point to check out Seahorse World. Just as my MOTH drew out his wallet for the $40 entry fee for 2 adults, he read the sign that said, ‘Strictly no photography including digital and video cameras!’ so back the money went into his wallet. ‘Don’t seem to be much point in forking out big bucks if we can’t take any photos!’ we voiced in unison. We marched back to Just Trip’n in disgust and drove back through Beaconsfield just so I could take a photo of the Exchange Hotel, the hub of activity during the miners’ rescue mission in 2006.
That done, we continued on our way, going over the Batman Bridge to get to the other side of the Tamar River so we could get to Georgetown, Australia’s oldest town. We drove up the steep road on Mount George to the Lookout and the historic Semaphore Station. From the Lookout we could see for miles so we spent some time there pointing out to each other the various places that we’ve just visited. From Mount George we drove on to Low Head to check out the Low Head Lighthouse. This signal station was set up in 1805 and is Australia’s oldest continuously used pilot station and the light-station established in 1833 was Australia’s third and Tasmania’s second. We ended the day’s tour at Bridport Caravan Park with the intention of picking up the remaining first day’s play of the 2nd cricket test match between Australia and Sri Lanka. As soon as we could, we wound up the TV antenna and watched the live telecast instead of listening to the live commentary on ABC radio as we had to while on the road. Tonight’s dinner is Lamb Tomato Curry and Rice followed by coffee and cookies. Both of us were full to the gunnels so skipped dessert. We unwound with a TV movie, ‘Paycheck’ before surrendering to sweet slumber to the sound of waves gently lapping the shore.
Day 6 Nov 17:
At 9.15 the next morning, we left Bridport, a popular holiday and commercial fishing location, to go to Scottsdale before continuing south to St Helens. Scottsdale didn’t merit a stop except for a very brief one at a roadside fruit vendor to purchase half a kilo each of apricots and nectarines. We continued on the Tasman Highway, merrily chomping on our late breakfast of the fresh stone fruit until a sign pointing to Ralphs Falls caught our eyes, whereupon, a quick turn of the steering wheel took us off the highway and into the Legerwood turn-off. Just as we entered the little township of Legerwood, a most unusual sight in the main street brought us to a screeching halt. We joined many other tourists to admire some pretty amazing wood sculptures done on nine old tree stumps in the Legerwood Memorial Park, in memory of the town’s fallen war heroes.
Having taken a dozen or so photos of this rather unique local landmark, we jumped back into Just Trip’n and continued on our way to Ralphs Falls. This little adventure involved an 11km (7 miles) winding drive up Mount Victoria on a rather narrow and rugged gravel road with many a hair-raising turn, accompanied by some pretty colourful l anguage intermittently making its way out from between the MOTH’s grimly clenched teeth. It was such a relief when we finally reached our destination. We then took a 25-minute return walk to Norm’s Lookout to view the falls. Ralphs Falls is the tallest single drop fall, plunging some 100m (328ft) off a cliff. The view of the green valley so far below brought home to us just how very high up we had driven. The walk down to the Lookout was pretty easy and took us about 10 mins but couldn’t say the same about the return walk though – mostly uphill so it took us longer to get back to the car-park and by the time we reached there, I was a tad puffed.
Instead of going back the way we came, I convinced the MOTH to continue on the gravel road to the township of Pyengana which I secretly hoped would be a better option, thus saving us the harrowing drive back down the mountain. How glad I was that it was a good decision. We passed the historical ‘Pub in the Paddock’ but unfortunately, did not stop to take a photo of it as we didn’t realize its significance until it was too late to turn around and go back. Further along the Tasman Highway we stopped so I could take a photo of the ‘Shop In The Bush’, a bric-a-brac shop specializing in books, antiques, china, crystal and jewellery, standing proudly on the side of the highway, in the middle of nowhere.
We continued on our journey to St Helens (the largest fishing port and town on the east coast, said to be the birthplace of screen legend Merle Oberon), where we stopped to buy lunch at the Captain’s Catch seafood caf’ on the waterfront. Clutching our mouth-watering battered Gemfish and chips, we headed back to Just Trip’n to get out of the wind and enjoy our lunch but just as I got the door opened, a blooming seagull flew past and shat on my right arm! Oh well, maybe it was a good omen’ We washed down our lunch with icy cold Coke before we sallied forth for the next township as neither of us was interested in what St Helens had to offer.
On the way to the next township of St Marys, the MOTH impulsively decided to check out Mount Elephant, specifically, Elephant Pass, so up the 8km (5 miles) winding road we went. Luckily, it was bitumen all the way. This cheered the MOTH somewhat and put him in a happier frame of mind. As we drove on further and further up Mount Elephant, we came across a road sign that advised ‘Large Vehicles Sound Your Horn’ just before each bend in the road, so my MOTH happily complied despite my opinion that the signage are meant for big heavy trucks but upon seeing his gleeful boyish grin it was hard to stay serious. So on and on we continued to drive until we finally arrived at the Pancake Cottage situated about midway on Elephant Pass. We pulled into the car park of the somewhat ordinary-looking country cottage caf’, gave the posted menu outside a cursory glance and did a turnaround to get back on the Elephant Pass, back down the winding road to the Tasman Highway.
No more detours for the day as we drove past the tiny township of St Marys with its population of 549 (2001 census) and onwards to the seaside township of Bicheno where we will spend the night at the Seaview Holiday Park. Once settled, we were again able to follow the live telecast of day 2 of the Cricket test match. Dinner tonight was fried eggs on toast as we weren’t terribly hungry after such a hearty lunch.
Day 7 Nov 18:
We drove out of the caravan park around 9-ish and went to check out places of interest in Bicheno, (primarily a fishing port, named after James Evernezer Bicheno, the British Colonial Secretary 1843-1851) before our departure from this East Coast township. First, we checked out the diamond-shaped island just outside of town, funnily enough, named ‘Diamond Island’. We then went to Waubedebar’s Grave – Waubedebar was an aboriginal who was stolen from her tribe as a teenager to become a “sealer’s woman”. Her bravery in swimming out to rescue sealers caught in a storm is commemorated by a headstone. The Merchant Navy Memorial is situated in the same park overlooking Waub’s Bay. From the park, we drove to the next place of interest, the Blow Hole. What an impressive sight it was, of waves pounding into the rocks and gushing out of the blow hole in a huge spray’ and it wasn’t even high tide, thus revealing the kelp bed close to the shore. From there, we back-tracked to the Governor Island Marine Reserve and the channel of water between Governor Island and the mainland called The Gulch. There were at least a million water birds flying around cawing and squawking away to their hearts’ content and loud enough to wake the dead!
Leaving Bicheno behind us, we traveled south to Coles Bay, a town on a beautiful bay of the same name on the Freycinet Peninsula, the entrance to Freycinet National Park. So up we went on yet another mountainous fairly winding road to the Cape Tourville Lookout to be awed by magnificent views of Carp Bay and Thouin Bay with numerous buoys marking what we assumed to be crayfish pots. A hundred or so of photos later, we drove back down to the township of Coles Bay and onwards to rejoin the Tasman Highway. On the way in, a roadside sign on Coles Bay Road advertising ‘Freycinet Marine Farm – Fresh Oysters and Mussels’ caught our eyes so we decided to stop there on the way out. How pleased we were with this decision as we sat down to a scrumptious lunch of a dozen large freshly shucked Pacific oysters and a huge bowl of steamed mussels served with slices of lemon. Ah’ this is the life!
After lunch it was back onto the Tasman Highway heading south, driving through the township of Swansea and making a brief stop to check out Spiky Bridge, a convict bridge built in 1843, 7.5km (4.7 miles) south of Swansea, constructed from fieldstones laid without mortar or cement. This unusual bridge wasn’t named after anyone of importance but rather because of the fieldstones laid vertically on the parapet like spikes, supposedly, to prevent cattle from falling over the sides. We reached historic Triabunna (an Aboriginal Tasmanian word for the endemic Tasmanian native hen), the largest township on the east coast, sheltered within Spring Bay at the mouth of MacCleans Creek and Vickerys Rivulet which started as a garrison town for the penal colony on Maria Island. We checked into the Triabunna Caravan Park just in time to catch the live telecast of Day 3 post afternoon tea play of the Cricket Test match.
When the televised cricket match ended for the day, we grabbed the town walk visitor’s guide that we had acquired earlier from the Visitor Information Centre and went for a stroll along the Esplanade with a view of Dead Island (Isle of the Dead) which was used as a burial ground for twenty years (1847-1867). Continuing on our walkabout, we checked out the historic Spring Bay Hotel which was built in 1861 and originally known as Pembroke Hotel. Next on the list was the Old Barracks & Stables, built by George Rudd in 1843 when the 51st Regiment from Maria Island was stationed at Spring Bay. A few yards further on stood Triabunna House which was originally built as a hotel and became the Robertson’s family residence in 1875. Later on, it operated as a boarding house (from 1906 to the 1930s) as Misses Robertson’s Boarding House. The Colonial House, the present day Sufi’s Craft Shop & Tea Rooms, was once the home of the McGrath Family built in the 1880s. When we got to a little takeaway shop across the road from Sufi’s, we decided to have a takeaway dinner – hamburgers with the lot, minus bacon, of course. On the way back, we passed the Magistrate’s Cottage, built in the 1840s and used until 1861. Enough exercise for one day, we decided, so back we went to the Caravan Park to wolf down our ‘burgers, followed by a long hot shower before settling in for the night with the MOTH watching TV while I re-capped today’s events on my laptop. On the stroke of midnight, my MOTH handed me a cute hand-made birthday card he had painstakingly drawn while I was busy with my daily report. All the walking we’d done meant we had no trouble going to sleep that night, heading off to slumber-land as soon as our heads touched our pillows. In the morning, we’ll be continuing our southbound journey to Port Arthur on the Tasman Peninsula!
I woke up on my birthday to another glorious Tasmanian morning and after receiving a phone call with warm birthday wishes from my son, we drove out of Triabunna at 9.15am to get to our next destination, the Tasman Peninsula. As we reached the coastal hamlet of Orford, centred around the mouth of the Prosser River, both the MOTH and I just about choked with the stench in the air – I was convinced that all of the town folks must have had a damn good feed of curried eggs, baked beans and cabbage the previous night and simultaneously dropped their guts just as we drove past! We couldn’t get out of town fast enough.
After passing the township of Buckland, on our approach to the township of Runnymede, we passed two unusually named hills: Break-Me-Neck Hill and then a little further on, Bust-Me-Gall Hill, both with incredibly steep inclines and declines. It is believed that early settlers and travelers used these terms to describe the steep hills and the names simply stuck. Just as we got to Sorell, our mobile phone rang again, this time it was a birthday call from Nina. Soon afterwards, I received an SMS from Sharon wishing me a very happy birthday.
From Sorell, we took the Arthur Highway and made a brief stop at Dunalley to learn a little more about the Denison Canal. Dunalley is a small fishing village south-east of Hobart en route to Port Arthur, located on a narrow isthmus that joins the Forestier and Tasman Peninsulas to the island of Tasmania. The Denison Canal project of joining Frederick Henry Bay and Blackman Bay began in 1901 when it was hand-dug and finally completed in 1905. The Canal has a swing bridge for road traffic and allows boats easy access between the two bays. Local legend has it that the ‘toll’ to the gatekeeper used to be a bottle of beer. In 1965 a new hydraulic swing bridge replaced the original bridge. We then continued on to the Tasman National Park Lookout on the Forestier Peninsula, just before Eaglehawk Neck (a narrow isthmus about 400m (1312ft) long and under 30m (98ft) wide at its narrowest point making it a natural gateway to the Tasman Peninsula), to admire great views of Pirates Bay before proceeding to view the Tessellated Pavement.
The Tessellated Pavement is a rare sedimentary rock formation caused by erosion, so named because it fractures into blocks that appear like tiles, with ‘pans’ and ‘loaves’ features. [Away from the seashore, the pavement dries out for longer periods at low tide, allowing greater development of salt crystals. The salt that forms on the surface erodes the pavement’s surface quicker than the joints, resulting in the surface of the pavement being lowered while the joints which erode more slowly become rims, giving the appearance of ‘pans’. ‘Loaves’ features occur when the joints are eroding quicker than the surface because of abrasion by sand and other particles carried by water.]
After checking out this fascinating feature, we drove through Eaglehawk Neck into the Tasman Peninsula and onwards to the Blowhole, Tasman Arch and the 60m (197ft) deep Devil’s Kitchen, all magnificent rock creations of Father Time that began some 250 million years ago. We had lunch of a cray roll each from a mobile caf’ in the carpark of the Tasman Arch tourist attraction. From there it was onwards to Port Arthur, a settlement that started out as a timber station in 1830 but best known for being a penal colony for secondary offenders (those who re-offended after their arrival in Australia) from 1833 until 1850s. We passed a quaint little holiday village called Doo Town on the way, where the residents have given their homes cute and clever names like ‘Love Me Doo’, ‘Just Doo It’, ‘Doo Nix’, ‘Doo Drop In’, ‘Doo Little’ and the one we liked the best, ‘Doo F#@k All’.
Instead of stopping at Port Arthur, we traveled on for a drive around the Tasman Peninsula to check out the sights, eventually deciding to stop for the night at the White Beach Tourist Park on the outskirt of the township of Nubeena. Hopeful enquiries by the MOTH at the manager’s office regarding a nice restaurant to go for dinner to celebrate my birthday revealed that the RSL Club do not serve meals on Mondays and the nearest pub is several kms away. As the MOTH hopped into the driver’s seat to get to our powered site, the manager raced out of his office to wish me a very happy birthday. How sweet of him! Meanwhile, seeing my poor MOTH in a quandary over somewhere to go for a special dinner, I suggested that we heat up the Rendang that I had brought from home and have that with rice and thought nothing more of it. We quickly hooked up to the power point and eagerly turn on the TV to catch the afternoon play of Day 4 of the cricket match. Blast it! For some unexplained reason, the Cricket match wasn’t being telecast in this neck of the woods so we had to satisfy ourselves with the ABC radio commentary which was intermittent with a lot of interference from the overhead power lines. Grrrr’ Not having any grandkids with us, we took our transistor radio out instead, for a stroll along the beach of Wedge Bay, just a few short steps from the park but the air smelt pretty foul, not unlike the air of Orford so we cut the beach walk short and made our way back to Just Trip’n by road instead. We eventually deduced the bad odour must be due to the seaweed and dead marine life that had been washed ashore at high tide and then left high and dry to nicely rot away when the tide is out. My MOTH then suggested that we go for a drive as the afternoon was still young. Although somewhat puzzled, I went along with his idea. Why was I puzzled? Well, it’s most unusual for the good man to willingly run around disconnecting the power cord, wind down the TV antenna and so on once we had settled anywhere for the day. I wasn’t exactly brimming with good cheer either as I was so much looking forward to watching a bit of the cricket telecast.
As it turned out, unbeknownst to me, he had put on his thinking cap and planned on giving me a little surprise. He was a man on a mission! He drove all the way back to the Tasman Arch car park, some 36km (22 miles) away, to the mobile caf’ where he had seen some nice crays (lobsters) for sale when he bought our lunch. He bought the biggest cray they had for sale and on the way back we stopped at the only supermarket in Nubeena (the Aboriginal word for crayfish), a sleepy little holiday/fishing village which despite its ‘smallness’, is the largest township on the Tasman Peninsula, to get a bottle of Cognac Seafood Cocktail sauce and a couple of individual serves Mixed Berry Cheesecake. By the time we got back to the White Beach Tourist Park, the cricket live telecast was on so we both chilled out with a nice cold drink and watched cricket till it ended for the day. While I was having my shower, my MOTH got busy with cleaning the lobster and had the table set with a glass of champagne for me and a picture of a lit candle that he had hastily drawn and propped up against the window! Indeed I was deeply touched by his sweet gesture. After dessert and coffee, he even did the dishes and refused to let me touch the tea-towel’ What a guy!
Day 9 Nov 20:
We left the Tourist Park at 9am and headed straight for Port Arthur Historic Site, getting there about 9.30am. While walking to the site entrance, we spotted an unusual vehicle in the car-park – a Yamaha motorcycle with a little trailer cutely named “Minnebago”, so out came our cameras to take our first photo of the day. We then proceeded to the ticket counter to purchase two tickets (1 senior, 1 adult) as well as the additional tickets necessary for a tour of the Isle of the Dead (originally called Opossum Island), bringing the total to $65. To kill some time before the scheduled 11am harbour cruise, we sauntered around the park until it was time to board the cruise boat. Those with the relevant tickets like us, were dropped off at the jetty at the Isle of The Dead with a guide leading the way for an interesting 40-minute tour of the historic cemetery where about 1100 people were buried according to their station in life – the lower half of the island was reserved for convicts, lunatics, invalids and paupers and the higher ground was reserved for civil and military burials. We were picked up by the cruise boat and brought back to the jetty at 12.15pm and at 12.30pm, visitors were divided into two groups before being led off in different directions for a short guided tour of the park. After that ended, we were left to our own devises to explore the park to our hearts’ desire. Man, did we walk! Five and a half hours after our arrival, we both had enough of walking from one site to another – from the Asylum to the gloomy solitary confinement cells, from the Commandant’s House right down to the Convict Church ruins, so we decided to call it a day. By then, our legs felt like we had been dragging a ball and chain all day and we could hardly wait to get back to the Tourist Park for another night’s stay. By the time we got back to White Beach, the Cricket match was over so we missed out on watching the Aussies beat the Sri Lankans by 96 runs. After a bit of a rest, we did our laundry ($4 to use the washing machine and $3 to use the dryer) and to save some time, we took turns to have a shower while the other spent some exciting time watching our clothes tumbling around in the dryer. Good to know that we won’t have to worry about dirty clothes for another week now. Had dinner of Rendang and rice before settling in for a couple of hours of TV viewing, finally succumbing to sleep before the midnight hour. Tomorrow we will check out the Tasmanian Devil Park before heading south towards Hobart.
Day 10 Nov 21:
We drove out of White Beach at 9am and headed towards Port Arthur to check out Remarkable Cave (so called because if viewed from the correct angle, the mouth of the cave is the same shape as Tasmania), a cave with two openings located at Maingon Bay and accessible only via a steep and narrow set of stairs (someone had obviously counted the number of stairs and wrote ‘116’ on the info sign). The crumpled concertina pattern on the outside of Remarkable Cave was created by dolerite baked on crumpled sandstone as it cooled after being forced toward the Earth’s surface as molton rock. Several photos later, we left the area and drove out of the Tasman Peninsula, back into Forestier Peninsula, only stopping for a photo of a Tudor manor in the Tasmanian bush, the Fox and Hounds Inn.
I wanted to see the Tasmanian Devils up close and personal so we went to the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park situated between Eaglehawk Neck and Dunalley. Entry cost $24pp and included in the entrance fee were viewing of Tasmanian Devils being fed, Kings of the Wind Bird Show (free-flight raptor show) which included the Dive of the Falcon where a falcon flew in from out of nowhere, right between the legs of three volunteers who had been asked to stand with their legs apart, one behind another, much to the amusement of the awestruck spectators. Then there was the thieving white cockatoo who cheekily pinched coins from the hands of visitors and deposited them into his keeper’s pocket. We were introduced to tawny frogmouths which I first mistook to be owls and several other interesting feathered creatures. After the bird show, visitors were free to wander around the park so off we went with our cameras to see more of our feathered friends – from beautiful budgerigars to pretty parrots, some in enclosures and others like the Cape Baron Geese roamed freely all over the place. We walked around a huge paddock that had countless kangaroos and wallabies and it wasn’t long before we got tired of playig the game, “dodge the kangaroo poo”, so we left the Conservation Park and headed off to Dunalley for lunch of crumbed butterfish and chips from Dunalley Fish Market, washed down with a drink of Coke. A few hundred meters up the road after leaving the Fish Market, we began discussing our dinner plan for the evening ‘ ‘Mmm, a crayfish would be nice’’ we mused simultaneously, so the MOTH made a slick U-turn to go back to the Fish Market to buy one.
From Dunalley, we got onto the Tasman Highway and drove through Sorell to get on the Tasman Bridge over the River Derwent into Hobart, and onto the Channel Highway to Kingston where the MOTH replenished his cash supply at an ATM. We then drove on to Margate, where, in a siding beside the road, stood the last passenger train to run in Tasmania. What a novel way of utilizing an old train! The carriages had been cleverly converted into little shops – a pancake parlour, coffee shop, souvenir stores, etc… a quaint shopping complex known as Margate Train Recreational Shopping and Tourist Development. We stopped for a bit of a sticky-beak before continuing our drive on the coastal road through Snug (named because of its quiet and snug surroundings), Kettering (noted for orchards of apples, cherries, pears and also as a regional fishing centre), Woodbridge (another coastal township noted for its orchards) and so on, finally calling it a day at Cygnet, a small town 55km south-west of Hobart, in the Huon Valley. We spent the night at the Cygnet Holiday Park, this place being the most expensive, with a powered site costing $30 a night. It was just as well the water supply in the park was potable as our supply of drinking water had just about run out. We feasted on the crayfish purchased earlier before a relaxing night in front of the TV. Tomorrow we’ll work our way down to Southport, the southernmost part of Tasmania that is accessible by bitumen road.
Day 11 Nov 22:
We pulled out of Cygnet at 9am after ‘selling’ the amenities key back to the caretaker for $30 to recoup the deposit we handed him the evening before. We drove up the road a little way to one of the two petrol stations in town to top up on diesel then it was off to Hounville (a town on the Huon River in the Huon Valley best known as one of Tasmania’s primary apple growing areas) to get on the Huon Highway. A stop was made at Geeveston Forest and Heritage Centre for a little tour of the Centre with its interesting display of furniture and various works of art carved from Tasmanian timber. (Geeveston is a small timber and apple growing town in the Huon Valley.) My MOTH bought me a ruler – no, not to measure the distance we’ll be travelling, but a souvenir ruler made with sample bits of various Tasmanian timber. We also purchased tickets ($22pp) to enter the Tahune Forest AirWalk and with the 10% discount coupon attached, we stocked up on groceries from the local IGA supermarket across the road. From there, we had a half-hour 28km (17.4 miles) drive on yet another winding road to get to the Tahune Forest AirWalk. [Tahune is an aboriginal word meaning, “peaceful place by running water”, the running water being the Huon River.]
It was an awesome experience tackling the super high 597m (1959ft) AirWalk, the highlight being the walk on the 24m (almost 79ft) long cantilever, 48m (157.5ft) above the Huon River. It swayed like a springboard as I nervously walked on it but I was rewarded with fantastic views of the forest canopy and the confluence of the Huon and Picton Rivers with what I believe to be Mt Picton in the background. My MOTH refused to walk on this cantilever and satisfied himself with a photo of me when I got to the very end. With adrenalin still pumping, I readily agreed to go on the 3km Swinging Bridges Circuit one hour walk to cross two swinging bridges, the first one over the Huon River and the second over the Picton River. I found crossing the swinging bridges to be rather daunting but refused to succumb to my trepidation and battled on. I felt a great sense of achievement after my successful swinging bridges crossings and was quite proud of myself. I celebrated with a drink of Coke Zero that I had with me when we reached the last leg of the walk. One minute I was striding along, happy to see the roof of the entrance from the last little hill and next thing I knew, I slipped on the loose gravel, took a downhill dive and landed on my right knee. Man! That was so not fun! Luckily, my camera didn’t hit the ground and I didn’t spill a single drop of my can of drink’ lucky too, that I didn’t tear the right knee of my jeans. With my MOTH’s assistance, I hobbled gingerly over to a nearby bench and surveyed my bloodied knee. I mopped up the blood with some tissues and continued on to the entrance, being careful not to get too much blood on my jeans. We decided against the 30-minute return Huon Trail walk and made our way back to Just Trip’n instead. Some Neosporin’ on my injured knee, a Band-Aid’ over it and I was almost good to go.
On the way back to Geeveston, on the Arve River Forest Drive, we stopped at the West Creek Lookout for a couple of photos of more trees and treetops and further along, at the Big Tree Lookout, to admire a humongous tree which according to scientific calculations is the biggest, i.e. heaviest tree in Australia, 87m (285.5ft) high and weighing 405 tonnes (446.5 tons). The Big Tree is a Eucalyptus regnans (Regnans means regal) also called a Swamp Gum, the sole survivor of the fires of 1914, 1934 and 1967 and others that had burnt off all the original limbs. Even though the top had blown out and it is dying, it is still regal and magnificent and given the title of ‘Queen without a crown’ by Steve Davis, a forester with 32 years experience in Forestry.
From there it was back on the Huon Highway, heading south to Southport, the southernmost town accessible by bitumen road. Originally named Bay of Moules by French explorers and Mussel Bay by the English, Southport was founded on Feb 16, 1864 and was the first convict settlement in the Huon region. The region’s local industries are mainly apple-growing, timber and fishing. We spent the night at the Southport Settlement Caravan Park at the CMCA discounted fee of $18 a night for a powered site. I cooked fried rice with leftover roast lamb for our dinner. There had been no contact with our kids all day as there was no mobile phone signal and TV reception was pretty woeful – only one channel with cartoon shows for kids, so we ended up watching a couple of movies on DVDs instead.
Day 12 Nov 23:
A few minutes after 8am, we left the Southport Settlement Caravan Park (the southernmost Caravan Park in Tasmania) and drove to the very end of Kingfisher Beach Road (the end of the bitumen road), the site of the prison governor’s house and cell blocks and also the site of the first hotel. I took a photo of Pelican Island (at one time used as a burial ground for the victims of a local diphtheria epidemic) before we left Southport to drive to Hastings.
Eventually we found our way to Hastings Visitor Centre where we purchased tickets to the Hastings Caves State Reserve. Entry cost $22 per person and included a guided tour of Newdegate Cave and full use of the amenities at Hastings Thermal Springs. I nudged my MOTH to fish out his Seniors Card and as a result, he only paid the Senior discounted fee of $17.60. I must have looked older than my years that day as I was also given the Senior’s discount! No complaints from this old chook though, that’s for sure’
Never having had the experience of a cave tour before, my excitement mounted as we drove along 5km (3 miles) of gravel road to the cave site and as we were way too early for the scheduled 10.15am tour, we decided to enjoy a brunch of sweet chili tuna spread sandwiches in the car-park before the 5 minute downhill walk to the tour rendezvous point at the entrance of Newdegate Cave. The Hastings Caves started forming some 40 million years ago and remained undiscovered until a group of timber workers stumbled upon the entrance in 1917.Newdegate Cave is one of only two dolomite caves in Australia and is the largest tourist cave in the country. [The other is on mainland Australia, the Tantanoola Cave near Millicent in South Australia.] It is named after the governor of the time, Sir Francis Newdegate and was officially opened on January 19th, 1939. We enjoyed a 45-minute guided tour of the massive cave filled with spectacular formations of flowstone, stalactites, columns, shawls, straws, stalagmites and rare helictites with the underground temperature naturally maintained at 9oCelsius. The last part of the tour was awesome – we were shown Titania’s Palace – a spectacular wonderland of stalagmites and stalactites which has earned Newdegate Cave a reputation as one of the most beautiful caves in the country. Altogether, we negotiated 245 stairs before we saw daylight again.
After the cave tour, it was back to the Hastings Visitor Centre for the 100mtrs (110yds) forest walk along the Hot Springs Track. When we got to the “Hot Meets Cold” information archway marking the convergence of two streams, we put our hands in the water to feel the warm current from one stream meeting with the cold current from the other. The warm spring water is alkaline, clear, with a bluish tinge and only slightly mineralised whilst the cold water is acidic and “tea” coloured from natural tannins. Both streams are pollution-free. We continued strolling along the designated walkway through the forest, stopping now and again to read the various informative plaques, some cleverly etched into timber. At the end of our walk, we admired the surrounds of the Thermal Springs Pool (constant temperature of 27o Celsius) which is set in bushland with modern picnic facilities in a picturesque BBQ area. What a pity we didn’t have our swimming gear with us… It is believed that the Hastings Thermal Springs is a karst water system that may be linked to that at Newdegate Cave. From Hastings, it was another winding road drive over hills and vales on the Huon Highway through Dover, Glendevie, Geeveston and various townships stopping at Franklin to utilize the grey water dumping station. Then it was on to Huonville to check out the Wood Cutter sculpture on the bank of the Huon River as mentioned in the sheet of visitor guide I was clutching. Only problem being the absence of a town map of Huonville to guide us…
Originally, the land on which Huonville is now located was privately owned and it wasn’t until 1889 that the town became known as Huonville. The town is situated on fairly flat land a couple of metres above the mean level of the Huon River. Every decade or two the river rises and floods part of the town. The locals then cover up the road signs declaring the place to be “Huonville” and replace them with the word “Venice” until the water subsides again. The construction of the first timber bridge over the Huon River in 1876 cost ‘4400 – it was a toll bridge charging 2 pence for walkers and 6 pence for horses. The original timber bridge was replaced in 1926 and the present steel and concrete structure was completed in 1959. In the old days, the town was nothing more than the Picnic Hotel and a couple of shops along the river. The Picnic Hotel burnt down and was subsequently rebuilt as the Grand Hotel which still stands near the bridge. [It is in the background of the photo of the soldier wood sculpture.]
While my MOTH drove as slowly as he could, traffic permitting, my eyes darted all over the place desperately looking for the wood sculpture. I eventually spotted it, along with a couple of other sculptures, just as we were on the verge of giving up. There they stood in Short Street, just over the Huon Highway bridge! I gleefully leapt out of Just Trip’n to take a few photos while my MOTH waited patiently behind the wheel. The Short Family had planted trees in 1902 to commemorate the local volunteers and one hundred years later, at the end of the safe life of the trees, the figures were sculptured from the stumps of the trees to maintain the historic links. Sculpture of “The Wood Cutter” depicts a typical Huon pioneer of the 1800s, “The Apple Picker” is dedicated to the women pioneers of the Huon Valley and the sculpture of a soldier commemorates the local men who volunteered for service in the Boer War.
From Huonville, we went on the Channel Highway to drive through Cygnet and Oyster Cove before stopping at the seaside town of Snug to indulge in possibly the last feed of fresh Tasmanian Crays as we would be leaving the coastline tomorrow and heading inland, through the centre of the island. We decided to really pig out by getting a full cray each. Our next stop was Meredith Fruit Barn in Margate to get a couple of avocados, a few pears and several mandarins before driving through Hobart on the Brooker Highway to get to New Norfolk to spend the night at the New Norfolk Esplanade Caravan Park, situated close to the Derwent River (Celtic meaning ‘Clear Water’) at $20 a night.
New Norfolk is one of the oldest towns in Australia, originally called Elizabeth Town and re-named by the settlers from Norfolk Island in 1807 when the island’s prison was closed down. It is the centre of the hop-growing area which has produced hops for over a century and supplies the majority of the hops used in the production of Tasmanian beer. By this stage of our trip, we had developed a taste for Maille’ Cognac Seafood Cocktail Sauce which enhanced the flavour of the crays we had eaten recently and with very little left to enjoy with the crays we had bought, we decided to go for a ‘short’ walk UPHILL to get to the town centre in search of a supermarket to get another jar of the sauce. We walked for what seemed like hours as we had misread the visitors’ town map and overshot the street leading to the town centre, so we had to back-pedal a block and a half. Found the only supermarket in the town centre but alas, we came out empty-handed! At least the walk back was much more pleasant as it was all downhill, passing the Bush Inn, St Peters Catholic Church and the Old Colony Inn.
The Bush Inn was built by one of the area’s early enterprising women, Ann Bridger and mentioned in the 1985 Guiness Book of Records as the oldest continuously licensed hotel in Australia. St. Peter’s Catholic Church is an old stone building boasting a magnificent spire against the backdrop of the Derwent hills. Then we came to the historic Old Colony Inn which started out as a hop shed in 1815 and later extended with a mud and stone lower floor and a convict brick upper floor to become a private dwelling. Over the years, the building has served as a school, gymnasium and barracks, until 1940 when William Rees, an antique dealer and artist, bought the property and developed it into The Old Colony Inn of today. By the time we got back to Just Trip’n, we were more than ready for a refreshing shower before sitting down to feast on our crays with half an avocado apiece and a side of tossed salad. We were both too full for dessert and today’s activities had tired us both out to the point where we actually looked forward to an early night!
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Further reading revealed the following information: The origin of the word ‘Stockinbingal’ is uncertain. The Wiradjuri Aboriginals, who were the largest group in New South Wales, used the word ‘Tockinbingie’ as a name of the district in their dialect. ‘Bingie’ meant a marsh, ‘Tocum’ was ‘Deep Water Hole’, ‘Bingara’ was a creek and ‘Bimbal’ meant a ‘white flowering Box Tree’. It is presumed that these were fused into a composite word ‘Tockinbingie’ meaning ‘a Creek lined with Flowering Box Trees, with deep holes and marshes’. Perhaps clerks in the Lands Department simplified with a cognate name, part-English, part-Aboriginal, meaning ‘Stock in the Water’, resulting in the permanent name, “Stockinbingal”. The Sibilant hissing sound of “S” does not occur in Aboriginal Dialects and it is presumed that the “S” was added to Stockinbingie by a surveyor or cantographer when the first maps were made of the district. Designed in 1881 in lieu of the village of Yeo Yeo (which was designed in 1860 but never built), Stockinbingal was proclaimed a village on March 20th, 1886. The area around Stockinbingal was first settled sometime before 1848 but the village of Stockinbingal was not proclaimed until 1885. By the turn of the century the village had grown to become a significant service centre for the surrounding pastoralists who concentrated their attentions on wheat and sheep. There was a bank, a pub, a blacksmith, a doctor and dentist, and numerous small businesses. There was even a local photographer.
The local hotel was built in 1892 to cater for the Cobb & Co coaches which used the village as a stopover on their journeys from Harden to Temora. The following year the branch line from Cootamundra to Temora was completed and the town became an important railhead. In the years that followed the town grew rapidly and so, in 1893, a local police station was established and the local school was opened in 1894. The first and only bank in Stockinbingal was the Bank of New South Wales which set up an agency in 1907 and eventually built on the corner of Hibernia and Martin Streets in 1921. The premises were closed in 1974 and recently converted as a takeaway cafe.
The present day settlement is primarily a farming community producing wheat, canola, oats, sheep, wool, fat lambs and cattle. There are also small orchards of olives, almonds and cherries. My MOTH’s mate (Neil) and his wife Lynne own over 3000 acres of property at Gogobilly Hill and Wruwallin on the eastern side of the Bethungra Range, and mates from far and wide were invited to attend the birthday bash.
Ever eager for any excuse to go gallivanting instead of doing housework, I agreed to accompany the MOTH on what was supposed to be a short 4-day trip in Just Tripin’. Ever the optimist, I grabbed a pair of boots to take with me… Hey, you never know, it could very well turn out to be a hoedown affair where I could learn to square dance with my two left feet! With this happy thought and armed with four crab bread rolls, a generous serve of curry prawns and rice, a frozen serve each of beef rendang and braised lamb in soy sauce, half the contents of our fridge and our overnight bags, we happily set off on our road-trip last Friday morning. We stopped and walked along the Grass Tree track at a rest area near Strathbogie while scoffing down our brunch of the delicious crab rolls in between performing the Aussie salute (brushing away flies with the hand) to the thieving flies that tried to snatch our rolls away. After a refreshing cold drink back at Just Trip’n, we continued on our journey.
Driving through the small town of Holbrook, we saw a huge full-sized above-the-water section of a submarine on display in a park right by the main road! I couldn’t believe my eyes – why would a town over 200km inland on the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney have its own submarine? I instantly thought it was just another touristy attention-grabbing BIG thing, like the Big Banana, the Big Lobster and so on, that we Aussies are renowned for. Nevertheless, we grabbed our cameras and leapt out of Just Trip’n to check out this unusual sight.
Before the First World War, Holbrook was known as Germanton but changed its name to Holbrook as a demonstration of patriotism. The inspiration for the new name, Lieutenant N.D. Holbrook, RN, was the Commander of the 43 metre B11 submarine which torpedoed and sank a Turkish battleship in December 1914. His exploits earned him the first naval Victoria Cross and the attention of the citizens of this small NSW town. When the HMAS Otway was decommissioned from the Royal Australian Navy, the town was presented with the submarine’s fin. If the town had the fin, why not the whole submarine, right? Thus a fund raising effort began (including the donation of $100,000 from Lt. Holbrook’s widow) but unfortunately, the money raised was not enough to bid for the whole submarine. However, negotiation for the outer skin to the waterline was successful so it was then cut into several sections and transported by semi-trailer down the Hume Highway from Sydney to Holbrook and re-assembled by local unemployed trainees. We definitely rate the HMAS Otway as one of the more unusual and interesting landmarks on the Hume Highway!
Next stop: Gundagai – popularized by the song, Nine Miles From Gundagai (Aboriginal word meaning, ‘upstream’ or perhaps, ‘place of birds’). Below is what many claim to be the original lyrics to the bush song:
I’ve teamed outback these forty years in blazin’ droughts and rains
I’ve lived a heap of troubles through, without a bloomin’ lie
But I can’t forget what happened me nine miles from Gundagai
I lost me matches and me pipe, now what was I to do?
The rains come down, ’twas bitter cold, and hungry too was I
And the dog shat in the tucker-box nine miles from Gundagai
Some blokes I know has all the luck no matter how they fall
But there was I, Lord love a duck, no flamin’ luck at all
I couldn’t make a pot of tea nor keep me trousers dry
And the dog shat in the tucker-box nine miles from Gundagai
I could forgive the blinkin’ tea, I could forgive the rain
I could forgive the dark and cold, and go through it again
I could forgive me rotten luck, but hang me till I die
I won’t forgive that bloody dog nine miles from Gundagai
There is an apocryphal story attached to the song. It could never be printed as it was sung, because of Australian prudes or “wowsers”, so it was often printed that the dog “sat” in (or on) the tuckerbox. Because the song thus became nonsense, a legend sprang up to “explain” the song: a drover had been passing through Gundagai with his trusty dog and had been called away on an errand; so he left the dog in charge of his tuckerbox. He never came back, or was killed, but the dog stayed, faithful unto death, never letting anyone near the box, until its own death. This faithful dog has his own statue in Gundagai commemorating his deed!
In Australian Tradition Jan 1967 John Meredith wrote a piece entitled ‘Along the Road to Gundagai – but how many miles?’. In it he explores the origins of this song and its relatives. He is of the opinion that it derives from ‘Bullocky Bill’ which was printed in the Gundagai Times in 1857. Meredith writes “Over thirty of our old bush songs and ballads are about Gundagai – the struggles of her people and the troubles and fun that the bullockies and the shearers had there in the second half of the last century”. He dates ‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’ from the 1880’s. As Meredith points out the song could hardly have lived so long if the dog had merely sat in the tucker box.
From Gundagai, we travelled on to the town of Cootamundra to spend the night at the caravan park there. After a refreshing shower, we pigged out on curry prawns and rice before settling in to watch a movie on dvd. My MOTH had been looking forward to catching up with ex-RAAF mates at the party and was already in reminiscing mode. Understandably so of course, as most of his, “Remember that time when…?” are wasted on me because I wasn’t a part of his RAAF years.
About 9.30 the next morning (Saturday), after running through our usual checklist, we got into the cabin to drive to our destination and that was when our trouble began. Just Trip’n flatly refused to budge, not even an inch! Despite checking all the fuses, various cables and all things mechanical associated with automotive engines, Just Trip’n firmly stood her ground – she ain’t goin’ nowhere! After almost exhausting his repertoire of choice words, the MOTH composed himself long enough to give his mobile phone a jolly good work-out. First he rang the RACV (Royal Automobile Club of Victoria) who then advised him to contact the Cootamundra branch of the NRMA (National Roads and Motorists Association) who in turn told him to again get in touch with the RACV. After a long wait, a motor mechanic from the NRMA was subsequently dispatched to assist us but unfortunately, after much tinkering around and getting grease and dirt on his clothes, he couldn’t get the gear unstuck. He diagnosed it as being an electronic problem and tried to contact the Mercedes Benz centre for advice. What a bummer! It was by then almost noon, and all the mechanics had knocked-off for the long weekend off work so no-one was there to take his call. It looked like nothing could be done until Tuesday morning… We thanked our stars that we had RACV Total Care insurance cover as another phone call soon got us a free Hertz rental car – an automatic Ford Falcon XT MKII Sedan. It was small consolation but at least we got wheels to see us through the long weekend.
After a lunch of fish and chips washed down with iced coffee, we hit the road to get to Stockinbingal. My MOTH knows that I do not like driving at night – as a matter of fact, I do not like driving at all – so he declined my offer of driving us back that night. Instead, he purchased some light beer to see him through the night with his mates at the party. Knowing how much he loves his grog, I felt truly sorry for him but was greatly relieved by his unselfish decision all the same. It proved to me that he loves me more than alcohol.
We got to the Stockinbingal sign and saw that the population showed as “244” so I figured a few residents must have fallen off the perch since the last update on the website I had accessed. Following the directions given by Lynne and helped by the conspicuous balloons tied to various strategic posts along the road and dirt track and the opening and closing of several farm gates by yours truly, we were greeted about two thirds of the way by two of their three sons on their trail bikes. Following their directions we arrived at one of their two farmhouses in the by then brown, generously dust-coated, red Falcon to see the surprised face of Neil! He tried to find out who else would be coming but as we were also completely in the dark, the attendance list remained a surprise until that evening. Neil then led the way to the main farmhouse and as the MOTH drove cautiously over the rather rugged windy track, we were glad that we weren’t driving Just Trip’n. I have always believed that everything in life happens for a reason… just imagine our precious fridge and heaven forbid, our TV, too, being jolted right off their screws and hinges as we were bumping along what felt like a rough ride in a rollercoaster with its wheels and tracks in dire need of greasing!
After exchanging pleasantries, the Vey families (or ‘Team’ as they call themselves) got to work. The wives began multi-tasking – carrying on at least three different conversations while chasing their littlies, in between supervising the team of husbands who were setting up their family-sized tents around selected sections of the farm, (with a beer in one hand, of course)! The various hives of activities were randomly given surprise checks by several foremen in the shapes of a small flock of sheep, Lynne’s horse, Midnight, and five dogs. Before the dust had time to settle, a quick glance at the sundial got the Team hopping – it was time to clean up their respective kids and themselves to get ready for the trip to the Stockinbingal Bowling Club, the venue for the party.
We travelled in convoy with the first party opening the gates and the last, closing after them. Upon arrival at the Bowling Club, Neil was gob-smacked to see a sea of smiling faces ready to greet him with hugs and hearty handshakes. As we entered the Bowling Club, my eagle eye didn’t spy a single cowboy, let alone a guitar-strumming one. Hmmm… I figured then that it was going to be a typical Aussie get-together after all, with the blokes intent on practising their glass-to-mouth maneuvering techniques around the bar while the sheilas sat around in little groups stifling their yawns or sipping a drink or two. I felt rather lost as I saw only one familiar female face, that belonging to one of the wives whom I had met briefly at a get-together a couple of years before. My MOTH started mingling straightaway and as I did not wish to be caught yawning nor intrude on any on-going conversation, I headed for the gaming room. There I spent some time and money hand-feeding the five poker machines in turn until the dinner call. We sat at a table with folks that we didn’t know so conversations were down to a minimum. Dinner was buffet style with a selection of salads, fresh fruit, sliced cheese, ham and corned beef. The hot food consisted of curried prawns and fish mornay with boiled rice. I opted for a small serve of curried prawns and boiled rice which left plenty of room for the fruit on offer: tinned (as well as fresh) pineapple, rockmelon, honeydew melon and strawberries. This was followed by dessert of pavlova, apple cake and jelly with tea or coffee to finish off the meal. The birthday cake was then brought out and after some emotionally-charged speeches by the parties involved, the “Men-to-Boyz” (my personal terminology for the blokes), trooped out of the dining room to re-congregate at the bar, eager to resume drinking and telling lies. Bummer! Definitely no “Heel – toe, heel – toe, swing your partner, doe – see – doe…” that’s for sure! Upon seeing the ladies also with drinks in their hands and being a very light drinker myself, I decided against joining them. Besides, I purposely refrained from having any alcoholic beverage just in case the MOTH weakened and I had to drive back to Cootamundra after the party. Instead, I made my way back to the gaming room to resume feeding the hungry machines.
By midnight, the party crowd had thinned out to a mere handful of the diehard “Men-to-Boyz” who were either swaying or draped over the bar counter slurringly repeating their stories for the tenth time, getting louder with each recount. About an hour later, my MOTH came to me and suggested that we call it a night. My MOTH kept his resolve and did not weaken with regard to alcohol intake so was able to drive us back to Cootamundra.
The next morning, we returned to Gogobilly for brunch and a tour of the property. Luckily we did not arrive with empty stomachs waiting to be filled as the brunch consisted of bacon, (heaps of bacon), sausages and hash browns all merrily sizzling away on the one big hotplate. Instead, we settled for a hot cup of coffee and a slice of the birthday cake. Not everyone turned up for the brunch which was just as well, as there would have been a transportation dilemma. The few that did show up were looking rather worse for wear but eager to join the tour just the same. The MOTH and I got a ride with Neil in his old Subaru station wagon while others took their pick from an assortment of “things on wheels” ranging from a tractor to trail bikes to get to the top of Gogobilly Hill.
The view at the top was simply magnificent, overlooking Stockinbingal on one side and the farm on the other. This of course set off a lot of cameras and after we had all taken our fill of photos, the guys quenched their thirst with icy cold beer that had been brought up by the Vey boys. While we were up there, Neil spotted a monitor (large tropical carnivorous lizard) and guided the MOTH and I down the rocky slopes to get a few photos of it. Shortly after, we piled back into our various modes of transportation and headed back downhill to the farm. The guys gasbagged some more, this time about the viability of creating a landing-strip for their Cessnas, and it was lunch time before the MOTH finally noticed my hungry expression. We declined the lunch invitation so we bade everyone farewell and left with another group of friends who were heading for the Bowling Club for more drinkies before flying their Cessnas back to Queensland the next morning. We drove back to Cootamundra for a tasty late lunch of steakburgers and chips, after which we watched TV through our eyelids. After our siesta and a refreshing shower, we had our dinner of beef rendang and rice and dessert of Honey Murcott mandarins before watching the Brisbane Broncos beat the Melbourne Storm in the Rugby League Grand Final match on TV.
On Monday, we decided that instead of twiddling our thumbs worrying about Just Trip’n, we would go sight-seeing so off we went to Temora to check out the Aviation Museum. We spent the best part of the morning there just looking at the exhibits of old aeroplanes, reading and viewing the screening of the aviation history which proved to be most interesting indeed. By lunch-time the worms were wriggling around in our bellies and growling fiercely, too, so we each threw a hamburger and some chips down our throats to shut them up. Back we drove to Cootamundra and located Sir Don Bradman’s birthplace. [Sir Donald George Bradman, August 27, 1908 ‘ February 25, 2001, often called The Don, was an Australian cricketer who is universally regarded as the greatest batsman of all time, and is one of Australia’s most popular sporting heroes.] The MOTH just waited in the car while I got out to take a couple of photos as we were feeling the heat and weren’t in the mood to go poking around in the cottages. We returned to Just Trip’n for a short siesta before a shower and a T-bone steak dinner at the RSL situated just around the corner from the caravan park where we were staying. After losing $15, we walked back to Just Trip’n to watch TV before surrendering to sleep.
We woke up Tuesday morning not really knowing what would be in store for us regarding Just Trip’n. Just in case the problem couldn’t be fixed on site, we packed our overnight bags for a stay at a motel. 9am on the dot and the mechanic from the local Mercedes Benz dealership appeared as if by magic. After spending a good half hour going over all the possible causes, he too, failed to fix the stuck gear problem. We were told that there was nothing more he could do and he advised us to arrange for the motorhome to be towed to the nearest Mercedes Benz Light Commercial Truck Service Centre in Wagga Wagga some 100km away. Once again, the MOTH contacted the RACV in Melbourne for assistance and the officer in charge by the name of Prim (sp?) immediately and efficiently arranged not only for a commercial tow-truck to come to our rescue but also free accommodation at the Astor Motor Inn which is conveniently located in the corner of Baylis and Edward Streets for the duration of our wait and yes, there’s more – another free Avis rental car – a brand-new Toyota Camry Altise at our disposal! God Bless the RACV, I say! Within the hour, the tow-truck arrived and after disconnecting the tailshaft, Just Trip’n was all set to be towed to Wagga Wagga. My MOTH had returned the Hertz rental car just before noon so we got a ride in the tow-truck with me sitting in the cabin like Lady Muck herself, enjoying an excellent view during the ride. My disgruntled MOTH consoled himself by saying that at least the fuel economy on this trip would be pretty good as the towing would bring us 100km closer to home without using a drop of fuel.
We were driven to Astor Motor Inn by the Mercedes mob and from there it was a mere stroll to the Avis Rental centre to pick up the Camry. We didn’t have to wait too long before the MOTH received a phone call to let us know that they had located the problem – the gear recognition switch had packed it in. A new switch would have to be ordered first thing Wednesday morning and it would be air-freighted from Melbourne to be fitted and programmed to recognize gear positions early Thursday morning. With little else to do, we strolled down Baylis Street for a spot of window-shopping and to buy some soft drinks. On the way back to the Astor, we saw a noodle bar called ‘Noodle King’ and that helped decide our choice of dinner that evening. After a shower, we drove to Noodle King to get some Seafood Noodles before returning to our room for a leisurely meal and a night of TV-viewing.
Pronounced ‘Wogga Wogga’, Wagga Wagga with a population of over 57,000 people is known to locals as Wagga. The Wiradjuri people were the first to settle the area and Wagga Wagga, their word for ‘the place of many crows’, gave the city its name. In 1829 Charles Sturt, who explored the Murray and Murrumbidgee river systems passed through the area and soon other Europeans followed him settling along the fertile banks of the rivers. As an important commercial centre, Wagga enjoyed the advantages of road, rail and, in the 19th century, river transport to convey local produce to distant markets and to bring goods into the city. Wagga quickly became the largest inland city in New South Wales.
I got the address of the Visitor Information Centre from the complimentary booklet ‘Discover Wagga Wagga’ in the hotel room, so with a whole day to kill during this unscheduled stopover, we drove to the Visitor Information Centre in Tarcutta Street for some sightseeing suggestions. Armed with a few pamphlets we set off for a leisurely stroll to Wagga Wagga Beach. “Wagga Wagga has a beach?” I exclaimed incredulously. The MOTH explained to me that there is a stretch of sandy bank on the Murrimbidgee River that he remembered coming to when he was a young recruit with the RAAF in the year dot. We followed the walking track to the ‘beach’ but much to the MOTH’s disappointment, it was nothing like he remembered it to be. Museums don’t exactly turn either of us on so it was off to the Botanical Gardens from there.
The first thing we saw upon arrival at the car park of the Gardens was a “Closed” sign near the entry but soon realized the sign referred to the Model Railway System and not the Botanical Gardens. Whew! What a relief it was. Being the NSW school holidays, there were many, many flustered mothers at the Botanic Gardens with their kids in tow while the daddies got off easy by going to work. We did a round of the gardens and admired the beautiful azaleas and camellias in the Chinese Garden section, gave the cactus garden and water-wise garden a cursory glance each as we strolled past, stuck our heads in to peek into the Tree Chapel but didn’t enter as some repair work was in progress. From there we sauntered over to the Zoo and Aviary section of the Gardens. What a brilliant idea putting a zoo within the Gardens compound! We were there for an hour and a half with half the time spent chasing the peacocks to get a few photos, 20 photos between us, to be exact. A bite of lunch at the kiosk seemed like a good idea until we saw that there was only one girl behind the counter serving the long queue of customers, so wisely decided to give it a miss.
We drove out to the RAAF Base on the Sturt Highway on the “Sydney side of Wagga Wagga” to check out the RAAF Museum but to our great disappointment, the Museum was closed for refurbishment. After a couple of photos from the outside, we got back in the car and drove back towards the town centre to check out Lake Albert but the view there didn’t even merit a photo. Ever practical MOTH decided it was time to return the rental car as we would not be needing it anymore. After topping up the fuel, we returned the car and walked down Baylis Street again, this time we walked to the end of the street, to the War Memorial, where the street name changed to Fitzmaurice Street. We kept walking while the MOTH indulged in a bit of nostalgia as he recounted the good old days spent at Romano’s Hotel with his fellow RAAF recruits. Romano’s is an iconic regional hotel established in 1865. Naturally, out came the cameras as we took photos of the Romano’s Hotel, the old Court House and the old Post Office which is now the National Bank.
We strolled back down Baylis Street and stopped at Woolworths Liquor where I bought the MOTH a nice bottle of red. Dinner that night was the in-house guest special of Surf n Turf (a succulent char-grilled sirloin steak, topped with garlic king prawns and a creamy chardonny sauce) at the hotel restaurant, Thomasina’s Mallee Grill. We fed the poker machines in the Gaming Room a handful of dollar coins until the MOTH got tired of the routine and went upstairs to enjoy his wine. I carried on with the feeding in the hope that the machine would regurgitate a whole bunch of coins. Occasionally a machine would spit out a few bucks but certainly not the full-on ‘chunder’ (vomit) that I was hoping for. Eventually after losing $30 I decided to call it a night and returned to our room.
We checked out of the Astor the next morning and waited in the foyer until the Mercedes Benz mob sent one of their employees to pick us up. As soon as we pulled up in the carpark of the service centre, I could see that Just Trip’n was all set and ready to rock and roll. We left Wagga Wagga via The Rock, an impressive landmark, towering 250 metres over the surrounding countryside. Known as Kengal to the local Wiradjuri people, it is thought to have been a place where initiation ceremonies had been carried out. We continued southbound on the Hume Highway and about 16km north of Albury at Table Top, we turned off the highway to visit the ‘original’ Ettamogah Pub. The Ettamogah Pub was inspired by the cartoons of Ken Maynard, an Australian cartoonist who was born in Albury, New South Wales, in 1928. Originally a police officer, he got his break as a cartoonist in 1958 contributing his Ettamogah Pub cartoons to the Australasian Post. They became a main feature of the magazine and his cartoons were run until its last edition. These cartoons were the inspiration for a chain of Ettamogah Pubs throughout Australia. There are Ettamogah Pubs in Sydney, Albury, Sunshine Coast and Cunderdin in Western Australia. The Ettamogah Pub also inspired Ray Kernaghan to sing a catchy song about it. Ken Maynard died on 29 September 1998 on the Gold Coast, Queensland, after losing the battle with liver cancer.
Where the Murray River flows
Stuck out like a country dunny
Is a pub that we all know
Or exclusive country club
It’s a place that all Australia knows
It’s the Ettamogah Pub
You’ll be glad you finally made it, mate
To the Ettamogah Pub.
After this enjoyable break, we continued on our way home, with a quick lunch stop at Glenrowan, the Ned Kelly town, for lunch and a few photos of the Big Ned Kelly statue outside the post office. [Edward “Ned” Kelly (c. 1855 – 11 November 1880) is Australia’s most famous bushranger, and, to many, a folk hero, for his defiance of the colonial authorities.] We arrived home late Thursday afternoon and life has almost returned to normal… until our next road-trip in the not too distant future.
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As I was about to head off to take a shower, my MOTH stormed in the door and muttered something about a fornicating tree branch having an altercation with our fornicating tv antenna! He was so not happy that I thought it best to postpone my shower plan and see what the problem was. The host, Eileen, seeing the two of us staring at the roof of Just Trip’n, ambled over and upon seeing our predicament, ambled off a little quicker to get a ladder for us. My MOTH scaled up the ladder like a spritely teenaged boy and proceeded to try and shake the offending branch free from our antenna but to no avail. I offered my sharpest knife to the MOTH so he could saw off the branch but of course that effort failed, too. Next to join the happy group was the host himself, Paul. He came bounding out with a pair of bolt cutters and handed it to my MOTH. That certainly did the trick and while he was perched precariously on the topmost rung of the ladder, Paul cheekily told my MOTH that while he was up there, he may as well lop off as many branches as he wished. He then went back to his residence to carry on watching footy on tv. After footy was over, he came up to us, full of apologies for the inconvenience and offered two complimentary discounted dinner vouchers for the Bowls Club which we declined anyway. Our dinner that night was prawn sandwiches using yummy cooked and ready-peeled prawns we had bought from a roadside seafood vendor in Pakenham earlier that day. Dessert consisted of fresh strawberries and cream that I had brought from home.
The next day, we checked out the township of Lakes Entrance before continuing on our trip. The picturesque Lakes Entrance (originally known by Europeans as Cunninghame after a prominent squatting family in the area), is 319 km east of Melbourne via the Princes Highway. As its name suggests, Lakes Entrance is situated at a man-made channel that links Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea and is the gateway that allows ocean-going vessels access to the Gippsland Lakes, the largest navigable inland waterway in Australia. Fed by five major rivers (Mitchell, Nicholson, Tambo, Avon & LaTrobe) and linked by narrow channels, the Gippsland Lakes cover 400 square kilometres and extend 90 km down the coast. These coastal lagoons were formed when the ocean’s sand deposits created long sandspits, low-lying sand islands and dunes which eventually formed a barrier known as the Ninety Mile Beach, separating Bass Strait from the calmer waters they enclosed. The rivers which flow into the area deposited silt and clay which divided the inland water into a series of lakes and swamps.
From Lakes Entrance, we headed off to the township of Buchan which is set within the pretty Snowy Mountains and the Baw Baw National Park. A perfect place from which to explore the Buchan Caves, a honeycomb of caves full of spectacular limestone formations. Buchan Caves were formed by underground rivers cutting through limestone rock. The formations are created by rain water seeping through cracks and dissolving some of the limestone. As each droplet comes through the roof it deposits calcite which crystallises in a small ring. In time, stalactites are formed on the roof of the cave, and stalagmites build up from droplets which fall to the floor. There are tours of the numerous caves including Fairy Cave, Moon Hill Caves and Royal Cave but at the time, we were preoccupied with a problem at hand. As we were driving into the Buchan Caves Reserve carpark, my MOTH noticed that the brake warning light had come on so he naturally became quite concerned. As a result, we both lost interest in doing a tour of the caves – besides, we felt disinclined to go tramping around in the by then steady downpour. There’s always next time, we said…
We back-tracked to the Princes Highway to the country town of Orbost, named for the first cattle run in the area settled by a Scot, Norman McLeod, who hailed from a village of the same name on the Isle of Skye. Orbost is the service centre for the primary industries of beef, dairy cattle, and sawmilling. From Orbost, we continued driving on Marlo Road, passing contented cattle lazily grazing in lush pastures along the Snowy River on the way to the tranquil seaside resort and fishing town of Marlo, where the Snowy River meets the sea. Marlo developed into an important port between the 1850s and the 1880s, before the arrival of the railway at Orbost. During that period, paddle steamers, schooners and ketches plied the lower reaches of the Snowy River and the produce of the Snowy River valley (reputedly one of the richest river valleys in the world) was carried by sea to Melbourne. Thinking that we would be back in a couple of days to fish the Snowy River and with our minds still pre-occupied with the warning brake light, we put off taking photos of the area so I ‘pinched’ a couple of photos from Travel Victoria website. Please visit this website for more beautiful photos of Victoria by selecting a city, town or suburb in the “Please select” box.
We turned off the Princes Highway at Manorina for a 23 km drive to Bemm River where we stopped at Luderick Point for a late lunch of fried chicken wings that I had brought along for the trip. As soon as we got to the memorial park, I spotted a flock of waterbirds sunning on rocks on the riverbank and quickly grabbed my camera to snap some photos. Unfortunately, as soon as I approached for a closer shot, the whole flock flew off! Bemm River is a small riverside town without any petrol station. Like many Victorian rivers, Bemm River filters through a sand bar to get to the sea. Occasionally, when the water level in the inlet becomes too high, the entrance to the river is blasted to allow more water to flow out. This bream capital boasts a nominal population of about 70 residents with one hotel/pub, a general store, community centre, two caravan parks and several accommodation houses. From Bemm River, we back-tracked to the Princes Highway, travelled on to Genoa where we turned off to Mallacoota. Feeling slightly dispirited and not finding much of interest to us in Mallacoota, we got back on the highway and travelled on to Eden to spend the night at the 4-star rated Garden of Eden Caravan Park. A beautiful place indeed, set amongst shady trees, spacious lawns and sculptured gardens. We were amazed to find that they even have heated floors in the showers! We had a ‘murtabak’ each (Indian flat bread filled with egg, spiced lamb mince and onions and shallow fried in a little ghee) with lamb curry – leftovers from Father’s Day lunch the Sunday before. Dessert was mulberry yoghurt. Yum!
The next morning, we went to the port of Eden for a bit of a look-see. Eden is the most southern port in NSW, and services the South Coast towns of Bega, Merimbula, Bombala and Cooma. This port is home to one of the largest fishing fleets in NSW with a 200 metres long main wharf and approximately 6,000 sq metres of paved storage area. Eden, a former whaling town situated on the deep natural harbour of Twofold Bay, is rich in fishing and whaling history and is the southern gateway to the Sapphire Coast. We had been there many, many moons ago and tried our luck fishing near the wharf. All we caught at that time were slimey mackeral by the bucket-load and seeing no anglers around, we figured it would be a waste of time and bait to wet our lines. After snapping a few photos, we went looking for a gas station to enquire about a brakes repair centre. We were advised that our best bet would be to enquire at the township of Merimbula, so off we went.
Located 34 km north of Eden, Merimbula is a popular seaside town rising on the tree-clad hills around Lake Merimbula which is actually the wide mouth of the Merimbula River. There are a few Aboriginal translations for the name Merimbula: “Two Lakes” (Top Lake and Merimbula Lake) or “Two Waters” (place where two waters meet) and “Big Snake” (because of the shape of the river/lake, perhaps?). The town was discovered by Bass and Flinders in 1797, first as a private village before opening as a port in 1855. Its main 6km beach is popular for water sports, in particular, surfing, sailboarding and swimming. We located a Mercedes Service centre but unfortunately their mechanics were fully booked so we were re-directed to a commercial truck service centre in Pambula.
Pambula is situated approximately 5 km south of Merimbula. This historic village was discovered by George Bass on 18 December 1797. Meaning “Twin Waters” in the Yuin Aboriginal language, Pambula was spelt “Panboola” or “Panbula” in the past. It became popular for a very lucrative off-shore whaling industry, as part of the Imlay Brothers empire at Twofold Bay in the early 1800’s. It has also been a rich farming area for growing maize and oats as well as gold mining until cyanide for dissolving the quartz became too expensive. Present day Pambula is a quiet little rural township with craft shops and several historic buildings. I would dearly love to know what the dilapidated wooden structure (pictured right) used to be. Maybe it was a small grain silo?
We arrived at Southern Trucks Pambula workshop only to find out that the mechanics would not be able to attend to us until lunch time which was almost an hour away. Not wanting to twiddle our thumbs for that long, we decided to drive to Pambula Beach to get a feed of fish and chips. We were out of luck as the only takeaway shop’s kitchen was closed as it was a Monday! No choice but to go back to Pambula town centre to get a feed. We did end up with fish and chips after all and drove back to Southern Trucks workshop to enjoy a leisurely lunch in the comfort of Just Trip’n. While the mechanics were checking the brakes of our motorhome, I got bored with inhaling the workshop odours and wandered off with my camera. I walked around in the workshop compound and discovered several peach trees in full bloom with bees busily buzzing around doing some pollinating and a couple of apple trees riddled with woolly apple aphids. I seriously thought of going back there in about three months’ time so I can get some of them peaches when they have ripened! Back to the mechanical side of things – upon inspection it was confirmed that the front brake-pads needed replacing – the bad news was they didn’t have stock of Mercedes brake-pads and a set had to be air-freighted overnight from Melbourne. We were to come back first thing the next morning for the job to get done. From Pambula, we went back to Merimbula to do a spot of sight-seeing.
There is a 3km boardwalk around the edge of Top Lake which commences at the Merimbula Lake Bridge and ends at the Merimbula Top Lake Boat Hire, which we thought we would check out. Minutes into the walk, we spied about a zillion oysters growing happily on the rocks which were exposed as the tide was out. As we approached a jetty, I noticed a regal-looking White-faced Heron perched on it and after snapping a photo of it before it flew off, I turned around and noticed the MOTH had gone missing. I looked around and saw that he had jumped down to the rocks to pick a few oysters. Of course not to be outdone, I also jumped down to join him and after getting about half a dozen oysters, we realized that we had no way of transporting them back to the motorhome. Using what little was left of my feminine charm, I got the MOTH to volunteer to walk back to Just Trip’n to get a plastic bag and while he was there, he might as well get our oyster knives out, too. We collected about three dozen oysters between us before continuing our walk, enjoying the various sights and sounds of many species of birds. We stopped to read the information boards located along the walk and noticed benches had been placed here and there for those who needed to rest awhile. During the course of our walk we also came across a couple of the many oyster leases which grow the famous Sydney rock oysters. Apparently fishing is excellent as the lake has an abundance of fish like flathead, bream, trevally, mullet, sting-rays, tailor and luderick. I also read that prawns can be easily caught in the lake during the warmer months when the moon is “dark”. About halfway through our walk, we noticed the time and realized that we had better make tracks to get back to Eden before sunset. On the way back, we saw a skink nonchalantly sun-bathing on a nearby rock, oblivious to the growing number of humans walking to and fro. Back we drove to the Garden of Eden Caravan Park for another night’s stay. Our entree of painstakingly shucked oysters before a dinner of beef hot-dogs was absolutely delicious!
We were back at Southern Trucks in Pambula at the appointed time of 9am to get the new brake-pads fitted before sallying forth to an oyster farm just up the Princes Highway towards Merimbula, thinking the oysters there would be nice and cheap. Wrong! I can buy them much cheaper at Footscray Market in Melbourne! We very quickly changed our minds and bought half a kg of cooked king prawns instead. We then proceeded south-bound and stopped at Nullica River picnic area for a leisurely lunch of prawn sandwiches. The Nullica River enters Twofold Bay through a permanently open but often shallow entrance at its most western point. The predominantly forested and steep catchment is relatively small extending only about 12 km west of its entrance. After lunch, we walked out to Twofold Bay to admire the sapphire blue water with a distant view of Eden to the left and a ship being towed possibly to the deep waters of the Department of Defence Wharf in Edrom, to the right. Of course the scenery called for a few photos to be snapped, after which, we made our way back to the picnic area. I couldn’t resist taking several photos of Clematis aristata (sometimes called Traveller’s Joy, Goatsbeard or Old Man’s Beard) blooming profusely all over the area. We then hopped back into Just Trip’n and drove on back to Lakes Entrance, spending the night once again at Sunnyside Caravan Park. Dinner that night was bbq’d rib-eye fillet steak with home-made marinated roasted capsicum, fried onions and gravy. Mmmm…
We spent the best part of the next day sitting on the bank of the Tambo River, flinging our baited hooks into the water at regular intervals in the hope a big fish or two would commit suicide. I caught a 30cm flathead that would have delighted a hungry dwarf but we weren’t terribly disappointed as we knew we were about a month too early for the fish to start biting. I was kept entertained watching the antics of my MOTH – each time a fish surprised him with a nibble while he was nodding off, he would jump out of his chair and give his rod an almighty jerk – strong enough to cleanly rip out the skeleton of the fish if he had hooked it, I’m sure! Later that afternoon, I got rather excited when I spied a water dragon swimming by so I quickly dropped my fishing rod and raced down the bank following it with my camera on the ready, ever hopeful of snapping an interesting photo or two. We headed back to the caravan park before sunset for another night’s stay, settling in after a hot shower and a simple meal of sausages bbq’d to perfection by the MOTH. I don’t know if it was the wonderful sea air or the age factor but we both experienced difficulty following the plot of the movie we were watching through closed eyelids! Eventually, we gave up trying and surrendered to sweet slumber.
On the road again the next morning to check out the Ninety Mile Beach – destination for the night: Port Albert. Driving through Bairnsdale, we heard on the radio that there was going to be a Tribute Ride within the next half hour in memory of the late Barry Sheene, so we stopped by the roadside and joined many other motorcycle racing fans to wait for the Tribute Ride. Barry Sheene, MBE (Member of the British Empire) [September 11, 1950 – March 10, 2003] was a British former Grand Prix dual world motorcycle champion. After his retirement from racing in 1984 he moved to Australia where he became a prominent and popular sports commentator on television. He helped to launch many Australian riders including the world champion Mick Doohan. Some 900-strong motorcycle racing fans gathered in Bairnsdale for the 300km memorial ride to the Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit to start off the MotoGP weekend. After watching the motorcyclists ride past, we continued on our way to various beaches along the Ninety Mile Beach. Just as we entered the holiday village township called The Honeysuckles, I spotted an echidna ambling along the side of the road. I excitedly pointed it out to the MOTH who then obligingly turned the motorhome around into a beachside carpark just to satisfy my camera-clicking hunger. I managed to get one fairly good photo of it before it burrowed into the grassy roadside. Yay!!! Afterwards we walked over the sand dunes just to see if there were any keen anglers on the beach. Not a soul was in sight, so we hopped back into Just Trip’n and continued on our way. We stopped for a late lunch of hamburgers from the general store at a quiet little seaside village called Seaspray. From there, we drove on to Port Albert.
We booked into the Port Albert Tourist Park and got a foreshore site. “You beauty!” I exclaimed delightedly as it was only a hop and a skip to Rutters Jetty where I could fish to my heart’s content. (The photo above was taken from Rutters Jetty.) We bought a packet of salted whitebait and spent the rest of the afternoon fishing from the jetty before enjoying a dinner of the last couple of murtabaks and lamb curry. All of the next day was spent fishing and even though most of our catches were not keepers, we had a wonderful time just chillin’ and enjoying the fresh sea breeze. While I was busy untangling my line from a piece of icky-looking sea sponge that I had managed to snag and pull in, I was delighted by the sight of a small brittle starfish that fell off it, so instantly, out came my camera! Unfortunately, that was the only highlight of the fishing scene for the day. Dinner that night was a thick and juicy T-bone steak each, once again, expertly bbq’d by the MOTH, accompanied by the leftover roasted capsicums and fried onions with gravy. Who cares about cholesterol? Certainly not us while on holidays! On the last morning, I was up with the larks and as soon as the sky lightened, I was off to the jetty with my fishing rod, bait, bucket and camera. I didn’t catch any fish worth mentioning but did manage to get a pretty good photo of the wharf in the morning sun from Rutters Jetty. Port Albert will definitely be seeing us again.
Our last point of interest on this trip was the 50,000 hectare Wilson’s Promontory National Park which juts out into Bass Strait and constitutes the southernmost point of the Australian mainland. To the Aborigines, Wilsons Promontory is known as ‘Wamoon’, (also known as Yirik or Woomom), watched over by ‘Loo-errn’, the spirit ancestor of the Brataualung (or Boon-Oor-Rong) people, the guardian of his people. These people had been spending at least part of their year on the Yanakie Isthmus/Peninsula for approximately 6500 years prior to the arrival of navigator George Bass in 1798. George Bass named the area Furneaux’s Land but it was later renamed in honour of a prominent London businessman, Thomas Wilson. It is believed Wilsons Promontory was once part of a “land bridge” connecting mainland Australia with Tasmania. In another age the Prom is thought to have been an island. The gradual build up of a 20 kilometre stretch of sand dunes, known as the Yanakie Isthmus, is said to have reconnected the Prom with the mainland. The Promontory is comprised of imposing granite mountains, sweeping plains, thick forests and some of the finest beaches in the country. These range from sheltered little coves to long surf beaches. The Prom is the ideal place for bushwalking and a full appreciation of the magnificent array of native wildlife Australia has to offer. The friendliest are the Crimson Rosella parrots which flock around anyone offering food at Tidal River. Tidal River is the “capital” of the Prom. It is made up of an information centre, museum, caravan and camping grounds with some cabins.
From Tidal River, we wandered off to Norman Beach to admire the ocean view before going further on to walk on the white squeaky quartz sand of the aptly named Squeaky Beach. From there we drove up a steep and winding road to the Telegraph Saddle Carpark but found it to be full of parked vehicles so did not get a chance to park and look around the area. Somewhat disappointed, we decided to call it a day and start on the journey back to Melbourne. On the way down Promontory Road, we stopped at Glennie Lookout for a final look at the surrounds before bidding farewell to this amazing landmass. We arrived home in the late afternoon to resume our normal routine but we are already looking forward to the next road-trip.
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Having wasted hours of gentle persuasion, my MOTH finally lost his patience, prised my fingers from my keyboard and bundled me into our 4WD for our road-trip to the South Flinders Ranges. Once the temptation of being online was removed, I settled back in my car seat and immediately began to look forward to our little getaway from bustling suburbia.
I am very fortunate as my MOTH is an expert organizer and packer and he made sure there was plenty of snack food and drinks to keep me happy for the duration of the trip. I, on the other hand, have always been in charge of entertainment and had spent weeks prior to the trip to upload almost 1600 songs from my CD collection to my latest toy – an iPod. To ensure that nights in remote country towns wouldn’t be spent just gazing short-sightedly into each other’s bleary eyes, I had also gathered a dozen DVD movies to be played on the MOTH’s portable DVD player that he had purchased in Singapore. Thus well-armed, we gaily set off on our little adventure ‘drove out of suburbia on the Calder Highway to Mildura and stopped briefly to check out Lake Tyrrell. [Lake Tyrrell is a shallow, salt-crusted depression of 70 sq miles (180 sq kms), in the Mallee district, north-western Victoria, Australia, 195 miles (314 kms) north-west of Melbourne, just before the town of Ouyen. Usually dry, it is occasionally fed by Tyrrell Creek. An extraction plant at Sea Lake, a town on the lake’s south shore, harvests the salt deposits. The lake was visited (1838) by Edward Eyre, who was seeking new grazing lands, and was named after an early settler in the Port Phillip area of South Australia.] From Mildura, we continued on our journey, passing pastures with fat grazing cattle and sheep and headed for South Australia on the Sturt Highway. We remembered the time difference between the two states and adjusted our watches back half an hour during one of our drink stops. It was late in the afternoon when we reached the town of Renmark, made the compulsory stop at the quarantine station for an inspection and removal of any fruit and vegetables (we made sure we had none as we had a lot of fruit confiscated from a previous trip ‘and they say a fool never learns’). No, this is not a madcap idea of a crazed politician; it is done to protect the citrus growing region of the Riverland area against the dreaded Fruit Fly. Only minutes after being cleared by the quarantine officers, we drove through a storm – the pouring rain, thunder and lightning kind of storm but it wasn’t long before we were bathed in sunshine again. We spent the night at Renmark Motor Inn. Dinner consisted of a takeaway feed of a fat juicy hamburger each, with enough chips (fries) to feed an entire village in Ethiopia.
Bright and early next morning we enthusiastically jumped into our 4WD and continued on our way to the South Flinders Ranges via Hwy 64. We stopped at the railway town of Morgan located on the West Bank of the River Murray, just below the North West Bend, where the river changes course to flow Southwards towards the sea. The site of the town was passed by Charles Sturt on his voyage down the Murray back in 1830. Known originally as North West Bend, the Great Bend or the Great Elbow, it became a point for overlanders, on their way to Adelaide with stock, to leave the Murray and make for Adelaide. In 1878 the town was proclaimed and the Kapunda to Morgan railway officially opened. The purpose of the railway was to tap the river trade from the Darling and Upper Murray regions by providing quicker access to a coastal port and thereby forstalling similar efforts by the Victorian Government. In its heyday as a port, Morgan was the second biggest port in South Australia, behind Port Adelaide, dispatched six trains a day to Port Adelaide and saw long queues of laden steamers and barges stretching downstream from the Morgan wharf awaiting their turn to unload.
We left the quiet town of Morgan and drove on through the historical town of Burra, a significant copper mining town from 1845 until 1877 when the copper production diminished and much of the mining labour scrambled to the lure of gold at the new fields in Victoria. We headed north on the Barrier Highway and stopped at a roadhouse cafe in Terowie, near Peterborough, to throw down a juicy hamburger each into our bellies to satisfy the worms. Peterborough is an agricultural and historic town, which took the business from Terowie when the broad-gauge (1600 mm) line from Adelaide was extended to Peterborough. From Peterborough, we drove north-west to Hawker but on the way there, my MOTH accidentally took the wrong road out of the heritage town of Orroroo and that was when we spotted a tourist sign with “Giant Red Gum” on it, which intrigued us enough to check it out. I was half expecting to see a huge gimmicky red bubble gum theme park to attract kids but instead found myself staring in awe at a gigantic gum tree. It is South Australia’s largest river red gum tree which has a 10 metre girth and is over 500 years old! Between my MOTH and I, we snapped 17 photos of this old giant before we departed to get to Hawker.
Hawker is a historic railway town which describes itself as ‘The Hub of the Flinders Ranges’. This piece of self-promotion is based on the fact that it is at the junction of roads from Port Augusta, Marree, Orroroo and Wilpena Pound. Having decided to spend the night there, we booked into the Outback Chapmanton Motel at $95 a night. We had thought of having dinner at the motel restaurant but the manager/owner regretfully informed us that it was fully booked for that evening. Not giving it a second thought and seeing how it was too early to call it a day, we jumped back into our Landcruiser (after unloading our gear into the motel room) and went to check out Yourambulla Caves, located 10 km south of Hawker on the Quorn Road.
The name Yourambulla is derived from the Aboriginal Adnyamathanha phrase “yura bila”, meaning two men, and is related to the two peaks (to the east of the painting sites). In Adnyamathanha legend two men of different kinship, “Arraru” and “Mathari”, camped where the two peaks now stand, to eat part of a man they were carrying. It is thought that the smaller peak is the “Mathari” man and that the larger peak on the left is the “Arraru” man. A number of paintings and etchings occur in this area, housed in rock shelters or caves accessible by marked walking trails. So there we were at 4pm, at the foot of the Yourambulla Caves, with yours truly wearing appropriate footwear for a spot of trail-walking – a pair of thongs (strapless sandals)! As our luggage had been transfered to our motel room, I couldn’t change into my runners but I insisted we carried on as planned, so off we went, me with not only my camera but also my handbag that holds everything from calculator to medication for my blood pressure and hayfever, right down to foot cream! After some not-too-elegant clambering on my part, we made it up a steep flight of stairs to the first site where we saw (and took photos of) some examples of Aboriginal rock art. Most of the ‘paintings’ were executed in black pigment and are of a non-figurative nature, some have been done in red ochre. All in all, it was a fairly easy walk up the trail with what appeared to be wild white statice growing in competition with the vibrant blue hues of Patterson’s Curse (Salvation Jane) and various wildflowers. As sunset was fast approaching, we decided to call it a day so it was back to Hawker with both of us practically salivating at the thought of having a pizza for our dinner that night. Alas it was not to be…
Reluctant at the thought of a shower and change to go out for dinner, we thought it would be a great idea to just pick up a pizza on the way back to our motel room for a leisurely dinner dressed in our PJs. We joined several other tourists driving around in mad circles to check out the little town centre. There were only two takeaway shops and would you believe that BOTH were closed for business! Suddenly with a gleeful shout, I spotted and pointed out a little corner store and best of all, it had a sign advertising pies and pasties. By this time we had of course resigned ourselves to the fact that a pizza for dinner that night was totally out of the question. A couple of pies or pasties would have to sufffice we decided, as we rocked into the joint but immediately noticed with dismay that the cafe part of the place was unlit and the oven to keep pies and pasties warm had been turned off. We enquired of the girl behind the counter and were told that the only place where we could expect to get our dinner was the local pub as the takeaway places and restaurants are closed on Mondays. Having driven past the pub a few times only minutes before and noticing the car park full of patrons’ vehicles, we didn’t like our chances of being served before Christmas. I hastily put my thinking cap on and decided that we would have to improvise and have a carpet picnic in our motel room instead. My MOTH agreeable as always, readily went along with my plan so we did a quick lap of the little store and picked up a 250 gms vacuum-sealed pack of corned beef, a frozen sliced loaf of bread, a wee tub of margarine, an onion and a tomato – all for the princely sum of $10.40. We were disappointed that the little store did not carry any salt and pepper but at least we wouldn’t starve that night. After a refreshing shower, I set about preparing our dinner of corned beef, onion and tomato sandwiches, using a pen knife to work with and, as there were no cutlery and plates available, the coffee cup saucers served as our dinner plates that evening. It turned out to be a very yummy dinner, albeit a rather unusual one.
The next morning, we left the motel and drove north to Rawnsley Park viewing area to be rewarded with magnificent views of parts of the South Flinders Ranges. I had wisely put runners on my feet this morning, fully prepared to do some heavy duty walking so from there we decided to check out Arkaroo Rock, another Aboriginal Adnyamathanha rock painting site dated as being 5000 years old and depicts the formation of Wilpena Pound. All went well until we got to the entrance of the 2 hour walking trail and saw a sign warning tourists not to leave valuables in cars as thefts have occurred there. Not at all comfortable with leaving our valuable possessions unattended, we decided to forego the Aboriginal paintings of bird tracks, snake lines, waterholes and people, created in red, yellow and white ochre and charcoal and go directly to Wilpena Pound instead.
We filled in the appropriate application form for a National Park entry permit, popped the required $7 in the provided envelope and placed it in the locked box in the un-manned roadside booth. With the receipt stuck to our windscreen, we were on our way to Wilpena Pound, a rather remarkable rock basin within the Flinders National Park, which covers 80 sq. kms and reaches a height of about 500 mtrs. It is a huge flat plain covered in scrub and trees and totally surrounded by jagged hills which form a rim. From the ground it looks like a rugged low mountain range which can be easily traversed. When you reach the top you look across the plain and can clearly see the hills around the edges. The real meaning for Wilpena may have been lost with the Aboriginal people who originally occupied the area. It is suggested that the word ‘wilpena’ means ‘place of bent fingers’ or ‘cupped hand’ or ‘curled up kangaroo skin’ but the name most commonly used for Wilpena by the Adnyamathanha people today is Ikara meaning ‘meeting place’. Pound is an old English word meaning ‘an enclosure for animals’, which was how the Pound was in fact used by early pastoralists.
There are about 13 different walks and we chose the one on top of the list, i.e. The Hills Homestead and Wangara Lookout. It took us over two hours to get to Wangara Lookout with many stops during the walk so I could take photos of the native flora. We went on a relatively easy walk for the young and not too old that meanders through the Pound Gap, past the old Hills Homestead and came upon a rock carving depicting two Aborigines with the illustrated dreamtime legend of Wilpena Pound on the other side of it. Transcript of this Dreamtime legend is as follows:
Aboriginal people tell how giant semi-human creatures that were created at the beginning of the world were responsible for all the creeks, hills, gorges and mountains in Australia. Of these, one of the most beautiful parts of the Flinders Ranges is Ikara (Wilpena Pound), and the most valuable is the Leigh Creek coalfield.
Long ago there was an old Kingfisher Man called Yurlu who lived in the west near Kuyani territory. Yurlu journeyed south from his home at Kakarlpunha (Termination Hill) to attend an important malkada (corroboree and initiation ceremony at Ikara (Wilpena Pound).
On the way, Yurlu lit a big signal fire to let people know he was on his way to the ceremony. The charcoal remaining from this fire formed the coal deposits at Leigh Creek and several small deposits in other places on the way down. Aboriginal people called it Yurlu’s coal long before white man ever came into the country.
When Yurlu was passing through Brachina Gorge on his way down to the ceremoney he saw two Akurra (powerful Dreaming serpents) travelling in the same direction.
Yurlu reached the ceremony, but in the meantime the Akurra Valadupa (male and female) had entered Ikara through Vira Warldu (Edeowie Gap). When Yurlu arrived the ceremony was well under way. Yurlu snatched the firestick from Walha the Wild Turkey Man and threw it up into the sky. This stick turned into the red star Wildu (Mars).
Akurra came up to the ceremonial ground in whirlwinds and caught and ate all the people they could find. Yurlu and Walha managed to escape and flew off southwards. Also managing to escape were a Wilyaru (newly initiated man) and a Vardnapa (partly initiated man). They both escaped eastwards.
The Wilyaru kept on going until he went too far over the border. Aboriginal people there told him he had come too far, so he had to turn back towards Mt Chambers. He kept on travelling until he could go no further. He stopped south of Mt. Chambers. There he turned into a large rock on the side of a small hill. The rock, reddish-black in colour, is now known as Wilyaru Rock.
The Vardnapa stopped at a creek near Wirrealpa Station and transformed into a stoney hill.
The two Akurra were so full after eating the people that they lay still and willed themselves to death. Their bodies form the walls of the Pound and it is said that St. Mary’s Peak is the head of Ngaarrimudlunha, the female Akurra.
We then climbed to the lower edge of the Pound to reach Wangara Lookout to be rewarded with panoramic views across the Pound. After this leisurely walk, we ran out of time to tackle the other recommended walks so we left Wilpena Pound and finding nothing more up the road that evoked our interest, we decided to turn around and head south for the coast, taking with us a few hundred hitchhiking bush flies.
We spent the night at Port Pirie, located just off the Princes Highway on Spencer Gulf, 225 kms. north of Adelaide between Crystal Brook and Port Augusta. Port Pirie began as a small settlement in 1845 and today is a major port and one of the state’s largest commercial and industrial centres. Known as the ‘Country Music City’ it is host to the Great Country Music Awards each September. The only Budget chain motel there had no vacancy so we drove around until we located a motel advertised on a billboard that caught my eye as we drove into the town. It didn’t look too flash from the outside, no fancy swimming pool and on-site restaurant to boast of but we decided to take a chance and stay there for the night. We were pleasantly surprised to find the room was well beyond our expectations – almost all the comforts of home were provided – air-conditioning, a big stereo tv, a video player, microwave oven, queen sized bed, hair dryer, shampoo and so on – all that for a mere $63 a night! Despite the motel owner/manager’s recommendation to try the Chinese restaurant next door, we decided to satisfy our craving for a pizza. We walked to the pizza shop about 30 yards down the road and indulged in their special of 2 x 8″ pizzas of our choice, 2 cans of soft drinks and a large garlic bread – all for $15. We pigged out big time before a shower and a quiet night watching a couple of movies on DVD.
Bright and early the next morning, we leisurely drove to Victor Harbor, the main town on the Fleurieu Peninsula, overlooking Encounter Bay. Victor Harbor is a thriving modern holiday destination which was once the main port of the South Australian coast and the access point for all goods travelling up and down the Murray River. It was originally named Encounter Bay by Matthew Flinders in 1802, after his encounter with French Captain Nicolas Baudin. The Victor Harbor area was a major location for the whalers and sealers who plied the waters of the Southern Ocean, and by 1837 there was a whaling station on Granite Island. Today Granite Island, home to lots of little penguins, is connected to the mainland by a mile-long causeway and for $5 (one way), tourists can get across to or from the island on a double decker tram pulled by a Clydesdale horse. By now, we had become seasoned walkers so we jauntily crossed the causeway on foot, helped along on the way there by a blustery wind but struggled somewhat walking against the wind on the return journey.
After Victor Harbor, we were on the road again, crossing the Murray River by ferry at Wellington and ending up in a charming little town called Meningie on the shores of Lake Albert. With modern agricultural methods of irrigation and cropping, the Meningie district is a successful dairy area as well as producing substantial acreage of irrigated crops. The town also has a large fishing fleet. We stayed at Pritchards Meningie Waterfront Motel which boasts absolute lake frontage but we decided against enjoying a few drinks in their beer garden for fear of being blown into the lake by the strong winds. Noticing the microwave oven in our room, we mutually agreed to have tv dinners that evening so off we went to the local supermarket to purchase some – curried beef and rice for me and curried prawns for my MOTH. While in the supermarket, we purchased a couple of forks and a small jar of Vegemite to spread on our toasts the next morning. The TV reception was rather poor but that was of little consequence as we still had lots of movies to watch to while the night away.
We were back on the road again the next morning, taking the Princes Highway along the coast to Kingston South East, which is a substantial port famous for its lobsters. It also happens to be the home of the Big Lobster, one of those wonderfully quirky ‘bigs’ which Australians seem to love to erect. The town of Kingston (it only became Kingston South East to distinguish it from Kingston-on-Murray) was named after the government surveyor, George Strickland Kingston, by the Governor of South Australia, Governor McDonnell, in 1858. To appease the worms yet again, we stopped for an early lunch of “Fisherman’s Basket” from a tiny seafood shop named Lacepede Seafood near the Kingston Jetty – very yummy indeed!
From Kingston S.E., we went on to Robe, a port surrounded by sea on three sides, situated on the Limestone Coast of S.E. South Australia. The port of Robe was proclaimed in 1847 and provided a safe port to export wool, which was rapidly developing as a major industry during the early years of European settlement. I was totally amazed at the multi-coloured Gazanias and Pigface (Carpobrotus modestus – a cactus-like groundcover with purple edible fruit) growing in wild abundance in the coastal sand dunes. To think that I had cheerfully paid $2 per Gazania plant for my garden and that’s because they were on special! There they grow prolifically to greet residents and tourists alike with their bright colourful blooms. After numerous photos (just so I can compare them with my humble home collection when I get home and weep), we went on to look at the Cape Domby Obelisk, a historic landmark built in 1855 by a local builder at a cost of 230 pounds with the stone quarried locally and carted to the site by a team of 32 bullocks. It served as a daytime nagivation guide for ships and in the early days of settlement, as a storehouse for rockets used by the local volunteer life-saving crews who rescued people on board ships wrecked along the coast. The rockets were fired from shore, with a line attached and a strong rope was hauled on board and secured, and people were carried to shore in a large basket. The Obelisk was originally painted white but in 1862 was painted red and white for better visibility. During fine weather, it can be seen from sea for a distance of up to 20 kms. Due to natural erosion of the coastline around the Obelisk, this landmark is becoming increasingly unstable and will eventually collapse into the ocean.
Another tourist attraction is the Doorway Rock, defiantly standing in the ocean while wave after wave pounds mercilessly on it. Then there is the Old Robe Gaol not far from the Obelisk – not much of it to interest us – just the roof-less, wall-less ruins of a gaol constructed in 1860/61. After driving around in circles a couple of times, we found our way out of Robe to head off to Mt Gambier.
Somewhere between Millicent (a vast pine forest area) and Mt Gambier, we noticed the Tantanoola Caves tourist sign so we just had to check it out. Tantanoola Cave is an ancient sea cave in a cliff face. It is one of South Australia’s most beautiful caves, filled with a spectacular array of formations in one large dolomite cavern. The formations have developed over thousands of years. In 1983, National Parks and Wildlife SA lowered the entrance of the cave and laid gently sloping paths, making this Australia’s first wheelchair access cave. Unfortunately, we missed the 3pm tour and couldn’t afford to wait an hour for the next tour. We satisfied ourselves with a walk in the surrounds before driving on to Mt Gambier.
We had visited Mt Gambier about 14 years ago (pre-digital camera days) so it was on our “must see” list on this trip, especially the Blue Lake. The lake is in an extinct volcano which last erupted around 5,000 years ago. The crater is approximately 5 kms. around and the lake has a varying surface area of around 70 hectares. The water level is about 20 metres above sea level and 30 metres below the level of Mount Gambier’s main street. It has a capacity of 36,000 megalitres (8,000 million gallons) and is South Australia’s 3rd largest water storage area. Myths about it being bottomless have been disproved, and it has average depth of 77 metres and a maximum of 197 metres. The Blue Lake is one of Australia’s natural phenomenons changing colour each summer from an ordinary grey to a brilliant blue. It is one of 3 lakes located in the crater of Mount Gambier.
One of the unsolved mysteries of our time is the reason why the Blue Lake changes colour from a drab grey to a vivid blue each November to March. Scientists and laymen have proposed many theories about this over the years. One suggests the water picks up a blue dye as it works its way through the porous limestone base; another, that microscopic organisms come to the surface as temperatures rise. The most likely theory is that light is scattered by calcium-carbonate which saturates the lake. As the temperature rises at the surface level it causes them to precipitate out as extremely fine particles of a similar wavelength to blue light. This causes a scattering of light at the blue end of the spectrum, making the lake appear blue in much the same way as the sky appears blue by suspended particles in the atmosphere. Whatever the reason, it is a fascinating experience to observe the change, which happens over a few days in late Nov. to early Dec.
At the Adam Lindsay Gordon Lookout we went down a flight of stairs to go through the tunnel under the road to the Blue Lake viewing platform. Several photos later, we returned to the Lookout carpark and viewed the Adam Lindsay Gordon Monument, erected in 1887 to commemorate the scene where Gordon daringly rode his horse over the fence onto a narrow ledge above a 70-metre sheer drop of Blue Lake then turned his horse and repeated the jump back on the road. Gordon was not only a remarkable rider but also a poet of renown who is honoured by a place in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey in London, making him the only Australian poet with the honour. Financial troubles finally led him to shoot himself at Brighton, Victoria on June 24th 1870, aged just 37 years.
We then climbed up the lookout tower of the Rook Wall for a view of the Blue Lake. The construction of the Rook Wall was begun on 27 November 1918, just 16 days after the end of World War I with the voluntary participation of over 1000 men and women, members of the Big Working Bee. More than 800 men volunteered as labourers and 300 women prepared donated refreshments throughout the day. By sunset, most of the work had been completed including a new stone wall up to four metres high and more than 200 metres long. Additional work was carried out in March 1919 and the lookout was the final construction completed in November of the same year. The wall is named after Arthur Rook, chairman of the Mt Gambier and District Progress Association who co-directed the project and died in 1919 before the wall was completed. How’s that for great team work? That was enough information and sight-seeing for the day so we left Mt Gambier and crossed the state border back into Victoria to spend the night at Portland.
We checked into the slightly dearer William Dutton Motel (one of two Budget chain motels there) as the Admella Motel had no vacancy. What a bonus for me to find that the William Dutton Motel offers smoking rooms as an option! It was definitely worth the $77 (off-peak rate) as the room had all the mod cons of a 4-star accommodation. As we were both feeling lazy about getting changed and dressed to dine out, we opted for a takeaway meal of fried fish, potato wedges, pineapple fritters and potato cakes. To compensate for eating all that greasy tucker, we bought a small fresh red papaya for our dessert that night. Then we settled in to watch a couple of movies from home.
The next morning, on our way to Cape Nelson for a look-see at the historic Cape Nelson Lighthouse, we spotted a creature smack in the middle of the bitumen road. As we got closer to it, we saw to our amazement that it was a koala! My MOTH pulled over to the side of the road while I hastily grabbed my camera to take a few photos of this errant marsupial while “chasing” it into the bushland where it belongs. Last seen it was ambling sluggishly along the side of the road and thankfully was nowhere to be seen when we returned from the Lighthouse.
Anyway, back to a short history of the Cape Nelson Lighthouse – it is a round bluestone tower painted white, which was officially lit in 1884, believed to have replaced an earlier square wooden tower built in the 1870’s. In 1971, the light was converted to run off 240V mains power and in the event of a power failure, a diesel generator was also installed. Today, the light has a range of 22 nautical miles and the white light is approximately 850,000 candlepower, standing 250 metres (820 ft) above sea level. The tower has 129 steps to the top and stands at 32 metres (105 ft) high.
Several clicks of our cameras later, we departed from there and made a quick stop to see the Codrington Wind Farm on our way to Port Fairy for lunch of fish and chips at Wisharts at the Wharf, that had glowing reviews of offering the best Fish & Chips in the South West. Frankly, we were both disappointed and mutually agreed that it was nowhere near as good as the Fisherman’s Basket meal from the little seafood shop at Kingston S.E.
We journeyed on, following the Great Ocean Road, stopping here, there and everywhere to view the various rugged rocky outcrops including Bay Of Islands, Bay of Martyrs, The Grotto, London Bridge (renamed London Arch after the ‘bridge’ partially collapsed in 1990), The Arch, Loch Ard Gorge, the Blowhole and Thunder Cave.
As the skies began to darken with threatening rain, we gave The Twelve Apostles a miss. [A little bit of history about the Twelve Apostles – these rocky outcrops were originally named the ‘Sow and Piglets’, the ‘Sow’ was Muttonbird Island with the ‘Piglets’ being the smaller surrounding rocks.] No regrets on missing it as we had re-visited the site since one of the ‘Apostles’ shuddered before imploding in on itself on July 3 of this year.
It was almost sunset by the time we got to Apollo Bay to rest for the night and to our dismay, the popular Waterfront Motor Inn had no vacancy. All was not lost however, as we remembered another Budget motel a few kms away. We spent the night at Skenes Creek Lodge Motel situated on a hillside, overlooking magnificent Apollo Bay on the Great Ocean Road. As there was no restaurant on- site, we had to drive back to Apollo Bay for yes, another TV dinner from the supermarket there! The TV reception was not real flash so again we spent the rest of the evening watching movies. The next morning, I wandered around the motel garden taking photos of the beautiful plants that have been lovingly tended by the motel owner while my MOTH loaded our gear back into the Landcruiser. When we planned our trip, we had intended to do a spot of fishing on the return journey but unfortunately, the weather had not been promising, even for die-hard anglers like us. We therefore shelved the idea and went all out just sight-seeing instead.
Grabbing a tourist information leaflet from the motel room, we made Hopetoun Falls our next destination. Hopetoun Falls is off the clearly sign-posted Aire Valley Road. The carpark is directly above the falls and we could hear the roar of water as it pounds over the cliff to the Aire River. The path to the falls begins with a steep section to the valley floor where it passes through a glade of tree ferns to the foot of the falls. Going down for the “45 mins. return walk” was pretty exciting and a breeze, compared to the return steep climb back but we made it okay.
Next on the agenda was Beauchamp Falls, one of three waterfalls in the vicinity, also off the Aire Valley Road at Beech Forest and supposed to be the most spectacular even though it is the longest walk (3 km return). It was a fair hike from the carpark, following the trail that took us through the bush before reaching a fire access track which took us down to the Aire River. From there we followed the river before reaching the steps cut into the embankment which lead to the base of the waterfall. It took us about 40 minutes to get down to the falls and a good hour of slow walking with several rest periods to get back to the carpark. Man, was I puffing! It was definitely worth the aching legs that we ended up with though. After a feed of a banana each to recharge our batteries, we jumped, or should I say, dragged and heaved ourselves, into the car to check out the Otway Fly Treetop Walk.
The Otway Fly Treetop Walk is a unique and spectacular walk among the giants of the rainforest high up in the Otway Ranges that opened on Sep 8th 2003. The Fly itself is the longest and tallest elevated walk of its kind in the world, made from more than 120 tonnes of steel. It varies between 25-45 metres (82-148 ft) in height and is over 600 metres (2000 ft)in length. A 45 metre high lookout can be ascended via a spiral stairway through the under storey to emerge amongst the crowns of the giants of the forest, whilst the springboard cantilever bounces precariously high over picturesque Young’s Creek. The walk is a 1.9 kms (1.2 miles) round walk starting from the Visitor Centre and takes approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete. Entry fee was $17 p.p. so having paid to get in, we set off, not really knowing what to expect. We read the info leaflet and I was not particularly happy to read in bold print the warning: “DON’T GET A SHOCK, THE WALKWAY IS MEANT TO ROCK.” We ambled along, slowly becoming a bit more confident as we went. My MOTH climbed up the spiral stairway to the lookout but my legs felt like jelly so I declined to do the same. Instead I ventured on my own to one of the centilevers but I almost disgraced myself when three yahoos decided to jump up and down on the adjoining cantilever causing the whole contraption to groan and rock real hard. It was so scary to think that the only thing between certain death and I, was a man-made steel contraption held by a few steel cables! After this incident, I couldn’t get back on terra firma fast enough.
By the time we got off the Fly, we were rather tired and dreaded the thought of walking further so we got a ride back to the Visitor Centre on the courtesy buggy. During our conversation with the driver, he was most surprised to learn that we had tackled the walks to both waterfalls prior to coming to the Fly. He reckoned we must be a pretty fit couple but little did he know how our legs were aching! We hobbled back to the carpark and into our car to start the drive home as there was little else to see and besides, our time away was fast running out.
We drove home via Colac to check out the Floating Island Flora and Fauna Reserve (5 ha), located in Lake Pirron Yallock which contains a number of small islands that support scrub, reeds, tussock grasses and eucalyptus saplings. However, their notoriety rests mostly in their capacity to change position quite rapidly (some estimates shifts of up to 20 metres in a few minutes). One theory about the development of the lagoon is that it was originally a peat swamp which developed in a depression thought to have been created by an ancient lava flow. It flooded each winter and dried up in the summer. In the centre was an island of peat on which potatoes were grown. In 1938 the peat caught fire and smouldered for several months, lowering the level of the swamp and the island. Then, in 1952, especially heavy rains caused the swamp to fill to a particularly high level. The peat broke away from the basalt floor, complete with its vegetation, and began to float. The seasonal swamp was then turned into a permanent lagoon as the result of nearby roadworks and the clump of peat broke into a series of islets. Wind is thought to be the cause of their motion although another theory suggest that currents are caused by the influx of ground water which, being a different temperature, creates a differential that causes some impetus to occur.
We agreed to stop by the little motel-cum-roadhouse we remembered from our last visit many years ago, that was across the road from the reserve and indulge in a hot meat pie each. You can well imagine our utter disappointment to see the old roadhouse was no longer operational. It was vacant and had been badly vandalized and burnt out since we don’t know when. Oh well, at least the floating island should still be there, we thought, as we made our way through the overgrown path towards the island. It was there alright, except it was not the floating island that we remembered. Everything was overgrown and it looked like the island had decided to join the mainland. Needless to say, we didn’t stay long and were soon on our way home, with a stopover at Winchelsea to get our meat pies. Desiring a home-cooked meal after so many takeaway dinners, we bought a couple of thick and juicy T-bone steaks and our dinner that evening consisted of medium-done steaks with black pepper mushroom sauce and broccoli in garlic butter – indeed a feast fit for a non-vegetarian king!
All in all, this has been a truly memorable 3,100 km (1,926 miles) road trip and at least two million footsteps p.p. We are already looking forward to seeing more of our own country in the near future.
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After at least two months of deliberation and procrastination, it was mutually decided that Singapore would be our destination for this year’s vacation. My M.O.T.H. (Man Of The House) has not been back in Singapore since 1983 and found it hard to believe that I could get lost in the very island that I was raised in! I, on my part, was eager to see my island city again with my partner in life. Not wanting us to be cramped in economy seats, MOTH booked business class return air travel and not wishing to impose on my brother, arranged for accommodation at the Pan Pacific Hotel at Raffles Boulevard, Marina Square, for the duration of our holiday. Yay!!! As our departure date got closer, my excitement mounted – at the mere thought of living the life of the rich and not having to cook for twelve whole days was a mini-dream come true. As a measure of my excitement, my suitcase was packed 10 days before the trip – rather unusual for me who have always been a last minute packer.
THU SEP 2
Driven to Melbourne Airport by our elder daughter, Sharon, at about 4pm, to board a Qantas flight to Sydney for a connecting flight to Singapore on Gulf Air. Enjoyed a scrumptious dinner on board Qantas, arrived in Sydney, jumped into the shuttle bus to the International Terminal and boarded Gulf Air – totally hassle-free. Much to my delight (I love aeroplane food), we were served yet another dinner of our choice – Seafood meze tasting plate, grilled prime rib-eye fillet, fine wine, dessert of fresh fruit salad, Arabic pastries and freshly brewed coffee at the end of our meal. Not long into viewing the second in-flight movie on our personal monitors, supper was brought around – I chose a smoked salmon roll, cheese and crackers and enjoyed a Bourbon and Dry before settling in for a bit of a shut-eye.
FRI SEP 3
About two sessions of forty winks later, we woke up to the aroma of coffee brewing and sat up to a very yummy breakfast of orange juice, delicious slices of pineapple, cantaloupe, honeydew melon and grapes and a hot breakfast of Potato frittata, beef bacon, chicken chipolatas and herb grilled tomato. My MOTH had the Waffle stack with berry and banana compote and natural yoghurt instead, with croissants and coffee to finish off this hearty breakfast. Hey, I could get used to this lifestyle really easy, I tell you. Shortly after, we landed in Singapore at sparrow fart – 4am local time on Sep 3rd.
My nephew, Ridhwan, and lovely niece, Aisyah, were at Changi Airport to greet us, armed with some local currency and travel cards (for buses and trains – SMRT – Singapore Mass Rapid Transit). From there it was off to the hotel where we were upgraded to a deluxe room with a balcony on the 25th floor with magnificent harbour views when a mix-up occurred with our length of stay. We were happy with the upgrade of course and eagerly went up the glass elevator on the outside of the hotel which provided us with a lovely view of a part of the city instead of staring at the usual boring elevator walls. As soon as the porter appeared at the door with our luggage, my MOTH decided it was time to study the inside of his eyelids while Aisyah and I yakked on the balcony until it was time for her to head off for work.
Not long after her departure, my MOTH awoke from his shut-eye and a refreshing shower later, saw us changed from jeans and jumpers into shorts and t-shirts. Like a couple of excited kids, we headed off for our first adventure on foot – to locate money changers in Collyer Quay. I reminisced as we sauntered along Queen Elizabeth Walk and eventually made our way across Anderson Bridge, passing The Fullerton Hotel which used to be the General Post Office of my youth. Alas, much to our disappointment, the magic of Change Alley of old was no more – gone were the days when we had to jostle a throng of tourists eager for bargains, hailed with cheery greetings of “Hello Sir, Madam, anything for you today? Any shoe for you? A Tiger (beer)?” From Change Alley we crossed over to the waterside via the Aerial Plaza and checked out Clifford Pier – no longer the pier as I remembered, where young and old would drop their lines in hopes of catching a fish or two while tongkangs operators (bumboats) plied their passenger services.
On our way back we walked past the Merlion and a busload of camera-clicking tourists. By this time, we were both perspiring profusely but gallantly we pushed on towards SunTec City Mall, resisting the oh-so-tempting thought of jumping into an air-conditioned cab. We walked past the Esplanade -Theatres on the Bay – a rather unusual architectural design that somehow reminded me of the thorny, spiky durian. Once we reached our destination some half an hour later, we wandered around all over the 5 towers before eventually locating one of the food courts for a bite of lunch.
No, we did not partake of any pig offal despite the exotic menu as we don’t eat pork but settled for beef & noodle dishes instead! Went back to the air conditioned comfort of our hotel room for a bit of a siesta before meeting up with Aisyah at the City Hall MRT Station (our agreed rendezvous point for the most part of our stay) at 5pm, for a Korean BBQ Steamboat at a restaurant in Simei (Chinese meaning ‘Four Sisters’) for our first dinner in Singapore with my family.
Bearing in mind that this was the first time the two men met as brothers-in-law, I was delighted to see that they got on very well indeed! We enjoyed a long leisurely dinner with a seemingly endless supply of prawns, calamari (squid), chicken, beef, tofu, vegetables, etc., cooked in the delicious “Tom Yum” stock or grilled right there in the middle of the table. After the all-you-can-eat BBQ Steamboat, we were amazed and somewhat amused to see Brother eating 5 cups of ice-cream! No mean feat for a slightly built guy like him, that’s for sure. From there we staggered out with our full bellies and with a promise to visit Brother on Sunday, my MOTH and I got on the MRT train back into the city and our hotel. By this time, we were more than ready for a nice hot bath and a good night’s sleep but not before going out on the balcony to take in the night view of the picturesque waterfront all aglow with bright lights and oh so alive with Friday night revellers. For us however, sleep beckoned invitingly…
SAT SEP 4
Had a buffet breakfast of fruit juice, “prata” (Indian ‘roti’) and curry, fresh tropical fruit and coffee at the Summer House restaurant of our hotel before venturing once again to explore the surrounding areas to kill some time before our rendezvous with Aisyah and her friend Romy at noon. By the time we met up with them our bellies were growling impatiently so Romy led us to a “kopi tiam” (coffee shop) restaurant for a yummy feed of Seafood Laksa and other local favourites. Then it was off to shop for a few watches before a leisurely walk to the bus depot in Rochor Canal Road and our next destination – across the Causeway to Johor Bahru (Malaysia). What a trip that was, starting off with weighing the pros and cons of a bus trip or a taxi ride. We were in favour of paying S$8 pp and taking a taxi but the queue was pretty long and there was a bus waiting for passengers at S$2.40 pp so a spontaneous decision was reached to hop on the bus. A decision we would later regret…
Approximately half an hour later, we arrived at the Singapore side of the Causeway where we all trooped out of the bus to get the Exit visas stamped in our passports. From there we joined the queue to get back on our bus. Easy enough procedure, right? Not! While our busload of travellers were getting our visas stamped, a zillion other tour buses had also arrived so if you could imagine a stadium full of people after a ball game, you’d get the picture – people EVERYWHERE – heading in all different directions and each making a bee-line for what each fervently believed to be the correct direction! After battling the crowds, and about an hour later, we managed to pile back into our bus and it was onwards to Johor Bahru!
There we had to get the Entry visas into Malaysia duly stamped on our passports – easy enough for international passport holders like my MOTH and I but we had to wait a fair while for Aisyah and Romy to get theirs for their Singaporean passports. After impatiently twiddling our thumbs and ignoring a couple of beggars hovering in the area outside during our wait, we re-grouped and wandered around Johor Bahru. We couldn’t help but notice and compare the standard of cleanliness, both visual and olfactory, between JB and Singapore. Stepping out of super-clean and tidy Singapore into a city of chaos was a bit of a shock to our system, to say the very least. We eventually located an air-conditioned shopping centre where I purchased a handbag and a couple of t-shirts.
When the time was right, according to Romy, we made our way to Taman Sri Tebrau Hawkers’ Centre where we sat down to a veritable feast of Cereal Crayfish, Crispy Fried Cereal King Prawns, Sambal Barbequed Skate (Stingray flaps), Chilli Mud Crabs, Sambal Sotong (Squid, calamari), Fried “Kang kong” (Water convolvulus/Water spinach) in Sambal and steamed rice. For drinks, we had our choice of various freshly squeezed fruit juices. All four of us ate and drank our fill for the princely sum of less than 165 Malaysian Ringgit (approx. AU$80). Indeed a feast fit for a king! After this superb dining experience, it was time to think of making our way back. This time, we unanimously decided to jump into a Singapore-bound taxi at 10 Malaysian Ringgit pp. and literally sailed through the customs and immigration checkpoints without even having to step out of the taxi.
It seemed a pity to retire early on a Saturday night, so from Rochor Canal Road, we went to Geylang, famous for selling the best durians in season, for an authentic Asian ‘dessert’. Of course we chose the best variety – the superb “D24”. My MOTH could not be persuaded to sample even a bite of durian, considered “King of the Fruit” throughout South East Asia, but he was happy to try a few mangosteens and some duku (ping-pong ball sized fruit with light brown skin and off-white sweet flesh) washed down with an ice-cold “Tiger” (brand of beer) while the three of us fed our faces.
After eating our fill, we then followed Romy the jay-walker and as he gustily shouted out, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”, we risked life and limb, dodging and weaving through the heavy traffic with quite a large number of fellow jay-walkers to get to the other side of the busy road. Afterwards, we sauntered through a seedy red-light district nearby for a bit of a sticky-beak at the ladies of the night in action, before taking a bus back to City Hall where we parted company with Aisyah and Romy. Twenty years ago, we would probably have headed off to a night spot to party hard but not now, though – SLEEP above all else for us, so it was back to the hotel, eventually getting there after back-tracking a couple of times when we took a wrong turn or two.
SUN SEP 5
As soon as we finished breakfast, we strolled over to City Hall and caught the train to Pasir Ris MRT Station to meet up with Aisyah at 11am to spend some time with my brother and his family. Brother had a delicious home-cooked lunch of Indonesian Rendang, Sambal King Prawns and various goodies waiting for us and shortly after lunch, we went to Joo Chiat Complex near Geylang to do what else but shop! Eventually and with my MOTH’s blessing, I succumbed to temptation and bought myself a gold bracelet and a pair of ear-rings.
Adorned with my newly acquired jewellery, we then headed for our next destination – to an Indian coffee shop restaurant in Duku Road for a feed of murtabak, delicious mutton soup and pratas. On the way along Joo Chiat Road, we passed several bars, massage parlours and restaurants. We couldn’t help but notice a sign board advertising “crabs & more” outside a restaurant adjoining a massage parlour! The mind boggles…
Keeping in line with the Indian theme, we jumped into a taxi after the Indian meal and went to the super-duper Mustafa Centre in Serangoon Road. Frankly, I have never seen so many Indians (mostly guys) in one place at the one time!!! Apparently, they are mostly contract workers who congregate in “Little India” on weekends, just to hang out and exchange news of the week. Mustafa Centre was simply amazing – everything you could possibly think of could be purchased here – from souvenir trinkets to million-dollar gold and diamond jewellery, from batteries to top of the line electronic equipment. We mutually agreed that no serious shopping would be undertaken that night but we would definitely return the next day for a more leisurely look around. Time to call it a day so back to the hotel to rest our full bellies, weary legs and tired eyes.
MON SEP 6
After breakfast, we again wandered over to Collyer Quay as our supply of Singapore currency was fast running out. From there the MOTH and I managed to find our way to Little India by MRT train and followed the curry aroma on foot to Mustafa Centre – a much more pleasant walk in broad daylight, albeit a tad sweatier. Spent several hours there with my MOTH checking out personal DVD players and other equally exciting guy “toys” while I looked at two floors of jewellery. By the time I finished admiring the exquisite collection on display, the front of my shirt was soaked with drool! Of course leaving the centre empty-handed would be a sin, so I lashed out and bought a simple but unique two toned gold ring. My MOTH, being a more discerning shopper, resisted temptation and did not buy a DVD player after all. Instead, we made our way to Geylang, to the Joo Chiat Complex to shop for clothes for our grandkids and failing in that attempt (too pricey), we hopped on a double-decker bus to Changi Village to say ‘G’day’ to a couple of shopkeeper friends there.
At Hock Lee Shoes, Jeremy plied my MOTH with a couple of beers while he tried on a pair of hand-stitched Italian shoes and claimed them to be the most comfortable pair of shoes he’d ever worn, so money exchanged hands there and then. Then it was a short saunter over to see my old friend George at George Photo where I bought several re-prints of photos of Changi Village as I remembered it from my childhood days. Bought some souvenirs there while waiting for Aisyah and Romy to join us for dinner at the food court there. We parted company immediately after that to head back to our hotel to await the arrival of Deej and his travelling companion, Anna, to check into the hotel. Deej had left Melbourne a month earlier for a holiday in Thailand, Kampuchea, Laos, then across to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong before coming to Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi with a few days in Singapore to coincide with our holiday plan. Anyway, we got back to the hotel only to receive an sms message that they had checked in minutes earlier and receiving no reply from us, they went out to check the nightlife so it was a quiet night watching TV for us ‘oldies’ that night.
TUE SEP 7
Eventually met up with Deej and Anna at the Summer House restaurant at breakfast. Deej wanted to check out the view from our balcony before going to Mustafa’s for a “look-see” so we all headed for and got into one of the glass elevators. As the doors of the fancy glass elevator closed on us, the most powerful stench of the previous occupant’s fart hit our nostrils! We held our breaths as long as we could but by the time the doors opened, Anna had turned green and we all had tears in our eyes! Boy, whoever it was, I’m pretty sure must have shat in his/her pants! Room and balcony view checks over, we went back downstairs, jumped in a taxi and spent the best part of the morning at Mustafa Centre with the girls ‘ooh-ing’ and ‘ahh-ing’ in the jewellery section while the boys checked out all the fancy “toys” that they couldn’t afford to buy. Into another taxi – this time to Orchard Road to say ‘G’day’ to my jeweller friend who plied us with tea and mooncakes while she unsuccessfully tried to persuade my MOTH into parting with some big bucks on the diamond-encrusted jewellery in her store.
We left Shaw Centre in a cab to take us to Boat Quay for a farewell drink as Anna was leaving for Australia in a few hours’ time. Deej and I each had the famous Singapore Sling (S$15 each), Anna had a Daiquiri while the MOTH settled for a Tiger beer. With a mini snack serve of 4 fried chicken wingettes, 4 sticks of satays, 4 small spicy beef sausages and a few potato wedges, we were handed the bill for S$95! After picking me up off the floor, we caught another taxi back to the hotel and parted company with Anna. Another taxi took us to East Coast Park Lagoon Hawker Centre, to Aisyah and Romy, to enjoy a super delicious AND cheap feast of Chinese Rojak, Satays, Scalded Cockles and chili sauce, young (green) coconut drink, and freshly squeezed fruit juices of our choice, right by the scenic lagoon. A far cry from the exorbitant lunch at Boat Quay, that’s for sure!
From there we visited Brother for a couple of hours before going to Changi Village to check out the transvestites’ haunt there. Being a weeknight, it turned out to be a rather quiet night with only a handful of “bapok” (Malay for ‘transvestites’) sashaying around the alfresco coffee shops. A couple of them could so very easily pass as supermodels with their ultra long legs and svelte bods… until they speak, of course. Anyway, seeing as there was little chance of the joint livening up, we finished off our respective drinks before parting company with Aisyah and Romy who left on Romy’s motor-bike while we and Deej took a taxi back to our hotel. We were fortunate to get a chatty cab-driver who obligingly made a detour via Toh Avenue so we could look at the bungalow we used to live in back in the 70s. It had since been bull-dozed down and in its place stood a HUGE mansion! However, it wasn’t a complete waste of time as the old shops there were still standing and trading, just as we remembered…
WED SEP 8
After our usual hearty breakfast, we hopped on the courtesy bus for the harbour cruise on board the Cheng Ho (named after the famous Chinese Admiral-Explorer of the 15th Century), departing from Clifford Pier. We had a leisurely two and a half hours’ cruise, complete with incessant Chinese opera music that they were playing in between the guide’s commentary, which got on our nerves a bit.
The Cheng Ho made a short stop at holy Kusu Island (Chinese for Turtle Island) or Pulau Tembakul (Malay for Peak Island) – legend has it that a magical turtle turned itself into an island to save 2 shipwrecked sailors – a Malay & a Chinese. Each year during the ninth lunar month (falls around Sept to Nov according to the Lunar Calendar), thousands of Taoist devotees flock here for their annual Kusu Pilgrimage to pray for health, prosperity, luck and fertility. During this short break, yours truly committed a ‘no-no’ when she video taped the interior of the Da Bo Gong (Merchant God or God of Prosperity) Chinese temple there. Oops! And where were my MOTH and S.A.H. (Son and Heir)? They had noticed the “NO CAMERA” signs and hastily exited the temple premises. Luckily for me, I wasn’t caught so I got away with a “highly prized” 10 sec clip of the temple interior!
Deej decided to put his gym workouts to the test and sprinted up the152 steps snaking up a rugged hillock to check out the three “Kramats” (holy shrines) of Malay Saints – a pious man (Syed Abdul Rahman), his mother (Nenek Ghalib) & sister (Puteri Fatimah) who lived in the 19th century. Many devotees visit the “Kramats” to pray for wealth, good marriage, good health and harmony. The shrines are also popular with childless couples who would pray for children. We old farts, being less energetic, were content to enjoy the sea breeze on the flat ground level. Deej emerged a short time later from the other side of the hillock, hardly puffing. We then made our way back to the Cheng Ho after throwing a few coins into the wishing well and a last look at the turtles at the temple. Back on board the Cheng Ho and on with the harbour cruise, passing several picturesque islands and numerous ships in the busy harbour before we disembarked back at Clifford Pier amid an afternoon tropical shower.
With not much time to spare, it was back to the hotel in the courtesy bus and then it was straight to City Hall MRT Station to rendezvous with Aisyah for lunch and a watch store where Deej bought himself a nice watch. Then it was on to Chinatown which was all decked out for the Mid-Autumn Festival with mooncakes and lanterns galore. We did a bit of shopping there, mainly for gifts to take home, before making a mad dash back to the hotel to drop off our goodies. Once again, it was time to feed our faces – this time it was off to Little India where we met up with Romy for the best Briyani and Curry in town.
Walking along Serangoon Road after our dinner, we saw one of the oldest temples in Singapore, (supposedly built by Bengali labourers in 1881), the Sri Veeramakaliamman Hindu temple, all lit up and bustling with devotees. This temple is dedicated to the Hindu Goddess, Kali, the consort of Shiva. She is known as the Goddess of Power and the name “Veeramakaliamman” means “Kali the Courageous”. The temple caters to the Hindu Indians in Singapore, dating back to their forefathers who arrived as migrants, when its presence answered their need to feel secure in a new land. Naturally, out came our cameras and a few photos were quickly snapped when there was a lull in the night traffic. We continued on, passing various shops trading in mainly Indian goods along the way, until we got to where Romy had parked his motor-bike. Having said our goodbyes and with our full bellies screaming for some quiet time out, we took a taxi back to the hotel for a couple of after dinner drinks in front of the TV. No rest for Deej, though – understandably, he wanted to spend his last night in Singapore checking out the night life in the Boat Quay area, so with curry breath and a pocketful of money, he wandered off. Oh to be young and so full of energy again…
THU SEP 9
Soon after breakfast, MOTH & I went gallivanting to Funan IT Mall to window shop for a personal DVD player before doing more pricing at Sim Lim Square where the eventual purchase was made. Excitedly clutching his new “toy”, my MOTH and I managed to find our way to Bugis Junction to meet up with Aisyah. We went to MacKenzie Rex Restaurant for a delicious feed of noodles before heading off to the Malay Village in Geylang to buy a specifically requested framed Muslim holy scripture for my daughter, Nina. We met up with Deej back at our hotel before getting into an old English cab to get to Zam Zam Restaurant in Arab Street for an oft-remembered favourite dinner of Murtabak, Curry and Briyani. Yummy! Then we walked across the road to give our cameras a work-out, taking photos of the historic Sultan Mosque before we parted company with Aisyah and Romy. The three of us then went back to the hotel to get Deej’s luggage.
After seeing Deej off in a taxi to the airport for his flight home via Bangkok, my MOTH and I went on to the Fountain of Wealth at SunTec City for the nightly laser show, which was truly awesome, despite being sprayed by the water from the fountain! It was rather refreshing actually, as it was another balmy night in Singapore. As the night was still young, we ventured on to Bugis Street to check out the night market, where I purchased a couple of classic movies on DVD – Cleopatra and Sayonara, and several souvenir t-shirts. Although greatly tempted by the array of tropical fruit on sale, I resisted the urge to overload my stomach so I just drooled. By this time, we were tired of jostling with the crowd in the busy alleys so decided it was time to call it a night. My MOTH, a reformed smoker, could not resist pointing out an anti-smoking slogan painted on the road near a pedestrian crossing, so out came his camera for a couple of photos. We then made our way to the MRT station at Bugis and it was back to our hotel with our tired legs screaming for a rest.
FRI SEP 10
Today, after our routine hearty breakfast, we checked out Orchard Road, lingering when we get to air-conditioned stores and speeding up when we were in the sweltering heat outside. We were disappointed to see so many changes in what used to be familiar territory back in the 80s. Hotels that we remembered from long ago have had extensive renovations and name changes beyond recognition. Sighing now and again as we reminisced about the way it used to be, we walked almost the whole length of Orchard Road right up past Tanglin Road before doing a turn around to walk back down Orchard Road, stopping to enjoy an iced coffee at The Coffee Club, while waiting for Aisyah to join us for lunch. What we got was not exactly what we had expected, not the kind that we get in Australia, i.e. icy cold coffee with soft serve ice-cream, served with lashings of whipped cream and a dusting of cocoa powder on top. Their version of it was very strong coffee, so strong that you could stand a spoon in it, with a few drops of milk and a few grains of sugar! Man, it was so strong that my eyes almost bugged out! Now fully charged on caffeine, I just had to keep on the move so we made our way to a giant book sale a little way down – proved to be a bad idea – the sale was conducted under a huge tent so we barely managed one aisle of books and sweaty bodies before beating a hasty retreat to the lesser heat outside.
We re-traced our steps back to The Coffee Club to find Aisyah waiting for us so it was off to lunch at a nearby food court before taking a taxi to the Botanical Gardens. Naturally, in keeping with my interest, we made a beeline for the National Orchid Garden to be awed by the oh-so-beautiful specimens growing profusely everywhere. Unfortunately, in the excitement, both my MOTH and I failed to take note of the individual names of the various orchids, so the beautiful photos have to remain nameless. After doing the Orchid Garden walkabout, we quenched our thirst at the courtyard inside the compound before doing a quick lap of the remaining surrounds but I failed to see any familiar nooks and crannies (and monkeys) of the good old days. No wonder there were no peanuts for sale! With very little fuel to rekindle feelings of nostalgia, I soon lost interest in venturing any further so it was mutually decided to end the tour. To escape from the persistant heat, we went to the taxi stand and headed off for an early dinner before parting company with Aisyah with a date the next day to go to Sentosa Island. My MOTH and I window-shopped for a while in SunTec City Mall before retiring to our room to rest up for the morrow.
SAT SEP 11
Met Aisyah at City Hall after breakfast and she guided us to HarbourFront to meet up with Romy for our planned trip to Sentosa by cable car. The island of Sentosa, or Pulau Blakang Mati (meaning ‘the island behind which lies death’ in Malay, taking its name from an outbreak of malaria which wiped out the population of Bugis pirates who inhabited the island during the 18th century), as it was originally known, first started out as a fishing village, then used as a British military fortress in the mid-20th century until 1967 when it was handed back to the Singapore government. In 1968, the Government decided to develop the island into a holiday resort for both local visitors and tourists and invited the public to give the island a new name. “Sentosa” was finally chosen to portray the island resort (meaning ‘peace & tranquillity’ in Malay).
While waiting for Romy to show up, we enjoyed a Starbucks coffee each and I eventually succumbed to temptation and had a feed of “Nasi Lemak” (rice cooked in coconut milk, served with sambal and ikan kuning or ikan bilis) from a cafe nearby – mmm… it was as good as I remembered. When his lordship (Romy) finally made his appearance, many minutes later, we made our way to the Cable Car Station at HarbourFront Tower 2.
Being a fine Saturday, there was a pretty good crowd of tourists and locals all heading in the same direction as us. The cable car ride was excellent, affording breathtaking views of the city, the busiest port in the world and a glimpse of the southern islands of Singapore and the Indonesian Riau Archipelago. Upon arrival, we immediately set off exploring the little island, first going down about a thousand steps to check out the huge Merlion landmark. The Merlion is a very tall structure (approx 37 metres/121 feet high), with 320 scales sculpted from glass-reinforced concrete, representing the half-lion and half-fish creature of the Singaporean legend. What used to be free admission is no more – it now cost S$8 per person to see it all, – a walk through a cave of legendary sea creatures and mythical mermaids, a short animated movie of the legend of Singapore, (Lion City), then up the elevator to the head of the Merlion for a wonderful 360′ panoramic view of Sentosa, Singapore’s city skyline and the surrounds before going down a few flights of stairs to the mouth of the Merlion and more spectacular views. I guess it wasn’t a very pricey experience after all. At the end of the little ‘tour’ we were told to put our token coin into the mouth of the ‘Merlion cubs’ contraption in the foyer, to get a little surprise souvenir coupon. My MOTH threw his token coin in and received a coupon for a souvenir luggage tag for his effort but I declined, preferring to keep the actual token coin as a souvenir instead.
We exited the Merlion and caught the free monorail service to check out the Underwater World but after gasping at the exorbitant admission price (S$17.30 per adult) we beat a hasty retreat and headed for Fort Siloso where again, what was once free, now cost S$8 per adult! Not being much into history, we mutually decided against entry there. Besides, we have seen it all in the past and despite obviously new additions to the historical exhibits, I must confess I don’t get terribly excited looking at cannons and weaponry of old. Time to quench our thirst and settle the worms in our bellies so we got on to another monorail to take us to Palawan Beach. There we had late lunch of fried chicken wings at Warung Pantai (Malay for ‘Beach Cafe’) with delicious fruit freezes to quench our thirst. We then sallied forth to check out the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia – a peninsula that becomes an island at high tide and only accessible by a rickety rope bridge. I am not the most co-ordinated person at the best of times so I allowed the rest of the crowd to go ahead of me before wobbling inelegantly like a drunken sod across the swaying bridge. We went up one of the wooden tower structures to take in the surrounding views before once again crossing the bridge back to Sentosa. I was still swaying as we once again boarded the monorail to the Sentosa Orchid Garden. As expected, there were orchids galore and once again, our excitement got the better of us and we overlooked the various names of the beautiful blooms!
So as not to miss getting good seats for the “Magical Sentosa Show” at 7.40pm, we by-passed other island attractions and headed for the Musical Fountain at about 6.45. We were not as early as we thought as the best seats had already been taken (the really keen folks must have been sitting there since lunch-time, I’d say) but we were happy to get fairly good seats anyway. While killing time for the laser show to begin, we were entertained by the Singapore Polytechnic Youth Orchestra. By the time the sound, light and laser extravaganza began, there was standing room only in the large open air “theatre”. What an awesome show it was – approx 35 mins of pyrotechnic extravaganza with motion pictures combined with live action, computer generated images, laser animation and fireworks – all used simultaneously to inter-morph with the “dancing” fountain waters. Simply breathtaking…
A few clicks of the cameras later, we made our way in semi-darkness, back up the zillion steps to get to the Cable Car Plaza for the cable car ride back to mainland Singapore and into a taxi for our last pigging out session of satays at a hawker centre not too far from our hotel. We parted company with Aisyah and Romy and another taxi ride saw us back at the hotel. My MOTH and I mutually decided against tripping the light fantastic as originally planned, in favour of a lingering bath and resting our weary feet.
SUN SEP 12
Our last full day on this island republic was spent doing a spot of shopping in Orchard Road. No, no more jewellery, just a couple of books and a few last minute souvenirs. As we had plenty of time to kill before meeting Aisyah and Romy for lunch, we ambled along leisurely checking out the various shopping plazas. We got to Lucky Plaza and for a wild moment, we thought we had somehow been magically transported to a giant chook (chicken) farm in the Philippines! We later learnt that the Lucky Plaza is one of the rendezvous points where most of the Filipina women (more than 65,000 are employed as housemaids in Singapore) meet every Sunday. It’s like a huge hen party with all the women talking and clucking simultaneously in their native tongue, Tagalog. Despite our hurried exit from the plaza, our ears were still buzzing for at least 20 minutes afterwards.
As arranged, we met up with Aisyah and Romy for a farewell lunch at the Rice Table in the International Building in Orchard Road. We enjoyed a great variety of Indonesian fare – Krupuk (prawn crackers), Soup, Sayur (vegetables), Satays, Rendang, Chicken Curry, Apple Salad, Otak, etc. After eating our fill, we staggered out of the cosy restaurant and went to pay my brother a last visit. I impulsively decided on getting a hair cut at a salon nearby leaving my MOTH and Brother to a bonding session. After a tearful farewell to my Singapore family, my MOTH and I took a taxi back to the hotel to start packing our gear and a brief siesta before going to Orchard Road for our last night in town.
My MOTH surprised me by an unusual display of sentiment, expressing a desire to dine at the restaurant where we had our very first dinner date, so many moons ago, at Jack’s Place in Orchard Road. After a luxurious bath, I slapped on some war-paint, put on my glad rags, dabbed some perfume on, stepped into my dancing shoes, and with my MOTH dressed in his Sunday best and new Italian hand-made leather shoes, we set off arm in arm, recapturing the romance of when we first met. Our request to be driven to Jack’s Place in Orchard Road was met with a bewildered look on the taxi-driver’s face but he nonetheless did his best by dropping us off to where HE thought the restaurant was. By the time we eventually located Jack’s Place, it was 10.26pm and our hearts sank when we found the entrance door locked. Hearing the door being vigorously rattled brought the manager running out and after glancing at his watch (the restaurant closes at 10.30pm on Sunday nights), he unlocked the door and upon hearing our story, he invited us in and got his staff to stay behind to serve us. As we did on our first date, we ordered an entree of escargots and garlic bread and a main course of thick, juicy steaks served on a sizzling hotplate with fresh vegetables. We were certainly pleased that the dinner was as good as we remembered.
We then enjoyed a romantic stroll down Orchard Road, making our way to Muddy Murphy’s Irish Pub at the Orchard Hotel Basement Arcade for a few drinks and some live entertainment. Incredulous as it may sound, the entire two-storey 500mï¿½ site was designed and built in Dublin (yes, the one in Ireland), dismantled, then shipped to Singapore and re-assembled and installed at its current location by 15 specialist Irish Pub fitters!. Our anticipation died a sudden death when we were told that the live entertainment had just finished for the night as the pub shuts at midnight on Sunday… We had a drink each and amused ourselves watching a few Sarong Party Girls (SPG – A pejorative term describing local girls who will only go out with Caucasians.) at play, flirting with the half-tanked Expatriates who were still standing. It was back to the hotel for us and after finishing our packing, we watched a movie on TV before a final night’s sleep on the king-sized bed.
MON SEP 13
An early wake-up call at 6.30am roused us up from sweet slumber and it was then a matter of getting dressed to go to breakfast for the last time there. I must say we were very impressed by the prompt and excellent services provided by the Pan Pacific Hotel’s friendly staff. I reckon they only employ psychics there, speedy ones at that! How else can you explain the magical and immediate appearance of staff members to fulfill our requests for ice and various incidentals? We will definitely return to the same hotel on our future visits. But I digress… Back after our breakfast, we went out to the balcony and had one last lingering look at the harbour, bathed in the glorious morning sun. With a regretful sigh that our holiday had come to an end, we went downstairs with our luggage and into a taxi to take us to Changi International Airport for the flight back to Melbourne, via Sydney. At the airport, we checked our bags in, claimed our GST refunds and purchased duty-free cigarettes and alcohol before going upstairs to the Premier Lounge to wait for our boarding call. We didn’t take advantage of the various amenities provided though, didn’t need a shower, nor wanted to risk falling asleep in the massage armchairs. Not at all hungry after the hearty breakfast earlier, we did not partake of the available complimentary snacks and beverages. I certainly was in no mood to get on the internet so we quietly sat down in the comfy armchairs and read magazines until it was time to board the plane.
Shortly after we were airborne, drinks and an early lunch of our choice were served – my MOTH had Buttermilk waffles with banana compote and natural yoghurt while I decided on the Chicken kebab, turkey bacon with spinach frittata. Unfortunately, the entertainment system was down so the homeward bound flight was spent reading magazines in between 40 winks and eating or drinking. Before we realized it, it was dinner time – we both had the Pan-seared beef fillet, followed by chocolate truffle terrine, roasted strawberry compote and chocolate wolf berry biscotti for my MOTH, while I opted for the fresh fruit infused with ginger, with coffee and Arabic pastries to complete this delicious meal. After a smooth and uneventful flight, we landed in Sydney, sailed through customs and connected with Qantas for our last leg back to Melbourne, enjoying a light supper during the short flight. Nina picked us up from Melbourne Tullamarine Airport just after midnight, and being the super efficient and thoughtful daughter that she is, she had come over to our home earlier on with a feed of chicken curry that she had cooked, fresh milk and also turned on the heater just so we would have a lovely warm welcome home. All in all, it was a great holiday and my MOTH now understands how easy it is to get lost in tropical Singapore!
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Having spent a fortune last year on our USA & BC trip, our elder daughter’s marriage in September, the Tanami Track road trip very shortly after, birthdays in the family, followed by Christmas and more family birthdays, we started a strict diet of bread and spit to save up for a special trip to Washington State to help our friend, Angel, celebrate her 50th birthday in October of this year. This plan was hatched during one of our R & R sessions down by the Tambo River in the Gippsland Lakes region when the fish weren’t biting…
With all the boring details taken care of by my very capable MOTH (Man Of The House), all I had to do was shop for gifts for our friends in WA (that naturally called for several trips to Victoria Market in the city), decide what clothes to take with us and which digital camera I would buy this time. As our departure date drew near, our excitement mounted to fever pitch. We headed off to the airport bright and early on Oct 9th to board the United Airlines flight to SeaTac via Sydney and Los Angeles. “Unfortunately”, the aeroplane did not break down this time so we missed out on the compensational stay at a posh hotel in Sydney. To ensure that we would be able to consume the in-flight meals, my MOTH had specified “No Pork” on our meals request form. Bad move! We ended up with either fish or vegetarian meals – lentil curry being my least favourite. The best part of ordering special meals was the fact that we got served first. Next time, we will try asking for Kosher meals instead!
We arrived in LAX and went through Customs and Immigration there – the queue was so long that we could have gone for a ten-course Chinese banquet, polished off a bottle of cognac AND enjoyed a karaoke session, come back and not lose our place in it! Unfortunately, all I had to amuse myself to kill time, was to watch my MOTH – if he was just a tad twitchy before we saw the long queue, he could easily have been mistaken for an epileptic when he saw how bad it was! He kept glancing at his watch at least a hundred times a minute, sooo worried that we would miss our connecting flight to Seattle. I think he was starting to hallucinate too, as he kept commenting on all the fornicating people around us… All’s well that ends well – as soon as we were cleared through Customs and Immigration, we “hoofed” it to the domestic terminal and caught our flight with seconds to spare. As in previous US domestic flights we had taken, there was no in-flight entertainment or meal service of any description apart from a wee cup of beverage to wet our whistle. Just as well it was a lovely clear day – we saw spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe, etc., but I could have saved myself all that focusing and clicking as the photos that I took through the wee window of the aeroplane were lost when the batteries in my bino-digicam “died” on me.
As soon as we emerged at the arrival hall at SeaTac, we saw GOB – (Good Ol’ Bob), Angel’s hubby, with a big ol’ smile on on his dial. Hugs, kisses and handshakes later, we grabbed our luggage and headed for Eatonville. Waiting excitedly for us were Angel and her mum (my MOTH and I call her, “Mum Doris”). What a welcome we got – even the resident doe and her fawns seemed happy to see us again. After warm greetings and hugs were exchanged, we brought our luggage inside, jumped into the “truck” and went shopping – no, not at Walmart, just at the grocery store. You couldn ‘t half tell that Halloween would be upon us soon – everywhere we looked we saw pumpkins – I have never seen so many different varieties of pumpkins until this trip! It’s a pity that we don’t celebrate Halloween in Australia in such a big way as they do here. Our jaws were aching by the time we went to bed that night from all the yakkity-yak we did, as opposed to RSI of the fingers when we chat in IMs practically every day of the week.
Plans had been made for Angel’s immediate family and my MOTH and I to travel to Cannon Beach in Oregon for the weekend of mid-October to celebrate her special birthday. Of course food and drinks were at the top of our “to do” list to prepare for this exciting trip. We spent a couple of days having cook-up sessions – lashings and lashings of my special fried rice and sweet and sour chicken. [Sweet and sour prawns (shrimps) would have been my preference but it was ANGEL’s birthday after all, not mine.] As always, I believe in preparing for the worst and obviously Angel shares the same view, so just in case we got stranded at Cannon Beach and all the stores there run out of food, we would be able to save the whole town from starvation! With that in mind, we bought packet upon packet of beef hot-dogs, bags and bags of chips, bread rolls, salads galore and just about every slab of Bud Lites from stores within a 10 mile radius. But first, I decided to do a bit of pampering for the birthday girl – I gave her a hair-cut and a manicure the day before we left for Cannon Beach.
On a glorious sunny morning of Friday, Oct 17th, after a slight delay waiting for Angel’s brother and his family to arrive, we set off in two “trucks” — with piss.. er.. pit-stops at Toutle River Safety Rest Area where there was free tea, coffee and biscuits (cookies) and yes, toilets! After using the amenities there and a good stretch of the old legs, we continued on towards the border at Longview and crossed the Columbia River into Oregon. From there it was a scenic mountainside drive west on Highway 30 following the river before a gradual descent into Astoria, then south on Highway 101 to the coastal town of Cannon Beach. It was good to see that there was a big supermarket there and many, many restaurants too, just in case we run out of food!!!
We arrived at the Surfsand Resort, checked into our respective beachside units and… fed our faces. Not content with just admiring the view from our balcony, we decided to arm ourselves with our cameras and go for an up close and personal look at the majestic Haystack Rock, a large basalt monolith just a few hundred steps away along the beach. Haystack Rock is part of the Oregon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and is the breeding home of four species of sea birds: Tufted Puffins, Pelagic Cormorants, Pigeon Guillemots, and Western Gulls. The gulls nest up high on the rock using exposed nests. The puffins nest in burrows high on the north and northwest sides of the rock. The guillemots nest down quite low in cracks and crevasses. The cormorants stick their nests to small ledges medium high on the south side. [Isn’t the Internet marvellous???] Also, there are many fascinating tide-pools teeming with marine life at the Rock, but unfortunately, we were unable to see them for ourselves as they are only accessible at dead low tides.
Now if your idea of fun included walking into a sandstorm to take photos of rocks, we had a blast! Man, the wind was so powerful it almost blew me into the ocean! Just as well I wasn’t wearing a hair piece or dentures! Conversation, of course, was out of the question as I couldn’t even hear myself think! We took numerous photos of Haystack Rock and the Needles and then it was just a matter of turning around in the direction of our resort and let the strong sandstorm blow us back to it… Of course this “battle” made us hungry, very hungry, so we fed our faces all over again. We then chilled out on our balconies and sipped our respective favourite beverages while feeding the numerous gulls as we waited for a spectacular sunset that the area is famous for. Alas, it just wasn’t meant to be, as it clouded over a bit too soon that evening. Bummer!
Accommodation at the resort was all booked out as there was a dog show on the same weekend that we were there. Now why would I mention a dog show? I hear you ask. Well, our “neighbours” in the unit next door happened to be the owners of a couple of show dogs, who were so very anti-smoking (the “neighbours”, not the dogs..). There we were, the 3 pariahs, (Angel, GOB and myself) smoking on our balcony… (I might add that the strong sea breezes were blowing our cigarette smoke as soon it left our mouths and away from the snooty neighbours’ balcony, anyway!) The next thing we knew, the phone rang – there had been a complaint about our smoking and could we please refrain from smoking on the balcony! We obliged and from then on, went downstairs to enjoy our occasional cigarettes but not before making a counter-complaint about their barking dogs!!! They then had to spend the rest of their stay keeping their dogs from barking on the balcony, which meant that instead of second hand cigarette smoke, they got stuck in their unit smelling dog farts! Hah!!! Two can play this game…
We spent the best part of the next morning feeding the seagulls (used up four loaves of bread, we did) and if we had stayed any longer, I’m pretty sure the gulls would have laid eggs for us! At first, only a couple of them swooped on our extended hands to “snatch” our bread offerings but within a few caws and squawks, whole flocks of various species appeared out of the sky! They must have excellent communicating abilities or very keen eyesight.
By the time our supply of bread ran out, it was almost lunch-time and it was then decided that clam chowder from Moe’s was a definite must for us all. After driving all over the place, we finally located Moe’s but much to our disappointment, my MOTH and I were left drooling – we had to miss out on this treat because Moe’s clam chowder contained pork! GOB bought a huge tub of it anyway and we headed back to our resort unit. Sweet Angel couldn’t bear to see the steady trail of dribble from our mouths, so she secretly let her fingers do the walking until she found a local restaurant which served “porkless” clam chowder. She then disappeared and re-appeared a short time later with a big old grin on her face and a huge tub of clam chowder for us! What an angel…
Shortly after lunch, Angel’s friends , Vickie and her family (from Salem), arrived at the resort to join in the birthday celebration. As it was way too windy to walk all the way up the beach and check out Ecola State Park to get a good view of Seal Rock, we went shopping instead. Not serious shopping, more of a sticky-beaking session, actually. I mean, the kites for sale were beautiful and all, but not exactly what I would want to take back to Australia as souvenirs. They were way too large and besides, to be fair, I would have to buy five of them (for all our grandkids). We then drove around for a spot of sight-seeing but headed back to our units before our thirst got the better of us. Fully aware that this would be our last chance at capturing photos of a seemingly ellusive sunset, my MOTH and I had our cameras on the ready and were on full alert – like a pair of paparazzi awaiting the arrival of Michael Jackson to hopefully capture snapshots of him without his surgical mask! Not that anyone in their right mind would ever compare Michael’s face to a sunset!
Unfortunately, we weren’t well-rewarded for our patience but I did manage to get an unusual shot of the evening sky. [Click on photo on the right of this paragraph for a larger image.] After sunset, everyone sat down to a hearty meal of – yes, fried rice and sweet and sour chicken! Of course not having my wok with me presented a bit of a dilemma as we had to re-heat the food in small batches in the microwave oven in our unit. By about the sixth batch, I was multi-tasking – able to carry on a coherent conversation in English while dishing out the food without spilling it all over the place AND keep an eye on the microwave! Afterwards, we gas-bagged well into the night, mostly about food…(what else?) in between ducking downstairs for a cigarette or two. We finally called it a night and drifted into slumber to the soothing sound of ocean waves. Woke up the Sunday morning with the sad realization that our weekend at Cannon Beach was almost over… After breakfast of a coffee, a few puffs of a cigarette, a cough, a spit, a fart and a look around, we began the task of packing up our overnight bags, various unimbibed beverages and the unconsumed food (plenty of “leftovers” – enough to feed an army of starving warriors, in fact!). A few more clicks of our cameras and we were ready to hit the road. I would love to return to Cannon Beach someday when the weather is perfect, the tides dead low and the sunsets glorious…
Back in Washington again, we spent the next few days shopping, eating, fishing (caught some very nice bass), more eating, more shopping and so on. The most memorable takeway meal on this trip was Papa Murphy’s pizza – we made our selection of toppings, they custom made, individually wrapped and packed the pizzas up for us to bake at home at our leisure. Absolutely yummy!!! Oh yes, we also went to the Country Buffet Restaurant in Puyallup one night where we ate so much food that we had to roll out the door a couple of hours later. So much for watching my blood pressure and cholesterol. I’ll start dieting when I get home. Yep, that’ll work!
No trip to Washington State would be complete without a trip to the renowned Mt Rainier National Park. Mt Rainier is an active stratovolcano encased in over 35 square miles of snow and ice. With an elevation of 14,411ft (4392 metres), it is the highest mountain in the state. One of the monarchs of the Cascade Range, it was originally known as Tahoma. It is mostly covered by glaciers but heat from the volcano keeps areas of the crater rim ice free. Mt. Rainier is famous for its dense forests, dazzling wildflower meadows, tremendous snow fields and rugged glaciers. After reading so much about this famous volcanic mountain and not visiting it the last time we were in Washington, we were determined not to miss doing so this time.
On the Friday before we were due to head for home, we set off… What a fabulous day from start to finish – a great sunny daywith light winds, awesome sights and our very own tour guide – we couldn’t possibly ask for more. We saw deer idly grazing by the roadside and further on, a couple of unusual driftwood works of art on the dry bed of Lake Alder captured our attention. Whoever created these artistic masterpieces must be be a rather bored but talented person. We drove up to Paradise Visitor Center to marvel at the spectacular views of the surrounding ranges, stopping here and there to check out Nerada Falls, Longmire Museum and various points of interest. Our luck continued thoughout the day, as not long after our return from Mt Rainier, Mum Doris called out for us to bring our cameras as there was a magnificent view begging to be captured from her front porch – a view of Mt Rainier with a strange cloud “hat”. The proper name for this cloud formation is Orographic Cloud which can be produced as the winds flow against and over the mountain. [Click on the main photo at the top of this page for a larger image.] What a way to ‘christen’ my brand new camera!
The very next day, we made another road-trip, this time to Portland, Oregon, spending the day there while Mum Doris was at a church convention. We had a ball… SHOPPING!!!!! So much shopping was done that we had to buy a suitcase to put all the goodies in. Having shopped till we dropped, we then paid a visit to Vickie to sup on super delicious fried smoked salmon her mum had prepared for us. Not wanting to keep Mum Doris waiting at the convention venue, we raced off only to find that we had to cool our heels for about “three cigarettes” as the convention had gone way over schedule. It was almost midnight by the time we got back to Eatonville.
As our holiday was drawing to a close and we would not be there to join in the Halloween fun, Jackie invited us to dinner at her place on our last night and insisted that we have a go at pumpkin carving. I was unsure of which knife to use from the available selection in Jackie’s kitchen drawer and was quietly muttering to myself about their blunt condition when she re-appeared, brandishing a pumpkin carving kit! Well, after that, there was no stopping us — my MOTH did the initial part, cutting off the top with the precision of a brain surgeon, Jackie and her toddler son, Conor, removed the seeds and I put the finishing touch by carving a face on it. After cleaning up the mess made on her dining table, we spent at least half an hour trying to stop Conor from blowing out the candle before any photos could be taken! What a fun night that was… until it was time to say our goodbyes to Jackie – we must have hugged one another at least a million times.
Then it was back to Angel’s to finish our packing. Woke up the next morning, said, “See ya later” to Mum Doris, ate some Krispy Kreme Donuts for brunch and all too soon, it was time for us to say farewell to Angel. Again, many tears were shed…. before GOB drove us to the airport. We had a pleasant and uneventful flight back — Seattle – San Francisco – Sydney – Melbourne, arriving home on November 1st with a few days to spare to organize a 7th birthday celebration for our grandson. Another fabulous holiday we will long remember…
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After the drama of fixing the leaking long-range fuel tank (actually the fuel was pissing out, not at all like a dripping tap!) and getting a replacement for the leaking water bladder a few days prior to our departure date, we left home an hour later than planned on Fri Oct 11. Strange role reversal the night before our departure – all three kids warned us against picking up hitchhikers and for us to contact them whenever possible so they’d know we’re safe!!!
The first leg of the journey was pretty uneventful, (except for getting lost trying to find our way north out of Adelaide), good roads, interesting sceneries, happy sing-along sessions to golden oldies, 2 nights spent in comfortable motel rooms, breakfast at McDonalds; hey, it seemed like it would be an easy enjoyable road trip after all – and it was, until we got to Alice Springs!
We had booked into a nice motel and after hauling in our overnight bags, the M.O.T.H. (Man Of The House) muttered darkly under his breath something about the fornicating car fridge packing it in. Hmm.. Not good. Further investigation revealed that the problem was with the isolation solenoid in the dual battery kit. No problem, MOTH contacted the 4WD place in Melbourne first thing Monday morning and was directed to contact their agent in Alice Springs. I must admit everyone was most helpful but there was nothing anyone could do as the kit was faulty and a new replacement would have to be ordered and freighted express to reach A.S. first thing Tuesday morning. No choice but to stay an extra day in A.S. so we went sightseeing to kill some time. Saw some rocks, water holes, more rocks and while I was busy with my camera at Simpsons Gap, I felt something slithered across my foot – I almost died of a heart attack while the MOTH almost pissed himself laughing at me – no, it wasn’t a snake as I had first thought, it was a harmless big lizard – well, 8 inches is kind of big, right? It was way too hot to do much walking so by late afternoon, we called it quits and headed back to the air-conditioned comfort of our motel room.
The morning of day 4 (Tuesday) was spent at a nearby shopping centre and a hearty breakfast at Holly’s (similar to Wendy’s) was enjoyed before going to the Toyota place to twiddle our thumbs in the customers lounge while waiting for the delivery and installation of the fornicating solenoid. At a bit after noon, we were given the all clear so off we went, heading for the Tanami (pronounced “tenner-my”) Desert track, wondering how far we could go before nightfall. Approximately 450kms down this oh-so-very exciting track and after losing a CB antenna (must have been working too hard, it just broke off!), we decided to pitch tent for the night.
Pulling off the main track, we found a nice secluded patch of flat red dirt and we proceeded to battle with the tent. Boy, that was fun – it took us almost an hour to set up camp for the night – for the life of me, I still cannot see how four men are supposed to sleep comfortably in the bloody tent – dwarves maybe? Anyway, once we had our sleeping quarters organized, it was time to worry about dinner – something quite exciting for the MOTH – chili prawns and calamari with snow peas that I had prepared at home and frozen especially for the trip. It was kind of fun, cooking and dining in the moonlight under the stars and listening to the transistor radio that the MOTH had brought along.
Time to hit the sack and the MOTH had no problem going tosleep. Not his ever alert missus though – she always believes in being prepared for the unexpected – she had a neatly laid plan just in case… She had arranged within easy reach – her camera, a very bright torch and a pick hammer – should a wild beast (pick an animal – dingo, kangaroo, drop bear, the legendary yowie?) decide to attack, she would shine the torch right into its eyes to blind it, reach for her camera to capture a snapshot of it, then calmly put the camera down and grab the pick hammer to fight off the wild beast before waking the MOTH to tell him she had just saved both their lives!!!! All night long she lay awake, listening to the mooing of cattle in the distance, the fluttering wings of night insects and waited patiently for sunrise – thankfully, it turned out to be an uneventful night in the bush after all.
Day 5 dawned warm, very warm and clear, and after a hasty cup of coffee, we packed up and headed off for Halls Creek, our rendezvous point with friends from Western Australia. The summer sun was beating down mercilessly on us as we traveled along in air conditioned comfort – so far, so good, especially if you are very much into red dirt and rocks, there was plenty of that, hundreds of miles of it, as a matter of fact. There we were driving along, happy that we were making good time when the MOTH muttered an expletive and brought the vehicle to a quick halt – we leapt out and to our dismay, we had blown a back tyre – shredded big time. Bad news – had to do a wheel change under the blazing sun (it was almost 2pm) in 46C (114.8F) heat and all I could use to provide some shade for the MOTH was a cutting board (I had a cap on to protect my head) which I combined with my shadow while the poor bugger battled with the wheel change. Some 40 minutes later, we were able to continue on our way after cooling down with some water splashed on our faces. We stopped by to hastily check out one of the local landmarks (yes, another rocky place – Wolfe Creek Meteorite crater) before driving on to Halls Creek.
Both of us were looking forward to checking into a motel and enjoy a shower to freshen up. Wouldn’t you know it? The hotel, motel and even the caravan park were all booked out! Nearest possible accommodation was some 160kms away, so off we went with sweaty bodies and hopeful hearts.Some 100km down the road, a kangaroo bounded out of nowhere, straight into the side of our vehicle! The MOTH uttered, “Fornicate me!” but I didn’t oblige him. We continued on our way with the MOTH yelling at all the other kangaroos to “Go forth and multiply!” instead of dancing in the street. We were truly out of luck that day – no accommodation at Turkey Creek either but the “mozzies” (my personal terminology for the Aborigines because they all seem to appear from here, there and everywhere just on dusk) were out in full force so we decided to turn around and spend the night at a roadside rest area where we had stopped earlier to examine the damage done when the kangaroo hit our vehicle. Luckily for us, no damage to our vehicle as the kangaroo had hit the front wheel first, then the back wheel but there was no tomorrow for the poor kangaroo.
The MOTH set up his invention of a shower and managed to have a quick wash but I was way too modest to shower in the headlights of passing trucks and cars. Dinner that night consisted of those 2-minute bowl of noodles each and coffee before the MOTH brought out his stretcher bed and made his bed in the picnic ‘gazebo’. I declined his offer of setting up the same for me and made the choice of sleeping in my car seat, making like I was a rag doll, sort of sprawled and scrunched up at the same time. Needless to say, the MOTH had a fitful sleep while I stayed up and watched the almost full moon and tried to search for my constellation in the night sky.
The morning of day 6 saw us downing a cup of coffee beforeheading for Bungle Bungle, an ancient formation of deep gorges and termite mounds/domes – up, down, over and around we drove on dirt tracks and all we saw was the aftermath of wild fires that had recently swept through the area. We crossed two creeks with the MOTH sending me out to test the depth of the water before driving our vehicle through but didn’t cross a third one as it looked rather threatening. We decided that we had seen enough of the dismal views and headed back to Halls Creek.
Upon reaching Halls Creek, we made enquiries at the motel and were told that our friends had arrived the night before and finding no accommodation, it was believed that they had moved on to the next town in the opposite direction to where we had gone. In a last ditch effort to make radio contact, the MOTH decided to give it one last go and to our delight, his friend responded – the motel owners had misunderstood the situation and it turned out that our friends’ friends were the ones who had moved on to the next town. Our friends, finding no accommodation, decided to pitch their tent in the caravan park to wait for our arrival. We checked into the motel immediately and made plans to meet up at the hotel nearby for lunch. Over lunch, we arranged to meet up for dinner that night at the same place. All’s well that ends well? Yea, right!
On our way to join them for dinner, we found that we had a flat tyre – found a roofing bolt embedded in it. So another tyre change of course, using our second and last spare tyre. This involved moving ALL our stuff from the back of the Toyota to get to the spare tyre. I helped carry everything I could and piled them all in our motel room while the MOTH did the tyre change. We decided to forget our woes for the evening and enjoyed an expensive but delicious dinner with our friends and yakked till the restaurant’s closing time. They had to head back to Perth almost immediately anyway as they were expecting visitors in early November so we said our hellos and goodbyes and parted company that night.
Bright and early next morning (day 7), the MOTH raced around the little country town looking for a place that was open and could fix the flat tyre. I was left in the motel room guarding our belongings and we kept in contact via our walkie-talkies. With the flat tyre fixed, the MOTH set about changing tyres – it seemed that our run of bad luck hadn’t left us as he broke a wheel stud while changing tyres! With no option to get it fixed locally, we loaded all our stuff back in the Toyota and headed for Kunnunarra, a larger town where we would be able to buy a new tyre and get the broken stud replaced. Praying for some good luck for a change, we drove carefully there and the Toyota people were able to assist us, right down to recommending a place to stay for the night. We stayed in an air-conditioned cabin in a caravan resort that has lake views, swimming pool, spa, etc… (just a fancy name for a caravan park so they can charge more, if you ask me.)
We awoke on day 8, thinking positive that our luck would have to change for the better. Decided to do a bit of sight seeing in the area – Zebra Rock Place sounded interesting so off we went – We drove down a country track or two before stopping to ask for directions from who we thought were locals, turned out they were a couple of young men, tourists from Ireland who have had a really bad couple of days canoeing and were dying for a cigarette. We gave them 4 cigarettes and were amused when they gratefully declared, “Tourists are Gods!!!” As it turned out, we found out from them that this Zebra Rock Place we had been looking for is actually a rock art gallery – an arty-farty place where you can view and purchase rocks and gemstones. We immediately lost interest and decided to go and check out the melon farm – having visions of buying some delicious sweet melons to take home. How dare they!? The farm is closed – melon season is over! Hmmm… Not looking good about our luck changing for the better. Oh well, no problem, who wants to go looking for the Sleeping Buddha rock and the Elephant Rock in the stifling heat anyway? We would just drive on to Katherine – but first, the MOTH insisted on buying me a souvenir from here – a pair of Argyle champagne diamond ear studs. Well, being the sweet easy-going person that I am, I didn’t argue too much over his offer. After the purchase was made, we went on our merry way, stopping only to help a family in distress to get their broken down car onto a trailer.
Not long into our journey to Katherine, we had a meeting with a crow – the crow lost. We went and checked out Lake Argyle, quite spectacular as lakes go, and while we were in this park that had a big old mango tree laden with green mangoes, I decided that a couple of them green babies should come home with me. I got the MOTH to pull down on a low branch so I could reach the fruit and I felt something prick under my foot. Thinking it was a prickle or thorn of some sort, I balanced on one foot to examine under the other and horror of horrors, I saw this huge spider clinging onto the arch of my foot! I simply froze and called out to my MOTH that I had been bitten by a spider! I was too afraid to brush it off my foot in case it decided to latch on to my hand, so my MOTH came to my rescue. I hobbled on to a park bench to examine the damage but fortunately, there were no puncture marks. (I knew there was a reason for me to have slightly calloused thick dry skin under my feet!) My MOTH consoled me by saying it wasn’t a funnel-web spider so I should be okay. Anyway, that put a quick stop to getting more mangoes so we got into our vehicle and drove on to the town of Katherine. Spent the night at a motel there and had dinner at the motel restaurant before an early night.
By this time we had already decided against going to Darwin and Kakadu National Park as we were unsure how long our run of bad luck was going to last, so day 9 saw us on the road heading for home, after buying a tyre valve to replace a leaky one we had (yep, another flat tyre greeted us that morning). Not having much luck with tyres, that’s for sure! Anyway, our next town was Tennant Creek where we stopped for lunch before pushing on to Alice Springs after one of our almost daily calls home to assure our kids that we are still alive and well. There we were, driving along, minding our own business when who should try to attack me but a big old wedge-tailed eagle! It was feeding on a road kill in the middle of the road and as we approached, the stupid bird flew straight for my side of the windscreen. It hit one of our CB antennas and broke it before hitting the windscreen so the situation could have been a lot worse, I guess. We had phoned ahead for accommodation in Alice Springs and got in just on dark, before the kangaroos come out to play on the roads. Dinner was had at a roadhouse restaurant (diner) – steak, chips and salad.
Day 10 saw us with an early start out of Alice Springs, decided against going down a 100km 4WD track to go and check out Chambers Pillars as we didn’t particularly want to deal with anymore tyre problems. Also cancelled plans to come home via the Oodnadatta desert track and see Lake Eire – we will do that another time and certainly not in the hot summer months – the numerous bushfires that we had seen along the way were kind of scary. We did stop to admire the Devils Marbles on the way to the bustling little township of Glendambo (population 30) where we spent the night. Dinner was roast lamb and veggies special at the roadhouse restaurant next to the motel.
Almost at the end of our adventure – we drove into Port Augusta, South Australia through gale force winds and dust storms – from scorching summer heat to near freezing temperatures – and there we were dressed in shorts and t-shirts! We pressed on after re-fuelling and after our promised safety report phone-in to our daughter, we continued on our homeward journey, spending the night in Bordertown, on the South Australia/Victoria border. Set off for home this morning in wind and rain. Checked out a couple of fishing holes on the way home only to find both lakes/reservoirs have just about dried up. Just as well we hadn’t set our hearts on doing any fishing. Speaking of which, I think we should grab our fishing gear and go fishing to recuperate from this trip. We had traveled 8706km in twelve days and I can hardly wait for the next road trip!
Hey, a thought just crossed my mind – what if the MOTH got pissed off at me for asking every now and then, “Are we having fun yet?” and was trying to get rid of me????? Hmmm… first attempt – heart attack induction with the lizard business, then there was the heatstroke attempt, closely followed by the possible wild beast attack in the middle of the desert, then there was the kangaroo (who I’m sure was targeting MY side of the vehicle). Oh yeah, he also used me to test the depth of possibly crocodile-infested waterholes, not forgetting to mention the venomous spider incident, the attack by the killer eagle and yesterday, the choking dust storm, close call to being blown away by gale force winds and the final attempt today to freeze me to death. Coincidences, you think? I wonder!!!
MOTH’S VERSION OF THE TRIP
We left here on time and had a leisurely drive across Victoria and into South Australia. After passing through Adelaide (quite quickly) we stopped for the night in Port Pirie where we dined in a fashionable restaurant. So good that we even had breakfast there the next morning.
Then we kept going north, passing many picturesque sights to overnight in Marla. From Marla, it was on to Alice Springs where we decided to spend some extra time just relaxing and sight seeing. At Simpsons Gap, Oz made friends with the cutest little lizard you have ever seen. After getting up late, our departure from Alice was delayed till about noon but we still managed to get about 400km into the Tanami Desert before stopping to set up camp for the night.
After a few minutes we had everything set up and sat down to a great meal prepared by Oz (Who else?) Oz loved camping in the wilderness as it was so quiet. Then it was on through exciting countryside to Halls Creek via a spectacular meteorite crater at Wolfe Creek. We were lucky to have packed the right clothes as it can get a little cool out there. We were a little unlucky to arrive quite late in Halls Creek (because of our stops) and found there was no accomodation. The nearest place, Turkey Creek, was 160km away so off we went. On arrival Oz decided to forego the aircon room and camp in the desert again. We had seen a nice little spot some 40km away, near where she had met a ‘roo, so off we went. Once again we dined on fine cuisine, courtesy of Oz. After a quick shower, I crawled wearily into bed for a good night’s rest.
Next morning we departed at 6.30 for the Bungle Bungles. It was a relaxing drive through shady tropical trees and undergrowth, crossing cascading crystal clear streams on the way. Oz insisted in going wading, not at all concerned about crocodiles. Then it was back to Halls Creek where we met up with our friends and wined and dined and generally relaxed once again.
A short 350km drive to Kununurra was the order for the following day where we booked into a resort and did a bit of running around to tidy up loose ends. More sight seeing was on the agenda the next morning then we headed for Katherine via Lake Argyle. Oz became quite attached to rather large arachnid under a mango tree by the Ord River. She also saw a crow close up! We towed a broken down car on to a trailer for a Kiwi bloke, our good deed for the day.
We left Katherine for Tennant Creek and finally Alice Springs. Along the way Oz saw her first wedgetailed eagle close up and was very impressed. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful and we arrived home this afternoon, unloaded the car, had a shower and I am now enjoying a glass of red, the first since we left.
What a great trip!!!!!