Tuesday Sept. 16 to Monday, Sept. 22
After finishing a few bits of business in Perth, we drove south through the endless suburbs (which reminded us much of California), and a couple of hours of open country and farmland to the coastal town of Bunbury, where we spent the night at a small YHA hostel. On the way we stopped at a craft gallery reputed to be the biggest in Western Australia (I cant read the abbreviation of that, WA, without reading Washington first), and after a nice browse bought a couple of small souvenirs.
Wednesday morning we paid a brief visit to the Dolphin Discovery Center, located at an area of the bay where dolphins frequently come in to mingle with the people who come to visit them there. There were some interesting displays, and the beach was very nice. Colin enjoyed playing on it while we waited, but after awhile when there were still no dolphins, we had to leave without seeing them, since we had a several-hours drive to Pemberton still to do. After driving through increasingly-forested terrain, we arrived at our lodging for the next five nights, the Pemberton Farm Chalets. This was one of many farm-stays in the area, and featured a row of nicely-appointed cabins overlooking a valley, with sheep and horses in pastures just a few feet away, and many other animals available to be fed and/or petted and held in the mornings. It was a very pleasant setting, with other families and children there, and we were very pleased with it. The afternoon was warm, and we just hung around enjoying it.
The next day we really got Emily started homeschooling. She had done a little the previous two days, but this was the first chance we had to print material out and get a lesson plan going. In this congenial setting, it was easy to spend the first couple of hours of the day with Emily working on her assignments, and me working with Colin on some learning materials I had for him (not for two hours, though)
Midway through the morning, at 9 am, was animal feeding time. First on the agenda was throwing grain for chickens and ducks (they would come and eat it out of a pan if the children held it for them), followed by Egg Collecting, Baby Guinea Pig Holding (they were only 4 days old, and adorable), Bunny Holding, and Visiting the Marrons (these are a local variety of freshwater crawfish or small lobster, quite large and black, and living in a big tank). Then there were tiny ducklings to hold, 4-day-old calves to feed milk to, and horses to give handfuls of grain to. It was a wonderful experience for all the kids, ours and the others as well, and the most close exposure Colin has had to so many animals since he used to stay at Jodies.
That afternoon it rained, so we did a little shopping in town and spent time at the local internet cafe.
Friday we went into town ( few minutes drive away) to take the 10 am tram tour through the local forest - actually a small rail line. There were a couple of stops where we could get off and look at Cascade Falls (more of a rapids), and walk through the forest, as well as viewing various railway and local history things. After getting back, we took a walk from the farm to another local attraction, the Gloucester Tree. It is one of several old fire lookout trees in the area, about 65 meters high, with metal spike steps spiraling up it to a little house on the very top. Emily climbed right up to enjoy the view. (There was netting around it to prevent falls, so it wasnt as dangerous as it sounds - however, I doubt anyone would be allowed to climb such a thing in the US without signing all sorts of liability forms). I usually would have, but my legs were sore from a tower we had climbed in Bunbury, so I declined. Emilys legs were sore, too, by the time she came back down!
The other feature in the park was Rosella parrots. These are a common type of Parrot in the area, and these were so tame that if you had a bit of food, they would land on your hand (or your head, or your shoulder...) and eat it right there. It was quite possible to have several parrots sitting on you at once! We hadnt brought any food, but someone else gave us a couple of crackers so we could enjoy them, and we determined to come back with bread later.
That night there was a wild, windy rainstorm!
Saturday Sept. 20 was still very windy, with a threat of rain, but we decided wed better take the day to drive down to the south coast, our main day trip from Pemberton. There were fallen branches all over along the road from the previous days windstorm, but traffic was light and none were blocking the roads. We drove for a couple of hours through eucalyptus forest of varying heights - this whole area is a logging region like the NW, but timbered in Jarrah, Karri, and Marri, all varieties of eucalyptus. The Karri trees get very large, and can be the third largest tree in the world. Most of the region has been heavily logged, so most of the replanted forests are young, but there are a few old-growth remnants, and we headed for one of those. One of the chief tourist features, which Emily particularly wanted to visit, was the Treetop Walk, a solidly-engineered hanging walkway 40 meters up in the treetops. When we arrived it was intermittently drizzly and somewhat windy, so the walk through the treetops was a bit hair-raising, since the bridge does sway despite its solidity. It was quite a different experience from our treetop walk in the Scottish Highlands, where the trees were much shorter, and conifers as well. The character of these eucalyptus forests is very different from most forests, whether from the ground or high up. The canopy is airy and open, allowing a lot of interesting undergrowth, and many of the tree trunks are pale and blotched with many colors of smooth bark, creating overall a very open, light effect. It is so pretty that I purchased a matted photo that shows off that effect superbly, at a gallery in Pemberton.
We ate lunch in the parking lot, after which it was sunnier and less windy, so Emily and I went around again, much more pleasantly this time. A little later in the spring the trees would be full of flowers and the birds that drink from them - I imagine that would be really magical! - but at present the flower buds were still tightly closed.
On the theory that beaches after storms are good for beach-combing, we next headed for a nearby beach, hoping to collect some nice Australian shells to add to our collections of South African, Mauritian, and UK shells. The beach we visited was gorgeous, a smooth white crescent bounded by forest-covered arms curving around at each end, and pristine - there were no tracks but ours on it. It was also very windy, with threatening clouds scudding past not too far away. Emily and I walked most of the way towards one end of the beach before giving up shell-hunting - there was lots of cuttlefish bone, but virtually no shells. By the time we headed back, we were being pelted by stinging wind-driven horizontal rain and sand, and it was quite an adventure pushing our way against the wind. We were blown-dry by the time we got back to Rich and Colin, and glad to retreat from the gale!
Sunday we were glad we had headed south the day before, because it rained pretty much all day. We didnt even go out to feed the animals, though we spotted a few hardy souls who did. In the afternoon we revisited a gallery in town where we had admired some beautiful woodwork and photos, and Rich had a good conversation with the proprietor about local woodworking, We finally decided to buy a particularly lovely display vase made out of Camphor Laurel, an indigenous wood, and had it shipped home by boat, so we may not see it again until well after we get back to the US!
The rest of the day we just relaxed, watched TV, etc. Sometimes we need a rainy day to force us to take a day off.
Mon. Sept. 22 we left Pemberton and drove the 4+ hours to Perth with no significant stops. Our flight to Adelaide was scheduled to leave at about 2:30pm, but was delayed for over an hour (no explanation offered by the airline, but it could have been the windy weather). We made up some time enroute and arrived only about 1/2 hour late, at about 8pm, and took a taxi to the home of some expatriate friends from Corvallis, Jacqueline and Jeff. Emily used to go to Jodies with their son, Yann, and they also have a 6 year old daughter, Elena, whose bedroom we spent the next 3 nights in. They live in a nice suburb, convenient to stores and the bus line, and we were grateful that they offered to share their house with us for our first few days in Adelaide.
Tues. Sept. 23 through Sept. 25
Adelaide, South Australia
It seems like we really didnt do much in Adelaide. The city is unusual in that the downtown is completely ringed by parkland. We took a bus into town the first day, and stopped just outside the center at a nice playground, where Colin spent quite a long while playing with another little boy, Darcy, I talked with his mother, and we all enjoyed the sun. Then we had a nice lunch at a pasta place she recommended around the corner. After that we spent far too much time walking long distances - the Adelaide downtown bus system isnt nearly as well setup as Perths - trying to run a couple of errands, and finally got to the South Australian Museum very late in the day, when we were too tired to look at more than a couple of exhibits. We had wanted to get to Tandanya, an Aboriginal cultural center, where Emily hoped to take a Didgeridoo lesson, but didnt even get close to it.
Wednesday we picked up the camper, picked up some educational materials for Emily and Colin, got groceries, and that pretty much did it for the day. We spent one more night at Jacqueline and Jeffs, rather than squeezing into the camper right away. All the time we were there, Colin had terrific fun playing with Elena, and Emily did too (Yann is a bit older, and mostly was doing homework). We enjoyed talking with Jeff & Jacqueline, who gave us lots of suggestions for things to do and places to go.
Thursday we loaded everything into the camper and were all set to leave early, when we discovered that the water was not running in the camper. We called the rental place, and trundled across town to have it looked at. It turned out to be an electrical problem, which was fixed fairly quickly. We headed into town (nearby) to pick up a computer game for Emily and Colin (not readily available elsewhere), then pulled into a Caravan Park just outside the downtown to have lunch. As soon as we washed dishes there was water gushing all over the place out of the holding tanks. Rather annoyed at this point, we started checking out everything thoroughly, as we should have done first thing, and discovered quite a few other problems. I wont go into all the gory details, but by the end of another trip back to the rental agency (NQ Rentals, for anyone who is interested - we dont recommend them), and the day, the major problems were more-or-less fixed, and we still hadnt left Adelaide. We were also really concerned whether the camper could make the trip to Sydney will all systems working, since it was old and clearly not as well-maintained as we would like. We really didnt have an alternative, though, at this point.
Friday Sept. 26 through Thursday, Oct. 2
Adelaide to Wagga Wagga in a Camper
We spent the night at a Caravan Park just outside of Adelaide, then the next morning finally set out on our great odyssey. It seemed to take forever to get through Adelaides suburbs, but we finally made it out to pretty, hilly country and drove for awhile, debating which of a couple of routes to take. Our speed so far had been very slow - a combination of the sluggishness of the vehicle, Richs unfamiliarity with it, and the hilly terrain - and opted for the most direct route, which would end up being our pattern for the whole trip. We spent the night at another park in Gawler. With few exceptions, the caravan parks we stayed in were unremarkable, and I dont remember enough about them to describe them. Each had adequate spaces, and an amenities block (or several) containing bathrooms with (usually) hot, strong showers, and usually laundry facilities.
Saturday, Sept. 27
We planned to put some real distance behind us today, and get out of the Adelaide area entirely. We aimed for the town of Mildura, just over the border into Victoria, one of many towns on the Murray River (a large river that meanders through this part of South Australia and forms much of the border between Victoria and New South Wales). We planned to spend a couple of days there and take a boat ride on the Murray.
The countryside rapidly dried up and flattened out from the relatively hilly area we had been in. Some areas were farmland, others low scrub. We were starting to see some of the vast distances and lengthy stretches of not much that characterize much of the country (same as the US). We began to see the Murray now and then, a red cliff-lined channel cut sharply out of the countryside. We made one major stop at midday in Barmera, a small town about halfway to Mildura, for lunch and to visit a Steam Engine Museum that Colin really wanted to see (he loves all sorts of engines). Unfortunately the museum was apparently not open for the season yet, but we did stop by a nice playground for him to have fun on while we had lunch.
We hadnt gone much further when we came to the larger town of Renmark, and stopped at the Visitor Info. center to try to get some more information on this region - most of what I had collected previously was very general. After looking through some of it, I realized that we could take a boat on the Murray here, as well, and the area was quite attractive, at least compared to earlier parts of the Murray that we had already passed through. We decided to drive into one of the caravan parks, right along the river, and it looked so nice, with the day already getting rather late, that we decided to stay there for the night instead of pressing on for 2 more hours to Mildura.
It turned out to be an excellent choice. The park was spacious and not very crowded, with lovely views along the river, a nearby nature trail, and, most fun, lots of wildlife. Among the first things we saw were large coot-like birds, black with a dark blue breast and red beak, which were Purple Moorhens. There were also two smaller types of coots or moorhens, and several very large Australian Pelicans, which we had seen before but not this close up. They sat along the grassy riverbank, or flew majestically in and out.
We quickly decided to skip Mildura and spend two nights here.
The first evening we took a short walk on the nature trail, and almost immediately saw a small Kangaroo, watching us as we were watching it, over a small stretch of water. Later in the evening one of the pelicans came over to our trailer and hung around outside, watching our every move through the windows and apparently hoping to be fed (there were signs warning not to feed the pelicans, and with the size of these birds - close to 3 tall with their necks extended, with a body larger than the largest goose youve ever seen - we had no intention of flouting the rules). We opened the door to see it better, and pretty soon there were a couple of moorhens and ducks hanging around, too. It was most entertaining - but the next day was even better!
I got up early to take a walk on the nature trail, and heard many birds, but most were too high in the tops of the trees, just lit by the rising sun, to be seen very well. I did see a Black Swan floating on the water, though. It was also very cold, so I didnt linger, but it was nice to get out on a solitary nature walk for once.
About the time I came back from the shower, the Pelican Brigade was out in force. No less than four of them had descended on our camper, and were hanging around watching us. They were very bold and tame, though capable of an aggressive peck if startled. We hadnt fed them at all, and aside from taking lots of pictures, werent really encouraging them, so it was a mystery why they chose this spot to congregate. After awhile they all settled down a few feet away, tucked their long beaks neatly along their backs, covered them with their wings, and huddled like so many black and white boulders in this resting posture, with nothing but their yellow-ringed eyes active. They spent the whole day that way - maybe we just happened to park on their favorite spot?
The Pelicans werent the only interesting birds. There was a family of brown-headed Wood Ducks with seven chicks, and a couple of stripe-headed Black Ducks (not at all black, actually), all tame enough to eat bread from our hands. The Purple Moorhens got in on it too, of course, but they wouldnt come as close. There was also a beautiful singing bird (part of why I got up early to go walking) which I later identified as a Pied Butcherbird, and various Cormorants and Darters on the water.
Later in the morning, after taking advantage of the laundry facilities and sunny day to wash and dry our laundry, we took another walk on the nature trail. There were supposedly several marked trails, and we had a map, but we had never yet managed to stay on the trail we thought we were on due to inadequate markings, and this time was no exception. The vegetation varied from low, open eucalyptus forest to more open scrub, and this was part of the problem, as there were many smaller tracks and open areas that could easily be mistaken for part of the trail. All the birds had gone to cover, too, but we did see a very strange lizard, very wide and flat, with a short, fat tail. We didnt have a wildlife guide, but later tentatively identified it as a Shingle-backed lizard, a type of Skink. We finally got ourselves sorted out and walked back to the park, then drove into town for lunch, groceries, and a 2-hour tour on the River Rambler, on which we had made reservations. This was a pleasant narrated river tour, with a lot of nature, historical, and ecological information, but Colin was unusually restive and made it difficult for all of us. (I think he was too tired to concentrate well).
Back at the park in the evening Rich and Colin spotted some Opossums in a tree - much furrier and cuter than our American possums. They were also rather tame, and we got to see a mother and baby from only a few feet away, as she munched on a piece of bread.
Monday, Sept. 29
After our pleasant interlude in Renmark, we wanted to put some real distance behind us today. We had considered going north to Broken Hill, a mining town pretty deep in the dry outback, but after adding up the additional distance to get to Sydney, ultimately, we decided not to. The camper was not capable of traveling as fast as a car, so we were covering distance rather slowly, and every time we had a choice of detouring significantly to see something interesting, or taking the most direct route and just seeing what is there, we have opted for the direct route.
At any rate, we go an early start from Renmark, and in about 1 1/2 hours of driving through scrubby, rolling countryside, we got to Mildura, our original destination. We stopped at the huge visitor center there, since Mildura is right on the border between Victoria and New South Wales and we wanted to collect information for our route ahead. Here we discovered that there was a major country-music festival going on, which made us even more glad that we had stayed in Renmark - Mildura was very crowded, and no doubt camper space would have been hard to come by. Also, the Murray river was less attractive here than in Renmark.
We stopped at an Internet Cafe to do e-mail and get some long-term weather forecasts, then set off again. We drove for most of the day, with the kids being very good in the back (playing or napping), and went through a variety of terrain. As we left the vicinity of the Murray, the vegetation gradually changed from gently rolling hills covered with varying degrees of eucalyptus forest. The trees got scrubbier, and the land got flatter, until finally we were crossing one of the flattest places on Earth, the Riverina region, a vast plain in the southern center of NSW. This was the closest we expect to get to true outback. It is very sparsely populated, covered with dense low vegetation ranging from little more than grassy hummocks to bushier types, all typical dryland vegetation such as in Oregons high desert, all in soft grays and greens. And it is really utterly flat, clear to the horizon, for miles and miles - very different for someone used to the constant presence of hills and mountains. It was a lovely, sunny day, with enough clouds to add perspective to the scene, and was a generally enjoyable, if rather monotonous, drive.
Towards the end of the day we approached the town of Hay, where we planned to stay for the night, and more trees gradually appeared as we approached the Murrumbidgee River, until we were again traveling through low, open, airy Eucalyptus forest, all carpeted with spring green grass and purple and yellow wildflowers. We were certainly seeing this dry country at its best, in early spring - in summer it will be hot and desiccated, with no green but the subtle colors of the eucalyptus foliage.
In a brochure for the town of Hay (which was very small) I had seen an ad for a caravan park on a farm in the bush, which sounded much nicer than being in town, so there we went, arriving just as it was getting dark (after a glorious sunset on the flat plains). We were escorted down a long narrow road by the farms owner, until we got to an isolated space near a stretch of the Murrumbidgee river. It was not exactly overcrowded - we were the only campers there, and had the place to ourselves. In the morning we really enjoyed it - we were in the middle of a lovely eucalyptus wood (I dont know what kind of gum, but some were quite large), full of chattering, twittering, singing birds, including at least three kinds of parrot.
We would have enjoyed staying another day, and just hanging out enjoying the forest, but it was just a little chilly to really enjoy being outdoors, so we continued on. By mid-afternoon we arrived in Wagga Wagga, the regional center, a town with about the same population as Corvallis, but more of a small city like Eugene, because it serves several times the city population from the surrounding bush. Its rather like Corvallis in other ways, though, having a University and a river, and being fairly cosmopolitan. We stopped, as usual, at the visitor information center, which had a very nice play structure nearby, and by the time I had finished collecting information for the last few days of our journey, Colin was busily playing a game of Kerplunk with two little boys and their dad. We all had a nice time chatting on a now-warm sunny afternoon, and finally, late in the afternoon, headed down the street to our Caravan park, which was within walking distance of the downtown, and museums and such. We were anticipating a pleasant couple of days here.
We checked into the park, which was non-desript but serviceable, parked, and stepped outside...only to be hit with a horrible stench permeating the area. We couldnt identify any source for it, but it seemed to be hanging in the river valley. Rich said it smelled like an abattoir - a place where animal carcasses are burned. It was certainly making us all feel sick, though other people were sitting around apparently not bothered. We didnt feel we could stand it though, and drove back up to the reception building (where there was no odor at all) to inquire what it might be and if it would go away. Someone else confirmed it was an abattoir, and said it had been hanging around here and there for several days, so we got our money back and determined to move.
The next most likely park was just outside of town, also near the river but set well back, and the lady I talked to on the phone said there was no trace of smell, so we headed there. We turned into what we thought was the right driveway, went behind a building, and just about the time we realized we were in the wrong place, heard a horrible, tearing *crunch*, and water started running down the roof of the cab. We had run into a low overhang.
Rich jumped out to look at things, and it appeared there was nothing to do but back out again. By the time we had done that, the fluorescent light fixture we had run into was in pieces on the ground, as were the two vent covers on the top of the camper. We couldnt find a source for the water, which had stopped, and figured it had been in the light fixture. Rich collected the pieces, while I went to the front door of the building and informed the cleaning crew what had happened - they were rather at a loss as to what to do, and asked us to come back tomorrow. Then we went down the street 100 and found the actual entrance to the park, knowing we were in for problems the next day. Fortunately there was no smell here, so Rich taped some cardboard over the open vents (we happened to have some cardboard, and had been carrying duct tape all along), and we had dinner and went to bed.
Wed. October 1 it was raining. Rich called the rental company and got authorization to get the repairs done - their nearest branch was Sydney, and we werent about to go straight there - then around town and found someone who could probably do the repairs for a reasonable cost. So we packed up and found our way, with some difficulty, to their location a ways out of town, and they said yes they could do it, and could have the parts by the next morning. So far so good. It was still raining. We got to a home-supplies store to get more duct tape, and plastic, then went back to the caravan park so Rich could borrow a ladder, climb up the roof in the rain, and attempt to make a more waterproof cover for the vents. While he did that fun job, I did a load of laundry at the park laundromat, and researched some other things in the town. It was still raining - welcome to the locals after a long dry spell, but not to us.
By this time, it was starting to sound like a real good idea to take a break from our crowded, chilly, and now damp, camper and stay in something spacious and warm for a night. I called one place and lucked into a 2-bdrm self-catering apartment at a very reasonable price, and practically just around the corner, so we checked it out and checked in, then went downtown for lunch.
We hadnt had Mexican food since leaving the US - Mexican restaurants are not nearly as common where weve been as they are on the west coast - and there was one in town that sounded good, so we went there. It was nice, and the food was tasty. Afterwards I took Emily to a nearby athletic shoe store, since she was growing out of the shoes she had been wearing since we left, and was lucky enough to find her a pair she liked right away. Then we got groceries, and returned to the apartment, unloaded what we would need till morning (or most of it, anyway) and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying space, warmth and TV!
I used some of the time and space to start preparing for our departure from Australia, which was just a few days away - sorting out things to donate, sell, or ship back home, and packing the shipping box, which I already had.
Thursday we had a leisurely morning in the apartment, then packed up back into the camper and parked downtown by mid morning. It was no longer raining, but looked threatening still. Rich had lost an important electrical converter and we needed to find another one, and Colin had been promised a coin purse for his collection of coins of various countries, and well as a visit to a toy store to look for a skip, a little dump truck he had been wanting. We found the electrical converter and the purse, but no skip ( I dont know if one is made among small truck toys, but at least we looked), then went to the library as our last hope to get on the internet in this town. That didnt work either, though Rich spent quite a bit of time trying to get the connection running, and by this time the parts were in for the camper. I stayed in the library/museum complex with the kids while Rich went to get it fixed, and visited the glass museum, which had some lovely modern glasswork, and the art museum, which was featuring high school work of a remarkably high standard. The show included some high school videos, and after we had lunch at the cafe, we spent the rest of our wait watching them until Rich came to get us with the repaired camper. It was raining again, and we departed Wagga Wagga without having visited several of the things we would have liked to do there, such as the botanic garden.