Published: January 29th 2012January 29th 2012
After a long year at work we managed to convince the powers that be that what we were in need of was a month long road trip. So, on Boxing Day we began our journey that would take in four states (other than Queensland) and would eventually total 7500km's.
Some serious driving was required the first couple of days to make sure we got to spend our limited time in the places we really wanted to see. Five hours out of Brisbane and it evenually stopped raining. Four more hours of driving on very poorly maintained roads, after trying to overtake speeding road trains, and surviving an obscure outback breath test, we had made it into New South Wales and our first overnight stop in Dubbo. We started Day Two with breakfast at the Parkes Radio Telescope, the outback astronomy station that received the television transmission of the Apollo 11 moon landing, as featured in the Aussie film 'The Dish'. From here, we continued the drive into the outback, dodging the galahs insistent on looking for food at the side of, or on, the road. The road became very flat, at times only just managing to keep above water on
Mungo National Park
The road to the outback.
either side from the heavy rains of the wettest December for 150 years. We passed through a number of towns on this route; some very pretty, some the kind of places that made you want to lock your doors as you pictured grizzled old men sitting on their porches playing their banjo's, as the tumbleweeds rolled through. Another seven hours later and we'd reached the turn off into Mungo National Park. This was the true start to our journey into the outback, as we travelled along the unsealed road that would become impassable if it rained, carrying all our own food, drinking water, and even spare petrol, just in case. We pitched our tent in the basic, but nice, campsite and instantly got a taste of things to come as mozzies stuck two fingers up at us by actually landing on a smoking mozzie coil, and then biting Laura through her t-shirt. The main attraction of Mungo National Park is 'The Walls of China', strange formations formed in a 30km sand dune that lies around the edge of the now dry riverbed that was once Lake Mungo. We explored the area by foot and in the car. Any walks were
Mungo National Park
Major Mitchells Cockatoo
spent fending off flies, making us look like we were trying to conduct an invisible orchestra. Trips in the car were far more civilised with the air-con flowing, all the while listening to The Ashes on the radio. Whilst the drive was a bit overrated it did bring our first sightings of one half of the Aussie emblem, some wild emus. Shortly after we saw the other half, spotting some western grey kangaroos (darker, smaller, and arguably cuter than their eastern counterparts we normally see) in the long grass.
We left Mungo and briefly headed back into civilisation in the pretty town of Mildura, before hitting the road again. A strange road, that led us through lots of "rural cities", the only qualification for which would seem to be having several big silos, and not necessarily any houses. In fact, silos are clearly the status symbol of the outback, as we discovered when a ute headed towards us towing a 'portable' one. Once again the tarmac disappeared as we entered Murray Sunset National Park. This campsite was even more basic, but had a nice setting next to a lake, so we got settled and fired up the stove. Unfortunately,
the very gusty winds meant that dinner took quite some time, not least when the cooking process was interrupted by a small fire as a result of Andy having put the wrong fuel in the trangia. Another 'feature' of the campsite was it being home to rather a large number of feral bees, which were very interested in any source of moisture, whether it be water or perspiration, both of which were quite common in our little camping area, given the temperatures. Not wanting to be outdone were the flies, seemingly even more persistent and in greater volumes than at Mungo. Flies are the devil's minions, lurking around your head until seizing the moment when you have both hands occupied to try and get under your sunnies, up your nose or in your ear. We had planned to spend two nights here, but decided one was enough. Before leaving we visited the Pink Lakes, the remnants of old salt mines, now full of algae that glows pink in the light.
Another national park had been on the cards, but the propsect of another night doing battle with the flies meant that we decided to head to Adelaide a few
The Walls of China.
days earlier than planned. So we crossed the border into South Australia, thankfully having ditched all our fruit and veg on the way as customs actually had a cordon up to check for naughty fruit fly smugglers. Leaving the savannah-like landscape behind we found ourselves in the far greener Barossa Valley passing endless fields of vines, and spotting all the famous labels. We tracked down a motel, had a heavenly shower, and watched the man on the news saying that it was 41 degrees, there was a 'catastrophic' fire danger warning, and, oh yeah, the Murray River was on flood alert. Only in Australia. The next day we awoke to news that an area the size of France & Germany (or New South Wales) was now flooded in Queensland after some torrential storms around Bundaberg and Rockhampton, with the main north-south road completely cut, and only rooftops showing above the floodwaters in some areas. We continued onto Adelaide, stopping off at the Jacobs Creek vinyard and visitors centre for an explore. In a scene that resembled Peter Rabbit amongst the farmers' lettuce crops, two kangaroos suddenly appeared from between the rows of vines, hopped along the road and then disappeared
Andy of Mungo.
down another row. Maybe South Australian roos have a taste for grapes, or maybe kangaroo poo is the secret fertiliser ingredient to one of the best selling wines in the world? The Jacobs Creek estate was pretty, although the creek itself was rather more of a trickle than the raging torrent you might expect. The scale of the estate was only evident as we left and passed field after field proudly boasting it was the site of a reisling or chardonnay.
We arrived in Adelaide on New Years Eve. Laura realised the somewhat smaller scale of the city of Adelaide when she asked reception whether we needed to be at the fireworks by a certain time or we might not get in, and the receptionist looked at her as if she was a bit mental. So New Years Eve 2010 was spent sitting on the banks of the River Torrens watching the fireworks. Judging by the reaction of those around us, this may have been the first time the people of Adelaide had actually seen the magical bangy lights in the sky. Adelaide has a reputation for being the bogan (chav) capital of Aus. We couldn't possibly comment, suffice
Ridges in the sand.
to say that the family next to us had mullets / rats tails and a son called Tyson. After a nice day at the beach in Glenelg, including a quick dip in the chilly, but very clear sea, we walked out to Hindmarsh stadium to see Adelaide United take on Brisbane Roar. As an aside, all vehicle number plates in Aus say which state they come from and say things like "Queensland - The Sunshine State". This is where our description of South Australia as "The Disorganised State" started. The first 20 minutes of the game were spent listening to the crowd whilst queuing for our tickets. We were then overjoyed to discover that they don't allocate seats, so we had to stand for the rest of the match, managing to find a spot where we could actually see apparently amongst the hard core Adelaide fans, most of whom seemed to part of some sort of greek mafia. We did not cheer when Brisbane scored and won. The next evening we headed out to Warrawong wildlife sanctuary for a guided night walk. For some reason, we could not get accustomed to the climate in Adelaide, every day assuming that the
warm weather during the day would extend into the night (as per Brisbane), and every night freezing our ass off. This night was no exception, again forgetting to bring jumpers, and having to borrow some blankets that made us look like we were going to a fancy dress party as half-arsed mexicans. The sanctuary provided a home for a number of rescued kangaroos, who happily took grain from your hand and even let you gently stroke their sides. Trust us when we say that you have never felt fur so soft. We also saw bandicoots, koalas, bettongs and even a long-nosed potoroo, which has to be the closest thing to a real-life womble that we have ever seen.
We left Adelaide and caught the ferry to Kangaroo Island. The ferry was a fiasco. Why have a ferry with a door at both ends so that vehicles can simply drive straight on and off, when you could have just the one door, and spend half an hour shouting at drivers to reverse their cars into tiny spaces. Eventually we made it to our Rocky River campsite where Andy set about erecting not only the tent but also the tarp to
Into the bush...
give us some shade. Getting the poles positioned so that the tarp didn't sag was quite an effort, but resulted in a nice little set-up. That was until a huge gust of wind pulled one of the poles out of the ground and crashing down onto Laura's head. The tarp did not go up again. The island was a tale of two halves with the towns really quite unimpressive, but the national park amazing. The national park was home to roos, tammar wallabies, echidnas, koala, and a whole host of bird life, and that was just on the land. The stunning coastline was also home to seals and sealions, the latter surfing through the waves on their way into shore. Whilst the sea was crystal clear, it was also freezing, so a very very brief dip was had for fear of appendages dropping off.
From Kangaroo Island, we headed east towards Melbourne. We travelled through an area known as The Coorong, apparently a haven for birds, and were a bit disappointed when only a lone pelican materialised. At Meningie we had to settle for the best of a bad bunch of motels, and ended up in some kind of
Desert flower shadow.
time machine back into the seventies. We even met some "ten pound poms" who had paid ten pounds to emigrate after the second world war. They still had yorkshire accents. Next stop was Mount Gambier, a small town located at the site of three former volcanoes, one of which is full of some very very blue water, and is somewhat unsurprisingly called the Blue Lake. Much of our time here was spent trying to work out how the hell everything was going to fit in the car once we picked up Andy's parents, Alan and Sheila, from airport in Melbourne. This essentially involved alot of scratching heads, questioning why on earth we'd brought so much stuff, attempting to dry out our snazzie Brisbane Roar bright orange ponchos that now smelt like a cross between wet dog and sweaty cheese, some creative packing, and alot of wedging stuff into the roof box that was so full it looked like it might spring open at any second. Thankfully we all fit without anyone having to be strapped to the spare tyre, and we set off down the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. The new arrivals were too busy snoozing the next day
to mind the huge detour we had to take for a landslide as a result of the continuing wet weather (we had learnt that morning that one of the towns we'd driven through the day before was now completely under water). Reprising our tour guide role we even managed to track down the Cape Otway koalas we'd spotted in our first visit, three years earlier.
We crammed in the sights of Melbourne, even managing to get a trip to the MCG to watch England lose the second T20 game. The Little Penguins were just as cute as we remembered at Philip Island. You can't visit Melbourne without a trip to the theatre so we took in Mary Poppins, and even discovered the extensive chinese quarter we had never noticed before on the way home. The next evening we went to the Australian Open to watch the tennis. Arriving before the centre court was open we strolled round the outer courts until we found a British girl playing. Stopping to watch, we eventually realised that we were stood right next to some of the English cricket team (Swann, Bresnan, Finn, and Pieterson to be exact). So, randomly, we saw more
Western Grey Joey.
of Pieterson at the tennis than we did at the cricket (two balls and out!). That night we saw Novak Djokovic make light work of his first round opponent, and the next day saw Andy Murray do likewise. Not realising at the time that we would have seen both of that years finalists in action.
Seven hours north-east from Melbourne and we had crossed the border into Australian Capital Territory, home to Australia's capital city, Canberra, a place with a reputation for having a strange layout and not being overly exciting. The 'strange layout' part we can confirm is entirely true. The incorporation of circular roads really does make even the navigation-savvy types momentarily question which direction they're actually heading in. That said, the town itself is actually quite nice, with the CBD split from the government buildings via the deceptively large Lake Burley Griffin, named after the architect who planned the city. The lake features the Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet, which sounds very dull, but is actually rather impressive as it shoots water upto 150m in the air. Although, strangely it seems to have some sort of tourist-phobia with it seemingly only ever visible from a distance,
The kangaroo he went this a way...
and not so much as a trickle up close. Anzac Parade joins Capital Hill to the Australian War Memorial and is very reminiscent of The Mall in London. It features impressive memorials to the armed forces along its length, and culminates in the Australian War Memorial. Granted, this does not sound like a fun day out, but the memorial really is quite spectacular. The building itself is very impressive, and the Roll of Honour that records the names of Australia's fallen soldiers along the walls and corridors is beautifully presented with poppies intertwined. Behind this lies a wealth of artefacts, diorama's, memorabilia, the quality and quantity of which is hard to describe. They certainly put a lot of effort into this place. When they do something in Aus, they do tend to do it right. At the other end of the Parade lies Parliament House, a building probably most famous for having a grass roof, oh yeah, and for being where the government makes decisions and all that.
Now on the last stretch home we headed across to Jervis Bay before following the road up the coast back to Brisbane, making a minor detour so that Andy could say
he'd driven over the Harbour Bridge.
We arrived back in Brisbane safe in the knowledge that our house had survived the floods being on top of a hill, but knowing that others had not fared so well. It had been quite a surreal experience watching the events unfold from afar, seeing the shops at the bottom of our road submerged and people kayaking past on tv. However, the most staggering aspect had to be how the aussies reacted to it. This was in no small part down to the State Premier, Anna Bligh, who showed the utmost compassion (somewhat lacking in the actual Prime Minister), and inspired a city to take action, by delivering several rousing speeches sometimes on the brink of tears. An extract of one of these speeches is shown below:
"As we weep for what we have lost, and as we grieve for family and friends and we confront the challenge that is before us, I want us to remember who we are.
"We are Queenslanders.
"We're the people that they breed tough, north of the border.
"We're the ones that they knock down, and we get up again."
sprung up all across the city, with total strangers helping each other to reclaim their homes from the mud. Traffic jams formed as people patiently queued to try and get into
the worst affected areas to help, even if it was just to bring food and water to those already helping with the clean up. By the time we got back, the majority of shops were up and running again. For those that weren't other local businesses had agreed to take on their staff. Such good natured intentions and spirit made us quite proud to even be associated with such a nation.
There are more photos below