Published: May 12th 2011April 18th 2011
I think I already posted this.
Passport is getting a workout!
Australia Part 1: A Camperman Campervan to Remember
Our flight from Denpessar, Bali was fairly uneventful, flying through the night to Melbourne, Australia. Jetstar did their best to keep everyone comfortable through the night, and the flight was kind of a sleep/unconsious/fitful waking type deal. We left Bali at 11pm and arrived in Melbourne at 7am.
Once at the airport, we decided to pick up some coffees and wait around until about 9:00am. The campervan office didn't open until 9:30am, and it's just down the street from the airport, so we had about an hour to wait.
Once we've ordered our $4, tiny coffees (our first Australian price shock... coffee was free at our last hotel, where we spent $7.50/night including breakfast!!) we moved towards the exit doors. It was kind of a grey day outside and I was curious if it was as cold as it looked. At about 15 degrees, it certainly felt cold enough! We hopped into a waiting cab at the arrivals door and head down the freeway to the industrial park where we were supposed to pick up the van. Its a classic industrial park with a maze of warehouses beside the freeway.
12.99/kg for Bananas!!
What's crazier is that people are buying them!
The 'office' is a steel door in the wall of a warehouse. There are several Toyota Hi-Ace campervans parked outside. They're white delivery van type deals with an extra tall, awkward looking roof. There are large signs on the outside of the vans saying "CAMPERMAN Rentals." Fitting, for two single guys in a van... One of these beauties must be ours.
After doing all the paperwork, checking out the van and generally looking around, turning on the gas, water and getting our bearings in our new digs, Trung and I are left alone sitting beside eachother in the back of the van surrounded by our bags, pots and pans, towels, sleeping bags and other riff-raff and we are beset by a rash of giggling. How are we supposed to freaking live in this thing for 17 days?!
I'm confident we'll be just fine, and probably have an adventure in the process, but Trung has no idea what to expect because he's never been camping. There's a nice fridge, gas stove, sink, and lots of storage space. The 'dining area' turns into a queen size bed, and another queen size bed can be made
from sliding planks of wood in the ceiling that create a sort of 'bunk bed' inside the van. You can fully stand up, so it's fairly un-claustrophobic, but still quite small. It is a van, after all.
So NOW it's time to leave. I wait until the mechanic guy goes back inside, I know there's going to be some rumbling, shaking and general roars as I try to reverse out of our parking spot and get the van in gear and rumbling to the exit of the parking area. I haven't driven manual since Bessie at Halsall, my last job. She was a reliable little truck that I drove a few times about 3 years ago. Luckily we're in an industrial park, so the streets are pretty much deserted. LOOK OUT WORLD, ANDY'S DRIVING STANDARD ON THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD!
So here's the deal: Everything is reversed in the van except the pedals. The stick is on the left, the wipers are on the left and the turn indicator is on the right. Thank god the pedals aren't reversed, because I can barely do the hand-eye coordination, let alone foot pedals.
manage to get out to the street, I head around the block three or four times, executing right and left hand turns to get the hang of it. I'm drifting a bit to the left, because I'm used to ligning up with the right hand side of the car. Every time I try to turn, I inevitably turn the window wipers on first, then the turn signal. (I find out later when it rains that I usually indicate that I'm going to turn left before I turn on the wipers. WTF, why change the blinkers and wiper knobs around!?)
After a few times round the block, I feel like I'm ready to exit onto the 6 lane road that borders the industrial park. My first peice of business is to roar out onto the street, jerk into second gear, then finally get rolling down the street. Graceful.
We only have 1/4 tank of gas, so the first business is to get gas. Its 1.45/litre, much more expensive than the 1.20 that was the going rate 3 months ago when I booked the van and created our Aussie budget. The lady at the gas station tells me it went
Great Ocean Road
Our first impression was to pick our jaws up off the ground!
up 20 cents overnight, because the 5 day Easter Long Long weekend is upon us. It's Thursday and the Friday-Tuesday is a 5 day holiday!
After getting gas, we head to the grocery store to pick up supplies: pasta, tuna, bread, milk, peanut butter, bags of apples, etc. etc. Its REALLY strange to be in a grocery store, no less it is an IGA with the 1980's Canadian branding. What a flash back. K-Mart and Woolworths also still exists here in Australia, where it seems the 90's have never ended!
The nice lady at the grocery store can't understand me, and asks me, after we clear up our transaction "where is your accent from?" Never thought someone would ask ME that, I thought HER accent was pretty thick!
The Great Ocean Road
Our first destination is the Great Ocean Road, a 100 km long road about an hour from Melbourne that is exactly like the name describes. Shortly after WWII, the Australian government hired war vetrans to carve this highway out of the solid cliffs facing the Antarctic Ocean. The road is full of switchbacks, 180 degree corners up, down, all around, with breathtaking vistas of
the huge cliffs, islands, and massive, crashing, booming waves pounding the cliffs. I've never seen bigger waves my entire life.
So picture it, Trung and I in an oversized, tippy white van, with roaring engine because Andy hasn't gotten the gears down pat. Andy's leaning forward trying to travel up and down the cliffsides, with dishes, backpacks and other supplies being tossed all around, lol. It was quite the experience. That first day we were also in a trance because we hadn't really slept in 24 hours and had no idea where we were and where we were going.
I managed to only get stuck on an uphill once. After stopping to letting another car go past, I couldn't get 1st to kick in fast enough and I kept rolling down the hill and stalling. Eventually we got going, but I'm pretty sure we probably lost 1/2 of the clutch in that one go and it smelt a bit like burning.
At the campsite that night, there were several kids running around, people cooking on gas stoves and watching the sunset. I noticed right away there's no bonfires! That sucks, but it is SO dry in Australia
that massive brush fires are a real danger and campgrounds don't have fire pits. Boo.
The following morning is quite cold, and with no heater the inside of the van is NOT warm and I decide to get up, bundle up and go for a walk to watch the sunrise. The ocean is beautiful here, with very wide beaches bordered by towering cliffs. Strolling up the beach and turning up the small river our van is parked alongside, I hear the worst screetching sound I've ever heard. Shocked, I quickly look around to see what's dying. Its a giant, white cockatoo with yellow feathers on the back of it's head. Apparently this is their natural sound. Gross. It sounds like something from Jurrasic Park.
It turns out the cockatoos here are very tame. I decide to feed them some of our Anzac cookies (it's ANZAC day here on the long long weekend, kind of like Rememberance Day for Australia, and these oatmeal cookies are everywhere!). The cockatoos are willing to fly up and land on my arms to get at the cookies in my hands. They're quite large and very gentle. What a great first Australian wildlife experience!
We camped overnight twice on the Great Ocean Road, finishing in Wharnambool at the far end before jetting back to Melbourne on the freeway. Campgrounds were freaking $50/night for an electrified site, only because the ENTIRE country of Australia goes camping on the Easter long weekend. We quickly find out its only about $20 after high season, but still pretty much out of our price range. I figured camping would be somewhere less than $15 per night. Its the last nice weekend before winter and everyone takes advantage, similar to labour day weekend in Canada.
The towns and villages along the Great Ocean Road are very scenic, filled with coffee shops, antique stores, parks and other touristy things. Highlights included the 12 apostles: 12 limestone towers formed naturally off the coast. A few have been knocked over by the pounding, gigantic waves, but the rest are spectacular. We also saw several caves and land bridges formed by the wave action. Everywhere you look is a photo opportunity, which Trung managed to take full advantage of. Those who know Trung, know what I mean.
Faced with the grim aspect of knowhere to stay and given
that parking is illegal in the state of Victoria, Trung and I desperately spend an hour or so at a Maccas (McDonalds) just outside of Melbourne looking for a place to camp. We'd like to stay somewhere between Melbourne and Sydney but the sun is quickly crossing the sky and I don't really want to drive at night, lest running into a Kangaroo, or an equally cuddly Kuala bear. Trung eventually finds an open campground at Cathedral Mountains National Park, 300km East of Melbourne and we head away from the golden arches on our first un-planned segment of highway!
We decide to head through Melbourne on the bypass highway towards the Cathedral Mountains. We get lost temporarily but get our bearings at a gas station near Kangaroo Rest (yes, it's a city!) and just make it to the park before sundown. We quickly find out the campsite we booked was 10km up an unsealed dirt track, and it was another 2km hike in to get to the campsite. It was getting dark, we had driven into the park about 5km on a harsh dirt road (dirt, AKA unsealed roads arent allowed with our campervan) and came across a parking
lot in the bush with about 20 cars and an outhouse, so we parked the van, closed the drapes and just generally try to be quiet. We found out there's a tent-only campground about 50 feet off the parking lot in the bush. We're going to just go ahead and stay in the van tonight. No camping outside, thank you.
After a simple dinner of pasta and garlic bread cooked on our gas stove and a couple games of Vietnamese cards, its about 9:30pm and we head to bed. Yes, thats right, 9:30am. When you wake up at sunrise because you can't feel your feet from the cold, you generally get tired early, especially when you have no electricity so no music and just cards to play and books to read. Probably for the best anyways. On several occations, we turned off the light and pretended to not be in the van as car headlights passed on the nearby road. We're a bit concerned a park ranger will find us and kick us out of the park, or worse, give us a ticket!
That evening I went outside to the washroom and to brush my teeth and was
taken by the sheer number of stars. We're in the mountains, 100's of km's away from big cities and I think every single star is visible from the mountain valley we're parked in.
In the morning there's a thick fog blanketing everything, but the sun was trying to stream through the trees ont he nearby ridge. We start driving at 6:30am, before any park rangers get a move-on, apparently.
On the 2 lane highway, crossing through mountain valleys, grasslands, gigantic rainforests and everything in-between, its a classic day for driving in Australia. After about 6 hours we enter the suburbs on Sydney. We've decided to skip Sydney on our way North and stop on our way back. However, the Pacific Highway goes right through the suburbs. Turns out Australia is worse than Canada. The cross-country highway, at times, had street lights at every corner as it went through the city, just like Canada.
Eventually we make it to the surfing city of Newcastle, a hundred km's North of Sydney. At the information kiosk, and sneaky looking old man with a twinkle in his eye tells us to head to the beach parking lots downtown and scan the
street signs. When the signs DON'T say no camping, it's perfectly legal! Perfect! Welcome to New South Wales. Forget about the street laws of Victoria, apparently here is not as 'up-tight' as Victoria, according to our Aussie Santa.
We found a pretty epic parking area, facing the beach with the public baths just down the beach. In Australia they carve the rocky shoreline into swimming pools just above the high water mark of the largest waves during high tide. When the tide comes in and there's a good wind, the waves wash over the deck of the pool and naturally circulate the water. Genius. They also have hot water showers in the change room and 24hr washrooms, so there's about a half-dozen other campers parked alongside us.
Oh, and in Newcastle, its about 25 degrees and sunny, and only goes down to about 15-20 at night. For the first time in awhile, Trung and I get a good (warm) night's sleep. The beach is great the next day and we decide to not move on, but to just chill.
Thats the end of Part I of our journey. I'm in Tazmania right now after having dropped off the
camper. We've given our passports to the Indian Consulate, so we're kind of stuck in Australia, which is why we decided to travel to Tazzie. Anyways, I'll try and write the rest while we're chilling and waiting!
There are more photos below