Archives for February 2017

Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017 – Long Tiring Pointless Day

After getting up at 7:00, we were on the road in no time, and headed down to the Hornsby Train Station, which was only about a half hour away. Unfortunately, there was absolutely NO PARKING available, and in particular, not for a vehicle our size, so that dashed THOSE plans. We decided to head down to a park that I had read about on another campervan website in Alexandra, a neighborhood near Sydney and close to a transit station, but when we arrived there, the entire park was blocked off and apparently under construction of some kind, so that was another no go. Then we decided to take another look downtown for some kind of parking, and wasted another hour in traffic, no go once again. We gave up, and settled for a drive across the famous Harbour Bay Bridge, which wasn't in any way, shape or form very exciting. Then we decided to head to the nearest campground in the Macquarie National Park, which is nothing like any national park we have in the U.S., but it did have a nice campground where we could get electric for the night, which we'll need because it's hot and very humid, and still raining off and on. We asked about going someplace nearby to have a meal first, and it was impressed on us that there is absolutely no parking of any kind for a vehicle like that, and our only option was to walk 700 meters (nearly half a mile) to the nearest subway station, and take a ride to Chatwick, the next town over, where there were plenty of restaurants. As hungry as we were, we had no choice, though it took a long time to walk there because Hubby's legs have been giving him some pain, we think due to his poor circulation. In any event, we finally managed to get there, paid $8.20 AU in cash for two tickets to that nearest town, then walked around an outdoor shopping area until we found a Thai restaurant. We had hoped for someplace nice, but everything was just take away with just a couple of tables at best, so we settled for a table next to the kitchen and had an average meal with poor service, not even offering to refill my ice tea during the entire meal! Then they wouldn't accept my credit card, so I had to use more cash to pay for lunch. Good thing I still had a little Aussie cash left! Though now I have a bunch of coins I don't know what I'm going to do with. I had hoped to exchange all my Aussie $ for Malaysian Ringgits when we get to Kuala Lumpur, but I'm not sure I'll have enough anymore. Anyway, we left there, then while Hubby waited for me, I ran into a giant multi-level indoor mall to buy a gift for brother Jeff, then we headed to a coffee shop for a sweet before taking the train back to the campground. It had been nice during the afternoon, but when we got off the train we ran into another rainstorm, and even with an umbrella we were compelled to stop a few times to keep from getting soaked. At last we made it back to the camper, with plans to relax and read the rest of the evening, but discovered my Kindle was dead, and the TV didn't work, even though we're practically right in Sydney. We must be doing something wrong, though I've tried to reset the channels a couple of times, it's still not finding them. Oh, well, it was an opportunity to catch up on my blog! Would love to post some pictures, but unfortunately the wifi here at the campground is only good if you're sitting in the office, and frankly, I'm just too tired and cranky to even consider walking all the way over there! That's it for me, though, I'm done for the night!

Monday, Feb. 27, 2017 – Long Hard Rainy Drive Day

After some discussion yesterday and today, Hubby and I decided to try to get as close to Sydney today as possible, in hopes that we could find some way to get downtown and see the Opera House, so we made a beeline down the Pacific Coast Highway, which was a patch up of motorway, highway and small town main street the whole way. Unfortunately, it was patchy rain off and on all day, including some real gully washers that reminded me of a good south Florida summer thunderstorm. That made it a pretty tiring drive, and after a long stop at a service center that wasted almost half an hour (NEVER AGAIN, KFC!!), we finally settled on a free campsite at a rest area that was on the water, just a bit off the highway, in a place called Mooney Mooney. Not much more than a parking lot and boat launch, but it had all the modern conveniences that a camper needed, and we settled down for the night just as darkness fell. It continued to rain off and on during the night, and even with earplugs it could be heard. Not my favorite weather for travel! But we're only about an hour outside of Sydney, so we have high hopes we'll have a chance to see some sights tomorrow. We met a couple in a gas station that suggested we park in a town called Hornsby and take the train into Sydney, which sounds like a good idea. Hope that works out!

Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017 – Disappointing Day Trip to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary

After leaving our little municipal park behind, we made the hour drive to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, the place everyone said we had to go whenever I mentioned wanting to see a koala in person. Hubby was feeling the after effects of his rambunctious ride yesterday, and was a bit tired, so he mostly found places to sit down while I wandered around. We managed to see the sheep dog show (very ordinary, the sheep all knew what to expect and the dogs didn't exactly complete their tasks as ordered, plus the keeper had to discipline one dog because it had started to get in the habit of barking when the other was doing its thing) so it wasn't exactly very thrilling, or even interesting. We also went to the free flight bird show, and again, the keepers behaved as if doing a show was the last place they wanted to be, and the final big raptor that was supposed to appear never did, so it kind of ended with a thump. Unfortunately, with it being Sunday, the place was packed with screaming kids and bad parents, especially the divorced ones that you could tell were on their one day out with the kids, so it wasn't actually very enjoyable. It seemed more like a zoo than a sanctuary, and that the animals were being highly exploited, especially the koalas, just for the money. Sad to say, but that's how it felt. About mid-afternoon we finally left, and headed down to another campground we had found on Wiki-Camps about two hours south, this time a $25 place, but they had a laundry (which turned out to be free!), but no dryer, so I quickly washed several loads of laundry and put them out on the handy line. This place was a ways off the freeway, part of a mountain lodge, at the end of a dead end road, and though it catered to a younger crowd, ended up being nice and quiet. I had a short conversation with a young French guy about his tent, which was a split-level job, with the bedroom on top of his truck and the living area down below, something I'd never seen before. After a while it started to rain, so I had to run out and get the washing down before it got too wet, and fortunately the sheets had gotten dry in time, though a lot of the rest of it had to be scattered around the inside of the campervan to let it dry. Thank goodness it was a quiet spot, though, after being in a parking lot next to a train and a road last night, so no earplugs tonight!

Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 – Winery Ride near Brisbane

After an incredibly peaceful night, with perfect sleeping temperatures and a long-distance view of Brisbane to die for, we woke up long before the alarm. We had apparently crossed into a different time zone, even though Sydney and Brisbane are nearly on the same longitude, and I found out later it was because one goes into daylight savings time and the other one doesn't, apparently quite a controversial topic around here! In any event, we had a leisurely breakfast, and still headed down toward the barn by just after 8:00 local time, even though the scheduled muster was 9:00. Turns out even that was optimistic... Anyway, I finally met Daryl, who gave me a big hug and bragged to everyone around that we had driven all the from Melbourne in two days to do this ride, proving once again (in his mind) that we Yanks are a crazy bunch. Frankly, 800 miles in two days is no big deal for us, but it seems to impress some people so I let Daryl go on with it. In any event, we finally got everyone signed in and paid up, a lengthy process that took a lot longer than I thought it would, and, I'm sorry to say, Daryl charged us $30 to stay out in his pasture, which surprised me because he made it sound like a friendly invitation, not a commercial offer, and for $30AU we could have stayed in a Holiday Park with water and electric, or more likely, just gone to one of the many free camping grounds in the area, but whatever. It was a beautiful view and we enjoyed ourselves with the horses mingling around so I let it go. We finally got down to the paddock where the rest of the crowd was getting basic instructions (and by now, everyone knew about our extensive experience from Daryl, and no one was worried about our experience or credentials), and after some more milling about, we were finally assigned our horses. I was on a nice little brown horse named Dan (the Man), and Hubby got a spotted paint named Pappy. Both started out a bit unresponsive on the bit and sides, but that quickly changed once we got going, and the horses discovered we knew what we were doing. At LAST we got on the trail by about 11:15, in a long line of nose to tail single file with over twenty riders and three or four trail guides. The first 20 minutes or so was agony for us, watching people who had never ridden struggling with the most basic commands, but before long, they were dividing us into amateurs vs. experienced, and that was quite the relief! Once we divided, the ride became a whole 'nother ride. We began trotting and cantering regularly, particularly up numerous hills and dales, through woods and across the occasional field. It was wonderful! It turned out Dan loved to run, so I often held him back when the group went off the trot, until we had to canter to catch up. It was heaven! He had a great little canter, and he loved to run, passing a few other horses (though we weren't really supposed to pass, but I had no choice, of course!) There were a few sections where we had to ride along a road, but for the most part it was cross country through a lot of woods and cattle country, passing quite a few cows and calves along the way. It took over two hours to reach the winery, but it was located on a beautiful spot. They had rings and tie straps on a bunch of trees just below the restaurant, and it didn't take long to get settled in. Hubby and I got a couple of scotch ales while they served us crackers and cheese, and before long the newby group joined us, and they served up some wine for tasting as well. We had also ordered lunch as part of the morning waiver ritual, and that was eventually served as well. It was a long, leisurely lunch, with great food, great conversation, great wine and beer, and a great time was had by all! After two+ hours, we paid our respective bills and headed back down into the yard to collect our patient horses. I helped Hubby climb up (they were all on a slope, so we didn't even need a mounting block) and before long we were on our way again, with a new group leader. Evidently, they switch off with the experienced group, to make it more interesting for the guides as well. This time, we took a shorter route, beginning with a fabulous couple of canters in a partially wooded field, which was a spectacular way to start the post-lunch ride. After that, it was mostly along the roadway until we reached the edge of Daryl's property, but we did finally see a live kangaroo in the wild cross the road in front of us, yippee! He was too quick to get a picture, though. Then we all snaked down to the bottom of a long and windy hill, then again, we split up. The new young leader pointed in the distance at a great long hill and asked Hubby, do you think you would enjoy cantering up that hill? Hubby, despite earlier concerns that he needed a day off before we rode again, but who had been doing swimmingly all day, replied, "Sure!" So off we went. A few short ups and downs, and then we reached the long stretch, and away we went! Sure enough, Hubby's horse Pappy was all about reaching the top before anyone else, and he didn't stop until he climbed the whole hill. Dan, who had raced and passed everyone in front of him all day, made it about two-thirds of the way before slowing to a walk for a short distance, then he kicked it up again to make it to the top. I was so proud of Hubby! He really got the feel for the canter on this trip, and his stamina was incredible today! He was pretty proud of himself, too, as with all the ups and downs, so soon after another ride where his back ached after all the ups and downs, he didn't seem to suffer a bit. Just beyond the top of the hill was our starting paddock and the end of the ride, a fabulous end, too! Many rides just kind of peter out, but this one really had a climax to it. We got the impression they don't usually go up that hill (the horses kept trying to get through another gate at the bottom), but we think they were trying to impress us a bit. After all, if we drove all the way from Melbourne, it had better be good, right? No pressure, right? Suffice to say, it was very satisfactory, and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, with the horses, the company, the other experienced riders, the whole day. Wonderful! Once we got back to the barn, though, with only an hour left before it got dark, Hubby and I had to leave quickly. Fortunately, I found a gold-mine of a free camping area in nearby Petrie. A motorhome/caravan/campervan only rest stop, with water, a dump and all free of charge, only 25 minutes away. We headed out and was there in no time. We filled up with water, used the dump and found a nice spot under the trees. The only down side is that the park is sandwiched between a commuter rail track and a little road, though the train seems to be electric so it's pretty quiet, and the road doesn't seem too bad either. I didn't care by this point, it had gotten hot during the day and all I wanted was a cold beer, a hot shower, and few minutes and writing and reading, then off the bed. So that's exactly what I'm doing! Good night!

Friday, Feb. 24, 2017 – Drive to Brisbane in Queensland, The Sunshine State

Woke up early, no surprise, and were headed out pretty quick, as we still had a long way to go. The terrain remained flat and agricultural for the most part, until we got closer to Brisbane, then the hills once again took over. In one section, there were these enormous cacti, at least 25 feet or more tall, looking like they were just about to blossom. Would love to have seen that! Once we got near the city, we decided to look for a decent Indian restaurant for our main meal of the day, but once again, we had problems finding parking, until by some miracle, we ended up right in front of a placed called The Sultan's Kitchen, with parking at the back! We parked and wandered in, then discovered that they were only open because an Indian tour group had booked the restaurant, but they were just finishing up, so the proprietor very generously agreed to seat us anyway. He offered a bargain price for the us to have what was on the buffet, but seemed quite content when we said we'd rather order from the menu, which we did. It was a fabulous meal! He came by and conversed with us several times, and Hubby enjoyed speaking with him and answer his many questions. Afterwards, we headed up to the ranch. Daryl had very generously invited us to stay up at the property overnight, declaring that it was spectacular out on the ridge, so after some phone guidance from him (he wasn't on the premises), we eventually made our way out there to what was, indeed, a spectacular spot, overlooking Brisbane, and you could even see the ocean in the distance (apparently about where the Coral Sea and the Tasman Sea meet). We were actually in the horse pasture, so we had numerous visitors during the evening, and it was so quiet, we looked forward to an excellent night sleep, especially after the noisy night of trucks we had last night! I thought it would be a good place to see stars, but surprisingly, there was so much light spilling up from the city that they weren't really that great, but it was a great night anyway!

Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 – Long Drive Day with Stay at Bush Lagoon Park

Well, the night wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. The trucks never did settled down much, and the AC running was a bit disturbing, but we did end up getting a halfway decent night sleep. We departed just before 8 and headed straight into town to find the public dump, since oddly, the Holiday Park didn't have one, and managed to get all that done in short order, and off we went! We stayed mostly on a road called A-39, not a freeway, but it was the most direct route to Brisbane. We stopped once for a meal at McDonald's (they call them Macca's here as slang, rather than Micky D's), but they all have free wifi, so I was finally able to download a pic my brother had sent me a few days ago. I had tried in several other places, but for some reason, it just refused to download, but finally I got it, pictures of my horses from the rump side, to prove they're not starving (as if I thought they were :-). Most of the day was devoted to going through miles and miles of flat agricultural fields, though we weren't sure exactly what was in the fields. Some had obviously been recently harvested, looked like it might have been wheat, but I have to say, these fields were are extensive as anything we've seen in Iowa or Kansas or Nebraska. They stretched on so far that the windbreak of trees faded off into the horizon, buried in a mirage lake, until the curvature of the earth literally made them disappear. How far they went on I have no idea, but they were incredible. Not much corn, but I think wheat and barley and perhaps hops, even cotton in one area. Almost had sheep withdrawal today, but did finally pass several fields of sheep, so I did get my sheep fix. Don't know what I'm going to do when I get home. There was also a stretch where there was a very interesting cactus tree that grew about 20-25 feet high, even 30 feet in a few cases. Beautiful, and looked ready to bloom, would love to have seen that! We finally reached the area where we had found a campground from Wikicamps, which has been an invaluable resource, but this time it was a bit shaky on information. We looked for Bush Lagoon, but there were no signs, and we passed it. We came back and found a turnoff that had to be it, but it was little more than a sandy area around a drying pond, though there were lots of tracks and scat around, and I had hopes of maybe seeing some kangaroos or koalas or wombats in the wild. I put out some old french fries, but that didn't help. Oh, well, I seemed condemned to only see kangaroos as road kill, darn it. I'll keep looking though! Because we were so far out in the boonies, though, the stars were incredible! We even found the Southern Cross just by looking out the windows of the van, plus there were more stars than I can remember seeing in a long time painting the sky. We had hopes that the trucks on this busy highway would diminish during the night, but it didn't slow down too much, and we had traffic passing most of the night. But it was free, and the stars were great! Can't have everything, right?

Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017 – Rough Start, but a GREAT RIDE!

Woke up extra early, grabbed breakfast, and was ready to start rolling at about 8:00 when PHHHT! The van wouldn't start! We had no idea why, though we did see a strange fault light on yesterday that had something to do with the lights, but we thought it was just because a bulb was faulty or something, at least according to the flaky manual that comes with this thing. Everything's reversed on it, so we had a heck of a time even finding the battery! Not under the hood, as you would expect, but rather, under the passenger seat (though the manual said under the driver's seat). Naturally, we had no jumpers, but fortunately for us, our neighbors at the campground was well equipped, though I had to rouse them out of bed to give us a hand. They very generously helped us with a jump, and even though he seemed like a very handy guy, even he was stumped when it came to finding the battery. According to most of the paperwork, it appeared that this unit should have an auxiliary battery under the hood, but we never found it, so we're guessing that there is no auxiliary battery, and the main battery doesn't have a controller on it to stop it from discharging beyond the start voltage, yada, yada, yada, but we really have no clue. Anyway, a quick jump and we were off and running! Thanks, neighbors! We headed out to Mount Stirling, and arrived just a little after our scheduled time, though Sally, our guide, had called to confirm we were on our way and knew we were a bit late. We arrived at the designated meeting point, and in no time, got all the requisite paperwork, helmet and horse assignments. Today, I had a buckskin mare named Arrow, and Hubby a sorrel gelding named George. Sally was on a brown horse, and pony-ed a gray pack horse carrying lunch, and was also an extra, "just in case." That was the first time THAT had happened since we've been on the road! Anyway, it wasn't long before we were up in our Aussie saddles and heading up the dirt road, which soon turned to dirt track, and before too much longer, was honest-to-God trail! All uphill at first, with absolutely gorgeous trees along the way. Apparently this area is a HUGE alpine skiing resort in the winter, but in the summer it's only used by a handful of hikers and horseman, so it was very quiet. We really only ran into some 4X4 guys all day, and a couple of folks at Craig's Hut, the lunchtime destination point. The ride was marvelous! The horses were the best we've seen since our start, extremely responsive to both hand and foot, yet felt totally safe and well-broken. Really wonderful to ride! We had no issues with irregular strides, and they all rode just beautifully. We climbed for a long time until we reached The Summit, where the 360 degree view was absolutely stunning. Sally pointed out some landmarks, including where they filmed certain scenes from The Man From Snowy River, and we gawked for quite a while, until the cold breeze finally chased us down the other side of the mountain, out of it's chilling grasp. We continued downward, then upward again, from private resort land to the Mansfield State Forest, where we eventually arrived at the afore-mentioned Craig's Hut, with it's origin in the movie. The original film version quickly deteriorated, so the local shire decided to rebuild it to stay, then that burned down during a big fire in the last decade, until they rebuilt it in a new and safer location, where we were having lunch. "Huts" in general seem to be something of a mainstay here, like the line shack of the old Wild West in the U.S. There are quite a number staged around the area, with supplies and firewood to last a lost hiker or skier for quite some time. We passed half a dozen during the ride, including an outhouse known as the "loo with a view," because, it did, in fact, have a magnificent view on the overlook. Anyway, we had a lovely lunch near the famous Craig's Hut before heading back down a different trail back to the parking area. The ride was much longer than our other "day ride" and exactly what we were looking for, but in the end it was about a half hour too long for Hubby, whose back was starting to hurt from all the downhill pressure. Nevertheless, we made it out just fine, and very appreciative of the good care Sally took of us and the horses. We soon hopped into the campervan and headed out to our next adventure, stopping at an IGA for a few groceries, then headed north. Hubby felt we needed to get into a holiday park with electric to recharge the battery, so we found one a little after 7, and for the first time since we've been in Australia, I cooked a meal and we settled down for the night, albeit later than we hoped, though with no dump and no wifi as advertised, unfortunately. And for the first time, we wanted to be not FREEZING! Temps went up every mile as we headed north, rising from 22 degrees C in Manfield to nearly 35 degrees by the time we got to the park, and we actually had to put the AC on for the night! It didn't matter, though, we were determined to get a good night sleep, though we were right by the highway and the truck traffic seemed rather heavy, so we'll see.

Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017 – Drive to Mansfield and Computer Work

Got up early again, this time heading to Mansfield, with a purpose. We had arranged to go riding nearby tomorrow, and we arrived in town fairly early. We learned the Mansfield Hotel had a restaurant and bar that had wifi, so we headed in for lunch. I had a bunch of logistical work to do, cancelling and making reservations in Malaysia after our big change of vacation plans, and the wifi was slow, so it took me most of the afternoon to manage. Finally we headed out to another free campsite in a State Park called Mt. Samaria, to a nice little site near a creek, with a couple of other campers. As we had eaten early at the hotel, we weren't terribly hungry, so we settled in early for the night, with the alarm on for extra early as we had a nearly 45 minute drive to where our day-long ride would start tomorrow.

Monday, Feb. 20, 2017 – Drive Along Great Coast Road-Twelve Apostles

Once again up with the alarm and on the road by 8:00, continuing to gasp in awe at the beauty of this Great Coast Highway. Apparently it was dedicated to the soldiers and sailors of The Great War, and built during the 20's and 30's, a remarkable engineering feat, without a doubt. Again, stunning all along the way. We stopped at a small animal, self-sustaining sanctuary shortly before we reached the 12 Apostles, because I wanted to get up close with as many Australian animals as we could. No Koalas, but we did get to pet some kangaroos, see some dingoes, and get close to a bunch of other birds and mammals. Plus I got my sheep fix! Every since we left New Zealand, where literally you couldn't drive for 15 minutes without passing flocks of sheep, I've been going through sheep withdrawal! Today, we managed to see sheep a couple of times, both in the sanctuary and along the road, so I've got my sheep fix for the day. Anyway, after we spent an hour walking around the 40 acres site, we bought a couple of cups of coffee and muffins and back on the road we went! We stopped at the 12 Apostles visitor center and walked down to the first lookout, then Hubby stayed behind while I walked the rest of the way, taking some incredible pictures of this remarkable phenomena, large sections of limestone have been washed away from sections of land, leaving free standing monuments of real estate. Amazing! We then made our way west along the coast, stopping at a whole series of these natural monuments, with names like The Arch, the Grotto, and London Bridge. In Port Campbell we stopped at the visitor center, where, unlike the national park center, we found some maps, and a lot of information about a famous shipwreck that happened in these parts back in 1878. Nearly 80 people on board, and only 2 survivors, only 4 bodies found, the rest washed out to sea. Was glad we finally got some information, we were surprised at how little is provided at the sites themselves. Hardly anything on how the erosion phenomenon occurred, almost nothing about the local flora and fauna, other than a few vague references to how hard it is for a few creatures to live on the harsh conditions of the coast, and an unkempt cemetery that's been mostly tarred over as a walkway, while the graves themselves are overgrown. Kind of sad, really. Anyway, after going as far as the Grotto, where I jumped a rock wall so that I could actually put my hand in the water, the Southern Ocean I soon learned, along with young man who wanted to get a couple of rocks for his turtle pen, Hubby and I headed out again. Having decided that we didn't have time to get all the way to Adelaide and still do all the things we wanted, we headed back to Port Campbell where we filled up on food and fuel, then north to another free campsite north of Ballarat in a regional park in Cresswick, passing through much more rural areas with lots of cattle and sheep (really got my sheep fix at the end of the day!), and settling into the woods early, by 6:30 tonight. No need for dinner! Just going to be early, reading, and will be up again in the morning!

Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017 – Start of Great Coast Road-Overnight on Cliff Above Road

Got up with the alarm this morning, as we anticipate a long drive today. Not sure how far, we're going, but we sort of have a plan to head along the Great Coast Road, apparently one of the most scenic routes in Australia, on our way to a place called the 12 Apostles, the equivalent of desert hoodoos, but along the shore of the Southern Ocean between the towns of Princeton and Port Campbell. What a gorgeous road! After driving through more beautiful countryside and forests, we turned out toward the Coast Road, and soon we were weaving along on a road reminiscent of 101 in California, a road literally cut into the side of a cliff, for miles and miles and miles! There were a number of cute little beachside towns along the way, but the road always went back to hanging just off the side of the cliff, which, being on the left side of the road, was the closest to the drop-off into the sea. Fantastic! After miles and miles of that kind of driving, and a stop in a little town for a fish and chips lunch, and later groceries, we found another free campsite (thanks Wiki-Camp Australia!) that literally was just above the Coast Road. So many camping areas are entirely unmarked, absolutely no signage, especially for the free ones, so if you didn't know it was there, you would drive right by. We turned onto a gravel road by a creek that immediately started climbing upwards, but not so dramatically that our rig didn't make it. There were several turnouts along the way, including one that actually overlooked the beach (that was already taken, darn it!), but we found an available spot near the top (there weren't many!) and settled in for the night, listening the distant surf pounding the beach below us. Fantastic!