More Long White Cloud

The onset of the Melbourne winter made our thoughts turn once again to the possibility of sliding around on some more white stuff. After experiencing the Mount Huttdeep and reliable New Zealand snow last year, we couldn’t face the Victorian Alps, so a week on the piste at Mount Hutt was organised. This resort was conveniently situated in the Christchurch area so that skiing time was maximised. The accommodation was in Beluga Lodge at Methven, a superbly comfortable home from home, run by a homely lady who clearly loved her charming old cottage and the garden, which was a riot of pink springtime blossom. Mt Hutt is a fairly steep mountain, so there was a high proportion of intermediate and advanced runs which stretched our abilities. A certain boring old fool who ought to act his age was brought down to reality when a last day’s family “top-to-bottom” run had to be cancelled due to an attack of gout caused by too much good living!


New Broome Sweeps Clean

Broome, Cable BeachWith repatriation ineluctably approaching and our consequent need to pack in as many Oz memories as possible, our wedding anniversary was a convenient excuse to blue some frequent flier points on a week in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Broome was hot, lush, tropical and multicultural, with mangroves on one side and an enormous beach of white sand on the other. A trip to a cultured pearl farm was Boab, Prison Tree, Derbyfoolishly scheduled for the day of our anniversary and resulted in the boring old fool being stung for a pair of keshi pearl earrings (keshi pearls sometimes grow in the space left after a cultured pearl has been removed, and are thus solid nacre without any form of artificial core). We had hired a Land Cruiser 4WD and had great fun roaring round the Kimberley, with stays at Derby (pronounced as spelled, not as the British Geikie Gorge, Fitzroy Crossing, KimberleyEnglish  ‘darby’!) and Fitzroy Crossing. Between the last two we travelled on some of the notorious Gibb River Road and visited Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Geikie Gorge, all of which were hot (45°C) and gorgeous (pun intended). We only got stuck once, in a rather large puddle left after a short, heavy and unseasonable rainstorm, but managed to rock it out in reverse.






Jamie Seeks Pastures New

We had to disencumber ourselves of Jamie the Jayco camper trailer before the Christmas holidays, so that lots of people would want him. I sold him for $50 more than I paid, even before he appeared in the paper. We were sad to see him go, but he went to a good home with a nice V8  Land Rover Discovery to pull him along. He enabled us to see lots of Oz we wouldn’t otherwise have seen.


Improperly Dressed at Mornington

We had to attend the Jayco club Christmas rally without a caravan, thus we suffered the indignity of staying in an on-site unit. We gave the club a small farewell token: a folk-art plaque of Australian wildflowers by Christine, bearing the Jayco logo in sterling silver by me. This was well received and there were many genuine expressions of regret that we were leaving the club, which left us feeling quite touched.


Go West, old fool!

So what to do for the “works fortnight” at Christmas? Without Jamie the Jayco, nothing really appealed. We wanted to “do” Perth as it was the only state capital we hadn’t seen, but we had run out of frequent flier points; in any case WA is very spread out and a car is essential to see anything other than the city. So, despite the vast distances involved, the idea slowly gelled that, with two drivers, we could drive there in the Commodore, which was still barely run-in. We talked to some who had braved the Nullarbor Plain; no-one said it was impossible. So we packed the car with emergency camping gear and sneaked off at lunchtime on the Friday before Christmas. That evening saw us just out of Victoria and into South Australia at a motel in a town bearing the inspired name of “Bordertown”.



The next day peeled off a thousand kilometres through Adelaide (been there, done that!), through Port Augusta at the tip of the Spencer Gulf and finally to Ceduna. As (by now) accomplished users of caravan park on-site units, we found a nice one and settled down to a self-congratulatory nosh of delicious, fresh-cooked whiting (the fish speciality of the area) and chips, washed down with copious draughts of well-deserved amber nectar.



Ceduna is the last town of any size before the Nullarbor, so next day we hit the road, passing the signs advising trepid travellers of the ongoing lack of water and the potential incidence of wandering and suicidal camels, kangaroos and wombats. Nullarbor PlainThe Nullarbor Plain is appropriately named; there are vast, flat tracts with “null arbors” (= no trees, gerrit?). However although boring, one couldn’t call it monotonous, there are many subtle changes of vegetation and some spectacular views where the Great Australian Bight nibbles at the edge of the uplifted limestone slab that forms the Plain. Thanks to an indispensable contribution from the co-driver, over 1300 kms rolled under the bonnet that day, seeing us to Norseman in Western Australia (the town was named after a horse who fortuitously turned over a gold nugget with its hoof!). For the first time I realised the potential distances that can be travelled by two determined drivers operating in two-hour shifts. The road was metalled if somewhat narrow in places, the principal dangers being passing 40 metre road trains and avoiding local fauna. Since we had rapidly passed through two time zones on our East-West trek the day was artificially extended but the body clock was three hours adrift and still on Melbourne time. This is the first time I’ve suffered jet lag in a car journey! We overnighted in a unit at the Gateway Caravan Park and ate a pathetically inadequate buffet meal in the neighbouring motel.



Next day only demanded a couple of hundred kms down to Esperance where we had meant to spend Bay of Isles, EsperanceChristmas, however as we were ahead of schedule we decided just to overnight and leave the honour of Christmas to Albany. Once again we found an on-site park unit at Croker’s Caravan Park (which inevitably had a theme of frogs and other croaking amphibia - the manager’s office was Toad Hall!) and booked ahead to ensure that we had accommodation for Christmas. We had a look around Esperance, doing some shopping, taking in the tourist drive round the coast, looking at the view of the isles that formed the ‘Bay of Isles’ and at the Pink Lake which was more of a rosy grey.



On Christmas Eve we put another 500 kms on the long-suffering odometer, which was now showing some 3,500 kms from Melbourne. At Albany we had a proper caravan in the Mt Melville Caravan Park, one of the big old-fashioned ones with Australian Art Nouveau styling, which had been refurbished inside and was thus well appointed. On Christmas day we went exploring, climbing Mount Melville for the flower-bedecked scenic walk with a view of the city, then a walk along Middleton Beach to Emu Point (saw no emus). The afternoon was partly cloudy and a fresh sea breeze made this the only day which wasn’t hot in what turned out to be a fortnight of hot weather. I kept warm over a hot kettle-barbie, concocting the hickory-smoked chook which was to be our Christmas dinner.



We found this sinful relaxation of over two nights in the same place quite congenial, so we moved on through impressive forests of Jarrah and Karri to yet another unit in the Mr Marron caravan park at Collie (the marron isn’t an Australian chestnut, it’s WA’s yabbie, a freshwater crustacean). Collie is a small village at the centre of WA’s historic coalfields which promised museums and industrial memorabilia. However these were closed, so we shopped, had a look at the Harris Dam/Reservoir and took the scenic drive along the local creek before dinner, washed down with a few tinnies. Darling Scarp, BunburyNext day we drove down the Darling Scarp with its fine views of Bunbury to the town itself which proved not a town full of kiss-me-quick trippers from Perth as I was expecting, but quite a pleasant and relaxed little place with some ‘wedding cake’ hotels, all pastel colours and lacy ironwork. I donned the bathers for the obligatory dip in the Indian Oggin, the sand was fine, white and hot, the sea was all shades of turquoise but surprisingly cool, with one king wave in every ten to knock you flat then leave you blowing like a stranded whale in the shallows. Back to Collie, where the museum was still closed, for dinner and a few more cool tubes of Emu Export and a sleep before moving on next day, leaving Collie immeasurably enriched by one of Christine’s best towels which some absent-minded old fool left on the washing line.



So at last we made Perth, with over 4,000 kms on the clock. Our chosen park in the Northern Suburbs had no spare units, Peter and I wanted to use the tent but this was firmly (and, in retrospect, sensibly) vetoed by ‘er indoors who said the no way was she going to sit outside being eaten alive by flying, buzzing and stinging things. No worries, we found another park up the road at Kingsway, with a super two-bedroomed unit. That afternoon we had a look at Hillary’s Boat Harbour, featuring a marina, aquarium and shopping plaza which were built to impress the Yanks attending the America’s Cup races. The aquarium featured an impressive display of aerial acrobatics by an eager-to-please trio of dolphins. Next day was spent “doing” Perth and Fremantle. Kings Park, PerthThere is no way anybody can get anything other than a superficial impression of a major city in that time; we took the tourist tram, sneered at it because it had rubber wheels and a petrol engine (not authentic like Melbourne’s trams!), but at least it took us to the tourist vantage points, such as Kings Park. This afforded a magnificent view of the skyscrapers of the CBD dipping their toes in the azure blue harbour, across which yachts scudded in the cooling sea breeze. We wandered around the shopping malls, we drove down the freeway into Fremantle (the Doctor was out), then back up the coast road to our base. Everywhere was light, airy, spacious, relaxed, and friendly; many of the accents betrayed Pommie origins. We loved it and decided that if Jindalee had been based in Perth it would have taken dynamite to get us out and back to Blighty!

Next day (yes folks, we had a whole three continuous nights without travelling!) we went on the obligatory quokka hunt to Rottnest Island (or “Rotto” as the locals would have it!). Rottnest Island, PerthConveniently a fast ferry left Hillary’s harbour, arriving at lunchtime. After a long wait for something to eat we wobbled off on three hired bicycles; I was chuffed to be able to see and video a couple of quokkas in the first hundred yards or so. Apparently this isn’t too difficult since, with no natural enemies, there are over 10,000 of these diminutive marsupials on the island (it was called ‘Rottnest’ by a stupid Dutchman who couldn’t tell the difference between rats and quokkas!). After a mile or two Peter and I cooled down with a swim in beautiful blue water at a lovely white beach; I lay back and floated and wondered if this would be the last Australian beach from which I would swim. That night there was a degree of saddle soreness and aching muscles amongst those grandparents who are unaccustomed to bicycles, but some Emu Export embrocation internally applied from a freshly-cracked tinny soon relieved the symptoms.



Having reached our target, we now started on our home journey, getting up at the crack of emus and spending the morning driving the 600 kms through Coolgardie, then to Kalgoorlie. Coolgardie was typical of so many gold rush towns, having had a brief spell of enormous growth due to the discovery of alluvial gold, only to fizzle out into a virtual ghost town when the gold ran out. It had some magnificent but inappropriately sized civil buildings and very wide streets so that the camel trains could turn round. Kalgoorlie, Federal hotelBut alluvial gold had to be washed down from somewhere and a Paddy called Hannan found the source at Kalgoorlie, and it’s still there and is still being extracted, not by men with pick and shovel but by enormous face cutting machines and earth movers in a vast crater called the Superpit. Like holes in cheese, the old workings pockmark the sides of the crater. The massive machinery still only produces a tiny volume of gold compared with the volume of spoil, the record for a day’s work being just a few bars. No wonder gold’s still a precious metal!

We actually stayed in Kalgoorlie’s ‘siamese twin’ town, Boulder, but both had more of the impressive civil buildings and wedding cake hotels, except that these were living and working towns, so some of the hotels were only facades for such places as chinese take-aways.



After another early start on New Year’s Eve, we set off through Norseman once more, and then across the big plain to the eponymous Nullarbor Motel where we watched a superb sunset over the Bight and had a surprisingly good and inexpensive dinner served by a deaf comedian waiter. 90 mile straight, Nullarbor PlainHaving seen it all before, the only excitement on the road was the sight of about half a dozen dead camels by the roadside. By now we were well accustomed to the thousands of piles of furry kangaroo jam on the highway and assumed that an errant herd of camels had been swiped by a road train. But the till jockey at the next golden motion lotion station said that they had apparently been shot. Further on we passed a young Robyn Davidson-emulating girl, making “Tracks” across the plain with a train of six camels. Maybe these were attacked by aggressive feral males which had to be shot - or maybe just a trigger happy hunter after a few jars on New Years Eve?


Flinders Ranges

Wilpena Pound is a famous geological feature in the Flinders Ranges which I had long wanted to see. So we left Nullarbor in the light of a cool and misty dawn, had a quick look at Port Augusta (not impressed) and made the diversion of 120 kms or so from the Eyre highway, up through the charming town of Quorn and magnificent scenery to a cabin in Rawnsley Park, nestling at the foot of Wilpena Pound. This area is notoriously hot at this time of year, Christine sensibly stayed cuddling the egg-nishner in the cabin while Peter and I went Pound Foolish. The thing is essentially a circular escarpment with the steep edge on the outside and the gentler slopes forming a saucer-shaped depression at the centre. Access to the centre is possible via a narrow gorge eroded into the rim of the saucer. With limited time before dark (and the tinnies were calling!) we walked part way into the gorge which was a riot of birdlife, including pink and grey galahs having their evening screech. Wilpena Pound, Flinders Ranges, SAFrom the perspective of a walker the form of the mountain could only just be perceived, but the buzz of a lone aircraft showed that some lucky soul was having a view of the whole Pound as the evening shadows lengthened. Nevertheless our trip back to the cabin was enriched by a flock of emus sauntering across the road and some marvellous views of the Pound as the setting sun painted the escarpment red. An obliging ‘roo sat and also watched the view and provided foreground interest in the photographic opportunity. So snags’n’mash, the odd tinny, then veg out till dawn, which came up like thunder, as they say, providing yet another photo op.



That day we zoomed through Port Augusta and Port Pirrie and Adelaide and almost made it home. However the matchsticks propping open the eyelids kept snapping, so we ‘planned a break’ at Stawell. The Grampian’s Gate Park was chocker but the Stawell Park had room at its inn, with one of the nicest park units of all those we had rented.


Back for the Packing

We arrived home on Saturday morning, in time to shop for food and prepare for the Grace Brothers packing team who were due on Monday. Melbourne showed off with some 38°C temperatures but was back to a drizzly 13°C at the start of the week. We had a fantastic fortnight, filled with impressions that will stay with us and sustain us during the cold Pommy winters. The Commodore was a credit to GMH, it never missed a beat and used only 800 litres of juice for the 8,453 kms (at a cost of $669); this works out to some 9.5 litres/100 kms which is about 30 mpg in the old money. Not bad for a 3.8 litre V6 being pushed at some decidedly illegal speeds in the un-policed areas of the Nullarbor, while laden with camping gear which we never did get to use!


Limbo Land

From Grace the removal people we didn’t get Young Mr Grace, just Middle-Aged Mr Grace and Fat’n’Smelly Mr Grace, who spent over 2 days snatching the basic essentials of life out of our hands just before we were about to use them, then cramming all into a 30 cu.m container with very little ullage. Then we had to live with some 1930’s prison furniture, leaking washing machines and dysfunctional vacuum cleaners, all courtesy of Guest Furniture Hire, while desperately trying to sell Xtine’s Ford Laser. Then a strange period of limbo set in, which served to convince us that England really must be a better place than Australia (?).


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