Aussie walkabouts
  • Day166

    Regrouping

    March 25 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    Wednesday 25. No flights, poor communication, what to do? Trying to get the news and research alternate flights was proving impossible on 3G. Even sitting outside the information centre to use their public WiFi was not helping. Time for a move.

    We decided to ask Kerry &John if we could go back to Macedon to get things together.

    On the way we dropped off at Carole’s, Bun’s sister, to have some lunch and to say goodbye. We walked the 4 miles around the lake in Ballarat that was used for the rowing competitions when the olympics were held in Melbourne (1956).

    We then drove on to Macedon to try to get through to the travel agent and find out what’s going on.

    On Wednesday evening were advised by our travel agent to register with the British Consulate for “rescue flights“ as there are now none available.

    Kerry has worked with Quantas all her working life. The network of cabin crew know what’s going on, what’s flying, what’s stopped etc. Kerry found out that Quantas flights were all full up until they stop flying at the end of the month. Qatar airlines are still flying and British Airways are flying from Sydney via Singapore. Malaysian Airlines are still flying but we have had three flights cancelled so far.

    On Thursday we contacted the British High Commission to be told that they wouldn’t be doing anything yet, we could try gong to the airport to get a standby flight, to stay safe and to carry out the advice of the Australian Government. Bun pointed out that the advice was not to go to airports etc. We researched available flights, BA looks the best for us. Some airlines appear to be profiteering with tickets costing many thousand GBP for a one way, economy ticket. We thought that we’d give the travel agent one last chance and phoned them on Friday evening (UK 8am) and told them we felt abandoned, that they weren’t supporting us etc. We were told that they couldn’t do anything if airlines didn’t release seats to them la la la. We booked flights directly with BA for Sat 11 April.

    On Thursday we arranged to move to an AirBnB at Riddles Creek, about 10 miles away, from Friday, despite having received a number of offers to use houses or stay with Kerry and John. However attractive the offers are, we don’t feel we can have anyone move out of their house just so that we can move in. We also feel that Kerry and John have been incredibly kind and accommodating; dropping by “for a cuppa” has actually been 4 stays for a couple of nights or so. We see them as a “fall back” option and it’s no longer fall back if we are staying there. What would we then have for plan B?

    Having done all of this, there are a lot of discussions starting in Australia about another phase of travel restrictions. Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania unilaterally shut their inter-state borders. We were in Victoria and need to get to Sydney in NSW. Travelling to NSW is further complicated by the fact that our rental car has to be returned to Melbourne and we are not allowed to have a drop-off out of state. not allowed to go inter-state.

    What to do?
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  • Day165

    A day in the central Grampians

    March 24 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 15 °C

    Stiff legs so decided to do the self-guided driving tour of the central Grampians. We never reached the 21C with temperatures staying around 13C. Out of the sun and in the southerly wind (off the Antarctic) it was chilly.

    Boroka Lookout
    Reed Lookout
    The Balconies
    Mackenzie Falls Lookout and falls walk
    Zurmsteins

    The first three are simply lookouts that are reached after a short walk from a car park. At The Balconies we spent some time talking to a couple from Holland who were hoping to fly back on Saturday but still lots of uncertainty. There was also someone who was taking drone footage to give people shut at home, a virtual tour of the Grampians. I guess there will be a boom in social media content attempting to find solutions for people in lockdown.

    Mackenzie Falls Lookout and falls walk was one of the better falls we have been to, at least there was water there. The falls walk descends 110m, 280 steps, to the bottom of the falls, signs make certain that you realise how challenging this will be, but the walk was worth it.

    Zurmsteins was a strange place. It was the family home of Walter Zumstein and his wife Jean and became one of Australia's first holiday retreats. They moved in after WWI. Walter was a professional beekeeper and they decided to supplement their modest income by establishing a small 'tourist retreat. They dug a swimming pool by hand, it took 5 rears! The earth removed from the pool was used to build three pisé, or rammed earth cottages for holiday makers. The couple left their home to the country so that people could continue to camp there. It was shut in 1994 amid fear that the crowded site was polluting the river.

    Today we saw wild deer, the first we’ve seen since we have been here, so thrilled.

    Not sure what the next few days will hold for us. Flights are being cancelled, rescheduled and then cancelled. We now don’t have flights home 😡
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  • Day164

    The Pinnacle

    March 23 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    What a lovely day we’ve had. We decided to do a reasonable walk up to the pinnacle lookout - walk 2c “Wonderland Loop, ... suitable for fit and energetic walkers” sounds like us. 9.6km, 400m elevation change, grade 4 (whatever that means) and time 4-5hrs. We decided upon this as it takes in a number different sites and routes along the way. We walked 5.84 miles and ascended 1651 ft.

    We set off at 10:15, although we were promised 20C, we woke to 8C and it didn’t feel much warmer. We started with too few clothes on but quickly found we had too many 🥵

    First stop Venus Baths where the creek opens into pools where we could have washed our feet, but a bit early in the walk for that. On to Splitters Falls which would have looked better had there been water coming down them and had there not been three young peeps climbing down them while shouting to one another. Am I getting old?

    The Grand Canyon was lovely, maybe 30-40m deep and a few hundred meters long scrambling across boulders but also with steps at some points. Back onto a path ton Bridal Veil Falls, we knew we’d arrived because a sign said so, again better after some rain because the falls didn’t really exist.

    One of the best parts was Silent Street, a long narrow gully to walk along and climb up some stepson the end through a very narrow entrance/exit that wasn’t easy with a small backpack on.

    A bit more of a climb and we reached the Pinnacle Lookout. The lookout goes out over a rock that sticks out. The view from it is stunning. OK, the view from terra firma behind the lookout was spectacular. The view from 90% along the lookout was utterly terrifying. The drop was probably 200-300m and the lookout is set on a rock that protrudes out and is an overhang. I would have probably made it to the end had I not stepped on a wobbly step.

    We ate our lunch resting against some rocks that shielded us from the cold southerly wind but kept us in the sunshine. Along the route we’d stopped for a drink and a handful of nuts and also made friends with a carrawong (crow-like bird with stunning yellow eyes) that liked eating our peanuts. We took several videos of him flapping up to catch a nut in mid-air. During lunch we found ourselves very popular with wrens, ravens and carrawongs again. In total we took just less the 20 videos. I’ve titled the last one “Crow-vid19” 😂

    While the walk up to the Pinnacle was one of the best that I have been on, challenging without being too daunting with varied paths and scenery, the path going down was not so pleasurable. It started by descending along the ridge line, ie walking with the shear drop on one side, down a rocky gully, through a stringybark forest and all the time the path was close to the edge or walking towards the edge of the drop.

    When we arrived back at the cabin we walked around the now deserted town. Australia has forced most social places to gather, non-essential shops, businesses, pubs, restaurants cafes (unless doing takeaway) places of worship etc. What was a buzzing town yesterday was empty today. The only shop open was an ice cream parlour, so we had an ice cream cone and shared it with some sulphur crested cockatoos!

    As Australia shuts everything down and everyone’s being told to stay at home, we are wondering how long it will be before we need to stop travelling? While we believe we are being safe, as we see very few people, we walk in their national parks etc, I think it may become socially unacceptable to continue for too much longer. We will see.

    Our flights next week have now been cancelled, all part of the adventure.
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  • Day161

    The Grampians

    March 20 in Australia ⋅ ☁️ 16 °C

    We have spent a few days with relatives and we are now back on the road.

    Things have changed a great deal in a few days. We feel slightly removed from the whole event as we are not getting bombarded by constant messages about Covid19. Our niece, who has decided to quarantine her family, doesn’t think we are taking it seriously enough. Towns we travel through are certainly quieter. Campsites all have sites and cabins available. Different states are now going it alone with two states shutting their borders and others shutting schools which is against the federal government advice.

    In a few days time, if we continue to travel around, we may start feeling like social outcasts.

    I went out with Dale to deliver some straw, it’s the first time I’ve driven in a large lorry “King of the road”.

    Anyway, we are now in the Grampians and managed to get some washing done ✅. We are planning so spend a couple of days walking around this national park. There is hope that the weather will improve, having dropped from the 38C of last week.
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  • Day159

    The Murray Darling Confluence

    March 18 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 33 °C

    A full day started with a trip along the Murray River at Mildura in an old paddle steamer, the PS Melbourne. The steamer was built in 1912. The engine sits in the centre of the boat and chugs very slowly driving both paddles. It was a very leisurely cruise on a glorious day.

    We went on to the local information centre to identify where best to view the confluence and learn of other points of interest.

    Lunch in the local pub that has a tractor next to the bar, a visit to the pioneer museum, a look around the old gaol, up the observation towers to view the confluence, on to the lock, up to the desert to see God’s Tree - a 500 year old gum tree that constantly has sand build up around it so that only the canopy shows - and it’s a big canopy, and lastly the tractor up a pole.

    The grey Ferguson T20 tractors hold a special place in the hearts of the locals. The Murray and the Darling drain different areas of Australia, collectively 1/7 of the land mass of Aus’ and 70% of the agriculture of Australia. It was believed that the two rivers would not both flood at the same time. In 1956 they did. It took time for the waters to flow to Wentworth, during which time all available workers came with their tractors to build a levy to protect the time. After weeks of 24hr working the levies protected the town. There is a tractor in the hotel and one up a pole!
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  • Day158

    Silo Trail (road trip - no safety net!)

    March 17 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    The destination we are aiming for is Mildura and Wentworth. This is where the Darling and Murray Rivers come together and is a great sight, so we have been told. It’s about 500km so what to do on the journey?

    Old silos, approx 45m high, have been painted and become a bit of a tourist attraction. One area has created a soli trail that is almost the same route as we would take if going directly, so off we set.

    Many (all?) of the portraits are of local people.

    As the end of the first day (Monday) approached it was strange not to have the safety net of Bertha. We couldn’t simply pull off and camp ... we we could, but that would have been miserable. We stayed and ate a hotel that had some additional cabins, quite small but perfectly adequate.

    On the Tuesday night we’d arrived at Mildura and booked a small self-contained cottage for two nights to enable us to explore the area.

    The journey took us from the sheep area, through the wheat belt where individual fields were huge, over 100 acres. The land was flat and dusty, the temperature in the mid30s and hardly a cloud in the sky, just as we like it.

    Unfortunately, we also came across swarms of flies. No sooner did we get out of the car and they were all around us, eyes, nose, mouth, ears; awful. When we returned to the car a number would always manage to get in. The only way to get them out was to drive with all of the windows open to try and suck them out. If we’d been in Bertha, they’d have all gone down the back and been sat around the table having a party.
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  • Day155

    Goodbye Bertha

    March 14 in Australia ⋅ 🌙 29 °C

    On Friday we drove back to Macedon through Melbourne. The Grand Prix is due to be racing this weekend but we drove past a large sign saying that it was cancelled. Life changes so fast.

    We stopped off and washed Bertha and then on Saturday we drove to Tallarook to meet Allan and Gaye. We found a cafe where we could park outside and look obvious, then went inside for a coffee. Allan and Gaye turned up a few minutes later so we went to hand over Bertha.

    The bank transfer took a bit of time because there is usually a $5,000 maximum for these transfers, but Gaye had been into the bank and increased it to 30,000. Unfortunately, no one had told her online banking. After 30 mins the transaction went through, but will take a few days to show up in Bun’s brother’s bank acc. We take some pictures and let them go on their way.

    Kerry arrived to drive us back to Macedon. Next task is to rent a car.

    We booked a Hyundai i30 for collection on Sunday with the intention of setting off again on Monday morning. When we arrived to collect the car we were told that it hadn’t returned yet, but should be back at “any time”. Another walk and cup of coffee and two hours later we drive off.

    We feel distinctly vulnerable in a small car. Yes it may be an automatic, have good a/c and cruise control, but we are about 3ft lower than we were in Bertha. The large road trains appear massive as they come towards us. Somehow, this isn’t a road trip in a small Korean car, should have booked the convertible Ford Mustang.
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  • Day153

    Agnes Falls and our last night in Bertha

    March 12 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    The deposit for Bertha has come through and we meet on Saturday to hand her over. Time has flown by so fast.

    We set off for Agnes Falls, but decided to stop at Squeaky Beach for a paddle as the weather was warmer than yesterday. Squeaky Beach is named becuase the sand squeaks when you walk on it. It’s also a great beach to learn to surf at. The poster showing a fisherman being swept away does highlight a big problem here. Some popular places have hooks bolted into the rock so that fishermen (and women) can secure themselves against being swept off by unexpected freak wave. Quite often it is tourists who disappear.

    Over the past two days we’ve become aware of horse flies the size of bumble bees. They stealthily land, bite and suck blood. The bite is really painful so the fly doesn’t get much chance to suck and is usually punished with death. The resulting welt remains swollen and itchy long after the bite. The number of these bombers swarming around us on the beach was sufficient to curtail our paddle and head off to Agnes Falls.

    Agnes falls was probably one of the highest falls (At 59 metres, Agnes Falls are the highest single span falls in Victoria.) we have seen, but, because the waters falls in a number of stages, maybe not the most spectacular. It was difficult to see the entire falls as there isn’t a good viewing platform, but it was worth the detour to see it.

    We decided to camp at Corinella where there is a campsite on the foreshore so we should be able to see the sun go down over the sea. On the way we stopped at Loch, famous for its pedestrian suspension bridge. We stopped and marched across it and then back again and then drove on; maybe not the most memorable stops on our holiday.

    The campsite is very small, only 4 sites and we are the only ones here .... except the “permanents”. We look over the bay and can see the pier in front of us. The boat ramp is just along the waterfront and a steady flow of boat trailers go down to collect boats, we hope it won’t be a too early start when they return in the morning.
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  • Day152

    Wilson’s Promontory

    March 11 in Australia ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    The day after going around Philip Island was spent gently travelling down to Wilson’s Prom’. Most of WP is a national park “This 50,000 hectare reserve is threaded with a labyrinth of walking tracks that showcase all manner of magical realms sheltering abundant wildlife.”. While there is a range of accommodation available, there are very few sites that offer power, so we would be free camping for a couple of nights.

    On the journey we stopped at Venus Bay because someone had said it was lovely, maybe it would have beenif the temperature was above freezing. When we pulled over to check directions, someone wandered over and started telling me about the difficulty he was having with his small refuse lorry. He reckoned that, if Bun and I pushed it, he could bump start it. Bun and I managed to push it maybe six inches before giving up ... it was a small refuse lorry! A few seconds later a bloke walks along and was persuaded to help. We managed to push it fast enough to bump start. I didn’t think diesels could be bump started. We wondered whether we had just been filmed for an Aussie equivalent to “you’ve been framed”.

    Along the road, just before the campsite we saw our first wild wombat that ran across in front of us!

    We arrived and found a sheltered site in amongst the bushland just behind the low dunes that run behind the beach. That evening we walked along the river boardwalk and planned where we would walk the following day (Wednesday).

    Having heard that wombats were in the area, we went for a walk after dinner and came across another couple, but it was too dark to photograph them. Nonetheless, Bun was very happy.

    We planned to walk from the campsite up to Mount Bishop, 354m above sea level. The day was beautiful and warm as it had been before we reached the state of Victoria, it was so good to be back in shorts and t-shirt. The path was extremely well maintained and a gradual incline for most of the way. We hadn’t set off until 11 and then immediately stopped for a coffee at the main campsite building. We arrived at the top at about 1:00. There were lots of people queuing to take pictures, we waited, took ours and then walked back to a big, smooth rock outcrop to sit and have lunch. On the walk down we detoured to take in a boardwalk sand wildlife walk where we saw a snake, probably 2 ft, later to find it was a tiger snake with potentially fatal bite, but still really exciting, only our third snake in the wild.

    Rather than walking back to camp we walked up over a headland to pillar point and then back to camp arriving at about 5pm.

    That evening Bun went on another wombat hunt, but earlier so that she could take photos. She saw six wombats in the wild, so lucky and so excited.

    We slept well after our walk.
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  • Day150

    Philip Island

    March 9 in Australia ⋅ ⛅ 18 °C

    Bun has been to PI years ago and remembers watching the Fairy Penguins 🐧 walking up the beach onto the sand dunes where they nest. Forty five years later we will see what’s changed.

    Pelican feeding takes place at Sam Remo, just before the bridge to the island. Compared to the pelican crossing at The Entrance, where there were maybe over fifty pelicans, there were nine today. Pelicans are such strange birds it’s lovely to watch them.

    On to the koala sanctuary that is different from the others we have been to. The koalas live in as close to their natural environment as possible and boardwalks allow visitors to walk in amongst the trees giving a better view of the koalas. It was good.

    Just off Philip Island is a smaller island called Churchill Island that has become a heritage farm with displays of milking cows, shearing sheep, sheep dogs working etc. It has some of the oldies buildings in the area that have been preserved and kept as houses and barns from the mid-late 1800s.

    The names of towns on Philip Island are the same as on the Isle of White. The main town is Cowes, there is also Ventnor. Another town Rhyll.... well I’m not sure why that’s on the island. The IOW place names reminded me of the walk I did with my brothers and sister plus partners in 2018. I think that Philip Island would make a good choice for our next challenge.

    Rhyll has a boardwalk along through the mangrove swamps. When we arrived we came across a couple of the Philip Island wallabies that are different from the rest of the mainland. Unfortunately the boardwalk was shut for maintenance ☹️ so we walked as far as we could and then back through the parkland next to the estuary.

    As the bank holiday is over we are expecting an easier time getting a campsite. We drove in, looked around and took pitch No 80. I can’t imagine there were 80 pitches on the campsite, but I wasn’t going to argue. We then set off to find some dinner before going to the penguin parade.

    Fort five years ago Bun walked onto the beach at dusk and watched the penguins come out of the sea and walk up to the sand dunes. Today you have to pay to watch this natural sight. These dyes there can be between 1,000 and 4,000 spectators who all congregate in the information building before dusk “at least an hour before” were our instructions, but we were 30 mins late. Why an hour? So you buy refreshments and souvenirs. Had we known how cold it was going to b, we may have bought woolly hats and gloves, but we didn’t.

    A series of boardwalks lead the visitors to the beach and a series of bleachers either side of an entrance that the penguins would walk up. Photography is banned. The seats face south and as we looked out to sea we realised the next landfall was Antarctica. As the wind blew and the tears rolled down my face I found difficulty finding the enjoyment waiting for these 12” high penguins.

    The first four arrived in the surf, grouped together and then waddled up the beach. A few minutes later another eight gathered in the surf and hesitantly waddled up the beach. Just as they were nearing the dunes, one of them ran back to the sea meeting another group who were gathering at the edge of the surf. I don’t know what was said but they all ran back into the sea. That group of penguins started walking up the beach and then running back to the sea, each time collecting a few more to their group. Eventually they made it all the way up to the dunes. The excitement was riveting... or maybe it was the cold that kept me staring out to sea. As more penguins arrived we could hear more calls from the penguins waiting for their partners to come home and the young waiting to be fed. We wandered back down the boardwalks watching the small penguins waddle over the dunes looking for their nests and families. As we got back to Berna and put the heating on full, I wondered why I’d bothered to have the air conditioning re-gassed over Christmas? All part of the excitement.

    Back at the campsite we were committing heresy arriving so late (9:45). Most people would be asleep. Being a truck, Bertha has reversing warning sounders, how to be popular.

    We hooked Bertha up to the electric to find that the supply didn’t work. I tried another two sockets before deciding this was a matter for the site manager. The manager could be summoned by a telephone outside the site office ... it went to a message but no option of leaving a message asking someone to come and sort the electric out. Someone appeared on the balcony above me and, in response to my problem, told me that only one of the four sockets work, I’d have to move the plug about until I found the working one. As I’d already tried three of the four, finding the working one was not difficult. I asked why he didn’t put a notice on the supply, “yeh” was the response. I guess most people arrive before the office shuts and he doesn’t have to get up from watching TV to sort the problem. Off to bed.
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