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Blog Entries posted by tbutler

  1. tbutler
    In my notes, I titled this day as above. Unlike the curving road we found coming into Mount Isa, the road was straight for long stretches with little change in elevation and only one town with fuel. We started out on the Flinders Highway and then at Camooweal the name changed to the Barkly Highway. The other fuel stop we made was at the Barkly Homestead. This is a large homestead which has everything that someone on the road would need. There is a caravan park, hotel, restaurant, activities including camel rides and the all-important fuel. At the Barkly Homestead they are not on the electric grid. They run a generator 24 hours a day to provide the electric they need to operate. I know this because they had it posted outside the store. They gave the amount of diesel the generators use as an explanation of why their fuel and other prices were so high. We paid $2.099 for a liter of diesel.
    Just west of Camooweal we crossed into Northern Territories, the seventh Australian state we would travel through. Northern Territories is so sparsely settled that it doesn’t have the status of state in the government and has very limited representation in the Australian Parliament. I noted with a chuckle when we pulled into the petrol station at Camooweal a sign which indicated that eastbound travelers should set their clocks ahead 5 years AND 30 MINUTES. The thirty minutes being the time change between the state of Queensland and Northern Territories. The 5 years was a regional slur on their neighbors to the west.
    We stopped briefly at the border to photograph the welcome sign to Northern Territories. We don’t do this at all borders but this being such a remote location I decided to pause and collect a souvenir photograph. Observing someone else who was photographing the sign busily swishing flies away from their face I decided to go with the through-the-windshield option for the photograph. Flies are a pesky nuisance in this part of the country. These are not biting flies but they love to be in your face. If the wind is blowing they will be on the downwind side of your body. So you face into the wind to keep the flies off your face and your back is covered with flies. When it is time to get back into the campervan you have to wave off as many as you can before quickly ducking through the door. Then you kill as many as you can before driving away! This is all very reminiscent of our mosquito experience in Canada on the drive north into the Arctic Circle on the way to the native village, Inuvik. Not wanting to shortchange Alaska, I’ll add that we found the same to be true in Alaska.
    We are getting a special treat. You will notice quite a bit of green in the photo with this posting. Central Australia got a good rain about a week and a half ago and we are seeing the desert dressed in green. You can still see plenty of soil in the picture, that is where the region gets its nickname, Australia's red center. You will also notice dark mounds of dirt on the landscape. These are termite mounds which are common in the area. We saw many of the on parts of the road and in other places very few but they are an ever-present reminder of the recycling going on as plants die here in the desert.
    We drove the entire length of the Barkly Highway today. The drive, like yesterday, was pleasant enough. The temperatures were a little cooler, low 30’s, in the 80’s Fahrenheit. We had a few clouds, always welcome late in the day when heading west. The road was straight, level and the surface in good repair. We covered another 660 kilometers before reaching Tennant Creek and our camp for the night. Tennant Creek is on the Stuart Highway which runs from Adelaide on the southern coast of Australia to Darwin on the northern coast. We drove a short distance on the Stuart Highway when we left Adelaide a month ago but at that time we turned east to explore eastern Australia. Now we would travel south toward Uluru (Ayres Rock). The Stuart Highway is the only north-south highway through central Australia.
    One of the things that Louise and I noted at the end of the day was another day without road repairs and also the fact that we hadn’t seen the abundance of kangaroos that we expected. In fact, we hadn’t seen a single live kangaroo. There were a few dead ones along the roadside but not a single live on. At Camooweal they had a statue of a kangalope outside the gas station. Those familiar with the Texas jackalope know what a kangalope would look like! Kangaroos are primarily nocturnal so driving during the day we wouldn’t expect to see them. We do watch carefully for them in the early morning and late in the afternoon. So far, our greatest kangaroo sightings have been in Tasmania and when we were in Lightning Ridge where we had kangaroos on the lawn outside the bath house in our campground each night.
  2. tbutler
    After experiencing a rash of road repair work on our drive the day before we were pleasantly surprised to encounter no road work on our second day of driving. In fact, with just a few exceptions, this was some of the best road we have traveled. This highway is known as the Flinders Highway and is the only all-weather east-west road through northern Queensland. There were only a few towns in the 652 kilometer drive. One of them is featured in the picture with this posting. The windmill was working, drawing water for the public restrooms in the picture. The road was nearly flat all the way and had few curves. I could set the cruise control and concentrate on staying between the lines. An added plus is that the drivers out here wave at you. Even the native Australians wave at a rental campervan! We would encounter a vehicle every five or ten minutes and were passed by a vehicle only a few times an hour. It was a long trip on a lonely road.
    The truck trains which are posted as being up to 53.5 meters (about 160 feet) long are not driving much faster than we are. We met one or two of them several times an hour but we never had to pass one and were never passed by one so I assume our speed nearly matched their speed. We were driving about 97 KPH which was well under the posted speed limit of 130 KPH (about 85 MPH). The campervan will cruise at 110 KPH without difficulty but it severely reduces our mileage on a liter of fuel. It also makes the ride a little rougher, this vehicle rocks and rolls enough already. Fuel mileage is an important concern because the communities are widely scattered and the distance between fuel stops isn’t posted on any signs. In the US you see signs posted indicating how far to the next fuel stop on stretches of road that have widely separated stations. Here you are on your own. The map we have indicates all the small communities but not all of them have fuel so we have to plan on only the larger communities having fuel. I keep the tank topped off so we have a minimum of ½ tank if possible. We made two stops on this trip, both after about 250 kilometers of travel. Fuel prices are running close to $2.00 per liter at this point.
    Just before reaching Mount Isa the road goes through some hills. The road curves and climbs and descends and our travel is slowed for the last 30 kilometers as we come into town. Mount Isa (pronounced Iza) is a mining town and has the look of a mining town. There are active mines here and smelters with tall stacks spewing smoke. We could see the smoke for some distance before we reached the town itself. The smoke was white in the late afternoon sun and may have been simply water vapor or mostly water vapor.
    We stayed at the Discovery Argylla Big 4 Park which was right on the Flinders Highway as we came into town.
    We parked, hooked up electric and settled in for the evening. Temperatures during the day had been in the upper 30’s, near 100 degrees F. We are running the air conditioning at night now, at least long enough to cool the campervan so we can open the windows and ventilate during the night. By morning it is nice and cool inside and we are glad to see the morning sun.
  3. tbutler
    Returning from Mossman Gorge the night before I had listened to the news reports on the approaching cyclone (hurricane) Ita. The storm was gathering strength and was approaching the area north of Cairns. I got on the computer and checked the official Australian weather reports which had the storm at category 3 and expected to reach category 4 before coming ashore somewhere between Cooktown and Cairns. We made the decision to leave on Thursday morning. We needed to arrange a refund of our payment for the SCUBA course and check to see if we could get a refund for Thursday night from the campground. Both were accomplished easily and we were on our way out of town at 9:00 a.m.
    I had very mixed feelings about leaving. I knew without a doubt that the storm would affect the area and doubted that we would be able to complete the SCUBA course and that there would be no trips to the Great Barrier Reef in the next few days so we wouldn’t be able to do these things even if we stayed but it still was a great disappointment not to be able to see the Great Barrier Reef.
    To leave Cairns, we had to drive 380 kilometers south to the town of Townsville. We would then turn west into the Queensland outback. The road took us through a gap in the Great Dividing Range of mountains so we avoided the slow, climbing and descending curvy roads of the mountains and were rather quickly on the west side of the dividing range.
    As the afternoon wore on we were slowed by a series of road repairs, each with a series of stoplights that regulated the one way traffic. Being in the realm of the truck trains now, the lights were set for longer periods to allow these large trucks to accelerate and move though the construction zones. This made for very slow travel.
    Once clear of that construction, we found a place to stay for the night at Pentland, a small town. The park was quite old and wasn’t expensive, just $22 AUS. Most parks are charging fees around $30 to $35 with a few charging over $40. We have two discount plans which give 10% discounts at certain parks and the conversion from Australian dollars to US dollars is running about 8% to 10% in our favor.
    Louise found a bright green frog waiting outside the women’s restroom. This park suffered from a condition we have noticed at a few other parks, the restrooms harbored mosquitos. I suspect the frog was there to feast on the insects around the lights. There were no frogs around the mens restroom where the light was either burned out or turned off. Some parks have screened restrooms, others have open restrooms with no doors and no screens. This doesn’t seem to be a factor related to mosquitos. I believe it is a matter of having some mosquito control in the community. It also seems to help if the lights are on some kind of control to shut them off or at least shut off most of them once the evening activity wanes.
  4. tbutler
    To the north of Cairns is one of the prime rain forest sites on the eastern coast of Australia. There are many other sites but those are further north and there are no roads that can be traveled in all weather conditions with less than four wheel drive vehicles. Mossman Gorge is in Daintree National Park just north of Port Douglas. The gorge itself lies within Aborigine land and the concession at the gorge is run by the Aborigine community.
    The eighty kilometer (about 48 miles) drive from Cairns takes us almost two hours because of numerous road repair operations and the subsequent delays. We arrived at noon and checked in at the park visitor center. They run a shuttle to the gorge from the visitor center and the only charge is for the shuttle transportation. We paid for our tickets and were ready to board the next bus but decided wisely that we should eat lunch before exploring the gorge. After lunch we hopped the next shuttle and were taken on a ten minute ride to the beginning of the trail system.
    The trail started with an elevated walkway through the rainforest. This is a different rainforest than the one we explored earlier. This is in the tropics and on the coast so it is a wet rainforest. Some things are the same, the strangler fig is still an important tree in the forest here. During our hiking here we saw some amazing trees. The photo with this posting shows me standing on one of the roots with my hand resting on another root of a strangler fig tree. In the background you can see the trunk of the tree which is a tangle of roots going in all directions.
    One of the animals that lives here is the cassowary a very large bird standing five feet tall. It has an appendage on the top of the head that is referred to as a casque, it looks like a blade on a Roman warrior helmet. We were looking for this bird the entire time but never saw it. We saw evidence of its presence. There were extensive diggings which were done as the cassowary digs in the ground searching for food. In places these dug up areas covered more than 100 square feet.
    We walked the trail up along the stream in the gorge. It was flowing nicely and there were numerous places to view the cascading water. In a few places, groups of people would swim in the stream but in most places there were simply too many rocks and access to the stream itself was limited by the terrain. At one point we saw a large lizard, two feet from nose to tip of tail sunning on one of the large boulders.
    We returned to the bus pick-up point about 4:00 p.m. and were taken back to the visitor center. The return trip took about the same time as the trip north. We stopped for fuel before returning to the park and finally pulled in to Cairns Holiday Park well after dark.
  5. tbutler
    Our first day in Cairns is dedicated to catching up with laundry and getting to know the town. While doing laundry we discussed our plans for our stay. The Great Barrier Reef is one of our prime objectives. One travel brochure we picked up in the park office has an item I was interested in learning more about. It was a an offering of the Down Under Dive company to certify for open water SCUBA in a four day course. The course involved two days of tests and preliminary training followed by two days of dive training on the Great Barrier Reef. I figured what better place to learn to dive and having certification would greatly improve the dive opportunities on our cruise in Fiji at the end of this trip in June.
    Once the laundry was done, we had lunch and then walked to town. We were camped at the Cairns Holiday Park, just a few blocks from the seafront Promenade. Our walk was welcome after four days of continuous driving. We enjoyed a beautiful warm day as we strolled along the seafront. The Promenade is about 60 feet wide, beautifully landscaped, and incorporates a boardwalk along the beach, a walking path, a separate bicycle/running path, a series of exercise equipment for adults and a variety of activities for children of all ages. It was mid-afternoon on Wednesday, April 13 and the facilities were being fully used. There were hundreds of people enjoying all the facilities.
    Nearing the docks in the heart of downtown Cairns we came to a swimming pool with hundreds of children and adults enjoying the pool and surroundings. This was no ordinary square pool, it was huge and included a wading area with a sand beach, fountains for children to play among, shaded areas of the pool and a huge deck for sunning or picnicking. It was not fenced in any way, the entire pool and deck were simply part of the seaside entertainment.
    One of our objectives was to find the Down Under Dive offices to discuss the classes. We were able to find a booth that is only manned early in the morning so we abandoned that quest. We found the shopping area and Louise set about shopping. This lasted for about an hour. While she shopped, I walked around the mall area and picked up a local paper to read. After a while I decided to give Down Under Dive a call to learn more about the classes. Once on the phone with their representative I learned more about the course. Louise joined me during the call and I relayed some of the information to her. We decided to sign on for the first class we could get which would start on Friday.
    With that decision done, we decided to find a place to have dinner. We found a seafront bar/restaurant and decided on our menu choices. Louise went to the bar to place or order and returned with the beer and told me that the kitchen didn’t open until 5:00 p.m. and they would begin taking orders then. This is pretty standard practice here in Australia, restaurants and bars have kitchen hours around meal times and in between limited items are available. We relaxed and enjoyed the afternoon breeze on the outdoor deck. When the kitchen opened we ordered our meal.
    Following dinner we retraced our steps from earlier in the day. As we passed the swimming pool we saw about 100 adults doing Zumba in the water being led by three instructors on the stage on one side of the pool. The walking and running tracks were thick with people and families with children were everywhere. The exercise equipment was being fully employed by people waiting their turn at each piece of equipment. There were groups practicing games in the adjacent lawns and fields, the seafront was alive with activity and this held throughout our walk as the sun set and dusk faded from the sky.
  6. tbutler
    Monday, April 7, 2014. Looking over the information we picked up from the ladies in Ayr the day before, we decided to pursue a scenic drive into the Dividing Range to see some waterfalls. I love a good waterfall and the ones in the brochure looked inviting including one which we were told we could swim under the cascading water. We had about 70 kilometers to cover before leaving the Bruce Highway for the highlands. I put the town with the same name as the waterfall we wanted to visit, Millaa Millaa, into the GPS and it guided us through a dizzying set of turns on small roads to our desired destination. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, purchasing the GPS maps for New Zealand and Australia, a set on a chip and bringing our own GPS was one of the best decisions I made on this trip. By the way, my second best choice was to bring my Leatherman!
    There were three waterfalls, each beautiful. The first we viewed about 50 feet from the plunge pool. On the hike down into the stream bed, we were met by an Australian Brush Turkey. It crossed our path and disappeared into the woods so fast that I didn’t even think to try for a picture. We both got to see it and there was no doubt it was a turkey. On the return to the parking lot, we found what looked like the same turkey sitting next to the trail near the parking lot. I got a number of pictures. It lingered as if it was completely comfortable in this environment even as a tour bus unloaded 30 or so passengers who tromped by on the trail barely taking notice of the turkey I was photographing. This turkey has a red head and a yellow collar which makes it pretty easy to identify.
    The second was inaccessible from that distance. I tried an old trail that had steps but there were so many large trees that had fallen across the trail it became more than I could do to get to the bottom. Tracks on the trail indicated that younger people were undaunted by the challenge but I gave up and settled for the view from the top of the falls. We saw several of the same people who were at the first waterfall and said hello. As we were leaving, the tour bus pulled in.
    We drove to the third falls and it was now almost 1:00 p.m. so we decided to eat lunch then go see the waterfall. I figured the tour bus would come and go in that time and we would be able to enjoy the falls without the crowd. Wrong! We got to the falls and the bus had a picnic set up for the tour group. They were scattered all over the lawn that faced the waterfall. A few of the group were in the water, shivering and cheering on a half dozen of the group that had swum to the fall and were cavorting behind the falling water. We dropped our shoes off and entered the water. It was cold but not too cold for swimming, just cold enough to make you pause to adjust to the temperature as you waded into the pool. We both swam across and enjoyed the view of the falls from behind and under the falling water. By the time we were there, the tour group was packing up but there were plenty of casual visitors and a number of them joined us under the and behind the curtain of water.
    Returning to the campervan, we dried off and dressed for the drive into Cairns. The road to come was described by the ladies at the visitor’s information station in Ayr as, “a road with 100 turns” and I don’t think she was wrong. We were going to descend from high in the mountains of the Dividing Range to sea level. The turns were near constant from the time we started our descent until we reached the valley. We took our time and let other traffic pass and safely made it to the bottom. Louise gets car sick so she has to concentrate on watching the road. If she looks around she gets dizzy and becomes ill quickly. She didn’t have much to say about this part of the drive.
    Checking in at our campground which is walking distance from downtown Cairns, we booked in for four nights. This is one of the premier destinations on our trip. On the news tonight a cyclone (Pacific hurricane) which has been sitting off the northeast coast of Australia for several days and was initially projected to just brush the northern peninsula is now possibly going to make landfall somewhere north of us along the coast. We’ll be watching this carefully and may leave here early if necessary. We wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef and spend some time snorkeling or diving there. With a storm approaching and high seas expected in the area, we may miss this opportunity completely. We are keeping our fingers crossed.
  7. tbutler
    Sunday, April 6, 2014. Our travels north continue. Leaving Mackay we drove on almost until noon. Our lunch stop was a park in a small town, Ayr. Louise fixed sandwiches while I went in search of a restroom. The restrooms were behind the information booth so I stopped in there to see the two ladies who were sitting outside in front of the building this sunny warm day. We talked, they inquired about our travels and then loaded me up with information both verbal and written. One of the ladies was very knowledgeable and made several good recommendations. They asked me to sign the guest book which was on the table outside. I sat down and did so then visited with them for a little while longer. I shared with them our travel history and a little of our travels in the US and Canada.
    Louise met me as I returned, carrying our lunch out to a picnic table near the campervan. We were visited by eight Australian White Ibis. If you aren’t familiar with ibis, they are large wading birds and have very long bills which curve downward. Their normal method of feeding is to probe the mud in a stream or lake in search of various small animals and insects. I have observed these birds probing grasslands with great efficiency. How they get that long bill 2 or three inches into the ground is beyond me. I sometimes have trouble getting a tee into a manicured golf tee box. Anyway these large white birds with dark heads and bills are quite impressive to all but the most jaded. Australians are jaded when it comes to ibis which are quite common. Animals which are common are usually seen as a kind of nuisance. These we had within a few feet were used to being fed or picking up snacks from picnickers. I enjoyed watching them and later got a few pictures though they were much more cautious when we no longer had food in our hands.
    We decided to walk around the grounds to get a little exercise after our long morning driving. On the walk I spotted three bush stone-curlew, another long legged bird which is as at home on land as wading in the water. These were skittish but I still managed to get a picture or two and enough information to be able to identify them when we returned to the campervan and pulled out our book on the birds of Australia. The bush stone-curlew would be our new bird for the day.
    While I had the book out, I checked on a bird that we have been seeing during our drive on the New England Highway and now on the Bruce Highway. It was a dark colored hawk of some kind. Driving down the road it is hard to observe birds and have great detail but sometimes a distinguishing feature can help. This bird had a swallow-like tail. The edges of the tail were longer than the center of the tail. That and the general shape of the wings were enough to identify it as a black kite. This is a raptor that is seen throughout Australia so I’m sure we’ll see plenty of them. It is a large bird with an impressive 40 to 50 inch wingspan.
    In the afternoon we covered another 200 kilometers and managed to get into a campground in Cardwell, a small coastal community on the Bruce Highway. During the day we filled the diesel tank twice, not wanting to test its limits on these long stretches of roadway with few petrol stations on a Sunday afternoon.
  8. tbutler
    Friday, April 4, 2014. We drove a short distance into Brisbane and made a quick stop at Britz to deal with several nagging problems with the campervan. That done, we left the city about noon headed north toward Cairns, a city on the northeast coast of Australia. At Cairns the famous Barrier Reef is closest to the coast and is thus most accessible. We hope to spend several days exploring this wonderful natural feature. The challenge is that the distance from Brisbane to Cairns is a daunting 1718 kilometers, about 1065 miles. In the US on US roads, this distance is not insurmountable but on Australian roads this is a daunting journey. We will get there but it will take the better part of four days.
    The mid-day start from Brisbane started with a departure on dual lane separated highway. In Australia they are called motorways and are the prime highways here. They are similar to our interstate highways and have speed limits of 100 to 110 kilometers per hour, about 63 to 70 miles per hour. That lasted for about 100 kilometers before it gave way to two lane highway with a speed limit of 100 kilometers per hour. That would be fine but traffic remained heavy, the roads are rough and there are frequent road repairs with speed limits of 60 or 40 kilometers per hour. This slows our progress and we roll into a campground near dark in Bundaberg. Our travel distance for the first day, 385 kilometers.
    On our drive we saw beautiful scenery, mountains to the west, the Dividing Range that we have been exploring for the last two weeks. This range of mountains runs from Eden in the south on toward Cairns in the north. We drove through farmland and pastures with sheep and cattle. Later as the land flattened and the ground became more fertile we saw crops, soybeans and then sugar cane. At Bundaberg there is a rum distillery which uses the sugar cane to make rum. The campground we stayed at is called Cane Village Holiday Park. We enjoyed meeting the gregarious host. He inquires about where we are from. We are his first visitors from the United States. This is a location that is off the ordinary tourist travel list. He worked for Caterpillar in Melbourne. He made numerous trips to the US for Caterpillar training and had fond memories of Phoenix and Peoria. We find that many Australians have been to the US or have some connection such as a friend or relative that lives there. The Big 4 Cane Village Holiday Park was more like a garden than a campground. The ground were green, trimmed and very neat. If this had been our destination we would have enjoyed several days in the park.
    Our second day we left Bundaberg on a small highway that would eventually connect with the main route we are following, the Bruce Highway. The road was narrow and rough which makes travel slow. We pulled off several times to let faster traffic pass. Eventually we reached the Bruce Highway. I had previewed the route for the day and knew that there were few towns on the route so our first stop was to fill up with diesel. As we continued on the Bruce Highway, we encountered one area of road work area after another. We would just speed up from one work area and then encounter another. After noon we passed Gladstone, a large coastal city, and traffic dropped off significantly. The road work also dropped off with only a few scattered slow-downs through the afternoon. This road was in good repair. Once we were well north of Rockhampton the speed limit was raised to 110 km per hour. I don’t drive the campervan that fast but it allowed us to get up to 100 and above as the road permitted. With few interruptions we were able to travel a good distance. We stopped once more for fuel and then pulled in for the night at Mackay. Our travel distance for the second day was 620 kilometers. This put us just past the half-way point from Brisbane to Cairns.
    The second day of travel brought us closer to the coast. We still were traveling along the Great Dividing Range with an occasional encounter with some of the foothills. Sugar cane crops were all along our route. It is a huge crop here in the northeastern coast of Australia. On our drive today, we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn as we passed the city of Rockhampton, so we are now in the tropics. Another change which we have adjusted to is the change from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time. This didn’t happen on Saturday night, April 6, 2014 as it will for the rest of the country of Australia but this happened when we crossed from New South Wales which is on Daylight Saving Time as are the states of Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Queensland where we are now does not observe Daylight Saving Time. So when we drove into Brisbane to our campground on Thursday night we had to reset our clocks. As fall comes on, days will get shorter and nights longer. This is countered by traveling toward the equator where the length of day and night remain almost constant. The closer to the equator we are, the more equal day and night will be.
  9. tbutler
    Mt. Tambourine National Park is a collection of smaller national parks on the slopes of Mt. Tambourine, an extinct weathered volcano. There is a town at the summit which features a variety of shops for those who enjoy quaint towns and browsing curio and antique shops. We went to take a walk in the rainforest. This was not to be an ordinary walk. The walkway was elevated. We walked out of the building that housed a café, a small museum with information about the rainforest into the upper level of the rainforest. As the slope dropped away from the under us, we were looking over most trees and into the largest trees. The walkway was sturdily constructed of metal with a metal grid on the floor. We could see below around and above us as we walked through the trees.
    Signs on the railing of the walkway identified trees and plants along the way. We were looking down on palms with a few of the tallest being at eye level. The palms were flowering and insects swarmed the flowers. Major trees in the Australian rainforest are the eucalyptus tree and the strangler fig. The rainforest covered most of Australia in the past but as the environment and population changed, the rainforest has shrunk to about 10% of the continent.
    In the rainforest, the eucalyptus trees and the strangler figs struggle for dominance.
    Eucalyptus trees fight the strangler fig by shedding their tendrils. Their bark easily peels from the tree so the strangler fig can’t attach to them. The figs are very effective at taking over other trees. Figs start when bird drop their seeds in their droppings on a tree branch. These seeds will sprout and live in the branches of the tree while they grow vines down to the ground which will become roots. Eventually the fig grows to surround the entire host tree and covers it shading it, starving it of sunshine. The fig then becomes a free standing tree. As the host tree rots away, the fig fills in missing tree with more of its vines. The figs were covered with fruit which was ripening. These provide a rich source of food for the birds of the rainforest. The rainforest is a tangle of vines of the figs, they are everywhere.
    One of the birds we saw was the Wompoo Fruit-Dove, a large dove almost 20 inches from head to tail. It is a beautiful bird with a white head, green wings, plum purple breast and yellow abdomen. The dove is an ally of the strangler fig. It feeds on the figs and drops the seeds which sprout to form more fig plants. These in turn feed the doves.
    An animal which we didn’t see but which lives in this rainforest is the Koala. They feed on the eucalyptus leaves and sleep during the day high in the trees. They are difficult to spot as they cling to the trunk of a tree resting on a branch they become just another bump on the tree. We were told where they are sometimes seen and looked for them but our untrained eyes were unsuccessful. We hope that we will be able to find one as our exploration of the Australian rainforest continues.
  10. tbutler
    Wednesday April 2, 2014. We’re near the end of the New England Highway and we want to make our way to the coast. Looking at all the opportunities, we decide to make a stop at Mt. Tambourine National Park which is south of Brisbane. The attraction there that drew our attention was a Rainforest Walkway. Without knowing much more than that, we left Rochedale headed north on the final leg of the New England Highway before turning off onto the Scenic Rim Highway. This heads east through a caldera formed when a volcano collapsed. The road follows the scenic rim of the caldera giving spectacular views of the surrounding area.
    We pulled into the small town of Boonah for a restroom stop. Louise commented on the chatter of the birds. A little later she asked me what was in the nearby trees. A stranger overhead the question and answered it, those were bats. The chattering noise came from these bats as they rustled around trying to keep cool in the warm sunlight. No doubt this was a difficult challenge for a black creature all wrapped up in its wings.
    We went closer to study the bats. With binoculars we could see their fox-like faces and watch them moving around. We learned that there were two types of bats in these trees, both were fruit bats which live in the tropics in the northern part of Australia. They summer at higher latitudes and then return to the rainforest in winter. While here in Boonah, they strip the trees of their leaves and leave droppings which can be quite pungent. They are protected so there is nothing to be done except to tolerate them.
    In the visitors center we were told that there were ten times more bats a month ago but that one species, the red bats leave earlier than the rest. The remaining black and brown bats will depart soon. Watching the bats, we enjoyed their efforts to keep cool. This resulted in jostling and a constant shuffling of positions. Bats maneuver using the thumb at the bend in their wings to grip branches and shift from one spot to another, something like monkeys moving about in trees. The brown fruit bats photographed best and the photo with this posting features one of these brown bats with a few others in the background.
    There were approximately 500 bats in the trees behind the visitors center. Some branches had a dozen or more bats hanging upside down from the branch. These bats are about a foot long from nose to tail and have a wingspan of about two feet. Occasionally one would fly from one tree to another. In daylight their wings were translucent with their bones outlined almost like an x-ray. In the evening they all leave to go feed. They return each dawn to rest in the trees.
  11. tbutler
    Leaving camp at Mother of Ducks Wildlife Preserve in Guyra early in the morning, we drove to Glen Innes for breakfast at McDonalds. I know, not your idea of luxury dining but they do have internet. We parked behind the building and could access the internet from the campervan. I spent 30 or 40 minutes on line after eating breakfast. Right next door was the i. This one was a jewelry shop and information center. Louise enjoyed chatting with the jeweler. I was able to find several brochures of interest, one being up the road some distance, Bald Rock National Park. It was after noon when we arrived in Stanthorpe. From there we took a small road out of town for 20 kilometers before reaching the turn-off for Bald Rock National Park. A 7 kilometer drive into the park brought us to the picnic and campgrounds and trail heads.
    National parks in Australia are not like national parks in the US. While they are designated national parks, each state or territory operates the national parks. In Tasmania, park admission was $27 per vehicle for one day. We paid $60 for an annual pass to all of Tasmania’s national parks and got good use out of the pass in the one week we were there. In the state of Victoria the national parks were free, no admission charge at all. That included all the scenic parks we visited along the Great Ocean Drive on the southern coast. In New South Wales, the fees vary. Some parks are free while others have a small fee. This one cost us $7.00 for the day. Camping would have been an additional $10 per person. Generally the national parks here are protected areas with some having camping, most have only walking trails and picnic areas. They seldom have visitor’s centers and have very limited road access. They are most like the wildlife refuges in the US.
    Gathering our gear, we set out to hike up Bald Rock to a promised spectacular view of the surrounding area. Bald Rock is a granite outcrop, part of a batholith, a large igneous rock formation that cooled from molten rock to form solid rock while underground. The resulting large crystal structure and mineral composition make this rock granite. Granite typically weathers or wears down in the form of rounded surfaces which form rounded boulders. As the water, air, heat and cold attack the rock it peels off in layers making a rounded shape. So this mountain of granite is very dome like. There are features like this in the US, two that I am familiar with are Elephant Rocks in the St. Francis Mountains of southeastern Missouri and Enchanted Rock in the hill country of Texas. Bald Rock dwarfs both of these formations. Its dimensions, 260 meters high with an exposure of 750 meters long and 500 meters wide. This is the tip of the batholith that extends 400 kilometers from Tamworth to Stanthorpe and accounts for all the granite outcrops and boulders we have been seeing and exploring in the last several days.
    The hike was the kind that I like. It was physically challenging, a 25 to 30 degree slope meant that we were climbing on a surface that was near the limit of what our hiking shoes would grip. Fortunately, the large crystal structure made for a rough surface which gave really good traction. As we climbed further up the rock, we were well above tree level and still going. The height of the rock is 260 meters which is almost 800 feet or 80 stories. Imagine standing on a strongly sloping surface looking down 400 or 500 feet below you with nothing to stop you if you fall. Nothing to do but continue the climb. The course was well marked with 4 inch white disks glued to the rock surface. We both used walking sticks to help support and steady us as we climbed. About three quarters of the way up, the slope begins to level out and now the climb becomes one of picking our way through jumbles of boulders as we go to the top. The white dots continue to guide us. At the top the rock has a little hair, there are trees and shrubs growing on the level surface.
    Bald Rock is the second summit we have recorded in Australia, the first being Mt. Williams in Tasmania. In each case the summit is identified with a marker. We spent about ten minutes at the summit before retreating. During our stay we spotted and identified a Flame Robin, a small bird with a brilliant red breast, white wingbars and rump and a little smudge of white just above the bill. This was truly a treat for us. Gathering clouds and some sprinkles convinced us that retreat was the wise choice. No one wants to be on top of anything called bald in a thunderstorm. The rain never really developed and we never heard any lightning. Our trip down was uneventful, we chose a longer, more gentle sloping path down the rock. This led through jumbles of boulders that formed a labyrinth of narrow passageways and even under some boulders resting on others. All along the path were interpretive signs about the vegetation and geology of the area.
    Leaving Bald Rock National Park we drove about an hour north to Rochedale to find a park for the night. A warm shower and some internet time were welcome after our previous night at Mother of Ducks Wildlife Preserve.
  12. tbutler
    We started our first day on the New England Highway with a visit to the yellow i. That is what I call the visitor’s center here which are identified on the blue signs with a simple i for information. Many of these are commercial operations, others are operated by the community. I suspect that if you pay the state or national government your money, you too can be an i. They all have a variety of brochures on the local activities and some regional activities. They tend to be pretty parochial, having only those things nearby and the brochures do not include brochures from other states even when they are relatively close by.
    Tamworth’s claim to fame is a country music festival which is held in town each January, early summer here in Australia. It started in 1972 with a local radio DJ putting together a small gathering of local country music stars. Held on a weekend, it attracted a good crowd so the festival grew. Today, they have a 10 day festival, two weekends and the week in between. The festival is now held at several locations throughout town and people come in flocks to see big name stars including many from the US. The town hosts the Australian Country Music Gallery of Stars with the great ones recognized with wax statues. Tamworth is also an equestrian center with the Quarter Horse Association and Appaloosa Association headquartered in town.
    We visited with one of the aides at the visitor’s center who could have talked all day about the country music festival. When we left, we decided to walk around town. There was a walking trail that started at the visitor’s center and ran along the top of the Peel River levee which separated the town from the river. At the campground we had seen pictures of the river in flood so we understood the need for the levee. On the town side of the levee was a park which included sculpture, gardens, memorials and fountains. As in many of the city parks we have seen in our travels this summer, the park was alive with people walking dogs, riding bicycles, mothers with children, elderly people walking and dozing. It was a wonderful cross section of Australian society.
    From there we drove north out of town on the New England Highway. Our first stop was at the top of a long grade about 15 kilometers north Tamworth. A sign indicated a scenic overlook. We turned off and were rewarded with a quite spectacular viewpoint. Unlike some viewpoints where you peer through the trees that have grown up, this viewpoint was a platform atop a 30 foot diameter boulder of granite. Built in 1938, it was a county (they call them shires) project. There were steps of concrete up one side of the boulder. Those led to two platforms, one at an intermediate level and another on top of the boulder. From there you could look out on the valley all the way back to Tamworth. You could see forests, fields, horse farms and small communities all laid out in this luscious green valley. We delighted in seeing a pair of Crimson Rosella, parrots with bright red bodies and blue, yellow and green wings and heads. They were cavorting in a tree right next to the intermediate platform. Parrots are fun to watch, they readily turn upside down and pick fruit or seeds from the trees. Their colors make them a feast for the eyes. Their calls will rattle your ears.
    We continued on enjoying the scenery along the road until we reached the town of Guyra where we stopped for the Mother of Ducks Wildlife Preserve. This was just off the road and sounded very interesting. Arriving there we saw that people were camping there. We joined them parking in the most level spot that we could find. This was free camping as it is called in New Zealand and Australia. There was no electric, no internet and no fee. Our campervan has limited battery and no generator so we would be going to bed with the chickens or perhaps I should say ducks.
    I enjoyed a walk around the area, following a stream channel for some distance before it looped back toward the camping area. I didn’t see a duck but heard a constant chorus of frogs. In the camping area I visited with one of the other people in the campground. He knew the area and told me that in normal times, the entire area here would be underwater but that this had been a very dry year and so there was a poor showing of ducks this year.
    This place turned out to be quiet and an excellent place to stay for the night. It was a warm night and we slept with the windows and roof vents open. In the morning the birds woke us. There are many noisy birds in Australia, crows, magpies, parrots and cockatoos to name just a few. We’re working to identify as many as we can and having a great time doing it. I spotted a small yellow bird working in the bushes near our campervan and was able to identify it as a silvereye. It’s identifying feature being a prominent bright white ring around its eye.
  13. tbutler
    No, this wasn’t named for New England in the US. Both the US and Australia have a common connection to England so both have named a part of their country New England. Australia assigns names to their highways and designated the highway that runs through the area the New England Highway. It took the better part of a day to drive from Lightning Ridge to Tamworth which was our starting point for touring the New England Highway. It was a distance of 400 km but the road was rough and we had to drive slower than normal.
    The drive from Lightning Ridge was interesting in several ways. The first thing we saw as we turned east toward Tamworth was cotton fields. These were huge cotton fields that went on for 100 kilometers of travel. The land was so flat that you could see mirages from the heat rising from the dirt. The fields were barren as we traveled, being fall it was between planting seasons. Near the end of the drive we found some places where there were crops in the field. Clearly, cotton was king in this part of the country. We also noticed a lot of standing water. This we think had come from the storms that we saw on our way to Lightning Ridge. In any case, they had recently received a good rain shower. We even saw water standing on the road in one location. As we traveled east, a mountain range appeared on the horizon. As we got closer we could see more definition. The New England Highway runs through the Great Dividing Range and we were going to be in the mountains for this part of our trip. The final route into Tamworth wasn’t as extreme as it looked, the highway turned and took us through a gap in the mountains with little mountain travel. We were thankful for that. We checked in at the Top Tourist Park in Tamworth and settled in for a nights rest. Morning would bring another adventure.
  14. tbutler
    Lightning Ridge is an opal mining area. Opals were first discovered in the early 1900’s and mining has been going on ever since. The opals are different from those found in many other areas. These opals are known as black opals. They are dark with the colors familiar in other opals. They are beautiful and quite expensive. Just as in a gold rush, the discovery of opals in the area caused a boom in population. Mining camps sprung up near the hot spots for opals and towns developed near the camps. The town of Lightning Ridge is a combination of several towns and is a thriving town. Part of the success comes from the continued opal mining and part from the tourist trade. Lightning Ridge is also a popular winter hangout for Aussies. The park where we stayed was a very large park and was almost empty. Their busy season starts after Easter. Once the holidays pass, people come to Lightning Ridge for the winter. This is of course the opposite of what happens in the northern hemisphere where the Christmas/New Year holidays mark the march of the penguins south from Canada and the northern tier of US states to southern climes.
    We viewed the DVD provided by the RV Park and enjoyed it. We had already reserved a guided tour of the town and the mining area. We were picked up by our tour guide at 8:00 a.m. on Sunday Morning. Chuck greeted us and took our names and our intended method of payment. He collected the cash, those of us paying with credit card would pay at the office later. The bus seated about 20 people and we grabbed front seats so as to hear all the commentary. The tour through town was interesting. The town has some amazing facilities for a small community. There is a Bowling Club which had a magnificent lawn bowling field. It also had a restaurant that was highly regarded by the locals. These athletic clubs are also gambling parlors. We ate in one in Eden and they had slot machines and betting on sports, horse and dog racing.
    One of the most amazing facilities in Lightning Ridge, far from any large population center and in the Australian Outback, was the aquatic center. It features a swimming pool with a wave pool since the children there are far from the ocean and don’t get to see ocean waves. There is a full size Olympic pool and an Olympic diving pool. Chuck touted the success of local swimmer and divers.
    Then the tour took us to the mining areas. First we were driven to a castle built by an Italian immigrant. He is an artist and built with his own hands a castle. It has no roof, it is clearly built by simple means. It is his contribution to the world. It is also now a historic building and as such is preserved. We met Amigo when we arrived. He was putting some shellac on the doors to his castle. Inside he had an art gallery with works by his daughter. We toured the castle, part concrete, faced with stone, it was an amazing amount of work for a single person. Clearly he was persistent.
    Next on the tour was the Astronomers Monument. This was the creation of a man who had been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. When released from prison he had come to Lightning Ridge and started building a monument to Copernicus. Being of Polish heritage, he wanted to honor Copernicus with his monument. Built of concrete and inscribed with many facts and information about Copernicus and the personal history of the builder. His love of astronomy had come from his first reading book when he was an adult and learning to read. It was a book on astronomy and this had been his life’s passion. He was killed several years ago in a gas explosion and the monument is now also a historic building and can’t be altered.
    Then we began our tour of the mines. Mine plots here were usually a single person or two, sometimes a family. Mining consisted of digging a shaft down through the surface dirt and then through a layer of sandstone about 20 feet thick. Below the sandstone was the layer which contained the opals. They would then remove as much of the layer as they could, bringing the ore to the surface by a variety of means. Early miners did this by hand. Later machines were built to accomplish this task faster and with less effort by the miners. The ore which was a weak shale was then washed to expose the opals. Opal is a variety of quartz. Washing the ore can remove the chunks of quartz but not all are opal and not all opals are valuable, only those with colored inclusions have value.
    The mining camps did not have electric power and still don’t today. Miners used engines from cars, tractors, any engine they could get their hands on to drive their machinery. Old vehicles were abandoned where they died and used for spare parts. The rear end from a car or truck could be used to drive belts or wind a cable. This was a world built by those who could improvise whatever they needed.
    Miners lived on their claim. Many still do. The miners shack was a simple dwelling built from native rock, corrugated tin and wood. Rainwater was collected from the roof for their water supply. Their existence was a lonely one but it developed a culture of brotherhood among the miners. They came to town and shared stories and experiences and got to know one another. We visited one miners cabin, Fred Bodel - an early miner in the area, it was a very simple existence (see photo). Fred lived in this camp until his death. This characterizes the inhabitants of Lightning Ridge today. There some really strange characters still living there and they are independent and sometimes just a little bit strange to those of us who have lived and worked in the everyday life of big cities. These people are living on the frontier and they love it.
    During our stay in Lightning Ridge, we visited the bore baths, shopped for opals and browsed the Sunday flea market. We thought a visit to Lightning Ridge was an interesting experience and would recommend it to everyone. A place to see at least once in a lifetime.
  15. tbutler
    The next morning we departed Katoomba just after the office opened and we had paid our bill. We planned to drive to Lightning Ridge which was over 600 kilometers away. The Western Expressway gave way to two lane highway and this then entered the Blue Mountains. Travel became slower, the road was rougher and traffic was slower. We were among the slowest traffic most of time. We stopped occasionally to let traffic pass and pulled off at scenic overlooks. The weather was cloudy, hazy and we were getting occasional rain so the scenic stops weren’t as photogenic as they could have been. Still it was an interesting landscape.
    After another hour, the road started to improve. We came out of the mountains and the road became better. There were still curves and hills but the condition of the road improved. Slowly, the hills became smaller and the road straightened out. We passed through towns that now were farther and farther apart. As the day passed, the road became almost straight with only a slight turn from time to time. We worked our way further west and north in steps. Towns were usually the place where changes in direction occurred. The condition of the road now started to deteriorate. The road was good in the center but the edges were sunken and broken in places. I resorted to driving the way I had in Nova Scotia several years before when I encountered roads like these. With good visibility I could see traffic so I drove in the center of the road, straddling the center line unless traffic was in sight.
    We had now outdistanced the rain and things looked better for a while but soon we were running parallel to a large storm system. We could see dramatic clouds and rain shafts across a significant portion of the western horizon. As it go closer it became more menacing. I stopped to photograph the storm and then we continued on our way. We were headed north on the final leg toward Lightning Ridge so the storm was approaching from a right angle. It wasn’t too much longer that we outflanked the storm.
    Approaching Lightning Ridge, the road condition deteriorated more. In addition, we were now seeing emus and kangaroos in increasing numbers. In the final 40 kilometers we also faced open range with cows and sheep roaming the roadsides and crossing the road. I slowed to about 60 kilometers per hour (about 35 MPH) to allow time to stop if necessary. We reached Lightning Ridge at 6:30 p.m. pulling into the Opal Caravan Park shortly after. We were warmly welcomed and given an orientation to the park and the community. We even were given a CD which promoted the community. The park was one of the finest we have stayed at anywhere on this trip. It was built in 2011 so it is modern in every way. Located on the fringes of town, it is near the bore baths, the Australian term for artesian wells that bring hot water from deep underground. We hooked up the electric and turned on the gas. Louise started dinner and we opened a bottle of wine, glad to be at home in Lightning Ridge. This is the Australian Outback.
  16. tbutler
    We left the Australian capital, Canberra early in the morning in order to get into Sydney to visit the Britz office. On the way in we added one more item to our to-do list. An indicator on the instrument panel indicated a light was out.
    The roads from Canberra to Sydney are excellent roads. It is four lane interstate quality highway all the way. As we approached Sydney, we encountered the toll roads. These toll roads automatically bill each vehicle that doesn’t have an electronic pass. The rental campervans have no electronic pass so we would have to get on the internet and log in and pay our bill within three days or the bill would go to Britz and they would tack on a $35 administrative fee to the bill and we would be charged that. Given that, we avoided the toll road.
    Leaving the highway we entered the city streets of Sydney. I had never planned to drive the campervan in Sydney. We planned to bypass Sydney and see the rest of the country. We have hotel reservations in Sydney the last week of our stay in Australia. Driving in Sydney was a real adventure. There are no north/south east/west roads in Sydney. Roads wander around and change names without changing direction. The GPS was no help initially as it simply wanted to route us back to the toll road. Louise took over as navigator, keeping me posted on how to best get to the Britz offices. Still, she was concerned that her map didn’t show the final few streets needed to get to the office. I told her to restart the GPS as our route departed from the toll road and sure enough, it picked us up and routed us right to their office.
    Once at Britz, I gave them a list of repair items to be addressed including the headlight that had burned out on our trip. They directed us to the local restaurant area and said they would pay for our lunch. I told Louise I would stay here and she could go for take-out pizza. Some things were fixed and other minor things were simply going to take too long to resolve. We got the majors done and were on our way by 2:30 p.m. That put us on our way out of town just about the time traffic started to pick up for the afternoon rush hour. The GPS plotted our route and we followed it. We were on the streets for about 30 minutes before it put us on the Western Expressway out of town toward the Blue Mountains. Traffic on the expressway moved along quickly and we were well out of town by 4:30.
    The first park we stopped at was full, a boating competition had a crowd in town. There was no other park here so we decided we’d go to the next town a way down the road. At this point we needed a grocery stop and we found a store in town. We wanted to stock up because the list was long and we were headed out to remote areas where the size of grocery stores and the prices for food would most likely be to our disadvantage. So we stopped at a grocery store and stocked up. When we got back underway, rain was starting. As evening came on the rain and fog began to make driving more difficult. As dark set in we were looking for the next campground.
    We finally found the road we were looking for and it took us to the campground. The office was just closing but the man inside opened the door. He assigned us a spot, gave us a quick orientation to the park and said we should stop and pay for the site in the morning when the office was open. We were home for the night in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney.
  17. tbutler
    Canberra is the national capital of Australia. It is located between Melbourne and Sydney which have a population of about 4 million people in each city. That is 8 million people in a nation of about 14 million. So most of the population of Australia is in these two cities and in the surrounding communities. Once we leave this area we’ll see very few large towns and as we head west, we’ll see fewer people. Canberra itself is not a huge city. The population of Canberra is just over 400,000. That makes it small enough to be accessible. We enjoyed riding the buses, a ride from our park to the downtown terminal area was less than 30 minutes. The downtown terminal is a series of bus stops within several blocks of each other in the central downtown area. From there we transferred to another bus which took us to the parliament building.
    Australia replaced their original parliament building in the 1980’s and the new parliament building is a beautiful piece of work. The building sits atop a high hill. Much of the building lies beneath the ground and behind a façade that faces out toward the city with the old parliament building clearly visible several kilometers away. The building itself has modern utilities including solar panels and energy saving design. Parking lots are located beneath the building and as is necessary these days, everything is designed for tight security.
    We checked in through the security area and then were admitted to the public portion of the parliament building. We had a backpack with our rain gear and we checked it at the information desk. They have tours and we browsed our way around the building waiting for the next tour. On display in one area is one of only two copies of the Magna Carta that exist outside England.
    Our guide met us promptly at the appointed time and greeted the group, asking each person or couple where they were from and then replying in their language or with comments about their home area. He detailed the history and nature of the building and the history of democracy in Australia.
    The highlight of the day came following the tour when we were directed where to go to sit in on a session of parliament. We passed through another security screening and were seated in the gallery just before “question time.” This is a weekly procedural event something like a press conference with the Prime Minister and members of the House engaged in questioning each other regarding the issues of the day. It began with on a somber note as the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, addressed family members of the Australians who were passengers on Malaysian Flight 370 which had just been confirmed lost by tracking and the discovery of debris far off the southwest coast of Australia. The families were present in the gallery as Mr. Abbott addressed them and expressed his condolences. The opposition party leader agreed with Mr. Abbott and then added his remarks as did the Speaker of the House.
    This was the last agreement we saw during our stay. The format has the opposition asking questions of the party in power, primarily the Prime Minister. When the reply comes, there are outbursts from the opposition party mocking and jeering the Prime Minister. The Speaker of the House dismissed one of the opposition party members who she felt was being particularly persistent in her remarks. It didn’t seem to take much steam out of the opposition. This it turns out is pretty much a show of puffery for the public and the press. It does serve to air out differences but there is no substantive progress on any particular issue being made. The news media are happy, they have a number of topics to pursue in the coming week. We saw coverage on the session on the news broadcast that week and are still hearing news about some of the comments made during that session.
    Leaving the parliament building we took a bus back toward the city. We stopped off in another area to check out the science and technology museum. There was too little time to pay admission and buzz through it so we continued on our way. There are an amazing array of buildings located in the area and much time could be spent visiting the various art, science and history museums and other government buildings.
    Returning to our campground, we arrived just as the rain started to pick up. Overnight it rained heavily and by morning the grounds were thoroughly soaked. We were parked on grass in an area that could have been a real problem. I wasn’t at all sure we would be able to get out. Our plans had been to drive into Canberra and visit the Zoo and or the Science and Technology Center but with the rain, we gave up on those plans. I examined the soggy ground and determined our best strategy for leaving our parking spot. Fortunately, the ground was firm enough we had no trouble getting out. We didn’t even leave any ruts. That done, we set our course for Sydney, just over 200 kilometers away.
  18. tbutler
    We’ve had a very dry trip, only a couple of days of rain in New Zealand and nothing to speak of in Australia. That all changed on Tuesday, March 25. As I was doing the final outdoor tasks getting ready to leave our campground in Eden in New South Wales (NSW) I noticed a little mist in the air. The clouds were dark and heavy and the forecast for several days had called for rain. We planned to drive along the Sapphire Coast as it is known. There are designated tourist routes which have historical or scenic value. As we drove on to the north, the rain started and became steadily stronger. Soon we were driving in a deluge. We stopped for lunch at a park in a small town and watched the rain pour down from the roof over the back window of the campervan in sheets of water. Even the birds were taking shelter from this downpour. So we abandoned our plans to continue with the tourist routes. The routes were slow, we were encountering one lane bridges for the first time in Australia and there were numerous places where we were warned that the depth of water on the road could be gauged by the markers provided.
    Our next objective was Canberra, the capital of Australia. The drive to Canberra was in moderate to heavy rain almost all the way, some 250 kilometers. When we stopped at our first choice for campgrounds, they might have a space for us but we were going to have to look at it first. We discussed internet and they had a very expensive internet plan, $10 for one day. When we asked about bus transportation into the city, they indicated that there was no bus service at their campground. They graciously suggested several other campgrounds and called to them to ensure that they had space available. We thank them and went on our way to the one that did have a site.
    The Canberra Carotel (a combination of Caravan Park and Motel, a carotel) had free internet, no restrictions and was at the end of the bus route into the city. We could catch a bus right next to the entrance road to the Carotel. We settled into our site and enjoyed an evening of unfettered internet access. During the evening and through the night it rained lightly and misted keeping everything outdoors wet. We packed our raingear the next morning and set out for the bus stop.
  19. tbutler
    At the town of Adaminaby we stopped at the visitor’s center and talked with several natives. They had a statue of the Man From Snowy River, the supposed subject of the poem of the same name. Louise bought a copy of the poem for $1 and read the poem to me as we traveled on through the mountains.
    As we drove on, the road once again descended a steep slope and large vehicles were advised to use lower gears. I down shifted and we started our descent. Just a kilometer or so down the road we came to a rest area and scenic overlook. I pulled in partly to let traffic behind us pass and partly to see what the overlook offered. We got out and walked out onto a platform looking out on the valley of the Snowy River. It was hazy but it still provided a beautiful sight. The valley was greener than any we had seen up to this point. It turns out that the eastern side of these mountains get a pretty steady rainfall. There was a trail to other viewpoints and that led to a trail into the woods. That trail looped back to the first overlook. We spent an hour walking through the woods and viewing the scenery. Before we continued on, we fixed lunch in the campervan and then were back on the road.
    Our destination for the day was the town of Eden, a whaling town on the southeastern Australian coast. There is a Killer Whale Museum there and we wanted to see what it had to offer. We arrived too late to enjoy the museum so went to a campground. We booked in for two nights, which would give us the full day in Eden the next day. Leaving the office, Louise asked about the sound she was hearing. I had seen a sign for Bellbird Creek just before we got to town so I guessed it was bellbirds. We parked and hooked up electric then set up the chairs outside to enjoy the show.
    The trees were full of birds with a call that sounded just like a bell. More specifically, they sounded like someone hitting a glass with a spoon, a bell-like tink filled the air. It took a few minutes to get a look at one of the birds, they didn’t stay still for long. Some of them were swarming over a couple of brightly colored birds, rainbow lorikeets. Consulting The Birds of Australia, we identified the birds as bell miners. They are a very territorial bird and we watched them take on a kookaburra and some cockatoos. They operated in the same way that small birds take on hawks or crows in the US, swarming the larger stronger bird in a way that makes the large bird flee to get away from the swarming attack.
    On Monday morning we walked along an inland lake on a boardwalk. The walk continued on sidewalks along the bluff overlooking the bay at Eden. Along the way there were various signs describing the whaling history of Eden. This whet our appetite for the museum. Approaching the museum we noticed a number of frescos done in the Aborigine style, mosaics, by an Aborigine artist. They depicted the history of the area from the Aboriginal dreamtime before contact with Europeans through to the present day. The artist had provided comments regarding each of the eight frescos. Dreamtime is the time before birth and the time after death in Aborigine culture. In their culture, people return again and again, sometimes in different forms.
    The museum building had the date 1938 on its art deco façade. Inside, the exhibits mostly revolved around the whaling history of Eden. Whaling here was based from the shore. There were no large boats traveling far and wide to find whales. When a whale was sighted, a crew would rush to their rowboats and try to harpoon the whale. Local lore held that the Orcas, killer whales, would assist the whalers by steering the whale toward their boats. Then when the whale was harpooned, they would keep it from diving deeply and escaping. Details of how the killer whales did this was presented in diagrams and written accounts. It was said that one of the most revered killer whales, Old Tom, would grasp the rope of the harpoon in his mouth and pull up on the rope to keep the target whale from diving. Old Tom’s skeleton was displayed in the main exhibit hall and sure enough, his teeth on one side of the mouth were shortened and smooth from pulling on the rope.
    When the target whale was killed and brought to shore, even before reaching shore, the whaling crew would cut the lips and tongue from the whale and leave it for the killer whales as their reward for assisting in the hunt. This was their pay for a job well done. There were numerous killer whales that were recognized and named by the shape and size of their dorsal fin. Old Tom was one of the most revered and had an unusually long and straight dorsal fin! I thought that was really interesting!
    Most of the whaling crews of these days were native Aborigines. They held that the killer whales had been assisting them and their ancestors for ages. They consider the killer whales to be their ancestors who have come back from dreamtime as killer whales to assist them with their hunting. In 1930, Old Tom died and with him, the whaling industry of Eden also died. Today, no one from Australia hunts whales to kill them. Now they hunt whales to be able to share them with the public on whale watching tours.
    We enjoyed our visit to the museum. It helped us understand more about the Aborigine culture and the history of the settlement of Australia and lives of early Europeans who settled here.
  20. tbutler
    For a week we’ve been following the Murray River east from Adelaide toward the Great Dividing Range, the mountains which feed the headwaters of the Murray. The Murray also is the boundary between the state of Victoria and the state of New South Wales. Thus we’ve been exploring both the northern part of Victoria and seeing the territory of New South Wales across the river. As we leave Wodonga we are headed east into the Snowy Mountains, part of the Great Dividing Range. Historically, this range of mountains impeded migration of people into the central part of Australia. Today the mountains still present challenges to travelers.
    Near the town of Carryong we crossed the Murray. We stopped at a scenic view point which overlooked the wide valley of the Murray River. The flooding river had resulted in moving an entire town out of the valley and the outlines of building foundations were still evident in the exposed flood plain of the river. We visited with a man who stopped at the site. He was a train engineer who had operated the trains on the route into the mountains for many years. He told us about the village. He also spoke of the rail line which now is a bicycle trail. He has ridden the entire route of the bicycle trail many times and looks forward to the day when two trestles are converted for the bike trail.
    From the viewpoint, we begin our climb into the mountains. We have chosen a little traveled route which will take us to the highest town in Australia. Cabramurra is a company town for the electric company which runs five dams and power plants on tributaries of the Murray River. We saw the dams and reservoirs on our drive into the mountains but the power plants are all built underground. Near the town of Cabramurra we saw one of the tremendous power switching and transformer yards that supported this huge operation. From there we descended on the east side of the Snowy Mountains into the valley of the Snowy River.
    Travel through the mountains was slow and we emerged from the highest elevations in the late afternoon. We decided to stop for the night after seeing a wombat and kangaroo, both live and both near the road. Pulling into the first park that we came to, we made camp for the night. This was not a franchise park and it condition showed it. The owners were friendly and they even had complementary internet, a welcome change from many of the parks we’ve visited up to this time.
  21. tbutler
    Without any definite word on the outcome of the refrigerator problem we decided to stay one more night at the Big 4 Campervan Park in Ecucha. Louise had our refrigerated items stored in the refrigerator in the park kitchen facilities. We moved to the new site and then decided to explore the town. As we walked, we got a call from the road service company. The agent informed us he was trying to put together a solution. He thought we would be exchanging our campervan for a different one and just wanted to confirm where we were headed and where the best place for the exchange would be. We indicated our intentions to be in Albury in New South Wales as our next stop.
    With that news, we could relax and enjoy the day in Ecucha. Our first stop in town was the Port of Ecucha. Yes, Ecucha had a port. We are far inland but like the cities of St. Louise and Minneapolis, goods and materials can be shipped up and down a large river to the ocean. The Murray River was just such a river. Ecucha no longer has a port because the Murray has several dams downstream from Ecucha. At one time goods and materials were shipped into and out of Ecucha on the Murray River. A fleet of paddle wheel river boats still rest in the river there. Several of these operate tours.
    There is a preserved old town along the waterfront with buildings from the early settlement of Ecucha and they post signs on buildings so you can tell who built them and their original purpose. We enjoyed walking from shop to shop, a tea café attracted Louise’s attention and we planned to return later. Unfortunately, tea is served for a specific time in the afternoon and we didn’t get back in time to stop there. We browsed the blacksmith shop and the woodworker shop. A modern day clock shop was in one of the old buildings and several wineries had outlets along this street. We had a grand time walking along the river and exploring downtown Ecucha.
    Returning to the campground, we found that we had missed a phone call. The phone I have is set to maximum volume and vibrate and I still am missing calls. The message said that someone would drive a different (new to us) van to meet us (at our specified location) tomorrow at 2:00 (our specified time) and that they would call again in the morning with details. To get the phone message I had to set up my mailbox which took almost 10 minutes and ran down my prepaid phone. I would have to buy a voucher at the Coles Supermarket on my way out of town to put more time on the phone. I could do it on-line but they won’t accept foreign credit cards for any payments on-line or even over the phone.
    Friday morning we left Ecucha headed for the Big 4 Park in Wodonga where we would meet the new campervan and its driver for the exchange. We arrived about noon. That gave us two hours to get lunch and begin unpacking the current campervan. Almost exactly at 2:00 the driver arrived with our new campervan. We went through the inspection and began to transfer our clothing and supplies from one to the other. Con, the driver, pitched in and within an hour we were moved and he was on the road. We spent the evening putting everything into cabinets and rearranging until we were happy with the way everything was stored.
    The new campervan is different, a 5 passenger van instead of 4. Both in New Zealand and here in Australia, our campervan was a 4 passenger vehicle. This one is the same size as the one we had before but it has two bench seats up front and a dining table/bed that can be set up there. Everything is arranged differently so we really do have a new house. Driving this vehicle the next morning I found it performed much better than the one we had previously and glory be, it had cruise control! I love cruise control. In fact I almost always drive with the cruise control on, even in light city driving. Cruise control would have been of no use whatsoever in New Zealand but here in Australia I can see long drives in the outback coming up in our itinerary and had been wishing we had cruise control.
    Besides the cruise control, this campervan has better suspension so it doesn’t rock and roll so badly and the engine/transmission combination is much peppier than the previous van. We are much better off with this vehicle. Not only that but Con told us to stop at the office in Sydney and they would wash the campervan for us and exchange the linens for a fresh set! I’d say that Britz really does take care of its customers.
  22. tbutler
    A good drive from Adelaide takes us to Renmark on the Murray River. The Murray is the largest river in Australia. North of Adelaide it has high cliffs which overlook its large valley. Our park on Monday night was right on the river. In fact they had canoes which we rented to do some paddling on the Murray. There are larger boats on the Murray, the river has many houseboats plying the waters. One passed while we were launching our canoe.
    Meanwhile, in the campground, children were playing in one of the neatest waterparks I have ever seen. This park is small, operated by the park, but it really entertains the children. There are a number of small slides, maybe eight feet high. A series of cone shaped containers are constantly filled with water until they become so full that the level of water above the pivot point on which the containers turn makes the container unstable and it suddenly flips over dumping its contents on anyone below. This is all topped by a huge bucket which behaves much as the cones. There are two large flows of water filling the bucket. Just before it becomes unstable a drain hose starts turning a water wheel which sounds a bell. Then the bucket turns over dumping its entire contents onto a roof just below the bucket. From there the water splashes in all directions but mainly in the direction the bucket pours. The entire surface of the water park is splashed in that direction. Children line up in front of the bucket as the alarm begins to sound. All this is accompanied by many screams of excitement and joy. We’ve seen the same in another park here. It all looks like great fun but it may not pass the lawyer test in the US.
    From Renmark we continued driving along the Murray River on the Sturt Highway. This highway is named for the first European to lead a party from Adelaide to the far side of the continent through the outback and return safely. The Sturt Highway took us from the state of South Australia through New South Wales back into Victoria. We spent the night at the Ibis Caravan Park in Kerang. Yes, there are Ibis roving the grounds of the Ibis Caravan Park.
    In the morning we discovered that our refrigerator had gone on the fritz. We had thawing meat and warm contents. I picked up the phone to call road service only to find that the phone had no time left on the contract. We would have to drive to a dealer where we could purchase a voucher to reload the phone with time so we could report our problem. Sixty kilometers later we arrived in Echuca and found a Coles Grocery. The friendly staff there sold me the needed voucher and then showed me how to add this to the phone.
    That done, I called the road service number. An hour later we were at a shop in Echuca getting an analysis of our problem. The conclusion, the compressor is not operating. The solution, we’re waiting to learn as I write this. The refrigerator has been in and out of the cabinet repeatedly so this isn’t its first failure. The technician that looked at it said replacing the compressor isn’t usually done due to the cost which is about $1400 for this small refrigerator.
    We found a nice holiday park for the night but will have to move to another site if we decide to stay tomorrow night. We have depleted the free internet allowance for today, we get a renewal in the morning and then I think we’ll head for McDonalds for more internet time.
  23. tbutler
    Our campervan has several nagging problems and one big problem. The big problem is the gray water tank which doesn’t seem to vent except through the shower drain. The drain on the gray water tank is very slow and the valve has stops at two open positions but no stop for a closed position. So it takes forever to drain the tank and then when the tank is empty you just have to guess when the valve is closed. I talked to the technician and explained the problem. I also mentioned that the hose for the gray water has a very old ragged looking fitting and I wanted that replaced as well. They cleaned the tank and replaced the old valve and the fitting on the hose.
    We had several weak gas lifters that hold cabinet doors open. If you held the door in a spot for a moment they would hold the door there but if you needed it fully opened you had to hold it my hand. They replaced the lifters and found the problem with one of the latches that was malfunctioning. We also had plastic glasses which were cracked. One of them leaked and was unusable, the others were just a few uses of being in the same condition so we got replacements for those.
    All this took about two hours. In the meantime, Louise and I were deep into our computers, using the free internet at the Britz office. We managed to get caught-up with much of our work. Once repairs were done we closed down the computers, checked all the work and then set out on our way to our next destination. We’re heading back east toward Canberra, the capital of Australia. We put the name of a town along our intended route of travel into the GPS and off we go through northern Adelaide. About 15 kilometers of city driving, stop lights and the occasional round-about and we’re onto the expressway. This turns into an elevated highway for about six kilometers and turns us out into the countryside. About 20 kilometers out of town the four lane separated highway becomes two lane but retains the 110 km/hour speed limit.
    On good highway, the campervan can be safely operated at 110 km/hour or about 70 MPH. The problem is that there are many stretches of road that have roads that are less than good. Several days ago I posted some brief information about the roads we are encountering. The campervan drives like a truck. The suspension feels like a truck and its handling matches. The pavement is often lower along the shoulder of roads which makes the campervan lean toward the shoulder. All this rocking and rolling rearranges many items in the storage areas of the campervan. We often think of the airline caution, “Objects in overhead compartments may have shifted during flight.” Even with all this, the roads in Australia are a definite step up from those encountered in New Zealand. Roads in Australia are wider than those in New Zealand. We’ve encountered a few narrow bridges but no single lane bridges which were common in New Zealand.
  24. tbutler
    Adelaide is the largest city in the state of South Australia. It is the smallest of the five cities in Australia with a population over one million. It is located on the southern coast of Australia in the State of South Australia. The Murray River is the largest river in Australia and its mouth is just east of Adelaide. It was the Murray River that we crossed on a Ferry on our way into Adelaide.
    We have arranged to have some repair work done on the caravan at the Britz office in Adelaide on Monday morning. Somehow that has a familiar ring to it, where have I heard (or written) that before? Since we were arriving on Sunday, we needed to find a place to stay for the night. Louise set the GPS for the Big 4 Holiday Park in Adelaide. This time it didn’t work. There were two choices and neither was exactly correct so she picked the closest. When we couldn’t find the park, we drove on a bit further then pulled over and Louise called Big 4. They told us to put the address in the GPS as 6 Military Highway instead of the 1 Military Highway that is their actual address. Seems this was a common problem as they gave us the solution without hesitation. We were about 10 kilometers away!
    Sometimes mistakes turn out to be good events and this was the case here. Looking for a place to turn around I came upon a shopping center with a K-Mart. I had a list of things I wanted to get for the caravan that would make life a little better.
    The heat pump in the camper is working for a source of heat but it runs constantly and then kicks in and out making a bit of noise and vibration each time. It isn’t helping my sleep. Britz rents an electric heater, small floor model, for $7 per week which would be $70 in our case. I found one in K-Mart for $19 so that was a deal. It works great for the small space in the caravan and is not so noisy.
    Britz also rents bag chairs, for sitting outside. I picked up a pair for much less than they charge. I got some cleaning supplies so I can keep the windows clean and a container to store the gray water hose which they had lying on the floor in a storage compartment with the fresh water hose, a broom and bucket. That compartment is also where we store our duffel suitcases so I wanted to keep it clean and not have gray water leaking out onto all those other things.
    I couldn’t find a lens cap for my main camera lens. The one I’ve used for years finally broke. A small spring retains the lens cap in place holding it against the threaded inside surface and the plastic support pin that anchors the spring broke. I’ve checked several photo shops, everything is digital, most cameras they sell are compact digital cameras. I’m going to have to find a real camera store that sells to professionals. Personnel in the stores I checked gave me several suggestions, all in downtown Adelaide and I’m not taking the caravan there.
    The Big 4 Holiday Park in Adelaide is located right by the beach. We were separated from the beach by a row of dunes but could hear the surf in the park. Beach parks are always sandy and there is no way to keep the sand out of the caravan. We sweep several times a day when we are in these parks. I have a small rug for use outside the camper but even that doesn’t do the job to get rid of all the sand on our shoes or feet.
    It was windy at the park when we pulled in and overnight it rained. This wasn’t just a light rain, it rained and blew hard. There were puddles in the roadways when we left in the morning. I had watched a group of four young people set up a tent in the evening. I wondered how they slept during the night. Their tent was still up and there was no sign of them stirring in the morning so I guess they were finally getting some sleep.
  25. tbutler
    The campground at Mount Gambier was in a difficult location to find and when we did, it wasn’t the best place to stay. They let us choose our own site which was their way of not having to listen to us complain about the assigned site. We found no level sites and settled for one that was nearly level. It was at the bottom of a slope and back away from the road for some distance. This became a concern when I heard it start raining during the night. As the night went on, the rain continued in spurts. By morning I was quite concerned about the possibility of getting stuck. I rousted out Louise early that morning so as to get out before more rain made the ground even softer. As it turned out, we were able to pull out without difficulty.
    I had promised Louise breakfast at McDonalds and programmed the GPS to take us there. It worked flawlessly. We found a parking place and Louise went in to order breakfast. I set up the computer to test the internet connection. McDonalds in Australia provides free internet. Yea! The connection was good and we could both get on at the same time. We ate breakfast and worked on the internet while sitting in the caravan for about an hour. Then we went to find a place to activate our phone. I went to a Coles Supermarket to ask how to do this. They gave me instructions and a phone number. Fortunately we had parked right by a phone booth and we got the activation done. I was now feeling a little better about communications here in Australia.
    From Mount Gambier we continued on the coastal route but now needed to move on to our next stop, Langhorn Creek. We could get there in a day but it would be very late in the day so we set our goal for a town just a little short of Langhorn Creek. We covered 300 kilometers, about 180 miles and stayed the night at Meningie. Our top speed on these roads is around 80 km/hour, about 45 MPH. The roads are curvy, hilly, narrow, rough and have little or no shoulder. We are rocking and rolling even at that speed. Louise has done wonders finding rattles in the caravan and we’re traveling with mostly engine and tire noise. This trip also involved significant winds, crosswinds that shift the caravan side to side. The route is northward just inland from the coast and the wind is strongly from the sea to our west. When we have trees along the road it cuts the wind but when we don’t it is a constant battle to keep the cararvan on the road.
    Meningie would be a delight once we reach there. The campground is right on Lake Albert, which is really a lake off of a larger lake which is behind a barrier island along Encounter Bay. The lady in the office is a delight and we book a site despite the note taped to the office counter that indicates their internet service is out of service. The note looks months old so I don’t think they are really trying to get it fixed. We parked so we could look out the rear window of the camper to the lake. Then the rain began. The far shoreline of the lake disappeared periodically as passing showers swept through the area. By night the rain had stopped.
    Sunday we’re off to Langhorn Creek to visit the Bleasdale Winery. There is a long story to go with this choice of winery, suffice it to say that Louise has family connections to the Blasdell name and the family organization includes many variant spellings of which Bleasdale is one. Through the family association, Louise was advised of this winery in Langhorn Creek and wanted to visit there to investigate the connection. We’ve encountered a number of people here in Australia who when we mention Langhorn Creek know all about the Bleasdale Winery and its history. Founded in 1850 by … Potts and named for a Reverend Bleasdale who was a vinter and inspired Potts to try his hand at wine making. Potts named the winery for Reverend Bleasdale.
    On the way we encounter one surprise, the road we’re following comes to a river and there is a ferry. We wonder if the ferry will accommodate us but arriving there we see several large camping trailers on board. Then on the far shore we see a tractor trailer pull onto the ferry, we’ll have no problem here. In fact, the ferry was free. We cross and are on our way. By 11:00 a.m. we’re at the Bleasdale Winery. We get a tour, meet the fifth generation of the founder who now manages the winery. After tasting a number of excellent wines we purchase a selection (including an excellent 18 year old Port) and set out on our way. Our next stop will be in Adelaide, a short distance to the northwest.
    If you are counting states, we been in Tasmania, Melbourne is in Victoria and Adelaide is in South Australia. We’ve been here just two weeks and we’ve been in almost half the states in the country. It sounds more impressive than it is, we’ve only seen a tiny fraction of this very large country.
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