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  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Leaving Melbourne we head southwest toward the coast and a road called the Great Ocean Road. It is a little more than a hundred kilometers to the coast. When we reach the Great Ocean Road we find a curving, hilly, narrow road. Reaching the ocean, we are rewarded with wonderful views of a spectacular coast. We spent three days on the Great Ocean Road. We found so many viewpoints that we were unable to stop at all of them. The coast in this area between Melbourne and Adelaide is rugged limestone which is being eroded away by strong waves. The nature of the limestone is to collapse once undercut by the waves. This produces cliffs all along the seaside. As the erosion proceeds, some areas are stronger than others and this leaves sea stacks, cliffs isolated from the shore. Some of these are small others quite dramatic, large and rugged. A region with many of these sea stacks has been named the Twelve Apostles. This area is quite popular with tour busses visiting along with hundreds of independent travelers. We joined the procession to view this concentration of sea stacks. There are multiple viewpoints as these cover a distance of over a kilometer. From one viewpoint only a few can be seen. Visiting multiple viewpoints allows one to see most if not all of them. We had wonderful weather, clear with a nice breeze. During our visit, helicopters flew a steady parade of sightseers by the cliffs. Their base of operation was right at the parking lot so people could simply walk from their car to the cliffs or to the helicopters. We walked to all the viewpoints and spent time enjoying the show. The waves formed powerful breakers against the rocks. The sound and the fury of the waves on the shore always amaze me and I lingered at each point to absorb all the action going on. By the time we finished this section of the drive, we had traveled only 100 kilometers and it was now time to find a campsite. Our second day we stopped for a rest stop in a small town along the route. Beside the public restrooms, there was a viewpoint of the wetlands and a small river. There were birds everywhere so we decided to take some time to identify a few new birds. But first we fixed a lunch and ate. Then it was off to walk the trail down to the river. A young lady next to us was arriving at the same time we started out and she noticed the bird book I was carrying. We struck up a conversation, she was from Quebec and was very interested in birds. We shared conversation at the viewpoint then she went on her way. A couple that was eating lunch on the deck at the viewpoint struck up a conversation and we spent another 15 minutes visiting with them. They were native Australians from near Adelaide. He was a mine safety advisor and we discussed our mining museum experience in Beaconsfield several days before. He remembered the details of the incident with the two trapped miners and we learned a great deal from him about mining in Australia. He has worked mines in many areas we will be visiting and his suggestions gave us ideas of where we could see more of the mines in Australia. Now we began our walk down to the river. By the time we had completed the walk we had identified five new birds and had a good look at our first Crimson Rosella, a spectacular red parrot. Half our day gone, we resumed our trip along the coast. This day there were arches and shipwreck sites and stories. At one point we walked down steps along the cliff to an inlet where we set our shoes aside and walked barefoot on the sand. Then it was off to another campground. Our campgrounds have been good places to stay but the internet access leaves much to be desired. At Apollo Bay, a change in the internet altered the password shortly after we checked in and we were not informed. With the office closed for the evening, there was no way to use the internet service. In Port Campbell the service worked occasionally and then would log of and we could not get back on until the next morning. Mount Gambier had a subscription internet service that cost $7 per hour or $20 for 24 hours. There were longer term options at better rates but I needed to know how widespread the service would be before committing to a long term contract. As a result, my postings have been delayed repeatedly and I remain posting our travel information with a time delay.
  5. Arriving at Britz at 7:45 a.m. we found the place locked up. It was not only locked up, the parking lot was gated and there was no place to leave the luggage when we got out of the cab. The driver suggested that we go to a shopping center a block north of the Britz office. We found a bench near the mall entrance and piled our luggage there. Here we were homeless, we just needed to find a shopping cart for our possessions! I waited while Louise went inside to find a cup of coffee. When she returned I set off for the Britz office. There were two agents working the desk and I was the third customer in the office. It took about ten minutes to get to the desk. After that, things went pretty smoothly. I selected a strong insurance policy as I had in New Zealand. The rental will last almost 80 days and involves traveling great distance on the left side of the road. Given these factors, I prefer to limit my liability rather than risk a large loss as a result of an accident. I discussed some of the problems we had with our campervan in New Zealand and they checked to make sure those things were addressed with this van. Then I got an orientation to the van. This one was similar but different in a number of ways. First, it was longer. There was a bench seat behind the driver’s seat and there were additional cabinets in the kitchen area as well as the rear. There is an air conditioner/heat pump unit in the roof, a higher ceiling and a TV! This caravan has dual tires and is geared much lower than the one we had in New Zealand. After the orientation I went to the shopping center to pick up Louise and our luggage. I parked the van at the outer part of the parking lot and retrieved the luggage one or two bags at a time. When I got to the last bag Louise came with me to see our new home. She looked it over and approved so I guess we’ll keep it. Now we are ready to stock this van with groceries and other supplies. There was a Coles Supermarket in the mall so we went in to get our groceries. I checked at the desk and picked up a prepaid phone for $19 Australian. Later I would activate it but not on the internet. The Telstra web site is for Australian residents, it doesn’t work for international travelers. Fifteen minutes on a pay phone (yes they still have pay phones here) and we have a working phone in Australia. Louise took her time and picked up the needed food items to get us started on our way. The cart was full to overflowing and the register tape could be used as a tail for a large kite! $220 Australian later we were ready to take on Australia in our caravan. We put an address in the GPS and we were on our way. Our first destination is the home of a couple that we met in New Zealand. Ian and Debbie shared many interests with us and they invited us to come visit them in Melbourne when we got to Australia. We kept in touch by e-mail and everything was set. We were about ten minutes from their house and drove there to meet Ian. We parked the caravan in their driveway and plugged in. Debbie was working and we wouldn’t see her until the evening. Ian fixed lunch for us and brought out his maps to talk about our coming travels. Debbie came home from work and we all settled around a table on the patio for more conversation. Debbie prepared a delicious dinner, a rack of lamb better than anything I’d ever had. After dinner we sat and talked for several hours before retiring for the night.
  6. Our wake-up call on Monday, March 3 was set for 6:00 a.m. so we could get a cab to the Spirit of Tasmania terminal by 6:30 a.m. Boarding would start shortly thereafter. Everything went on schedule and we were the first to board. The ride to Tasmania is scheduled for 9 hours and we arrived at 5:00 p.m. Avis Rental Cars has a facility in the terminal in Tasmania and we were second in line to get our car. The process went much faster than at an airport in the US. We were on our way by 5:30 p.m. The car was a Mitsubishi and had wipers on the left side of the steering wheel and turn signals on the right. Louise began counting how many times I turned on the windshield wipers when I wanted to turn. She thought it was hilarious, I had a different opinion. Roads in Tasmania are similar to the roads in New Zealand. We had been advised not to travel at night in Tasmania because of the wildlife; wallabies, kangaroos, wombats, echidnas, bandicoots and of course the Tasmanian devil. On our drive to our hotel we saw the evidence lying dead along the roadside. This made us extra cautious as we drove on. We arrived at our hotel, the Tamar Valley Hotel near Grindelwald. We checked in and asked about the restaurant which was about to close as we arrived. They called over to the restaurant and directed us how to get to the restaurant. We had a good meal and went to our room. We had reserved a cottage which had a kitchenette. The room was quite nice, actually a suite with two rooms plus a bath. On the back side is a deck the full width of the cottage. It was an ideal place to call home for our stay in Tasmania. There was abundant wildlife on the grounds of the resort. The night we pulled up to our cottage there was a wallaby female and a juvenile grazing on the grass. We could see several rabbits and some spur winged plovers which we had seen on the Coromandel Peninsula of the North Island on New Zealand. A chicken-like bird that we later identified as a Tasman hen was pecking at the ground. The next morning I got out the Birds of Australia book to identify several ducks. There were both Pacific black ducks and Australian wood ducks constantly roaming the grounds of the resort. Also in the morning I saw a number of black rabbits. Grindelwald is located along an ocean inlet which brings tides up the Tamar River all the way to Launceston, the second largest city on Tasmania. We were about 20 km north of Launceston which was a gateway to the east and west as well as roads to the south. The resort has a golf course and our first day we decided to play a round of golf. The course was interesting and playing with rented clubs made it especially challenging. Also challenging was the presence of the above mentioned wildlife and their accompanying droppings. On the course we saw most of the above mentioned wildlife including the wallaby which was in the woods adjacent to one tee box.
  7. In 2012 Louise and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. We couldn't decide what to do or where to go for the celebration. Living in south Texas now, we didn't want to travel north in December so we decided to postpone the celebration for a special trip of some kind. We received an advertisement for a cruise from a company we had cruised with once before. This was a really exotic cruise, perfect for an anniversary celebration. Two weeks cruising the Fiji Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. We put our deposit down with about a month before the commitment date. The no refund date passed without much discussion, the trip was on. Scheduled for the first two weeks of June 2014, it seemed quite a long way off. Soon after making the decision to take the cruise, I pointed out that Fiji wasn’t really too far from New Zealand and Australia. Can you see where this is going? We discussed that and put it aside. From time to time one of us would bring up the idea of extending the trip for the cruise to include New Zealand and Australia. At FMCA in Gillette, Wyoming last spring we attended a session on traveling in New Zealand and Australia in campervans with the tour group associated with FMCA. The presentation sounded great, we made notes and inquired about the price. It all sounded good until we sat down to discuss details, the price quoted was per person, double it for the two of us. That was a lot more than I was prepared to spend for a six week trip to the two countries. Louise and I are not tour people, we don’t like to be on a schedule when we travel. We’ll do it when we must but we much prefer to make up our own schedule as we go. So we decided to go it on our own. Finally last fall, we decided that if we were going to see New Zealand and Australia we need to start making arrangements. Louise took the lead contacting New Zealand Airlines to get prices and information on flights. They service all three destinations so we settled on them. Louise started planning a three week trip extension for the two week cruise. I said that I wanted to make the trip a full year to allow us time to see everything we wanted. That’s when the fight started! I found a set of suggested drives for Australia, two week loops that covered most of the country. There were about ten of them so this was far beyond what Louise wanted. We talked and settled the argument on a four month extension of the cruise. We would spend one month in New Zealand and three in Australia. I anticipated doing this following the cruise but Louise wanted to be back in the US following the cruise. So I agreed to scheduling the trip before the cruise. Somewhere in there is a lesson for the US Congress I believe. Louise began to go to work with the airlines and their travel agency. We booked flights for the entire circuit from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand then after a month we would fly from Christchurch, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia. At the end of three months in Australia we would fly from Sydney to Nadi, Fiji for the cruise. Then at the conclusion of the cruise we would fly from Nadi, Fiji to Los Angeles. From there we built in the details. We would rent a campervan in Auckland and return it in Christchurch, making a ferry trip from the north island to the south island on a ferry so we reserved the ferry trip. In Australia we would stay in a hotel in Melbourne for three days then take the ferry to Tasmania where we would stay in a hotel for a week traveling by rental car to tour the island. When we returned to Melbourne we would pick up another campervan and travel for 10 weeks going north along the east coast up to Cairns then traveling west along the north coast to Darwin and finally traveling south to Perth. We would leave the campervan in Perth and fly to Sydney. Our visit to Sydney, would involve a hotel stay for a week then fly to Nadi, Fiji. All this was going to cost us in the neighborhood of what the six week trip with the FMCA travel agency was charging but we would get four months on our own schedule seeing just what we wanted. What will follow in the coming days and weeks is a running commentary on this trip. I just checked my records and this posting is number 100 for this blog and comes at the end of 5 years of activity on the FMCA web site.
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