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  1. We’ve been touring Australia for almost three months now. Along the way we’ve collected some souvenirs for ourselves and for our friends and family. When we started this trip our bags were packed to the limit. We investigated shipping the souvenirs and some of the clothing we would not need on the cruise back to the US. Every query ended up with prices that were extreme for even a small package. Then in a discussion with a park ranger at Monkey Mia we found out about something different. She suggested using Sea Mail offered by the Australian Post. She had shipped her goods from Britain to Australia that way and said it was an economical alternative. We investigated and found the prices that UPS, DHL, FedEx charged for a two pound package would pay for a 20 kilogram package shipped Sea Mail. The difference of course is that the Sea Mail package will arrive in 60 to 90 days instead of two days. That was perfect for our needs. We didn’t need to have the materials in hand quickly. So we purchased packing materials and loaded up two boxes. The amount of materials that we wanted to ship back were too much for one box so we split it into two boxes of 13 and 14 kilograms each. That is 27 kilograms or 60 pounds of goods we shipped back to the US. This took care of the excess we had purchased on the trip so far and also lightened the load in our suitcases. Shipping was accomplished on Wednesday before our Friday morning flight. Thursday was pack the bags day and also clean the camper day. We set out suitcases on the benches in the rear of the camper. Frist Louise packed the majority of her clothes and goods and then I took my turn. There isn’t enough room in the camper for both of us to be moving around at the same time. Louise did a final load of laundry and while she did that I packed my clothes and goods. Clothes were laid out for the next days flight and then everything was given a good cleaning. We didn’t wash the outside of the camper, that was not required but all the dishes and cabinets had to be left clean. The linens and towels didn’t have to be washed. Those would be left on the bed when we turned in the camper. Thursday night it rained. It rained hard off and on all night. By morning I was getting anxious about the final work of disconnecting the utilities, electric and grey water. It was going to be messy. We were parked on a sandy lot and nothing sticks to things like wet sand. If the rain continued I was going to get soaked in the process. Just before sunrise the rain quit. I got up and made a trip to the restroom. Several people were busy packing up to leave while the rain had stopped. I think everyone was thinking the same thing I was, get out quick before it starts to rain again. We had a quick breakfast, washed the dishes and disconnected. I washed down the hose and electric cord as I rolled them up. Then a last bit of packing and we left the park at 8:30 a.m. I took Louise to the airport and left her there with all of our baggage except my brief case which had the Britz documents and my records from the rental. The GPS showed me just a few kilometers from the Britz office. Ten minutes and I was there. I had called Britz on Wednesday to confirm their hours of operation. I was told they didn’t open until ten and our flight was scheduled for 11:30. The agent I talked to said he would be there at 8:30 and he could get me checked out at that time and offered to arrange a cab to the airport as well. He also confirmed for me that I would be able to take the campervan to the airport, it would be allowed in the drop off area which is something that isn’t allowed at most US airports. Anyway, he was there and after a brief look at the camper, a cab was called and I was on my way back to the airport. I met Louise in a coffee shop where she was waiting and we went to check our luggage. We got a surprise. The tickets I had booked with Virgin Australia didn’t include checked baggage. That was an additional charge. The Expedia confirmation didn’t say that baggage wasn’t included it just said that additional charges may apply for baggage. So we paid for shipping our bags and then were off to the security check. Once through security we had about an hour wait for the boarding call. Our plane was an Airbus 300-200, a wide bodied plane for this cross country flight. I was expecting a smaller plane but was pleased by the wide body plane. It takes just under four hours to fly across the country from Perth on the west coast to Sydney on the east coast. There was also a two hour time change for the time zone difference. We arrived just after sunset. I was able to photograph a spectacular sunset from the airplane. It took less than 30 seconds for the sun to disappear below the horizon once its lower limb touched the horizon. By the time we landed and got out of the airport it was dark. We picked up our luggage and found the taxi line. A $40 ride got us to our hotel in the Chinatown area west of downtown Sydney. We are right across the street from a large shopping market with three stories above ground and another story below ground. The lowest level is a vegetable market and has other vendors with booths selling other products, rather like a large flea market. Above the basement level are two stories of shops and stores including a large grocery store. The top floor is the food court. We got a simple dinner in the food court and then walked around the neighborhood.
  2. We left Ledge Point after a drive through town to get a look at the community. The housing was upscale beach housing with beautiful homes with a second story that looked over the dunes to the sea. The dunes all along this coast are very well preserved. Walkways are provided at specific places and people seem to stay off the dunes other than through the walkways. This is nice to see and seldom seen in the US. Dune erosion can be quite serious. Once the plants have been disturbed, the dune is free to move. Regular ocean breezes will move particles up one side of the dune and they tumble down the other side. Once sand grain at a time (actually many at a time) the dune moves further inland. If there is no plant life to anchor the dune, it will move into a street or road, a lawn or a field. Once the plant life is gone, it is virtually impossible to stop the movement of a dune. At the upper end of South Padre Island near where we live in the southern tip of Texas, the dunes have reclaimed the highway north of the town. You can drive north of town until the roadway disappears under the dunes. We had reviewed the brochure for Perth and the main thing we wanted to see was the Fremantle area which included some of the early buildings in the downtown. The focus of the area seemed to be the prison so we put that address into the GPS. One more time, we can’t say how valuable the GPS has been on this trip. It routed us on high speed motorways right to downtown and then we were off within a couple of blocks of the prison. The city of Fremantle has a Park and Pay lot at the prison. You pay your fee at a station, get a receipt and put that on the dash. The camper wouldn’t fit in any of the parking spaces but they were end to end double spaces so I parked in an empty pair at the far end of the lot and used part of the space in front of us. The lot was never full while we weren’t blocking a spot that could have been sold. The prison was the state prison for Western Australia. It was built in the 1860’s and that says a lot about the nature of the prison. It was added to and expanded several times. By the 1960’s there were severe crowding problems and the conditions in the prison must have been quite frightful. There were several prison riots, one in the 1960’s over the quality of the food and another in the 1980’s related to the overcrowding. The prison was finally closed in 1991. There were a number of tours available but the general information was dreadful enough we didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon in the prison. We left there with a bus route and schedule for the free shuttle around Freemantle. Using the map we headed for the Maritime Museum on the docks. A short walk to the bus stop and a short bus ride and we arrived about 2:00 in the afternoon. Outside the Maritime Museum an extensive set of low walls listed all the people lost at sea in a long list of shipwrecks. Everywhere we go on the coastline of Australia there are extensive lists of shipwrecks. The coastline has it hazards as all coastlines do and many of the wrecks occurred before accurate navigation techniques were common. Even in recent times, shipwrecks occurred in some cases because navigational hazards weren’t well plotted. The museum itself had a number of interesting displays including one documenting a 1980’s series of circumnavigations of the globe by Jon Sanders. His boat and equipment he carried were displayed. The boat was displayed at a steep angle and a marker near the ceiling behind the boat showed the height of a 30 foot wave that overtook the boat on one of his trips. Jon saw it approaching and hung onto the mast as the wave washed over the boat. There was an extensive exhibit with models of the America’s Cup yachts from the beginning of the competition to present day. They were displayed in sets for each year and it was really nice to be able to look at the progression of changes in the design over time. One of the yachts, the Australia II which was sailed by the Perth Yacht Club, was on display, full size. An early ferry and fishing vessels from small to large were also there to be seen. We spent several hours and if we had been there earlier in the day we would have spent a few more. Leaving the museum, we caught a bus to the prison. It went out of service while we were on the way so we switched to the other free bus route and took a bus to the nearest stop to the prison parking lot. We walked back to the parking lot by a different route which gave us a chance to view a large athletic field called The Oval. We were able to peek through the fencing along one side and see the stadium. We arrived back at the parking lot with a few minutes remaining on our parking pass. Putting the address for the Central Caravan Park into the GPS put us on the way out of town to a location near the airport. The route started a bit slow with stoplights but they were well timed and we didn’t have to stop at many. Soon the lights gave out and we were on the Great Eastern Highway headed out of town. It was a much faster trip than I anticipated in early rush hour traffic. Our park is near the Britz office and the airport because we will turn in the camper in two days. We’ll spend the next two days getting everything ready for the next leg of our journey, an air flight to Sydney.
  3. Departing the Geraldton area we noticed a dramatic change from our travels over the last month. We have returned from the Great Australian Outback. Suddenly we were seeing fields of crops and farms. There were still many areas with native plants growing but the sudden change from no farmland to abundant farmland was quite surprising. Along with this, we no longer saw signs for domestic animals, cows and sheep, roaming on the road. This was the end to open range country. Traffic was light on Indian Ocean Drive. We didn’t meet a single road train in our drive to Ledge Point. As we drove the road, we stopped in several small towns to see the ocean views and walk along beachfront trails. The highway itself wanders among large sand dunes. Many are covered with heavy vegetation but there are also huge sand dunes with no vegetative cover at all. The sand here is surprisingly white. This would indicate that the sand particles are almost exclusively quartz. Several towns bear mention for their facilities along the beach. At Green Head we pulled into a park at the beach. A map directed us to a walkway up and over a dune and then to a scenic overlook on several bays and some offshore islands. We enjoyed the cool sea breeze as well as the sound and sights of waves breaking on rocks and the beach. The park, walkway and overlook were well maintained and had interpretative signs to explain what we were seeing on the walk. At Jurien we enjoyed walking out onto their pier and seeing schools of small fish in the water below the pier. There was a very nice playground set up on the sand at the upper end of the beach next to the pier. There was a walkway along the beach and we walked that for a while. Along the walk there was a set of exercise equipment for adults. A little further down the path there was an exhibit about an artificial reef which had been constructed just off-shore in the area. The artificial reef was designed for young people and other who were not capable of swimming out to the natural reef which was quite a distance from the shore. They had constructed reef balls made of concrete, these hollow balls ranged in size from 1 meter (three feet) in diameter down to 30 centimeters (one foot). They weighed as much as 750 kilograms (1500 pounds). These had been placed in water that was about 10 feet deep to create a reef environment for fish and plants. The project was driven by a group of volunteers and partially funded by the county government. Many donors contributed to the project. It was truly a community effort. Once again we pulled into our campground as the sun set. The office had just closed but we were welcomed and told where to pick a site, we could register in the morning. The camp at Ledge Point was one of the nicest parks we have stayed at. It had some long stay occupants but showed all signs of a new park. The facilities were all clean and well maintained.
  4. We left the Billabong Homestead early Saturday morning and drove on south toward Kilberri National Park. This would be a side trip off the North West Coastal Highway that we’ve been traveling. The road through the park takes us to Kalbarri, a small town on the coast. The National Park surrounds the park. The central feature of Kalbarri National Park is the Murchison River. Like many of the rivers in Western Australia (WA) the Murchison River is barely flowing or dry for much of the year. It drains a large area of Western Australia so when they get rain, it flows vigorously. We saw evidence that the water level is easily 20 to 25 feet above the minimal flow we were looking at. During this flow large rocks get rolled along by the river and it cuts the cliff base of sandstone rock. Once the rock is undercut, the cliff above becomes unstable and falls into the river channel. We saw some really interesting sandstone, red of course, in our walk to the river channel. We visited several overlooks and walked down to the river in one location. Like many other national parks in Australia there are many four wheel drive roads which are unsuitable for our campervan. The area is called a gorge and indeed it has the look of a gorge but this is flat land and the criteria for a gorge is different than our idea of a gorge. This isn’t the Grand Canyon or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The Kalberri Gorge is a shallow gorge, perhaps 100 feet deep, maybe a little more. A ten or fifteen minute walk gets you from the rim to the bottom of the gorge. Still, it provides excellent relief from the routine flat sandy plains that surround it. The red sandstone make for a beautiful rock exposure and I’m sure the river is a spectacle when it is flowing. The other feature of Kalbarri National Park is the seacoast south of the town of Kalbarri. We drove this area on Sunday, making stops at each overlook and hiking some trails. It is a beautiful coastline and we spent the entire day driving about 20 kilometers from Kalbarri visiting these sites. Again, there is the red sandstone but it is capped with some white and yellow sandstone in a few places. These are deposits that were laid down along a seacoast millions of years after the red sandstone was deposited. We saw a sea stack and a sea arch in one location. We also saw a Humpback Whale splashing in the distance at that location. A few dolphins were also swimming in the area. Finishing our exploration of Kilbari National Park at 4:30 in the afternoon we headed south to Geraldton. We have now abandoned the North West Coastal Highway and will take the Indian Ocean Drive to the south all the way into Perth. Sunset here is coming about 5:45 p.m. and we had 150 kilometers to go so we were going to be arriving after dark. Louise called ahead to a park where we wanted to stay. They closed their office at 5:00 so it was a good thing we called ahead to let them know we would be arriving late. Everything was done over the phone and we were told to pick up our packet of information in a lockbox at the office. We parked for the night at the Sunset Beach Holiday Park in Geraldton. Showers, dinner and then a little time on the internet completed our evening. This park is one of the few we have found lately that has internet service through a company that we committed to early in the trip. They have a network of parks that use their service and we made good use of it on the east coast but we have only found it in a few spots in the outback. We’ve been able to get our money’s worth from the company but just barely. When we are able to find them, it is nice to have unlimited time and a usage limit which is ample for our needs.
  5. At 11:30 a.m. we left Monkey Mia on our way back south. Just 25 miles down the road is a beautiful little town, Denham. We stopped there to walk the main street along Denham Strait. Palm trees, green grass and brilliant green and blue ocean water provided a beautiful setting for this town. Louise was making one last attempt to find just the right pearl jewelry and found a necklace and earrings at a small shop on the waterfront. We enjoyed the walk, a cool breeze and bright sunshine made for perfect weather. Denham marked our western most point on our trip. In fact there was a hotel in town that had a banner saying it was the westernmost hotel in Australia. From Denham we are retracing our path up the peninsula. We stopped at a narrow point on the peninsula to walk on Shell Beach. Hamlin Pool is a very isolated part of Shark Bay. Sea water does not circulate freely in the Hamlin Pool so the water becomes almost twice as salty as normal sea water. Only a few organisms can live in this very salty water. This is the same body of water that had the stromatolites. Limpets are also able to live here and when they die their shells are left behind. These have accumulated for many thousands of years and form a thick layer at the bottom of the bay. These blow up on land forming dunes of shells. Shells in the water compact and form a kind of limestone called Coquina, the limestone is made almost entirely of shells. The beach here is brilliant white being made entirely of these white shells. We left Shell Beach about 2:30 and drove the 100 kilometers to the Overland Roadhouse where we fueled up again. Then we drove just another 50 kilometers to the Billabong Homestead and our camp for the night. We’ve been traveling in an area where drinking water is not available. That means that the water available at campsites is not for drinking. Since you can’t wash your car or camper, I don’t know why they have water at the campsites. Indeed, our campground for the night had no water available in the campground. We’re running on our second day of water with a tank that lasts us about three days so that means possibly running out tomorrow. The showers aren’t drinking water but the water was soft, plenty of suds. It isn’t fancy but they have electric and hot showers and we were ready for some rest.
  6. Carnarvon is only about 100 kilometers from Monkey Mia as the Crow flies. We aren’t Crows and we can’t fly in our campervan so we have to drive south for 200 kilometers and then northwest for another 155 kilometers. We made a late start down the road after shopping for groceries and filling with diesel. We took advantage of the discount offered by the grocery store which is pretty standard in Australia. Woolworths, Cole’s and some IGA stores offer a 4 cent per liter discount on fuel at their partner fuel stations. We’ve been taking advantage of this when we can. It doesn’t sound like much but that is the equivalent of about 15 cents per gallon and I know not one of us would pass that up. We made another fuel stop at the Overlander Roadhouse. A fill-up there would give us enough fuel to make it back there on the return trip without buying fuel at Monkey Mia. It isn’t a good idea to plan to buy fuel at the end of a long road which is where Monkey Mia was located. Another stop along the way was to see some Stromatolites in the Hamlin Pool Marine Estuary. Stromatolites are ancient composites of microbes which form large colonies in shallow water. An information panel described it as the equivalent of a rain forest for bacteria and other one celled living forms. Fossils of Stromatolites are found in Precambrian rocks. Precambrian rocks contain no other fossils so these Stromatolites are the earliest fossils we find on Earth. After that stop it was almost sunset as we approached Monkey Mia. This part of the trip was mostly to the northwest which was directly into the setting sun which made the driving hard and looking for kangaroos and other straying livestock a real challenge. We arrived in Monkey Mia as the last light was fading from the sky and parked in our spot in the dark. We had done something we usually never do. There is only one campground in Monkey Mia so I encouraged Louise to call ahead and make reservations. I can’t say that it paid off for sure but we didn’t see any vacant sites in this park. The place was packed with campers, this was obviously a very popular site. At the office we got information about the premier event, feeding the dolphins, which occurs each morning. We were given the location and time to be there so we set an alarm to get us up and on our way before the start time. The next morning, Friday, we were on the beach waiting for the feeding to start at 7:30 a.m. This is a tradition that started many years ago when people in the campground began feeding the dolphins. It became a problem when the dolphins began to depend on the people for their food. Female dolphins would spend so much time in shallow water getting fish fed to them that their calves were dying because they couldn’t nurse in shallow water. The Western Australia Department of Conservation took over the feeding operation and carefully controls it so that the dolphins have to get most of their food by hunting and thus spend time out to sea where the calves can nurse and learn to hunt from the mother. We were given an explanation of the feeding process and then invited to come to the water’s edge forming a long single line at the edge of the bay. Once everyone was in line we were allowed to come into the water to about ankle depth. This brought dolphins closer to the shore and some of them even came within ten feet of our line. Two rangers from the Department of Conservation talked about dolphins and gave us the history of the program while supervising the group. Once the dolphins were close by, we were told to back up out of the water which signaled the dolphins that feeding was about to begin. Volunteers then brought buckets of fish to the beach. There were only a few fish in each bucket. They spread out along the line and picked people from the line to come feed a dolphin. Out of 130 people there that morning, less than a dozen were picked to feed the dolphins. Everyone else got a close look at the dolphins and the feeding. Once this was over, we spent some time on the dock looking for turtles which had been in the area earlier in the morning. Then before we left the dock they started the second feeding. This time only 30 people showed up and there were more dolphins. Louise was picked to feed a dolphin named Surprise. By this time it was almost 9:00 a.m. and we needed to be off our site by 10:00 or stay another night. We went back to the campervan and packed up, pulling out at 9:50 a.m. We left the campground and parked in the Department of Conservation parking lot. We ate breakfast and then spent some time in the gift shop and information kiosk learning more about the dolphins and Monkey Mia. We found out that no one knows exactly where the name came from. There were three possible explanations for Monkey, one being a ship named Monkey that docked there in the late 1800’s. Another explanation is that the name came from the Malay pearlers, who camped at this location, had monkeys. A third possible source of the name is that an Australian colloquialism for sheep is monkey and there were (still are) sheep farms on the peninsula. Mia is the Aboriginal word for home, camp or resting place. The information sheet clearly stated that there are no monkeys at Monkey Mia.
  7. We left Exmouth headed for another sea adventure in Monkey Mia. South of Exmouth we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn. In doing this we left the tropics for the last time in Australia. The distance from Exmouth to the Monkey Mia was too far to cover easily in one day so we decided to make it a two day trip. We needed to stop for groceries and figured that Carnarvon would be a good stop for that and give us an easy 2 day trip to Monkey Mia. As we pulled into Carnarvon, there was a huge dish antenna on the horizon. It turned out to be the 97 foot diameter dish for the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. But, on the same grounds was a much smaller Cassegrain horn antenna which received the signals of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing in July 1969. Carnarvon was the location of the NASA Satellite Tracking Station that served the US Space Program from its inception through Skylab. Along with Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, California, the station at Carnarvon gave the US coverage and communication with spacecraft orbiting Earth for most of their orbits. A small museum today contains some of the memorabilia donated by Australian participants in this effort. Today the NASA Deep Space Network is located in the Australian Capital Territory near Canberra. Carnarvon is left with a couple of unused antennas and a small museum along with memories of its glory days during the space race of the 1960s. Buzz Aldrin was present for the dedication of the museum. In his 80’s at the time, he looked quite different than when he walked on the moon with Neal Armstrong. It is hard to believe that almost 45 years has passed since that event. Sad also to see the US Space Program hiring our competitor for rides into space. We walked around the 97 foot dish, marveling at its size. We weren’t able to get to the Cassegrain Horn antenna as it was within a construction area. We could see it from the back side. While taking pictures of the large dish antenna I noticed a ring around the sun and found a place to get both the antenna and the ring around the sun in the picture. You may have to enlarge the photo with this posting to see the ring around the sun. We also went into Carnarvon to walk the mile long pier which is featured in their publicity. There is a “tea cup” train that makes runs out to the end of the pier but it wasn’t running when we arrived late in the afternoon. We enjoyed walking the length of the tour and watching the sunset over the Indian Ocean and full moon rise over Carnarvon. The moon rise was a fitting event considering the location and the events that transpired here.
  8. Monday, May 12, we went out to swim with the whalesharks. We chose Ningaloo Whaleshark Swim as the company based on the information we could gather. We were picked up at our park at 7:15 and driven to the dock which is on the other side of the peninsula. There were 19 adults in the group plus three young children. We were transferred to the boat which was anchored offshore and then taken to a reef area. The snorkeling was partly a training exercise for the whaleshark swim which has to be executed very quickly to catch the shark as it swims by. You can swim for a while but eventually it will outpace even the strongest swimmers. The boat anchored off the reef and we were to swim to the reef for snorkeling. With the tide coming in and the boat being inside the reef it meant we had to swim against a pretty strong current. I wore myself out completely swimming against the current and just couldn’t get ahead of it. So I returned to the boat, a washout! Louise is a stronger swimmer than I and was able to get to the reef and snorkel there. Everyone came back with stories of a Manta Ray and other great sightings of fish. Once everyone was back on board we set out to hunt a whaleshark. The actual hunting is done by airplane. Pilots spot them swimming just below the water’s surface and relay their location to the ship. So off we went bouncing our way into the 2 to 3 meter swells of the Indian Ocean. As our guide said it could be rough as there is nothing between where we were and Africa just a whole lot of open water! Reaching a whaleshark we put on our snorkeling gear and once the boat was positioned ahead of the shark we jumped in. Off we swam to see the whaleshark. I got a look at it but it was a fleeting look still I had seen it. Whale sharks are large, this one was about 4 meters long from head to tip of tail. Returning to the boat, we continued searching for whalesharks. More rough seas plus the seawater swallowed while snorkeling began to hit a few of the adults. One woman was down and out from that point on. A second whaleshark was spotted and we got another chance to snorkel. This time I got an even shorter peek at it before it swam away. I couldn’t keep up with it at all. Louise got a pretty good look. We encountered a group of dolphins and circled them several times. There were about 20 dolphins in the group. They were not shy and stayed close to the boat. I went to the top deck and took some pictures. The telephoto lens doesn’t work for dolphins because they pop up and then are gone before you can point the lens at them. You have to aim a wider view lens at the area where they are and even then when you see them the lag time between realizing they are there and pressing the shutter relase can mean you get a nice picture of the ocean surface. I got a few good shots of dolpins before we left them. Shortly after that we found a third whaleshark. This one was swimming slowly and I was able to swim along with it for what seemed like a good length of time. I would guess that I was within 5 feet of the shark for a good 30 seconds, maybe more. I had time to look at the gill slits, to examine the fins and tail and to also appreciate the host of smaller fish that accompany this huge shark. There are different fish at what seem to be special locations. I had seen two long eel-like fish just below the belly of the shark with the first shark. There was also a school of about 20 tiny fish that were five or six feet below the belly of the whale. Several medium sized fish swam just above the shark and one colorful reef fish was swimming just in front of the tail. So the whaleshark has a whole community of fish that swim along with it. During this whole time I was the only swimmer along that side of the shark. Then the group caught up with me and I dropped out. It was the best experience of the day for me. Louise also got a look at this one but was on the other side with the crowd most of the time so she didn’t get as good a look. The photo with this article is one from the set the photographer for Ningaloo Whaleshark Swim took on the day we were swimming. They gave us a set of pictures taken during our swim. Finally a really large whaleshark was spotted. Our guides estimated it at 8 meters long. Louise was too tired and was feeling the effects of the motion of the boat and the saltwater she had swallowed while snorkeling so she sat out this one. I went in after it but never saw it. Louise told me I was right in front of it but must have somehow missed it. Anyway, I’d had a good experience and learned something about my limitations. I’m going to have to get more swimming exercise to get those muscles toned up for our coming cruise in Fiji. On our way back to the dock, we were traveling with the swell and it made the ride much easier. Everyone seemed to recover from their seasickness enough to eat lunch. We stopped just short of the dock to do one final reef snorkel and then returned to the dock and back to the campground. We spent the next day taking care of laundry and resting in the campground before departing Exmouth on Wednesday.
  9. I’ve seen pictures of the planet Mars, and this part of Australia sure looks like Mars. The landscape here is relentlessly red. The red is a deeper red than the red center. The desert is red, hills are red, sand dunes are red. Even the rivers look deep red, much deeper red than the Red River on the Texas-Oklahoma border. Our whole journey from Nanutarra Roadhouse to Exmouth had only minor elevation changes and only a few curves to move us around rather than over hills. Temperatures are moderating as we travel south. With a few clouds around mid-day we were able to shut down the air conditioner periodically as we traveled. Traffic was light until we reached the turnoff for Exmouth. Making that turn, we began traveling west and then north onto the Exmouth Peninsula. The town of Exmouth lies at the northern end of the peninsula. There is a navy base north of town. We learned that the navy base used to be a US base in the 60’s and 70’s. A large antenna array north of the base is used for VLF communications with ships and submarines. The antenna is still operated by the US but the base has been turned over to the Australian Government. The antenna array is similar to another we saw in central Australia. Twelve radio towers are arranged in a circle around a single larger tower. All the towers are connected and connecting cables support an antenna ring around the central tower. The town of Exmouth didn’t exist until the US built the naval base and the antenna. Exmouth was built like a US town until Australians moved in to support the base population with goods and services. Around Exmouth there are numerous national parks and reef areas. One of our goals here is to do some snorkeling. We didn’t get a chance to see the Great Barrier Reef and want to see some of the Ningaloo reef while in this area. There are numerous companies here that provide snorkeling tours, many feature a swim with a whaleshark. Whalesharks are large sharks, not whales. They are filter feeders like whales, thus the name. They have only small teeth at the back of the mouth. They feed on plankton in the water. The whaleshark has a large wide mouth with which it sweeps up small plants and animals for its food. The dive up to 2000 meters below the surface and feed at the surface. Being a fish, not a whale, they do not need to come to the surface to breathe. While they are at the surface snorkelers can swim near them without disturbing them. A whole industry has developed in Exmouth to support this activity.
  10. Port Hedland was an overnight stop, we left in the morning intending to drive to Exmouth on the Exmouth Peninsula to the southwest of Port Hedland. The road route is over 700 kilometers which was a surprise to me. I had looked at the map and figured the distances at something over 400 kilometers. When I programmed the GPS in the morning I thought it must have a different route in mind. So Louise went to the map and confirmed that the distance was going to be over 700 kilometers. We have driven 700 kilometers in a day but I wasn’t prepared for that this day. We had a grocery stop to make and the trip would require multiple fuel stops so we right away decided that any attempt to get all the way to Exmouth would not work. As we drove we discussed options including staying at some remote location without power or utilities or finding a campground. We decided to drive until late afternoon and then based on where we were, make a decision about our stopping place for the night. Leaving Port Hedland we were escorted by dozens of truck trains. Most were associated with the local mining but there were truck trains hauling fuel, heavy equipment, wide loads and more. In this case there is nothing to do but simply keep up with traffic. South of town the Great Northern Highway, which we have driven across Western Australia to Broome and now south, turns inland and so did most of the truck trains. We continued on south on the North West Coastal Highway. Truck trains drive this highway as well but their numbers are about what we have experienced on other highways in the Outback. The road is in excellent shape, we encountered no road work once out of Port Hedland. The terrain on this route is very flat. We could see ranges of hills or low mountains in the distance. The road managed to stay between these obstructions with few changes in direction. I set the cruise in the low 90’s and we rolled along quite comfortably. We pulled off the road in Karratha to eat lunch and top off the fuel tank. The next leg of the trip was over 200 kilometers without any fuel along the way. With a full tank we drove for three hours with a short restroom stop midway. We arrived at the Nanutarra Roadhouse about 5:00 p.m. and fueled the campervan. There wasn’t much discussion at this point. It was late in the afternoon the sun would be setting in an hour or so. We were seeing cows along and on the road and we had just come through a section which was damaged during recent heavy rains. There were camper swallowing pot holes in the road and places where the highway was so broken up they had put gravel in place to make it easier to drive. Guess how long the gravel stays with the truck trains driving over it. With no traffic in either direction, I could drive slowly and weave all over the road to take the safest way through the obstacles. Facing the prospect of driving through all this in the dark, it was an easy decision to stay at the campground at Nanutarra Roadhouse. Besides, tomorrow is Mother’s Day and Louise should have the deluxe accommodations, restrooms, showers and electric power! Happy Mother’s Day dear!
  11. Our next stop was 610 kilometers down the road, a full day drive. Port Hedland is south and west of Broome. The road follows the curve of the shore just inland from the Indian Ocean. We packed up and were on our way by 9:00 a.m. Between Broome and Port Hedland there is little for us to see. The only side roads from this section of highway are unpaved dirt roads. There is access to 80 mile beach but that also is an unpaved road. As you might suspect, 80 mile beach is an extensive beach similar to the one we were on the day before. I’m sure it would have been a great place but a four wheel drive vehicle would have been necessary. The other feature of significance on this drive remains just out of sight to our west and south. The Great Sandy Desert lies just inland from the Great Northern Highway. We could at times see dunes along the beach and at other times we could see dunes inland, at the border of the desert. It was a lonely stretch of road with road trains and a few campers on the move. There are two roadhouses along the route which provide food and fuel. Otherwise, we saw no power lines, no houses, only an occasional entrance gate to some private land. The road was unfenced and we were cautioned about livestock. We only saw cows near the road for a short distance. At the Sunfire Roadhouse I fueled up with enough fuel to get us to Port Hedland where fuel prices should be more reasonable. Louise was entertained by a flock of Peafowl. Peacocks and Peahens that roamed the parking area. There were at least a dozen. She had to feed the white one that came over to check out the campervan. I amused myself by counting the tires on one of the road trains parked there. Each of the trailers on the road train has six axles, three at the front and three at the back. Each axle has dual tires so that is four per axle for a total of 24 tires on one trailer. We see three, sometimes four trailers in a train. The front trailer has only three axles on the back and the tractor has three axles with the steer axle only two tires of course. So that is 22 tires on the tractor and first trailer and 24 tires on each of the following trailers. A full four trailer rig would have 94 tires! Makes an 18 wheeler look pretty lame! I’m glad I don’t have to pay for the tires much less the fuel these rigs use. We saw several strong showers in the distance but drove only through a very light rain late in the afternoon. As we approached Port Hedland traffic began to pick up. Port Hedland is a mining area and there were truck trains hauling ore. We were in the lane with the loaded trucks and meeting the empty rigs. They weren’t wasting any time so it was a busy highway. To get to our campground we traveled into town past a huge salt pile that was surrounded with salt evaporation ponds. Sea water is pumped into the salt ponds and allowed to evaporate then collected and stockpiled for shipment by sea. The salt collection and stockpiling operation goes on 24 hours a day our camp host informed us. There is a scenic viewpoint where you can pull off to view the operation. Campground prices were sky-high, $54 per night but the internet was free. We get a discount at the Big 4 park chain thanks to an alliance between Britz and the Big 4 Parks, 10%, so we got our site for $49.60. We are parked on concrete, something that happens only rarely here in Australia. Most sites are grass or gravel. Some have a concrete pad next to the parking site but very few have a concrete pad for parking. Thanks to the free internet and paying for internet in Broome, I am now caught up to real time. This posting should be on the morning of Saturday, May 10, as we are departing Port Hedland for our next stop, Exmouth. The clouds that were associated with the showers gave us an excellent sunset. Clouds make sunrise and sunset pictures interesting and I was out taking pictures when several other photographers joined me. We all agreed this one was spectacular. I put together a panoramic and will post it. We’ll see how the FMCA Web Site handles a panoramic photo. If you click on it you can get it enlarged. Here is just a little fun for the map and geography fans in the audience... Port Hedland is near 20 degrees south latitude so we are still in the tropics. We are moving further west and are now at 119 degrees east longitude. That puts us 61 degrees west of the International Date Line. A little further west and we would be 180 degrees from New York City! That would be 105 degrees east longitude and we won’t go that far west but interesting to think about. We are still closer to the US if we travel east rather than west.
  12. Our last day in Broome was a beach day. We drove to the beach about 11:00 a.m. and parked the motor home on solid sand at the upper part of the beach. Cable Beach is a large beach that stretches from near downtown Broome on the west coast for twenty kilometers. We were on Gantheaume Bay on the Indian Ocean. Waters were quite warm and the surf was mild, waves less than two feet made for a fun beach. There were vehicles all over the beach, many with boat trailers. This was a great swimming beach but locals also used it as a boat launch. It was interesting to watch them launch and trailer their boats from this shallow beach. But first, we wanted to get into the water. There are crocodiles in this area and most areas with crocodiles have strong cautions about staying out of the water. The reading we had done on Broome indicated that crocodiles were not a concern so we anticipated being able to swim here. There were several couples wading in the surf so we inquired. They were local and said there was no problem. So in we went, walking, wading into the mild surf and then getting out into deeper water to swim. We left the US in January and hadn’t been out in the water swimming since then. Under the tropical sun I called a stop after about 20 minutes. We retreated to the campervan and set up our chairs in the shade of the campervan. Louise fixed lunch and we had a light lunch. There was a steady breeze and warm temperatures which made for a great afternoon of people watching from the shade of the campervan. We saw boats being trailered while in the water with a tow rope to pull the trailer from the water. Others would back their four wheel drive out into the surf and load the boat onto their trailer at that point. It was still necessary for someone to wrestle the boat onto the trailer and pull the bow down until the ratchet could be used to draw the boat into its travel position on the trailer. One of the most unique was the boat that had three wheels, two at the stern and one on the bow. Once the boat was in shallow water, the wheels were lowered and you just drove the boat onto the shore. It could be driven forward or backward, it was steerable and if someone wanted to join you just lift the wheels until the boat was sitting on the sand. Once your passenger joined you the boat could be put back up on its wheels and driven into the surf to go out once more. Besides boats there were many sunbathers and swimmers. In mid-afternoon a couple of wind surfers showed up and they entertained us for the rest of the afternoon. A few people brought their dogs to the beach and let them run in the surf. Late in the afternoon one of the water jet devices arrived and we watched the operator rising up into the air supported by jets of water sprayed from nozzles on the platform they stood on. If you haven’t seen this device, it has a pump that floats on the water and is connected to the operator’s platform by two hoses and a control cable. The hoses connect to two nozzles which spray water down which raises the platform with the rider. It is sometimes referred to as a James Bond hovercraft. As sunset approached everybody and their dog showed up to watch the sun set over the bay. With the sun fading we went back for another swim then returned to the chairs to wait for the grand finale. We were not disappointed as there was a fine sunset over the water.
  13. Our second day in Broome starts with laundry. The park laundry facilities here are generally quite good. Here in Broome there are 10 washers and just 4 dryers. All the parks have clothes lines set up for laundry right next to the laundry room. Our campervan came with a set of clothes pins and a small clothes line. Washers here are $4.00 per load so she has been economizing by hanging the laundry to dry rather than using the dryers. It is always an adventure to do the laundry. Some machines take $1 coins and others take $2 coins. Most park facilities have one or the other. Last week the laundry in Darwin had some machines that used $1 coins and others that used $2 coins. There is no paper money in denominations less than $5 in Australia and there are no pennies. I’ve not heard the $1 and $2 coins referred to as Loonies and Twonies! The tropics have increased our laundry considerably. Clothes worn for several hours are quickly exchanged for dry clothes when we return home. The combination of humidity, bright sunny days and low latitudes with very warm temperatures make for quite a lot of perspiration with very little effort! Louise has quickly adjusted to doing laundry in the park laundry facilities. I try to do the running for Louise when she is doing laundry. So I make the trip to the office to get the needed coinage. I try to assist her also when hanging the laundry to dry and taking clothes off the line. It makes things go faster if someone is carrying things back and forth while another pins the clothes on the line or folding as they come off the line. She takes care of all the technical work, running the machines, arranging the clothes on the line, folding clothes. I’m the unskilled labor! We spent the afternoon at the Broome Bird Observatory. Most of our birding has been done on our own. I’m a casual birder. I don’t go hunting for specific birds. When we are hiking we’ll stop and try to identify any bird we see. Once we learn to identify specific birds we simply name them and go on, sometimes taking a little time to observe their actions and view them through binoculars. When we find a bird we don’t know we’ll first try to make a mental note of any field markings that might be helpful in identifying the bird. There is an extensive list beginning with the size and shape of the bird, the size and shape of the bill, color(s), length of legs and tail, etc. Then we get out our bird book and try to find the bird in the book. This all takes time and sometimes we don’t have enough information about the bird to be able to identify it before it flies away. So up to this time we’ve identified 92 birds here in Australia. At the Broome Bird Observatory we would have a guided tour with an experienced birder who can identify birds quickly and knows where to look for specific birds. This speeds up the process of seeing and identifying new birds. It also means that we don’t imprint those birds in memory quite as well as those we have identified ourselves. That will come later if or when we see these birds again. We had the option of driving ourselves to the observatory or being picked up at our park for the tour. We chose to be picked up for the trip. We knew that part of the trip was on dirt road and we’ve tried one of these and found the campervan to be very poorly suited for travel on these roads. So we got the experience of traveling in a four wheel drive vehicle on dirt roads in Australia. Having done that, we were glad we didn’t try to take the campervan on this road. There were spots where deep sand had been blown onto the road. Most of the road was well below ground level with dirt pushed up on the sides by graders. Washboarding was common and taking alternate sides of the road helped avoid some of them but others were impossible to avoid. There was little traffic on this road but when you did meet another vehicle you had to move far to the side. It was only 7 kilometers but it seemed like a very long drive at 30 to 40 kilometers per hour. Located on Roebuck Bay south of Broome, the Bird Observatory is one of the prime locations for shore birds in the world. The large tides make for ideal conditions for shore birds with miles of mud exposed at low tide, millions of shore birds find plenty to eat. Birds from all over eastern Asia migrate to this area during the northern hemisphere winter. Many of those are gone now but plenty remain. Our guide was able to pick out significant birds from a large flock along the shore. Using a large scope we were able to get good looks at birds without disturbing them. Shore birds are a weakness of mine. Living in Missouri most of my life I saw few birds that were shore birds. There are many species and their markings are sometimes not very distinctive. The mostly have long legs and long bills so identifying them is difficult and time consuming for me. They also occur in mixed flocks, groups with many different species all mixing together. This makes identification more difficult as they move about constantly and it is hard to keep track of a single bird. An occasional Black Kite or Whistling Kite would circle overhead and the whole flock would take to the air in a great flurry (see photo with this posting) only to settle back to their same location and return to their regular activities once more. Once the flock finally moved on further south we took a tour of the grass plains on a nearby cattle station. Traveling in the four wheel drive vehicle through the pastures we observed a great variety of birds as well as a few wallabies. We added 16 new birds to the list of 92 that we had seen before. It was a very productive day.
  14. Broome is a small town on the northwest shore of Australia. The pearling industry has been a strength of the area along with tourism. Broome isn’t the only place where pearl farms are found here, it is the center of a large region that extends from Darwin in the north to Port Hedland to the southwest. The largest pearl oysters are found here and the pearls we saw in shops are enormous. The downtown of Broome has a dozen jewelry shops specializing in pearls. We browsed our way through all of them! There are a few other shops and stores and we spent Tuesday afternoon drifting through downtown Broome. Adjacent to the downtown area is an old jetty which was at one time the place where the pearling boats docked. We walked the jetty, over 100 years old, to the end. At low tide we could see hundreds of red fiddler crabs on the mud below the jetty. Tides around Broome are very large with variations during spring tides up to 30 feet. Spring doesn’t refer to the season, spring tides the tides change very rapidly from low to high tides. This occurs each new moon and each full moon. At the first quarter and last quarter phases of the moon the tides are called neap tides. Neap tides change very slowly. You can imagine a spring tide going from low to high tide with a 30 foot change in water level in about six hours, the water would seem to spring up quite quickly. The downtown area is known as Chinatown though we saw nothing of China in the shops and stores. The Japanese were primary developers of the pearl farming in this area and much of that history is recounted in the historic plaques and signage. There is a statue to the three Japanese men who started the industry there. It was a very warm afternoon so we stopped at an ice cream shop and enjoyed an ice cream cone while sitting in the shade on the porch outside the shop. School was out and kids were stopping to get an ice cream treat on the way home. Several mothers with young children stopped by the shop. We stopped by the grocery store to pick up a few things before heading back to the campground for the evening.
  15. Saturday, April 26 is another moving day. We left Katherine on the way to Kakadu National Park near Jabiru, NT. Kakadu National Park is a world heritage site. It encompasses a large area of land with several large rivers and lakes. It is known for its fishing, birding and crocodiles. There are no swimming areas in the park other than swimming pools. Crocodiles are found in the waters throughout the park. One person laughingly described this as Crocodile Dundee territory! We’re going for the birds, the scenery and the rain forest. The park is on Aborigine land and the Warradjan Tribe has a cultural center here that we’ll visit tomorrow. The road from Katherine to Pine Creek is the same road we will take on returning from Darwin next week. At Pine Creek we stopped to fill up with diesel as the prices there have to be better than in the remote areas of the national park. We stopped at the Lazy Lizard Caravan Park/Bar/CalTex Petrol Station. Inside I was greeted by an old gentleman who was as friendly as anyone we have met on the road. We conducted the transaction for the fuel and he began telling me about the establishment. Louise returned from the restroom which was in the bar and said that I needed to see the bar. He talked about the bar and some of the unique features. We walked next door and Louise was right, this was one of the nicest bars we had seen. The building was a block building which was made with blocks from termite mounds. Apparently the termites make some pretty good building blocks. The bar was typical for tropical buildings, it had no doors, the walls were mostly open to the outdoors, there were gaps in the walls with wagon wheels of various sizes, saddles set on top of several walls, there were tables inside and outside and in between, under cover but no walls. There were bar stools drawn up to the walls so you could sit and talk across a wall. There were a variety of fans stirring the air and much more. Louise insists that we will have to stop for the night on our return trip from Darwin. We’ll try to do so. It was just a fuel stop that turned into so much more. Leaving the Lazy Lizard and Pine Creek we turned onto the road that goes into Kakadu National Park. It is about 60 kilometers to the park entrance and a total of over 200 kilometers to the far eastern side of the park where we will pick up a different road that will take us into Darwin after we have seen what we want in the park. We were planning to stay at the campground at Cooinda Lodge and take an early morning cruise on the lake that is part of the park. We pulled in at 3:00 p.m. and went to check in. We were pleased to find space available in the campground and space also available for the first cruise in the morning. We will stay one night and leave in the morning following our cruise. Then we’ll head further into the park. An evening walk to the boat dock ended with a spectacular sunset over the water. We didn’t see many new birds but we did meet a couple who visited with us for half an hour. They were from Darwin and had suggestions for our time there. He was in the lumber sales business and she was a librarian and teacher. Now retired, they were camping here with her parents. He spotted my binoculars and said he had just purchased the same kind of binoculars. I have a harness which holds the binoculars without the strap around the neck. He tried mine out, had his wife photograph them, front and back and was talking about making or buying something like that. She and Louise were sharing poetry and talking books while all this was going on. It was just a bird walk that turned into so much more.
  16. Stick a pin in the center of Australia and you would come close to hitting Alice Springs. This is our next objective. We left Tennant in good time in the morning headed south on the Stuart Highway. We have the day to cover about 530 kilometers, somewhat less than our goal for the last two days. Fuel stops are more common now as this highway is more heavily traveled. This allows us to continue traveling for a longer period of time without stopping. Not far south of Tennant we encountered a scenic area. With fewer kilometers on our travel schedule for the day, we pulled off to travel through a short road paralleling the Stuart Highway. The road took us through an area called the Devils Marbles, Karlwekarlwe in the Aborigine language. For the Aborigine this was a sacred site. Groups from several areas would meet in this location each year for a social and ceremonial gathering. Stories from the Aborigine culture and information about the geology of the area helped us understand both. Other than that stop, we stopped at one bar/gas station. Diesel was $2.147 at this stop. I went in to pay the bill but had to go back outside to read the pump as they didn’t have a connection from the pump to the register. How long has it been since you have seen this? We made a note of other stations on the route in preparation for our return trip. We also noted a number of other stops we might make on our trip to Darwin on the north coast. Alice Springs is a good size town, the third largest town in Northern Territories. There is a large Aborigine population here and many seem to be unemployed or underemployed. The history of Australia and the treatment of the Aborigine is similar to the US history with the native Indian population. A clash of cultures and the looser suffered under years of persecution. Recovery from this situation is difficult but I can see the Australian people are making an effort to rectify the situation. Aborigine culture is part of almost every exhibit we have seen and Aborigine tribes have been given control of many lands that were historically theirs. This includes control of national parks or parts of national parks. We visited several sites in Alice Springs in our three day stay. On the top of the list was the historic part of town which had a number of historic buildings and a collection of art, cultural and civic museums. We started with the National Pioneer Women Hall of Fame. The exhibits honored women from all of Australia who were the first to enter a profession or to achieve great accomplishments, overcoming cultural practices that limited women’s choices of career choices. The stories were inspiring and the exhibit was really first class. We also made a quick visit near closing time to the Flying Physicians Museum which detailed the history of medical service to the Australian Outback. Our third day in town was devoted to flying. As a pilot, I need to fly on a regular basis to maintain my currency. When I travel for extensive trips in the US, I like to rent a plane somewhere and go sightseeing. In foreign countries, I would need to obtain an endorsement for my US license or a separate license in the country in which we are traveling. As an alternative, I can hire a flight instructor and take a flight lesson that allows me to fly a rental plane. It is a work-around and one that I welcome, I have flown with dozens of flight instructors over the years and have enjoyed learning from most all of them. Simon was no exception, he charted a course from Alice Springs out to Bond Creek where I made several landings on a bush field, or as he described it, a dust and dirt field. This was a first for me and I greatly enjoyed the chance to venture outside my normal experiences. We also flew along a mountain range to the west of Alice Springs and I enjoyed seeing the interesting rock formations. We left Alice Springs on Wednesday morning heading for Uluru, the big red rock at the heart of Australia, AKA Ayers Rock.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. Leaving Fairley on Monday morning we drove through farmlands with the first real crops we had seen in New Zealand. We had seen many hay fields but these were wheat and corn fields, cultivated crops. We stopped to enjoy the view from a high vantage point overlooking this agricultural land. Traveling along, we had a running debate on where to go next. The first 40 kilometers would get us back to the main roads and from there we had choices. We could take NZ 1 directly to Christchurch or we could travel an inland road, less traveled, more scenic and still go to Christchurch or we could take a detour into the mountains t Arthur’s Pass. The latter would involve putting off our trip to Christchurch for one more day. We rather quickly decided the trip into the mountains would cut us short for our stay in Christchurch. We were going to be there for four nights and if we took one away, that would leave us just three days in Christchurch. One of those days would be largely dedicated to packing up our luggage and turning in the campervan. The winner was NZ 1, we bit the bullet and joined the traffic on its way into Christchurch. The TOP 10 Holiday Park was located on the west side of town near the airport so we had a bit of city traffic before we got to the park. As we traveled along, we ran into several sections of road that were narrowed to a single lane by road work. We were to see later that this is a very common sight in Christchurch. Once we got our campsite assigned, we got a settled and went to bed early. The next morning we slept in, making up for our late night of astronomy. The bus stop was just a block from the park and we took the bus right from our park to the International Antarctic Centre (IAC). Christchurch is the staging area for scientific teams from many countries on their way to Antarctica. The IAC is a public facility dedicated to the memory of those who explored the South Pole and the continuing study of the continent of Antarctica. In fact, from the entrance to the IAC you can see a large hangar on the Christchurch Airport which has the logo of the United States Antarctic Program which is operated by the National Science Foundation. We had a fun and informative afternoon at the IAC. There is a 4D movie (3D with moving seats and other special effects to increase the reality) of a trip to Antarctica. We rode in a Haaglund, the tracked vehicle which is used for transport over the snow and ice. The driver took us up over steep hills and down into a pool of water where we floated to the other side driven by the spinning tank tracks. There were ducks swimming outside our window! We put on parkas and experienced a winter storm on Antarctica in a refrigerated room with winds up to 35 miles per hour. I was glad I didn't wear shorts that day! We watched the staff feed the blue penguins, not native to Antarctica but native in the Christchurch area. These were rescue penguins, injured or otherwise unable to fend for themselves in the wild. From the ads for the IAC, I wasn't sure it was anything more than an entertainment place for kids but it was so much more. I would highly recommend this place if you get to Christchurch. It's almost like going to Antarctica and a whole lot cheaper! On our way home we stopped at the Northland Shopping Center to see what was there. We arrived just as they were closing up shop. So we walked the six blocks back to the holiday park and called it a night.
  22. This day is February 21, 2014. We are now in our final week in New Zealand. Our objective today is a train tour into the Taieri Gorge. The tour starts at 2:00 in the afternoon so we had a leisurely morning before catching the bus just a block from our holiday park. The bus driver was quite friendly. We paid our fare, $5.50 NZ for the two of us one way to downtown. The driver took cash and made change. The bus drivers in Dunedin carry large amounts of cash which they use to make change for all the riders as needed. They have a pass system for frequent riders. They just put their pass on top of a magnetic reader and tell the driver where they are getting off. If the pass needs additional money deposited, they can give the driver cash and it will be put onto their pass. There are many passengers on and off the bus during this trip. The bus is obviously an important transportation aid in Dunedin and one that we would highly recommend. There was one passenger in the front seat of the bus when we boarded. That person got off at the next stop and the driver insisted that we move to the front seats. Then he began a running commentary on the city of Dunedin. Interestingly, Dunedin is ancient Gaelic for Edinburgh, the namesake of the town where we live in south Texas. Yes, the Texans who named our town left off the “h” at the end. Maybe they wanted to avoid confusion. Anyway, the driver quizzed us about our plans and made several suggestions for further activities in the area, things to see and do. It turns out that he is a bus driver for tour busses in his off duty days and he is going to the same destination we have planned for tomorrow. He gives us some route and driving tips which we will use to our advantage. Not knowing how the busses ran, we left early and packed a lunch. The trip downtown didn’t take long so we had some time to visit shops and stores in the downtown area. There is an octagon, not a town square in Dunedin. In the center of the octagon is a park. Lining the outside of the road making the octagon are shops and restaurants. The restaurants are all set up for outdoor dining and they are having a good day with many people enjoying the pleasant weather. By the time we walk four blocks to the train station the wind has picked up and there is a chill in the air. Our plans to picnic on the lawn at the train station are gone. We go inside and find numerous people sitting on the benches eating their lunch. We join them, breaking out our sandwiches and snacks. As we finished our lunch, Louise decided to investigate the café just off the lobby of the train station. She wanted to get a cup of coffee. When she returned she said I should join her in the café. There were plush couches and chairs so we moved in. Other than coffee and tea the café sold a few snack items, some bottled drinks, soda and juices and they had an ice cream machine. Put a scoop or two of ice cream into the top of a funnel on the device. Add some fruit and you get fruit ice cream in a cone. The device had a large screw-like device which mixed the ice cream and fruit and then extruded it into the cone held underneath the funnel. The time for our train trip is approaching and the train isn’t in the station yet so Louise checks with the office. The morning tour was a cruise ship group and they arrived late so the train is behind schedule. Our 2:00 trip is expected to be a 3:00 trip now. We gladly settle back into our plush seats to wait. There is light business in the café and there are always seats available so we relax and wait. About 3:15 the train pulls into the station, passengers disembark and the crew goes to work changing out the trash and bringing on board food for the next trip. By 3:30 we are under way. The train goes west from Dunedin into the interior. We pass the industrial areas along the tracks in the city. Soon, the hard side of the city gives way to houses. Then we are into a long tunnel. When we emerge we are among scattered groups of homes amid pastures with sheep and horses. We pass a horse track with a small grandstand and then many pastures with purebred horses. Then we go through another tunnel, shorter and curving. The engine is now laboring and we notice that we are slowing. This is a modern diesel train engine, an Asian manufactured body with a John Deer Diesel engine! We can understand bits and pieces of the narration over the clickity-clack of the railroad track. We are in the rear car so I decide to go out to the platform to take pictures. I’m the first person to do so and take up a prime position at the rear of the platform. As more people come out, I am limited to a smaller and smaller place to photograph from but always able to get on the rail somewhere. We are now into the gorge, passing through tunnels of varying length and over trestles crossing small side streams. I’m getting good pictures of the scenery, the mountains, the river below, and the tracks, small stations and the occasional house. Then we cross a long trestle and are on the opposite side of the gorge. Now I’m on the wrong side of the platform and it is crowded with people so I have to shoot pictures over around and between people as best I can. Those who have cameras with a view screen on the back hold them at arms-length in front of them which makes it almost impossible to find a way around their extended arms and camera. Coming out of the gorge we are again in pasture land. Sheep and cattle once more and some nice homes. We pull into the station at Pukerangi. At this point the engine changes ends of the train, our car will now be the first car behind the engine. Everyone is given some time to get off the train and walk around. There are stands set up for local people to sell items but none are attended now. Being behind schedule they have closed up for the day and gone home. We take pictures and enjoy stretching. Back on the train for the return trip, I now return to the platform and continue taking pictures. It is noisy, and when they blow the horn I have to hold my ears. Fortunately, there are few road crossings so that doesn’t happen too often. I get some pictures of the train engineer and fireman and am able to get pictures from the side of the gorge that I couldn’t see and photograph well before. On the return trip I have only a few companions. Leaving the gorge I return inside to join Louise. We arrive back and catch a bus back to the park arriving before dark. It was a great tour.
  23. Our second tour was a bus and boat trip to visit Doubtful Fiord and a power plant. Both Louise and I will never pass up a chance to tour a power plant. Combine that with the fiord tour and we were all in. So much so that I packed all my optic equipment for photography and bird watching and then walked out of the campervan without my camera! We were on our way on the tour bus before I realized I didn’t have the camera so there was nothing to be done. I have not a single picture from the trip. I was bummed but determined to make the best of the trip. We did buy the DVD the tour company offered so I’ll have some video memories. The bus took us about 20 minutes south to Manapouri where we board a boat to take us across Lake Manapouri. Reaching the western shore of the lake we board another bus which took us over the mountains and then down to the shore of Doubtful Fiord. The fiord was named by Lieutenant Cook, the explorer. Later he would be Captain Cook but on this voyage he was a lieutenant. He didn’t think he could safely enter the fiord with his ship and noted on his map that this was a doubtful harbor. The name stuck and it is now known as Doubtful Fiord. A fiord is a glacial feature. Glaciers scoop out deep steep sided valleys. The ice doesn’t bend easily so the valleys tend to be very straight with only slight curves, not at all like stream valleys. Those who have visited Glacier National Park in the US know what a glacial valley looks like. Going to the Sun Road takes you up into the mountains in one glacial valley, over the pass and then down the other side in another glacial valley. There are numerous small side valleys known as hanging valleys because they come to an abrupt end at a cliff, usually with a waterfall, where they meet the main valley. Now imagine Glacier National Park flooded so the main valley is almost full of water. That is a fiord. They are deep and steep sided. In this case, there were large glaciers that combined to make the main glacier and there are several arms that come off the fiord. It is rugged and quite beautiful. It rained lightly during our tour and there was a brisk cool north wind which only added to the atmosphere. We still were able to see the mountain tops and the scenery but it kept us indoors more than we usually would be. We enjoyed the views of the mountains, islands in the fiord and the view up into the side fiords. As we approached the mouth of the fiord the calm waters became more active. We entered the Tasman Sea just briefly as the waves began to toss the ship around. Retreating back into the fiord we toured several of the arms. At one point all engines on the boat were shut down including the generator. For about five minutes we were completely silent. People were asked not to take pictures if their camera made noise and also asked not to walk around the ship. Complete silence was observed and it was wonderful. We could hear the birds, waves on the shore and wind in the trees. This land is truly remote and wild. Much of it is dedicated to bringing back some of the almost extinct native birds in New Zealand. Islands provide controlled areas where predators can be eliminated and birds can reproduce naturally without the introduced competition and predation that has almost eliminated them. Returning to the land between the fiord and Lake Manapouri we took the bus back to the lake. Before reaching the lake we stopped at the Manapouri Hydroelectric Power Plant. This engineering feat was built in 1972. More than 6 miles of tunnels were dug to connect Lake Manapouri with Doubtful Fiord. The resulting 600 foot drop provides plenty of energy to turn turbines to generate electrical power. The power plant is at the base of this 600 feet, deep in the rocks below Lake Manapouri. Eighty five percent of the power generated is used by an aluminum smelter on the southern shore of the South Island. Aluminum smelting is a very high energy process and wherever it is done, a great source of energy is needed. This is one of my motivations for being a real diligent aluminum recycler. Recycling aluminum requires only one tenth of the power that it takes to turn bauxite into aluminum. Other metals also recycle with less energy than the original purification but aluminum by far produces the greatest energy savings. The bus driver took us down a mile and half tunnel to the power plant, turned the bus around and brought us back out. This in itself was quite a feat, something that driving a motor home really gives one an appreciation that others might not have. Despite this, she received a nice round of applause after completing the turn-around using a very tiny alcove in the tunnel. Returning to Te Anau, Louise and I needed to pick up a few groceries and a few other supplies. We walked from the park into town, a matter of three or four blocks. There is an Italian Pizza Ristorante in Te Anau so we stopped for a pizza cooked in a wood fired oven. We’ve been eating most meals in the campervan and this was a well-deserved break for Louise. We had a great pizza with a glass of New Zealand beer.
  24. February 11 we left Blenheim on Highway 6 which runs up the Wairau River valley. This river drains the eastern side of the mountains. Its valley is wide and straight, formed by ancient glaciers and now filled with the silt and sand of those glaciers. As we drove up the valley the vineyards gave way to sheep and cattle grazing land. We stopped at Nelson Lakes National Park to hike for a while. After the Visitors Center and gift shop, we went on to hike a trail partway around one of the lakes. I called the forest a black forest as all of the trees had a black fungus growing on their bark. We spotted several birds we had never seen before and got acquainted with the sand flies which are the major pest in New Zealand. They like the shade and we were in the shade. They really liked us! Leaving Nelson Lakes National Park we continued on to the Buller River and followed it through its upper and lower gorge. These gorges were absolutely spectacular. The forest growth could only be described as genuine rain forest. At times both sides of the road were lined with ferns and fern trees for long stretches. It gave the roadway a real garden look. Travel was slow as we followed the river channel. Along the way we stopped at overlooks down into the river channel far below. We crossed numerous single lane bridges. Finally we arrived at Westport on the Tasman Sea, the west coast of the South Island. Our camp host welcomed us and gave us suggestions for our next day of exploring.
  25. The Coromandel Peninsula is a favorite holiday area for the Auckland area. It is just a couple of hours drive from Auckland to the southern end of the peninsula. There is hardly a straight road anywhere in the Coromandel. To the west lies the Hauraki Gulf and to the east is the Pacific Ocean. So this is similar in some ways to Florida but it is also dissimilar in many ways. Primary among these is that the Coromandel is mountainous and has some indications of volcanic activity in its many hot springs. In 1852 gold was discovered in the Coromandel Peninsula and a gold rush was on. As with most gold rushes, they don’t last long and things quieted down for a while. Eventually tourists discovered the peninsula and it remains popular with locals and tourists. We stayed at a small park in Thames on Tuesday night. Wednesday we began our drive north along the western shore. The road was literally on the shore of the Firth of Thames. Driving north meant that we were in the lane right next to the water. There were places where the white line on the road marked the edge of the Earth as Louise described it. We were never at great height above the water but disaster was never far away. The road curved in and out of every bay and inlet. There were houses on the landward side of the road in little communities and an occasional park on the seaward side of the road. Log trucks and places where the road narrowed beyond the normal road kept me on my toes. We stopped where there were pull-outs to take pictures and marvel at the view. There were also slow moving vehicle bays which allowed us to pull over and let faster traffic continue on their way. Now instead of getting honked at, I’m getting thank you toots from the drivers. We stopped for lunch at a nice seaside park and ended up spending an hour watching some of the birds in the area. Shortly after lunch the road rose up into the mountains. Scenery was everywhere. We had views of the seashore, small towns along the coast, wonderful rich forest growth and farmland. As the afternoon went on we neared our destination for the night, Hot Water Beach. This is a well-known tourist attraction. A hot spring near the beach floods the beach with hot water. Dig a hole in the sand at low tide and you can sit in a pool of hot spring water. All the holes fill in as the high tide washes everything back to its prior state. We checked in at the TOP 10 Holiday Park just a short walk from the beach. Since it was low tide we decided to make our way to the beach immediately. Shovels weren’t available at the holiday park but the desk attendant suggested we could just take pools dug by others this late in the day. That worked fine. We found one pool then moved to a warmer pool when its occupants left and finally to a really hot pool. We’re lying in sand and water and our swim suits filled with sand. Even a dip in the ocean didn’t remove anywhere near all the sand. We brought a significant part of the beach back to the holiday park! The following morning Louise was off to the Laundromat early in the morning. She filled three machines with laundry and was just about finished when it started to rain – hard. I had almost finished preparations for our leaving the park when the rain started. The rain began to subside and I was preparing to unplug and go pick up Louise. As I went the door, she came down the street lugging the laundry. After hanging up the almost dry laundry and stowing the rest we were on the road south to get groceries and then on to the town of Rotorua. We were really glad we had taken advantage of the dry afternoon before to go to the beach. This day was not going to be a good beach day.
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