Melbourne to Canberra to Sydney
November 26 to December 5
Drove off the ferry and on to Wheelers Hill where we had coffee and scones with another Lonely Planet contact, Morrie. We spent an enjoyable morning talking travel.
Early afternoon we carried on down the coast to Port Albert for the night. The caravan park here is basically a fishing camp and a bit on the grotty side. The beach is actually the muddy shoreline of a river but it was interesting to see how the cliffs have been eroded away, the root systems of large trees just hanging out there in the wind.
Had some butter chicken soup for dinner. I loved it ...always get happy tummy from East Indian food, but Steve wouldn’t touch it. He had a peanut butter sandwich. We are kind of falling down on the cooking thing here – not much enthusiasm for it so we are eating too much canned or packaged stuff.
Woke up during the night to a deep dark sky, sparkling with stars. Excellent. When we wakened, the sky was a rich, Australian blue. A little nippy as mornings are, but with our fleeces on, we enjoyed eating breakfast outdoors. A perfect start to the day.
“We’ve finally broken the bad weather curse,” chortled I.
Unfortunately, by the time we’d washed up the breakfast dishes, stowed away the chairs and buttoned down the hatches, clouds were nibbling at the edges of that perfect blue sky.
Another 30 minutes down the road and a smothering quilt of white had settled down over us. Hearts a little heavier now, we carried on up the coast via the back roads to Seaspray. Over the sand dunes we tumbled onto an endless beach of golden sand, foamy waves rolling into shore. Absolutely gorgeous to look at, we walked for ten, fifteen minutes, then turned back. The wind was whipping the sand against our legs stinging something fierce. We’d been so optimistic this morning we’d worn shorts.
We continued along the sand dunes to Golden Beach. The dunes are so high you cannot see the ocean from the road ...but when Steve got out and climbed over them he reported that there was more of that same beautiful beach ...just too cold and windy to walk on. This area is called The Ninety Mile Beach and if the weather were hospitable it would be a wonderful place to be.
At Golden Beach we headed back to the main road where we continued to Bairnsdale for lunch. There we popped into the Visitors Centre and asked them to bring up the weather report for the east ...scattered showers and rain for next three days.
Felt pretty down about that ...wondering what we are going to do down here in the rain for the next three weeks when we are not due in Brisbane till Christmas. Thought about it some more though and realized that we do not need to stay here. If the weather is cold and raining we will just charge on through to Canberra for some city touring then continue on up the coast. We can overshoot Brisbane ...staying in places that are warm and sunny, then come back down for Christmas. Considerably cheered by this realization, we continue on.
Next stop was Lakes Entrance ...again on the ocean. This area is the beginning of what is called the Gippsland Lakes. These are not really lakes, but more of an inland saltwater system. Lakes Entrance is the eastern terminus with Seaspray marking the western end.
There are several excellent lookouts in the Lakes Entrance area, offering an overlook perspective of the area. It’s a stunning landscape. The towns that sit on the fringes of the Gippsland Lakes are obviously holiday towns. Lakes Entrance, for example, has a permanent population of about 6,000. That swells to 30,000 in the season
We are spending the night at Orbost on the Snowy River. The caravan park is nicely situated on the river so we go for a leisurely walk before dinner. From the river we continue on into town, looking in shop windows. One thing is noticeable by its absence – there are no bars on windows or doors. How many small towns have we walked through where everything is barred and gated? Too many.
What is also noticeable, however, are the bottle shops ...at least four. That seems a lot for such a small town. The “drive-thru” bottle shop is a normal sight here in Australia. You drive in and an attendant dashes out to take your order. You don’t even have to get out.
Walk past a small restaurant advertising pizza and decide the beans can stay in the cupboard another night. The cappuccinos weren't so bad either.
It was such a pleasant night last night – even in terms of temperature. We were warm all night. So it was disappointing to hear the rain beating down on the roof. We are very cosy in the van and normally I like the sound of rain beating on the roof during the night ...but we were really hoping we’d left that behind in Tassy and would have a chance to enjoy the beaches along the southern coast.
By the time we got up the sky was clearing and we were heartened once again. Took off, but very quickly a thick charcoal grey blanket enveloped the mountains, then the road. We were into torrential rains for the rest of the day and evening.
Continued on to Eden where I had lunch. Steve has quit eating ...I think he is too upset. I verbalize disappointment and get it out that way, he stops eating and gets a stomach ache.
The winds and the rain are so bad here in Eden, that the people at the online access centre tell me there are four boats in trouble just offshore. The navy is in the midst of rescue attempts, but it is not going well. One of their training ships is now in need of rescue as well.
We continue on through the mountains to Cooma. It was very hard to leave all those gorgeous beaches behind us but we cannot see them so it must be. The fields we pass are full of cattle, pressed up against the fences and gates trying to get back to the barn. The rain is driving down hard, sheeting off their dripping sides and they look plain miserable about it.
We settle into a motel in Cooma. It’s a comfortable place with a big overhang under which we park the van. I make dinner in the van and bring it inside. We settle in to work on our photos and things suddenly get a lot worse. The power goes out. Without heat, the damp cold settles in ...and there is no light.
We huddle around the battery-powered laptop till ten, wondering how we are going to stay warm ...when the power comes back on. Thank goodness. The reason we are paying $80 to be in this motel is comfort and warmth.
It was still pouring in the morning. Steve is very quiet. His stomach hurts. On the way out of town we stop at a restaurant for hot coffee and the day improves as we relax over the morning newspaper.
By the time we set off the rain has lightened and sticks to “showers” throughout the rest of the day. That’s an improvement over the hard “can’t see where I’m going” rain of yesterday.
We continue on from Cooma to Canberra, about an hours drive. The landscape unrolls in lush green hills that undulate into the gold velvet of a warmer, drier climate.
Canberra is an easy city to drive through – the map makes sense! We easily find the Visitor’s Centre, securing city maps and directions to the places we want to visit – War Memorial Museum, Australia Museum, and National Gallery.
By evening the rain is back in force again so we book a cabin for the next two nights. It’s a little on the musty side, but the town is booked solid so it will have to do. When I pull back the bedspread a big spider crawls out. We strip the bed and put our own bedding on.
Steve turns on the TV while we make lunch ...a Hong Kong kung fu movie is playing ...with subtitles. We get totally involved. I don’t what that says about where our heads are at. Eventually the hero jumps out of his wheelchair, kills all the bad guys and kisses the girl. We head off to the War Memorial.
Steve remembers being here a million years ago – and being so impressed with it then. Now it is even bigger. The museum itself (although they refer to it everywhere as a “memorial,” not a museum) is divided into galleries for specific wars and sometimes even specific epics. For example, there is a whole section just on Galliopoli.
We start by seeing the three “light and sound shows”. The first is a depiction of a Lancaster Squadron taking off and making a bombing run over Germany called, “Striking by Night”. It starts with film footage of the planes being loaded, preparing to take off, then making their run through the searchlights and antiaircraft fire ...some being blown up.
This is a story that is close to our hearts as Steve’s father was a tail gunner on a Lancaster and made 36 bombing runs over Germany. He crash landed twice, barely escaping with his life. In the second crash, none of his mates made it.
As the war continued, so many Lancaster planes and crews were lost that
flight crews were put together from whatever men were available. Nationality
became irrelevant. Charlie spoke about flying with Australians. Seeing
the footage of those Lancasters lifting off, dropping their bombs, being
blown out of the air ...was pretty moving stuff for us.
There is a large section about the second world war ...lots of aircraft, more dioramas, uniforms and metal mirrors that stopped bullets. etc. Lots of information and displays about colonial warfare, the Boer War, the Korean War, the Gulf War. Tellingly, there is a large, virtually empty hall next to the Gulf War ....just waiting for all the artefacts from the Iraq war. Sad really.
There is also a “Discovery Section” where kids can try on uniforms and “play war” in tents and trenches.
The War Memorial is in a beautiful setting with a long boulevard called Anzac Parade in front, then the reflective water of the West Basin and beyond that the Capital Hill with the Parliament Buildings. It’s both a grand and gracious vista.
All day I was having very mixed feelings about what I was seeing. The sacrifices must be honoured ....and this memorial does it handsomely. Everything is absolutely first class. But at what point does it cross the line from “honouring” to “glorifying?” I don’t know, that’s for sure.
Many times today I was moved to tears, but just as often, to anger.
Even when a nation has no choice but to respond to aggression by engaging in war, there were so many ill-conceived, ineptly planned, incompetently led campaigns. Boys, thousands and thousands of them, died for no good reason. There are some letters in the memorial where a commander talks about the strategy of “mopping up” Japanese soldiers on islands in the South Pacific at the end of the war. In one excursion, over 500 boys lost their life. As the commander ironically noted, “but we are no longer at war, we are just mopping up.”
Although there was lots more to see, it was all more than enough for me.
Leaving the War Memorial, we drove up to Mount Ainslie. This is a small mountain/ big hill that looms over Canberra. The view is impressive.
Next stop on the Canberra tour was the National Museum. This is a much-hyped building – very modern in design. I always find these kinds of things a tad confusing – cannot fathom out what all the symbolism is about and the text in the brochure tap dances over the topic so effectively that reading it just made me more confused. There was a huge orange metal ramp type thing at the front. Then around the courtyard there are all these metal sheets that bring dominoes to mind. No idea what it was all about.
It is all very slick. When you first come in they herd you into a small theatre that revolves to show you three different shows. My understanding was that these presentations were going to orient us to the museum. However, they were all the type of feel-good, nationalistic hype they show at expos or conventions. Nicely done, highly professional, but thin on actual content or information about Australia or the museum.
Different sections of the museum tell the “story of Australia” in terms of its geography and geology, it’s settlement, it’s people. There is quite a bit about sheep and a little about cattle. There is lots of stuff about the aboriginal people and to give them full credit they have tackled the dark side of the black/white interaction. How accurately I will have to leave to others to determine ...but at least it was addressed.
As I said, it’s all incredibly slick and “contemporary” but coming out of it I had more the sense that the museum was about “presentation” than it was about imparting knowledge. Yes, there were lots of printed screens there to read ...but they never seemed to say very much. There didn’t seem to be things to touch and feel and hold.
For example, I am thinking about the sheep exhibit. Why not put some stuffed sheep out there to touch? There were these cylinders that showed a couple different kinds of wool. Why not put them in a bin for people to touch? Yes, you would have to replace the exhibits every so often, but that is how people learn. Not from looking at exhibits they cannot interact with. I learned tons about sheep and the wool industry from that farmer in his shearing shed on Kangaroo Island. I learned nothing from the multi-million dollar museum.
Went to the National Gallery in the afternoon. This certainly had some interesting stuff in it. All very contemporary. One of the most prominent pieces was a very large pregnant woman ...naked. She stood right in the middle of the entrance to the galleries ...maybe 10 feet tall or so and proportionately large. She was at full term and from the expression on her face, I would say in labour. The sculpture was perfectly realistic ...right down to the faint blue and red veins on her buttocks ...you were almost waiting for her to say “Boo, fooled you.”
I also liked a wall-sized “map” painted in 48 panels by Guan Wei. The background colour was a lovely blue ...and there were islands. It was painted in the style of ancient maps ...including landmarks and animals. There was an Island of Calamity, an Island to Trepidation, and Island of Aspiration, and where Antarctica is was another island ...something about “enchanted dreams” or something.
There were people on each of these islands, in different poses. For example, on Calamity they were in despair and on Aspiration they were eager. There were also people and creatures traveling on the ocean to these different islands.
I may have gotten some of this wrong ...but it was certainly thought provoking.
to Depot Bay
In the morning it was very hot so we headed back towards the coast. Took the road from Canberra to Batemens Beach where we had lunch and were endlessly amused by the pelicans. From there we didn’t actually get very far ...up the coast to Depot Bay where we camped in the national park.
As the sun set we were sitting outside reading our books ...when a terrible wind came up suddenly, roaring through the camp like a freight train. We were situated in the woods among ancient, towering swamp gums. The wind whipped them around like saplings. Branches came crashing down around us, leaves and debris swirled into our faces and stuck in our hair.
We jumped into the van, but as suddenly as it began, the wind stopped and torrential rains began. Lightning tore through the sky while thunder boomed overhead, then rolled off into the distance. All night, long after the storm had passed over us, we could hear the thunder rolling on and on and on hundreds of kilometres away.
The next day we were to learn that in Canberra, which we’d just left, the storm actually created a small tornado that ripped metal roofs off buildings.
It was a wild night, but we were tucked up inside the campervan, snug as could be. It was quite warm, not cold at all. Our only concern was that we were in the middle of a very tall forest of swamp gums, some many hundreds of years old and we could hear them splitting and coming down. But by morning everything had calmed down.
While we ate breakfast a bright blue and red parrot came down for some nuts. After a little while another parrot with the same colouring came screeching through the trees, then pecked “our” parrot, sending him off to sulk in a nearby bush. The “policeman” flew off to neighbouring branch and watched till our visiting parrot left. Neither of them ever came back. Strangest thing I ever saw.
We set off, first stop Pebbly Beach. Nice beach with some lovely white flowers. There was also a large wooden outlook over the beach, looking exactly like the kind of place that yoga gurus do their dawn workouts. So I thought, “Why not?” and did my own modest little routine. It was a really nice start to the day, doing the stretches in the warm sunshine while the waves rolled out in front of me.
We continued on up the Princes Highway. Just short of Milton, on the west side of the road, we came on The Rainbow Pie Shop.
Now, while we have been making a point of testing out all the fish and chip shops in Australia we have been running a parallel survey of the pie shops. And I can now tell you that The Rainbow Pie Shop, on the Princes Hwy just south of Milton is without a doubt, the best hot pie shop in Australia, probably the world. Just to die for, those savoury meat pies. The flakiest crust, the most delicious filling.
We followed up with a fruit pie for dessert and that was a mistake ...they don’t have that right yet. They seem to be using some kind of preserved filling instead of real fruit and they have a different pastry recipe, not the same as for the savoury pies and not nearly as good ...but for hot meat pies ...they are the hands down international winner.
If you think ....between the Perth pastries, the fish and chip shops, and the hot meat pies, washed down by cappuccinos, we are turning into dumplings, you are right. It is shameful. Each morning, as we munch our low cal muesli with skim milk we make a resolution that THIS is the day we will keep our dietary goals ...and by 10 am we are thinking “cappuccino time”. And what is a cappuccino without a pastry? Or if nearer to lunch, a hot pie? Or if on the ocean, fish and chips?
We continue on to Jervis Bay Marine Park. This is a huge bay, they claim it is bigger than Sydney Harbour. They also claim that Hyams Beach, where we stop, has the whitest sand in the world. That is a pretty big claim and I am not sure it is even the whitest sand in Australia, never mind the world. Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays sets a pretty high bar. But we dutifully collect up a ziploc bag to take home for comparison.
Continue on finally to Nowra where we have stopped for the night at the Big Four. Only problem in Nowra is that it is Saturday night and about 9 pm the car races begin ...big engines roaring round and round and round an oval track. Didn’t notice a race track when we drove in but this sounds and feels like it is directly next door. Last night it was the rumble of the thunder, tonight the roar of the racetrack. Fortunately it stops near midnight.
In the morning we are off to Sydney to spend some time with friends. We met Dianne and Murray on the Lonely Planet forum prior to our 2002 trip to Australia when they gave us a city tour the night we arrived. This time we pass an enjoyable evening at their apartment on the harbour, talking travel. They recently returned from a RTW that included considerable time in China, our next big trip. Picked up lots of info and loved sleeping in a real bed and eating real food again.
Last time we were in Sydney we spent a week doing the tourist thing, so this visit was strictly social. However, I did plan our route out of the city so that we drove across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Don’t know if “thrill” is exactly the right word, but it’s such an Australian icon, we wanted to do that. There is a real fear as well, that the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a target for terrorists, so wanted to make our crossing while we still could. A bit of sad comment on the state of the world in 2005.
Then we were off to Mardi, a town several hours to the north of Sydney. There we spent the night with Kim, Nathan and their youngsters. Last year Kim and Nathan were set on coming up to work in Canada so we exchanged emails, planning the venture. The plan went awry at the time, but we still hope to see them up there in a few years. It was great to meet face to face, and enjoy sleeping in a real bed again.
In the morning we will head inland again. Steve is convinced we’ll
find warm weather in the outback.