Friday, May 4, 2018

Victorian High Country

Anyone who’s done some 4WDriving treks will tell you, the Vic High Country is up there as one of the best 4WD spots in Australia. How could we refuse the temptation to not try it for ourselves?

With a convoy of 7 cars we set off in the April school holidays for 9 days in the Alpine National Park of Victorian. Our first day on the road saw us travel through Canberra and Cooma, followed by a quick stop at the Schnapps distillery just outside Jindabyne where some warming nectar for those cold nights ahead was obtained. Continuing south we arrived at Tom Groggin by mid-afternoon where we spent our first night on the banks of the Murray River. By dusk all 7 cars had assembled and we quickly felt at home amongst familiar friends as we laughed and joked around the campfire.

A chilly foggy Sunday morning quickly reminded us that the snow region is no place for shorts and t-shirt as we scrambled for additional clothes. We quickly packed up and excitedly headed for our first challenge, crossing the Murray River. Thankfully or probably more disappointingly river levels weren’t as high as anticipated so the thrill of having water lapping the bonnet didn’t eventuate, however it didn’t stop Sam from lifting her feet up in case water came in the car. With the crossing behind us it was onto our first uphill challenge, these up and subsequent down adventures would be the theme for the week. Our first uphill challenge took us to the dizzy heights of Mount Pinnibar 1772m which was 1000m higher than where we’d camped the night before and would ultimately be the highest point of our trip. The morning seemed to flow from one mountain top to the next and at a relative slow pace, however as the rolled into the afternoon so did mountains and we soon found ourselves on the plains north of Omeo. After a quick stop in Omeo we were heading back into the hills where we made camp near Victoria Falls. A hearty campfire and soothing port ensured the chilly night was not a threat.

It was hard to realise that Monday was a working day for many, however for us it was another day spent 4WDriving as we soon found ourselves sipping coffee in one of the pubs at Mt Hotham. A short while later we were back in the wilderness as we started our ascent of the renowned Blue Rag track. This trail cuts its way along exposed ridges and through forests of dead Mountain Ash trees before a steep and very exposed climb tops out at the Blue Rag Trig. From here the 360deg views were simply amazing as mountain after mountain seemed to fold into one another. Alas there was lots more to do so we had to press on where varying track conditions dictated our speed but most of the afternoon we found ourselves in H4. Sometime in the afternoon we arrived in the picturesque camping spot of Talbotsville vowing to return some day as the camping by the river looked very inviting. The remainder of our afternoon was spent making the very dusty and winding trek into Dargo. Once in town we sought out the local pub which offered free camping in exchange for dining at the pub, which I must say is pretty fair as many of us couldn’t finish a parmy due to the huge size.

Tuesday had us heading straight back into the mountains, today would be another memorable day as we scaled the dizzy heights of the Billy Goats Bluff track to reach the Pinnacles. For what seemed like an hour or more we went no faster than L1 would allow as we crawled our way up firstly Billy Goats knee then it was up the very exposed and ragged spur of Billy Goats Bluff, relieved to have made it to the top without having faced an oncoming car cause simply there was nowhere to pass anyone. Once at the Pinnacles we shared the 360deg views with the resident fire spotter who lives on site for a week at a time ensuring any fire outbreaks are quickly reported. After lunch we stayed up high making our way along numerous ridge lines and stopping a various huts before turning off the main ridge and dropping down into Wonnangatta Valley where we would spend the next 2 nights. As usual we enjoyed a nice night around the fire, toasting marshmallows and tasting various ports that everyone had brought along.

ANZAC day dawned to the howling of wild dogs in the hills, the night before it was the close proximity of deer that caught our attention. For me though, it was my birthday and I shared a lazy start to the day with family and friends, the fire had gone all night and we continued that theme throughout the day, all the kids played so well together while some of us used the nearby bitterly cold Wonnangatta River as an opportunity to have an improvised shower, this proving to be more comical than effective with the water temp being in the single digits. Much of the day was spent lazing around, we explored the historic Wonnangatta Station and surrounding farmland, our kids got to lesson in learning to drive the car. Thank god they have a while before they get their licence. By late afternoon our dessert chefs were busy preparing bush cheesecake and lemon meringue pie. Dinner was a lavish spread, topped with wine and bourbon. For dessert we toasted mine and Scott’s upcoming birthday before spending the rest of the night huddled around the fire.

Thursday saw us on the move again, a brief but fierce rain shower the previous afternoon meant we were packing up some wet gear. After a boring and monotonous trek into Wonnangatta Valley we chose to take a different exit route and were pleasantly surprised by how much quicker and enjoyable the climb out was, this however meant we said goodbye to Mike a little earlier than expected. With our convoy reduced by one we headed back into the mountains where we climbed up to the picturesque Lake Cobbler and a well-earned lunch break. Back in the saddle and with more exploring to be done we headed down the Staircase and onto King Hut where we decided to spend the night. An impressive and well-maintained hut beside the river provided a perfect backdrop to our campsite. As the kids entertained themselves on the swing the adults feasted in another happy hour around the late afternoon fire. As night fell so did the temperatures and with a poorly designed firepit providing limited heat we all chose to have an early night.

Friday dawned as our chilliest of the trek, the ice on the car was probably 3mm thick, the car doors were initially stuck while the car temp registered 0 deg. Thankfully it didn’t take too long for the rising sun to warm the air but our fingers suffered as we packed up cold steel poles and pegs. Just before we jumped back in the cars we were greeted by a droving family who were pushing through the valley herding their cattle off the mountain. It was a stark reminder of how farmers live off the land…. We meandered our way through the valley before climbing out to stop at the amazing “Craig’s Hut” where the views across the mountains were exhilarating. Pushing on we experienced the roughest bit of 4WDriving we’d had for the whole as topped the rise at Mt Stirling. A quick walk had us once again enjoying the magical 360 deg views at a height of 1720m. With lots more to see we kept going past Howqua Hut and onto Mt Buller where the ski resort was busily preparing for the upcoming ski season with snow being prepared for an upcoming media launch. By late afternoon it was time to head off the mountains and down into Mansfield where we had our first night in civilisation for almost a week….. A hot shower, take-away food and some creature comforts never felt so good.

Saturday morning in Mansfield was a hive of activity as the locals seem to flock to town for supplies or simply to catch up with others, there were markets and street stalls everywhere. We had a short look around town before heading towards Beechworth, we were able to squeeze in a quick stop at the Brown Brothers winery before making it to Beechworth where we indulged in the town’s famous pies for a late lunch. The sightseeing theme continued after lunch as we headed to Chiltern and Rutherglen. It was in Rutherglen where we got right into the local culture, stopping to taste a number of local renowned wines and adding a few more bottles to our increasing collection. By late afternoon we made our way down onto the banks of the Murray River where we met up with everyone one again for our final night of the trip. The banks of the Murray River was a perfect spot to unwind as we enjoyed happy-hour with friends. While some enjoyed a swim in the Murray, one of the kids surprised us by catching an impressive Murray Cod simply with a bit of cheese on the end of the hook. By nightfall we bathed in the glow of a roaring fire, the kids toasted marshmellows while others entertained an enthusiastic possum or simply relaxed with a refreshment or 2.

Sunday morning by the Murray River doesn’t get much better, however the corellas ensured it was an early awakening. We were soon packed up and heading to a neighbouring farm which was owner by relatives of the family we’d been travelling with. All the kids were delighted to get on the back of the Ute as they went around feeding the cows…. Sadly the fun was soon over and was time to tackle the 6 hour drive home for work and school the following day. By last light we pulled in the driveway having completed 9 days and 1800kms through the Victorian High Country.  

Friday, September 1, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 8 (final)

Distance traveled = 1392km

Our final week on the road begun as chilly as last week ended. We enjoyed a lazy morning and hearty breakfast before a short walk to the “Pioneer Settlement”. It’s here the 1890’s has been recreated showcasing an Australian village on the Murray river. Having already enjoyed the settlement on our previous trip we were keen to show Danni and Garth the highlights of this place, however much to our disappointment many of the attractions weren’t operating due to the time of year, nevertheless that didn’t stop us as we spent most of the day at the settlement. The blacksmith held us in awe as he manipulated steel using old school techniques, while a ride in the old Dodge was a must. By late afternoon we were back at the van park where the kids quickly resumed their love of the jumping pillow while we relaxed with a drink in hand and a very friendly magpie. Our Saturday night was spent having some quality time with the kids in the games room.

We woke on Sunday morning with the mercury barely in the positive, the wind chill made it feel even worse. Winter in Victoria in a swag was becoming very tough, with the temps expected to plummet even further over the coming days we decided to have our next few nights indoors…. Back on the road the wind showed no sign of letting up as we crossed back into NSW. This final border crossing making it feel like our holiday really was nearing an end. We zigged and zagged our way across the Hay plains before arriving at Deniliquin. This was one of those little must-see towns as I’d heard so much about the “Deni Ute Muster” that I wanted to put a place to the name and with the muster only a few weeks away the venue and town were getting spruced up. Pushing further across the farming plains we rolled into Jerilderie for a late lunch and a history lesson on Ned Kelly….. By late afternoon we’d made it to Wagga where the comfort and warmth of a cabin would be our home for the next 2 nights. We completed our day with our feet up watching Sunday footy on the tv.

Monday morning reminded us why we’d chosen to stay in a cabin, the temp at 7am was -2deg (felt like -4.6). The car and outdoor surrounding furniture was covered in a heavy frost, but thankfully we were all cosy inside our cabin. After a lazy morning undertaking some domestic chores, we headed out for a bit of sightseeing, however since we’d been to Wagga on numerous occasions there wasn’t too much new for us to see.  Instead some of the family chose to do some retail therapy while the other half did some geocaching therapy. With the family content with this outcome we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon around Wagga. By early evening the temperatures were once again dropping to single digits and by lights out it was already subzero.
Tuesday dawned once again in the negative figures but there was an air of excitement especially with the kids as today we were heading to snow country. Our kids had never seen snow so the prospect of seeing and touching it had them buzzing…. Leaving Wagga, it didn’t take long before the mountainous country loomed in the distance. We stopped briefly in the township of Adalong and Tumut before having lunch at Blowering Dam. Shortly after leaving the dam catchment and the first snow sighting was made, the recent cold snap had provided a dusting of snow further widespread than normal. This was all it took to excite the kids even further and soon afterwards we’d pulled up so the kids could have a play in the icy snow beside the road……. With time on our side we made the short detour into Mount Selwyn where the midweek crowds and conditions were favourable allowing us to spend an hour in the snow. None of us were appropriately dressed for the conditions but that didn’t stop us having a great time for the kids first snow experience. Back in the car we were soon arriving at our Jindabyne accommodation which would be our base for another few nights. A relaxing but early night followed as the prospect of a big day on the snow had us all keen.

Wednesday couldn’t come quick enough, when the curtains were pulled back to reveal perfect clear skies our excitement levels grew even higher. Just after 8am we were at Bullocks Flat Skitube getting fitted out with our snow gear for the day ahead. The steep skitube ride soon had us at Perisher Valley where the expression and excitement on the kid’s faces was priceless. With us all rugged up looking like the “Michelin Man” we headed outside for a day in the snow. After watching and learning the hype of the season skiers we joined the que for our ride to the top of the mountain. Our other traveling family who were regular skiers had joined us as we disembarked at Perisher mid station. It was here the fun began as we all enjoyed some fun in the soft snow, the kids enjoyed snow fights, made snow angels and so much more. The nearby café provided the perfect backdrop for us to recharge with a hot coffee before we jumped back on the chairlift for the ride to the top station. At 2000m above sea level and with the winds starting to howl we were thankful of our warm ski clothes. The views were postcard perfect with snow as far as you could see and it wasn’t long before we’d built our very own snow-man, complete with features and clothing…. With Garth and Danni heading back to Smiggins to ski we decided to descend the mountain as the kids were keen to try tobogganing and tubing. After obtaining our sleds we were soon ready for our first downhill run of human tenpin bowling, I say that because the rules were pretty simple – toboggan down, get off to the side of the slope and walk back up hill. But no, so many foolish people wanted to walk back up the main slope where they were perfect tenpins for the out of control toboggan riders….. It proved to be so much fun. We spent a few hours here alternating between tubing and tobogganing but eventually our weary bodies told us it was time to call it a day…. Heading back to Jindabyne we all rejoiced in what had been a fantastic family day on the snow. By nightfall we’d met up again with our travelling buddies where we all enjoyed a nice meal in the nearby restaurant marking the end of our 8-week adventure together.

Thursday dawned with an air of sadness, our 8-week “purposeful meander across oz” was coming to an end but not before one more thrill. As we packed the car, it started snowing! After playing in the snow all day the kids could now see it falling, all be it only for a brief time – they were so excited…… The 5-hour drive home required one minor detour into Canberra where we officially completed our goal of visiting every mainland state and territory in 8 weeks.
For now, our adventure across Oz had come to an end!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 7

Distance traveled = 2270 km

Week 7 dawned to our chilliest morning of our trip, our swags had a good coating of frost while the car temperature registered 1deg at 7am…. Thankfully the sun soon provided some warmth and we could slowly pack away our ice covered camping gear. After grabbing a few more pics of the Farina ruins we were soon on the road. It was a short drive into Lyndhurst where we fueled up and some phone reception minded us civilisation was looming before heading out along the Strzelecki track. We found the track to be in remarkably good condition which allowed us to chug along at a good pace. We made a few stops at various icons which included the “dog fence” and a “thermal bore” however the track offered little else to see and by early afternoon we were driving past our intended overnight spot so we pushed on towards Innamincka. The oil n gas fields of Moomba rose as an oasis on the horizon. We stopped for a brief look and were surprised to get full phone reception at such a remote location, continuing further north we finally arrived in Innamincka. We had a quick look around town before heading to the common area for a lovely night by the creek under the stars.
Innamincka Trading Post and pub

Montacollina thermal bore
Sunday dawned well before sunrise as the local feathered fauna providing us with a beautiful chorus of early morning squawks and chirps. With such an early start, we were packed up and over at the pub in time for breakfast... All too soon we were back on the road and retracing our trek back down the Strzelecki track. A few kilometres south of Moomba we turned off towards Cameron Corner (NSW/SA/QLD border). The track into the corner was windy and narrow with plenty of rolling sand dunes that made the trip feel like a ride at Luna Park. Getting out at the corner, the first notable change was the drop in temperature which ensured a frantic dash for warm clothes. After the obligatory photos with us in 3 states we had a warm corner meal before pushing east into Tibooburra for our first night back in NSW since leaving home. There was no respite to the chilly conditions which reminded us "it was still winter" even though we’d been living in t-shirt, shorts n thongs for the past 6 weeks….. With it being one our group’s last night before heading home we enjoyed a night filled with plenty of nostalgia and some bush cooked brownies.

Just after breakfast on Monday we bid farewell to Mike (captain Gyro) as he headed for home, for the remaining families we had a quick look around town before heading south towards Broken Hill. Strong winds buffeted our progress all day which made getting out of the car unpleasant but we stopped at the historic town of Milparinka and the Packsaddle Roadhouse, the latter being known in SES circles as one of NSW’s remotest SES Units…. By mid-afternoon we’d made it to Broken Hill where a quick stop for some much-needed supplies were obtained before we decided to head out to the historic town of Silverton for a few nights. Checking in at Penrose Park the kids fell in love with the place as they went off feeding the array of animals and playing on the yesteryear playground equipment while the oldies enjoyed another well-earned ‘happy hour’. Our night concluded with another campfire under cold skies.
Tool tree

Domestic chores and minor maintenance on the car filled our Tuesday morning, we’d developed an infrequent noise in the front of the car which couldn’t be pinpointed but after tightening and checking a few bolts/bearings etc we hoped had been fixed. Mid-morning we headed out to a few attractions around Broken Hill. Pro Hart’s home/gallery, the Line of Lode Miner memorial and the “big picture” to name a few. By mid-afternoon we were back at Silverton for a look around, the art galleries seemingly out-numbered the tourists so we didn’t stay for long. Another stop was the Mundi Mundi lookout, where it’s said you can see the curvature of the earth’s surface (clearly whoever said that has better eyes than us). Once back at our campsite R&R consumed the rest of our Tuesday.

Wednesday was moving day but little did we know that we wouldn’t get nearly as far as we’d planned. We fueled up in Broken Hill before heading towards Menindee Lakes, however by the time we arrived at the town of Menindee the noise in the front of óur car had returned and was getting worse all the time. With too much distance and rough roads ahead we chose to return to Broken Hill where parts and support would/should have been more readily available. The trip back to B-Hill seemingly took forever as the noise had reduced our driving speed…. What could the noise/vibration be? my mind was in overload with various possibilities and Leonie frantically googled ideas that I’d throw her way. I finally narrowed the issue down to the independent live axle, dust and grime had chewed out an idler bearing..... Back in town my first port of call was the Holden dealer but they were as helpful as an umbrella in a cyclone so we tried a few other mechanics where an array of options were tossed our way. The least favoured being “our holiday could be over as parts could take a week to arrive from Melbourne”. Thankfully option 74 sounded the simplest temporary fix – install an aftermarket free-wheeling hub kit which thankfully one mechanic had on the shelf. Some 3 hours later we were on the road again and heading south towards Mildura. However, with light fading fast and the wildlife coming out to play we decided to just head out of town for a roadside rest area for the night, but not before we played “chicken” with the many kangaroos, goats, sheep, cows, rabbits and an echidna that wanted to walk the lonely road…. By 8.30pm on what was a very exhaustive day we were tucked in our swags hoping never to repeat the days’ events again.

Murray & Darling Rivers
Thursday started with another icy frost and temps hovering around zero. Our overnight roadside camp had been relatively quiet with minimal vehicles stopping throughout the night, we were soon packed up and on our way towards Mildura. The car hassles of yesterday seemed a distant memory with no apparent impact on our current driving. An hour down the road we’d arrived in the town of Wentworth, which is where the Murray and Darling rivers join. We took a bit of time to look around witnessing the art of “river locks” before continuing onto “Orange World”, this had been a favourite with us on our last trip so it was a lot of fun to return where we enjoyed a laugh with the host Mario and Maria. By mid-afternoon we’d crossed into Victoria completing a small feat of visiting every mainland state within 8 weeks. Taking time out we checked out the luxury houseboats which dock along the river, at one point we had a tour on one of the luxurious boats on the assumption we’d be making a booking down the track – yeah right!........ The remainder of our day / evening was spent relaxing around the van park, getting regular updates on the NRL as the Eels smashed the Broncos.

Friday saw us on the move once again but not before another chilly start to our day. Winter in a swag in Victoria was becoming a struggle, our warm nights of WA seemed so far ago…. Changing our driving plans, we continued further up the Murray River towards Swan Hill, the following 2-hour drive weaved its way along the side of the river offering picturesque views of the river and surrounding Mallee. Just after lunch we’d setup in Swan Hill, our campsite adjacent to the jumping pillow and playground was perfect for all the kids which in turn was perfect for us as we didn’t see the kids again for hours. Late in the day we headed out to do a bit of sightseeing of the area. Our night saw temperatures drop to chilly levels forcing us to spend the evening in the TV room watching Friday night footy….. dam shame!

Week 7 on the road had been somewhat of a challenge, car troubles and chilly nights.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Purposeful Meandering across Oz - Week 6

Distance traveled = 2245km

Week 6 started with us pushing further south, our overnight stay at Banka Banka had been a lot of fun for the kids with them feeding and patting a lot of unusual animals. Once on the road we only had a relatively short distance till we were in Tennant Creek, here we were able to grab a few supplies and refuel before heading further south to Devil’s Marbles. Our early arrival allowed us the luxury of a relaxing afternoon around the campsite. The kids enjoyed spending most of their time exploring the huge rocks while the adults waited for the setting sun before going out to explore the amazing colours of the rocks. With the amazing colours fading into the darkness we had a lovely night toasting marsh mellows by the fire.

Sunday saw many of our group having different plans for the coming days, some were heading to Uluru while others were going to Chambers Pillar while we’d planned to have a couple of days in Alice with friends. Saying our goodbyes, fate would soon have us reunited on the side of the road 100km down the road. The sidewall of a tyre had de-laminated on one of team’s vehicles, thankfully the highway emergency hadn’t been too serious and we were able to change the tyre and have them back on the road pretty quickly…. Continuing south, it was another 5 hours of driving at NT speed limits before we arrived in Alice Springs. We checked in at the park where we’d previously stayed before heading out to grab a few things which included a visit to the ice-creamery. The remainder of our day was spent chilling around the campsite.

Monday started at a leisurely pace around the van park as we caught up on domestic chores before an impromptu text message had me jumping with joy. 30min later I was sitting in the co-pilots seat of a plane as we headed to the remote aboriginal community of ‘Ernabella’ in SA where we needed to do a patient transfer. The 50min each way flight provided spectacular views over the countless mountain ranges that litter the area around Alice. However, all too quickly we’d returned to Alice Springs but the smile and buzz I was feeling lasted all day…… Back with the family we headed out for some more sightseeing to finish our day. To conclude our time in Alice we enjoyed catching up with friends over a lovely chinese feast.

Tuesday was one of our biggest days on the road. We made the mistake of not getting away as early as we’d hoped, this was compounded by an ongoing headed wind that buffeted us for the whole day. By late morning we’d passed the turn-off to Uluru but there was still many miles ahead for us. The countryside offered little to keep the kids amused but they took the opportunity to catch up on school work while Leonie and I shared the driving. We had lunch literally on the SA/NT border, the kids took great delight in jumping from one state to the other, but with the temp nudging 34deg we needed to be back in the car and enjoying the air-conditioning. The towns slowly come and went, throughout the day we’d managed to tick up 10000km and 5 states in a little over 5 weeks of traveling. As the time, neared 6pm we finally arrived in Coober Pedy but typically of our lifestyle we didn’t stop to relax, the van park doubled as an underground Opal mine and the daily tour was about to start. Downing a quick dinner, we were able to join the very informative tour which explained the history of Opal mining in Coober Pedy….. Surprisingly, upon returning above ground a severe wind storm had moved in causing us to have uneasy night as the area was buffeted by severe winds.

Wednesday dawn with no sign of the previous nights’ howling winds. All of our group were back together again and we set about sharing a day together around Coober Pedy. We checked out a number of the speciality opal shops and a number of the local tourist attractions, we even tried our hand at noodling in an attempt to strike it rich…. Needless to say we’re not giving up our daytime jobs. We did another underground tour highlighting the dug-outs which many of the locals live in. By late afternoon and with the sun setting we headed out to a place called the “Breakaways” which is renowned for its majestic orange, red and white soils that form mesa’s high above the ground. Returning to town we all enjoyed a meal at the local pizzeria before spoiling our kids with a nights’ accommodation in an underground motel. The novelty of such an experience was not lost on them as they got to have their own room and bed for the first time in 6 weeks.

Thursday saw us leaving Coober Pedy for another stint of dirt tracks, our first track being the Oodnadatta track but not before we checked out the ‘painted desert’ located in the Arckaringa Hills. Getting there proved difficult for us as we lost comms with our group at a critical point resulting us taking an alternate route to the others and thus giving the impression, we were lost. After some anxious moments and lengthy delays, we eventually were all back together. Pressing on towards Oodnadatta we were again flagged by tyre issues, one of group had another tyre de-laminate (their 2nd in a week). After another tyre change we finally reached the pink town of Oodnadatta. With a new tyre sorted we pressed on towards William Creek. The old Ghan railway hugs the Oodnadatta track and on many occasions, we stopped to look at various historical rail bridges and ruins…. With nightfall upon us we finally arrived at William Creek where we found a bush camp for the night. Our long day in the saddle and plummeting temperatures saw us all in bed fairly early.

Friday started with a bitter chill in the air, after packing up we had a gander round the one-horse town of William Creek where amazingly the aircraft outnumber the vehicles…. Back on the road our next stop was the thermal pool at ‘Coward Springs’. Many of us choosing to jump in the thermal waters even though the outside temperatures weren’t conducive to swimming. Further down the track we got our first glimpse of ‘Lake Eyre’. We’d soon stopped at a vantage point overlooking the vast salt lake…… It was at this point of the trip we bid farewell to two vehicles in our group as they need to return home for work. For the rest of us we continued along the Oodnadatta track to Marree where we marked the end of another dirt track experience…. Refuelled and with fresh supplies we pushed on to the historical town of Farina where we completed our 6th week of holiday travels around another campfire and clear skies.