Friday, March 28, 2008

Mt Kosiuszko

Mount Kos is Australia’s highest peak, and by default, also the highest point on the continent. If your goal is to traverse the highest points of all continents, Mt Kos is a great start, because there is a comfortable trail all the way to the top starting from a from a spot called Charlotte’s Pass. As the weather was a bit windy and cold up there, I donned every bit of my cold weather gear and wandered up the mountain while Glenda made a cup of tea and read a book stretched out comfortably in the back of the van. After a two hour/9km walk (the round trip is 18km, or about 12 miles in dog years) that ended well above the clouds I successfully summited the peak. It was extremely cold and windy on the peak, so I stayed all of 30 seconds. The walk back down was highlighted by numb fingers and toes. I briefly pondered how screwed I would be if it started raining or snowing before I finished the trek. Other than one stone cabin erected in honour of another hiker who failed to make it back and Australia’s highest bathroom, there was not a speck of shelter anywhere as we were above the treeline for most of the trip. All in all, it was well worth the journey.

That night we found a bush camping area in the Snowy Mountains. Again since we were far from civilization, the night sky was beautiful, although not nearly as bright as the Nullarbor. After the days adventures, I slept quite well that night, broken only when the Northern Territory’s Leadership Teacher of the Year and 2008 NT Tribute to Women Honoree who was sleeping next to me, let out a variety of expletives in an effort to describe how little she was enjoying crispness of the cold mountain air.

The Snowy Mountains

We were both in the mood for some big trees and mountains. Looking at the map, the obvious decision was to head towards New South Wales and Kosciusko National Park. This is one of the very few areas of Alpine country in Australia, with ski resorts, but we are here in Autumn. The first evening out of Echuca was spent in a town called Corryong, still in Victoria. It turned out that the owners were ex Alice Springs people, so of course I taught their daughters and knew pretty much everyone they used to know. Corryong is also the home of the legendary ‘Man From Snowy River’ aka Jack Riley. Riley’s skill on a horse was immortalised in verse by Banjo Patterson after the poet visited the area and heard how Riley rode down a cliff face to recapture a thoroughbred horse that had run off with a herd of brumbies (wild horses). We visited the little museum, run the local historical society. Cute.

The next day we knew it would be a slowish drive along the winding mountain road crossing babbling mountain creeks. Welcome rain cooled the countryside and low clouds hung thickly on the mountains. It was a beautiful drive. We stopped in Jindabyne and got a little cabin by the lake and waited out the rain.


On Holy Thursday we left Melbourne and drove to Echuca (“Eh Eh Echuca! The town that sounds like a sneeze!” Strangely, my suggested slogan has never been taken up by the local tourist association) Dee and John showed us round their growing and very beautiful resort, Moama on Murray. Every man and his dog was in town to enjoy water sports and camping on the Murray River, so for most of the weekend we just hid out at their place, talking and relaxing. The Easter Bunny found us and I had chocolate for breakfast ☺ Echuca is an historic town on the Murray with paddle boat steamers, ye olde blacksmiths shop etc recreating the history of the pioneering days when produce and goods were transported along the Murray River to the early settlers.

Rye, Dandenongs, Melbourne

After the Great Ocean Road we caught the ferry from Queenscliff to Sorrento and spent a couple of days with Heather and Kerry. We were treated to a stay in the new accommodation units and lovely meals. We also checked out their new yacht and generally had a lovely time laying low from the heat wave in Melbourne.

“I’ve been riding horses all day and now my Dandenongs are giving me worry.” – Billy Connolly

On Sunday we headed up to Gembrook to meet more newly acquired siblings, through my birth mother; Tim and his wife Rachel, Pippa and her husband James, and Angela. There is also Chris who is currently overseas with his partner Anne-Marie. Although we were in the unusual position of meeting relatives for the first time, they are all wonderful people and it was a lovely afternoon.

That night we headed in for Melbourne and as the heat wave was still in full flight we took the first available air conditioned room. As luck would have it, we were just around the corner from our dear friend Richard who was visiting from Alice to take his boys, Banjo and Moses, to the Grand Prix car race. We took advantage of our good fortune and had a catch up with him and his mob.

We lined up a catch up with the mad mad Murphies on Saint Patrick’s Day (Gabrielle and Mike, Clem and his lovely fiancĂ©e Karen, Vic and Kerri). Turns out even the Murphy name couldn’t keep a spot in a pub reserved for us, so we had pizza and Guinness in the courtyard of Clem and Karen’s new place in Essendon; it was a much nicer way to have a catch up with your peeps.

Next stop on the ‘relly rally’ was my aunty, Di Barrett. We spent a relaxing and enjoyable couple of days and were able to also have lunch with cousin Debbie, and dinner with cousin Alison, her husband Tony and little Sophie.

Great Ocean Road

A few more tears were shed saying goodbye to brother Andrew and sister in law Kir. Mum and I had already said goodbye in Alice, but that didn’t make the reprise easy. We didn’t get away from Adelaide till after lunch, and made it to the town of Keith for the night, a small farming community. Kelly cooked me a wonderful chicken fricassee and the evening was pleasantly quiet.

The next day took us into the state of Victoria, and we headed for the Great Ocean Road tourist drive. This is a winding, wonderful stretch of road along a wild coast boasting a number of magnificent rock formations and blow holes. One of them is called London Bridge because it originally looked like its namesake with two rock arches spanning into the ocean on pillars of rock. On 15 January 1990 one of the arches collapsed leaving two people stranded on the remaining section until a helicopter rescued them. Imagine watching the coast line turn into an island underneath you! Luckily no-one was injured. We had heard a couple of the famed Twelve Apostles had also crumbled into the ocean and I was expecting them to be more like the Seven Dwarves, but they were still vast and majestic. Well worth the visit.

Some of you may know that I (Glenda) have had a shameless addiction to an Aussie tv series called Sea Change. Well, Barwon Heads was a pilgrimage for me as the home of Sea Change and I had to get a photo in front of Diver Dan’s shack and the Pearl Bay bridge.

Friday, March 14, 2008

And Back to Adelaide…Aldinga Beach (March 9-11)

When we got back to Adelaide, we were a bit at a loss for what to do. Our plans to catch up with Josh and Char at the World Music festival fell flat when we learned that it was a sell out. We could’ve went to see the NAB cup final, which is the preseason Aussie football tournament, and check out St Kilda playing againt the locals (Adelaide Crows) for the trophy, or even go to the Glendi festival and eat Greek food and do out best Zorbaesque dancing. But the whirlwind of the previous couple of days made a night at home seem much more inviting. We were able to watch the NAB cup though and to our delite and my nephew Zach’s chagrine, the Saints came away with the trophy and a $400k juice to start the season.

Sunday was spent wandering around the Barossa wine country with Squeaky and Darren. Darren offered to chauffer, which left the rest of us responsible for the quaffing.

We ended this leg of the trip with another day at the beach with Andrew’s mob and friends Josh and Char.

Back to the Alice (March 7-8)

On Friday we went up to Adelaide and caught a plane to Alice Springs for one last hurrah. Our main purpose for the trip was for Glenda to receive her “Tribute to Territory Women” award on International Women’s Day, for her long standing service to education, youth arts and the interfaith community. Following the ceremony I had several death threats levied against me for having the audacity to take her away from the NT. Even though it’s not really home for us anymore, it was comforting to feel how much Alice still feels like home. I hope it’s like that every time we visit. While there, we learned but some news came from Tony and Dee. Tony landed a cushy government job in Yakima Washington, so they’ll be neighbours again soon.

Adelaide via Streaky Bay (Days…nevermind, we’ve lost count of the days)

After spending the night on the Nullarbor, we headed for South Australia’s border only to be inhibited 3 kms from the border by a pair of Western Australia’s finest who were appalled at the fact that we had the audacity to prod poor Gypsy to a speed of 115 kph, whereas the speed limit in these parts is a mere 110. After a breatho (blood/alcohol test), a stern warning and a reminder that our solar recharger was not allowed to be affixed to windows in WA, we were on our way. 180 seconds later we crossed in to carefree SA.

First stop Ceduna, which is another of those beautiful, yet barely inhabited seaside towns that you can not imagine existing anywhere else in the world. We had lunch by the city beach and were a bit disturbed by the fact that the town looked deserted on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon. We learned later that today was the second match of the one day cricket series with India and then it all made sense.

We scooted down the Eyre Peninsula to a hamlet called Streaky Bay. Getting late, we went straight for the caravan park (that’s like a KOA for our American readers.) We noticed that they had a little tuckshop on the premises and went for a rare meal out. You may have a hard time believing this next bit, but they served us the best fish and chips that I’ve had since the Montana Brewing Company in Billings, and they had fresh oysters for 6.50/doz. And by fresh, we mean they slept somewhere off Streaky Bay the night before. If you ever get a chance to get an oyster that still has the sea water in it, by all means take advantage of this experience…they are beautiful!!!

The next morning, armed with the locally generated tourist guide of the peninsula, we set of to enjoy the other treasures of the Eyre. First stop, Murphy’s Haystacks, which according to the brochure was going to be a stonehengelike outcropping of pink granite formations amid a verdant field of lush pasture. It turned out to bit the biggest let down since the largest ball of twine in Darwin Minnesota. To the untrained eye, it was a couple of large rocks in a drought stricken brown paddock. This time it was Glenda who refused to get out of the car vice Sinead who put up a similar stance at the awe inspiring twine ball.

Feeling sure that the Eyre had many yet undiscovered charms, I fell back on the brochure for our next adventure. After a short stay in Port Lincoln at the tip, we opted to head for the town of Cowell which boasted a rare Jade find and a ferry across the Spencer Gulf, shaving kilometres if not time off our trip to Adelaide.

After a few inquiries, we met with one of the two jade proprietors in town who offered a modest selection of polished rock chips, minimum price $30, that may or may not have been sourced from somewhere in the area. We politely declined and upon learning that it would cost $180 for the ferry across Spencer Gulf, we’ve decided to view locally generated tourist brochures with a bit more suspicion.

After 9 on Sunday night we arrived at Mum/Mauzza’s new house in Aldinga Beach, about 40 minutes south of Adelaide city. It was great to have the big Mummo hug and see her new digs. She is ideally located close to a wonderful beach … great low surf, fishing allowed and you can even drive on it, which makes providing shade and carting beach supplies so easy. A mid week dinner was arranged at my brother Andrew’s house, with his wife Kirsten and the three kids. After a few days of lazing around and having quality Mum time, we packed in visits with old friends; Susan, Damien, the Milnes and Edith. A day full of driving eating, drinking, talking and love.

Esperance and the Nullarbor (Day 25 – 27)

Esperance in the south east of Western Australia is the launching pad for the Nullarbor Plain, the long drive into South Australia, so we drove for six hours and took the opportunity to rest up after Sydney. Esperance is another beautiful coastal town with history. The French landed at Observation Point in 1792 while charting the great south land. Unbeknownst to them their king was being beheaded at roughly the same time, putting a halt to their colonial pursuits. I was thinking of the French while looking back at the coast line, able to imagine the Cote d’Azur transplanted on the fabulous hillside stepping down to pristine beaches. The Esperance coast line, however has so many breath taking beaches and so little population that many of them don’t even have trails leading down to the sand. We also made friends with one of the resident sea lions at the old jetty, while munching on ice cream (Glennie) and Pluto Pup/Corn Dog (Kelly).

A full day’s drive took us right into the Nullarbor Plain, via Norseman. Kelly was sure that the town was named after Bjorn or Swen, the ‘Norse Man’, but it turns out that some explorer had a horse called Hardy Norseman who was tethered to the tree one night. The next morning the horse had uncovered a gold nugget with its hoof, thus starting a gold rush and the second largest gold mining boom in the state. By the looks of things, not much gold has stayed in the town ☺

At first glance a guy might think that Nullarbor is a word that comes from an ancient Aboriginal tongue meaning “Plains of Great Beauty and Abundance”, but really its bastardised Latin, arbor meaning “tree” and null “meaning not a single damn.” It boasts Australia’s longest straight road; 146.6 kilometres without a single curve, turn or even slight veer.

Armed with a multitude of warnings about how boring this drive would be, we prepared for the worst and were subsequently pleasantly surprised. The Nullarbor sits atop an ancient seabed and therefore occupies thousands of square kilometres of limestone covered buy a thin layer of top soil…I’m guessing this is why it is tree free…no where to put roots…but most of this must be inland. Although we did see some treelessness, most was still somewhat arboresque (new word I just invented…I hope it catches.) The beauty of the emptiness, was that the night sky was lit up so magnificently with stars visible to the naked eye that common features like Orion seemed to be drowned out by gazillions of other neighbours who were equally radiant when free from competition with terrestrial light. (message specially for Sam Copestick: Hey Sam, I drew my plan for the mosaic Aussie night sky here, with Orion on one end of the Milky Way and the Southern Cross on the other.)

Long story even longer…the Nullarbor is still an interesting place to be. It just lacks pubs and discos