Wednesday, February 16, 2011

16 February 2011 - Caltex Service Station yard, Burpengary, Queensland

Yes, you read correctly; the yard behind a service station. And this yard is a rest area, a rest area for large trucks, where they leave their trailers or trucks when they finish work. Hopefully there will not be too many more come in tonight. We sought permission from the garage staff even though this is listed in a couple of camping bibles. We enjoyed our dinner time under the awning facing away from the industry of the possie, catching a cool breeze, until the rain started. I said to Chris, “Isn’t it lovely to be sitting here outside while the rain falls all about us”, but then it turned into a torrential downpour and we scurried inside to shut windows and vents. It rained so hard there was no point in trying to listen to the news; there was such a din! A river of water swept across the yard toward us, brightly coloured with oil, and disappeared into the long grass between us and the fence. And then just as suddenly, it stopped and we had to hurry about opening everything up before we suffocated. We are not very far from the Bruce Highway and can indeed hear the traffic passing up and down this busy highway, however it is an even flow and should not be a disturbance during the night.

17 February 2011                  Nestle Inn Tourist Village, Tingalpa, Brisbane

Here we are in a delightful caravan park not too far from the city centre; 12 kilometres if the brochure is correct, and just across the river from the airport. This is a better option than Springtime Gardens. Certainly it is a couple of dollars more a night, and lacks a swimming pool to plunge in to, but should prove to be a more convenient point from whence to bus into the city’s cultural centre tomorrow.

It is hot and sticky. We are of course on electricity and so have the fan blasting away, the windows uncovered but for the flyscreens even though it is pitch black outside, so some air can find its way in.

We left our salubrious yard at Burpengary just before nine this morning and drove down here in the rain. The road was busy but the trip short. The day has passed without undue excitement; laundry, a trip to Kmart to return a faulty gas bottle, Coles and the greengrocer, and this evening a walk around this very extensive caravan park after dinner. The owner or manager told us this morning that they have three hundred permanents here! We were astonished this evening to discover this whole village of caravans and huts neatly tucked away in the trees and hedges on the large area behind the office.

Just a note about the gas bottle alluded to above; this is the small one for the outdoor cooker we purchased at Kmart back up in Maroochydore. Everytime that Chris has used it, he has had to close off the valve with a wrench, and each time, it has become more and more difficult to do so. Finally last night, he was unable to turn it off at all, and we thought we might have to call the fire brigade to come and take it away or whatever they might do in such situations. In the meantime we ate our dinner with it burning away and then it just stopped. He was able to cap it but was not willing to risk the same experience another day. We are still guardians of the delinquent bottle and will have to think of some way to dispose of it safely, but in the meantime the manager at Kmart at Capalaba today gave us a replacement which worked perfectly tonight. Always something to be fixed or replaced!! Such is life!

We have had a productive day, rising very early in our lovely rain forest park, and arriving at Caravan World on time. After going over the matters we wished to have dealt with, we headed off in just the Landcruiser, first to Buderim to collect a packet of mail from Pauline’s neighbour’s letter box, and then to seek out the Toyota dealer in Maroochydore. Chris wanted to discuss a couple of issues about our vehicle. The first was easily dealt with by explanation and the second, relating to an adjustment to the handbrake, discussed and rain checked for another day.

We then drove over to the Sunshine Plaza, a shopping centre we remarked had become “our local shopping centre” having visited it on many occasions and now being quite familiar with it despite the complex maize of malls over the canals. We found a tyre pressure gauge, swapped the “Gadget Geek” at Dick Smiths that I have been having problems with and shouted ourselves a coffee at McDonald’s.

We were to be back up at Woombye to collect the caravan at eleven, however thought it might be politic to delay our return, so parked down at a rest area beyond Woombye to eat our lunch. No sooner had we finished our delicious nectarines, did the cellphone ring with news that the caravan was ready.

And so it was about half twelve that we left the Sunshine Coast on this next leg of our Aussie adventure; the ensuite sliding door sliding well, the gas struts on the bed no longer a hazard, the pump making less noise and this new “Gadget Geek” working well.

On arriving at Burpengary, we walked about what appeared at first glance a rather uninteresting cluster of shops, to find in fact that Burpengary offers a great variety of shops and services, serving its populace well. We managed to obtain a better dictionery than that purchased in a junk shop in Kingaroy, and a history book about Australia which should be good reading in my spare time (when I have some).

The bonus of the afternoon was that we made contact on Skype with Larissa and the kids. They could see us but we could not see them. We look forward to when it can be a two way street!

We have booked in to this caravan park in Brisbane for the next couple of nights, having confirmed that both the museum and art gallery have reopened just today, having recovered from their flood damage.

In the bigger picture, outside this little world I write about, recovery continues here in Queensland, from the floods in the Brisbane greater area and of course from the terrible cyclone, Yasi, of 2 February. Apart from the physical requirements of recovery and the loss of crops and livelihoods from the floods, there are reports daily in the papers of battles with insurance companies who are refusing to pay out on claims because of the terminology and definition of water damage / floods / drains. The politicians are in on the “war” and also there is great disagreement concerning which government will pay for the repair of infrastructure; Federal or State. Upstate in the wake of Yasi, denghi fever has broken out and there will be months, even years, to clear and rebuild. It has been a horrendous year so far for Queensland; fortunately not for us.

18 February 2011                  Nestle Inn Tourist Village, Tingalpa, Brisbane

Another evening in Brisbane, hot and sticky. We have the fan blasting away yet again but it doesn’t seem to be making a whole lot of difference. We have had a lovely day and are enjoying an otherwise pleasant evening here in our comfortable caravan.

We headed in to the city centre this morning on the bus, leaving the park here just after eight. The bus was late to arrive, but for us, unlike our commuting fellow passengers, it did not matter. We had intended to get a bus to the Cultural Centre, but instead arrived in the centre of the CBD. Fortunately it is less than a kilometre to proceed through the main street’s pedestrian mall, across the Brisbane River by bridge to the museum and art gallery, and we were there a few minutes before opening time at nine thirty.

We spent the morning in the museum which has some excellent exhibits. I was particularly interested in the exhibit about the Aborigines and Torres Strait islanders and those related to the weird and wonderful creatures of this vast continent.

The section pertaining to the wildlife of Australia was very well laid out; a section where many animals and birds were all assembled as if ready to enter the Ark, which gave one a good perspective of size. They were well indexed and I was able to discover what many of these strange sounding names actually relate to. There was also an exhibit about endangered species, which was far more detailed than the previous exhibit and of course refined to far less species. And then there were masses of glass cases where different types of birds, animals, snakes, dragons, lizards, insects and other creepy crawlies were displayed. I thought of my nephew, Liam, as we wandered around, thinking that he would be very interested in the expertise of the taxidermy, having a passion and skill himself.

I came away knowing what northern bettongs, hairy nosed wombats, mahogany gliders, retro sliders, dugongs, womas, greater bilbies, Julia Creek dunnarts, southern cassowaries and boggomos snails are, among many other creatures. I know now that cane toads are much bigger than the frog I encountered on the way to the loo this evening and those that have tried to visit us by window entry.

After lunch under the trees on the South Bank, we re-entered the building to the Art Gallery. There are paintings and sculptures by great artists including Picasso, Henry Moore, the portraitist, Joshua Reynolds, Pissaro, Degas, Tintoretto, George Lambert, and of course many Australian artists of whom I had never heard. We were greatly impressed and rather overwhelmed. Two hours was enough for our heads, hearts and feet and so we then spent time wandering along the South Bank, or at least those parts that are no longer barricaded off. We were saddened to see that the beautiful gardens and parks we had discovered there last November were no longer.

Flood damaged Street's Beach
We caught the bus from the Cultural Centre back to Tingalpa. The reverse trip covering in part a different route confused us greatly and so we had to enlist the advice of several fellow passengers and then the driver to ensure we did disembark at the correct stop. We, and our fellow adult passengers, also had to endure crowds of school kids packed into the aisles, shoving and teasing each other as only children can. Always silly to get on a bus just after three !

We have decided to move on tomorrow morning and attempted to make contact with Tineke, Chris’s ex-niece and our special friend, by both email and through Facebook. Hopefully she will get back to us before we pull out on to the motorway and we can arrange to call in as we travel through the Gold Coast.

19 February 2011      Stott’s Island Nature Reserve, 4 kms SW of Chinderah, NSW                                                                                                                              

Finally we have crossed the border into New South Wales. I had expected some sort of fanfare given the quarantine bio-security rules spelled out in a book we were given by the CMCA. But no, it was only because the woman in the newsagent at Kirra Beach directed us to the “twin towers” at Coolongata that we did have confirmation we had in fact crossed the line.

This morning we were up promptly even after having had a disturbed night, disturbed by two couples of middle aged German tourists in an Apollo rental camper next to us at the caravan park, who obviously had been out for dinner, returned late and were unable to read the rules of the park, which included a directive for quiet after 10 pm. Needless to say, I made no effort to be quiet this morning as we busied ourselves for departure.

Tineke did get back to us, phoning while we were hitching on and so the call was missed. (I keep my cellphone in my handbag which was then waiting for me in the landcruiser) I soon returned the call and spoke to her message minder and she responded by text, explaining that she was unfortunately busy with wedding preparations and it would be impossible to hook up. I am glad that she did not try to slot us in to her undoubtedly very busy and important schedule; we will catch up with her when we next head north via the Gold Coast. Perhaps by then she will be Mrs Clutterbuck?

We left the Pacific Highway to discover Burleigh Heads and wound our way through the busy resorts south on the Gold Coast highway, down to Kirra Beach where we stopped for a cup of coffee and a walk along the beach front promenade. Kirra Beach is far nicer than Main Beach and Surfers; not nearly so busy and far less commercialised, however I suspect that a return in five years may offer a different opinion. I also accept that we visited the more northern beaches on the Gold Coast on Australia Day, and these more southern ones on a normal Saturday; hardly comparing apples with apples.

Further south, just around the corner is Coolongata, the obvious place to fly to if one was heading for the Gold Coast. It seems to have quite a busy airport, with planes coming and going at regular intervals.

We stopped at the Information Centre at Coolongata and picked up some maps and information about the Tweed Valley, where we were headed. We lunched on the northern banks of the Tweed River and then headed for our camp with poor directions in our bible. There were words and back tracking, however we did eventually find this wonderful little park, popular for many travellers such as ourselves. Chickens and a peacock compliment the usual population of birds.

We have been in touch with Clarry and asked if we could call on him and Maggie tomorrow. We will head to their town, Murwillumbah, tomorrow, settle into the campground at the showgrounds and reconnect with them to arrange a mutually suitable date. We have since been reading up on the area and suspect that we may stay at Murwillumbah for a few days and venture out to the National Parks nearby. However in our usual style, we will make those decisions as the mood strikes.

The traffic is busy and quite close to where we are parked; hopefully it will thin down as the night deepens.

Today I gleaned facts about the recent weather events, the floods of late last year and January this, and cyclone Yasi, early this month, from Brisbane’s Courier mail that are worth recording here, if only to have them for future reference:

  • 36 people died from flood and cyclone related events.
  • 19,000 kilometres of roads were effected.
  • 29 per cent of Queensland’s rail network was damaged.
  • 250,000 homes and businesses have had their power restored by Energex and an additional 193,000 have been restored by Ergon Energy.
  • More that $5 billion estimated for flood restoration and reconstruction costs.
  • More that $800,000 million estimated fro Tropical Cyclone Yasi restoration and reconstruction costs.
  • 74,355 clams reported by Insurance Council of Australia with an estimated reserve of $2.517 billion.
  • 54 coal mines affected, amounting to 15 million tonnes of coal or $2.5 million.

20 February 2011                  Greenhill’s Caravan Park, Murwillumbah, NSW

A sweltering day of temperatures ranging  through the mid thirties is drawing to a close, but cloudless day and most suitable for sightseeing; our activity of the day.

Clarry phoned up early, soon after nine o’clock asking where we were. He is currently staying at Tweed with a friend as his house is having work undertaken and Maggie is up helping her son and his family. He had travelled out to Murwillumbah, in search of us at the showgrounds, having misunderstood that our intention was to arrive there today and not yesterday, to find no one there at all. Enquiries found that the showgrounds were no longer “allowed” to offer low cost camping to travellers, and so he was naturally concerned for us.

However he came to us at our camp at Stott Island Nature Reserve and shared an early morning coffee with us while we discussed a variety of options for the day. We eventually decided that we would move on to the caravan park at Murwillumbah, and from there head out with him of a sightseeing tour. And so this we did, soon set up and off out in his car heading first about his and Maggie’s home, the delightful country town of Murwillumbah, a town of just under 10,000 people and offering all the services one would normally need.

From there we headed seaward down the Tweed River valley, whence w had come earlier from our previous camp, past great swathes of sugar cane and then to the coastal settlement of Kingscliff, and south through Salt, a very new seaside resort development built all in shades of white,  Cabarita Beach, Hastings Point, and on Pottsville where we paused for a lovely lunch at a café. We then headed inland, and by an inadvertent error, across the Mooball range on a metal road, a narrow way lined with beautiful trees, and encountered a wallaby on the side of the road, my first live one in the wild. We returned to the highway, the old Pacific Highway now known as the Tweed Valley Way, at Burringbar, and crossed over another range back to our camp at Murwillumbah.

Partners, past and present, lunching at Pottsville
 After another coffee all round, Clarry departed, leaving us to complete the setting up of our camp and then we made a quick trip into the centre of the town to visit the Visitors Centre which was about to close, and to pick up a couple of bits and pieces from the supermarket.

Since we had enjoyed a substantial lunch, we ate a simple salad for dinner, sitting inside the caravan, with the windows and vents all closed, and the airconditioner on full.

Having been offered a taste of this area by such an excellent guide, and having examined all the literature we carry and have collected, we suspect we will be here for longer than the two days we have booked in. But again, we shall see how the days ahead turn out.

It was really nice to catch up with Clarry. We were both concerned to see how he has aged since we last spent time with him, when Kit and Kyla got married, knowing that he is still working in a job that must from time to time be quite difficult for someone of his age and obvious declining physical strength. His situation is such an example, of those who live life for the moment and to the fullest, with a disregard for the future. And yet, who is to say that even we will live to his age of seventy five?

21 February 2011      Greenhill’s Caravan Park, Murwillumbah, NSW

Sitting in a very quiet camp after a very brief but violent storm, an electrical storm of more force than I can recall experiencing for decades. The storm came across from the hinterland, dark and menacing, while Chris was cooking our dinner, kanga bangers, potatoes and bok choy, on the gas cooker under the awning. We quickly moved the dinner, the chairs and the table in. Through dinner, Chris sat at the window anxiously watching the awning struggling against the wind gusts. Finally when it abated a little we dashed out into the rain and took it down. That task proved to be easier than expected; we both had had visions of me holding on to the awning rope and being lifted into the air and blown away like a kite. The reality was that I did not turn into Dorothy of the Land of Oz, or Mary Poppins dashing off at the end of an umbrella (or awning). We did, however, both get very wet.

I saw a blue flash in a caravan across the park as if a television blew up and then the power went out. Even as I type this, we are not sure whether all the power in the town has gone out, or if it is only that here in the caravan park. We do know that we are the only ones with light; thank goodness for our excellent battery resources.

We have had a wonderful day discovering this spendid area that Clarry and Maggie now call home. The Tweed Valley is nestled in the caldera of an ancient shield volcano, Mount Warning. The Tweed River rises on Mount Warning and is joined by many others rivers including the Oxley (not the tributary which feeds into the Brisbane River and flooded in January) and the Roux. The valley is surrounded in almost a circle by high bluffs above which are national parks; the Springbrook, the Border Ranges, the Nightcap and the Mooball.

This morning we drove up Mount Warning as far as the road would allow and did a short twenty minute walk into the rain forest. The alternative walk was the five hour’s trek to the top, the last part of the climb aided with ropes to the top. We decided against that. This was the first time we had aired our walking shoes; the first time since our arrival we had donned anything more than sandals (on our feet that is).

We back tracked toward Murwillumba, then headed west toward Tyalgum, then circled back east to Chillingham, both charming little settlements along this lovely inland road, mostly bush lined with the occasional banana plantation up on the north facing slopes.

At Chillingham, we headed north, up the side of this amazing basin, across the Queensland border a few kilometres to investigate the natural bridge at Numinbah, where we put our sturdy shoes to use once more. The side trip was well worth the effort; the Cave Creek flows from the top of the range north toward the Gold Coast, through a natural rock bridge, and down in the cave below we saw glow-worms and bats flying in frenzied and smelly form.

We returned over the state line and resumed our circular drive back to Murwillumbah, travelling through cattle grazing country and fields of sugar cane, finishing at the Visitors Centre to watch the DVD’s on the rainforest that we had been too late the day before to see.

Rain was threatening so we then hurried back to camp to rescue the washing I had left on the line to dry. The urgency was uncalled for, however did give warning of what was to come a couple of hours later.

Even now, at nine o’clock in the evening, the thunder is rolling around the region like cannon fire, although the wind has died down and we will probably only have rain through the night.

We have booked for another night, so will spend yet another full day tomorrow enjoying this delightful Tweed Valley. 

22 February 2011                  Greenhill’s Caravan Park, Murwillumbah, NSW

Dear God ! What terrible news today concerning the second earthquake in Christchurch. As I start this the death toll is sixty five, and sure to climb by much more. Scenes of chaos dance across our television screens, having taken priority on the Australia channels over and above the turmoil in Libya and scandal of gas drilling in Queensland and New South Wales.

Kyla advises on Facebook that her relations and family friends in Christchurch are all safe, and it would seem, that Cindy’s crew are also. Thank goodness for that! What of Auntie May’s tribe, so many in Christchurch, and Jeff’s lot? Hopefully we will learn that all are safe even if they have suffered property loss.

Clarry telephoned me at about midday, just as we had stepped out of Murwillumbah’s branch of our bank. He had heard it on the radio and suggested we hurry back to the caravan and watch the horror unfold on Channel 10. I will admit that we did not do so, for after all, what could that achieve?

In the morning we had spent nearly two hours in an amazing warehouse of emporium proportions, selling and displaying just some of the thousands of amazing lights, including chandeliers of grandiose splendour, classic cars, crockery, bric a brac, furniture, books and all other manner of things. The place is run and owned by Michael, a seventy three year old ex-pommy who says he owned about eight big lighting shops until about ten years ago. He sold them and moved up here to the Tweed Valley with thousands of dollars of stock (which suggest he walked out of his businesses rather than sold them) and then bought house loads of goods almost by default. While a couple of other customers purchased several hundred of dollars of “treasures” while we were there, we came away with two books and a never opened packet of skewers. It was just after that, and our subsequent visit to the bank that we had the call from Clarry.

And so instead of rushing back to our television screen, we walked about this charming rural town and then went for a drive around the north west side of the caldera, passing through a narrow gravel road to Urliup, through to Bilambil, then back through North Tumbulgum to Mulwillumbah; a lovely trip through bush and open land, grazing and sugar plantations.

On returning to the camp, I found I had lost my jandals which was very annoying, but not as upsetting as watching the television as the news unfolded. Somehow to dwell further on our own adventures today seems so trivial when everyone’s thoughts and concerns are on other matters.

23 February 2011                              The Border Ranges Centre, Wadesville, NSW

Another day of hideous news; the death toll now at seventy five and still counting. The TV News channel here is still broadcasting events as they continue to unfold there in Christchurch, much of the news actually being brought to us by TVNZ reporters. Liz has confirmed that her Christchurch lot are safe, and I see on Facebook that some of my friend’s friends and family are safe, but still have had no word on my own cousins, more particularly their children and grandchildren.

This morning after tearing ourselves away from the television screen, we packed up and with permission from the camp owner, left the caravan unhitched to head into town. There we shopped for provisions, visited the great little museum manned by volunteers who as usual latched themselves on to us and told us their fascinating stories. Alas we did not have all the day they thought we might, and had to excuse ourselves. Then we went on to the Tweed River Regional Art Gallery, a council run gallery in a building erected and paid for by a wealthy donor. This art gallery is just amazing and would stand proudly with any world class gallery. Again, as with that in Brisbane, we came away rather overwhelmed by the content. Ideally with galleries such a these, one needs to visit them on a weekly basis and absorb and appreciate them little by little. The artists were all either Australian or New Zealanders. There was a particular exhibition by Euan Macleod, a New Zealander, whose work was bold and awesome in the true sense of the word. This gallery is also home to the Doug Moran National Portrait Prize, the richest portrait prize in the world past winners are on display along with changing exhibitions. Who would have thought that this small rural town of Murwillumbah could host such as this!

We reluctantly left there, returned to camp, hitched up and headed on the route decided for the next stage of our journey, south west toward Kyogle. En route we pulled in to the Clarrie Hall Dam, the water reservoir for the Tweed Valley. It was completed in 1983 to supply domestic water for 60,000 residents, and projected to provide for 160,000 by 2035. Water lilies abounded near to the spillway, and there were warnings that the water could be contaminated by algae. It was a pleasant place to break our journey.

We travelled on, rising up the south west side of the caldera, on sealed but very rough road, until we reached the turnoff to this camp. It is listed in our bible as a low cost camp, however we still had to fork out $50 for our two nights booked.

It is delightfully rural, really just a corner of a farm, looking out over cleared land rimmed by gum trees, and the bush clad range beyond. Banksias line the immediate fence and I am sure that when the rain clouds lift, the views will be superb. We have high expectations of the birdlife and the otherwise peaceful setting. And most importantly, we have television reception so we can helplessly follow the news from “home”.

24 February 2011                  The Border Ranges Centre, Wadesville, NSW

There have been times in my life when an acquaintance or even a friend has died or suffered some tragedy, and while one’s thoughts are very occupied with thoughts for them, I never fail to feel surprised how life goes on around me and others, as if nothing has changed. In the same way, it is with this horrendous disaster in Christchurch. Tonight I have heard the death toll is at ninety eight, and I have also learned the heartening news that our family are all safe. And as I remarked yesterday, there is little I can do from here and so for us, life goes on pretty much as it would had the earthquake not struck that beautiful city yet again.

My mother also remarked in her email picked up tonight that we seem to have hardly covered any distance when one checks out the locations in the atlas. We have covered about two thousand kilometres since arriving here just over a month ago, and yet as we emerged from the national park access road today, there was a sign that pointed to the right, toward Brisbane, a mere 174 kilometres away.

While we hold the thought that this camp is a rip off, from a value for money perspective, we have to admit that is really is a delightful place. Last night after I had closed the computer down, we enjoyed the sight of a group of about a dozen wallabies grazing in the same paddock as we are parked up, about two hundred metres away. What a delight! One little joey was leaping about a tiny hillock, just as lambs will late in the afternoon. Lorikeets greeted us in the hedge right beside our window this morning, an encore of last nights performance.

The camp office doubles as a takeaway and bottle store, and offers a covered area not unlike a big bus shelter where his customers can stay and drink and eat their purchases. Last night there were quite a crowd there and music from both recorded and live sources. It was quite pleasant and did not disturb us into the late hours.

We had hoped that the rain would have disappeared overnight. We woke to mist through the valley, but hoped that it would burn off and we would enjoy clear views. We set off with the eski and thermos full, our walking shoes and sox already on, and wearing vests because it really was quite fresh! The preferred road into the World Heritage Borders Ranges National Park left the main road back toward Muwillumbar, then became a narrow gravel road that wound its way up through the forest. Even with the gravel surface, the road had a wonderful surface. We arrived at the official entrance to the park, where there was a self-registration setup. The fee for taking a vehicle in to the park is $7 per day. I had raided Chris’s pocket of all one and two dollar coins to replenish our laundry coin horde, and we had no cash but notes. We picked up a form, placed it in our window and proceeded with the expectation of being stopped by a ranger and then having the opportunity to pay the required fee.

At Bar Mountain, we pulled off at the first point of interest and did a twenty minute walk through the rain forest to see Antarctic beeches, trees that were originally seeded two thousand years ago, and that have died back and re-grown on the outside of the previous tree over and over again. The forest was raining on our heads, although at that point the skies were not doing so; truly a rain forest. And it was cold up there in the clouds.

We drove on to a lookout from where we should have been able to see the entire Tweed Valley below  and Mount Warning in front of us. We did glimpse some of the promised landscape but then the mist came over the top of us like a waterfall, and the view was obscured. It was quite fantastic!
On to the next view point but we were obstructed in part by a couple of trees down. We were able to pass around the side through the mud, but then we struck a doozy. Three trees right across the road in front of us. We were able to move two of them, but then the third was too big and heavy to budge. Chris reckoned he should be able to drive over it. And he did, at least he drove the front wheels over it and then was stuck. Oh hell, I thought, what a dilemma! Can’t go forward and can’t go back.
But perseverance and use of the 4WD facility conquered. Relief!!
And so on we went, until suddenly we came around the corner and …. a great forest seemed to be across the road. Fortunately a work force of four had arrived just minutes before us from the other direction, and were already attacking it with chainsaws.

We pulled out the eski and thermos and relaxed over coffee and sandwiches while the men worked. The trees had all been felled during the storm of Monday night, when we had been in Murwillumbah wrestling with the awning in the wild winds. The men said they were glad the way was clear from there on but we soon put them in the picture, explaining the obstacles we had already come through.

Mist over the Border Ranges
As the large trunks were sawn and discarded, a great brush of branches and lianas was left covering half the road. One worker suggested to the foreman that they pull it back with a chain attached to their truck, to the side of the road. "Good idea", said the foreman, and carried though his plan. He backed up pulling the pile, across to the side of the road, then foolishly continued so that all four wheels were on the soft grassy side of the road. Then he was stuck! As all but he had expected watching him reversing. We asked if we could help but he declined, saying that regulations did not allow for “civilians” to assist in such situations. They had a radio, and spades, and would get out themselves. We believe that the truth of the matter was, that this foreman was too embarrassed, and wanted us out of the way. If they were unable to remedy the situation themselves, they would have to wait at least an hour for “rescue” and that would only be if help could be dispatched immediately.
Looking out over the caldera; black boys and mist only visable

And so, rebuffed, we proceeded through the cleared road, and travelled on to the Pinnacle lookout. This is a platform on a buttress of rock perched out from the rim of the caldera, again suggesting a similar view of the valley, one thousand metres directly beneath us. Again the view was partially obscured by cloud and mist, but was still quite spectacular.

We went on to yet another parking place, from where we walked to see a giant red cedar, measuring 48 metres in height and 133 cm in diameter, and is probably 1,000 years old. It was impressive, however when one compares it to kauri trees in Northland of a similar vintage, it was just a runt, in girth at least.

We exited the park having not come upon a ranger, discarded the unused pass form, and pulled in to the camp at Sheepstation Creek, where we ate the rest of our lunch, watched by one of the many brown cuckoo doves we had encountered en route and a monitor that may have been a goanna.

Soon we were on our way back on the regular roads passing just one car heading up into the park, the only other vehicle we encountered apart from the work truck.

We came south to Kyogle where we stopped to walk up and down the street and buy icecreams. Kyogle, situated on the crossroads from Murwillembah and Lismore is an unremarkable country town in a lovely rural landscape.

Our camp lay north and so we returned to our muddy campsite and spent a pleasant hour or so with our neighbour, Linton, who is travelling with his very unwell wife. As the rain started to fall again, we came back inside to prepare dinner and consider how lucky we are to have our health and to be here in Australia.

A female wallaby with her joey in her pouch came close to the caravan this evening, but I frightened it away when I tried to get a photo. She, nor any of her tribe, have returned this evening.

25 February 2011                  Crooked Creek Rest Area, Bruxner Highway, NSW

We woke this morning to a glorious morning; the warmth of the sun already promised a brilliant day as did the bright blue sky. A couple of wallabies were just fifty metres when Chris stuck his head out to greet the morning and attend to nature’s call. The lorikeets were busy in the banksias outside the caravan window, as was a grey bird with a yellow mask that we believe to be Noisy Miner (note the miner a opposed to mynah). We ate breakfast out under the awning and then packed up to go, after a debate as to which route to take.

Clarry had told us about a place called Nimbin which is reputed to be Australia’s drug capital. He said we should go there because it was such a hard case. Linton, our neighbour of the last couple of nights had reinforced that suggestion, telling us how Nimbin was the hippy hole of the world, where lost souls wandered about in sixties hippy regalia, be they of our vintage or younger, mostly spaced out of their minds, offering marijuana to everyone and anyone. Linton said that there appeared to be one woman who acted as the mafia boss and the population of this quaint village acted as her puppets. The police apparently turn a blind eye to the carryings on at Nimbin as long as there were no other drugs involved. The description of the place together with its cute name, caught our curiosity and we considered travelling to our next destination via that route. And if we were to pass that way, we would then emerge near Lismore and so it seemed logical to check the capital of the North River region out too, before heading back west to Casino.

I picked up on this discussion this morning, no actual decision having been made the night before, and we hummed and hawed, and the decision was given to me, and so I adopted Plan A which retraced our steps of the day before through Kyogle, and then on south. As we pulled out of the camp, I said to Chris,” But if you would like to go to Nimbin…?”  Words were exchanged, and we finally stuck with our original plan, which on reflection at the end of this excellent day, I believe to be have been the right one.

And as for missing out on our weird hippy adventure …. We will no doubt come back up through this general area to catch up again with Clarry and perhaps will take the opportunity then.

The road through to Casino, which is called the Summerland Way, was as bad as the one we came through from Murwillumbah; sealed but potholed and soft on the edges. The scenery however was lovely. The road follows the Richmond River and passes through beef country, and except for the gums, could be anywhere in New Zealand.

On arriving at Casino, we checked out the Information Centre as is our normal practice and walked into a photo shoot. A local artist, Teah Fort, had just opened her exhibition titled, Rare Plastics, at the Playpus Gallery adjacent to the centre. The work was a collection of cleverly crafted plastic flowers in vases. Friends from Lismore had arrived to act as her rent-a-crowd for the purposes of the article in the news paper, but here we were just in time all the way from New Zealand, (sorry, not New York) to view her marvellous work. And so the photographer hastened to take a dozen shots of Teah and her two New Zealand fans for publication at the end of next week. We will google the Northern Star next week to see if we have become Casino famous.

After such a celebrity stunt, a wander around the trees of Casino was a bit of an anticlimax. However wander we did and found a bustling well established town serving this beef growing community well. We shopped for essentials and then returned to the vehicle to find a pleasant spot for lunch. Like all Australian towns and even the smallest of villages, Casino offered a variety of lovely little parks and picnic spots. We parked beside the bridge across the Richmond River and ate while enjoying the chorus of the parrots high in the trees above us.

We decided to push on westwards. Our goal is the New England Highway, which we left at Toowoomba. On regaining this route, we will turn south and travel through Tamworth checking out George Bevege’s old haunts before venturing further south, or alternatively turning north again if the weather turns cold.

(Note that this George is our James’ brother, and is the father of all the Australian Bevege’s and the one who was originally sent out to Australia as a convict in the 1830’s, then received a certificate of freedom before returning “home” to entice two of his brothers to come on out here.)

The Bruxner Highway runs east to Lismore and the sea, and west to Tenterfield and far beyond toward the Centre, running off the map I have before me. Travelling across the grain of the land, we passed through rolling hills not unlike the Waikato except that the farming is of beef rather than dairy cattle. We passed over the Richmond Ranges and down into the Clarence valley, crossing the Clarence River at Tabulam via the longest single span wooden bridge in the Southern Hemisphere.
We pulled off the road just 40 kilometres from Tenterfield, and checked out a camping spot gleaned from our bible. In this worth reference book, there is a warning that the last two hundred meters are steep and should be checked out before driving down. And so this is what we did, Chris decided that the road was quite acceptable so we walked back up the hill and brought the rig down through the gums, here beside the creek. A truly delightful spot shared with a couple and their dog, of course. As we close up for the day, frogs are croaking, the birds have already bunked down and we look forward to another excellent day tomorrow.

26 February 2011                  Tenterfield Showgrounds, New England, NSW

This morning we woke after a quiet night, far away from the road, to the craaking of the crows. Chris washed the landcruiser with water from the creek, taking care he was not attached by leeches. Apparently there were many about, both in the water and in the wet grass. Fortunately we did not have to administer salt to them, which is apparently the best way to detach them.

We hooked up with our neighbours and Sonya and I ended up chatting away for ages, while her husband and mine, separately packed up readying for departure. It was not until they had both started the respective engines, we broke apart with promises to hook up again on Facebook.

Sonya is an amazing young woman in her early forties whose story will have to be told elsewhere, a true Aussie battler of both immigrant and indigenous origins.

She told me that they had been disturbed by a fox in the night. I was incredulous; a fox, here in Australia ? But yes, there are foxes, and there was a carcass of one under the tree nearby to give credence to the story.

We continued our journey westward to Tenterfield, a short trip of forty kilometres, and settled into our camp here at the showgrounds before lunch. After lunch, we walked back up to the main street, and visited the Sir Henry Parkes Memorial School of Arts Museum. Henry Parkes is best known for his fiery and impassioned support for the Federation of the Australian colonies. His campaign peaked with his famous Federation speech to the people of Tenterfield at the Tenterfield School of Arts on 24 October 1889. He won immortality as the “Father of Federation”with his catchcry “One People, One Destiny”.

Our camp in the Tenterfield Showgrounds
We were escorted through this brilliant exhibition, or perhaps one should say, shrine, by a volunteer who otherwise works as a journalist. He entertained and informed us in a superb manner and it was $8 well spent.

The town was otherwise empty, it being Saturday, and so we returned to the campgrounds to catch up with emails and the latest news on Christchurch.

Tenterfield is a rural town situated on the crossroads of the Bruxner and New England Highway with a population of just over 3,000 people, established way back in the 1850s. Many of the buildings are very old, and it does have a charm. The river that runs through it and is right next to us here has obviously flooded in the not too distant past. We figured that if it were to flood again to the same level, we would be underwater in our bed! The rain that is trying to fall right now, is however not of the flooding kind.

 27 February 2011                             Tenterfield Showgrounds Campgrounds

We were woken after seven this morning by Kit. The telephone rang and there he was. It certainly was time we were awake particularly on such a beautiful morning when we had plans to fill.  However it was quite strange, firstly that the telephone should ring, and secondly that we should be woken up by it. Fortunately there was no bad news or at least no tragedy.

After breakfast and packing a picnic lunch, we set off for the Boonoo Boonoo National Park, to the falls on the Boonoo Boonoo river. As we followed that river after crossing the top of the Great Divide, it soon became more than a trickle and the evidence of flooding in the recent past showed that it could become a raging torrent. The falls start as large pools tumbling from one to another, sometimes for swimming in but closed for access today. As we followed the pathway a huge valley opened up before us and the wonder of these falls was revealed to us. The river falls 210 metres off the New England Tablelands into the Clarence valley. The drop is spectacular, the falls equally so. Now I have dragged Chris around for years from one waterfall to another and he reckons that eighty per cent could be given a miss. This however wowed him and was well worth the visit, even for a fall-doubter such as he.

On the road out to the falls we encountered wallabies who dashed away as we neared, and on the pathway to the river, a very large monitor, probably a goanna, which would have been more than a metre long. It darted away from us and clambered up a gum tree.

Returning to the Mt Lindsay road, we continued on to the Bald Rock National Park. The forest here was as beautiful as that we had passed through earlier in the day. We came to the picnic area from where we set off on a two hour walk. Bald Rock is Australia’s largest granite rock, standing 260 metres above the surrounding landscape of rocky outcrops. From the summit we could see north far into Queensland and east back toward the Richmond Range. The large granite rocks grew larger and larger the higher we climbed, but none prepared us for the huge expanse of granite we traversed to the summit. The effort was truly worth it.

Prone sheep
We returned to the car park to enjoy a very late lunch and decided against carrying on north toward Stanthorpe and then south to the Girraween National Park, concerned that we would be too rushed and too tired to enjoy the rest of what would be a very long day. Instead we headed back toward Tenterfield and set off on an hour long drive labelled the Mt McKenzie Drive.  This was advertised as a short drive offering the opportunity to view unusual granite outcrops and the views above the town.
The thirty eight kilometre drive was far more than suggested. It took us out into grazing country where we saw sheep for the first time here in Australia, and cattle along with a few goats. The pasture was covered with granite outcrops. The road turned to dusty gravel soon after leaving town, and wound its way from one farm to another, over cattle-stops. The recent rain had obviously done its best to destroy the roads; in fact we came across a couple of signs that said the road was closed, but we persevered with the intention of turning back if we had to. We did get through and were so glad we had gone on. It was a marvellous trip. The views from the top of Mt McKenzie, 1,298 metres above sea level, were stupendous.

It was not too far back to the camp from there and we relaxed after a very busy and wonderful day. Tomorrow we may (or may not) set off to do the other half of the trip that was planned for today. We have extended our stay here, by one day at this stage, but are contemplating further days with something completely different in mind. However tomorrow is another day, and we will sleep on that.

28 February 2011                  Tenterfield Showgrounds Camp, NSW    

Here we are enjoying a balmy evening, the last day of summer, camped by the river with twenty or more other parties. The raucous noise of birds brought darkness and now there is just the chorus of the cicadas.

We have had another lovely day sightseeing in this surprisingly beautiful area. Today, after waking to yet another gloriously sunny day and breakfasting outdoors, we drove up to the Giraween Natonal Park which is just a little west of the New England Highway between Stanthorpe and Tenterfield, across the Queensland border. Despite the fact that this park is simply the western extension of the Bald Rock National Park we were in yesterday, still in granite country, and across the border which runs along the top of the Great Divide at that point, the park was quite different.

On arrival, we spotted four grey kangaroos grazing in the picnic area of the park, and slowly moved toward them, step by step. We were just three metres from them when they bounded away. My first kanga encounter!!

Part way up the Pyramid
After checking in at the park headquarters and finding that half the tracks that were marked closed were actually open, we went for a two hour walk, intending to ascend the Pyramid, yet another mountain of granite. We followed the path through the beautiful eucalypt forest and past rocky outcrops and wetlands to the base of the exposed rock face. We started up but I pulled the plug on the ascent just halfway up that final face. The descent was just a difficult, taking tiny steps and thankful that the soles on our new shoes had such good grip. The Rock beat us!

Returning to the car park, we lunched and headed back to the camp, calling in to the supermarket to re-provision the caravan in anticipation of our departure tomorrow.

The rock that beat me
We had briefly contemplated offering ourselves to the voluntary force that is working in the area, mainly restoring fences destroyed by the recent floods. Many of our fellow campers are already engaged in this activity, receiving free camping, morning tea, lunch and dinner gratis in return for their efforts. Many of these same campers are retired contractors, fencers, drivers, Jacks of all trades. We did wonder what we could offer, and in the end decide that the time was not right for us to join their forces. There will no doubt be other such opportunities.

Today’s trip as so many of those over the past month, we have viewed the evidence of the forces of nature. Seeing these small creeks and the destruction they are capable of helps one understand how the rivers wrought so much havoc in the Lockley Valley west of Brisbane, and of course, a reminder that man can never hope to tame nature, as is also evident in the recent cyclone up north and the earthquake that has rocked Christchurch. We are really no more than the ants that annoyed us over lunch today.




Saturday, February 12, 2011

And Away on Our Shakedown Trip

25 January 2011             Springtime Gardens, Daisy Hill, Brisbane

As I sit here writing this instalment, I am sweating in a most unladylike manner in to my clean clothes. A swim in the camp pool after 4 pm this afternoon and a shower provided only temporary relief. The washing is hanging on the line and even though I washed and rung it out it by hand, I suspect it will be dry before darkness falls.

The day has been glorious, sunshine and a very warm 30 degrees. We woke early as one does sleeping so close to this busy motorway, the Pacific Highway, and were on the road north to the Garden City Westfield shopping centre at Mount Gravitt by 8.30, joining the rush hour. We were targeting Sam’s Warehouse for dessert bowls to match those we had purchased from a branch closer to us the previous day.

Successful, we then took the bus through to the Brisbane CBD. What a marvellous transport system Brisbane has! We discovered that when we came in November last year when we did the same trip. It did cost us $21.60 for the return trip which is not that cheap however if we were regulars and purchased the Brisbane equivalent of London’s subway “Oyster” card, it would be very very economical. And even at what we paid, when you consider the stress of driving in to the centre of the city, finding a park, and then shelling out whatever for that, I suspect the amount we paid today is a snip.

Once in the city we sought out the Australian Tax Office. Walking through the buzzing streets was a wonderful experience, a far cry from that last November when we rushed from one verandah to another in an attempt to avoid the rain. This time our visit there was successful. Chris’ number has been retrieved from the archives and mine will be issued within a week or so.

An impromptu trip to Target turned into another successful shopping spree. Towels, “glasses” and a wonderful book on Australia, an updated version of one we had discovered in the Whangarei Library, added weight to our already heavy backpack.

We then crossed the Brisbane River on foot with the intention of visiting the Art Gallery and Museum. We found both places barricaded off and obviously in flood recovery mode. We then considered a walk along the South Bank, but alas, that too was fenced off for the same reason.Instead we caught the bus back to Garden City and so on to home to fudge out.

As the end of this second full day in Australia draws to a close, we are satisfied we are on track in as much as circumstances allow.

To recap, we arrived on Sunday night after a very routine three hour flight from Auckland, retrieved our sixty kilos of red striped rope packaged luggage, which stood out from the smart luggage of our fellow travellers (but then they are not moving into a caravan for the next five years!), found our rental car in the darkness and proceeded to this camping ground. We have joked about this place in a very derogatory way, however it is very well maintained, has two lovely swimming pools and a children’s playground and more than adequate facilities. The prices are the cheapest in Brisbane and while the road noise (particularly at this end of the park) is obtrusive, it is also very conveniently situated.

Barry, our ever friendly manager, had left the cabin unlocked as arranged by email, and the hired linen was sitting on the bed ready for our use.

Our first day was a very busy one. Despite the fact that we had retired late the previous night, we were up with the crows and traffic. We walked to the shopping centre across the road to find that the bakery and newsagent were the only businesses open at seven, and returned to our cabin to enjoy the bakery wares and file the newspaper for later enjoyment.

By 8.25am we were standing outside the Queensland Transport Authority offices in Logan City, along with about twenty others waiting for the doors to open. An hour later we were the proud bearers of Queensland driver’s licences; a car one for myself and a heavy traffic one for Chris.
We paused there in Logan City and sought a quiet seat in a park to contact Cousins, the vehicle dealers who had our landcruiser. Despite our varied attempts to telephone them, using country codes and then not, city codes and then not, we kept getting disconnected line tones. We thought we would give them another try from a pay phone in Loganholme.

As so off we went to the Hippodrome shopping centre to meet with our friendly banker, Phil, who sorted out our pins which I had managed to do unsuccessfully on line (mainly due to the fact that I had forgotten those I had set up and of course one should never write these things down!)

We then bought a new SIM card for Chris’s phone and once more tried to ring Cousins. Still no joy and so we decided to drive across the city to Rocklea. We had of course been aware that areas of Rocklea had been under a three metre lake during last week’s floods. We had also seen news items on the internet to say that vehicle dealers had moved their stock up on to the motorways high above the floods and that these were being guarded by the police or army. We were therefore still relatively up beat. As we neared our destination it was evident that Rocklea had been severely effected by the deluge. Bunning’s shops, McDonald’s, truck and car sales yards, so many businesses were closed and in clean up mode. We pulled up at Cousin’s lower yard to head initially to the office. The yard normally filled with cars, was bare and brown. Demolition experts were backed up to the office building and the place was closed to all other comers. We drove up to the upper yard which did appear to be open, got out and walked in to the large shed. Light commercial vehicles were for sale in the outer yard, the sale flags were flying and all seemed normal until we entered that shed, where sat the office staff at fold up picnic tables busy with pens and papers and no electronic aids in sight. The far yard was empty of vehicles, just bare and brown as the lower yard. There was a sense of doom and depression amongst those there. We approached young Luke with his lazy eye, a charming young man whose parents emigrated to Australia from New Zealand when he was but a lad. He carries the stigma of being a Kiwi despite years of Australian education and life experience. We smiled and asked after our landcruiser. He directed us without further answer to old Bob, the down to earth salesman of more than retirement years. Bob was left to tell us the bad news. There was no vehicle. It was gone. They had managed to move one hundred and fifty of their vehicles, but the remaining two hundred had perished. There had been no particular order as to which vehicles were saved and which left; it had been simply a matter of moving what they could within a small window of time.

My heart sank. All that money! A huge chunk of our life savings and a purchase sum more than twice what we would have considered an acceptable price to pay for a second hand vehicle in New Zealand! “But. But…” I stammered.

Bob directed our gaze to those under cover and said, “Take your pick and then let’s see if we can come to some agreement”.

And so we checked through those that were marked with prices somewhere within cooey of our lost purchase and found another landcruiser, registered the year before the first one, with a similar mileage, an excellent roof rack, and an attractive silver instead of white. Instead of being an ex-police vehicle, this is an ex-drug squad wagon. It is in fact marginally better than our previous choice and had an asking price a couple of thousand more.

We settled on exactly the same price, including the three year’s warranty, without too much haggle. The boss man was resigned to accepting whatever he could get. Insurance would never put the business back to where it was the day before the floods. One had the feeling that he wanted all the evidence of the disaster to just go away so that he could either start again from afresh or maybe go work in a mine on wages.

Young Luke put together the paper work or at least as much as he could with the limited resources. He had never had to make up the sale and purchase documentation and other related forms by hand, making duplicates with carbon paper. He has grown up in a world where everything has been done electronically. Without telecommunications and computers, he is somewhat lost. We left happy that they had treated us so well despite the disaster, but feeling very sorry that matters had come to this for them.

Pickup is to happen on Thursday instead of today, and so the sequence of events that was to follow that original deal have all had to be altered. We have had to notify the insurance people in Melbourne of the change, re-schedule the pick up of the caravan from Caravan World in Woombye, arrange a further night in our cabin, a further two days with the rental car and delay our arrival at Pauline and Neil’s in the Sunshine Coast. Fortunately all has gone well, all have been obliging and so the stress and worry that could have arisen from all of this, has not been an issue.

And so to sum up the two days we have been here: we have secured a superior vehicle, obtained licences, organised our tax numbers, set up new telephone contacts, purchased more than half of the chattels for the caravan, had the first swim of the year and exercised our new credit cards to the point where they may wear out very soon. A very satisfying couple of days.

It is now dark; it falls dark so early here. The late nights, early mornings and busy-ness have caught up with me, and so I shall retire early to bed with my Readers Digest collection from Barry in the office. Tomorrow is Australia Day and a public holiday. Flags are flying in anticipation, barbeque recipes have been popular on the television this evening between broadcasts of the Australian Tennis Open. We probably will set off for a day trip to the Gold Coast, take a picnic and our maps and find out what the buzz is about this apparently wonderful place.

3 February 2011             Six Mile Creek Rest Area, south of Gympie, Queensland

Where have all the days gone! So much for this relaxed retired tikki touring! We are however now very much on the road and enjoying our new life, even though it is just the second day of absolute independence.

We are currently parked in a rest area just off the Bruce Highway, the main drag for every truck heading north, and every truck heading south, and all the other traffic besides. For all that however, it is relatively private, boasts a perimeter of some beautiful gum trees, decent loos, water, rubbish bins and proximity to Gympie town. It seems to be a popular spot with eleven different parties in tonight.

And that’s where we spent the greater part of today, in this rural town of just over 10,000 people. Gympie is known as the town that saved Queensland when James Nash discovered gold in 1867. The buildings are mostly old and quaint, and while some have been destroyed by fire in the interim, they have been rebuilt to reflect the heritage state of this town. It sits beside the Mary River, however I have yet to see that river. Last night fishermen pulled in here to catch perch, and wandered off through scrub on a very muddy path to the river. My desire to verify the existence of this river is not strong enough to dirty my feet.

Gympie is named after a native plant called gympie gympie by the aborigines. The plant is incredibly toxic; even skin contact with the leaves can cause serious pain, even death. There is record of a horse having died after having had an encounter with this savage plant.

We wandered around in the heat and purchased books to read, and a few bits and pieces for the caravan. Each day we come up with more ideas of things we need. It is absolutely mind boggling looking at the dollar numbers of what we have spent since we arrived here in Australia on 23 January. Licences, memberships, insurances, modifications, outdoor furniture and appliances, linen, kitchenware, tools, office and computer gear, electronic accessories, start up groceries and cleaning gear; it all adds up despite having purchased much of this from the “cheapy” shops. There are a good range of “cheapy” shops: Target, Big W, Sam’s Warehouse, but then some items cannot be compromised. Very soon we expect to be living a very simple life spending most on fuel and daily food requirements. Our fancy chipped credit cards will be pleased for the rest.

We spent Australia Day, 26 January, doing something totally different, a break from the busy-ness of the preceding days. We left early in the morning from our caravan park and headed south to the Gold Coast, firstly calling in to Sanctuary Cove. What a very glamorous spot that is! Luxurious homes on pristine canals and amenities, cafes, and shops to match. While enjoying the beauty of the spot, Chris and I decided that this was not really us; we were far too plain for such a life style. We also decided that there must be a lot of seriously rich people in Australia.

We drove down to Harbourtown, called in to MacDonald’s for morning tea (as one does), then meandered about this interesting shopping centre; interesting for the fact that many of the shops are outlet stores.

From there we joined the slow moving queues of traffic heading south to Surfers Paradise, toward the high rise hotels and apartments and the sea. We found a spot to park and took our packed lunch across to the grassy park which was sheltered from the beach by a scruffy line of casuarinas. The place was packed, for as far as one could see. Every man and his dog had come down for a picnic at the beach. Gazebos decorated with flags were furnished with barbeques, tables and chairs and eskis full of beer. Australia Day was being celebrated in style. Australians were bedecked with henna tattoos, hats and T-Shirts announcing their allegiance to The Flag. After lunch we thought we had better check out the beach itself and were amazed to see thousands more people lounging up and down the shore as far as one could see.

It was a relief to drive west of the crowded coastal streets. We headed first to Robina and found the street where Kit had secured an apartment for his family just a year ago and the shopping centre that would have been a daily destination for Kyla and Isabella had the move eventuated. We decided that we rather liked Robina, certainly preferring it to the crowded yuppy streets down toward the beach.
We then had to go inspect Nerang where Kit had worked and decided that we also liked that locale. From there we drove west toward Canungra but then north up over Mount Tamborine and on up to Beenleigh and back to our caravan park.

After having spent all our days in Australia so far dealing with business, it was a real delight to simply play the tourist.

The following day, life for Australia returned to business, although even, now cars are still sporting their patriotic flags. We headed across town to Rocklea to pick up the landcruiser. We were a little early so pulled in to a small park just around the corner from the dealer where we had had our picnic back in November last year. The street and all those adjacent were empty of residents, the houses were decked in mud and debris, tradesmen were working on some of them and the area was indeed a sorry sight. Such a heartbreak for those who have lost so much in the floods!

Back at Cousin’s we completed the paper work and headed off in the two vehicles, back around to the park, where we transferred our belongings from the rental car to the landcruiser. I drove the car and Chris followed in the landcruiser; we headed for the Brisbane Airport where we had arranged to return the car. Unfortunately I took a wrong turn and ended up in the taxi rank at the airport then had to travel almost all the way back in to town before I could turn back and find Chris who was patiently waiting for me.

Then we were off north, together in our “new” vehicle! We arrived at Pauline and Neil’s at Buderim late afternoon and were treated to their superb hospitality in their very lovely home.

The next morning, we were up at Caravan World at Woombye before the arranged time of 9 am. There we completed the paper work, rang the insurance agents down in Melbourne and were given instructions as to how to work all the functions in the caravan. The landcruiser was taken across to the auto electricians next door to have the Anderson plug fitted and to ensure that all the electrical connections were correct. Neil and Pauline turned up most fortuitously and carted us off to Nambour, a rural town just north west of Woombye, the original centre of the Sunshine Coast. There we enjoyed coffee in a very pleasant café and then we returned to the yard ready to take possession of our caravan.

I was quite nervous about the whole business of towing such a heavy “trailer” with a still unfamiliar vehicle, however refrained from conveying this to Chris. Of course all went perfectly well and I had been needlessly concerned. We arrived back at Neil and Pauline’s, and our rig was backed up into their shed beside their house. They had pushed their own caravan out into the elements on the lawn to accommodate us! From that night on we slept in the van but continued to use the plumbing facilities in the house and enjoyed our friends’ hospitality at dinner time.

The weekend was spent firstly discovering where to shop, and then doing the shopping. If I thought the caravan was heavy when we left Caravan World, it was nothing on what it would be when we finally set off, laden with all our purchases!

Early during the weekend we discovered that the speedo was not working on the landcruiser. Fortunately our Tomtom beeps rather rudely when one is exceeding the speed limit which is just as well, however this situation was hardly acceptable.

We spent Monday ringing back and forward to Cousins and the warranty people to confirm that this would be done at no cost to us. Finally after being passed from one person to another, we were given the name of the firm who would do the repair. We raced around to Sunshine Coast Tyre & Brakes before they closed for the afternoon and arranged to have the vehicle to them by 8 am the next morning.

Neil kindly facilitated this and fortunately the garage was not too far from their residence. We then had to wait around for confirmation that the insurance would meet the cost of the repair and then for the repair to be done. We all four went into the Sunshine Plaza in Maroochydore and shopped independently. This shopping centre is quite wonderful. It is older that the Westfield shopping centres we have patronised in Brisbane, and of course in New Zealand, but is unique in that it covers a large area spanning several canals or branches of the river.

Battery World phoned to advise that my new computer battery was there for collection, and no sooner were we back to the house, the garage phoned to say they too were finished.

Later that day while browsing through the CMCA magazine, The Wanderer. I was disappointed to learn that as members we would have been eligible for a sizeable discount. I shall remember that for next time if the need arises again.
Ready to leave Buderim
Final sorting was done, and the Last Supper of fish and salad and the inevitable wine and beer, enjoyed with Neil and Pauline.

The following morning, we hitched up all ready to leave only to discover that the fridge was not charging correctly from the landcruiser. We left Buderim for Woombye, where one of the mechanics was able to identify the problem; the electrical connections had been done as requested but the instructions to the auto electrician had not been complete. Back around to Palmwoods Auto Electrical and then we were off, at last.
We travelled back through Maroochydore, on to the Sunshine Highway and north toward Noosa, a place I had heard of since the days I lived in Vanuatu. We thought we would like to visit the Noosa Heads National Park however access for a vehicle towing a caravan was rather difficult. After winding our way around the boulevard, we found a more appropriate park and then ventured on foot to see what Noosa was all about. It is indeed a delightful place to visit especially if one is not into self-catering. I do believe that you would have to travel some distance if you wanted even a litre of milk let alone the where-with-all to make a sandwich.
We came away heading for Tewantin looking for a supermarket and were suitably rewarded. Further north we detoured to Lake McGregor and found a gorgeous spot close to the weir, under the gums, to picnic. Then on up to our camp just south of Gympie.

5 February 2011                    Murgon Caravan Park, Murgon, Queensland

Tonight we are enjoying the security and peace of an official camping ground, the first since leaving Springtime Gardens in Brisbane over a week ago. It is Saturday night and we decided tonight, in the peace of this setting, that perhaps it might be good policy to spent Friday and Saturday nights in an official camp as we travel about, rather than stress about unwanted visitors.

The camp is owned by the council and run by a caretaker who was a gypsy like us, who settled down in one spot after drifting around this country, although he did it in a camping trailer. This evening the frogs and cicadas are competing with the sound of our fan we have running, on electricity. Earlier the galahs and many other as yet unidentified birds were raucous in the gums that fill this park. It was just marvellous and I dragged Chris from one end to the other excitedly pointing out the trees full of birdlife.
Luxury camping at Murgon
There are perhaps only two other parties staying here, our nearest neighbour, a white guy and his half-caste son, and I suspect the aborigine woman and four dark children who, according to the caretaker, were not going to be staying. They are bunked down in a small tent not too far and very quiet. I think this might end up being the quietest night so far.

Murgon is a rural town of 4,800 people district wide, located in the south Burnett Valley, 100 kilometres west of Gympie, at an altitude of 312 metres. Despite that, both the temperature and humidity are still high.
This town is a centre of agriculture and horticulture, beef and pork farming, and cropping of peanuts, cotton, lucerne, olives, wine producing grapes and duboisia. The latter is a shrub, the whole of which is harvested and sent to Germany in chip form as an ingredient of a manufactured drug used in eye drops, pre-surgery and the like. Apparently the aborigines used to throw some of this plant in to the pools of water and the fish would be stunned and float to the top. (At least that is what a poster said at the Information Centre.)
Just five kilometres away is Cherbourg, an aboriginal settlement that was until relatively recently one of those you needed a permit to visit. It is therefore no surprise that we should have encountered aboriginal people en masse for the first time since arriving in Australia.

And twelve kilometres away is the Bjelke Peterson Dam, two impressive dams holding a vast reservoir of water for irrigation. We drove up there this afternoon between showers, and I drove back uneventfully, this being the first time I had behind the wheel of our rather large vehicle. It is however much smaller than our motorhome so my concern is related more to my inexperience of Australian road conditions.

Yesterday morning we left Gympie, or at least our camp south of that delightful town, and spent the morning at the Gold and Historical Museum there. The museum is run by the Gympie and District Historical Society volunteers. Often this type of museum is a disappointment and all rather amateur. This one however was an absolute credit to the town. Sadly some of the exhibits had been moved to higher ground to avoid the floods that had submerged some of the grounds and the displays were still in the process of being reinstated. Still, a big tick and highly recommended.

We then proceeded to the rest area north of Gympie after calling briefly in to the hardware shop for more purchases. This more northern rest area had been rejected by us the day before when we had considered it for our second night’s camp in the area. The ground was still very wet and the only dry areas were just too close to the road for my comfort. And yet it was a far prettier place than the one we ended up staying in for the two nights; lily lakes, geese, egrets nesting on islands, and much much more.

From there we headed north, then west away from the very busy Bruce Highway that runs all the way to cyclone ravaged north Queensland, on to another road side rest area, at Fat Hen Creek, six kilometres east of Kilkivan. We arrived there mid afternoon, and found a mown corner at the far end away from the road, parked so that our outlook was over grasslands and gums. The Creek had been badly flooded in recent times, in fact the toilet block was cordoned off and when investigated, Chris found that the water had been four and half feet up inside the walls and the floor inside was deep with a foot of mud. The river banks were sadly bruised however I did manage to find a path down through the flattened trees and grass to the muddy bank, and scoop up enough clean water to do a load of hand washing. Chris hung up a rope fro me from the landcruiser across to a fence post, and I pegged our undies and shirts to dry. We were alone in the area and remained so all night except for one vehicle that came in and out during the night which Chris kept a close eye on. We did not unhitch from the landcruiser, and could have made a get away providing Chris could have made a dash for the vehicle.

However that is all very hypothetical; we were absolutely safe and I would be happy to do the same again, which we will no doubt do.

 The road travelled over the last couple of days is badly scarred by the floods, and while the council or roading authorities are doing their best to repair the damage, it was still a trip taken with great care. Apparently this town of Murgon was cut off for three weeks from the outside world during these latest floods, with no provisions in or out all that time. Potable water supplies were down to four day’s reserve when access was once more gained.

Perhaps the IGA superette’s shelves were stripped bare by then, however we found them well replenished today when we went to shop. I had originally made a long list of provisions, in anticipation of us heading bush for a few days, however when I realised on arrival that the only supermarkets here were not Woolworths, Coles or Aldis, I pruned my list back to bare essentials. We were absolutely delighted to discover that this IGA offered excellent competitive prices for all our needs and ended up walking back to the caravan loaded with everything on the original list and more.

On a more negative note however, we have been told that the road to Lake Boondooma where we were planning to travel tomorrow has been closed and if it is now open, may still be of a very substandard condition. Tomorrow morning we will review our plans. We may yet stay another night here and do a day trip in the landcruiser to the lake, just taking a picnic. However even that may not be a goer. The weather forecast for the next few days is not looking that great. Oh well, we’ll worry about that tomorrow, and I in the meantime, will put this laptop away and go off to sleep to the sound of the night creatures outside.

6 February 2011                              Murgon Council Park, still

Today has been a quiet day doing very little between the very heavy showers that have fallen. Chris preferred to call it “torrential rain”, however they are described in the weather report as “showers” and shall remain so here.

Last night was uneventful and pleasantly quiet. While the camp is not far from the main road, it is a less major one, and also being in the middle of a built up area, not polluted by the noise of air brakes.

We were surprised to discover that a very large branch had fallen from a tree between us and our tenting neighbours during the night; surprised that we had not heard the crash and pleased that there had been no casualties. It missed the tent only by inches. It was only a few days ago that I was reading in some of the copious literature we have to get through, that one should avoid camping under trees because they do get old, like us, and tend to fall about. So there you are! A lesson learned with no harm done.

Chris washed the landcruiser and I did some more laundry at the excellent little facility here. Each load cost a mere $2 and the dryer and iron were free. All linen in the caravan is once more fresh and ready for the next round.

After lunch we drove up to the Boat Mountain Conservation Area, about ten kilometres away. The road up and away from Murgon passed many intensively farmed duboisia crops, some planted on terraces. The air was pungent with what we guessed to be those shrubs. Chris reckoned it smelt like dog poo, I thought it reminded me of some ointments I have come across in the past.

We enjoyed a short walk through a natural bush habitat called Jack Smith’s Scrub, walking through long grass and low plants untrodden for some time, on a track of very red soil. The birds were abundant but hidden, as were a couple of animals that scooted away in the undergrowth. We decided that they probably had been wallabies. Chris walked in front of me swinging a switch to clear all the cobwebs that hung across in front of us, so we were spared encounters with the large spiders who had spent weeks or even months weaving these works of art.

We then drove up to a higher point to enjoy spectacular views, according to the brochure. We did make it to the first look out point before the sky turned black and opened up above us. The views over South Burnett were indeed wonderful and would have been more so had we endured the wet conditions, but at heart, we are bits of wimps, and so it was back to camp where I cooked for the first time in the caravan; a Sunday roast of chicken and assorted vegetables, accompanied by canned beans. The oven is excellent, however I must confess to cheating a bit in pre-cooking some of the ingredients in the microwave; a trick I learned from Pauline.

As we hunker down for the night, to watch another of the excellent travel DVDs that Neil and Pauline lent us, we are undecided about our plans for tomorrow. The weather forecast remains dismal. We shall see how we feel in the morning.

7 February 2011        Stuart River Rest Area, Chinchilla-Wondai Highway, South Burnett,        Queensland

It is early afternoon and we have set up camp beside the Stuart River which is little more than a creek under a large concrete bridge carrying noisier trucks than we might wish for. However it is only 3 pm as I type this, so hopefully the drivers will all have families to go home to before long. There is also a wonderful old windmill pump between us and the river which is clattering away as it turns. We may live to regret this stop!

We woke this morning with a glimpse of blue sky through the venetian blinds and felt very upbeat about the day, deciding to head off to Boondooma Damn with the caravan. We had telephoned through to the motor camp the night before to check on the state of the road because the woman in the Information Office at Murgon had suggested it was, or at least had been, out because of the floods. He said it should be alright and so after checking the RAQC website for "road conditions", we decided that we would be okay. When we were totally up, breakfasted and hitched on, the day wasn’t looking quite as promising. However in this game if you are too timid to venture out every time a spot of rain falls, you will never get anywhere!

So off we went, filled with diesel at Murgon’s one service station and drove through wonderful rural landscapes, grazing lands dotted with gums and baobab trees, and remnants of crops that were unidentified. Up and down dale, dodging large potholes on the sealed road and noting clearly the level the recent floods had reached.

Boondooma Dam
Boondooma Damn is another for the purposes of irrigation and water supply, completed in 1988, one year after the Bjelke Peterson Dam. It is impressive in its construction, facts of which I did not retain. The shore of the lake appears to be heavily wooded with gums, however if you look closely, you can see that there are cattle grazing in some areas. The lake level rose three and a half metres in the December flood, and so the immediate shoreline is not pretty. The caravan park is in recovery mode, the playground and barbeques were under water and they, along with the road that goes along the lake edge from one end of the park to the other, are all out of bounds.

This dam was actually our initial single destination for our shake down trip. Pauline and Neil had sung its praises and sent other friends there for the same purposes as they directed us. We had, in our usual fashion, decided to do a round tour including that as one of the many stops, and so were disappointed that it did not live up to our expectations. We had also been led to believe that there were freedom camping spots around the lake away from the camp. Perhaps the subdivision has been done more recently but any spots that looked likely, were obviously private, or encompassed into the recreation and camping areas. Perhaps also, I am a little too timid to camp in undesignated spots, but hopefully will become more courageous as time goes by. We have become members of the CMCA, the equivalent of New Zealand’s NZMCA, and as such, feel bound by their protocol.

And so after calling into the office there, and learning of their woes, we came back east and stopped at Proston, a little country village we had passed through earlier in the day. We chatted with the local bus company owner who should have retired years ago. He said he had one of those (a caravan) in his shed and his wife was always telling him that they should use it more. “Just do it”, I said. “Yes, but…” he responded, and I imagined it would still be there when he was on his deathbed.

We loved this little village and stayed to have our lunch in one of the many parks, after wandering around up and down the streets in the hot midday sun.

After consulting our maps and our many manuals and “bibles”, we decided to drive south on a connection road, a tiny narrow but sealed road, that brought us down to this highway, and then west to this rest area.
Next to the Stuart River
There is one other party here, a young Londoner, with his wife from Cornwall and their three sons. They emigrated to Tasmania about four years ago, and then four months ago came north looking for work. They are travelling in an old beatup landcruiser, pulling a very long trailer, and a poptop camping trailer which is even in worse condition than the vehicle. How they have survived on the road for so long in such cramped quarters, I do not know. Little Euan, Charlie’s age, came over with his father when we arrived. Soon after, they left to drive in to Kingaroy where Roy has managed to get a job at last. They hope to move in to rented accommodation in the next few days and the two older boys, still unseen, have started a school near that residence. Their campsite is like a tip, and while Roy said they had only been there one night, we suspect they may have been here nearer a week. I imagine the reason that these rest areas have a limit to one’s stay of 20 hours is to combat just such situations such as this!

10 February 2011    Kingaroy Showgrounds Caravan Park, Queensland

Evening has fallen, early as usual. Here it is just 7.15 p.m. and it is very dark outside. The cicadas have started their raucous chorus, but otherwise the camp is relatively quiet, quite different from the camps we have found further out in the country. This is our second night here, or rather third in the immediate environs of Kingaroy.

After leaving our delightful camp beside the Stuart River shared with the gypsy family, we drove east and back up north to Wondai, the lovely country town where Neil and Pauline had had their motel business a few years ago. What a charming town it is! The town is recipient of “the tidiest town” awards for three or four years during the last decade and well deserved. We spent some time at the Information Centre where there was a good display of photos of the milling history of the town, and also an interesting display of the a variety of different timbers. It was interesting to see how the common garden plant, the Australian bottle brush, and the Melia tree, which we have growing in our garden in Onerahi, make for very attractive timber.

Next door to this was the local wood turners work shop and there we were addressed for at least an hour and a half by a retired forester, Bob. He now farms a small block just out of Wondai, and was a mine of information about cattle breeds, irrigation, weeds and pests, dubosia and of course trees and timber. We asked about the prickly pear cactus plants we had seen on the road side as we travelled to Lake Boondooma. It  was introduced in the late nineteenth century, probably by those travelling from the Californian goldfields, and spread in this area to such a degree that many farmers had to walk off their land, such as the stories I have heard about the ragwort in New Zealand. The solution came in the form of a small insect called the cactusblasta, which blasted the cactus by munching it’s way through the forest of prickly pears. And so why did we still see some? Well this insect is a bright little mite who, when he realised that he was going to do himself out of his favourite diet, left small patches in reserve. The cactus is starting to take hold again, however the blasta is also on a mission to increase it’s own population, and will in due course have matters under control again.

It was late morning when we broke free of our learned scholar. We headed again south and stopped at a tiny settlement called Wooloolin, beside wetlands. We went for a walk along one side and startled ibus and other water birds, unidentified by us. We lunched on a grassy park area which is a place where campers are welcome to overnight free of charge, however while we were both quite tired, decided it was much too early to park up for the night.

We drove on south, straight through Kingaroy, and again camped beside the Stuart River, at the Soren Hansen Bridge. Here there was an extensive grassy area where campers were welcome to stop, for no more than twenty hours. The toilets were either barricaded off for flood damage or otherwise disgusting, hence unavailable to us. The grass was knee high and therefore not really ideal for outdoor living. However the setting was delightful, the trees full of birds, and it was some distance from the main highways, so we decided to stop there the night.

Here, although further south of our previous camp on this same river, we were upstream, and the river and access was not nearly as attractive as the earlier camp had been. Nor did we encounter any amphibious visitors, as we had at the other camp. Late in the evening when Chris had opened the blinds to close the windows for the night, we found a large frog, the size of Chris’ hand (he disputes the size) clinging to the inside of the window. It made an attempt to leap inside however Chris was fortunately too quick for it and managed to brush it off and down to the ground. While it was a very small moment, it gave us a fright and caused great delight.

It was there, at the Soren Hansen bridge, that the problem that I had been having with the computer finally defeated me. We managed to down load our emails, many of which were tidings of bad news. I attempted to answer those that required attention, but the problem I had been struggling with since arriving in Australia, and which had been steadily been getting worse, where everytime I entered certain numbers or letters, a window would pop up, was worse than ever. The only way I had been able to function much of the time was my copying and pasting individual letters or numbers. You can imagine that this was extremely time consuming and incredibly frustrating. I had assumed that it was a virus, and had consulted Olly about the matter. With his usual brilliance, he had managed to set up access to my computer and work on my computer to have alternative virus detectors, all from the comfort of his chair in West Auckland. (Quite amazing to see him working on my computer, while I sat on my hands!) But alas, none of this had worked. And so Chris and I agreed that we would have to find a computer repair place here before I went quite insane.

And so, of course, our first port of call in Kingaroy was the Information Centre and the first question related to the whereabouts of such a saviour. We were directed to AP Computers, which Anthony and his mother ran. I explained the problem to Anthony, he asked if I had spilt anything on the keyboard and I confessed to having done so a year or so ago. He said that it sounded more like a keyboard problem than a virus. He had advantage of touching my keyboard which Olly had not, working by remote. Would I leave it with him? He had about a dozen jobs that also required his urgent attention. And there were about four other people who came in while we were there.

We returned to the Information Centre, watched a DVD of peanut growing put out by the commercial enterprise that is the primary processor of the peanuts grown in this area. Kingaroy is the peanut capital of Australia, and is naturally very proud of the fact.

Considering the situation with the computer, we thought it wise to book into the camping ground at the town’s show grounds. This is managed by a couple who were once such as us, but now settled in one place (seems to be the rule) who are quite potty about their dogs. After we had listened to the daily doings of their dog and the one they were babysitting, we paid a modest tariff, deciding to go without power, and found a spot in the middle of the showground area.

After lunch, we went off shopping, again. Kingaroy did very well out of us that afternoon. It is quite amazing how, when you think you have everything, you find that there is even more that needs to be purchased. We checked back with Anthony’s mother who said he would look at it first thing in the morning. There was nothing to do but return to camp.

Our nearest neighbour in the camp is a couple who are of advanced years, pulling a larger caravan than ours with a Landcruiser with 340,000 kms on the clock. They bought it new a few years ago now and have circumnavigated Australia five times. Now we do think that is a bit extreme!

The evening was somewhat cool, as had the day been. The gauge of this was the fact that I did not feel that my clothes should be discarded after a few hours wear. It was lovely to settle down under the duvet, something that seems a far away habit.

This morning we woke after an excellent night, and after breakfast, just after nine,  we went back in to Kingaroy to the Art Gallery and Heritage Museum which are adjacent to the Information Centre. The former was surprisingly well stocked with really good pieces of work, and we were treated to the company of another volunteer, named Ralph Argue, who had come to the district at the age of eighteen back in 1952, and been taken under the wing of the local stock agents and auctioneers. We were made privy to the contents of his personal photos of the area in those early days and stories of his employment and many other related matters.

Finally we managed to get away and went into the Museum, where we were set upon by another volunteer, Wilf, in his eightieth year, eager to impart his great knowledge of peanut farming. He was indeed an expert, his own father having invented and built several of the innovative machines used in the industry and now having places of pride on the museum floor.

We escaped at 11.30 am and made our way along the street to AP Computers to learn the fate of the computer. The problem was indeed the keyboard, and he was looking for a replacement second hand one. If he couldn’t find one, was I happy to have a separate keyboard connected with a USB? Yes, yes, anything to get it all going again! It would be ready by one. While we were there four more customers came in, and I could see that Anthony probably worked twenty hours a day to keep up with customer’s demands.

After lunch, back at camp, we travelled up to the highest point in the town, and took the obligatory photos, then called once again at AJ’s. Sigh!!! But Mother Postlewaite presented me my Venice bag complete with computer and new keyboard and a bill. Joy!!!

To celebrate we spent more money in Kingaroy, this time at Supercheap Autos and the greengrocer then returned once more to the camp. Yes! All functioning and to prove the point, managed to make contact for the first time with Kit and Kyla, in time to kiss little Isabella goodnight.

Kingaroy Showgrounds
Tonight, as I write this, will be night four on the tank of water and with the loo. We know that with the motorhome we could go four days and even push out to five if we were super careful. Certainly having showered in the camp showers tonight is cheating, but we are hoping that we will not run out. These are matters one needs to know before one heads to the back and beyond. Alas, the water meter is not working properly and will be one of the several matters that need to be dealt with when we return to Caravan World in Woombye.

Tonight Kit asked me if we had seen any snakes. The answer is no. The only kangaroos and koalas we have seen are those on road signs. Near Brisbane the signs about koalas simply show a picture of a scary black bear on a yellow background. His claws are obvious and the tufts of hair on his ears are wild. Further north however, the signs are different; the koala is white without claws and he has delightful message like” Please be careful – we live here too.” I think I would rather encounter these albino koalas.

From the bridge at our camp the night before last, we spied a colourful monitor lizard basking on the river bank. This was the first since those seen at the Springtime Gardens Caravan Park in south Brisbane. The frog was referred to earlier. The butterflies are just marvellous; yellow ones, blue ones, black and white ones…. The dragonflies are lovely but I am not so keen on the look of the wasplike ones. I need confirmation that they are harmless. The birdlife generally is just fantastic. The past week when we have been away from the main population, we have seen and heard galahs, laughing kookaburras, magpies, butcher birds, ibis, and various other colourful and noisy parrots. They are truly delightful.

Well I am off to bed. Tomorrow morning we will replenish our water supplies, dump our black water and set off toward Toowoomba where we expect to be in the next couple of days.

By the way, I find it both interesting and rather horrific that it is standard (even here at the show grounds) just to let the grey waste run out on to the ground! Sometimes it is more appropriate to attach the waste hose and lie it out so it at least is released further away from the caravan. Can you imagine that being allowed in New Zealand!?

11 February 2011   Chapman Park, Hampton, Queensland

We have just pulled in here to a road side rest area behind the Information Centre at Hampton, not too far from Toowoomba, perched on the Great Dividing Range 743 metres above sea level. The Centre itself is a one hundred year old cottage surrounded by gardens and our park is surrounded by gum trees. I am sure we will be very happy here for the night.

We woke rather early in Kingaroy this morning, hitched up and did what we had to, then popped back into town to get a couple of things, including a four port hub for my computer, then away south east to Nanango, on to Yarraman and then down steeply in to Cooyar where we parked up for lunch. This was a lovely place by the river spanned by a swing bridge. It is listed in our “bible” as a good place to stay and I would endorse that, at least from what we saw. However it was only midday and the driver was keen to be closer to our next destination. We were entertained for half an hour by a Canadian woman who is travelling in a Winnebago motorhome, not a lot unlike our own. She sat herself down and was obviously happy to talk the afternoon away. I excused myself by saying I had to get lunch on the table. It seems the world is full of people who are happy to pass the hours away in chatter, much of it interesting and educational. I have yet to quite reach that stage; still thinking of all the things I have to do and ready for the next adventure. I trust I have not yet become a bore!!

Our camp at Hampton
The drive today was lovely, very rural although we did pass through some pine forests between Crow’s Nest and Hampton. The road from Hampton through to Esk, which turns off just next to where we are parked, is still closed from the bad flooding in this area. Apparently it is badly gouged out in places and is not likely to be reopened anytime soon.  This is a road we may well have chosen as we turned back from Toowoomba to head back to the Sunshine Coast. It is evident that we will have to check the condition of the roads carefully before we head away from Toowoomba, unless we decide to return by the exact path we have come. The woman at the Information Centre has given us a great screed of maps and brochures to study about Toowoomba. Looking at these in brief suggests we may be some days in that city.

A sign at the entrance warns of the aggressive nature magpies can display during mating and nesting times, however the ones hanging about our door right now are just little softies. Which is just as well because I had my fill of aggressive magpies a couple of years ago on the Otago Rail Trail.

I have just picked up emails from Pauline to advise that the mail that we have been waiting for has mostly arrived, however she and Neil are heading away tomorrow. Arrangements have been made to collect it all from her neighbour whom we did meet during our stay in Buderim. All seems to be under control; at least for today.

12 February 2011                     Jolly Swagman Caravan Park, Toowoomba, Queensland

Already after nine o’clock; late for me especially since the day started soon after five this morning with the chorus of the magpies and laughing kookaburras, soon followed by the chatter of other birds. The village of Hampton was shrouded in mist when we rose, but as the sun warmed, the mist dissipated. We headed for Toowoomba and descended the range to the city before 9 am.

This city of just under 100,000 sits on top of hills atop high cliffs at 700 metres above sea level. Except for the fact that the west side of the city continues in that direction at a similar altitude, one could liken it to the forts and castles perched on the top of mountains throughout Europe. We booked into the Jolly Swagman Caravan Park for a couple of nights initially, with the option of extending should the mood take us. The park is on the top side of East Creek which is one of the two that flooded so rapidly back last month and washed so many cars away and drowned a couple of souls. This is a separate catchment system from the disaster that struck in the Lockyer Valley, just east and below the city when water swept from Murphy’s Creek close to Hampton where we were last night, into the Lockyer and did so much devastation. Even today there are still over sixty bodies or at least parts of bodies held in the morgue awaiting identification. These are mostly understood to be backpackers who were working in the Lockyer Valley on the farms, who have yet to be missed by their families who live far away. Just last week another body of a local was found hanging up in a tree above the area where searchers had been combing the ground for some time. Here at the caravan park, Dorothy, the owner, was fortunate enough to be spared. Her office was flooded and her computers are still down, and she had to deal with residents here who were terrified and trapped but none lost.
While we have stayed at other caravan parks before now, this is certainly a step up. It has no playground for young visitors or any swimming pool, but the amenities are very swish and we are hitched up to waste, water and power on a level concrete platform.

Our immediate neighbours with whom we drank after dinner coffee this evening are a couple in their early seventies who have been full time on the road for the last eight years. While the sign on the office here says “No Pets”, they have a delightful King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, and another neighbour on the upper side had a cat and a dog. They, Keith and Barbara,  are just lovely and were happy to talk and talk, however I grew cold (yes, cold!) and was wanting to get back to my computer. No doubt we will catch up with them again tomorrow; that’s what people do in these parks.

Shade in the Japanese Gardens
After setting up this morning, we packed our lunch and went down to the Information Centre to be informed by a very helpful assistant. We followed her advice and drove up to Picnic Point and along the upper levels of the city, then visited the Japanese Gardens at the University. These were quite lovely although not very extensive. We then went on to the Laurel Bank Park, another must-see park in the metropolis otherwise known as the Garden City which boasts 254 parks. While there are some lovely trees there, and certainly many people enjoying the shade and picnic facilities, the flower gardens were all swathed in polythene and so it was a rather strange looking park. Apparently in the spring there is a great display of flowers, such as draws visitors from afar, to climb the viewing platform to see the amazing patterns of blooms.

Before heading back to the park, we called into the modern shopping centre, and parked in the underground car park. The boom stated that the maximum level was 2.2 metres. We have not measured our height, however were aware that we were quite high with our roof rack. We slowly inched beneath the barrier, and passed unscathed. The exit however stated a 2.1 metre height and I insisted that Chris not risk that one. We went back out the same way we had come, laden with more purchases; Scrabble, groceries and a new straw hat.

13 February 2010                  The Jolly Swagman Caravan Park, Toowoomba, Queensland

Again it is late. I have been wrestling with this new blog I have started, and have at last found it, and now am downloading photos. I guess the whole process will become easier as I go on, however today’s efforts have been frustrating.

Today we drove out for further exploration of this delightful city, first to Queens Park. The playground was full of families and close by were a duo playing under the trees in the style of Simon and Garfunkel. There were several groups of men and boys kicking balls about, a young man with a remote control car, children on bikes and scooters, and most of all, acres of trees full of birds. The flower gardens alas were wrapped in polythene as were those we had visited yesterday. We drove to the centre of the metropolis which, this being Sunday, was not too busy, and visited the Regional Art Gallery which is housed in a most excellently suitable building. There were few works that impressed us and we decided that even that Kingaroy’s gallery was far superior. From there we drove about another high point of the residential area and marvelled at the views toward the east, down the Lockyer Valley and toward the coast.

We were just finishing dinner, which we tend to eat rather early these days given the equally early nightfall, when we received visitors. Ann and Bob arrived uninvited holding their drinks and settled in to entertain and inform us.

They are not fulltime gypsies as most of the others we have met on the road seem to be, but do spend about 75% of their lives travelling. Bob is currently working with a group of volunteers cleaning up flood damaged fences and helping in whatever way he can; a thoroughly laudable task. After about half an hour they took their leave but not before loaning us their own “bibles” for us to transcribe notes of good camping spots. Such a generous offer which we accepted.

Just as I typed the above, Chris decided he had better shut the windows on the east side of the caravan and found a very small frog holding on to the inside of the window, just as the larger one did last week. This one however was more tenacious and took some evicting!

We have decided to move on tomorrow and so will do so after breakfast. We will need to re-provision because we are likely to still be three days before reaching the Sunshine Coast to have the little niggles fixed at Caravan World.

14 February 2011                                    Cruice Park, near Woodford, Queensland

Tonight we are camped on the side of the road with about three other parties doing the same; safety in numbers. This location is back toward the Sunshine Coast and nearer the more densely populated areas. We have come through from Toowoomba, probably one of the longest days in kilometres we have had.

The road down the range from Toowoomba is very steep and while only about four kilometres, the grade is 10 degrees and is a slow trip especially when towing two and a half ton. Once at the bottom, we were in the Lockyer valley, scene of all the devastating floods of 11 January. The roads are terrible and the evidence of trees, houses and land having been washed away is equally so.

Had circumstances been different we would have lingered in this area, but we did not wish to appear voyeuristic, especially since we were not in the line to help, so turned north near Gatton, and headed up to Esk. Again the roads were in a poor state, but open and not quite so busy. We paused at Esk to have lunch and wandered up and down the street. This is quite a pretty town, nestled on the banks of the river beneath high rugged cliffs. Again there was evidence of the floods here. The army were assisting in moving debris from a site where a house had been washed away. The Information Centre was closed for restoration and the road across to Lake Somerset was likewise closed. Given our limited choices, we headed north again via Toogoowalah where we successfully sourced a part for our gas bottle in the most amazing old fashioned plumbing and hardware store. We had considered stopping at a couple of camps close to here that were listed in our bible, however it was still relatively early and we thought that both might be a bit close to the road. We went on to Kilkoy, where we managed to execute our first road kill; a gulah at Kilcoy. Oh so sad, but totally unavoidable.

We called in to the showgrounds / racecourse, listed in the CMCA guide as being $8 per van for the night. The ground was in recovery, the flies were thick and the “caretaker” asked $15! We chose not to stay but again moved on to where we are now. The countryside between Toogoowalah and here was reminiscent of the King Country around Te Kuiti and Piopio. The landscapes we have passed through today have been wonderful, but then so have they been every day.

Here we have excellent cellphone reception and have been able to book the caravan in to Caravan World for 8 am Wednesday morning, and arranged with Pauline’s neighbour, Michelle, to have our mail securely tucked in her letterbox for collection on that day.

All is under control. Oh, and I forgot to mention ... there were a flock of fruit bats flying overhead when I ventured out across to the loos an hour ago.

15 February 2011                                          Nambour Rainforest Holiday Village, Queensland

This evening we are parked in a compact caravan park, full of palms and other beautiful trees. The shrill voice of cicadas and frogs is interrupted every few minutes by a crescendo of castanets, played by more overt cicadas and frogs. The sound is quite deafening, but wonderful.We have also encountered a brush turkey which is picking its way around the camp in much the same fashion that a pukeko might.
Our neighbours on the top side are a family of five, three children all school age who arrived back in uniform just after three o’clock. Six actually, if you count the dog. Mother has gone off to work and Dad is readying them all for bed in their camper trailer as I write this. We paused to speak with them as we returned from a short walk after our early dinner. They have come up from Victoria, purchased a house in Buderim (the place of our official address here in Australia) but are waiting for settlement to occur. In the meantime, the children have been enrolled in school, their mother has a job at the Buderim Tavern (hence her absence this evening) and father, a job in North Brisbane in a “glass place”. That last phrase raises the following question – how come they are going to live in Buderim here on the Sunshine Coast, and he work way south in Brisbane, albeit on the north side? This will have to remain unanswered for us; perhaps he commutes on the trains we saw passing up and down the coast earlier today.

The camp here is situated between Nambour and Woombye, where we have to take the caravan tomorrow morning. It had been our intention to overnight at a rest area just short of joining the Bruce Highway further south, however when we pulled in to the area, we found it not only full of commuter’s cars, but also two separate areas rather than a drive round park. We ended up at the end of the now car park, having to turn around in rather tight circumstances. The exercise of turning and exiting and getting in to our spot here in the park were evidence that Chris has the manoeuvring of this rig well in hand.

The park is a mix of cabins and caravan sites, boasts a swimming pool and has clean but old amenities. The sites are tightly tucked between plantings of lovely trees, particularly cane palms, which I fell in love with at Pauline and Neil's. We took advantage of the pool but did not stay too long in; the water was fresh to say the least. I have just heard on the television that the temperatures in this area got up to 30 degrees today. Perhaps I am becoming acclimatised; I did not feel I was going to melt.

The rest area we stopped in last night was one of the best we have encountered so far, and we would be happy to stay there again. We left Cruice Park close to ten o’clock, a very late start for us, and set off north west toward to Peachester, a delightful village atop the range reminiscent of Hampton where we stayed some days ago, and then on to Beerwah, where we had lunch and walked around dodging the rain, and spending more money in yet another “cheapy shop”. Among our purchases was a bag of bird seed particularly for wild birds and a cake tin to serve it in. Imagine us sitting outside early in the morning eating our breakfast and watching the gulahs, mynahs, butcher birds and parrots enjoying theirs at our feet. The plan is good.

The famed Australia Zoo is just down the road from Beerwah on the way to Landsborough, an old town established as a watering hole for those travelling north to Gympie when gold was discovered. We gave Steve Irving’s life’s work a miss but spent time in Landsborough, walking around the centre here too, finding all but the footpaths wet and boggy. Even the footpaths were deep in water in some spots. Yesterday the Sunshine Coast was recipient to torrential rains. Although we have had some heavy rain since arriving here, they have only been passing showers.

The road from Woodford, the place close to where we stayed last night and Beerwah is absolutely spectacular. My only complaint is that there was nowhere to pull off and enjoy the view from the bush clad range down over the Glasshouse Mountains toward the coast. While we were travelling that road, and descending a steep section not unlike the descent on the south side of the Brynderwyns, I was watching the corners and oncoming traffic carefully as one must do being a good back (front) seat driver, and failed to see the snake crossing the road. Apparently it was over a metre,  browny-green and wriggling as fast as it could to cross the road. Chris thought he had killed it but caught sight of it in the side mirrors as it was run over by the vehicle behind us. So I missed my first snake!!!

Chris has just informed me that we have put 1,245 kilometres on the clock since picking the vehicle up at Rocklea. This does not however account for the mileage clocked up while we were running around Buderim, when the speedo was not working.

We have now travelled in a wavy circle from Buderim / Woombye back to the beginning. Hopefully tomorrow will serve to be the beginning of our next stage;the small repairs to the caravan done under warranty, the handbrake on the Landcruiser fixed, the mail collected from Pauline’s neighbour, and off south again on our next adventure.