Wednesday, October 31, 2012

31 October 2012 - Bega Caravan Park, Sapphire Coast, NSW

Here we are back again and yes, the proprietor did receive our email through their website; they simply did not respond. I was quite annoyed by this until I recalled a conversation we had with our daughter regarding text messages, when she impressed upon us how important (and courteous) it was to acknowledge a text. But, we asked, where does the acknowledgement end? A bit of the chicken and the egg?

We had set the alarm to ensure a prompt rising however this was quite unnecessary; we were hitched up and out the gate by 8.30 am. The road was familiar since we had travelled it back and forwards as far as Pambula several times in the past few days, however the hills seemed steeper with a caravan in tow. Chris moaned and groaned about the landcruiser’s lack of power particularly in evidence as large heavily laden trucks overtook us on the passing lanes. I assured him that we were not in any hurry, and should not wish to live in the fast lane at all. He was not amused.

Despite the slow trip we were back in Bega well before 10 am, with plenty of time to call into both of the supermarkets to pick up a few provisions. (We do always seem to be shopping for food!)

Back up the hill at the camp, we were expected and soon set up adjacent to our site of last week. Here at the Bega Caravan Park, John likes to direct campers on to their sites, however he is not very clear as to exactly which site he intends one to back on to. This results in the driver, my very competent husband, appearing quite stupid, as he attempts to back on to the site he understand to be ours and John is giving contrary directions. In the meantime, those campers already established on their spot, watch the circus, hopefully recalling their own similar experience.

We watched the ABC News 24 for a couple of hours, seeing the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on the Atlantic coastline then set off just before 2 pm to the north side of Bega to Anthony’s Car & Head Centre. Tony dropped us back in town, saving us the three kilometres walk in the 30 degree heat and we passed our time window shopping and I had my eyebrows tinted by a sweet little Chinese girl in one of those nail shops you find in malls. We spent the remaining time quietly reading in the council library. At 4 pm, we set off on foot along the Princes Highway, crossing the Bega River flood plain on a long bridge and arrived after half an hour in heat little reduced from the midday peak. The service had been carried out with no nasty surprises and so we paid and headed back to camp.

The birds have been quite active here at the camp today. Around midday a magpie mother showed great patience with her noisy offspring, almost as big as her, but still demanding to be fed. Remind you of anyone? And this afternoon crimson rosellas have joined the array of other residents here; there are an amazing number of birds here despite the fact that we are relatively close to the main highway.

Monday, October 29, 2012

30 October 2012 - Eden Gateway Tourist Park, Sapphire Coast, NSW

Sometimes it seems a shame to sit indoors at the computer when the sun is shining outside and the birds are singing or chiming, but then sometimes it is good just to have a rest day. Chris would surely roll his eyes if I were to suggest today has been restful because he has spent the greater part of the afternoon washing and polishing both the landcruiser and the caravan, the former in preparation for its service tomorrow. And I have done little but cook up a pot of bolognaise sauce for freezing and open and shut the caravan windows when instructed to do so.

We did catch up with Larissa last night and it was so wonderful to hear all about her trip especially the wonders she crammed into their four days in New York. I am sure we would need a month at least; however the Kiwi dollar does not go very far in such a grand international metropolis. And after all this, it was quite strange to watch the live stream on television today from the Atlantic coast and see a very different picture as the high winds and storm surges wreak havoc to the city.

And we did go for a walk this morning taking us away from the park for a couple of hours, however truth be told, some of that was spent chatting with people we met up with along the way. We set off along the boardwalk beside Lake Curalo, then along the spit that holds it all from spilling into the sea. Our maps have various versions of the Lake or Lagoon, sometimes, landlocked and sometimes running into the sea at the north eastern end, so we went to see for ourselves what the situation really was. Today it is landlocked, but maybe if we were to visit in another month or year, we would find the contrary.

Walking back along Asling Beach, we came upon a class or two from the Eden Marine High School, stripping off their outer layers on the walkway and scurrying off into the surf. Some had obviously excused themselves from the salty activity and were instead rambling along to the far end of the beach. Either way, we wondered what this had to do with education.

We continued on along the pathway which then heads up the hill to the first of the lookouts and there encountered a threesome in earnest conversation regarding whale movements, the Whale Festival that is on here this coming weekend and the wonders of Merimbula. We added our bit and were soon part of the general chit chat. Finally we all parted company and we went on up to Eden’s CBD, bought ourselves a newspaper, succumbed to temptation and purchased a lotto ticket to tonight’s Big One and called into the BiLo supermarket for a few bits and pieces, before returning along the main road to camp.

And so our day has been less exciting than many others but still satisfying, as is every day. Tomorrow we will head back to Bega. I did email the camping ground there through one of those website “contact” facilities, but have had no answer. It would seem that they do not work; the email system, that is. We will just turn up in the morning; I am sure they can fit us in.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

29 October 2012 - Eden Gateway Tourist Park, Sapphire Coast, NSW

Having spent yet another lovely day touring the region, we have returned to camp to attempt yet again to link up with our daughter on Skype. We managed to have an excellent conversation with my parents last night and now we just need to check all is well with Larissa, who with her husband, has spent the last few weeks on the east coast of the USA, returning just in time to miss the terrible storms that have the whole coast on alert.

This morning we headed back north on the Pacific Highway, passing through Pambula and on out to Merimbula. I had noted down a couple of must dos, one of which was the boardwalk walking track along the northern shore of the Top Lake, part of the estuary that almost surrounds this seaside town. We crossed the lower reaches of the lake on the road bridge near the town centre and were at once adjacent to the car park, so took immediate advantage of the opportunity.

The walking track is only a distance of 1.75 kilometres each way, most of it on boardwalk elevated above the edge of the cleanest of inlets. Oyster farms cover most of the lake; however there are narrow clearways for boats to travel up from the sea and for kayakers to puddle about. It seemed that most of the Merimbula population were out making good use of the facility; dog walkers, mothers pushing prams, grandparents with grandchildren, fat women and fat couples, athletic slim young things, you name it, they were all there.

From there we moved the cruiser along the road a little, close to the Information Centre, picked up a street map and set off on a walk about the town which lies on the hill side. I had expected it to be a fairly large place but a seaside resort rather than a service centre like Bega. We were surprised therefore to find out how big it really was.

The population in 2006, within a radius of ten kilometres of the centre was 17,000; however the town proper only had a population of 3,775. That larger area encompasses the satellite towns of Pambula, Pambula Beach, South Pambula and Tura Beach. Apart from the trendy boutiques and cafes, the town also has a Woolworths, a Best & Less (budget fashion and linen), a Country Target (for more of the same), Rivers and Go Lo, basic shops which any self-respecting town that is not right up itself should have, in my opinion.

We drove further around the bay and sat in the cruiser out of the wind eating our lunch watching others brave the blustery conditions and delighting in the views across the “harbour” and up toward the town. It really is a charming place and would be even more so without the wind. Refuelled, we followed the coastline around until we found ourselves parked up above the ocean beach at Short Point, at the entrance of Back Lake which really is the estuary of the Merimbula Creek. Here at Merimbula there really is something for everyone; surf, river, estuary, lake and hill.

We had considered driving up the coastal road to Tura Beach, which we had seen from Short Point, but then thought there was little point in doing so, and instead headed back toward the Pacific Highway, turning back toward the coast near Pambula, to Pambula Beach. It too has something for everyone, although there seem to be few shops if any and is a mini version of Merimbula. We parked by the mouth of the Pambula River and watched a skilled kite surfer skip back and forwards across the lumpy entrance and a small fishing boat head out into seas which looked far too big for such a small craft.

A kite surfer at Pambula Beach
Heading back again toward Pambula, we pulled into Panboola, a conservation and rehabilitation site, encompassing 77 hectares of wetland, farmland, the remains of the old racetrack, saltmarsh and the river. We did see birds and a large mob of roos in the centre of the racetrack watching us watching them. I also watched a small Golden-headed Cisticola, small like a finch, perched on the seed head, swaying in the breeze. He was a first and the name is fabulous, is it not? I am always happy to wander in the fresh air surrounded by nature, in places such as this even more so than the seaside.

And that was enough walking and sightseeing for the day so from here it was straight home, sort out of the eski, a couple of cups of coffee and a good sit down with the day’s newspaper, which is still full of Syrian bloodshed, the ensuing American election and today, the Asian whitepaper from Julia, full of promise and vision but little in the way of the “how”. Pure spin, but then is that not what politics are all about?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

28 October 2012 - Eden Gateway Tourist Park, Sapphire Coast, NSW

What a difference a day makes, or rather what a difference the wind makes. By the time we rose this morning, the sun had long been up and the wind was barely evident at all. By the time we had finished our breakfast, the caravans flanking our site had departed and so the day looked altogether very promising. We decided that we would extend our stay here after all, so went over to the office and spent some time chatting with the proprietoress, learning all about their park owning history and how this park has only recently undergone rebranding. She is just lovely and we could have chatted all day, however we had other plans.

With lunch packed yet again in the eski, we set off north along the Princes Highway, firstly turning into the residential area on the northern shore of Twofold Bay. This is a relatively new subdivision, already quite populated with lovely modern homes but with many more bare sections and spec homes for sale. The views toward Eden are through sparse gums and across the glistening blue waters of Lake Curalo and Calle Calle Bay. On the higher slopes, a small mob of roos lay about contemplating the scene, which today was particularly lovely. In time this will all be built up, and even though the houses are south facing, will no doubt always be a rather sought after area.

Colours of The Pinnacles
We returned to the Princes Highway and continued north, turning off just eight kilometres from Eden into the northern section of the Ben Boyd National Park. All the roads into this section are gravel, even the central route that takes one out to Haycock Point. We turned again eastwards following the sign to The Pinnacles, parked and walked the easy one kilometre track out along the coastal cliffs to view those in the gully; fluted pinnacles of red contrasting with the white sandstone. Beyond lay the long expanse of white sandy beach and the sea as blue as sapphires, surely validating the name of this coast, the Sapphire Coast. 

From up above the beach we looked out across the Pacific Ocean, and saw both fishing boats and whale watching boats, and away from all of these, the triumphant tails of the great whales as they cavorted and dived, or whatever they do when they are showing off their magnificence. Two days in a row seeing this had to be pretty special. And today the sea was so much calmer, even here in the open ocean. It is quite wonderful that we have been able to watch the whales migrating north along the northern NSW coast in July this year and now see them heading south again with their progeny.

We drove on out to Haycock Point, the south head of Merrimbula Bay, and sat on the cliff edge watching the waves crash onto the rocky outcrops. Finally we stirred ourselves and returned to the picnic area where we dined in the company of dragon flies, a rather rag eared black wallaby and honeyeaters, noisy in the banksias. We sat in the open drinking in the warm sunlight, while being very sensible, well slathered with sunscreen.

Back on the road, we drove on to Pambula, passed through a couple of days ago. Today, Sunday, it was very quiet but for the highway traffic passing through and the few cafes open to cater for them. We wandered about this clean and tidy little town however did not find it quite as attractive as we remembered. Obviously it needs the buzz of the weekday commerce to activate its charm.

From Pambula, we headed inland a little way on the road to Bombala, but turned off a couple of kilometres up the Pambula River and headed into the hills on a back road, finally finding a sign directing us to the Nethercote Falls in the Broadwater State Forest. The route is very much a forest track which does not deter those looking out for the falls. We arrived at a picnic spot and noted a sign pointing to the Nethercote Flora Reserve down a dirt track, so parked and set off on foot. The road descended at about 45 degrees for about a kilometre, or maybe it was only 40 degrees for 800 metres, however it felt like the former. At the bottom we found yet another parking spot and two vehicles, the drivers of which had been savvy enough to bring on down. A rough path of a similar distance crossed the creek, passed through the forest and brought us out into a rocky basin beneath the falls, the water clear as crystal over a base of golden pebbles. Two couples had preceded us, as we expected, one a hugely pregnant woman in inappropriate footwear accompanied by her rather handsome Arabic man and the other two, middle aged lesbians.

One of the lesbians set off up the cliff face to see more of the falls which turn mid-fall, pausing in a cave like basin before cascading down the last easily visible section. As she scrambled up higher and higher, I became quite anxious for her safety and was relieved when her partner confided, amongst many matters, that she was well versed in rock climbing and abseiling. The woman remaining below, overweight and not at all surefooted, was more concerned about the fact that her partner had gone up wearing the wrong shoes and was carrying their very expensive camera. I watched as the photographer seemed to hang out over the high precipice to capture the very best shots and just hoped like hell that we would not be there to see her fall, despite her apparent agility.

The falls were lovely, but I was more impressed with the pools below and would have stripped down to my underwear and eased myself gently in had that dark foreign looking gentlemen not been there, just as I had north of Townsville over a year ago. It was all so very inviting.

We left the two couples dabbling their extremities in the pools and set off back up the hill, no easy matter I can assure you. As we retraced our steps, we were met by half a dozen young people all armed with their togs and towels and agreed we had left the peace of the pool at just the right time. And before we arrived back at the vehicle, two more cars arrived with more young people. Yes, definitely pumpkin hour for us.

And so we carried on down the back road, through a place called Nethercote, which apparently hosts an excellent weekly produce market, but seems to have little else than a fire station. Then ten kilometres on further south east, we were back in Eden and home again after an excellent day. As we unpacked the cruiser, we noted the wind had come up a little. Again our timing was perfect.

27 October 2012 - Eden Gateway Tourist Park, Sapphire Coast, NSW

It rained last night, quite heavily, but there was no evidence of it by morning. But the wind was even stronger than yesterday and so we sat over breakfast wondering how we would spend our day. And then the siren went off and we knew what it meant. Whales! Or rather, to use the traditional call, “Rusho, rusho!!!!!” And so we jumped in the land cruiser, leaving the dirty dishes on the sink and the lunch half made. I had time to clean my teeth but no more; a first for me to rush out into the world without my face on.   

Arriving at the lookout, we found only one park left and dozens of folk standing out on the platform wrapped from head to toe in parkas and woolly accessories, all gazing toward the whales frolicking in the wide bay. It is true that they were all some distance, more on the southern side than closer to Eden. We joined the other voyeurs in the gale force conditions, delighting in the fact that here were at last the whales, but more than that, we could see them clearly despite the many white horses, more numerous than yesterday. There were whale tails in the air, just as they show in promotional pictures. Eat your heart out, Kaikoura!

After half an hour or so, we headed back, leaving a parking space for other eager whale watchers, late arrivals hoping they were not too much so. Back at the caravan park, we finished our abandoned chores and daily tasks, and then headed off down the Pacific Highway, calling firstly into Quarantine Bay to find the local yacht and fishing clubs. We then drove on further south and pulled into Boydtown and found the Seahorse Inn and the caravan park where we might have stayed had the proprietor ever bothered to reply to our email. This is also where one can find the ruins of a lost empire. We admired the fabulous beach and the lovely resort, however did not mess about looking for any ruins.

The building that now functions as a resort was (and still is) the Seahorse Inn and was built by Benjamin Boyd in 1843 using convict labour and named after the paddle steamer, the Seahorse, in which he had sailed to Sydney in 1840. Boyd was a man of magnificent dreams and dabbled in many activities, only some of which succeeded. But to his credit, within two years of his arrival in the colony, he was one of the largest landholders. He decided that Twofold Bay, as one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, would serve him well as a port to service his industries. In fact he hoped that Boydtown would become the capital of Australia. So between 1843 and 1847, when his financial situation had failed his dreams, he dabbled in grazing, whaling, shipping and town building. It was he who built a 19.5 metre sandstone tower out at South Head. It was intended as a lighthouse however the authorities would not allow it to operate as such, and so it functioned as a lookout for whale spotting.

Boyd finally left his Australian enterprises, many incomplete, and set off for the Californian goldfields, but failed there as well. In 1851 he disappeared after alighting at San Cristobel Island in the Solomon Islands to shoot ducks, never to be seen again.

There is much more to tell about this Boyd, however I shall not test your tolerance here. He is immortalised here about Eden with roads, towers, National Parks and other geographical features named after him.

And it was to the National Park we headed, turning off the Pacific Highway 19 kilometres south of Eden, driving through a corner of the 20,100 hectare State Forest. Gums grow densely where they have not been logged or burnt, although the last major forest fire was way back in 1952. We drove into the Davidson Whaling Station located on the shores of the Kiah Inlet on Twofold Bay. This was the longest operating shore based whaling station in Australia and the last to close down after operating continuously from the 1860s through to the late 1920s. The whale population declined to a point where it was no longer economic, and that is no surprise given that at one point there were twenty seven whaleboats operating out of the bay, all competing with one another.

Here at the historic site is an old homestead, the successor to the first which burnt down and the tryworks station, the site of the shed where the strips of whale blubber were brought and rendered down into oil. Here too was a small wharf from where the oil was shipped across to Eden for further export. The surrounds are just beautiful and it is hard to believe that such a gory and smelly business took place here. Apparently the stench permeated everything and sometimes even drifted across the wide bay to Eden.

Despite the charm of the spot, the wind still managed to find its way into this inlet as well, and so we were soon back in the shelter of the land cruiser. We drove on further east to the Navy Wharf, a surprisingly large wharf which I walked out onto after lunch. From this huge structure, one has views of the bay and the great mountains of wood chip awaiting shipment adjacent to the wharf complex.

Boyd's Tower
Further research revealed that the wharf is in fact a Navy Ammunitioning Facility only recently built in 2003. The main part of the wharf, on which I walked is 680 metres long and seven metres wide, with a smaller concrete structure making the complete structure an L-shape, the second part a further 200 metres long. By the time I arrived at the far end, I was barely able to see the cruiser parked by the gates. This one brisk walk had to suffice as vigorous exercise; I have not been very diligent of late.

Further on we turned toward the South Head, and walked the short distance to Boyd’s Tower. I have already described this, above, but was still quite impressed with the four sided structure. We wandered another short distance to the far point and watched a whale watching boat touring about in the choppy seas. The wind had not abated one bit, so we decided to head back to camp and give up any other plans for the day.

We did call in to Nullica Bay, where the Nullica River enters the large bay. The tide was low and I walked bare foot through the estuary. A dear friend of mine, Brenda, once prescribed walking barefoot in the sand as a great remedy for stress. I have no stress these days however I can confirm that such indulgence is indeed quite liberating.

Back at camp, we discussed the possibility of staying on here at Eden until we have to return to Bega to have the land cruiser serviced, and basing ourselves here rather than hopping from one small place to another up the short stretch of coastline. I did a load of washing which quickly dried in the wind and sunshine. The bell miners are still at it and we have yet to go mad.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

26 October 2012 - Eden Gateway Tourist Park, Sapphire Coast, NSW

We have now arrived at the most southern settlement of the New South Wales coastline, and this is as far as we will travel for now. In a few more days we will turn north again, retracing some of our path and visiting coastal places still unexplored.

Perhaps it was the excitement of moving on this morning that had us up and out of bed, breakfasted, hitched up and out of the camp by 8.30 am. We popped back down into Bega to pick up fresh bread for lunch and then turned south, travelling up and over progressively steeper hills while still relatively close to the coastline. The Princes Highway, in this part of the world, is very like that along the south eastern parts of Victoria, between Lakes Entrance and Orbost, passing through heavily wooded State Forest and National Park alike. 

We have remarked time and time again how many trees there are in Australia, and that is something a foreigner such as I would never have given this so called barren continent credit for. But there you are.

We called up to the Yellow Pinch Dam, 14 kilometres north of Pambula, a camp spot in our Camps 6, to see if it would suit as a overnighter on our way back north. The one kilometre approach off the Highway is extremely steep and the “camping” area is tight. However it certainly looks quiet and safe so we will keep it in mind and see how the next week pans out.

We came on down to Pambula, a quaint old fashioned town in the style of Cobargo passed through a few days ago further up the highway, which also probably warrants further inspection. Perhaps on the way back?

The road turns eastwards just before Pambula and heads out to the seaside town of Merimbula which, by the amount of advertising in the promotional brochures, must be a significant town. That too will have to wait for our return.

Lagoons or lakes lie inland from the sea in from Merimbula, south of Pambula and to the north of Eden. They are really just estuaries except for the fluctuations of water flow; in dry times they become land bound and have their own ecosystems.

It is less than sixty kilometres from Bega through to Eden and so we were through to our chosen camp a few minutes before the checkout time of 10 am. Some camps may have made us come back in the afternoon, however the staff here were welcoming, happy to take our money and see us set up for the duration. Again the tariff advertised on the web was inaccurate however with our Big4 discount, we cannot complain. 

Once set up and refuelled with coffee, we set off for a pleasant three kilometre walk along the boardwalk that follows the western shore of Lake Curalo, Eden’s lagoon, just opposite the camping ground. We observed black swans and a variety of ducks, and startled several rather large skinks. We walked on through to the spit that separates the lagoon from Twofold Bay, out on to Aslings Beach. Strangely, as we came over the rise to the beach, which descends steeply into the gentle surf, I was reminded of the beach at a small southern Spanish village I spent three months in another life. It’s funny how tiny glimpses in the now can trigger memories of the past. Up to our right, we could see the township of Eden, spread over several hillocks and were keen to discover it for ourselves.

After lunch we set off again, this time in the cruiser and drove about all the streets that the 3,600 inhabitants of Eden call home. The township is situated on the more northern edge of Twofold Bay and a small peninsula jutting out from the business part of the town cuts this bay in two, Calle Calle Bay to the north and the larger wide bay to the south. But then in the northern curve of this larger bay, just below the town, lies Snug Cove, Cattle Bay and Cocora Beach.

At the Information Centre we learned that there had been whales in the bay during the course of the morning, so we set off up to the lookout at Rotary Park to catch sight of these majestic beasts. Alas they had moved on, and the wind had come up causing a mess of white horses all over the bay, which precluded any easy sighting of the odd spume or flapping fin. We decided that we might have a better chance tomorrow morning if the wind were less and the water calmer. We will also listen out for the siren which is sounded on such a sighting.

It does not take a rocket scientist to realise that Eden’s raison d’etre is all about the sea. Back in 1798, the explorer George Bass, he of Bass Strait fame, entered Twofold Bay and declared that Snug Cove offered “a snug and safe anchorage for any ship during a blow”. In 1828, Thomas Raine came ashore here to establish the first shore based whaling station on mainland Australia. That was the beginning of Eden and whaling, together with timber, livestock and seafood, has kept Eden humming down through the years. Today, a chip mill operates across the bay and we will most likely get a closer look tomorrow. Oyster and mussel farming are evident with the rows of strings or whatever they use, visible here and further up the coast in those lakes passed today. Eden is renowned for its excellent deep-sea fishing with a large fleet of fishing trawlers.

We drove down into Snug Bay and parked facing the wharves. The wind was brisk even in this apparently sheltered marina so we satisfied ourselves with viewing the activity through the windscreen. I watched several pelicans gliding and diving and landing in the wind, a few brave tourists hugging themselves for warmth as they walked the pathways and one solitary fishing boat heading off into the wild sea. We had seen so many more fishing vessels when we passed through Lakes Entrance in Victoria earlier in the year; perhaps most based here were out at sea.

We then went on down to Cocora Beach, labelled a family swimming beach, and watched one lone swimmer sampling the sea.

Back at camp we settled in for a quiet afternoon. Out of the wind, the temperature is far more pleasant than the past few days. Here in the camp there are several families with children, small people we rarely have contact with these days. They are enjoying the inflated jumping cushion and the large tricycles, and are of the kind who express their joy in an uninhibited manner disregarding the fact that others may prefer peace and quiet. On arrival here we immediately noticed the bell miners who are even more vocal than the little people. These wonderful birds have always delighted us with their unusual song, however there is a distinct possibility we may change our minds about this. They could become as annoying as a bad case of tinnitus.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

25 October 2012 - Bega Caravan Park, Sapphire Coast, NSW

There are some days when one has to dig up the rule book of life and regurgitate a snippet to put life in perspective, and today was one such. It was only a few years ago that I took on board the concept of taking time to smell the roses and enjoying the journey not the destination. I had spent so much of my life simply getting through to the next step, in survival mode between one bad decision and the next, which sadly meant that I did not delight in all those wonderful moments that parenting and life generally can offer. For me, new ways and ideas have to evolve slowly before they become lore. My life did not do a backwards flip overnight, but I have managed to make the changes thanks principally to my husband and secondly to retirement.

So why am I mentioning this? Because today we set off north into the Biamanga National Park to see the Mumbulla Creek Falls, a must-see by the accounts of the camp owner, the women in the Information Centre at Bega and the promotional brochure picked up in Bermagui yesterday.

We drove up on back gravel roads through the beautiful rural localities of Angledale and Greendale, then turned onto the more regular road up into the park. The road becomes narrow, steep and simply dirt but has been recently graded so was no problem at all. We passed through a dense gum forest and wound our way down to the falls following the National Park signs. Arriving there we found ourselves parked next to a painting contractor, also called Chris; obviously another nature lover.

Soon however we were confronted by a barricade; the path was closed. No access could be had to the falls. Chris and his mate were up on the boardwalk structure painting. He told us that the National Parks people had advised all tour operator types that there would be closure, so we wondered why we weren’t informed. Or more practically, given that not all explorers consult with tourist advisers, why a sign had not been placed at the road intersections? The painters were apologetic; we assured them that it was not their fault. And it was here I remembered that precious adage about enjoying the journey, and not the destination.

I doubt we will be back to see the falls, so will have to simply repeat what we have been told; do take in the falls if you pass by Bega but perhaps it would be a good idea to call into the Information Centre on the very day you intend to drive the twenty seven kilometres up through the park roads.

We did have a second destination up our sleeve and that was the Brogo Dam, again apparently a must-see. This is thirty kilometres north west of Bega, off the Pacific Highway and is very pretty. The reservoir is situated on the edge of the Warrigal National Park, on the Brogo River of course, that which joins the Bega River here in the town.

The dam was completed in 1976 and was constructed for flood management of the river and for irrigation purposes. It is also used for town water supply and to generate electricity although the power station is very very small.

When we arrived there, we were quite alone except for the wildlife about that had hoped to have a quiet day. We startled a small echidna, a swamp wallaby and a dragon, all within the first five minutes of our visit. We wandered about as much of the surrounding parkland as is available to the public and agreed it was a charming spot.

We were still having our lunch in the company of several crimson rosellas when a couple of trucks arrived full of the road workers from ten kilometres back down the road. Thankfully they parked some distance from us however we did wonder what their employers would think if they knew they had travelled so far from their work for their smoko.

Our day’s touring had taken less time than originally planned however we decided to head back to Bega, calling in at another garage for a quote for the planned landcruiser service. This was more acceptable than yesterday’s so Chris went ahead and booked it in for next Wednesday.

Now with a date to work to and a limit on the days we have to explore the places to the south, we will have to be far more organised than usual. We have stocked up with provisions yet again and will be off in the morning down to Eden to see what we can see. It is always exciting to head off once more into the unknown!

24 October 2012 - Bega Caravan Park, Sapphire Coast, NSW

Yesterday was spent in an unexceptional manner, starting with an incredibly late emergence from our mountain of blankets, added to during one of the coldest nights in a long while.

Over breakfast we decided to extend our stay by a couple of days, to allow us to spend the day about camp instead of rushing off to take in the geographical wonders of Bega and the surrounding region.

We made our way down to the Bega Valley Regional Art Gallery which boasts about a hundred and twenty worthy works by well-known artists. Yesterday however, these were all hidden away in the basement and instead there was an exhibition of paintings by Nicola Dickson based on the drawings of George Raper, midshipman on the First Fleet of 1787 – 88. The originals are stored in treasure houses around the globe including the familiar Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington and they have all been published in a work titled Birds and Plants of Australia. The exhibition was very pleasant but not memorable.

We were back at the caravan park by midday and lunched while watching the third and final debate between Obama and Romney, live on television. We will be watching the election on 7 November with great interest. I, personally, am glad I don’t have to vote in the USA; the choice is a difficult one.

Having spent the day so far in a rather sedentary manner, we drove back down into town and wandered up and down the very pleasant street of Bega, purchasing a few hose fittings and generally appreciating the excellent services here.

The Princes Highway runs right through the middle of the town which adds to the hustle and bustle of the place, however I am sure all concerned can hardly wait for the bypass currently under construction, to be completed. We have met up with a couple of men staying here in park who are actively employed on this big local works; one is a New Zealander who fell on hard times during the GFC. He has NZMCA wings pasted across the back of his rather grand motorhome so we had to check him out.

The coastline at Tathra
This morning we stirred ourselves and set off for a wonderful tour up the coast along one of the several tourist drives on offer. We set off for Tathra, just eighteen kilometres up and over dale and flood plains, all lush and busy with the business of dairy farming. We arrived at this charming seaside settlement which sits high above the rocky shoreline in the bright sunshine and the Pacific Ocean stretching out forever beyond. We drove down to the old historic steamer wharf, now classified by the National Trust, the only open-sea timber wharf on Australia’s East Coast. It was built in 1860 and stayed in use until 1954. It subsequently started to disintegrate and was ordered to be demolished in 1973; however the Trust and locals decided otherwise. It was reopened in 1988 and was certainly in use today by quite a few fisher folk and tourists such as ourselves.

We walked up across the rugged headland adjacent to the wharf and marvelled at the views; all of it reminding us of the rocky shores around Warrnambool and the seaside settlements on the south east coast of South Australia.

It is here at Tathra that the Bega River arrives at the sea, or rather a little to the north, through the Mogareeka Inlet, a charming estuary inviting picnickers, kayakers, swimmers and just those who appreciate lovely scenes. The golden beach between here and the rocky outcrop near the wharf is a draw card for holiday makers and is very pretty indeed.

Tathra boasts a population of about 1,600 and was first settled by Europeans in the 1820s and 1830s, although it was outside the limits of legal settlement, the Nineteen Counties. The original jetty was built in the early 19th century and served until the larger one which still standing today.

This was my first encounter with the concept of Nineteen Counties and “limits of legal settlement”. In 1826, the counties of New South Wales were defined by Darling, the Governor of New South Wales, and limited to just nineteen, having started with Cumberland County in 1788 and those around Sydney being added along the way. Settlors were only allowed to take up land within the defined area. From 1831 there was no more free land granted and the only land that was for sale was within those Nineteen Counties. The area covered the limit extended to Kempsey in the north, Batemans Bay in the south and Wellington to the west.

The counties were mapped by Major Thomas Mitchell in 1834. Despite uncertainty about the whole business of land tenure, squatters ran large numbers of sheep and cattle beyond the boundaries. From 1836 they could legally do so, paying ten pounds per year for the right. From 1847 leases in unsettled areas were allowed for up to 14 years. In 1861, the Robertson Land Act allowed free selection and the limits of location were made redundant.

Another piece of history to add to my expanding knowledge.

We pressed on up the coast, soon passing through great swathes of the Mimosa Rocks National Park. The park is named for the rocks that many ships were wrecked upon in bygone years, however exactly which rocks these are, we were unable to ascertain. It covers an area of 5,802 hectares and runs for twenty kilometres up the coast, taking in sandy beaches, headlands, cliffs, offshore rocks and coastal lagoons. We turned toward the coast and drove in through a forest of spotty gums and beautiful low palms, down to the Middle Lagoon which lays just metres from the sea, separated by the smallest of sand walls, surely breached during spring tides or wild storms. We saw black swans and swamp wallabies and heard the noisy carillon of a thousand bell miners. We took a short walk through to the lagoon and along its shore, much of it currently under water and delighted in the nature about us.

After lunch we wandered through to the camping ground, available only to those in tents. The camp sites are some distance from where one would need to park one’s car, there is no water (apart from the saline sea waters) and the long drop toilets, which were quite acceptable today, no doubt reek in the summer. For the privilege of camping here, a family of four during the school holidays could stay a fortnight here paying just $30 per day; $10 per day per person and $5 for each child between five and fifteen. Personally we find that exorbitant for such “accommodation” and poor facilities, however there are obviously those who would consider that good value. And it probably is when you compare it with say, a day in a serviced apartment at a seaside resort.

We stood on one of the lookout platforms and watched a couple of surfies venture out into the pristine surf and wait for The Big One. Our patience ran out before theirs and we agreed that it must be one of the most mind numbing sports.

Thirty kilometres further up the road we arrived at lovely Bermagui, even if it does have a rather unlovely sounding name. Bermagui together with nearby Wallaga Lake, has a population of about 1,800 and seems to have a reasonable assortment of shops and services you would expect a seaside settlement to have, including the ever necessary homeopathic clinic. How do these people survive?! Well actually I do know; not very well and in the same fashion that other new age activities manage, normally as a secondary income to real work or a government benefit.

Pelicans waiting for the return of the fishermen
We drove around the residential area and then parked down by the breakwater, beside which is a wonderful shark proof fenced seawater swimming pool. The water was so clear and inviting that I could have almost been tempted. There were some quite large yachts tied up in the marina and many more pelicans waiting patiently beside the fish cleaning benches for their daily rations.A little to the north, the horizon was filled with the outline of Mount Dromedary. Indeed a lovely spot.

Back in 1936, the famous American author Zane Grey came here to do a spot of game fishing. He was so impressed that he made a point to spread the word about Bermagui. He did return a few times, however it cannot have been too many; he died in 1939.

From here, one has the choice of heading back west to the Princes Highway or continuing north along the coast, past Wallaga Lake, a large lagoon of water not unlike Middle Lagoon visited earlier, but much more attractive for recreational use. And it was this way we went.

Soon we turned south again on the Princes Highway, joining the traffic, frequently pulling over to let the more determined through and on their way. It was just over sixty kilometres back to Bega, passing through the quaint town of Cobargo, still sporting many shops and other buildings dating back to the 19th century. We didn’t stop, but might well do so when we travel back north. It certainly seems to have character.

Before we returned to camp, Chris popped into the local Toyota dealer to suss out cost and time availability for the next service of the landcruiser. Ten thousand kilometres seems to have come around very quickly, but then we should expect nothing less travelling as we are.

Back at camp we found ourselves surrounded with other caravans, very much busier than last night when we were the only caravan in this patch on the rise.

Monday, October 22, 2012

22 October 2012 - Bega Caravan Park, Sapphire Coast, NSW

It was cold on waking this morning in Cooma and is forecasted to be even more so tonight, however we have moved on, off the Great Divide and down nearer the coast, just short of twenty kilometres from the coast as the crow flies.

Our first destination after leaving the camp was Monara Discount Tyres, down in Cooma central, where the efficient staff turned our rogue tyre around on the caravan, thus delaying the need for renewal. It seems the problem is related to the axle and will require attention from people with more facilities than are to be had in Cooma, however in the meantime, this will keep us safe.

We headed off south across the treeless Monaro Plains, through the rain whipped up by the south westerly winds. Flocks of sheep and small herds of cattle huddled miserably on the open plains; it seemed a good argument for wintering barns, even if it is no longer winter. We passed through Nimmitabel, stayed in earlier in the year, pausing to use the public facilities before returning thankfully to the warmth and shelter of the vehicle.

About ten kilometres south of this small village, the Monaro Highway became once more the Snowy Mountains Highway, turned more easterly and tipped off over the escarpment down a winding steep slow road, as all roads up and down the eastern seaboard of this continent do so well.

As we came over the top, we caught a short glimpse of the valley far below stretching out into the rain mist. Once at the bottom, having descended 800 metres in a distance of six kilometres, we arrived at Bemboka. It surprised me to learn that 578 folk inhabit this rather tired looking place. It was once an important stopping post for the bridle path up to the Monaro Plains, and later a centre for the dairy industry thereabouts. Today it seems that arty crafty folk with few resources have moved into the dwellings vacated by more purposeful people, who have in turn moved where the action is. Perhaps this is an unfair view, and if it is and you are a go-ahead switched on inhabitant of Bemboka, I apologise for making such a generalisation.

The road twists and turns along the hills at the edge of the Bega Valley and then as it nears the town of Bega, we turned south on the Pacific Highway, and travelled the last of our day’s journey into the Information Centre at Bega.

This doubles as the Bega Cheese Heritage Centre, a place busy with busloads of tourists, and tourists in every other sort of conveyance. Here there is a café, a craft shop, a cheese shop, an excellent little dairy museum and the run of the mill tourist information centre, all located within the confines of the working cheese factory. Strange as it may seem, neither of us had made the connection between Bega, the place, with Bega, the cheese, which we have purchased both here in Australia and in New Zealand. Of course, it should have been obvious, particularly if we had read the place of manufacture, but then we are not infallible.

Bega is a rural service centre, with over 4,500 inhabitants, well placed on the highway that runs all the way up and down the coast, and the centre of a fertile dairying region. It was our plan to visit the art gallery and the museum, and then move on further south, probably camping by the roadside at some free camp, however it has rained on and off all day, and is likely to be cold again tonight, so we have decided to stay a day or two, maybe three.

Hence we are established at the only caravan park in town, managed by a delightful chap who advised us that some of the routes we wish to explore are better travelled without a caravan in tow. The forecast is better for the week ahead, and tomorrow the art gallery will be open. I should have checked the small print before we drove back into town to visit this centre of culture; Monday is often a rest day. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

21 October 2012 - Cooma Snowy Mountain Tourist Park, NSW

Today has been one of those rare lazy days; lazy in that there has been little in the way of travel and discovery, and yet we seem to have been well occupied most of the day.

With no pressing engagements or lists of attractions to see, we rose in a delightfully leisurely fashion this morning. After I had hung a small load of washing, fighting the brisk breeze in an attempt to not drop articles in the dusty yard, and Chris had attended to several maintenance issues that only he can do, we headed off to the Snowy Mountains Scheme Visitors Centre; our third visit but this time so much wiser and informed about the mountains and rivers that make up this huge system and the irrigation systems that follow on. Just as we had on our previous visits, we were once again drawn in by the wonderful exhibits and explanations and poured over the relief display, tracing out journeys now taken. We also asked about the cloud seeding that had fascinated us on our last visit. It seems that just last month the government passed legislation allowing an on-going process over the Snowy Scheme, this moving it from experimentation to regular process.

Beside the Murrumbidgee River
We called into the supermarket for fresh bread and lingered a while over lunch, before setting out for a short drive to the town’s water pumping station situated on the Murrumbidgee River just ten kilometres or so north. Here we found several of Cooma’s youth lounging about in the shelter of the reserve, enjoying the sun, late picnic lunches and each other’s company.

The wind has not abated all day and according to the met office, it is blowing at 38 kph, gusting at 54 kph. Tonight we are to have temperatures of zero degrees. I shall put the computer away and pull the heater out from under the bed. Hopefully the coastal temperatures will be more in keeping with the time of the year?

20 October 2012 Cooma Snowy Mountain Tourist Park, NSW

What a joy it was this morning to look out toward the lake, the shore fifty metres or less from our doorstep and see more than a dozen kangaroos grazing in such a relaxed fashion. Who would have thought it?

In fact, I had wandered out with my camera last evening after dinner, and no swim after all, and observed the great mob of roos who skipped and leapt about the shore of the lake, a little wary but really quite relaxed about the few random campers who had ventured into this part of the world.

Our neighbours on the lake shore
The day dawned sunny and clear, the jet trails more numerous than the wisps of cloud, promising more of the same as we headed off out eastwards across the Kosciuszko National Park. After hitching up, we were off, along the Snowy Mountains Highway, following the Blowering Reservoir shore southwards, as it fizzled into its upper reaches, and then within view of Talbingo which is the village serving the dam on the reservoir of the same name, another part of the great Snowy Hydro Scheme before we started the steep ascent up into the mountains. 

The road winds steeply up between Big Talbingo and Black Perry; the road signs caution that trucks and busses should not travel at any speed more than 40 kph. We, alas, were not able to reach much more than 25 kph! The poor quality diesel we had topped up with at Gundagai (Shell no less!) belched blackness into the otherwise pristine mountain air however we arrived on top of the Cumberland Range at 1,183 metres ASL without mishap. Once we had conquered the winding ascent, the highway improved radically and we drove along a most marvellous road, across the high reaches of the Snowy Mountains, passing signs warning of brumbies and wombats but seeing only the former, on through to Kiandra which sits at 1,400 metres ASL which was visited by us back in late April of this year. 

I had suggested to Chris that we actually pause at Kiandra and undertake the heritage trail which traces the intrepid miners and settlers during the gold rush days. Earlier this year, we had balked at the idea due to the alpine wind and temperatures whipping us back into the vehicle. Today with the temperature at about 10 degrees, it would have been reasonable to consider the day far more pleasant for such a jaunt, however the wind was brisk and we decided to abort such an adventure, yet again. And so we drove on, across roads we had travelled before, across the plateau, then descending down to Adaminby almost 400 metres lower, where we stopped to buy our treasured Weekend Australian newspaper.
Our camp at the Blowering Reservoir

As we had come on down the route to the northern end of Lake Ecumbene, we had observed a huge number of trees and branches recently decimated by wind. On arrival at Adambinby, we learned there had indeed been a huge storm through the entire region, even as far as Canberra, last Tuesday night. Trees had been felled by the extreme winds through the entire region, and the week before that, the region had been subjected to unseasonal snow. The back roads were still impassable in many places, and worse was still to come, with snow forecasted for Monday. We, fortunately, will be moving toward the coast by then.

We had travelled much of the road beyond Adambinby, when we drove up from Jinabyne into the National Park, however a route travelled in reverse is always anew, and so it was today, as we travelled across the plains south of this small town, grazed by merino sheep, most having lambed relatively recently. Ten kilometres from Cooma, we descended yet again, this time truly onto the great Monaro Plains, land so very different from that we have travelled through the other side of the mountains.

Pulling into Cooma, we found our way back to our park along the Cooma Creek, now a familiar spot, flat and caravan friendly. We lunched and then called at the Information Centre, confirming that there was indeed only the one caravan park here and checking out the tyre service centres. The main reason for breaking our four day run on free camping was to ensure we have power and reception for the television broadcast of the final Bledisloe Cup match between the All Blacks and the Wallabies tonight. It is of course a foregone conclusion, but a small window of opportunity for a team to beat the invincible All Blacks.

We wandered up to the several addresses of garages offering services related to our tyre problems but found them already closed if they had indeed been open today. We will hang about until Monday and deal with the matter then; we have however identified the places we will need to call into.

Instead we headed up to the NSW Correctional Centre Museum located adjacent to the Cooma Gaol. This excellent (free) museum of incarceration from the First Fleet convicts through to today’s right next door is manned by real live prisoners, dressed in their prison greens. Obviously they are low security offenders and seemingly very chatty, warm and normal. However, as my dear husband informs me, even the most hideous murderers or sex offenders, can be the very nicest of people. Think of your local scoutmaster or parish priest?

We would thoroughly recommend a visit to the museum which examines not only the history of prisons in Australia including the more recent uprising at the Bathurst Prison in 1974 when so much physical destruction was carried out, but also discusses capital punishment, rehabilitation and so much more.

We finished our visit to the museum, passing through the small craft shop where there is an excellent collection of art and crafts fashioned by the prisoners for sale. There we found a female warder discussing the layout of the shop in an animated fashion with an inmate. It was all quite bizarre.

This caravan park is back on the road toward Jindabyne and Adaminby, tucked under the hill but thankfully not out of television aerial sight. The chap who checked us in is from Te Aroha, New Zealand, just up the road from so much of my past life and that of our daughter. Small world!

19 October 2012 - New Yachting Point, Kosciuszko National Park, Snowy Mountain Way, New South Wales

It is late afternoon and we are parked up beside the Blowering Reservoir, part of the Snowy Mountain Power Scheme. The sun is shining and I should really change into shorts or even less, however have stubbornly remained in appropriate mountain spring wear; jeans and a ¾ sleeve shirt. Chris is outside washing the caravan with broom and buckets of water from the dam and I have just finished washing a bag of spuds purchased this morning at Woolworths in Gundagai. Picture if you will, a middle aged woman squatting in the shallow waters of the dam, scrubbing spuds with the sandy mud; it is actually more efficient than using a brush. However that is probably as awful as you wish to stretch your imagination for one day so we will leave it at that.

We woke early this morning to the sound of trucks, the same sound that we had heard on and off all night, and yet despite that, we both felt relatively rested. For me that could have had something to do with the fact that I beat Chris resoundingly at Scrabble last night. He has taught me well. While this rest stop is not without its charm, its proximity to traffic flowing between the two major cities of this nation does detract from any pleasure one might otherwise have in the surroundings.

While Chris was outside readying for departure, our neighbours who had come in later in the afternoon, thus rendering the small camp full, started conversation. After ten minutes or so, I thought I’d better go join him, however this was a major mistake. The couple from just out of Kingaroy were absolutely delightful, chatty, warm and familiar. I remembered them from the Mildura Country Music Festival because like many of us, have their oddities, and I have quite a good memory for such. It was well over an hour before we were able to prise ourselves away and on up the highway to the “Dog on the Tucker Box”.
The Dog on the Tucker Box

Here beside the road is a small statue celebrating this little working dog who was the subject of first a poem and then many a song to come after. A whole tourist industry has sprung up about this; a café, gift shops, craft shops, picnic area. There were busloads of tourists and school children, several caravanning folk such as ourselves, a group of motorcyclists and a dozen or so travellers in cars. It really was all a bit too kitsch but then it is all of this that brings the tourist dollars to Gundagai, so who am I to say more?

We returned to Gundagai, shopped at the Woolworths supermarket then headed south east to Tumut on one road through Gocup which is marked on the map but in reality only a farm building or two.

It is only about forty five kilometres through to Tumut, 280 metres ASL, across beautiful grazing country becoming steeper by the mile. And then we were at Tumut and so surprised to find this place, which is marked in a far smaller font than Gundagai on the map, having more than twice the population and at least one industry evident by the chimneys and smoke. While it is a rural service centre and one of the gateways to the Kosciusko National Park, it also has a substantial timber industry and more particularly, the Visy Pulp and Paper Mill which employs a number of the population.

After lunch we wandered up the hill from the park, up and down the main street, and then back down to the Tumut River, quite a raging torrent. This is of course the same water I have recently washed my potatoes in and will eventually flow on to the Murrumbidgee and the Murray and on to the sea in South Australia. What a pretty town Tumut is and as the council worker we chatted with on the bridge said, only one hour’s drive from Wagga Wagga and two from Canberra, obviously if you are not towing a caravan.

Satisfied with our exploration of Tumut, we travelled on toward Cooma, tomorrow’s destination, until we found this most satisfactory camp beside the reservoir just thirty kilometres from Tumut.

As I finish the day’s instalment, the chap camped up the slope from us has ventured into the lake for a swim. It is warm; twenty eight degrees. Perhaps I should do the same?