Saturday, November 30, 2013

1 December 2013 - Boyds Bay Holiday Park, South Tweed, New South Wales

We have only come a little over 134 kilometres today, but most of it in the sunshine and all through lush green countryside, grazing land giving way to sugar cane, gardens full of flowering frangipani and vibrant colour. The Northern Rivers region of New South Wales truly is a lovely part of the country, but no doubt you are tired of this mantra; so many parts of Australia qualify as most appealing.

After leaving Casino, we continued along the Bruxner Highway until we reached Lismore, the city familiar but the road in and out new, and then we cut north east through to Bangalow on the Pacific Highway, passing through the charming village of Clunes. I have bad mouthed the Pacific Highway in past postings, but I have to confess that the section travelled today from Bangalow through to Tweed is a truly excellent highway, worthy indeed of the name: “highway”. We are now only minutes from the Queensland border and have already changed our watches in anticipation of keeping a timely appointment with Tineke.

Over lunch we debated where we would overnight, given that we were unable to immediately raise our niece on her cellphone. We did wonder whether we had cut our visit too fine and that she might have been rushed to hospital to deliver her long awaited baby, but later she returned our call and we decided to stay here at Tweed Heads, less than fifty kilometres south of her home, where we will call tomorrow afternoon, babe allowing.

The sun has stayed out, the day fabulously warm but the breezes brisk and I have been left to fight the wind at the clothes line yet again. It seems to be my lot these days; however it makes for excitement over an otherwise mundane chore.

We stayed here last time we were through, over eighteen months ago, and were pleased to find the tariffs unchanged, the camp less congested and the experience even better than the last.

Chris has been happy to settle himself in front of the box to watch the Australian Open, the golf being played in Sydney; he is weary after having attempted unsuccessfully to sit through the night in support of the Australians in Britain, as they played the League World Finals against my own countrymen, and Rugby Union against the Welshmen. For the participants, both Australian teams were gloriously triumphant and I will, no doubt, never hear the end of it. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

30 November 2013 - Big4 Casino Resort, Casino, New South Wales

We did venture out into the rain yesterday afternoon; it had abated a little and we found that Guyra is indeed a charmingly friendly rural centre catering for the locals and the simple needs of those travelling through, which for us included a rare bottle of wine. By the time we closed the blinds and settled in to watch a DVD after dinner, there were about half a dozen parties in to overnight, always a comforting fact, although to be quite honest, gypsy travel in Australia during the past nearly three years has never been a bother. Not once have we felt threatened or in danger, and while New Zealand readers will possibly find this next comment offensive, we have found Australia a far safer place to travel than New Zealand, despite the many hideous reports of violence that are reported on Australia’s daily news. There are certain parts of New Zealand society which harbour such aggressive mannerisms and such large chips on their shoulders, they make for unwelcome visitors. I will say no more.

This morning we were away by 9 am, the rain threatening but little else. We headed on, north along the New England Highway, still in familiar territory, and yet so much of it seemed new. My father once told me that when he and my mother travel roads in New Zealand, she is sometimes adamant that they have not passed this way before. This means that it is new and exciting, all over again; a bit like a cheap drunk although I should never use that simile in relation to my own mother. It does mean that one can travel the same country over and over, this way, that way and then this, all over again, and be entranced every time. What a gift! And so it seemed for me today.

A little to the north of Tenterfield, as we passed over Bolivia Hill at 1,025 metres ASL, I spotted a pair of Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos in the trees beside the road; what a treat! I had no idea they frequented this area, however when I checked my Field Guide later, it was evident that this was nothing new.

We passed over the Ben Lomond Range which is higher still than Guyra, at 1,410 metres ASL, a locality which according to extracts from past but fairly recent newspaper reports has experienced both snow and tornados. The rural land all about is lovely, but probably no more so than any of that travelled through today.

We arrived at Glen Innes, the home of the Standing Stones and the odd ball chap who is happy to explain their story, or at least was when we last passed through here. Today we did not stop but passed on north, leaving the kilted-cutie to others to marvel over, along with the tall granite stones he guards. I was amused to see the welcoming sign at the edge of the town, Home of the Celts and of the Ngoorabul, and I wondered how many residents had smatterings of both, and were as mongrel as I, although my mix is all from the European part of the world. I wondered whether their annual festival Celtic included boomerangs and caber throwing; a curious thought.

On we went, a further ninety or so kilometres to Tenterfield. Here we found the creek bearing the name as the town, swollen but showing no signs of the devastation we had seen when we stayed for several days back in February 2011. That had been immediately after the terrible Queensland floods, those that had taken away our first landcruiser, and the property and livelihood of so many. We were lucky, many were not.

We parked up within sight of our showground camp site of past times and wandered up into the town, enjoying the better weather although still swathed in coats and hats. Despite the fact it was Saturday morning, the town was buzzing with activity and we were reminded that we had enjoyed our brief time here in Tenterfield, a town which promotes itself as one of the country’s most significant historical settlements, given its connection with Henry Parkes, one of the Fathers of Australia’s Federation.

We lunched here before heading on again, this time turning east across the Great Divide, one hundred and thirty three kilometres to Casino. Tenterfield sits at 850 metres ASL, much lower than Guyra, and after we crossed the river catchment line at 888 metres ASL on the Bruxner Highway, we travelled down more than up although one had to have an understanding of the general lay of the land and the supporting maps to accept that premise. Given that Casino sits at a mere 26 metres ASL, it should be immediately clear how steeply the road must descend from the heights of New England. Chris remembered the steepness of the roads and the extent of the bush land up and down across the top of the Divide. Alas I did not, and yet the positive was that it was a trip anew.

And so here we are now back at Casino, the town we bought our tramping poles all that time ago, a charming town on the Richmond River and one that is home to the RV Village which has passed through several hands and several financial crisis; today managed as part of the Big4 franchise and offers excellent camping facilities for a very fair price. We had hoped to free camp all the way through to Brisbane, but these are fewer and far between and it is always good to plug into the modern amenities of electricity and water. We are well served here today.

As I returned late this afternoon from the amenities block, I could not help but notice the many flocks of birds flying high in the sky; ibis among them, birds we have seen little since leaving Queensland early in the year. The birds of Australia are what I shall miss most when we leave and may well draw us back, despite our resolve to move to the next stage of our lives.

I thought too that it was unfortunate that I had thrown out a shopping bag full of baggy track pants and my stretched woolly slippers. It does seem I was a little premature in making such decisions.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

29 November 2013 - Mother of Ducks Lagoon, Guyra, New England Highway, New South Wales

I should have known it was tempting fate to wax lyrical about the summer-like conditions; I was woken to the sound of rain during the night and got up to shut the roof vents left wide open to the skies. By the time we woke again this morning, the rain was steady and it was tempting to suggest we stay put and sit it out. However I went on line to check weather forecasts and that for Armidale about 170 kilometres north suggested that there would only be intermittent showers by midday, so we pulled the caravan legs up and set off along the road toward Tamworth.

This part of the country really is lovely, travelled in this direction or the other, although I was more appreciative of the countryside as we entered Tamworth from the south than I had been when last here. Perhaps that had something to do with the fact we were more intent on finding an overnight free camp after spending the day in Tamworth hunting out ancestors and their pursuits.

Today we did not even bother going right into the city, but took the by-pass and were soon heading toward that dreaded hill. This turned out to be quite a let-down and all I can say is that we must have become very blaze about towing over the intervening years and months, because when we got to the top, Chris asked me how far I thought we were away from those “really steep climbs”.

Uralla lies seventy kilometres to the north east of Tamworth, sitting up at 1,000 metres ASL. Here we checked unsuccessfully for a newsagency, still not having been able to source our favourite daily. Now you with your iPads and iPods and other fancy iThingies may wonder why we dinosaurs don’t simply get the newspaper digitally, however this is of no use at all when you are in places that have no internet reception. There will come a time when we are more anchored then this will be a less frustrating exercise, but in the meantime, the-seeking-of-the-daily-newspaper remains one of our chores for each day.

Further north we detoured off the highway into Armadale, Australia’s highest city and a city chocker full of universities and private colleges. We filled the diesel tanks and bought that dratted newspaper, before heading on our way again. All these wonderful places have been explored before and must be left for the third visit, if ever, to be re-explored. For now, this is simply a way of getting ourselves back up to Queensland.

Guyra is only about twenty five kilometres north again, the highest settlement on the New England Highway at 1,330 metres ASL and with this charming little lagoon where travellers can overnight for free. It was a little after midday when we arrived; we ate lunch and decided to settle in for the day. While the skies are a little brighter, the rain could continue for some time yet. If it does pause for more than a couple of minutes, we just might put our coats on and wander up to the CBD, all half dozen shops or so. We might even find that there is more to Guyra than meets the eye.

28 November 2013 - Wallabadah Rest Area, New South Wales

What a couple of days and no doubt indicative of those to come in the next few weeks! We spent yesterday morning enjoying the gentle pace of life in Belmont, wandering along the lake shore to the supermarket for the newspaper and fresh rolls for lunch, and reading under the awning at the caravan park. Temperatures were fabulous; bare feet and shorts the order of the day. After lunch we drove a few kilometres north up the Pacific Highway to a motorhome sales yard and there found one to suit our needs and our pockets if there could be a meeting of minds over trade-ins, however we had a rendezvous with John and Elizabeth later in the afternoon, for whom we had altered our route. They duly arrived and seemed to be most taken with the caravan asking all the right questions.

This morning dawned clear and warm and the temperatures have risen as the day has progressed. We received neither email nor telephone call from last night’s visitors, so assumed they had not decided to buy the caravan from us after all. Truth be told, I was greatly relieved because the thought of transferring our possessions into the landcruiser, putting it alone on the market and living out of it at the same time did not appeal! Hence the appeal of trading the rig on a motorhome and simply transferring everything over, as we did about ten years ago when we went away for a holiday in our caravan and came home with our first motorhome. However the lovely people at Australian Motorhomes could not come to an arrangement that suited all parties despite their best efforts. We all shook hands after I assured them that we really did not need to do a deal although it would have been nice, and so we headed off with our rig all intact and having avoided disruption to our lives, or should I say, simply delayed the disruption and inconvenience that must be faced one day or another.

And so we started up the New England Highway, leaving Newcastle and heading west up the Hunter Valley, a busy highway undergoing so much road works. We had travelled this same road in reverse in February 2011, but a road travelled so, is a new road entirely. Today we were amazed to see so many of the mines between Singleton and Muswellbrook, exposed from this direction and the coal fired power stations of Liddell and Bayswater standing out so very prominently. North of Scone, horse capital of Australia, we were delighted to see so many new foals keeping close to their mothers, prize breeding mares of rich and famous horse breeders.  The country side north of Muswellbrook was every bit as lovely as we had found it when we last came through although then summer had been well advanced and now summer has only just starting, although today’s heat might suggest otherwise, the temperatures having reached 31 degrees at the hottest part of the day.

Today we have begun the slow climb that will take us to the high altitudes in the middle of New England, an area that experiences winter snows and far too many frosts for our liking. We have climbed from Belmont at sea level, along the shallow Hunter Valley to Singleton at 40 metres ASL, then on up to Muswellbrrok at 165 metres ASL, to Scone at 216 metres ASL and here at Wallabadah at 465 metres. Tamworth lies just fifty five kilometres to the north, and from there I recall the road climbs incredibly steeply, a road that was a bit scary descending and will be tedious to crawl up. I do believe there are passing lanes though so there will be no excuse for moaning.

It was our intention to come as far as Wallabadah to this rest area where we stayed last time through, the amazing memorial to those on the First Fleet. Again today, we marvelled at the fact that this is located here, the only sensible reason being that Wallabadah is in New South Wales. There are well over a dozen caravans here; we are not alone recognising this as an excellent stopover place. Tonight the crickets have started their summer song and I am still in my shorts.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

26 November 2013 - Belmont Bayview Park, Belmont, New South Wales

Being so very close to the busy major highway and little further from the main trunk rail, you would be forgiven thinking that the Ourimbah Rest Area would be a most unsuitable place to park over for the night. Not so, in fact we both remarked this morning that we had slept very well. But in the manner of all such places, unless you are a young person travelling in a whizz-bang camper van, the busy-ness of such a rest stop has all up and ready to move on soon after the birds are doing so, or at least the lazier birds.

Our journey was a short one today, only about fifteen kilometres further up the Pacific Highway and then north east, still on the Pacific Highway, but no longer doubling as they Sydney-Newcastle Freeway.  Like most of the roads travelled in the past couple of days, this too was a retracing of past routes; we passed up between the high chimneys of the Munmorah and Vales Point Power Stations, and soon found ourselves in the midst of further recent bushfire devastation.

Great swathes of eucalypt forest; blackened and some gold having quickly shed their damaged bark, the bright green grass-like vegetation already coming away again. Truth be told, the Australian bush loves fire, it is man and his constructions that do not sit well in this environment. Burnt road signs, burnt corrugated sheds, a service station razed to the ground; all these and more were evidence of the property loss. We were in Tasmania when fire devastated these areas and those immediately to the north east of where we are camped now, and if my memory serves me correctly, there was only one life lost and he was a man with a heart problem who may not have seen the summer out in any case. The smell of ash and cinders crept in through the ventilation system and I imagined worse during the actual event, although later we learned from the camp manager that the smoke had only become a problem after the worst and when the back burning was being undertaken.

We arrived at Swansea, on the southern bank of the entrance to Lake Macquarie a little after 9 am. We found a park then chatted with a local for some time, a caravanner like us but well on in years, wanting to upgrade his van but having far less tucked away in his piggy-bank than we are asking. Fresh provisions were duly purchased at the local Coles supermarket and we came on across the bridge, and up to Belmont, arriving a few minutes after 10 am. Chris had been keen to try out a different caravan park given that this has no wow-factor and often is plagued with drainage problems, however when I took him through the tariffs of all those other parks about, he had to agree this was the obvious choice. 

Our day has passed in a rather relaxed manner, or at least for me. Apart from doing a small load of laundry and catching up on administration matters, happy to have endless electricity and internet. Chris however has been as busy as a bee, washing, cleaning, polishing, getting everything tiptop for the first of our possible buyers calling tomorrow afternoon. Our rig looks far too good to be rid of; perhaps we can do a backflip on our plans and set off around the country again?

Here in the park, there are few other caravanners or the like. One party of three young German tourists packed into a small whizz-bang van have created much entertainment for us; we do wonder how their three great big suitcases fit in the van when they are travelling. Out on the lawns galahs and rabbits scavenge alike. Plovers and magpies share the space too, but I am keen to catch up with the pelicans on Lake Macquarie. Perhaps tomorrow we can take a long shoreline walk; it does seem the weather is on the improve.

Monday, November 25, 2013

25 November 2013 - Ourimbah Rest Area, Pacific Highway, New South Wales

We both slept particularly well; perhaps the swish of the windmills was so soft and gentle that it lulled us into a deep slumber without our knowing it. Suffice to say we were amongst the last of the overnighters to leave our excellent camp by the lake, having enjoyed our breakfast with excellent unhindered views, now clear of other campers.

We returned to the main road and proceeded on to Blayney, just a little more than ten kilometres to the north. We had stayed here in the caravan park way back in April or May of 2011 when we were unable to find a powered site in either Bathurst or Orange during a particularly cold snap and after abandoning our camping reunion with our friends, Neil and Pauline at Macquarie Woods. But then we had been intent on finding power for our heater rather than exploring Blayney. Today we were surprised to learn this little rural town has a population of 3,000 folk and sits at 860 metres ASL; no wonder we were cold back then!

We pulled up in the main street after I spotted a Vinnies store and deposited several bags of items we decided we would not take back with us to New Zealand or hand on to any future buyer of the caravan rig. There are still many more items that fit that category, but dispensing with personal possessions that one just might need in the interim is too big a leap for just now.

We continued on up and down the long hills that Chris remembered well, not for their scenery but for the incline and the effort it took the landcruiser to tow the caravan up and over them. After just thirty seven kilometres we arrived in Bathurst, which has a population of 37,000 and sits at a slightly lower elevation of 670 metres ASL, facts I no doubt offered when we were last here. It was at the Big W here that we had shopped for warmer clothes, most which I still have but would easily fall into the category of not bothering to cart back to New Zealand. We shopped undiscerningly and although these items served us well, they did nothing for our appearances at all.

We knew also that we could fill up with water at the Information Centre, so backed in and sought the tap-key from the officials. We do carry one of these excellent little tools, but it was only courtesy that we should be seen to do the right thing. After all of this, some fresh bread from the supermarket and full diesel tanks at inflated prices, we set off toward Sydney, along the Mid-Western Highway we had joined at Cowra. What a horrible road it is, every bit as lumpy and bumpy as the Olympic Highway. New South Wales really should be ashamed of the standards of its roads!

We stopped at Lithgow for lunch, a place that had not impressed us much on our last visit, but much better viewed from the west than the east. Today we noticed Lake Wallace which was no doubt created for cooling purposes of the two big coal fired powered stations that dominate the scene.

We pressed on, climbing toward the Great Divide and up into the Blue Mountains, a slow drag up the steep road, crossing the Victoria Pass at 1,044 metres. I had been looking forward to our trip across the top of the mountains, having fond memories, albeit selective. I did not remember the number of traffic lights nor the amount of road works and of course we did not detour off here and there to view the may wonders available to the tourist as we had last time.

For amusement I took note of the rate of descent as we passed through every busy little settlement: Medlow Bath at 1,050 metres ASL, Lawson 732 metres ASL, Linden 526 metres ASL, Faulconbridge 447 metres ASL, Springwood 371 metres ASL, Warrimoa 273 metres ASL and finally Lapstone at 160 metres ASL before we descended the last stage down to Emu Plains adjacent to Penrith. I had expected that much of our trip over the top would have been through blackened forest, the remnants of the terrible fires near Sydney just a month or so ago. Today I saw spots of this near Blackheath and more to the north of Springwood, and there was a faint smell of ash as we passed these areas. I guess it is just as well, because the last these poor people who lost their homes need, are voyeuristic tourists.

Soon we found ourselves on the motorways, heading toward Sydney, and then north onto the toll road which loops around the west and north of the city. The last ten kilometres or so of our Sydney trip was, much to Chris’s dismay, through regular streets; there is no proper highway link between this toll road and the northern Pacific Highway; perhaps it will be built in time for our grandchildren when they retrace our travels.

It was a relief to reach the Pacific Highway, even with its patchwork of sealed repairs, up through the Ku-ring-gai Chase  National Park, up through the carved out sandstone cliffs around the Hawkesbury River, where a water-skier was seriously injured just yesterday, and then to find a space here at this rest area which we have called at a couple of times before, once to overnight and once to simply to break our journey.

Since arriving within view of Sydney, we have had frequent showers, and gusts as we drove across the massive bridges across the sandstone country, however now as I write this, the sun has come out and I can hear the bell miners which frequent here and the area all about Lake Macquarie. They really are quite wonderful.

I have just realised it is one month until Christmas, a fact that has not alluded our daughters; natural and in-law. Each of them has quizzed me recently to ask after our ETA. I have instructed them to exclude us from their plans because our ETA is in the lap of the gods.

24 November 2014 - Carcoar Dam, Blayney Shire, New South Wales

I failed to confess yesterday of a caravanning sin. Yesterday when we arrived at Wilks Park in Wagga Wagga, my husband must have spent ten minutes or more driving around and around the rather extensive area looking for the perfect level spot. We all do it and all look quite stupid as we do so. Finally, in exasperation, I suggested a spot which he said was a “driveway” and I countered that it was only so because it was the most convenient place to exit from a certain part of the park. So, after my insistence, we settled on an excellent spot, well-worn from the passing of wheels, but not blocking anyone in or out, or so we thought. Once we were set up, legs down, all the bits and pieces in the caravan unsecured and coffee made, Chris noticed that the skinny end of a fifth wheeler very close to our dining window; too close if the tow vehicle was a great big truck. I had seen it but thought that anyone brave enough to tow such a monstrosity would be quite able to manoeuvre into a hitch position. Chris was not too sure. The owner was not there but we kept an eye out for him.

He arrived in due course and probably muttered rude words under his breathe, or perhaps more loudly to his wife who looked rather downtrodden. Chris went out and asked him if he wanted us to move or would we be okay? Mr Grumps assured us we were alright and that he would be hitching on once they returned from dinner out and they would be off early in the morning. They were back from their dinner by about 6.30 pm, still with plenty of daylight, and after much messing about (I could have done better myself) finally hitched on. We should have moved because there was no love in his eyes when I went out to discard the rubbish. Amazingly, when Chris went out near midnight, he found they were already gone. Chris said it was all my fault, and I said that it was not at all, although I did say that in future I would share the responsibility of positioning the caravan as well. So such is my confession of our inconsiderate action, and if Mr Grumpy does read this, I am sorry, for what it is worth.

For ourselves, we were on the road by about 9 am, back onto the bumpy Olympic Highway, up through yet more farmland, much of it in the process of harvesting. I was fascinated by the rows of semi-harvested grain reminding me of my old candlewick dressing gown, the gold furrows of grain seeds pushed into high rows leaving a bald path between. Chris reckoned the golden grain looked fit to burst and so it did, in the brilliant sunshine we enjoyed today.

Junee is only just over forty kilometres north of Wagga Wagga, with a population of 4,000, an extra 1,850 out and about in the greater shire and sits at an elevation of 320 metres ASL, arrived at rather insidiously because at no point of our journey today or yesterday did we have the sensation of climbing to too much above sea level. Here we were still in the Riverina district so called because of the influence of the Murrumbidgee River, although Junee lies thirty five kilometres north of that well-known water course.

Junee is, or rather was, first and foremost a railway town, which belies the impression I had while carrying its name in my head during our years of travel here. I envisaged an outback town a little like Longreach in Queensland, but I assure you, I was very wrong. Today the town in this vibrant agricultural district shone and glittered in the bright sunshine, the many rose gardens up and down the street, a wealth of colour. There is some evidence that the town is no longer at its best, but it still serves the inhabitants well and they in turn are proud of it.
Roses and the Junee railway station

Railway construction commenced in New South Wales during the early 1850s and passed by here in 1878. From here the lines branched out this way and that, and here at this important rail depot were the station, various sidings, an engine shed and a hand operated turntable. The station still stands today and is as grand as any we have seen from yesteryear.

Junee also gained fame for its clothing factory opened in 1943. During the Second World War it produced colossal quantities of fleecy nightgowns for the women’s services from Australian wool and from cotton yarn knitted in Sydney and finished in Junee. Approximately 20,000 dozen of these garments were made each year and were known throughout Australia as “Junee Nights”.

Beyond Junee is yet another rail feature, the Bethungra railway spiral, and while it is small compared to New Zealand’s Raurimu Rail Spiral, it is unique here in Australia.
More roses and the Pub in Junee

The Bethungra Range which lies about thirty five kilometres north of Junee was at first crossed by rail by means of maintaining a special purpose locomotive at Bethangra to double bank trains up the one in forty grade track over the range. In 1941, construction began on a new “upline” to Sydney, which included a quite complex full 360-degree spiral track of a one in sixty-six grade, compensated for curvature, immediately north of Bethingra. This deviation today is regarded as a rare feat of railway engineering in Australia and is the only full 360-degree spiral in the Southern Hemisphere, which also means that perhaps the Raurimu is not as wondrous after all. The first train up the spiral ran in July 1946.

Fifty two kilometres on, we arrived at Cootamundra, another place whose name has tickled my fancy for some time. This rural town is somewhat larger than Junee with a population of 7,334 and substantial commercial streets, although they were relatively quiet today with it being Sunday. We sought a flat place to park and turn the fridge on while we walked about, and found ourselves on the edge of a lovely tree lined park, where a cricket match was underway.

Given that Cootamundra is the great Don Bradman’s place of birth, this seemed only appropriate and even more so after we had walked up and down through the CBD, to find ourselves a bench in the shade and watch the match. Chris assured me that the teams were very good for amateurs and pointed out several aspects of the game adding to my education of The Game. I have decided that cricket should be taught and played by all primary age children so long as they do not have to fill roles outside being batters and fielders. No child would hate the game and of course many would develop a great passion for it. Had I been taught cricket, I might have been less disparaging and evasive about team sports as I grew up. Alas, there were never enough children in my primary schools to make up a couple of teams even if one included the beginners right through to the eleven year olds, so I was saved the effort.

We had talked about walking about Young, given that it too is a substantial place with quite a history. It is this place, once known as Lambing Flats, where the riots of the same name, involving Chinese miners, took place, giving rise to Australia’s White Australia policy, one of the first laws after Federation, a fact that is now viewed with less pride than it once was. But instead we simply topped up with fuel and carried on through. No brownie points here!

I should mention that Young has rebranded itself the Cherry Capital of Australia, along with several other places, and roadside stalls all the way from Wombat to the south of Young through to the “Capital” itself offer cherries at prices far below those we bought in the Adelaide Hills a couple of years ago.

Cowra too is a substantial rural town, one we had passed through after returning to Australia last February, although cutting through from Canberra rather than from the more southerly direction. Here we parked near the McDonalds for an ice-cream, badly in need of a sugar fix to keep the eyes propped open. Instead we were waylaid by a truck driver waiting for someone to come with a replacement tyre for his Double-B rig. He was interested in the fact our caravan was for sale and we spent some time trying to convince him that this was just the van for him and his wife. We left him with our telephone number; who knows what might become of this lead.

After consuming our calorie laden treats, we hit the road again, but now on the Mid-Western Highway and travelled on toward Bathurst, or rather toward Blayney, and turned off soon after Carcoar to this wonderful camping spot listed in our Camps Six bible. 

The Carcoar Dam was built in 1970 for irrigation purposes but apparently provides water these days to a gold mine, according to an interesting character who has set up a semi-permanent home here in the camp, although I have to report that I have been unable to verify that any such mine exists these days in the area. The area submerged by the dam when full is 390 hectares, the maximum depth forty one metres and the catchment area 228 square kilometres. The dam wall is fifty two kilometres high and the actual dam 268 metres wide, although it seemed much longer as we walked across it this afternoon.
Our camp at Carcoar

We found a whole lot of others had arrived before us but there was one small level spot for us. We parked up, remaining hitched and wandered about, watching the day trippers with their speedboats on the lake and chatting with fellow campers, some of whom have been here for weeks and weeks, all for free!

We walked back up the road above the camp where there was an information area all about the wind turbines spinning rather obviously on the hill beyond the lake. Here we learned the true details of the wind farm consisting of one more turbine than I had counted on our arrival; there are in fact fifteen turbines here, all constructed and put into operation in 2000. Based on their life expectancy, learned in the south of Western Australia, it means that it is not too long now before they will all have to be decommissioned and replaced. Such are the wonders of green energy!

This evening as I write this I can only hear the calls of the birds late to their nests and the lowing of cattle from across the dam which I saw grazing on an area below an earlier water level. Perhaps later when we are lying in our bed and there are no other distractions, we shall hear the whump, whump of the wind turbines which are really not that far from us at all.

Friday, November 22, 2013

23 November 2013 - Wilks Park, Wagga Wagga, New South Wales

There is something about being in the wide open rural spaces; crows and magpies in lieu of the early rooster, far off trains and the hundreds of road trains thundering through the day and night, heading across this vast land. And so it was; we were awake and up earlier than we have been since last catching an early international flight. But the sun was shining, the sky clear, and the road reaching out inviting us to travel on.

Back on the Hume Highway, just before 8 am, we continued on through Ned Kelly country; we had passed by Euroa yesterday, and today it was Glenrowan, the scene of the final shootout, but this time we did not stop to learn more or soak in the history; we whizzed through on the freeway, as fast as our rig will go which is actually not that fast at all.

But we did pull into Wangaratta, because as Chris said, we had not really done it justice on our last visit, remarking at the time that we were sure to pass through again. So today we found a flat space beside the deep murky Ovens River where we had lunched last time. We crossed the footbridge and made our way up past cafes full of folk out for a weekend breakfast, and wandered up through the town in the sunshine, this time delighting in the architecture and general ambiance, which was today so much better than last. But that was because when we had come through the town last time, we had been towing and looking for a parking space near the Information Centre which was always going to be problematic. Today there were few people about, just those café customers, and the shop assistants having a furtive cigarette outside the shops before they opened their doors. It was still not even 9 am!

Back on the highway, we joined the busier lines of traffic heading north, most going on through to Sydney, and on up and over the Murray River, the border between Victoria and New South Wales at Albury-Wodonga. We had already spent some time here before, the highlight being our drive upriver to Corryong and Towong, as well as a visit to the Tallangatta immigration centre. But today, we carried straight on through, and then turned onto the Olympic Highway about twenty kilometres north of the border toward Wagga Wagga.

Either side of the road, the gold of the grass, the grain crops and the baled hay contrasted against the eucalypts and the far hills. Above us clouds had arrived, fluffy, streaky, the whole range against the blue blue background; a scene better painted than described by yours truly.

We passed through the small settlements of Gerogery, Culcairn, Henty, Yerong Creek and The Rock, railway stations stopped at now only for the grain held in the tall silos. The road was as I remembered it; sealed but lumpy and bumpy, we were back in New South Wales.

Arriving in Wagga Wagga, we parked near the Information Centre, a place we recalled for its convenience, and walked up the street past glorious flowering jacarandas to buy some decadent additions to our lunch. We had come less than two hundred and fifty kilometres during the course of the morning, and while Chris was still feeling fit for more, he was keen for us to stay over at this wonderful little free camp at the edge of town, the same we had stayed for a couple of nights in October last year.

So here we are with good internet and better television; the cricket progresses, the Weekend Australian always has plenty of reading and I have yet to finish the novel I have become so absorbed in. The weather is still fabulous and we are both in shorts for the first time since last summer. Perhaps that was too much information?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

22 November 2013 - Mokoan Rest Area, Hume Highway, near Benalla, Victoria

Yesterday turned out to be a real bonus; the fine weather allowed me to do a last minute load of washing and we did some more spring cleaning. Another bonus was the fact that our man Alfredo had telephoned the night before to tell us that the squabs were ready for collection; we decided that he was anxious to secure the balance of the money. We arrived mid-morning and spent a delightful twenty minutes or so with him as he stuffed everything into place and entertained us with his own immigration story; how he came to Australia from Chile about forty years ago and why he made that decision. We left feeling a whole lot of love for him, albeit with a lighter wallet.

We picked up car seat covers for the landcruiser from KMart as part of the general spruce up everything is getting. Is this not always the way? You build that pergola on, just before placing the house on the market; that pergola you have been promising to do all the twenty years or so you have lived in the house. Typical!

The first of the Ashes cricket series commenced yesterday, so we watched intermittently as the Aussies were knocked out one after another, suggesting a repeat of the battle held in England earlier this year. I thought it just as well since we were unlikely to received reliable television reception over the next little while as we travel north.

We set the alarm for this morning but were still awake and up long before it went off. We would have been out the caravan park gates had we not become entangled in conversation with the gentleman de-camping adjacent to us. It was the first time we had spoken with him, even though we had lived for several days right next door. A shame really because he was such a nice man, heading back to Western Australia to sell his caravan before returning to collect his custom made off-road jobbie. But such is life on the road; you meet some wonderful people, and leave them just as quickly.

So in the end we were not too early at all by the time we pulled into the Dunlop yard at Melton, whereupon the junior mechanic fitted the two new tyres and juggled the rest, all of which took him an hour and a half! Still, he has only been there for seven years and these things do take time, don’t they? However, apart from the fact that Chris was left to supervise the lengthy job and I continued ploughing through my current novel, we were charged only for the tyres and no labour at all, so one cannot really complain.

We had arranged with the auto-electrician up the road to have a small repair done and made it clear that we had the tyre re-fit scheduled in first. Alas, when we finally arrived at about 11 am, we were told that he was very busy, that we would have to leave the rig there and he would fit the job in when he could. Apart from the fact there is nowhere to go in this remote corner of Melton’s industrial precinct, this did not suit our travel itinerary at all, so we decided to abandon the repair and head off to Queensland.

And so we have, on up the Hume Highway, parts of which we have not travelled before, because when we did last come this way, we detoured in to all the small towns along the way and explored the area thoroughly as we do. Today we stopped at the Great Divide Rest Area about thirty kilometres north of the state capital’s boundary for lunch, a familiar watering hole where we had once long ago stopped overnight and then came on here to the Mokoan Rest Area which is also familiar to us, stayed at in March 2012. There is water in the lake, but it is far in the distance, but of course the area is the Winton Wetlands, an attempt to regenerate an irrigation scheme long abandoned. The farmland all about is all quite dry and summer well on its way. The road and rail noise have changed little from our last visit, however this will suit us well before we press on again tomorrow.

Tonight we will have to make a decision about our route north; whether to travel via Sydney and on up the coast or to cut inland through Bathurst and Dubbo or similar and emerge toward the coast far to the north. Chris will have to telephone an “interested party” tonight near Newcastle and see whether they are more than tyre-kickers. Who knows where we will be tomorrow night?

In the meantime the sun is shining, it is quite warm and I have no qualms about camping free beside the road. And better still for Chris; we have television reception and the English cricket team is not doing very well at all. Oh dear!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

20 November 2013 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

Togetherness over Thai: Chris, Janette, myself and Bob

The day has passed in a much more mundane fashion than usual; cleaning windows and screens and other bits of the rig in readiness for some new lucky owner. (Note the positivity!) We popped out to buy Victorian fruit and vegetables, a new towel rail now successfully suction-fixed to the wall and some card to make up For Sale signs for the windows. In all, the sort of activities that any normal retired people would do on any normal day.

Our dinner out last night with our friends, in probably the only Thai restaurant in Sunbury, was delightful, and no doubt enjoyed equally by all those others who did the same; the restaurant was packed out and it was only Tuesday! Farewells were made back at their home after lingering over late cups of coffee, and promises to catch up next year in New Zealand This assumes, of course, that we don’t change our mind and set off again for another circuit of this continent. 

I omitted to mention in yesterday’s posting our visit to Alfredo who has been charged with the reupholstering of our dining seat squabs. We had trouble tracking down his business even though it was listed in the Yellow Pages on-line. He has no sign-writing and his barred door has a very closed look. When we finally did track him down and push through the door, we found ourselves in a room full of bolts and scraps of material, and all the bric-a-brac such a business might accumulate over fifty years or so. Deep from the bowels of the chaos emerged our short stout swarthy tradie, with all the gestures and vocal intonations a gregarious Mediterranean gentleman of certain years is tarred. He reminded me of the Greek godfather of my sons, he who passed away more than three years ago now, but is not easily forgotten. Chris and I looked at each other and agreed, without saying a word, that this was the man for the job. We left him with one squab cover and a cash deposit, just hoping he would honour his part of the bargain and have the goods ready for us on Friday when we go to Melton for the tyres and electrical repair.

We are supposed to be in for rain tonight which does not bode well for tomorrow, our last day in Melbourne before setting off north.

Monday, November 18, 2013

19 November 2013 - Sundowner Rockbank Caravan Park, Rockbank, Victoria

As I start this, the sun is shining brightly and the thermometer is rapidly climbing toward the forecasted 30 degrees. What a change from chilly Tasmania! But again I am getting ahead of myself.

Yesterday morning, we were almost sad to leave our lovely camp at Deloraine beside the Meander River, dwelling place of Tasmanian fowls and their cute little chicks, who, we discovered, can swim, an assortment of ducks and geese and families of ducklings but not goslings, to the caretakers dressing-gowned wife, the multitude of arty and crafty folk who recently hosted the annual craft fair and a whole lot of others. (We were told too that platypus frequent the river at Deloraine, but we saw none.) If one is in Tasmania for more than a fortnight and has time to do more that the regular iconic tourist attractions, Deloraine and surrounds should definitely be on the list.

We retraced, yet again, our route up the Midland Highway, pulling off at Latrobe which is little more than a suburb of Devonport, parked up and sought a barber and a bakery, the first successfully and the second put aside until we reached the larger city. Freshly coiffed, my husband drove us on to Devonport and then we parked up in a sports ground car park to lunch and prepare ourselves for our impending ferry trip.

We had decided to take our own “dinner” on board, given our lack of enthusiasm for the smorgasbord, or should I say, Chris’s disappointment. I was happy enough with this so we made up gourmet rolls and packed them with our pillows, blankets and reading matter. We then moved around to East Devonport and parked up down by the seashore, adjacent to the Abel Tasman Caravan Park we had stayed on our initial arrival in Tasmania. From there we were able to walk around the pathway, along the shore then up the Mersey River as far as the ferry terminal, immediately opposite Devonport City. It was a glorious day and so our impressions today were far better than they had been more than seven weeks ago.

Arriving at Port Melbourne before sunrise.

At 5 pm, we drove around to the terminal and joined the queues to wait, and wait, and wait, for the loading. I do believe there is merit in turning up at about 6.30 pm but then we had little else to do; there would be no disadvantage in doing so at all.

Our trip across the strait was uneventful, the seas relatively calm and we arrived at about 5.45 this morning although did not disembark until 6.30 am. It was still only early by the time we reached the roadside service centre a little to the east of Rockbank, where we breakfasted and sat waiting for the commercial world to wake up.

We drove to Melton where we organised new tyres for the caravan and a small repair to the connecting electrics between the landcruiser and caravan, to be done on Friday morning on our way out of Melbourne. Less than ten kilometres back toward Melbourne, we pulled into this caravan park, our third visit here, certainly tried and true and most convenient for our date tonight; we are meeting up with Bob and Janet from Sunbury for dinner tonight; a reunion we are looking forward to.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

17 November 2013 - Deloraine Apex Caravan Park, Deloraine, Tasmania

I do understand that we will still be in Tasmania late in the afternoon tomorrow, but today has been our last complete day, and when I post the next instalment, we will be back in Victoria, and Tasmania will be but a wonderful memory, to be re-lived when I read this or look through my many hundreds of photos. When we do leave tomorrow, we will be satisfied that we have given this State our best shot although I would suggest people travelling as we are, to spend three to four months here rather than the paltry seven and a bit weeks we have. That is assuming they enjoy the same activities as us. And for those who are planning to travel only Tasmania, I would suggest a motorhome is more practical than a caravan. Had we travelled that way and the weather not been so inclement, we could have saved ourselves a whole lot of camping ground fees. Tasmania does offer much in the way of free or low cost camping for those who travel fully self-contained.

But back to our day; we drove 150 kilometres today, from one natural wonder to another and enjoyed every moment. We set off directly west, through the quaint hamlet of Chudleigh and Mole Creek, where one can stop and buy silk roses, or jars of honey, fresh salmon or ginseng, or pause to enjoy a latte and perhaps a muffin or whatever they have to compliment your caffeine fix. We simply slowed down as we passed through to remark on the charming surrounds, but turned north just before Mole Creek to do the Alum Cliff Walk. This turned out to be quite different to what we expected, but nonetheless wonderful.

Alum Cliff Gorge

A short forty minute walk from the car park took us to a forest lookout perched high above the Mersey River, as it flows through the Alum Cliff Gorge. The scene was not unlike those enjoyed over the Leven Canyon in the rain nearly a week ago. The vista was a little less spectacular here today, but the weather so much better, so over all, one had to give them equal marks. Both views are quite breath-taking but not as much as that which was still to come.

En route to the lookout, sits yet another of the many sculptures or “installations” which form the Great Western Tiers Sculpture Trail. This like so many others we have encountered is of dubious talent (in our limited opinion) and no doubt paid for by the working Tasmanian by way of their taxes. I suppose it beats paying out a special arts dole that some jurisdictions do; I know that New Zealand had such a crazy scheme going on for a while.

The Alum Cliff Reserve is a significant place for the local aborigines, the Pallittoore band, the place known as Tulampanga, and a special place to harvest the ochre here in the Gog Range. Ochre is important in the body-painting business and so much more sensible that tattoos; it washes off. We leaned over the barricades high over the canyon and spotted several areas from where ochre might have been harvested, but decided the warnings of respecting the sacredness of the ochre gathering spots was a little unnecessary; who would want to risk their lives clambering down to poach this?
Our next destination was the Mole Creek Karst National Park, which offers primarily the opportunity to enter the Mole Creek caves; the Marakoopa Cave and the King Solomon Cave, for a fee of course. These underground caves offer the opportunity to view sparkling crystals, reflection pools, stalactites and stalagmites, and so much more. We decided we would not bother but did hope to enjoy the walks in the park.Alas there is but one walk near the Marakoopa Cave, a delightful ten minute wander up a fern filled gully and back again.

This we did and were back near the lovely picnic area well before midday; we decided to have an early lunch. Here in the Mole Creek Karst National Park, we came upon two snakes, mine a black tiger snake of less than a metre long with a girth equivalent to my husband’s fattest finger, and Chris’s sighting, one of more than a metre with a girth equivalent to the thinnest part of my wrist. I am sure this gives you an accurate sense of the size of these serpents. Tasmania has just three snakes, if my memory serves me correctly, and all are venomous. I was pleased that they both were more intent on leaving the scene rather than bothering us.

The Mole Creek Karst National Park is yet another pay park, and I would caution anyone who wanted to visit this park, but not the caves, not to fork out $24 for a day visit. You would be disappointed. However for us, with our two month pass, we were pleased we called; this simply added to the accumulating wonders and memories of Tasmania’s National Parks. 

We continued on west, and had we continued on and on, might have arrived at the turn off to Cradle Mountain, thus completing a circuit of travel, however that was not our intention today. About six kilometres from the turn off to the King Solomon Mine, which we did not visit, we turned south east onto a gravel road and drove up a wide roughly corrugated gravel road to the star lookout of our travel, Devil’s Gullet.
Devil's Gullet

The car park is in the middle of an alpine swamp and the short walking track to the lookout up from this to the lookout is across boardwalks and a well-manicured path, to arrive at a well barricaded lookout platform overhanging a sheer cliff face with the most stunning views one can possible imagine. Two hundred and twenty metres below is the Fisher River, and beyond are views of Mount Ossa, Tasmania’s highest mountain at 1617 metres, thirty five kilometres from here as the crow flies, now familiar Cradle Mountain and other amazing alpine features across the huge chasm of the Fisher River canyon. Apparently on a windy day, this is an awesome experience however I was pleased that there was no such wind today; I preferred the peace to linger and enjoy every wonderful part of the landscape before my eyes.

Here I learned something that answered a question I had since examining the map closely with a focus on the Central Plateau. It struck me that there must be perhaps one thousand lakes here in Tasmania, an astounding concept. Today I read that the plateau was glaciated at least five or six times over the last two million years, the last ice age reaching its peak on the plateau about 20,000 years ago (since aboriginal people have resided her in Australia). This, the ice age, is evident from the plateau’s gentle undulating landscape and more than 4,000 lakes lie on its surface. These lakes range in size from tiny pools to large bodies of water over four kilometres in length. And this does not take into account all the lakes in Tasmania that lie outside the Central Plateau. My estimate of 1,000 was way too short.

Back at the car park where Plan A of the day’s schedule was complete, we debated whether we should continue on up the road to Lake MacKenzie where the road ended. Neither of us knew anything about this lake and on the face of it, there was no reason to carry on. Like all such debates between Chris and I, we settled on compromise; we would continue until the road deteriorated further and then, if we thought fit, turn back. In fact, very soon after, the road improved. It seemed to now be under the jurisdiction of Hydro Tasmania and the whole scene gained a sense of curiosity. Suddenly a wide canal appeared on our left hand side, with intermittent foot bridges, and then this all gave way to a shoulder high concrete aqueduct which went on and on, until finally we reached Lake MacKenzie where the mystery, in some part, was solved.

The lake is part of yet another hydro scheme, created by damming of the Fisher River in 1972. It does not cease to amaze us how much hydro-electricity infrastructure a state with just half a million inhabitants needs. Or is this simply planning for population growth over the next two hundred years! We decided that it was more likely all to do with job creation, not unlike the installation of woolly-woofta artworks around the place, and this is of course all very controversial. Is it better to pay for superfluous industry or to hand out to idle hands? My first response is yes, but when I see the fruits of the effort, I do wonder.

And while wearing my Grumpy Old Person hat, let me record another instance of waste and cock-eyed thinking. A couple of days ago I heard a report on the local television channel about the sale of several tourist accommodation complexes, most of which were familiar after our travels here, to an outfit whose identity eluded me for a day or two, to another who was intent upon divesting themselves of mediocre investments and choosing instead to develop a top-notch resort at Port Arthur for super rich tourists, with Asians particularly in mind. On the face of it, a clever business move.

The next day the report was documented in The Australian, so I was able to intelligently pass the news on to my husband and so we were well armed to debate the pros and cons of the whole affair. Because you see, the buyer of these superfluous properties is the RACT, the Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania. Now, we are members of the New Zealand Automobile Association and the RACQ (the Queensland equivalent of the Tasmanian association) and none of the reasons we joined were related to becoming part of a property gathering investor. In fact the RACT website tells us that the club was established in 1923 to represent the interests of Tasmanian motorists.

I would suggest that no one joins these associations with investment in mind. So what is the Tasmanian club doing buying up these accommodation complexes for? Chris and I decided after some discussion that the CEO and others of similar administrative ilk are probably paid according to the profit or asset base of the club, and so the bigger the gross income, no doubt irrespective of the profit, and the bigger the property holding, no doubt irrespective of the debt involved to set it up, the bigger the personal income to those who hold the reins. And will the club members reap any benefits? Yes, probably they will be able to claim a 10% discount on the tariff, as you might with your Seniors Card or any loyalty membership. This is in fact a major rort.

So much for my gripe; back to Lake MacKenzie.

Since 1970 most of the water from the Fisher River has been diverted from the valley into a hydro-electric power scheme and the power station of the same name is the second station on the Mersey-Forth scheme. The station was commissioned on 1973 and is driven by not only the diverted waters from the river but also water run-off from the plateau and by water pumped from Yeates Creek and Parsons Falls, neither of these two appeared on our radar today. Water flows to the station via a six and a half kilometre flume, that we saw today, a siphon which takes down and up across an alpine marsh, the canal and then a 5.2 kilometre long vertical shaft tunnel and surface penstock all which take the water from the plateau we drove across down into the canyon. The main secret of the system is the gravity flow created by the serious elevation variations, a drop of 650 metres from this elevation of 977 metres ASL.

We drove up to the dam and were amazed at the length of the dam, none of the statistics I have been able to learn. Chris reckoned, as we walked across to the outlet that it must be about a kilometre long, although was not very high. Again you would have to wonder why the expense.

This proved a bonus to our planned tour for the day, and so we were pretty satisfied, except for the fact that the short walks had all proved to be shorter than advertised. We headed back to Deloraine, but stopped off a little to the east of Chudleigh, where we had seen a small sign pointing to the Lobster Falls. I had missed these in my planning, however checking the literature we had to hand, I saw that there was a walk of two hours return, a fact I soon forgot when Chris asked me several minutes after we had set off.

In fact, I forgot also that I had been thinking about my thirst ten minutes before, but we took nothing with us but my camera as we set off. The track passes through regenerated forest of banksias, eucalypts, gorse and bracken, really quite unattractive although the birdsong was lovely. The track climbs over a hill and then descends, narrowing down a ledge along the cliffs high above the river, and finally dropping down steeply to a wide pool at the foot of the lower cascade. I have to confess that the latter part of this explanation was gleaned from the internet on our return because we had no description at all and took it all as it came. We arrived at a point above what it would seem now to have only been the upper cascade, an impressive sight far below us and it was at that point Chris suggested we should turn back. We had been only walking for half an hour and it took us a little more to retrace our steps. Actually “retrace” is a misnomer, because we lost the track but did find our way in the correct general direction and finally meet up with the correct track. The track is poorly marked and not really maintained at all; we spent much of our time climbing over and under fallen trees, and the track around the part of the falls we did reach, was really made for mountain goats, not middle aged tourists. However the plus of the whole affair was that I felt we did have an adequate dose of exercise for the day.

Back home we enjoyed a cup of coffee, hot showers and a sit-down, well deserved after an excellent day, our last complete day on the Apple Isle.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

16 November 2013 - Deloraine Apex Caravan Park, Deloraine, Tasmania

We could have slept late as many do on a Saturday morning, but every day is the same for us travelling retirees, as it will be for you one day if you work hard and save like squirrels. But we were officially due out by 10 am, so did need to go see the caretaker to extend our tenure for the last two days of our Tasmanian tour.

Improving weather was promised however the sky was clouded over; I was keen to do some washing, which meant that it was well after 10 am by the time we set out for our picnic lunch. Today was to be just a mini-expedition and best called a picnic-outing rather than something grander inviting disappointment if we were back earlier than expected.

The Meander Falls are marked with a big W (for one of the sixty Great Short Walks Tasmania) on the map, however we had been advised by those in the Visitor Centre that the road to the falls was open only to very adventurous 4 wheel drivers and we would never brand ourselves such. But we were told about a lookout, which Jan pencilled onto a map with a cross, although the name of the road or lookout could not be brought to mind. So our intended trip was a little random and it did occur to me that we might still be home for lunch.

We headed out on the same A5 travelled yesterday, but continued on toward Meander rather then turn south toward the Highland Lakes, passing through the wide Meander Valley, farmed by dairy and dry stock farmers. The tiny settlement of Meander sits on the river of the same name, having one small all-purpose store, community facilities and remnants of past industry. Beyond the village, the road soon rose into the lower slopes of the tiers and we arrived at the Huntsman Lake. I had seen this watery spot on my map but had no expectations or preconceived idea of its genesis or current state.

Huntsman Lake
What a delight to find this beautiful lake almost all surrounded by heavy forested peaks and bluffs! This is a man-made lake, created from the recent damming of the Meander River and several tributaries seeping from out of the tiers, for the purpose of irrigation, although there is a small amount of electricity generated here, enough to provide electricity to power a town of roughly 2,000 homes.

We left the road and drove two and a half kilometres into the Meander Dam and picnic area, from where there were the most spectacular views across the water to the surrounding landscape. A couple of utes were parked near the boat ramp, their trailers empty and no immediate sign of the boats out on the water. We climbed up to the edge of the dam where a sign offered a few statistics but little walking access to either the dam or the bush land around.

Meander Dam
Here we learned that the Meander Dam was completed in 2007, is 170 metres wide and 50 metres high. The lake covers an area of 364 hectares and is capable of holding 43,000 ML of water, and providing 24,000 ML per annum for irrigation.

We ate our lunch at this fabulous spot, before returning to the road and continuing up the valley, turning up a gravel road into the Meander State Forest Reserve, then again up a forest track, Scott Road, promising a lookout in four and a half kilometres. This had to be the one marked on our map, so off we went, up a road rarely travelled, probably not maintained for the past fifty years although there was evidence of a chainsaw wielder since the last big storm. Branches lay across the road, some at a height we were able to just pass under and some requiring a detour into the undergrowth. Parts of the road were clear but for the moss and ferns, and all the way as we climbed steeply, was the glorious gold, red and brown of the young foliage of the beech and eucalypt saplings, and to our joy, great shows of warratah, emblem of New South Wales, the first we had seen in the wild, and here it was in Tasmania. This grew only at the higher part of the track, but there were plenty of other wonderful wild flowers all the way up and down.

Trackside Warratah
On our return, as we passed by the Huntsman Lake, we pulled into the Dairy Picnic Area, thus called to memorialise the Payne family who settled right here back in the 1920s and milked  cows on the spot until they sold out in 1989 when the Irrigation Scheme was mooted. Here we struck up conversation with a woman and her two teenage sons, recent immigrants from far off Hobart several months ago and enjoying the different lifestyle of rural northern Tasmanian. I have detected on several occasions a real adversity or competitiveness between some of those who live in the north and those who live in the south; a bit like Aucklanders versus the rest of New Zealanders, inexplicable but very real. I wondered how the locals had taken to her and her family; I suspected kindly because she spoke well of the community. She had not ventured up the intrepid Scott’s Road although had been encouraged to on several occasions, but had found her two dogs were quite content to frolic in the lake waters here rather than seek opportunity to hunt echidna up in the hills. And here is an opportunity for me to mention the many echidna we have seen her in the wild over the past few days, or in fact our entire time here in Tasmania. These have been numerous and just fabulous. They are almost comical to watch as they waddle across the roads in front of us.

We left soon after this local trio, or should I say fivesome, if I am to count the dogs. As we passed through Meander one of the boys gave us a friendly wave and we drove on out with warm fuzzies for this lovely part of Tasmania.

Back at camp I found the laundry sun-warm and well dried, and Chris crawled under the caravan to clean the plumbing out, a fairly regular task which always renders a sweeter smelling environment. We opened a bottle of cheap red, watched a replay of New Zealand’s thrashing of the Scots in the Rugby League World Cup 40:4, finishing with an interview with the player of the game; an incoherent Kiwi who speaks in eh-boy lingo which leaves me embarrassed to be a Kiwi, no matter how great an athlete this beige champion is. 

Tomorrow will be our last full day here in Tasmania and I have a full schedule planned and the weather forecasters have promised a whole day of sunshine.