NSW to Vic.

Hello to everybody!

Sorry for not having blogged for some time now. We have so much to tell you, so brace yourself for a lengthy update…

When we last updated you on our travels, we had just returned to New South Wales (NSW), to Batemans Bay, from a *very* uneventful trip to Canberra in the Australia Capital Territory (ACT). Since we left Sydney three weeks ago, the weather has been poor. Very poor. The further south that we have travelled, the wetter and colder it has become. When I say cold, it’s still 15-18 degrees, so we shouldn’t complain, but this just isn’t what we signed up for.

We were heading for Melbourne, the state capital of Victoria (Vic), which on the map doesn’t look that far away. However, in reality, this is not the case – Melbourne is approximately 750km, and a 10 hour drive (!), away from Batemans Bay. To put this into perspective, it is the same distance as if driving from London to Dundee (466 miles), but there is no M6 to get you there, just a mix of A and B type roads.

Our first stop, en route to the Vic border, was at a place called Pambula Beach. The campsite here was recommended to us by a lady at the Tourist Information Centre in Canberra. Funnily enough, this lady was more enthusiastic about our onward journey (to Vic) than she was about the time that we would be spending in her city. Anyway, moving on… As we arrived at the campsite, we spotted a family of kangaroos roaming around in the grounds. We stopped our van and got very excited! Little did we know, however, that this was just the tip of the iceberg and that we would spend the next few days with kangaroos nibbling the grass around our van. We had such a great time, and this was a new experience for both of us – we had never been this close to wild kangaroos before. On top of this, we were parked up less than 50 metres from the sea for the duration of our stay. What an amazing place! We actually did very little during our stay here, just chilling out and taking it easy.

Crossing into Vic, our route took us through beautiful national park country and onto our quiet little retreat, Lakes Bushland Caravan Park, in the Nicholson hills. The campsite here was very quiet and the personalised service that we received from the family-owners was exceptional. Earlier in the day we had made an off-road diversion to a historic railway bridge where it seems we managed to get a stone (the size and shape of a small spear head) lodged in one of our tyres. Not long after we had arrived at the campsite, the tyre was flat! This was obviously very disappointing, however, we were relieved that this had happened here, and not in the pouring rain, or the middle of nowhere. Anyway, this is where one of the pieces of kit that we had equipped ourselves with in Sydney, called a Plugga II, came into it’s own. Along with my machismo, of course… Long story short, I repaired the tyre (beer in one hand, jack in other, flip flops on) and had it checked out the following day – fortunately all is well and no further work is required. Money very well spent, and next time it happens – probably in the dusty Outback – we’ll be able to fix it again. Soon after repairing the tyre, the heavens opened. Very heavily!

This was not the first bit of “work” that I had done on the car – I have clearly fooled you all for so long with my apparent lack of mechanical know-how! The horn has developed a condition whereby it randomly toots itself, which can be a little embarrassing depending on when and where it does it’s business. Sometimes it would toot continuously, other times it would put out a short sharp burst. Very bizarre… Anyway, I fixed it. Well, it doesn’t toot anymore. At all! With the lid from a bottle of water. Ha! And then there was the soldering I did on our CB radio. I’m not quite sure when the newly acquired soldering iron will come in use again, but hey, you never know…

Anyway, the rain kept pouring, and the wind started howling (and continued to do so for the next few days!). Our journey from Nicholson to Wilsons Promontory National Park was the most difficult and exhausting stretch of driving that I have ever done! The roads that we were driving on were dreadful – lots of bumps and potholes, the wind was literally blowing us from left to right, and the rain was hammering down! Wilsons Prom is the southernmost point of mainland Australia and is one of the most intriguing places that we have ever been to. Simply stunning, with beautiful rainforests, unspoiled beaches and abundant wildlife; the remnants of a controlled bushfire in 2005, however, provide an eery appearance. We spent the night camping at a place called Tidal River where the dreadful weather continued. The wind was so bad that people were losing their tents, and our van was rocking, but not for the reasons you might imagine…

One night was enough for us, so we hit the road early the following morning, heading for Melbourne. As a birthday surprise, Sarah had booked us into a beautiful hotel in the city centre for the weekend, which was absolutely fantastic! Now you know how much we love our luxuries, well now you can imagine how much more we appreciated this after the previous few nights spent in our van. Sarah was very excited by the prospect of using a hairdryer.

The following day, my birthday, we went on the Neighbours tour, which we really enjoyed (even though we haven’t watched the TV show for many years – honest!), and the following evening Sarah took me for dinner on one of Melbourne’s historical trams as it took us on a tour of the city. I had a great birthday – thank you all very much for your birthday greetings, cards and gifts.

Last weekend I attended a photography class in Melbourne city centre, which I paid for with my birthday money. I had a great time and learnt a little about the composition of photographs. The class was not as technical as I had hoped, but I really enjoyed it. I intend to put the remainder of the money towards a surf board, which I hope to purchase before we leave Melbourne.

This week we are returning to school. Coffee School on Thursday, where we will become accredited Baristas, and RSA School on Saturday. The Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate is required if you wish to work in a bar or serve alcohol anywhere in Australia, so these certificates will certainly help us to find work on our travels.

When we arrived in Melbourne, we instantly fell in love with the place. It has so much character; lots of beautiful architecture (old and new), interesting little laneways; the people are very fashionable, and, perhaps most importantly, Melbourne is the foodie capital of Australia. By our second day in the city, Sarah had declared that she loved it more than Sydney! However, the weather here sucks! Melbourne summertime is no better than London summertime, and for that reason, we will not be looking to spend any extended period of time here.

You may remember that we were planning a trip to Tasmania (not Tanzania, Jacq!). Anyway, we have put those plans on Ahold for the time being. We had planned on taking our van on the ferry so that we could continue our travels when we got across the water. However, when we found out that a return trip on the ferry would cost approximately $800 (£600!), we changed our minds. The ferry ride is 11 hours and crosses some very rough water, so we made the decision to travel at night and pay for a cabin – hence the inflated cost, I suppose. We then explored the option of flying, which was about a third of the price, but the cost of hiring a van, for a couple of weeks when we arrived there, was about the same as the ferry ride! Tassie is somewhere that we do want to visit, but we will save it for later…

We have tickets to attend the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of March; between now and then we are planning to hit the road and see a bit more of the state of Victoria. Highlights will include visiting Bells Beach, the Australian home of surfing, and the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island, where we will watch the daily march of the penguins as they make their way back up the beach to their sand dune burrows at sunset.

The week after the Grand Prix we are heading north west to Adelaide, which is nearly 1000kms / 650miles from Melbourne, and will include a drive along Great Ocean Road, where we will see the Twelve Apostles. To say we are excited about that (and the prospect of more sunshine) is an under statement! A couple of weeks later we will head west to Perth – a journey of more than 2500kms / 1500miles (!), which includes a trip across the Nullabor Plain and along the infamous “90 mile straight”, which is a stretch of road that does as it says on the tin – 90 miles of completely straight road…

We have added some more photos to our Flickr account, and we will continue to do so, so keep checking back there for more updates.

Fortunately we were not caught up in the terrible earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. However, two of our friends were. I think that we mentioned in a previous blog that we met with an old school friend of mine (and his girlfriend) for drinks in Sydney harbour. Chris and Gemma were visiting New Zealand before returning to the UK in March and, by all accounts, were very lucky to escape unscathed. I have attached a video clip from ITN news where they are actually talking about their experience. You may have already seen this on the news…

Lots of love, as ever xx

PS – we are in the process of revamping our travel blog. This should be a smooth transition and you will soon notice a change to the blog layout. Any problems, let us know.

Just a very quick one.

Hi,

We just wanted to confirm that we have not been involved in the earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, where over 60 people have already been confirmed dead! Our thoughts are with those people that have been caught up in this terrible disaster.

We are in Melbourne, where we expect to be until the beginning of April, although we may make a trip to Tasmania over the next couple of weeks.

Love to you all xx

PS – thanks for all of your birthday wishes. I had a great birthday, and was spoilt rotten by Sarah x

Canberra… *yawn*

One day, long, long ago, there was a huge debate as to whether Sydney or Melbourne would be chosen as the capital city of Australia. Some bright spark decided that, due to the rivalry between these two cities, a new city, Canberra, would be born.

It would be fair to say that our expectations of Canberra were fairly low, as everything that we had previously heard was negative. For instance, we had been told that the city had no character, there was not much to do there, and that restaurants and bars closed early most days. Great! Despite finding it difficult to suppress these preconceptions, we made our way into the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) with our minds wide open.

Our first experience of this wonderful city was trying to find somewhere to stay. Bizarrely, for a capital city, we could only really find one place, in an outer suburb, that seemed to be (a) half decent and (b) located on a bus route into the city. The campsite that we found was nice enough – our site even had an en suite bathroom – and there was a bus stop right outside the campsite. Unfortunately, the bus only ran until 8.30am every day! Given our semi-retirement these days, we now only know of one 8.30 in a day, so we had to explore different options. This resulted in a 2km walk into the village, finding the bus interchange, and waiting for the *hourly* bus into the capital city of Australia – HELLO?!

Once we were on the bus – which cost about $20 each (you can almost get a 10-trip-ticket for that price in Sydney!) – we explained to the driver which attractions we were looking to see. As promised, he informed us when we were at the nearest bus stop to the first tourist attraction. It was about a 10-minute walk from the bus stop to the place that “runs Australia”, New Parliament House – HELLO?!

We eventually found New Parliament House, more by luck than judgement. There were no tourist signs or maps anywhere! This place is the Australian equivalent of the Houses of Parliament and, it is a very modern looking building. It was free for us to gain entry, we joined a free guided tour of the building, and even observed a press conference with the Leader of the Opposition in a public reception area. How cool is that?! Also, had we timed our visit better, we could have sat in on Question Time in one of the two chambers. Unfortunately Parliament were not sitting on the day that we were there – as it was Friday we assumed that the High Powers must have been “working from home”… We went for a walk on the grass lawn on the roof of the building, took some photos, and then headed off in search of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).

Rightly or wrongly, we were continually comparing Canberra with London, in more ways that one. Public transport in Canberra was poor in comparison, buses were expensive and did not run as regularly as we expected them to – we actually decided to use our car when we returned the next day to see some other sights of interest. In another comparison we felt that the locations of the tourist sights were really spread out from one another, and there weren’t many other tourists around either. In fact, there wasn’t much of a buzz at all!

En route to the NPG we passed a couple of tourist maps (!!), so we were able to navigate our way there. It was a 15-minute walk or so, in the pouring rain, but we enjoyed viewing the exhibitions when we arrived. From the NPG we walked next door (10-minute walk) to the National Library of Australia, which, again, was absolutely no comparison for the British Library in London. In fact, we have been in small English libraries (think Camberley and Aldershot!) that have more character than this place! In fairness, they are planning a refurb, but what took them so long?!

By this point we were feeling totally underwhelmed, so headed into the city centre to get some dinner. Here we found a shopping mall that was on a par with Festival Place in Basingstoke, and whilst walking around the outdoor streets we felt like we were shopping in Woking. Saying that, there was a multi-cultural festival happening here, which we stumbled across purely by chance, where we got to sample some foreign food and drink. However, when we headed into the shopping mall later, to kill some time before the next bus home, we found many multi cultural people eating their dinner in the food court, which we felt spoke volumes… Incidentally, we were killing time for over an hour before the next bus back to the bus interchange – and last for the night (!) – at 9.15pm?!

We did return to the city the next day, in our car as planned, and we visited the Australian War Memorial and Australian Mint. Unfortunately, the road works along Anzac Parade restricted our view of the war memorial and, as it was Saturday, there was nobody producing any coins at the money factory – other than Sarah, who paid $3 to a vending machine so that she could produce her own $1 coin… So, we were finished by lunchtime and we decided to hit the road and head back to the beach at Batemans Bay, feeling totally confused by the whole experience. Even now we are still asking ourselves, ‘where did we go wrong; what did we miss?’

In general, we were left feeling very disappointed by Canberra, the capital city of this great place down under. We really wanted to like it as much as Sydney, but we didn’t. We couldn’t. On a positive note, the city was modern, and clean, and the attractions that we visited charged no entry fee. However, the overall lack of user friendliness perhaps indicates that the city was designed with architecture in mind, as opposed to the people that would visit.

Perhaps the legalisation of fireworks and hardcore pornography (yes, they are generally illegal in Australia), and the decriminalisation of cannabis screams in desperation, ‘please come and live here!’ However, taking all that, and more, into account, we wont be going back there. Not in a hurry anyway.

When we checked out of the campsite on Saturday morning, the receptionist told us that he was unable to refund the money that we had paid for the other two nights (which we had half expected might be the case anyway). However, when we asked why, he stuttered and spluttered, and gave us a full refund. Brilliant!

We had planned to be in Canberra for four nights, but we left early after only two. Upon arrival at our next destination, Batemans Bay, the first thing that we did was go to the circus. Now what does that say?!

xx

Farewell to Sydney and NSW.

We have now said our goodbyes to Sydney and NSW!

On Tuesday we hit the road, heading south, as we had said we would do in our previous blog. This morning we arrived in Canberra, which is the Australian capital city, and is based within the Australian Capital Territory. We have parked up the van, set the awning out, and we will be using public transport for the next few days to get us in and around the city.

We have loved the time that we spent in Sydney and will definitely return there. As we travel around Australia, we will be looking for the place where we would like to live and work for a while. Obviously, living in, or even remotely near to, a big city means that the price of property is somewhat inflated. This is something that we will have to bear in mind…

As promised, we have uploaded some new photos to our Flickr account, which you can see by clicking here. Enjoy…

Lots of love, the Poms Down Under xx

We cheated!

Hello all!

We have been enjoying the beautiful weather here in Sydney and certainly have not missed the rain that greeted us on our arrival in Australia. However, this last week, the temperature hit 46 degrees at our campsite, followed by 33 degrees at 3am the following morning!

Now, don’t get us wrong, we love our van. But… Trying to sleep in a metal box, that is barely big enough for the two of us, is difficult at the best of times. So when that little box becomes an oven in the middle of the night, with three separate fans running – each blowing hot air over you – sleeping becomes impossible! 4 hours sleep over two nights is a fantastic result really, but still not much fun.

So, we treated ourselves to the luxury of an air conditioned room at a Bed & Breakfast for a couple of nights. Now we have recharged our batteries and are back in the van tonight. There is a lovely breeze coming off the sea, which we hope will continue and enable us to get some sleep.

In other news, we have now completed our short course of three (2 hour) surfing lessons, which we really enjoyed. We could not believe how physically demanding it was, and we were completely exhausted after each lesson! The lessons were excellent, and we both managed to stand on our board and ride a few waves. It is something that we would like to practice further, so we are now looking into buying our own board(s).

Tomorrow we are off to a friend’s birthday party, and then we leave Sydney on Tuesday morning. Our first stop is to collect some mosquito screens for our van, so that we can leave all doors and windows open at night without getting attacked by bugs. Then we continue south to Jervis Bay (where we spent Christmas), Batemans Bay and Canberra, before crossing into the state of Victoria a week or two later. In Victoria we are looking forward to exploring Melbourne, and taking the ferry across to Tasmania.

We have just ‘exceeded our daily limit’ for the free Internet access at the campsite, so we are back to using our hopeless dongle. We have loads of new photos to upload, but we will have to do this at another time.

We hope that you are all keeping well, and that you are seeing the back of the wintry weather?

Lots of love to everyone, Simon and Sarah xx