Thursday, May 1, 2014

Australia Part III: We live in a van, down by the ocean

Sorry this third post on Australia has taken so long to publish.  The reality that vacation is over and now we have to work has been very evident.  Mary has been working on a grad school class on top of work, and all this has left little time for reminiscing about the great time we had in Australia.  Thankfully today is Labor Day in Thailand and I am off from work, so it's time to write a blog.

After seeing the sights in Melbourne and Sydney we rented a camper van and spent the next six days and five nights exploring the Australian coast.  We picked up the van on the south side of Sydney and dropped it off six days later in suburban Melbourne.  The van was a basic minivan that had been modified to be used as a camper.  It was not luxurious, but it worked perfectly for what we needed.  The back seats could be reconfigured into either a kitchen table or a bed, and the back of the van opened up into a small kitchen with a stove, sink, and battery powered fridge.

We had a rough plan for what areas we wanted to stop each night, but no firm plans.  We stayed in campgrounds each night so that we had access to some basic facilities.  A few nights even had hot showers.  Mostly we picked campgrounds by driving through an area and deciding if the place looked worth exploring.

Day 1
Our first day took us from Sydney to Depot Beach near the town of Bateman's Bay.  The day was rainy, but the drive was still beautiful.  You don't have to go far outside of Sydney to feel like you're far from the big city.  The rain combines with the rolling green coastal hills covered with sheep really reminded me of Scotland.  We drove across the scenic Sea Cliffs Bridge, enjoyed lunch at a beach side diner, and spotted our first wild kangaroo.

Depot Beach is nestled back into Murramarang National Park consisting of mountains and dense rain forest right up to the ocean.  It also proved to be heavily populated by kangaroos.  As it was a cool rainy autumn day in the middle of the week there were only a few other people in the entire campground and we enjoyed the cool salty air and peaceful sound of crashing waves.

Day 2
On day two we drove from Depot Beach to the town of Mallacoota stopping at a number of locations along the way.  The main highway follows an inland route for much of the way, but we took a secondary road that followed the coast.  The views along the coast were wonderful, and the one lane wooden bridges across coastal inlets were charming.

We enjoyed stops in the towns of Bermagui and Tathra where we purchased some local smoked tuna, crackers, and cheddar cheese for a sunny lunch on the beach.

It was comfortably warm in the sun, but the wind off the water kept things cool enough to keep us out of the water.  Tathra had also recently suffered their first fatal shark attack which further discouraged us from taking a dip.

The campground in Mallacoota was a bit of a disappointment.  Mallacoota is located on a dead on road about 30 minutes off the main highway.  The road continues about 15 km past Mallacoota along the coast, and we had planned on continuing on this road to the isolated campground at Shipwreck Creek, however about 2 km outside of Mallacoota we realized the road was best handles with a burly 4 wheel drive off-road sort of vehicle.  The camper van just wasn't meant to go to Shipwreck Creek.  As it was starting to get dark we settled for Malacoota.

Day 3
After a delicious breakfast at a water side cafe in Malacoota we headed out to find our next stopping point.  We had originally planned a long driving day to somewhere along 90 mile beach, just past Lakes Entrance.  Perhaps we would have found something wonderful there, we'll never know.  We had planned to explore some beaches near the town of Marlo on the way, and after driving only about an hour we stumbled across a lovely and almost entirely deserted campground at Cape Conran (not a town, just some rocks sticking out into the ocean).  We decided it was worth staying.  We did still have to make a 30 minute drive to the nearest grocery store in Orbost, but the drive was scenic and we still had plenty of time to explore the beaches and inlets around Marlo and Cape Conran.

The park ranger told us there was lots of wildlife in the park and campground, but we mostly just saw kangaroos and bushy tailed possums (that were very interested in our dinner).

Day 4
We planned to spend our last two nights in Wilson's Promontory National Park, and after our short drive the day before we had a long way to go on day four.  The day was rather rainy, so we were okay not making many stops.

We did commit to one stop though, and that was to find a true Australian style hamburger.  Many people many not know this, but Australians take burgers very seriously, and a true Australian burger comes with quite a pile of fixings
  • Hamburger
  • Lettuce
  • Tomato
  • Fried onions
  • Bacon
  • Fried egg
  • Beetroot
  • Cheese and pineapple are also common, but are not must haves
We chose a local place in a small town that looked like it should have a good burger, and it did.  The Club Hotel in Yarram was not a high class establishment, but the burger was amazing.  The place turned out to be more of a pool hall and gambling den than a restaurant, but oh was that burger good.  It was affordable too.  Restaurants in Australia are generally quite expensive, but for $10 we were able to enjoy a large delicious burger and a beer.  Well worth the stop.

We arrived at our destination in the late afternoon just as the rain was moving out.  We spent two nights at Wilson's Promontory ("the prom" as it called by the locals).  I would have happily spent 10 more.  What an amazing place!  Mountains, forests, grasslands, beaches, rivers, and loads of wildlife!

We had time our first night for a hike before it got dark.  We did a two hour hike from the campground along the coast to another nearby beach.  For a short while we even had a wallaby leading the way.  Every time we would take a step, he'd hop on down the trail.  Perhaps this would not be as much fun if you're from Australian, but animals that bounce are just so new and fascinating to us, especially seeing them in the wild!

The campground was decent.  It was rather crowded, but the sites were a decent size and the facilities included hot showers.  As it's autumn in Australia it got dark rather early, around 6 PM.  This left us plenty of time to cook in the evenings after the sun went down.  We don't cook much in Thailand (street food can feed us both for $2-3 per meal), so it's a treat to cook for ourselves once in a while.  We mostly stuck to our favorite recipes, but I decided to get creative for one night.  Lamb chops with a plum / mint / red wine reduction sauce turned out to be delicious.

Day 5
We had a full day available to explore Wilson's Prom, and explore we did.  We hiked a lot.  Three different hikes in total.

The first hike was to the worlds southern most mangrove forest at Millers Landing.  This also proved to be a superb bird watching site and we sat on a rock for quick a while just watching all the different water fowl.

From the mangrove forest we hiked directly up to the top of Vereker Overlook.

Our last hike was along the Darby River out to a beach where we enjoyed a picnic lunch.

Over the course of the three hikes we saw quite a bit of wild life.  Kangaroos, wallabies, all sorts of birds (including emus), jellyfish, and even a feral cat.

While all those animals were fun to see, the best animal spotting had to be the echidna. As some of you know, Mary's classroom name at the Australian International School of Bangkok is the echidna class.  While we hoped to see an echidna while in Australia, we did know they are quite rare.  Many Australians we know have never seen one, so we did not really expect to see one ourselves.

Mary spotted it first, screaming "AHHHH, WHAT IS IT, WHAT IS IT, WHAT IS IT" while jumping up and down and stumbling backward.  She then proudly turned around, and with a giant grin announced, "It's an echidna!"  A peculiar creature this was.  It looks like a cross between a porcupine and anteater.  And when it sits still, it looks just like a bush.

Day 6
Our last day with the van meant we had to drive back to Melbourne to drop off the van by 2PM.  After a delicious breakfast of English muffins topped with avocado, eggs,and smoked cheddar, we had time for one last short walk near the campground.

What an amazing trip.  We hope to be back someday to explore more of this amazing continent!

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