UP VICTORIA

Trip Start Sep 03, 2002
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Trip End Sep 27, 2003


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Monday, April 14, 2003

And onwards, ever onwards to Victoria. To be honest the next few weeks were very pleasant but still sadly lacking in near death experiences (and as for cultural interaction, remember this is Australia......). So enjoy the edited highlights.

Great Ocean Road: whilst the coast is stunning (though inevitably not living up to the ridiculous hype) the little towns along the way all pretty drab - even though some of these are the latest 'hot' property spots for Melbournians!

Melbourne: errr - well it's better looking than Sydney. Here we really started to notice the great Australian work ethic (GAWE) in play - city centre stores closing at midday on Saturday, and as for Sunday opening.......

GP: Mandy most happy (huge understatement) to pick up the Grand Prix tickets at Poste Restante. We duly attanded pre-qualifying, qualifying and the race. However our weather karma was still operating - torrential rain before the race was the first time it had rained at the Melbourne GP. Also the last time Nick went to a GP, Schuey crashed and broke his leg. This time despite starting on pole he had a mare - is there a connection? Seriously a great day out - huge thanks to DT for sorting out the tickets and Mandy is really sorry for not displaying more team loyalty, but covering herself in Ferrari merchandising (and what a bargain all that stuff was....not!). Despite her hero not winning, Mandy moved faster than Nick thought possible after the race to get onto the track and to get up close to the pits with all the great unwashed.

Grampians (mountains NW of Melbourne): fab scenery at Halls Gap. Nice campsite with lots of roos and wallabies hopping around. Great bush walks, particularly up to Mt Rosea where we hardly saw another soul all day.

Goldfields wineries: worth a mention as a contrast to Barossa. Lots of 'boutique' or hobby vineyards, with prices to match (AUD45 a bottle at the cellar door - the wine was good, but not that good)

Echuca: charming little town on the Murray river with loads of restaurants - most of which seem permanently booked out for their one sitting of an evening (see GAWE above)

Mansfield: went to go horse trekking in the Victorian high country, however a lot of the operators seem to have closed down due to problems getting liability cover. Watsons Trail Rides gave a very pleasant (if not gripping) ride around their property. Highlight was seeing the hill where they filmed the famous downhill gallop for the 'Man from Snowy River' movie. Mandy was most distressed when she wasn't allowed to repeat the exercise.

Bright: More Victorian high country - stunning views but due to all the bush fire damage the hiking trails up to Mt Kosciusko, Feathertop, etc all closed.

Blue Mountains: after a month in the van we had a couple of days luxury at Echoes boutique hotel in Katoomba in NSW (owned by a bloke from Watford). More great veiws and amazing to think its only an hours train ride from Sydney.

Cessnock Annual Rodeo (where????): pulling up at a campsite near the Hunter Valley, we saw there was a rodeo on at the adjoining showground. Mandy had her Akubra and RM Williams gear on in a flash and was straight down to the rails, tinny in hand. Excellent entertainment with lots of Bronc and Bull riding and barrel racing. Something we haven't seen before was 'junior' bull riding: U13s boys (and girls) riding calves, U16s riding steers. You can just imagine how this would go down in the UK.....

- What did you do in games today Johnny?
- Well they got a baby bull, put some rope against its bllx, then let me ride him until he sent me flying.

Highlight of the show was the bull they called the 'Flying Doctor' - he spins you so fast 'he nearly puts the cowboy in China'. He was one bad assed bull and that cowboy never had a chance of making it to the buzzer....Mandy was in ecstacy for the whole show and has now perfected her rodeo show patter (guess that might come in handy if we run out of money in Canada).

Hunter Valley: lots of nice wines and much more commercialised cellar doors than Barossa. As well as the big producers quite a few boutique operations, but with prices to match (see above).


And so to the Beach

Places:

We hit the coast near Newcastle and headed north into Queensland. A lot of the development we saw along the coast was unpleasant to hideous, generally getting worse as we got closer to the Gold Coast. It's made worse by the fact its all squeezed along the main highway - its hard to be attractive when there is a motorway running through the centre of town. However go a few kms inland and everything improves dramatically. Despite the developments, the beaches themselves were fantatstic - clean sand and lovely blue water. Most of the places we stayed on the way up were fairly unremarkable, however the following are worth a mention.

Emerald Beach (NSW): great little surf beach and campsite north of Coffs Harbour.

Byron Bay (NSW): lovely little town, great bars, restaurants, beach, etc etc. Really nice vibe. This is probably THE BEST PLACE WE HAVE STAYED IN AUSTRALIA. We spent three days just chillin - excellent.

Brisbane: we had to spend a day whilst a problem with the camper was getting fixed. Very pleasant small city - not a bad lifestyle destination.

Noosa: Great restaurants, nice beach but v v v expensive (if you are a poor Noosa surf bum you drive a Boxter rather than a 911).

Hervey Bay: jumping off point for Fraser Island. Despite getting dissed by LP, not a bad place. And great colonies of bats mustering at sunset.....

Tin Can Bay: crumby campsite but you do get to feed a wild dolphin if you get up early enough - needless to say with Mandy's enthusiasm for anything cute and cuddly (apart from her husband) a lie-in was not an option that day.

Fraser Island: cheesy, but it had to be done. This is a huge sand island, formed from the eroded sandstone mountains of the Great Dividing Range. We had the option of self drive - but as this would involve sharing a Land Cruiser with four others of totally untested driving abilities, we decided to take the Guided Tour (www.kingfisherbay.com). We had a couple of days in the company of Ranger Mark and a couple of dozen other folks. Definitely a trip where a guide was an advantage - if you didn't know what you were looking at there wasn't really much point in being on the Island. Mark's commentary was excellent, though his taste in music (Cat Stevens, etc) caused howls of protest from some of the children on the bus. Highlight was seeing a lot of pure bred dingos in the wild - isolation has prevented domestic dogs corrupting the bloodlines.

Finally seeing some of the driving from the hire 4WDs made us really happy to have chosen the guided option. Fraser Island was OK (ish) - but definitely a once only experience - unless of course you have a serious sand fetish.


Activities:

As you can tell, apart from a bit of beach, not a huge amount on the activity stakes.

We did rouse ourselves to spend a day on a sea kayaking course run by Splash Safaris (www.seakayakingtours.com). An excellent day where we learnt how to do rescues, different paddling strokes, how to enter/exit surf, wave broaching, etc. Only disappointment was that despite a couple of hours practising (and a load of bruises) we didn't quite get the eskimo rolls perfected. Great fun and brilliant value at AUD125 each.

Steve Irwins Zoo (the croc wrestling nut). Nick HATES zoos, but this place was OK - very clean and beautifully laid out. As well as the crocs, there were alligators, otters, lots of really dangerous snakes, some really big pythons (nothing Mandy's not used to then), dingos, etc. Unlike most zoos the animals were all in beautiful condition - even the camels. Still not sure about the whole zoo concept, but following the "conservation and education" argument, this place is definitely several leagues ahead of somewhere like London Zoo in providing an acceptable environment. And at the end of the day, I only ever want to be that close to a 5m croc if there are a couple of rows of steel railings between us!

We also stayed at Myella Farm (www.users.bigpond.com/myella/) - a very well organised Farmstay where you get the chance to get really involved with the animals (Nick is still distressed that none of them ever write back.....). Whilst the farm isn't large by local standards (only 2500 acres) its really set up for full punter participation. First activity was learning how to ride the trail bikes. Despite many attempts to slope off back to the kitchen, Mandy was first out onto the test track and the first to collect her 'Myella licence' - and soon racing off into the sunset in a cloud of dust. Well chuffed!!.

Each day started with mustering the horses on trail bikes, feeding and tacking up the horses then going out on a three to four hour ride over the property. During the rides, as well as a bit of jumping and cantering, we had to muster and count cattle and collect in steers which had strayed into different paddocks. It was great to be able to go cantering across fields and not have to stick to trails or to the horse in front. Mandy was a natural at cattle control - she attributed this to her years at CBHP.

In the afternoons we had lessons in lasooing and how to crack a stock whip - yet more items for the bedroom shopping list. It wasn't all fun - there was also work to be done feeding the calves, collecting eggs, milking cows, etc. However Mandy focussed on feeding the orphaned baby roos and wallabies that the farm takes in (usually 'cos the mother has been hit by a car or truck). I'm not saying she was smitten but she was thoroughly searched when she left to make sure she wasn't trying to take any of the babies with her.

All in all an excellent place to stay - and considering that after the first day it was only AUD70 each per day for three meals, accommodation and half a days great riding, plus motorbikes, etc to play on, astoundingly good value.


Phew..well that's it for now. Sorry for the abscence of near death events, but hopefully now we are up in the land of the really nasty snakes and diving with salties, sharks and stingers things will be a bit more exciting in the next update.....
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