A Travellerspoint blog

A few thoughtful crumbs: Part 2

The final instalment in our 'Big Chunk' blog from our home in Sydney

overcast 12 °C

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If you're still reading our blog - thanks! Thanks especially if you made a comment on the blog or even just read it - ever.

We're home now. We've driven round a fair enough slice of our home country, the right hand half, in just over 3 months. See map here. These FAQs cover some of the main things we had to plan in case you have a crazy idea to do similar.

Q: How did we get so much time off?
A: Long service leave. Both Keith and I were due for it (10 years hard labour) so we applied. Most people take it a few weeks at a time or don't take it at all. The HR department struggled to process my leave application! We spoke to the kids' school teachers and acting principal about taking a term off school and they were fine about it. We picked a term when there wasn't a lot on at school (eg.no band camp) as well as when the weather should be mild (eg. no cyclones up north). Because it wasn't more than a certain number of days off school, we didn't have to home school. But the kids did have homework to do. The trip was like one big excursion - following in the paths of explorers, seeing the outback and the reef, witnessing first hand Australia's farms and mines and cities and towns, and meeting the people that lived there. Back home, Ali, our house sitter did a great job collecting mail, telling us which bills were due and keeping an eye on the place. Thanks Ali!

Q: How did we get around?
A: Mostly it was in our 2005 Holden Astra sedan with roofbox, pictured above. We travelled 16,269km and it clocked over 100,000km in the last part of the trip. We considered other transport options, eg buying or renting a campervan, buying a campertrailer, buying an old 4WD, but these turned out to be impractical. Towing is problematic on some roads and Keith has bad memories of his dad reversing caravans in small places. Campervans cost a lot and go slow. We don't have anywhere to keep a camper trailer at home. The 4WDs we could afford had too many kms on the clock and were a hassle to buy and sell. The Astra did a good job. It went on some dirt roads but most of our trip was on bitumen. The Stuart Highway from Adelaide to Darwin has been fully paved since 1987! Our fuel economy was 7.1 litres/100km - very economical compared to what you'd get from a 4WD, or campervan or towing a caravan. We spent $1820 on petrol for the whole trip. Other transport modes included: light plane, steam train, tram, camel, jet plane, cable car, car ferry, sea kayak, 4WD, coach, tour boat, our feet.


Q: How did we plan our itinerary?

A: In 3 months we couldn't go all the way round Oz and do it justice so we had to work out which bits to do and what to leave out. We chose to visit a mixture of places where we knew people, places we'd never visited, places Keith and I had visited and liked, and places we thought were significant. For example, we thought Lake Eyre was a must see at this time as it was filling up (a rare event) and easy to get to from outback SA. We didn't carry spare petrol so we had to travel where there were enough petrol stations/roadhouses etc. In the end, we missed out WA and Tassie. We used the HEMA Australian Road Atlas and other maps to work out the best routes to travel and distances between them. Google Map's 'Get Directions' feature gave us approx drive times, as did our GPS. Keith's leave was shorter than mine so the drives had to be shorter when I was the only driver.

Q: What accommodation did we stay in?
A: Mostly ensuite cabins in caravan parks. We joined Big4 caravan parks' club and that got us discounts in lots of parks. We also stayed with friends and family (thanks!), apartments, motels, hotels, resorts, youth hostels and camped (2 nights). Where possible we booked places that had a kitchen and separate bedrooms. But often parents and kids were in the same room. Prices ranged from $99/night to $350/night. Mostly it was in the $120-150/night range. For the first two weeks of the trip, we booked before we went as it was school holidays. After that we booked a day to a week ahead, sometimes by phone and sometimes online.

Q: What were our favourite places?
A: Too many amazing places to mention but, overall, Michael liked Coober Pedy (SA) because of the opals. Susie liked Melbourne (Vic) and visiting ACMI, the Australian Centre of the Moving Image at Federation Square. Keith liked Katherine (NT) because it was relaxed and tropical with interesting places nearby to visit. I liked Bitter Springs near Mataranka (NT) because of the red dragonfly that landed on my nose while I floated in the warm water with Susie.

Q: Worst place?
A: None of us liked Tennant Creek (NT). It felt unsafe. There were lots of people loitering on the streets, the shop windows had wire mesh on them and the motels advertised their accommodation as 'secure' which makes you worry. On our way back south down the Stuart Highway, we stopped at Banka Banka Station to avoid Tennant. Some places were more a stopping point than a place of interest but it was pretty easy travelling mostly.

Q: Did anything go wrong?
A; We lost a few things - an esky, some thongs, etc. But nothing big. I lost my purse then found it again, and my credit card and got that back. Car-wise, we got a flat tyre (when it didn't matter) and a windscreen chip. We got colds. The kids had nits alot of the time (very annoying). We had a few chuck-ups. We had fights and squabbles with each other sometimes - adults as well as kids. Is that too much information? Most of all we missed our friends. We phoned and texted and emailed and Skyped but it's not the same.

So, we're glad to be back even though it's freezing cold in Sydney. Our trip's been a fantastic family experience and one we're glad to have done at this time in our lives. We look forward to getting back to normal life a bit before we get bored and want to go away again . . .

Ready for joyflight over Kakadu. Co-pilot's seat. Fab views over the Arnhem Land escarpment!

Ready for joyflight over Kakadu. Co-pilot's seat. Fab views over the Arnhem Land escarpment!

Posted by kecasumi 18:05 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes wildlife family Comments (1)

Coffs and cold

The NSW Mid North Coast is usually for summer holidays

sunny 16 °C

Flynn's Beach at Port Macquarie. Surfing lessons are popular here in summer.

Flynn's Beach at Port Macquarie. Surfing lessons are popular here in summer.

Trust us to go there in winter, when half of Sydney has gone to the snow! Actually, going to the beach in winter is not bad, as we know from home.

There are good accommodation deals in the off-season. We're staying at a resort at Flynn's Beach in Port Macquarie for less than half the price we paid in January for the same place. Coffs Harbour had similar stand-by rates and it's school holidays. The ocean and air may be cold (16-17 degrees) but the resort's solar heated pool had 20 people in it yesterday afternoon, including Susie and Michael.

But it definitely is winter. At Coffs a few days ago Susie needed TWO wetsuits to swim with the dolphins at the Pet Porpoise Pool, a marine theme park. We only booked the 'Junior Dolphin Encounter' the day before. You couldn't do that in summer. Mind you, in summer, the water would be warmer!

Susie had a lovely time with Bella the dolphin. Bella's trainer Adam gave an info session on what's special about dolphins and showed Susie how to pat Bella, get her to do some 'behaviours' (they don't seem to like calling them 'tricks') and play ball. Susie liked the games best and Bella seemed happy to play.

Summer or winter, the Mid North Coast beaches are beautiful. We sat in the sun at the cafe just next to the sand at Flynn's Beach today and saw the waves roll in. Others were there reading the newspaper, catching up with friends, looking out for whales, watching the few brave surfers and just enjoying the day.

Port Macquarie is about 5 hours' drive north of Sydney. One more stopover and then we're home.

Bella the dolphin with her new friend, Susie. Photo: Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour.

Bella the dolphin with her new friend, Susie. Photo: Pet Porpoise Pool, Coffs Harbour.

Posted by kecasumi 17:55 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes beaches wildlife Comments (0)

A few thoughtful crumbs: Part 1

Last thoughts on our Big Chunk trip - what worked, what didn't and what we learnt

sunny 20 °C

Edwina, our GPS, was invaluable - but sometimes wrong

Edwina, our GPS, was invaluable - but sometimes wrong

We saw a variable message sign today near the soon-to-be-opened Ballina bypass on the Pacific Highway. It said: 'New roads. Ignore GPS. Follow traffic signs'. Edwina didn't have those roads on and yes, she would have got us lost.

Generally speaking though, Edwina has been $200 well spent. She's a middle-tier Tom Tom from Dick Smith and she's got us around lots of towns and cities we don't have maps for. She's given us ETAs so we can phone and say "Linda, we'll be there at 11:22am". She's found accommodation, petrol stations, swimming pools, and houses of friends and family - in the country and the city. When I was the only adult in the car, during the first few weeks and this last week, Edwina was sole navigator. Mount Gambier had her stumped. And she took us up a few closed roads and a few strange back routes. But she's been great. Go Eddie!

The big chunk of cookie has almost fully crumbled. So, what else, big and small, are we especially glad we had on our trip?
- a plastic table cloth, with foam backing, for all those dirty picnic tables we needed to eat off. Amazing how much bird poop there is out there.
- extra kitchen implements that accommodation places seldom supply - a sharp knife, a sharp potato peeler, a can opener, a microwave dish with lid
- mobiles and computers that were functional in remote places and also compact. Keith did a lot of homework on this before we left. We have an HP 10" netbook (see photo below), Next G dongle, cables galore, USB sticks, a gmail account, and a 'blue tick' cheapie mobile hooked up to the Telstra network.
- sleeping bags. These were bought with a mass of other camping gear in Adelaide. While we only camped two nights (we're wimps), the sleeping bags were used as extra blankets on nights when our accommodation didn't provide enough blankets and it was too late to ask.
- a travelling DVD player was useful when the accommodation didn't have a TV. It wasn't used in the car though as the kids worried they'd feel car sick.
- a selection of first aid things like pain killers, band-aids, cough medicine, antiseptic cream etc. In only the first few weeks, we used them all!

Things we shouldn't have bothered with:
- some items of clothing that just never got worn
- some books we thought we'd read and never did. Some games too.
- wet weather gear. We tended not to go out in wet weather and we were lucky in getting so little on our trip.

What did we wish we had?
- a 4WD. Just joking! We didn't need one for the roads we went on but the extra luggage room would have been nice.
- children who liked bushwalks. 'Do we have to do another walk?' was a common refrain and we really did few. Other people have told us that's normal!
- more patience. Things get a bit intense sometimes when it's just the 3 or 4 of you for days or weeks on end.
- more reliable information about places to stay and visit. Cutting through the gushy tourist brochure prose and working out what was really worth seeing was an art. There seem to be websites on which roadhouses are best to stay at.
- more CDs. Taylor Swift is surprisingly good but we all know her songs word-for-word now. More Katoomba Convention or bible talk CDs would be great. Bulk order next time!

Next crumb: Answers to a few FAQs about the trip. Please text or email any you have. Otherwise we'll make them up!

Michael using the IT solution of choice for our trip - cheap, compact, portable and functional

Michael using the IT solution of choice for our trip - cheap, compact, portable and functional

Posted by kecasumi 20:06 Archived in Australia Tagged gear equipment Comments (0)

Tails of whales

We're following humpback whales south in their annual migration

sunny 22 °C

Enjoying the winter sunshine and whale watching at Cape Byron. Mount Warning is in the distance.

Enjoying the winter sunshine and whale watching at Cape Byron. Mount Warning is in the distance.

Every year from July, pods of whales head south along the Queensland and NSW coasts. This year, we're joining them. Our first sightings were off Lady Elliot Island and now we're seeing them at Ballina and Byron.

Yesterday afternoon, with our friend Meg and her daughters, we saw whales frolicking off South Ballina beach. The whales were very close to the coast. We could see their tails clearly. And we saw dolphins too, both in the Richmond River mouth and off the beach. Some of them were surfing the waves at the beach and one jumped out of the water like it had career plans at Sea World.

Today, we saw whales off Cape Byron, mainland Australia's most easterly point and a well known spot in NSW to whale watch. At the Cape Byron lighthouse, a blackboard records 173 whales sighted since the southward migration began. We spotted some through binoculars - lots of people leaning over railings and going 'ooh' and 'did you see that?'.

The whales' southward migration follows their earlier trek north to breed. Hervey Bay (Qld) was gearing up for whale watching season when we were there. That's where whales give birth - where the ocean is warm. Many come back year after year and are given names. Humpbacks are baleen whales that filter krill through what look like palm fronds (baleens) in their huge mouths. Krill are tiny but there are lots of them in Antarctic waters which is why the whales feed there. We've seen whales offshore in past years from Bronte, Clovelly and Coogee. It's always exciting.

If we're sounding a bit like hippies, it's because we're living in the treetops. Our Byron Bay accommodation has views over the trees to Tallow Beach. Also, we've just stayed a night with friends Meg and Doug and family in the beautiful rolling green hills near Ballina. The kids picked oranges there to make juice, then fed the rind to the cows - true recycling. Before we turned into hippies, we dossed down with Keith's sister and brother-in-law in Woolloongabba in inner-city Brisbane, where you can walk to everything - footy games, restaurants, parks, transport etc. So, thanks to people's hospitality, we're sampling different styles of living.

Soon we'll be home and back to our usual way of living in suburban Sydney. But it's been a privilege seeing friends and family and exploring their various Australian habitats.

Inner-city walks with Aunty Jenny and Uncle Greg. Kangaroo Point is a popular spot for abseiling or getting wedding photos taken, usually not at the same time!

Inner-city walks with Aunty Jenny and Uncle Greg. Kangaroo Point is a popular spot for abseiling or getting wedding photos taken, usually not at the same time!

Posted by kecasumi 08:34 Archived in Australia Tagged trees animals wildlife family Comments (1)

Where is 'bum crack rock'?

Exploring the geological features of Keith's old home town

semi-overcast 12 °C

Granite boulders in Stanthorpe. One of these must be it.

Granite boulders in Stanthorpe. One of these must be it.

Near Keith's childhood home in Stanthorpe, in Queensland's Granite Belt, was a rock known to himself and his siblings as 'bum crack rock'. It was in a group of boulders next to a Scout Hall and we were determined to find it. When we checked a few years back, we couldn't see it. But today, after a bit of searching, we declared victory. 'Bum crack rock' was found!

The Granite Belt is a picturesque region near the border of NSW and Queensland, in the Great Dividing Range. It is a fruit growing area and also famous (in Queensland anyway ;-) for its wines. Keith has memories of the cold weather. It's the coldest part of Queensland. As a kid, he used to put his shoes in the wood stove to heat up before he put them on for school. Once he left them too long and the smell of burning shoe leather filled the house. Can't do that with reverse cycle air conditioning!

Despite the cold and occasional rain showers, and complaints from the kids, we did a short walk in Girraween National Park. We clambered over granite outcrops and found a spot by a flowing creek to eat our picnic lunch. The sun shone for a little while. Then the rain returned and forced us back to the car. Never mind. As I type this, the fire pit at Keith's mum's yard has a fire in it. Michael and Grannat got it going. We look forward to toasting marshmallows in the embers later on. Yum!

Posted by kecasumi 15:50 Archived in Australia Tagged landscapes mountains Comments (0)

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