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Travels in Australia

The west coast of SA is a series of increasingly smaller and less comfortable townships.

The first stop after Ceduna is Penong. We always play a car game of shouting “windmill!!” whenever we see one, so arriving at the windmill museum is hilarious.

First overnighter is at the Nullarbor road house. Americans would call this a “truck stop”. This one is windier, with aussie beer and more pies. The sunrise is fantastic.

Sunrise

Stocking up on fresh food at Ceduna was a mistake, as biosecurity rules mean we have to ditch it before the WA border. D1 complains that there are actually some trees in the Nullarbor (but not many).

The cliffs of the Great Australian Bight live up to expectations. This is true wilderness.

Cliffs

The WA border crossing requires silly amounts of COVID paperwork, which thankfully we have done in advance. We set our clocks back 45 minutes for the semi-official Eucla timezone.

We alternate between driving west in a straight line for hours, fueling up, and staying at bush camps. Madura Pass has great views over the plain. The Fraser Ranges has rockholes and a lightning storm.

Out the other side of the plain. Now we are in mulga forest and mining country.

We track the west coast of South Australia, waiting for the WA border to open.

First the Yorke peninsula. The inland towns are small, sleepy and agricultural. We head down to the toe of the “boot”, to Marion Bay and the Pondalowie national park. There is lots of wildlife to encounter. Eleven emus walking down the road. A Peninsula Black Snake walks through our camp a couple of times, but doesn't seem too stressed. Another snorkel session with D2 brings us more rays to see.

Emus

Netx, up the west coast via Wallaroo, which is a Cornish tin mining town. Lots of history, but no mining now. Onwards through Port Augusta, which seems to be thriving, and hit the road to the Eyre peninsula. We are into some desert country now. The first leg takes us to Kimba, which has the best free, council run, overnighter camp site we have seen yet.

We decide to take back roads to the coast. Many are closed due to recent floods. After several diversions we get lunch at Darke Peak, which has a pub seemingly unchanged since the 1930s. The veal schnitty with mushroom sauce is great.

Tumby Bay is another small cute coastal town. More snorkeling on the jetty with D2. The local historical museum seems to collect entire deceased estates and business closure sales. The staff let us play music from a waxed cylinder, and operate the original town phone switchboard.

Tumby Bay

Another national parks campsite at Coffin Bay. I get the first scuba session of the trip. The shore dives are shallow, but with lots to see: nudibranchs, blue swimmer crabs, octopi. Once out of the water, I go to buy some local oysters. Outside the cafe is a 24 hour oyster vending machine! It talks to me in German for some reason. The oysters are delicious.

Oyster vending machine

Good news everyone! The WA border is now open! Ceduna is our last stop before crossing the Nullarbor. It definitely feels like a frontier town. We are recommended to take our time across the plain, so we stock up for a week.

Our plans to head for the West Australia border for 5th February are thrown into disarray, as their state government gets the mother of all COVID anxiety attacks, and postpones the grand reopening. What to do?

Heading north to the red centre is not wise this early in the year, due to recent floods and ever present risk of extreme heat. We don't want to backtrack to Victoria. D1 suggests we kill more time in SA, and that we should check out Kangaroo Island.

The ferry is a tight fit for our ute and camper trailer, but the crew are experts at guiding us on.

Lyra ferry

The road out to Flinders Chase National Park feels like real wilderness for the first time in this trip. We are here to see the sea lion colony. A parks guide takes us right down to the beach, where adult sea lions rest after days spent fish hunting, and juveniles await their parents' return.

Sea Lions

Other highlights are snorkeling on the north coast, lighthouse tours, elephant rocks, and watching the sunset from the pub verrandah.

The week flies by, and all too soon we are rushing to get back on the ferry at 6am. Luckily our campsite is right near the ferry terminal. Now onwards to Adelaide, and hope that WA reopens.

When I moved to Australia in 2005, we travelled the east coast, from the Daintree to Adelaide. A favourite location was the Coorong National Park. We stay at the very same campsite, a short walk or a sandy drive across the dunes, leading to a log wild empty beach. Dolphins join us for a swim.

beach

D2 had never seem Storm Boy so this seems like an appropriate time to watch it. There are tears when Mr Percival dies.

Onwards to Goolwa, Port Eliot and Victor Harbor. We go for a sail in my uncle's boat, up to the mouth of the mighty Murray river. The caravan centre in Goolwa does some work on our trailer brakes, with no notice. Regional mechanics seem much easier to deal with than metro ones. For entertainment, we check out our friend's blues band. Sadly no dancing in SA, so sit-down jiving only.

We make it into SA! Four states and territories down, three more to do. (No Tasmania on this trip. We went there a few years ago, and it's great. But we can't do everywhere, and the ferry with a trailer is expensive).

SA seems to be noticeably more scared of COVID than other states. Maybe a NSW number plate is making people jumpy? I guess NSW and VIC have just learned to live with it better.

Just outside Mount Gambier, we have a whole paddock to camp in all to ourselves. This is our first booking through HipCamp. We've found most sites they list to be too hip for us. We like it cheap and cheerful, and this is certainly cheap! A longdrop toilet would be nice, but it will do.

Mount Gambier is dominated by the Blue Lake, which is looking fabulous. The highlight of the trip so far is snorkeling in the freshwater limestone sinkholes at Ewans Ponds.

As we leave town, the side of the Blue Lake hill is on fire. So far on this trip we have narrowly missed several crazy environmental events (hail, storms, floods, fires).

Victoria is a bit of a blur. Deliberately so. We want to focus on heading west to SA and WA, and avoid getting COVID in the meantime.

After a pleasant overnighter by the Avon river in Gippsland, we head to Warburton, to catch up with an old colleague of T's from her NT years. Warburton has the same feel of hill station towns the world over. Steep windy streets following the valley, with a central strip of shops and facilities, and fabulous views from surrounding walks. Apparently the Adventists used to run everything, but have now upped stumps. Their old hospital is for sale if you happen to need one.

We blast through Melbourne, only stopping for roadworks. Like Sydney, it will be a nice town once it's finished.

Ballarat is known as the birthplace of Australian democracy. We visit the Eureka exhibition, to see the Flag. The display is excellent, but the supporting interpretation glosses over three tricky issues: The rebels at the stockade specifically excluded Chinese diggers from their concept of “rights”, foreshadowing the White Australia policy. Democracy didn't apply to aboriginal people until 1967; like the Chinese they barely get a mention in the exhibition. Finally, the flag has been coopted by extreme right wing groups; this should be reminder that when left wing politics fails to address the needs and fears of working people, how easy things can swing to the hard right via the use of attractive symbols.

T and the girls visit Sovereign Hill which they loved. I find it a bit cheesy, so do some shopping instead. Then we catch up with a couple of friends whom we have been aching to see for a long time. Lemons!!!!!!!

Our friends in Cobargo had their house wiped out in the 2020 bush fires, and are rebuilding. We camp just downhill from the construction site; D2 gets to stay in the yurt which mirraculously survived the fire.

This is a good chance to dry out after the rains in the Snowys, and fix some niggles with the camper. Sadly my first attempt to go diving is cancelled due to high winds.

D2 gets her first COVID jab; we are now all up to date. No tears, and no side effects.

If you're a resident of NSW, you probably know that the south coast has a string of beautiful little towns with great beaches and seafood. We make good use of both. If you aren't, then nothing to see here, please move on, thanks.

The Cobargo pub is a good place to see friends & eat pizza. We only make third in the pub quiz, but we do win the bonus prize.

Australia has about 1,700 small towns and they all seem to be different in their own way.

We stop in Nimmitabel for a few days on our way to the coast, because it has a cheap council run camp site. This turns out to have a friendly caretaker, a couple of colourful long term residents, and great showers. They can't stop the rain though; luckily we have a hard floor camper and D1's new tent is waterproof, so we cope with a little mud.

There are a few more characters at the bowlo and the pub, both of which are low on custom, due to bushfires & covid. I hope they bounce back.

Nimmitabel has a famous mill, hand built by a German immigrant in the 1860s, who was then refused permission to operate in case it scared the horses on the highway. The politics of this are lost to time, but it smells to me like a competing miller had some friends on the council, and got him shut down. More modern mill products are available at the local bakery, which is top class, 5-stars, would pie again.

Some other campers don't like Nimmitabel as much as we do. A late arriving family with a broken ute are overheard saying “We're stuck in Schitts Creek!”

Lake Jindabyne is currently at very high levels, leading to flooding at the somewhat overpriced caravan park we have booked. We are shunted onto a very small site, and it rains some more. Other facilities are closed to Covid.

D1 celebrates her birthday. We go for a meal in Jindabyne, coincidentally at the home of Kosciuszko beer. A major rainfall washes rocks across the road on the drive back to camp. The camper is a little damp, and will require some additional waterproofing.

The next day has better weather forecast, so we aim to climb Mount Kosciuszko, the highest peak in mainland Australia. The path is very busy, but well mantained, everyone is having a good day. D2 got to ride on a ski lift for the first time, and made it to the top!

D2 on Mt K

Note: The Polish pronunciation problem is also a problem in New York apparently.