25 February 2017 - Eastern Australia - Road Trip Part 1
For the past ten days, we’ve been touring around the Eastern part of Australia - and as we believed - its a very big country. Since leaving Brisbane, we first stopped in Coff’s Harbour to spend the night, again visiting with our cruising friends Jeff and Tracey. We had a few beers and a cheap dinner at a pub called “Hoey Moey”, where we met up with Norm Facey from SV Dreamcatcher. From Coff’s Harbour, we drove further South along the coast and stayed overnight at Newcastle. This was a very nice mid-sized city, one with a really good harbour entrance and downtown area.
I’d certainly recommend Newcastle as a cruising destination. We spent a few hours visiting Fort Scratchley, where we learned quite a bit about Australian and Newcastle history, particularly through WWII. We learned that Newcastle’s origins started with coal mining and exports back in the 1800’s.
Then, we drove further South to Sydney, where we stayed for 4 nights. We only planned to stay there for 2 nights, but we had an air conditioning failure with our car - pretty dramatic when the daytime temperature is 39-42C. On day one, we foolishly drove the car downtown. This was a big mistake. The parking was $75, for about 7 hours. Then, it took over 2 hours just to drive about 1.5 km to exit the downtown core. This was another big mistake. On the bright side, we had a great downtown walking tour, where we saw most of the sights, including the landmark Sydney Opera House.
We learned that in the beginning, the Sydney street surface was wood. Here there is a bit surviving to this date.
Late in the afternoon, there was a lot of rain for about an hour, and some local aborigines were busking at the harbour front with a didgeridoo and this guy was dancing about. It was all pretty cool.
I saw these external sprinklers on a building and thought that was unusual.
In a park downtown, this guy was busking by making huge water bubbles, but he wasn’t getting much money.
At the end of the day, we were treated to dinner by our friends Christopher and Christine (C2) (SV Scintilla) who were staying at the D’Albora Spit Marina at Mosman Spit.
The next day, we wisely took the Sydney public transit system (using an Opal Card), parking at a shopping mall where it ONLY cost $ 35 for about 7 hours. We took a bus tour of Sydney, learning even more about its history, particularly the importance of the name MacQuarrie. We stopped at the famous Bondi Beach for about 30 minutes.
The next day, again, we wisely used the Sydney transit system, this time heading West to the Blue Mountains, a very popular vacation and tourist spot. The train ride was about 1.5 hours, after driving 30 minutes to a train station where we parked for FREE. Wow, we had spectacular views on that train ride - it was a harbinger of things to come. At Katoomba, we took the Explorer Bus, a hop on hop off bus, that allowed us the opportunity to visit most of the sites, and nearly all of the hikes - especially the hikes.
This is a photo of the well known “Three Sisters” rock feature.
I snuck up on this gecko.
I lined up a garage appointment for the morning of our departure, ensuring that it was functioning well for the next leg of our trip. After getting the refrigerant gas topped up, it worked well, even in the hottest times.
After leaving Sydney, we drove West to Bathurst, where we visited the Australian Fossil and Mineral Museum - it was a real treat and good value. The collection of gems and fossils was better than anything I’ve ever seen before.
This is a photo I took of one of their exhibits, a gecko that was preserved in amber millions of years ago. Shades of “Jurrasic Park”.
Continuing our drive West, we were always “on the lookout” for kangaroos crossing the road. It is a real risk at duck and dawn.
The scenery changed from mountainous to steppe, and was quite apparently very arid as well. In my opinion, it started to resemble the dry rolling hills of Alberta. A major difference though were the dead kangaroos on the side of the road. Apparently, hitting a kangaroo with your car is a common problem for Aussies. The animals can be quite “bottom-heavy” and damaging to your car, although I would argue that hitting a Canadian moose is quite a bit more damaging. Nonetheless, we tried to avoid driving in the early morning and at dusk to minimize the risk.
This SUV is typical for the lesser travelled roads in the Australian Western Plain. Note the “snorkel” air breather, which is designed to help in fording flooded rivers, or flooded plains - and when it rains, these plains FLOOD. Although Jeff told me that he has driven vehicles like this all his life and never had one with a snorkel. In his opinion, once the water level is above the wheels, you start to lose traction and the vehicle starts to float. Note also the big bumper and bright lights.
Another thing we noticed as we drove away from the coast and the major urban centres was the distinct lack of the hordes of Chinese tourists we saw in the major cities like Sydney and Brisbane. Evidently, they don’t like all-day-long bus rides to remote towns.
We stopped at Cowra overnight, where we visited the Japanese Gardens, Japanese POW cemetery and ruins of the former Japanese POW camp. Like Canada and the USA, Australia interned many Japanese citizens, nearly all civilians, mostly out of fear - during WWII. These people were confined to a “camp” which later became populated with genuine Japanese and Italian POWs, ie soldiers. The UK had asked Australia to secure over 25,000 Italian POWs, many of whom were not returned to Italy until late in 1947 due to shipping limitations.
Driving NW from Cowra, we stopped for a few hours at the site of the former Wellington Phosphate mine - closed since 1918. The Phosphate Mine is located at the Wellington Caves Holiday Complex. The mine dates back to 1914, with 6000 tons of phosphate mined during its four years of operation. Phosphate is still used worldwide as a fertilizer and is a component of dynamite. It is written that Charles Darwin became interested in the discovery of fossils in this area, and it was influential on his thoughts on evolution.
The phosphate is found in the sedimentary layer, formed by bat guano - millions of years ago. In this photo, phosphate is evident as the white strip, just below the caramel and white coloured quartz.
Continuing on from Wellington, we drove NW to Dubbo (pronounced Dubb-Oh) on the Western Plain, West of the East coast and still not yet in the “outback”. On the secondary roads, we saw more and more kangaroo carcasses on the side of the road (at least one per kilometre), and yet the road was lined with fencing - evidently inadequate to keep the kangaroos from getting on the road. Occasionally, we saw kangaroos off in the distance, and a few times next to the road, but this was normally only early in the morning or late in the afternoon - due to the heat.
In the morning, we visited the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, home to hundreds of animals from around the world, with a 6-9 km circuit that meanders through natural bushland and around large open style exhibits. In the late 1960s, plans to develop a large plains zoo to complement Sydney’s Taronga Zoo were established and this zoo was opened in 1977. It was established as an open-range design, with walls and fences replaced by concealed moats dividing the animals from the visitors. This creates the impression of actually being with the animals in the wild. I believe that this zoo was by far the best zoo I’ve ever visited. In 1994, Western Plains Zoo was awarded as the Best Major Tourist Attraction, the highest honour in Australian Tourism - and it certainly deserved it
These photos are of elephants, eland, meerkats, rhino and zebras.
In the afternoon, we visited the Old Dubbo Gaol. This remarkably complete and intact gaol operated for 119 years from 1847 to 1966 and is still nestled in downtown Dubbo.
This regional gaol is representative of powerful, surprising and dark moments in Australian prison history. The gaol houses important collections such as the hangman’s kit and gallows, and provides unique experiences such as the dark cells and the bird’s-eye view from the watchtower.
This interesting feature in the wall was described as the “Watchman’s Telltale”.
After visiting Dubbo, we continued NW to our first stop in the Australian Outback - Lightning Ridge. This was a small, frontier type town really - in the middle of nowhere. The view on the road side was admittedly unspectacular, outback scrub.
All the rivers were dried up, and the last rainfall was more than a year ago. However, every few years, it rains for weeks at a time. The rivers fill up, and the plains and roads flood, stranding many communities for weeks at a time. This is just one photo of many dried up river beds.
We took a self guided tour through the Opal Mine Adventure in Lightning Ridge. Black Opals are uniquely found in Lightning Ridge Australia and we found the tour quite interesting. Both Henry and I hit our heads on the ceiling many times.
The water found in the Lightning Ridge bore baths comes from the Great Artesian Basin (below ground) and is approximately two million years old. Natural pressure sends the water to the surface through an artesian bore and it maintains a constant temperature of 41.5C degrees. The Lightning Ridge open air (and FREE) Artesian Baths were first opened in 1962 and are open 24 hours a day 7 days a week - were found just 250m from our cabin at the Opal Caravan Park.
On Day 10, we drove back to Brisbane, and along the roadside again saw lots of kangaroo (mostly road-kill) and wild emu. Now we’re taking a pause for two days, to rest, refresh and regroup - before continuing on North along the coast to experience the Great Barrier Reef.
To see previous log entries, just use the tabs at the top of this page.
Countries Visited So Far with our boat, and detailed on these pages:
(Departed Canada: May 2009) (31 countries by boat so far)
Antigua: May 2011
Australia: just arrived, 27 November 2016
Bermuda: June - August 2009
Bonaire: February - April 2014
Bahamas: December 2009 - March 2010, December 2010 - February 2011
Barbados: March 2012
British Virgin Islands: May 2011
Colombia: October 2014 - December 2014
Cuba: March - May 2010
Curaçao: May 2014 - September 2014
Dominica: May 2011, April 2013
Dominican Republic: March - April 2011
Fiji: September/October 2015
French Polynesia (Marquesas, Tuamotos, Tahiti and the Society Islands): April-July 2015
Galapagos: March 2015
Grenada: June-November 2011
Guadeloupe: March 2013
Martinique: March 2012, March 2013
New Zealand: November 2015 - November 2016
Niue: July/August 2015
Panama: December 2014 (San Blas Islands), (Portobello and Canal) January/February 2015
Puerto Rico: April 2011
St Lucia: May-June 2011, December 2011 - February 2012, December 2012 - February 2013
St Martin /Netherlands Antilles: May 2011
St Vincent and the Grenadines: June 2011, February 2012, December 2012, April-May 2013
Tobago: March-May 2012
Tonga: August 2015
Trinidad: May - December 2012, June - November 2013
USA: August - November 2009, June - November 2010
US Virgin Islands: May 2011
Venezuela: November 2013 - February 2014
Before we went cruising, we also "had a life" and did our fair share of visiting (or living in) other countries.
We've also been to a few other countries, but just not with our boat. (36 countries so far)
Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Bosnia Herzogevinia, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Gibraltar,
Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway,
Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland), Vatican City.