Discovering DownUnder

We are here on Ariel in the Brisbane River getting our fill of city life in one of Australia's  most beautiful cities. The architects wanted to give it a feeling of being outside while under roof. That is why all the arbors with flowers and even an 80 meter long swimming pool with a white sandy beach!! Besides we could not find a better place at such a great price of only $50Aud a week for liveaboards!


Once we had Ariel tied firmly up to the pile moorings off the Botanical Gardens in the Brisbane River, we headed back up to Mooloolaba to pick up the 1992 Toyota Camry 'Djarrkamobile' which we purchased from Sarah and GB (s/v Djarrka) along with a few camping items. We set off April 1st heading south to meet up with s/v 'Manana' at a camp ground in Glenn Innes. At night we almost froze to death! But for the next two months, with new warmer bags, we had the best time and stayed nice and warm and dry with rain only three times at night in the 2 months. We found the Australian caravan parks very posh for the most part, some with swimming pools, some hot tubs, one with a grand buffet and one where all the campers gathered around a campfire to sing Australian songs. It seems to be the Australians favorite way to see the country.... or just a get away for the weekend. Prices for us ranged from $15Aud to $25Aud a night. (80cent US = $1.00Aud) For a few dollars more you can pitch your tent in front of a little cottage with private toilet and shower called an en-suite.
Our route took us as high as Mt. Kosciuszko, as far south as Edan on the south east coast and as far inland as Lightening Ridge the black opal fields, a two day drive west of Brisbane. We stayed mainly in New South Wales, Queensland and stopped at the capitol territory of Canberra. We traveled over 6000km. Because we are traveling in the months of April and May, the plan was to head south as fast as possible with fall coming on then work our way north as winter sets in. Our first week was spent "boat sitting' aboard the 37foot Caviler 'New Horizons' in Sydney. We did all the sites and the Taronga Park Zoo to see the Komoto Dragon. It was a great week ending with a visit to an old friends apartment directly across from the ferry terminals with a view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House. Once the owners of the boat returned we went on a cruise in Sydney harbor and under the Bridge.... our week was complete!
From Sydney we followed my old bicycle inland route that I had done in 1987. Taking back roads we passed through the old town of Bundadoon and on to Canberra. We enjoyed the fall leaves changing color and nights listening to live jazz as well as visiting all the govt. buildings. At the new Parliament House I got caught with pepper spray and Swiss Army knife in my purse that caused a bit of a stir. All ended in a lot of laughs and the return of my knife but with a warning that pepper spray is NOT allowed into Aust. Just outside of Canberra is the Deep Space Communication Center that was depicted in the movie 'The Dish' . It is true story about the Australians communicating with the astronauts on the first moon landing. It is also funny but not as funny as watching it on the laptop in the tent, plugged into the power at a campsite!!!!
Jindabyne and the Snowline Caravan Park was our next stop just outside Mt. Kosciuszko, Australia's highest mountain. We camped in piles of yellow fallen leaves and soaked in the hot tubs, basked in the hot sauna then cooked our meal in the warm inside camp kitchen. Next day we climbed to the top of Mt. Kosiuszko in 70-100 km winds with gusts up to 200km. I think it might have been easier bicycling to the top but we made it to the top only to have our cell phone come into range. It was our friends on s/v Zephyr. They had just come into Edan on the NSW south east coast after a horrific time crossing the Bass Straights. Next day we were off through the ski town of Thredbo where we heard the ski lifts were closed to hikers because of the high winds. This town is what Vail and Telluride must have been like years ago, beautiful and quaint!! Stopped for a look at the Snowy Mountain Scheme the hydroelectric harnessing of power that supplies all the major towns in Australia except Darwin and Perth. Fascinating!!
Next stop was Edan to give moral support to our fellow cruisers. s/v Zephyr was fine but their friends on s/v Balvenie had popped their transducer in high seas, winds up to 45kn on the nose at night with a countercurrent in the Bass Straights. They found the fountain of water that was rapidly filling their boat with freezing water and got it under control. They both made it into Edan safely. It had taken them 6 months for their journey sailing south to Tasmania and then only cruised the east coast. Waiting for weather windows to return however was not good but they were glad they had done it. It was then we decided we will be happy to go to Tassi by car/ferry end of the year. In Ben Boyd Park we went hiking along the coast where whales migrate north in Oct. & Nov. and south in May and June. We missed the whales but did not miss the Edan Killer Whale museum the best we had ever seen!
We headed north up the Sapphire Coast Hwy to Narooma and just inland from there we discovered the tiny town of Tilba Tilba. Now, here,just inland from the sea we noticed the beginning of some incredible countryside. There were miles of rolling green hills with little ponds in between and narrow but nice roads. Tilba Tilba has a one lane road with little shops full of articles from all over the world as well as local crafts and a cheese factory. The cheese is out of this world! On weekends many of the small towns have markets of fruit and vegetables as well as crafts which we always stopped at for a taste of local atmosphere. It was fun!
We passed by some of the bigger towns as we went back along the coast at Bateman's Bay. Local sailors tell us this bay is hard to come into by boat due to the shoals at the entrance. We only saw one other cruiser we knew once we left Sydney. It is a long way down with few good stops... but a fascinating area inland. Another text message here (thank goodness for cell phones) found us not far from Ulladulla the next good port up from Edan and our friends on s/v 'New Horizons' now heading home to Melbourne. Well, a few die hards were still out there! We camped just north of Ulladulla for two days to visit with them and realized that the Bendalong Point Tourist Park we were in, was the best place in Australia to feed stingrays. When the fishermen come in to clean their catch you can actually touch the rays as they come right up in the shallow water almost onto the beach. Amazing!!
Zig zagging back inland from the sea once again we stopped at one of the many winery's for wine tasting. One good one was Coolangatta Estates once one of the old convict camps. It was very posh and you could even stay in some of the buildings that housed the prisoners. But we continued on to Kangaroo Valley were the population is only 300! Again the old houses were now antique shops and galleries. One had the most beautiful huge wooden rocking horses and another pottery of funny faces both very unique. It is also the home of Australia's oldest suspension bridge. In this same area is Morton National Park with some great walks with beautiful Fitzroy Falls and views of the Yarrunga ranges which looked so very remote yet we are only a short distance from the coast and the populous areas.
We must always keep in mind that Australia, a country the size of continental USA has only 20 million people compared to our 300 million. Many of the drives are like going back in time to the days of one lane country roads and very little traffic. Good thing as the road out of the valley down into Albion Park was extremely winding and steep. But here we stopped to see the Microlights and aerowasp helicopters. The microlight has a fixed wing like a hang glider. Would have been a great way to get off the mountain....maybe next time....we'll leave that up in the air!!
Back on the coast near Woolongong we discovered Nan Tien the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere. We also noticed that we had left our camera battery charger back at the campground a day away. So back we went but this time discovering a huge beautiful intrecately carved Hindu Temple. The Buddhist temple had a huge cheap vegetarian meal at lunch time. The day was never wasted and Steve was excited to pass by Bald Mountain,in Stanwell Park, a big hang gliding center on the coast, fortunately too windy to fly.....WHEW!!
As we traveled into the Blue Mountains just west of Sydney, we read that the name comes from the blue haze that rises up in the morning due to the forest of Blue Gum Trees. Here we enjoyed some great hikes, passed up the skyline ride and zig zag rail to hike down then climb up the 1040 steps past the famous Three Sisters rock formations. We enjoyed the quaint town of Leura and in Katoomba where the Grand Carrington Hotel gave us respite from our sore muscles by having a nice hot cappuccino in the warm lounge before heading back to the tent. We got into routines like this in many areas especially stops for cappuccino and always in a quaint interesting coffee shops which are everywhere.
There are also tourist Information centers in many towns that have special marked 'Tourist Routes' which we took often. From the Blue Mts. to the Hawksbury River areas we stopped many times to visit historical houses and towns such as Mt. Victoria and Hartly that goes back to the days of gold digging and convict gangs. One of the prettiest areas was at Mt. Wilson a small village of stately houses and parks made special by the red, and yellow fall leaves turning color. There were also fresh picked apples in the area and cooler days, a sign that winter was near. The tourist office recommended camping at the Butterfly farm near Windsor with one of the best and largest exhibits. We also met Joey the tame Sulfer Crested cockatoo that we hand fed. On the way we stopped at a Trout Farm for smoked trout and then pitched our tent along the Hawksbury River. The morning mist rising off the river was a site..... never to be forgotten!!
Once back on the Central Coast Region just north of Sydney beginning at a town called The Entrance, we were into more traffic but also beautiful lakes. There is Lake Macquarie the largest salt water lake in Australia and the beautiful Norah Head lighthouse still open for guests to sleep in the caretakers house. But we pitched our tent instead in Stockton a quiet place with only the sound of the sea across the river from the big city of Newcastle and took the evening ferry into town for dinner. We also found the RSL's (Return Servicemen League) the best meals as well as at the local Bowling clubs. Here you get a choice of set meals for usually under $8US and always balanced and plentiful.
Not very interested in the big cities we usually stayed out on the back roads. That is where we found Lemon Tree Passage inside the bay at Port Stephens, a place s/v Zephyr had anchored. It is a great stop for cruisers and also for it's great guided walk though Tilligerry park looking for wild Koala's. Graham, a naturalist with the park was a fantastic guide pointing out and explaining about every plant and bird we came upon. And..oh yes, we saw a Twany Frog Mouth bird, got buzzed by a Scaley Breasted Lorikeet and saw two huge Koala' were not disappointed!!
Coff's Harbor is also a great cruisers stop over as the Marina is very nice and quaint. We visited two Australian friends homes, one I had not seen in 30 years and both back in the hills behind Coff's. It was an interesting time getting to see how the Aussie live and getting reacquainted. Then a call from s/v Zephyr again. This time they were bombarded with hail stones while anchored in Ulladulla harbor. The golf ball and tennis balls size hailed pelted 52 holes through their bimini. Something to be missed!!!
But this area along the coast, seemed to be a bit of a throw back to the 60's with Byron Bay being a big surfing area. The lighthouse here was magnificent. We got a call from other cruisers on the Gold Coast camping at Main Beach for the weekend and waiting for the big Santurary Cove Boat Show. This was the fun part of 'land cruising' meeting up with fellow cruisers, all now in their own little modes of transport. One had a very nice van which a lot of cruisers opted for and another with an Australian made TVAN that opens to a tent and pulled behind a tricked out Land Cruiser one of the best vehicles we were told for buying and reselling. We had a great time and discovered that we would all be heading 'Outback' around the same time, Aug. and Sept and may all even meet up in Alice Springs Sept.17th for the famous boat race held every year on the DRY Todd river...Henley on Todd!!
The weather was now getting nicer as we headed north, surfers out in force as we are now near the Queensland/NSW border. Here the popular Lamington National Park, on the rim of an ancient volcano and only a short drive inland from the Gold Coast, was recommended by many cruisers. We found the park lodge at Bina Burra with a log fire in the fireplace so comforting that we never made it down to the famous Tree Top walk at O'Rielly...but that is for another time! From there we climbed up an "escarpment" that runs parallel with the coast for almost 200km. It is an area so spectacular in views overlooking the coast with the skyscrapers and beaches stretched out for miles north and south. This is a big hang gliding area also. Uh Oh! We spent hours watching them fly off into the green valleys below. Steve got all the info for getting a license but in the end came down to earth and decided the $1800A was too much. Mt. Tambourine and the gallery walk at Eagle Heights occupied another day. If we had not been told about some of these areas we may have missed them altogether. There is just too much to discover!!
And finally skirting Brisbane (still not ready to return to Ariel) we continued on north to another area overlooking Mooloolaba and only 20min. away from that wonderful cruiser city we knew so well. The Glass House Mountains fool everyone, thinking this is the place, but we haven't had a chance to check them out we were so busy enjoying what lies behind them. Still on the escarpment, more incredible little towns with crafts and galleries high up in the cool air overlooking the extensive beaches below. The town of Montville is the center but Melany and Mapleton are also very nice. We enjoyed ourselves so much we went down to Mooloolaba, picked up a couple cruisers who don't have a car and returned with them the very next day. Our last days ended staying with friends in their beautiful new house in Noosa Heads and of course another AM market (Wed. & Sat.) nearby at the famous and one of the best in Australia... Eumundi Market!!!
Well it has been a good trip, even squeezed in a trip to the Darling Downs area and the beginning of the 5,300km long barrier dingo fence on the way to Lightning Ridge to 'noodle on the mullock heaps' for black opal. Our noodling only got us a few pieces of potch but the characters and atmosphere were enough to get us fired up to head deeper into the outback to Coober Pedy. All in good time! LR is a two day trip from Brisbane but worth every minute to get that feeling of being 'outback'. It was getting cold at night but we warmed up by soaking in the 'hot' spring bore just out of town. The night sky of the outback is breathtaking, so many stars in the southern hemisphere.
Next trip......the Outback!!
We had a great trip....and would I change anything....yes, we are purchasing a little electric heater for the tent for those cold mornings outback! Otherwise we loved the camping out closer to the nature we love.


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