Friday, 14 March 2008

Simon's trip to Australia - February 2008

Open a stubbie, sit back and relax and join me as I trundle down highways and dirt roads exploring the south coast of Victoria from Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road up into South Australia, battling the elements, sand flies and dodgey foreigners. Admire the scenery: the wide open spaces, the pounding surf of the Southern Ocean, the majestic mountains and scented forests. Stroll along pristine beaches, hike up towering peaks where we can stop for a ciggie and a cough. You know it makes sense. Or you could always just reach for the off switch and go out and get some fresh air.

Friday 7th February

Melbourne - first impressions - it's fast, too fast, everyone's charging around at twice the speed they do in Brisbane. Must be something to do with the weather - much cooler than up north. Good job I brought me coat along then. Has a European feel - tree lined avenues of elms, the last city to have them since they've been decimated in the northern hemisphere.

Arrive at the hotel to find I've been magically upgraded to an "executive" room. It's got the biggest bed I've ever seen, which would be great if there were six of us. I almost have a stroke when I find out it's a non-smoking room (which would be kind of ironic) but fortunately there's a balcony outside. Being an "executive" room it's also got a well stocked and vastly overpriced mini-bar. I try not to give in to temptation but can't resist a kit kat.

Saturday 8th

Start today with a visit to the Shrine of Remembrance, it's only up the road so worth a look. (Those of you who've read my blog from last year will remember how I like to pay my respects to the war dead). Then it's on to the shuttle bus into the city itself. Great juxtaposition of old buildings like St Paul's Cathedral and Flinders Street Station against the backdrop of skyscrapers and the utter fabulousness of the modern architecture in Federation Square, where even the paving is funky:

I spend much of the rest of day in the National Gallery of Victoria then escaped the crowds by crashing out for a while down by the river.

Here's a painting by Yvonne Audette that I get told off for photographing just so I can share it with all of yous - how lucky do you feel about that?

Sunday 10th

Beautiful sunny day, just enough breeze for me not to realise my face is burning. After yesterday's exertions I spend much of today recuperating in the Botanic Gardens and green spaces and parks just outside the CBD. I do make it to the ACCA and see an exhibition by Richard Billingham.

Monday 11th

I take the tram to Flinders Street then the train out to Sunshine and a cab to Braybrook to pick up the van from Backpacker Campervans. Looks like I've been upgraded again - for what I paid I was expecting an old crock but this is a nice modern Mitsibushi, less than a year old with only 27k on the clock.

I take the M1 and let out a whoop of joy at being on the road again, out through Geelong to Torquay(!) on the Surf Coast. Pull over at a place called Cosy Corner right by the beach - this must be the happiest I've been since I arrived in Australia this time.

Spend the afternoon getting reacquainted with the sand and the ocean and stuff before trucking off to get stocked up with supplies and find a caravan site for the night - only $12, nice and cheap, just how I like it. I pull up next to a young English couple - I can tell they're English by the snotty looks they give me just for having the audacity to park up in the alloted space next to theirs.

Quite an international vibe here - a few Germans (the less said about them the better), I get chatted up by an old Canadian biddy and lend my toilet key to some French hippies who're camping off-site but need a shower. Entente cordial and all that.

Go for a wander along a creek near the beach this evening and discover they have sunsets down here, nice ones at that.

Tuesday 12th

Sleep like a baby and up bright and early to truck on down the Great Ocean Road. Stop off to look at the lighthouse at Airey's Inlet and the Memorial Arch, which is where the road officially starts, and at one of the many rocky coves to spend a bit of zen time looking at rock pools and stuff, the surf crashing around.

I park up at Lorne for some brekky then on to Apollo Bay. Here's a tip for you: don't do your shopping on the tourist strips in resort towns. I was looking for a thermos flask and in a hardware store on the front they were asking $35. Round the back of town in the shopping centre where the locals go I bought the same item for $18.95. Here's another tip: don't leave the thermos you bought on your trip last year back home in England.

It never ceases to amaze me (actually it no longer amazes me at all) that people can drive through miles of pristine wilderness then pull over to waddle and dawdle along crowded streets packed with shops selling overpriced t-shirts, tea towels, koala bear key rings and the like. A bit like I've just done. That reminds me, I must remember to pick up some tea towels and koala bear key rings as presies for the folks back home. They'll be gutted if I don't.

After Apollo Bay the road leaves the coast and cuts through farmland and the dense rainforest of Otway National Park, re-emerging near Castle Cove lookout, which is where I pull over. A couple of bronzed German chicky babes are hanging their towels out to dry on the railings, boobs and arse cheeks spilling out of their bikinis. I try to strike up a conversation about how amusing it is how Hargen Daz rhymes with nice kraut ass, but either they don't share my sense of humour or they think I'm a dirty old man (possibly both) and they give me the cold shoulder.

Wandering back to the van I notice a sign for the Great Ocean Walk and decide an amble might be in order. I haven't put on any sunscreen nor have I got any water with me so it's hardly surprising that half an hour later I'm turning back. Panting, parched and burnt I recompose myself for a few moments just short of getting back to the lookout and nonchalantly re-emerge from the bush to find that the chicklets have gone now anyway. It was worth it though, for the views.

The weather sure is fickle in these parts. It was chilly and overcast first thing, hot bright sunshine by lunchtime, now in late afternoon I wake up from a snooze to find it's persisting it down. Mustn't grumble. C'est la vie. Guten tag. Soon enough the sun's out again and the tarmac's steaming. As it's getting on I check out the map for a caravan park and decide to head inland to Gellibrand. Good choice - the site's almost empty, nice and peaceful unlike the coastal sites and only $14 for the night.

The water in the showers tonight is refreshingly soft, having as it has been filtered through the rocks of the Otway Mountains. I use the conditioner I lifted from the hotel bathroom in Melbourne. It's a new experience for me, not having felt the need to use conditioner before. Come to think of it, it's only in the last twelve months since I had my hair cut that I've started using shampoo. So now you know. Over at the basins I peruse the soap left behind by careless punters and swap my frankly chemically-scented Imperial Leather for something sweeter.

A hoard of Germans (where did they appear from?) have taken over the camp kitchen. They've got luxurious campers but are obviously saving on the gas. I wander over to cook my noodles, tonights culinary delicacy. "Bon soir. Comment savaz?" I ask. They look a bit bemused. "But ve are German" one of them replies hesitantly, thinking I'm Australian. "Oh right, I'm from Derby meself". They look even more perplexed. I really shouldn't keep doing this, bad karma and all that. I just can't help myself. Humourless bastards. God I'm uncharitable. I don't mention the war though, so get points for that.

There's no getting near the cooker so I sod off back to the van to wrestle with the camping stove, which is the only drawback about this van. I have to get it out, set it up, fiddle about connecting it to the gas bottle then wait twenty minutes for it to boil a cupful of water. It might be leaking as there's a strong smell of gas so I check around the connections with my lighter, till I remember you're not supposed to do that, you're meant to use soapy water and watch for bubbles. My way's more rock 'n' roll though, don't you think?

Anyway I enjoy my dinner of noodles and canned tuna, topped off with a few chocolate creams and a couple of bottles of Hahn Premium Light. Yes, I know what you're thinking, why's he drinking beer with a name like that. Because I'm a fickle bastard, that's why. The huns are having steak of course but they don't look in the mood for sharing. They don't get any chocolate creams then do they. Anyway suddenly they evaporate into whichever black hole they came out of and I get chatting to a young Aussie couple. They ask me where I'm headed for and I tell them I'm thinking of of going up to the alpine region. "You realise you're going the wrong way" the guy tells me. "Yeh I know" I say, "I'm just following my nose really". So he tells me about the Grampians, which is a mountain range not far from here, so that might be an idea.

The kitchen end of the van is getting a bit squalid so I set about a bit of mucking out. Today at the supermarket I scored some "aromatic" washing-up liquid (it was on a special), violet and jasmine, it's supposed to be "calming". I don't know about that but the place now smells like a Turkish brothel. Not that I've ever been in one. Oh please yourselves.

Wednesday 13th

I get chatting to a couple of the jerries this morning, he's as you'd expect but she's nice, gorgeous smile. Working nearby picking blueberries for $12 an hour. Suckers.

First stop this morning is the Otway Fly, a 600 metre long walkway suspended 25 metres over the forest floor. It also has a 49 metre high lookout tower which I climb. From the top you're meant to be able to see "stunning views" but the trees have grown since that was written. Still, if you've never seen the top of a tree before you will have now. Strange experience but the dinoseurs are cool.

Back to the Great Ocean Road and various stops along the way. I'm on the Shipwreck Coast now where the elements have carved up the coast to leave sheer cliffs and rock stacks, the most famous of which are the Twelve Apostles. If I had a ship I'd steer well clear of it but obviously no-one told that to the early settlers. I go down Gibson's Steps for an eye-level view of the said Twelve Apostles but find you can only see a couple of them from here.

Nice colours and patterns at the base of the cliffs:

Carrying on I decide not to stop at the main visitor centre as it's crawling with buses, cars and campers and carry on to where there's meant to be a blowhole, although it isn't blowing today. Further on at at the Bay of Martyrs (you can probably guess why it's called that) I go for a bit of an amble along the beach: more nice patterns in the cliffs:

Into a caravan site at Peterborough for the night, it's almost empty so at least I can hear the birds squawking rather than the Germans.

Thursday 14th

Bit warmer this morning, I hit the trail along through Port Fairy and make a right for The Grampians. This is The Australia I like - wide straight open roads with hardly any traffic, plains of parched farmland stretching to the horizon. Stop off at the K-Mart in Warrnambool, the last big town I'm likely to see in a while. Pick up some new pants and a country music cd, both essentials for the journey ahead.

Stop off in MacArthur for brekky. I love these one horse towns, a few buildings clustered round a crossroads: the pub, grocery store, post office, farm machinery shop. On towards Hamilton and pull over to take a look at Mount Napier, an extinct volcano. Lots of these around here apparently, there's even a "volcano discovery trail" I could follow if I run out of better things to do.

I trundle on up to the national park, stopping off in Dunkfeld for some bumf, and end up at Silverband Falls for a bit of a stroll through the woods. Proper Australian weather by now too, hot with clear blue skies.

Park up for the night at the lakeside caravan park in Halls Gap. The woman on reception gives me a packet of birdseed to "feed the rosellas". No sooner have I got out of the van than I'm set upon by birds of all shapes, sizes and colours, perching on my head, shoulders and arms until I cough up the food, much to the amusement of other campers. Apparently this is the usual greeting.

Friday 15th

I get an alarm call from the kookaburras and cockatoos so am up to see the sun lighting up the cliffs which are all around here. Up to Reid's Lookout, not a soul about and stunning views. Follow the trail to The Balconies and on a bit further to sit on some rocks and drink it all in. Do a few aums, which put a smile on my face: nice buddha vibe going on.

Back to the car park which now has about fifty cars in it so it was worth the early start. Over to MacKenzie Falls and a nice shady walk through the bush:

Take a wrong turn and end up at Lake Wartook, the big reservoir up here. Too hot to do much so pull up and crawl into the back of the van for a while.

Feeling hungry so shoot off to Horsham for some fish and chips then back to the park and pull up tonight at the Happy Wanderer - nice old-fashioned sprawling site. Surrounded by bush and with a view of the mountains, kangaroos hopping around.

Saturday 16th

Start the day by going to the Ngamadjidj shelter to see some aboriginal rock art. Apparently this area has 80 per cent of this in Victoria. Starting up the van again I realise I'm getting low on fuel. The map shows a petrol pump at Dadswell Bridge so I set off down The Western Highway only to find they don't do it anymore. They have a shop, they have air and they have a whopping great koala but they don't have petrol. The bloke in the shop is very helpful and directs me 25km down the road to Stawell: "You'll be right, it's downhill most of the way". I roll into the BP on the last gasp of vapour and fill up to the brim. I'm getting a feeling of deja vu here, I'm sure I've been through this before.

Spend the rest of the morning getting lost around the dirt roads of the national park, something which strictly speaking I'm not supposed to do, driving on dirt roads that is. Actually, according to the rental agreement I'm not allowed to do it, period. At one point I think I've made it back to the highway when there's a tree across the track and I have to back up a ways to find a place to turn round. Then I get stuck in the sand and have to gently rock my way out. Deja vu again. I'm going to get the following tatooed on my arm: "Don't go down dirt roads. Don't let the tank get less than half full. "

I stop for directions at a house in the middle of nowhere selling wooden crafts. Have a long chat with the owner, originally from Manchester, about the drought, the lousy state of our respective governments, the difficulties of growing veggies in a hot climate. He points me in the right direction and I'm on my way again. Bumpety-bump.

I finally find my destination, Mount Zoro car park. There's two walks to choose from: a "medium" one up Mount Zoro or a "hard" one up to Mount Stapylton. Not wishing to let the side down, or being a schmuck, depending on how you look at it, I take the hard one, accompanied, as is usual in these parts, by a swarm of flies, doing their damnedest to get into my mouth, eyes or any other orifice where they might find a drop of moisture. The things I do to get a good a good story; I should save myself the trouble and just make it up.

They weren't lying, it is hard, because it's steep and after about 30 metres I'm puffing and panting and stopping for a rest and water. The gradient's about 1 in 3 and it's 30 degrees in the midday heat. Still, faint heart and all that, I push on regardless. The track leads up a solid sheet of rock then round through the bush into a valley, up through boulders and dried-up creeks, more solid sheets of rock and finally the summit. It's only about 3km but it's taken me 2 hours of puffing and panting and frequent rests to get here. Once I get my breath back it's nice to sit down for a couple of ciggies and to admire the view.

Sunday 17th

Spent the night at The Happy Wanderer again but I'm a bit slow starting this morning after yesterdays exertions and besides, it's Sunday, day of rest in my culture. I've come to the conclusion it's far too hot for any more walking in the national park so the plan (yes, the plan!) is to take a leisurly drive back to the coast, taking in Halls Gap and Mount Wilson on the way.

I wanted to call in at Halls Gap because that's where the national park centre for The Grampians is, so I'd be able to check out the places I've been. Maybe I should have done it the other way round but there you go, I can't get everything right. When I get there I find there's a restored car event going on. I'd been noticing a lot of nice old cars on the road; I'm in no way a petrol head, although I was once the proud owner of a customised Ford Escort van, and I can appreciate a nice bit of of stylish design and the effort that must go into preserving it, so I pull in to take a ganders:

I then spend quite some time enjoying the national park and aboriginal cultural centre, not only because of all the interesting information but mainly because of the glorious air-conditioning.

Down the road a bit and I take the turnoff for Mount William which, at 1167 metres, is the highest point in the park. You can drive almost to the top but the national parks, living up to their slogan of "Healthy Parks, Healthy People" have closed off the last couple of kilometres of road so you have to get out and walk. Fair enough, I'm quite getting into this walking malarkey. Feeling much fitter today after yesterday's practice run I manage, ooh, about 100 metres before my heart rate is galloping and I'm having to stop for a breather. Well it is uphill. It's worth the trek though and I even spot a red-headed parrot.

After poking about round the summit for a while I amble back down, feeling very pleased with myself. The flies are conspicuous by their absence today - maybe they know something I don't or maybe they've had enough of my attitude, although I didn't think they were that sophisticated. Either way I'm thankful. After a bit of a snooze it's after five so somehow I don't think I'll be driving back down to the coast after all. The plans of mice and men...It's a good job I'm not the sort of bloke who sets himself goals. God forbid.

Monday 18th

I take it slowly this morning, buy a paper, do the laundry. It's going to be 35 degrees here so definitely time to head back to the coast.

Hot drive back down through Dunkfeld and Hamilton then on to Portland where a chirpy chappy in the information centre recommends I check out the coastline around Cape Bridgewater, which he reckons is some of the best in Australia, so that's where I go. Lovely beach at Bridgewater Bay but it's getting on by now so head back to Portland to find a caravan site, get a nice spot next to the beach.

Tuesday 19th

Beautiful day, warm breeze blowing in off the ocean, cheery good mornings from my fellow campers. Have a nice walk along the cliff then off back to Bridgewater Bay. Long walk along the beach, my favorite activity after sex (and a lot less hassle). Feet in the water, sun and sand, wind and waves.

After the big beach breakfast at the cafe a short drive takes me out to the headland of Cape Bridgewater - spectacular cliffs, the highest in Victoria, blowholes, and the "petrified forest", very strange, like being on Mars (not that I've ever been to Mars).

Another little drive inland takes me to some limestone caves, which remind me of Derbyshire:

Another bimble along the beach completes what must be one of the best days yet.

Wednesday 20th

Rained all night, much cooler and very windy this morning so should be better walking weather (except for the very windy bit).

I take the cliff walk (which is part of the Great South West Walk) from the blowholes, passed the petrified forest again, to where there's supposed to be a seal colony. The booklet I have says the walk should take about 3 hours return but the national parks sign says 5 hours. I decide to go anyway. Nothing ventured and all that. Great views along the coast although I have to be careful not to get blown off the edge of the cliffs. There's no seals at the seal colony today. Maybe they're having a day off, or more likely just waiting until I'm not looking. I do see some kangaroos though.

It's much less windy round the other side of the peninsula so I decide to carry on walking down to Bridgewater Bay. I can always hitch a ride back to the van.

After some grub at the beach cafe it's time to stick my thumb out. Two cars come along in half an hour, luckily the second one stops.

Spend the afternoon a bit further along the bay at Shelly Beach - every district I've been to along the coast has a Shelly Beach but that's alright - Shelly must have got around a bit.

Take a drive over to Cape Nelson and the lighthouse but I prefer Bridgewater meself, I'm growing rather attached to it, and once you've seen one lighthouse you've seen 'em all really so I come back over here to watch the sunset and have the best night's camping yet in the blowholes car park. Place to myself, lovely full moon, what more could I ask for? Yes but besides that.

Thursday 21st

Really is a good walking day today so I pull on my walking boots (actually my knackered old roofer's vollies) and trek along the cliffs to the springs, then from Bridgewater Lakes to Discovery Bay and along some of Bridgewater Bay from Shelly Beach.

I'm pleasantly worn out after all that so head on back to the site at Portland for the use of the shower and the kitchen.

Friday 22nd

Grey and windy this morning, forecast is for more of the same, sounds like it might get worse before it gets better.

Time to move on I reckon so I point the van in the direction of the South Australian border. Stop off in the sleepy little town of Nelson and check out Discovery Bay from it's northern end but the wind drives me back to the van to ponder my next move. There's no national parks inland for miles but the ones up the Limestone Coast look promising. Shame about the weather but there ain't much I can do about that.

By late afternoon the sun's out again and I find a nice spot at Piccannie Ponds Conservation Park. Nice walk through coastal wattle, bearded heath and silky tea-tree (it says here) to a creek which runs down to the beach.

Also spotted an echidna (like a big hedgehog) scratching around in the bush, then a few minutes later bugger me if I don't see another one (unless it was the same one who'd run ahead of me through the bush just to mess with my head). Later on at dusk just as I'm nipping out for a pee I see a wallaby peering at me just a few feet away. Great spot to spend the night, just me and the echidnas and the wallabies, the sound of the cicadas and the ocean. Sweet.

Saturday 23rd

Ran out of gas for the stove last night, I'm sure the sodding thing's got a leak. Anyway it means I've got to set off for Mount Gambier to try and find somewhere to get a refill - with this firm you have to do that rather than just exchange it, which makes life difficult. I manage to find a caravan dealer where they'll do me a top up then hit the road again, up through Millicant (best breakfast so far - big up Camo's Deli) and on to Cape Buffon in the Canunda National Park.

Couple of things I've noticed about South Australia: the clocks are half an hour behind Victoria and the speed limit's 110 instead of 100, which means they drive at 130 instead of 120. Maybe they're trying to make up for the lost time.

I had planned to do the sea view hike but the wind's biting and there's a horde of Germans here who're sure to want to argue about the 1966 cup final or something so instead I head on back down the coast a bit to Geltwood Beach. It's down a dirt road but only a few ks so what the hell. The sun's out by now so I slap on the old hat and sunscreen and take a hike down the beach, which stretches for miles in either direction. Have a bimble about in the dunes as well.

A convoy of 4WDs comes past at one point and when I get back I find they've set up camp big time: tarps, barbies, wives, the whole kit and caboodle so I decide to move on a bit further up the road. (It turns out this area is popular with them and the dirt bike fraternity. It's not my cup of tea but if you're into it then check out this video. It does at least give an idea of the scenery; just turn the sound down). I land at an empty national parks campsite at The Gums in Little Dip Conservation Park which is more to my liking, nice and peaceful. Down a dirt road again, the last bit's particularly tricky. I might have a job getting out of here in the morning, then again if I give it enough wellie I should be right.

Sunday 24th

First thing and the sun's out, which is nice. I'm in a great spot, just me here, surrounded by bush and with the sound of the ocean not far away. Take my time over brekky and get psyched up for getting the van up the steep track out of here. I leave an offering for the gods of Mitsubishi, Little Dip and the National Parks in the form of my self-registration fee (and for extra luck put in the $5 I didn't pay the night before). Pack up, warm up the engine and go for it.

I needn't have worried, the van takes it in her stride and I'm able to breathe a sigh of relief. I've decided to name her Sally cos she's a tough old bird. We motor on up to Beacon Hill lookout to have a look at where we are.

I had hoped to do a hike around Big Dip Lake today but faced with 10km of unsealed road to get there decide to turn back, I've had enough of that for one day, so instead head on up to Wyomi and Butcher Gap Conservation Park.

It's a very enjoyable walk round the park. I don't see any of the wading birds the area is famous for on account of the lakes having dried up. However there are lots of other little birdies flying about and thanks to the Friends of Butcher Gap and the many interpretative signs they've provided I learn a lot about the trees here and so now the difference between my samphire and my droopy she oak.

Monday 25th

The bad news is Sally won't start this morning. The good news is I stayed on a caravan park last night so I can get to a phone. I phone Backpacker and someone from the RAA comes out and gives me a jump start, apparently one of the terminals was loose. Hopefully things can only get better.

It's time to turn round to start heading back towards Melbourne so today we trundle on down to Beachport, a sleepy little coastal town with a lovely vibe. So I'm parked up by the surf beach, the sun's shining, the winds dropped and things are indeed looking better.

Just out of town there's a scenic drive along what is as nice a bit of coastline as I've come across. It turns into a dirt road about halfway along but we're used to that now. Lots of pull-in places next to the many bays and rocky outcrops which I spend most of the day bimbling around. Later on I go round to Beachport Conservation Park for another pleasant amble around another dried-up lake (the Jack and Hilda McArthur Walk around Wooley's Lake) before returning to the ocean side to pull in for the evening. I park up on a bit of an incline so I can give Sally a bump start in the morning if need be. Happy days.

Tuesday 26th

Thought it was Wednesday actually. Oh well, shows how you much I know. Spend the morning dossing around on the beach; it would be nice to spend a few days here but needs must...

After a few quiet words of encouragement and a bit of gentle foreplay Sally explodes into life and we're on our way eastwards again.

Call in at Tantanoola Cave, which is a cave, and a pretty good one at that:

Back through Mount Gambier into Victoria and land at a lovely spot for the night by the river at The Pritchards in the Lower Glenelg National Park, where as usual the sign tells me that dogs, cats and firearms are prohibited. Good job I left the kalashnikov at home then.

The total fire ban is no longer in force so it's nice to spend the evening sitting by an open fire.

Wednesday 27th

It really is Wednesday today. Very tranquil and peaceful here by the river, nice sunny morning. Black cockatoos up in the treetops, little fairy wrens darting about. Another place where I could spend a few days if I had the time. It'd be nice to take a canoe out on the river (if I had a canoe that is). Unfortunately I have to wrench myself away if I'm going to make it back to Melbourne by Friday and have time to stop along the way.

Sally fires up without any messing and we're on our way again. Back down past Cape Bridgewater and nearly come a cropper when an emu runs out in front of me. I bet it'd been waiting for an unsuspecting pom to come along.

Stop off in Portland for a bite to eat then on through Port Fairy and pull in at Tower Hill Game Reserve for a walk through forest and wetland (well it would be wetland if it weren't for the drought). I spot another emu - probably the same one that ran out across the road in front of me followed me down here to take the piss. I bet it'd been talking to that echidna.

Thursday 28th

Cold and windy again this morning. Set off back along the Great Ocean Road and stop this time at the Twelve Apostles. You don’t see twelve of these rock formations all at once, as some are hidden from view from any of the vantage points. Also there are no longer twelve of them, because one or two (or as many as five) have been eroded away. This group of rocks were once called the Sow and Piglets but who’d travel all this way to see an attraction with a name like that?

After nearly being blown off the cliffs to bring you these pictures I truck on to Sabine Falls up in the Otways National Park. The wind is freezing up here and I even have to put the heater on. A few showers keep coming in as well so after an hour or so I give up and head on down to Stevenson's Falls, which at least is meant to be in a sheltered valley. It's about 5km down a dirt road but as you may have figured, I've given up trying not to go down dirt roads, because obviously the different parts of my brain aren't talking to each other.

I get to the picnic area and there's a couple of old timers parked up with a caravan and a camper and I ask them the way to the falls. "Only another couple of ks" one of them tells me. "What about the creek?" his wife pipes up. "Oh yeah, there's a little creek you have to cross but it's only a couple of inches deep. You'll be right." "And the bridge." "What? Oh yeah, there's a wooden bridge but you should be alright in that little van". So I trundle on, across the rickety wooden bridge and sure enough further on there's a creek, rather deeper than a couple of inches but Sally seems up for it so I gingerly nurse her across and gun her up the other side.

Stevenson's Falls turns out to be a bit spooky. Much of the valley has been clear felled for logging, which gives it a desolate feel and also seems a bit of a strange thing to have done in a national park but anyway the walk up to the falls is pleasant enough and after mooching about for a bit I go to take the obligatory photos. I feel a little tug on the back of my coat and turn round thinking someone must be having a joke. But there's no-one there. I think I must be imagining it and a bit further down the river go to take another picture. Same thing happens again: little tug, no-one there. So I decide it might be time to sod off. Back through the creek, a little bit faster this time, back across the rickety wooden bridge and as I pass the old timers' camp I notice they're sitting around a cauldron cackling to themselves. (Actually I made that last bit up but the rest is true).

Going down the steep winding road back towards the Great Ocean Road I slow down for some roadworks. There's a police car holding up the traffic and there's been an accident, a car slammed sideways into a digger. Was someone trying to tell me something? Spooky.

I go in search of a caravan park for the night because I'm in need of a shower; first one I try at Kennet River is right next to the beach where the wind's howling so I carry on to the next one at Wye River, which is a Big 4. I don't like using Big 4, I'd rather give my money to an independant than a big chain. Anyway they want $33 for the night, I tell them they must be having a laugh and carry on. Third time lucky, nice little site away from the road at the Cumberland River. $20: that's more like it.

Well it's the last night of my trip, this time tomorrow I'll be on the plane back to Brisbane. It's been how you'd expect really, some highs, some lows. I've had some lovely zen moments, seen enough fabulous scenery to keep me going till next time. Lots of memories have been flooding back, both old and new.

Australia is just such a beautiful, spacious, generous land. Mysterious, awesome, sometimes frightening, full of surprises. It keeps me on my toes. Can't say I've had any deep meaningful insights, maybe some'll come to me later. I still have to keep reminding myself to slow down, to live in the moment. Haven't found anyone to marry yet but I live in hope.

Friday 29th

Still blowing a gale this morning but it brightens up as the morning goes on. I stop off at Urquhart Bluff for a last look at the view from the Great Ocean Road:

Then on to Torquay where I pull in to spend some time on the beach; it may be the last chance I get for some time.

Back to Melbourne to say farewell to Sally and a cab to the airport for my flight back to balmy Brissy. I've done 3717km, that's 2428 miles.

So that's it, I hope you enjoyed the trip, I know I did!


Arabella Sock said...

So pleased I found your Australia trip blog, Simon - The Sock is doing Sydney to Adelaide via Melbourne and the Great Ocean Road later this year..

THe Sock is deeply envious of the campervan!

Simon said...

Wow a comment! Hope you enjoy your's well worth hiring a little camper