Wednesday, February 27, 2008

full circle

The weather got somewhat traditionally seaside ie rain, rain and more rain, so the intrepid campers stopped off with friends in Kurrajong for a couple of days before arriving back at Mudgee today.

Good to be 'home' again despite the rain, so here for a couple of days before we fly to Sydney for Mardi Gras. Then we need to formulate the plan for phase 2 of the great tour.

Good timing because the windscreen suffered a stone chip a few days ago, which is now an enormous great crack, so it will take a few days for a replacement to be ordered.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

beware the trees

We went to the Budderoo National Park today to see the Minnamurra Rain Forest. A fantastic elevated wooden walkway through stunning forestry with some massive red cedars and a diverse collection of epiphytes, ferns and generally weird plants.

My favourite was the Giant Stinging Tree (Dendrocnide excelsa ) as it reinforces my theory about the innappropriate toxicity of many living things in this continent..yes folks, introducing the tree that can kill you! The hairs on the leaves and stem contain a concentrated neurotoxin, so potent that when two American servicemen died after being stung in World War Two the US military researched it as a potential biological weapon. One of those deaths was an officer who shot himself rather than attempt to withstand the 3 weeks of excruciating pain after falling into a tree while on military exercises.

The 'cure' is supposedly to rub the sap of the Cunjevo tree that always grow nearby onto the affected area- but that is highly toxic and can be fatal if ingested. So, should you ever be in a positon where you encounter Dendrocnide, always carry a waxed depilating strip so you can rip out the fine silicon hairs if you have the misfortune to get stung.

We failed to spot any pythons dropping from above, but did see a pair of lyrebirds which was quite exciting.

Then back to the coast to Kiama to look at blowholes.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

camps australia wide

Our new best friend is the book 'Camps Australia Wide' the ultimate guide for the budget conscious traveller. We have been away for 10 nights now, and have only paid for 4 campsites. The fantastic book lists over 3000 campsites with a high proportion free of charge. Some are just rest stops off a main highway, but many have been in beautiful State forests, by the sea, or both. Tonight we are in Bangalow State Forest, it is Saturday night and only 2 other caravans parked up here despite our proximity to Sydney.

The book lists facilities available, whether there is mobile phone reception (essential for blogging), whether dogs allowed ( almost as essential as blogging ) and even gives GPS co-ordinates so Sean O'Satnav can cheerily chat us through the route. Looks like it will save us a small fortune which is just as well as the still nameless Winnebago is consuming diesel at an alarming rate.

Continued our coastal mooching- great beaches and we even went swimming with no sharks or poisonous jellyfish encounters.

Ness found an area she was very keen on and raided the real estate agents. In true Ness style we are way too close to Sydney so prices started at $1,000,000 for a small plot upon which to build your beach view dream home. Shame we gave up the day jobs.

The advantage of the location is obviously seafood, and we found a great fishmonger yesterday. Last night we dined on leatherjackets, tonight we barbecued magnificent marlin steaks, and on tomorrows's menu is blue grenadier fillets with mango salsa. The portable gas barbecue is a true camper's friend, cooks the grub to perfection and no lingering cooking smells in the van. Now I am starting to sound like a grey nomad; this is frightening.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

fame at last

Managed to make the local newspaper

beach life

Another 270 km added to the total over the last 2 days. We are happily trundling up the coast and we are about 200km south of Sydney. Much more built up now and a lot more traffic, and most of the beaches are within National Parks so the dog situation getting desperate.We need to train her to sleep quietly in the shower cubicle while we try to smuggle her through checkpoints.

However we have found some dog friendly beaches and she had a great day today...thanks to Barb for the inside information.

We are now in tick paralysis country....yet another miniscule creature on this continent armed with 'weapons of mass destruction' grade toxins which can cause insidious paralysis and death in dogs when bitten. Consequently ginger dog is being systemically poisoned with Frontline, which needs to be reapplied whenever she has a swim ( ie daily ) and has a grooming session nightly to ensure no ticks have hitched a lift.

Yet another error by the Creator when designing this particular parasite- hope he added a note in red pen in the margin of the Creation manual. 'Note to self; parasites must not be armed with sufficient toxin to kill the host, not conducive to survival of parasite'.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

east to eden

First stop on the coast was Eden. Not a particularly inspiring town but it has a great history as a whaling station so we headed for the Eden Killer Whale Museum.

The story goes that in the mid 19th century the whalers in the bay received help in their work by a pod of killer whales led by 'Old Tom'. Whaling was a profitable business, the blubber used for high quality lighting oil and machine lubricants, the balleen for corsetry, hoops for skirts, and umbrellas. The cost of setting up a watching station to whale spot was expensive so when Old Tom and the gang arrived and started to alert the whalers to the presence of blue, right and balleen whales it was a profitable alliance.

Old Tom used to splash and jump close to shore when prey was nearby to alert the whalers, then the whaler boats and the pod used to work in unison tracking down the hapless victims. The orcas were rewarded with the tongue and lips- the only bits they covet-then the whalers hauled the carcass to shore.

Sounded like a tall tale, especially the part where Old Tom supposedly got over excited and grabbed the harpoon rope to assist hauling in the prey, but having seen his skeleton there is no doubt that the teeth on his left lower mandible were grooved by the rope with all the enamel and dentine worn away to expose the pulp. Added to the fact that the whaling company went bankrupt the year after Old Tom's body was found on the beach makes for a convincing yarn.

My favourite exhibit was a newspaper article from 1892 reporting a new 'cure' for osteoarthritis. The decomposing blue whale carcass on the beach had people sized tunnels dug into the blubber layer.This carcass could reach temperatures of over 40 degrees Celcius. The afflicted patient was slotted into the rotting whale pocket ( gentlemen naked, ladies dressed in a light shift ) for 45 minutes. Results were miraculous ( therapeutic effect due to a synergy between the whale oil and the decomposition gases ) , although the patient was to expect a noxious lingering odour for up to 3 weeks, and a propensity for chills and vapours.

I reckon that whatever my locomotor difficulties prior to the ordeal, I would have found the strength and presence of mind to run like hell afterwards too.

route map

Map now located in left hand column under slide show- still perfecting it, but if you click on the 'map' tab top right of the map it will give you a more detailed annotated one. Thanks to Nancy for pointing out the aesthetic qualities of the 'diamond' inserted yesterday, in future we will endeavour to travel in as many pretty patterns as possible.

Look out for 'HELLO ENGLAND' as we cross the western desert.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Travelled south towards the Victoria border yesterday with a view to then heading eastwards to the coast. Stopped at midday by a river supposedly in platypus country, but were advised that the best time to spot the little creatures was dusk or dawn so we had no expectations. However within minutes of arriving we were watching platypus swimming around and diving for food. Amazing.

You will have to trust us that the blurry pic is genuinely a duck-billed platypus, they were very hard to capture. With the binoculars you could watch them dive and then follow the line of bubbles until they surfaced again.

Fact of the day: juvenile platypus are called ‘puggles’, and when the female is ready to lay her eggs she builds a special burrow called a ‘puggle palace’.

Strange things the monotremes. Another one of those bizarre evolutionary phenomena specific to this continent are these egg laying mammals. As we get to understand the way Aussies function it becomes easier to comprehend how evolution stalled..

Bruceypus: Hey Darl’ fair dinkum to you with the milk producing thing, what do you reckon about the whole mammal phenomena? I think it is the way forward, everyone is talking about it.

Sheilypus: Look mate, egg laying is no picnic- you think I am prepared to put myself through that whole live-bearing thing? Think of my figure?

Bruceypus; well how about the marsupials, you could have tiny puggles and carry them in a pouch. You would have breasts too- that would be knock-out.

Sheilypus: you can have the pouch if you are so keen on the mammal idea, I am not carrying a bulge around like that, I would look crap on the beach.

Bruceypus: No worries Darl’, we will stick with the eggs. Mammalian evolution probably a fad anyway. Coming for a swim to catch us some yabbies for the barbie?

Sheilypus: Too right. I'll invite the Echidnas.

Very close to the coast now, off to encounter some sharks.

Pic below is an enormous lace monitor lizard, approx 1.5 m in length. Good job Ness is fleet of foot because these reptiles can cover some ground, but she caught him and got this great shot. She was somewhat alarmed when he stopped running away and turned round to face her off but survived unharmed.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Snowy Mountains

We managed to fudge the dog in National Parks dilemma. James usually sits between our seats quietly while travelling, but when we arrived at the entry kiosk of the park she decided to make her presence known by leaping up and down and barking.

Loose translation of her vocalising ...'hi lady in uniform in a kiosk look look here I am a small ginger dog in a van look look at me I live in this cool van look look we are going into the park how cool is that look look here I am small ginger dog in a van look look'.

We were issued with a transit pass- the park is after all en route to a few small towns. Transit passes are free, but you are not supposed to stop. There were warning signs about how unsuitable the roads were for trucks and caravans so I asked the kiosk lady if we were being optimistic taking the van through to which she replied 'Strewth Darl', you gotta be optimistic in life'- we took that as an OK to proceed.

We managed quite a few illegal stops for photos, and Vanessa did spend a short time donating another scrubbie to fishkind in the Murray River.

Breathtaking drive and quite a climb for the magic bus. Highest point 1, 580 m above sea level. Ski fields with no snow always look a little odd- throw in gum trees and kangaroos and they look almost surreal. On the way down we drove and drove through thousands of acres of dead white gums destroyed in a forest fire in 2003, it was very eerie.The regeneration is approx 6 feet high so the whole place will look totally different in a few years.

Covered 420 Km in a loop back to where we started- we did not plan to do a full circuit and were going to strike out east to the coast but the police phoned to say that someone had found Vanessa'a handbag in a cafe in Jindabyne where we had camped the previous night, and handed it in and would she like to collect it. Very lucky as she had not realised it was missing. Also fortunate that we were doing a vague circuit and had not gone due south or the return trip would not have been amusing.

Off to the coast today so of course it is rather hazy and misty. Dare not look at weather forecast, rain and the sea always seem to go together when in a camper.

map grand tour phase 1

Sunday, February 17, 2008

another subtle campaign

You have got to love them.

dog issues

Not many km covered today, just been pottering southwards on the fringe of the Snowy Mountains. Vanessa went to a tackle shop for hooks, 10 lb line, sinkers and some bait, and we were advised that the best bait in these here parts is 'scrubbies'. So we bought a pot of scrubbies ( 8 for a dollar ) and now have a pot of soil and big fat worm-like things in our fridge. Must remember if I get the munchies not to dip into the pot on the bottom left hand shelf.

So we tried reservoir fishing again, the scrubbies appeared to be rather noxious to the fish but we caught a lot of weeds.

We are in Jindabyne on the edge of the Kosciuszko National Park and were planning on doing a circuit round the mountains tomorrow. The officious lady at the Information Centre told us the 'no dogs' rule in National Parks was absolute and we could not even drive through with a dog in the van. She also recommended that we drove 30 km back the way we came in order to locate a camp site willing to take dogs.

So we came here, a site 200 metres down the road, and asked the helpful site lady if we could camp with a small dog- she apologised for being afflicted with sudden onset deafness and explained that she did not hear me mention the word 'dog' or obviously we could not stay at the site. So we chatted for a while about the dog we do not own, and she found us a lovely pitch away from everyone else because we looked like we needed privacy.

She also advised that should we ever return to the area with a dog, that driving through National Parks was OK as long as they stayed in the van, and the lady at the information office was a misguided harridan.

So tomorrow we will test the two theories when we attempt to get the ginger dog over the border.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

fishing for beginners

Last night's camping episode worthy of a separate chapter. We left Cowra and camped in a State Park- Wyangala Waters. The state parks are mostly dog friendly, and apart from a bit of a scary drive ( and some inept waving ) it was perfect. A reservoir completed in 1935 with a surface area 2 1/2 times greater than Sydney Harbour. After 7 years of drought it was only 14 % full which brings home how harsh conditions in the Central West have been, but it was still an astoundingly beautiful place to camp.

The camper is amazing, solar panels make us truly self sufficient as far as lighting and power goes, and with a 140 litre water tank we really can free camp for several days without the need for 240 V hook up or a potable water source. So we were able to whizz past the static caravans, bypass all the facilities and drive to the end of the reservoir and park up away from everybody.

Last week Vanessa purchased a fishing rod and reel and a fishing permit for NSW. We did not confess to the guy in the shop that we knew nothing about fishing, and took the rod home to practise casting in the dam in Mudgee. We lost all our spinners due to inadequate knots, snagging on weeds, and incompetent casting, so Vanessa's mission was to learn how to fish.

Within an hour 2 guys in a ute drove past our camp and started to fish in the reservoir. We took James dog down for a swim and had a chat- within an hour Ness had her rod and reel out of the van, a bottle of wine in a bag, and we were learning how to fish with Colin and Wayne ( Ness did not catch their names, and christened them Stan and Fred which fitted well).

Incredibly nice blokes, they took us through knots, hooks, tensile strength of line, sinkers, casting, bait nets and how to catch yabbies for bait. Wayne had caught a golden perch which he displayed proudly.

It was getting dark so they got their lights out onto the bank and the 'fishing' continued. This consisted of drinking copious numbers of tinnies, having a good yarn and telling tall tales and poor jokes. We learned a vital lesson in night fishing- get a good comfortable chair, lots of beer, and after casting out your line slot the rod into a rod holder, put a small bell on said rod so that if a fish bites you can hear it and attend to the job in hand, and carry on drinking.

By 11 pm we had caught nothing, drunk too much, and had a riotous evening. We rolled back up the hill to the van in the pitch dark, leaving the guys to crawl into their swags while they could still focus.

Colin Ness and Wayne 'fishing'

australia is awfully big

Day 3 of phase 1 of the grand tour. We have travelled 700 Km south from Mudgee, passing throughWellington, Orange, Canowindra, Cowra and Canberra. I will continue to try and sort out a blog friendly map to post, meanwhile google earth is your friend.

We are currently in a camp site 50 Km south of Canberra, at the beginning of the Snowy Mountains- we did a fleeting drive through of Canberra, a very neat and tidy city on a Milton Keynes type grid system, only cleaner and grander with a river/lake worthy of a capital city. Parliament House most impressive from a distance.

Sean O'Satnav proving a handy friend, although a little petulant when we choose to travel off piste or take an unscheduled stop. He is more polite than Bruce Dinkum Satnav, whose voiceovers a little too brash for our pace of travel, so he got the boot pretty quickly.

In brief, we passed through Orange the day before yesterday ( where they grow apples and grapes...too cold for oranges, good old William of Orange responsible for the name ) . The town was pretty much closed when we arrived, but it is a very foodie town and we had a splendid steak meal. It is very refreshing when reading a menu to be informed of the age of the meat, the breed of cattle, what it was fed, and how many food miles are involved in getting it to the restaurant. We had Hereford fillet, 30 months old, grass fed, produced in the central west NSW.

Cowra was the next port of call, and has the largest Japanese garden in the southern hemisphere. It is truly inspirational, over 12 acres and a mind blowing combination of familiar plants and majestic eucalypts. Mid afternoon and we had the whole place to ouselves ( the natives obviously not mad enough to venture out in the afternoon heat). James dog buggered up the feng shui by deciding to take a plunge into the shallow koi carp pond and scatter the individually positioned white pebbles, but we hauled her out before the groundsmen noticed.

Getting back into the swing of campervan life- campsites over here are cheaper than the UK, the site in Orange only $12 which is very good for a site in town. However many are dog free so we may encounter problems in the future- I suspect ginger dog will be shoved into a capacious Winnebago locker and bribed into silence with suitably worthy snacks.

However understanding the campervan wave protocol proving more tricky. In the UK when travelling in the Citroen Romahome ( hereinafter referred to as the comedy camping vehicle ) we discovered that it is mandatory to salute a fellow vanee when passing on the opposite side of the road. After many awkward attempts the wave was perfected- a Hitler youth angled arm with a care in the community random hand flourish to finish. Ness was always deeply involved in studying a map or a piece of fluff on her clothing in order to avoid passenger participation. We never had to acknowledge caravanners or other towing types.

Over here there appears to be a complex and several tiered system.:

The 'Winnebago Wave' when encountering another member of a rare and endangered species appears to involve both hands off the wheel, forearms gyrating, manic grinning, pointing, and a manual choreography unwise and unsafe when manoeuvering 3.5 tonnes of vehicle down a steep hill.

The 'Generic Campervan Wave' when encountering any white, plastic, moulded to the cab mobile home unit. One hand only, polite but not overly demonstrative.

The 'Caravan Wave' - a cursory flick of the fingers, hands not to be removed from the wheel, to acknowledge a fellow traveller who has not yet realised that towing is good, all-in-one mobile home is bad.

The 'Trailer tent Wave' protocol as yet unclear. Ranges from total failure to recognise to synchronised hands off the wheel waving by driver and passenger.

The 'What the F**k are you doing on this road Wave' by any driver of any vehicle on any road where you have not encountered a single soul for the last 45 minutes. Bemused grin and/or head shake optional but frequently utilised.

We will continue to adapt our responses until hopefully we will earn our Grey Nomad Bronze Waver's badge.

Monday, February 11, 2008

just for jo

Someone has been insisting on photographic proof of my bicycling exploits, so here it is complete with sunflowers.

With cycling as a theme, here is a fine blog created by a friend of mine who used to live in the top half of my flat in Friern Barnet. She is contemplating a move to France to breed llamas, and cycles a bit. A fine read it is too.

not for the vegetarians

The pigs are rapidly approaching slaughter weight, J & G invested in some heavy duty scales and yesterday the piglets were weighed. Just as well because in the first week of March they have their first food gig providing premium Ormiston sausages in large volumes in Sydney.

Over the weekend we have been experimental chefs working on said sausage recipe. Some surprising results- the rusk of breadcrumbs was outshone by the rice flour ( gluten free ) option in flavour and texture, so looks like all produce will be accidentally gluten free. Still balancing the sage and secret blend of herbs and spices and adding in chives and other things from the veg patch.

Last night we set to work actually extruding sausage recipe 1 ( the ‘Berkshire Banger’) into natural intestine skins and dined on the prototype. They were fantastic, despite much red wine and lewd jokes about the aesthetics of the whole process. They looked and tasted like premium sausages, it was an historic occasion. Bearing in mind we were using bog standard pork from the local butcher, the finished product with the Berkshires should lift the flavour to another dimension.

Today the kids have been taken away for the morning and the three of us are going to ‘process’ a couple of ducks and maybe a goose. Not sure how we will hide the evidence or explain the diminished numbers….will leave that to the parents.

Friday, February 8, 2008

chocks away

We are getting way too comfortable here. Great free campsite, even better company, and as much veterinary work as I need to keep the bank balance happy. Clients are starting to recognise me in the supermarket.

So we have decided to make the break this week and head south. This will be weather dependent as most of NSW seems to be flooding at the moment- we timed our arrival well after 7 years of severe drought.

Plan is to mooch along the coast, heading back to Sydney for Mardi Gras at beginning of March. Some friends have booked a 1st floor restaurant so we will have a good view of the street parade.

Blog entries will be more sporadic as internet access not great inland- my provider covers 93% of the population, however as 90% of the population is squished around the coast this is still somewhat restrictive.

Will try to work out how to publish a google map of our route so you can all work out just which river the Winnebago has been swept away in.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Strewth! What a beaut ute

I have finally been initiated into Australian rural life....the delightful people at Mudgee Vet Hospital have given this sheila some wheels. Introducing 'Skippy' the girlie ute. Please note James dog doing a pretty good impression of a pig dog.

Been a busy 3 days at work, and the initiation continued when I treated my first baby roo, a hand reared orphan. Would not have been overly professional to take photos or skip around the consulting room shouting ' I am touching a real live roo' but it was tempting.

Meanwhile the sunflowers Ness lovingly sowed by hand are now flowering, helped enormously by the constant rain of the last few days. I am now used to the Monday morning conversation here- not 'had a nice weekend?' but 'how many inches?'. Thanks to James and his rain gauge fixation, I not only understand the question but have the answer.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Divine Alchemy

Back at work- they really are a great bunch of people to work with. The most recent snake bite case was an easy one to diagnose with a large swollen bite wound on the side of the face and a dead black snake next to the dog. First one I have seen where owner was willing to spend the money on anti-venom therapy so will be interesting to see how it goes- a 24 hour delay in seeking treatment goes against us, but will keep you informed on progress. The black snake has a very nasty toxin which not only attacks the neurological system but also has an evil anticoagulant, so she is peeing blood at the moment.

I really do not understand what the Almighty was playing at when some of these Aussie creatures were created – this snake preys on frogs and small rodents, so what the Hell does it want with venom that can kill a 50kg dog, or an even bigger human? It only needs to disarm a frog. A frog….a few grams of unarmed squidgy amphibian.

I think the celestial chemistry set had only just been opened, and this continent was just an experimental session before the sensible creatures were created. Either that or the 7th day was nigh and quality control went out of the window.

Update from the pig farm

We have had a busy 3 days farm and child sitting while J & G have been away in Melbourne. The animals were easy, but we ventured out of our comfort zone in volunteering to look after 2 youngsters. They were exceptionally well behaved, and Vanessa appears to have acquired maternal skills from somewhere, but it is exhausting work, and I will be happy to go to work for the next 3 days as an easier option.

After the work commitments the wagon is ready to roll, all modifications now in place, handy extra 12 volt sockets fitted and tv aerial fixed so in flight entertainment available when the weather is being unfriendly.

Amazing weather earlier this week- over 35 degrees in the afternoon, so hot that walking down the street was an effort, followed in the evening by a storm and very large hailstones. Apparently 2 years ago an epic hailstorm destroyed most of the tiled roofs in a couple of Mudgee streets. While I was out vaccinating horses I met a builder who had had 2 years worth of work replacing all the roofs with metal ones after the storm, and was quietly praying for another one. Not sure how the Winnebago would deal with one of that severity, cars were dented and crumpled like aluminium cans. I suspect the solar panels would be totally destroyed.