So another year is well and truly underway, and we certainly did not expect to be still here going strong, travelling around in Australia in early 2021. But circumstances around the World, and because we do love it here, that is exactly what we are doing. After three weeks in the big city lights (and big city clouds) of Sydney our feet started to itch again. So it was back in a campervan and back on the road. This time, however, it was back to the small style of van that we originally set off from in Perth last February. As inexpensive and fabulous bargains the big vans have been out of school holidays, they are horrifically expensive during the holidays and as it was only half way through the long summer break here, we were economically forced into the small van. Sorry Sarah, no onboard toilet for the next month!
When we packed up to leave Sydney we were instantly reminded as to how much clothing and equipment we have collected over the last year, not least two bikes, so getting everything in was a logistical challenge and patience with accessing things on a day to day basis was going to be the order of the day.
Because we had been in Greater Sydney where there had been a major Covid outbreak (minor outbreak in the context of most of the rest of the World) none of the other States wanted to know us, until we had been out of the city for 14 days. So we decided to continue South along the New South Wales coast.
We are becoming quite the experts at finding the good, free or low cost campsites and not only does it help to keep the budget down, but we much prefer them to the large commercial sites where everyone is crammed in like sardines. Also, with no Australians being able to go on foreign holidays this year, it seems everyone has decided to go camping so getting on a commercial site is often challenging.
Our first stop was in a State Forest near the pretty seaside town of Narooma, which is where we had our first incident with our new van. We were sitting in the van one morning when Sarah decided to get out for something. “Steve, I can’t open the door”, came a slightly concerned call. Steve went to help and sure enough the sliding side door to the van was stuck! So Sarah, being the more flexible of the two of us, climbed over the sink, cooker and tap, between the driver and passenger seats and into the front cab. She then opened the front door and got out of the van, where she was then able to easily open the sliding door and let the slightly less flexible Steve out. A few checks revealed the door mechanism was well and truly broken and after a couple of calls to the rental company and a local garage we managed to get an appointment to fix it a couple of days later. So Sarah spent the next 48 hours climbing over the cooker and sink, doing the front seat shimmy, in order to free us from the back of the van!
Luckily Narooma was a great place to be stuck and Sarah really enjoyed it, as did Steve when Sarah chose to let him out! She was a little sad when the door was fixed.
With a fully operational van, other than a decidedly dodgy fridge, we set off inland away from the coast towards Kosciusko National Park, home to Australia’s highest mountain and apparently the location of some good walks.
What was Kosciusko like? Well if we say we made a plan to go for 4 or 5 days and we stayed for two weeks and had to drag ourselves away, that sort of explains it. The place was magnificent, and we were blessed with some amazing weather of mostly clear, blue skies.
We based ourselves around the town of Jindabyne which is on the edge of a huge lake only five or so miles from the entrance to the National Park. The park is the main ski area in Australia and, as in many European ski areas, the summer brings walkers and cyclists and they were here in abundance, to the point where it gave the place a great atmosphere rather than a jam packed overcrowded one. We ended up staying in three different campsites all of which were very different. One was a big commercial operation in the centre of town which had good facilities and was handy for food shopping, but it was way too busy for us. The second one was an ultra basic one in the National Park which we loved and it even had a river flowing through it where we could have a good wash off after a day in the mountains…(we weren’t the only ones!). We would have stayed there the whole time but availability was an issue. The third was a huge site with acres of space, in a beautiful location a few miles out of town. It was owned by the Adventist Church. It was immaculate and well run and we liked it almost as much as the basic one in the Park.
So with great camping, great weather, beautiful scenery to walk and run in, and smooth, hilly roads to cycle on, we indulged in two weeks of what felt like non stop activity. We covered almost 100 miles of walking alone. Our favourite one was the whole day, 14 mile, long route to the top of Mount Kosciusko. It was much less busy than the main route up and we were treated to some spectacular views along the way.
Steve enjoyed it so much that he went back and ran it a few days later while Sarah walked up the main route. At the end of it he was pretty whacked and was reduced to a speed not much faster than walking.
He wasn’t as tired, however, as Sarah was on our last day. We decided on a tough walk to finish our time in the Park which involved a steep climb to around 6500 feet. About halfway Sarah began to feel the effects of the two weeks, and a combination of tiredness and lack of food began to show her down. Her stops became longer and more frequent, and by the final section of the climb it was like Sir Edmund Hillary reaching the summit of Everest. Luckily for Sarah though, there was a fabulous cafe at the top called ‘The Eagles Nest’, the highest cafe in Australia, which suddenly became Sarah’s favourite place on the planet. With an hour’s rest, a huge bowl of salty chips washed down with a mug of hot chocolate, she set off back down the mountain more like Eddie The Eagle! Steve couldn’t believe the transformation as he was having to break into a jog to keep up.
We eventually left Kosciusko, not because we wanted to but more for the sake of our health. Steve worked out he had done almost 80 hours of exercise in our time here, so enough was enough, we packed up the van and headed out of town.
We had initially planned to return the van to Sydney and catch up with Terry who we met in South America. He had offered to look after us for a couple of days but unfortunately the virus scuppered that plan, as a return to Greater Sydney would have meant complications for future border crossings and unnecessary self isolations. So we changed the drop off to Brisbane, filled out the online application for a Border Pass, and rather than head up the coast we planned a route through the New South Wales hinterland. For three days and 800 miles we meandered along back roads and through farming areas, not dissimilar to parts of Northern England and Wales (other than the weather was slightly better). After stopping in the ‘foodie’ town of Mudgee, the ‘university’ town of Armidale and descending down the amazing ‘Waterfall Way’ into Bellingen we eventually landed back on the coast in the seaside village of Yamba where we had been 10 weeks before. We were both pretty exhausted and consequently spent the best part of the next three days soaking up the sun on Yamba’s different beaches.
We could have stayed a little longer in Yamba but we had a lunch appointment to keep. Although we were unable to catch up with Terry in Sydney, our return to Brisbane meant an opportunity to catch up with Glen and Kellie for the fourth time!! This time we were going to celebrate Australia Day with them and Glen had booked a table at a pub near Mount Tamborine. So with our recently approved Border Pass we drove back into Queensland and headed for the pub.
“Stop the van”, came the shout from Steve as we turned off the motorway to head inland. “These are some of the steepest hills in Queensland, I can’t miss cycling here”. So out he jumped and off he went, while Sarah headed on to the pub. Two hours later, with Sarah, Glen and Kellie all waiting in the pub carpark, Steve hurtled down the hill towards them “I’m only a couple of minutes late and I have had a brilliant time”, was his greeting.
A few minutes later, and after Steve had freshened up and changed in the back of the van, we were all sitting around a table in a huge, packed beer garden holding on to ice, cold glasses of beer, wine and cider. It was quite the scene with families everywhere enjoying one of the country’s biggest holidays. We were laughing and joking, swapping stories of what we had been up to and reminiscing about our time in South America, as well as all our plans for the future. It was definitely an occasion for us to remind ourselves about how fortunate we have been to have had such a fabulous year, when others have been so restricted. Last year we spent Australia Day watching the fireworks in Perth. Never in our wildest dreams did we anticipate the year we have had.
Probably the highlight of the day was the Cane Toad Race. Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of cane toad racing! It’s huge in Queensland!! Basically, the eight cane toads (marked with numbers on their backs) are auctioned off, some of the toads went for over £60. They are then placed under a barrel in the centre of a big circle. The auctioneer becomes the commentator, the barrel is lifted, and the first toad out of the circle is the winner. The money spent on the toads is split between first, second and third, with 10% going to the local charity.
It’s chaos, with cheering and shouting (and a bit of cheating), but everyone was having great fun. And just in case anyone was worried, no toads were harmed in the making of this fun! Sarah even had a photograph with the winning toad, but Steve didn’t think it was quite as good as the one she had with Gino D’Campo in Italy a year or so ago!
After a great afternoon we said goodbye to Glen and Kellie……again, and headed off for another few days on the beach at Noosa Spit, one of our favourite locations to spend a bit of down time.
We want to be fully rested up before we return the van, because when we do, we are picking up another van on the same day and heading straight off into the outback and embarking on what we hope is another circumnavigation of Australia, Visas and Border Passes permitting.
So taking the words from a song I vaguely remember, “Let’s Go Round Again”!!
Oh! We nearly forgot. On our way to drop off the van we made a stop at Australia Zoo, just over a year after our last visit. It is a really lovely zoo and heavily promotes the memory of Steve Irwin and his legacy. There is plenty of interaction with animals which we both enjoyed.
Here are our favourites…