Thursday, August 27, 2009

Markets, more scary fish and twin birthdays

We went to the local markets in Exmouth where the kids all bought crystals and precious stones. Maybe they thought we needed some good luck?! Afterwards we headed into the national park, specifically to get to the snorkelling at Turquoise Bay on the Ningaloo Reef. I think perhaps we’ve been a bit spoilt at our last few snorkelling spots, as we were all a bit disappointed with this one.

Jess got spooked almost immediately by a school of dart. I’m not sure she’ll be back in the water if there’s fish around again! Daniel got cold so got out almost immediately, and Trucky dipped his toe in and declined to swim at all. Alex and I snorkelled for quite a distance, and saw a few fish and bits of coral, but nothing to compare to with places we’d been previously.

We didn’t stay long, and headed out of town for Learmonth Jetty. It was a beautiful place for the boys to wake up on their birthday. The sunrise over the water was gorgeous, but more importantly the sand, rocks and jetty surface made for great terrain to take out their birthday presents: remote control 4WD monster trucks! They also got books, Pokemon cards and some money. Daniel received a soft toy goat from Jess too; another animal to join the menagerie we have on the bus.

A few liquid dramas

After leaving Coral Bay we headed to Exmouth. Coughing, spluttering and a loss of power in the engine gave us an unscheduled stop by the side of the road about 120km from our destination. A quick dip of the fuel tank revealed it was bone dry. (We have no fuel gauge in the bus, so dipping a long stake of wood into the tank reveals the fuel level. It’s a bit crude but it works.) We’re still not quite sure how we came to run out. We keep a tally of the distance we’ve travelled, and after about 800 - 1000km we start to look for a road house, knowing we can usually get about 1500km from a full tank. This time around we’d only travelled about 850km, so why consumption was so high is still a mystery. Anyway, kids and I stayed in the bus while Trucky took the jerry can and the Terios into Exmouth. He returned a few hours later and we headed off again, with just enough diesel to get to Exmouth. $515 to fill the tank!!

The drama continued the next morning when we stopped at Exmouth Visitors Centre to fill up with water. They are very well set up with a huge car park, and two taps of potable water for filling up camper water tanks. We pulled up at the tap and connected up. I started the water and immediately I could see it coming out onto the ground. Knowing we couldn’t be already full, I turned the water off and Trucky crawled under the bus. Inspection showed a split hose coming off the water tank. He cut a new piece to size, fitted it and then we were able to successfully fill up with water.

This all sounds all like just a bit of an inconvenience, but imagine having your water cut off at home, and no way of getting any for showering, doing dishes, even washing your hands. (We always carry 50L of emergency drinking water.) We both thought we had a hole in the water tank initially, and the idea was fairly traumatic, especially being Sunday in a small town where nothing’s open to get a replacement. The hose repair was reasonably uneventful, so that was a relief. I always feel better once we’ve filled the water tanks, knowing we’ve got the basics covered again for at least the next few days.

In which Jess gets spooked by big fish, and too many tourists

Rather reluctantly we left Point Quobba and headed for Coral Bay. We arrived in town (one main street) mid-afternoon to find it absolutely chock-a-block with people, caravans, motor homes and other vehicles. So far this trip we’ve managed to be fairly secluded (even places which had lots of vehicles parked where pretty deserted) but this place was diabolical. We found somewhere to park, then wandered down to the beach. Although jam-packed, it was quite pretty, and even had a kangaroo with joey hanging out on the sand. We walked along the sand for about 2km around to the boat ramp. Trucky checked out the fishing potential (virtually nil from the beach) and then we walked back into town.

The next morning we headed back to the beach for a snorkel. While the colours where not as impressive as we found at Quobba, there were lots of bigger fish around. Particularly impressive was a school of about 20 two-foot long spangled emperor that Jess accidentally swam into. She was “lots freaked out” and declined to go back into the water after that!! Trucky and I watched them for ages though. They came right into the shore where a man was feeding them. The emperor were fighting like seagulls over the fish, and they even tried to take bites out of a camera someone dropped into the water! There were also schools of sand whiting and some zebra-striped fish, as well as a few other fish too.

Happy Birthday to Trucky, and Jess impresses the locals

The next day was Trucky’s birthday, and he was pleased to wake up right next to the ocean. We took Terry the turquoise Terios out for a spin up north to try to find a good fishing spot. There’s heaps of big game fish right off the cliffs, but it’s very dangerous area. All along the coastline are plaques for people who have been swept off the rocks by king waves. One fisherman – known to the guys at the campsite - lost his life only last month.

We stopped at Quobba Station to get bait. This is a remote sheep station, and I found it very strange to see sheep wandering as they pleased amongst the dunes. I was quite relieved when Trucky decided there was nowhere that he deemed suitable for fishing from, and we headed back to camp. We were lucky enough on this outing to see another whale very close to shore. This one was much more frisky than yesterday’s group, doing backflips out of the water and flicking it’s tail around.

We spent the afternoon on the beach, where Jess caught an enormous whiting. She’s not interested in fishing at all, but thought she’d have a go throwing Alex’s line into the water. She only cast a few feet into the waves, and wandered up and down in the water, singing, dancing, and dragging the rod around with her. After only a couple of minutes, she reeled back in to find a 28cm whiting - bigger than we had ever seen! The locals were very impressed, saying it was much larger than most whiting coming out of the bay. Maybe it was disinterest that brought good luck, as no one else caught anything much that night.

Trucky didn’t want to leave his fishing spot (not good for the ego to be out-fished by a ten year old girl!) so we brought dinner down to the water, eating on a blanket under the stars. It was a lovely end to another great day.

Food, surging water and whales

Leaving the Shark Bay Heritage Area we drove to Carnarvon to grocery shop. Some of the mundane things of home-life we still have to do on the road! It is interesting though, to see the different tastes catered for in different parts of the country, and the extremes of prices too. That night we stayed in the dunes by the Gascoyne River. We left early the next morning – well, early by our standards anyway. (We’ve all discovered the joys of sleeping in, so often breakfast is about 9am, and the day doesn’t really start until about 10:30am by the time we’ve eaten, dressed, cleaned up and generally mooched around for a bit.)

Carnarvon is colloquially known as the “Fruit Basket of the West” as most of the fruit and vegetables for the region are grown on the plantations there. We called into Morell’s and stocked up on fresh local vegetables. This plantation has a great little shop out the front, staffed by one of the owners. She was very friendly and recommended a few other growers to visit. In addition to capsicums, tomatoes, etc, the kids also had some chocolate coated homemade ice cream – Jess had strawberry and boys each had mango that were almost pure frozen fruit! Delicious. We also bought a black sapote, known as chocolate pudding fruit, to try. It was a very strange experience – soft texture almost like mousse, with a taste a bit like chocolate but not sweet at all. I don’t think any of us are real fans, but it was interesting to give it a go.

From Morell’s we went to Bumbak’s, where we were lucky enough to have a tour over the plantation. Robyn, giving the tour, was extremely knowledgeable, and it was interesting to hear about the water issues Carnarvon faces, as well as about the crops themselves. Her plantation grows seedless watermelon and table grapes commercially, and bananas, mangoes and vegetables for their own use, as well as for their preserves business. The kids were allowed to run riot through the banana trees which they particularly enjoyed. From their shop we bought some mango and passionfruit jam that was superb (especially on fresh pikelets Alex and I made the next day).

Our next stop was the Blow Holes. This amazing piece of coastline just past Lake Macleod is an old coral reef. The biggest blow hole was huge, and that combined with the big waves crashing over the cliffs kept Daniel enthralled for ages. I was fascinated by the smaller holes that look like natural versions of the little fountains that spring up in walkways around tourist attractions.

As if this wasn’t amazing enough, right close to shore were whales! There was four together, rising in a staggered formation out of the ocean like a synchronised swimming display, before diving back into the water, and repeating it over an over again. There were two other whales – a mother and her calf – also just offshore. It was hard to know where to look, as there was so much to see!

We decided to have a quick look at Point Quobba, about a kilometre from the Blow Holes, so we pulled up and went for a quick swim to cool off. That became a few hours in the water with our snorkels, as it was the most amazing coral reef, right there! There were dozens of brightly coloured fish only a couple of metres from shore, and shallow enough you were almost right on top of the coral. I have never seen anywhere as full of fish – and so few people – as this. It was like swimming in an aquarium!!

Point Quobba has a ranger-run campground right on the beach. It was primitive but very friendly (and cheap!). The place was full of other motor-homers and caravanners, many of whom stay for months at a time. Trucky went fishing from the beach (the snorkelling area is protected from fishing, thank goodness) and caught a big dart that we had for dinner that night.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Stromatolites, dolphins and a multi-cultural atmosphere

We arrived at the Hamelin Pool Caravan Park quite late in the evening of 8 August. The next morning, Trucky, Alex and I walked over the hill and through the old stone quarry to see the stromatolites. They were both pretty under whelmed by these ancient living marine organisms (they look like rocks!) but I thought they were interesting – for what they are, anyway.

We packed the car and headed for a day at Shark Bay, Denham and Monkey Mia. After a petrol stop in Denham we drove up to Monkey Mia, to be told the dolphins were all over for the day. That was a bit disappointing, but while we were having a look around the visitors centre, we also checked out the caravan park. To our surprise, they were able to squeeze us in, so we drove the 150km back to Hamelin Pool and picked up the bus.

The Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort was a fantastic caravan park. The kids spent a lot of time in the pool, and Trucky and I in the hot tub. We hired a four-peddle paddle boat that had an extra seat, so we all took to the water in that. The wind was quite strong, so even peddling furiously we didn’t get very far, but it was great fun, especially with waves breaking over the bow. We had dinner in the pub and listened to some live music – a local blues guitarist named Ivan Zar, while the kids did cartwheels on the grass with some of the local children.

The resort was packed to the rafters, and over half of the guests seemed to be Dutch or German tourists. I found this interesting because so far everyone we’ve met on our travels has been fellow Aussies. Our kids played with lots of other kids, often without a common language, but handstand competitions in the pool and on land don’t require a lot of talking – laughter suffices!

We were in two minds whether to go to Monkey Mia at all. It’s a well known tourist destination, but lots of people have down-played it, saying it’s too far off the beaten track, too expensive and not that good anyway. I know all five of us would dispute that without reservation, having had a ball. It was certainly no more expensive than anywhere else we’ve been, the location and facilities were fantastic, the staff friendly and helpful (especially Michael the boat-rental guy) but the point of the destination is the dolphins, which again, we kept being told weren’t that good.

The first morning we got up early and were down in the water by 7:30am. Over the next half hour we, and about 60 other people, were joined by nine dolphins who swam right in to shore to say hello and show off. About 20 people were picked out of the crowd to feed some of these sleek creatures. It was captivating to have these beautiful wild animals swim up so close.

The next day Trucky and Daniel decided to have a sleep in, so Alex, Jess and I strolled down to the beach just before 8am. There were eight dolphins this time, but they seemed to have had red cordial for breakfast. They were playing and frolicking, rolling over and jumping up like mad things! Yesterday was great but today was just amazing to watch their antics. And all three of us were picked out of the crowd to feed the dolphins. Jess fed ‘Surprise’, who snatched the fish from her hand. Alex and I both fed ‘Piccolo’, who likes to play with her food before eating it. Very funny to watch!

This is another place that is sad to leave. And we didn’t get to see the many other attractions (Francois Peron National Park, Little Lagoon and Shell Beach just to name a few). Six months is really, really, really not long enough – and we’re only trying to do half of Australia!

A new windscreen, friendly folk and a giant Spider

The plan was simple enough: to leave Greenough about 11am, park up in Geraldton and have lunch with Col before we left for Kalbarri. Everything was going swimmingly, with the packing up attended to, the kids had done their homework and we’d had one last chat to Bird Guy. Then from the driver’s seat we heard “Oh, no” (really, no swearing!) In trying to attach the mount for the GPS back onto the windscreen, the glass had completely shattered.

Another quick chat to Bird Guy revealed a Novus windscreen outlet in Geraldton, so we headed there, parked up on the verge as there was no way we’d fit into their driveway, and one of their repairmen came straight out to measure up. Luckily, in previous years, all the windows in the bus had been replaced with flat glass rather the original curved panels, so it was simply a matter for the windscreen guys to cut a pane to fit and install it. Two hours later and $500 lighter, we were on our way again. Col still came out to meet us at the windscreen place and we had our bbq lunch there, in the middle of the industrial estate. It’s called, making the best of all situations!

We arrived in Kalbarri and parked up by the jetty. Again, we were overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people we encountered. We met a lot of locals who dropped by to say hello to “the people in the big bus”, including one family who are very keen to do this kind of trip with their children and came and asked lots of logistical questions. (Hello Amyleigh and Teagan – I hope it all comes together and we see you on the road soon!!)

We spent a few days hanging out with a couple of nutty sisters, Oksana on holidays from England, Daka an ex-pat living in Perth and Daka’s 12 year old son Slade. They’d run into us at Greenough, and then again on the jetty at Kalbarri. I had a glass of wine or several with the sisters while Slade enjoyed spending time fishing with Trucky and the boys (I think spending lots of time with his mum and aunt was cramping his style a bit!!), we headed out in boats on the river together, fishing and cruising, the four kids played on the playground while the adults drank coffee and chatted. They were great fun people, and we plan to catch up with them in Perth on our return.

Kalbarri has an awesome seahorse sanctuary, where we spent an hour watching thousands of seahorses, from tiny babies, through the ones in primary school (yes, there is a seahorse school!) to those in the retirement village. One good thing about travelling outside of school holidays and weekends, means we can go to these places when they’re basically empty, so we had the marine biologist to ourselves, answering our questions and facilitating our learning about these interesting fish.

Another tourist attraction in Kalbarri that was immensely entertaining was the Pirate Amusement Park. There was mini golf (not to brag but… guess who won!!), trampolines that the kids had great fun on and Alex has now mastered landing a front flip, arcade games and the giant Spider. It’s basically a big cage full of elastic bands, and the kids climbed up to the top and then let themselves fall through the seven layers back down to the bottom. It looked like heaps of fun (and the kids concurred) but unfortunately height restrictions meant Trucky and I couldn’t have a go. He did beat me at air hockey that made up somewhat for beating him at golf! We had the place to ourselves so the kind lady in charge let the kids have a long turn on everything. It was a fun way to spend a few hours.

We left Kalbarri rather reluctantly, but there’s still so much to see! We stopped at Hawks Head and Ross Graham, two of the gorges in the Kalbarri National Park, on the Murchison River. The scenery was spectacular, with so much wildlife! I was surprised to see wild goats grazing away on the banks of the river, but there were also many wallabies, bright green birds and even dragonflies playing. At Ross Graham we were able to walk down though, so into the river. The water was lovely and refreshing as we sat and cooled our feet.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In which Terry gets bogged, and some local colour

We left Jurien Bay Saturday afternoon and headed for Geraldton, to catch up with Colin. He and Trucky are old mates, hanging out in Broome together many years ago. We spent that night in Moonyoonooka (yeah, I couldn’t pronounce it either!!) before relocating at Colin’s suggestion to Greenough. We had a beautiful spot at the mouth of the river, where we spent the next three nights.

We climbed up and down the sand dunes, slipping and sliding and laughing lots. We took Terry out for a spin as there’s lots of 4WD tracks around, even onto the beach. We had an interesting moment when he got bogged on the shore as the tide was rising. We let the tyres down, and with a passer-by and I pushing, Trucky was able to drive the little car out reasonably easily. Back on harder ground, Trucky pulled out the 12v compressor kept in the boot for such emergencies, pumped back up the tyres, and off we went again. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the drive though! Even Jess has developed a taste for it. Alex can’t wait to learn to drive himself.

We took the boat and jet-ski out in the river, and waded and swam in the shallows right in the river mouth. It was such a beautiful spot – aside from several patches of thick, soft pond weed that felt very squishy underfoot and got caught in the motor of the jet-ski. The kids have nick-named the place “Grogan Pond”. (For those of you unsure about the word ‘grogan’ ask a bogan mate – they can explain…)

Colin spent as much time as he could with us over the few days we were there, even bringing one of his clients out for a trip to the river (he’s a carer for disabled adults). Col’s another very funny guy, and I was entertained with lots of stories of the two of them, back in the day. I’m very pleased I was able to meet him, and I know Trucky loved having the chance to catch up for a few days.

We spent one night 4WDing in the dark out to a fishing spot he knew about. He and Alex in his Range Rover, the rest of us in Terry, took off with several wrong turns and a bit of an issue with high tide, for the secret spot. Poor Tezza got bogged again, and this time we were hauled out by the Range Rover with ease. The fishing spot was pretty scary in the dark, with big waves breaking over the rocks. The two big boys got soaked but I was concerned they’d be swept off into the blackness. The rest of us preferred to make our own art gallery of sand pictures than get anywhere near the water. A few more wrong turns on the way out, but some very proficient driving from Trucky meant we got home without further (towing) embarrassment.

During our stay we also got to know several of the local Greenough characters. Each morning a delightful English chap came down to the river to photograph the abundant bird life. He took masses of photos of the osprey catching fish, as well as the pacific gulls with their bright red lipstick and various other birdlife. Unfortunately we never actually got to know his name, but in return for coffee each morning he’d show us his photos (even letting the kids hold his very expensive camera!) and regale us with tales of local life. He even brought us some home grown tomatoes (very yummy!)

Fishing one afternoon Trucky came across two more locals. John and Richard sat by their beaten up Falcon (complete with an old stick holding the boot open) and drank copious amounts of alcohol while espousing their theories of life, the universe and everything to the luckless fisherman. Later that evening they drove up to the bus, parked outside with Pink Floyd blaring, plied us with alcohol and continued their commentary. We all had a good time with these very funny, colourful blokes.

Collector by the beach and an awesome yacht

Leaving Cervantes we headed up the coast for Jurien Bay, to catch up with Dean from NZ (faithful blog-followers may remember him from Cape Le Grand). He’s staying with a lovely bloke called Les, who building a yacht to sail to England. We were made extremely welcome by both these guys, and John the other boarder. Les took us on a tour over his partially-completed yacht (a 65 footer that’ll be magnificent when it’s finished!), and has offered to take us out to the Abrolhos Islands next year.

Trucky and Dean spent a lot of time fishing, and more time shooting the breeze. They also relocated the toolbox from the draw bar of the trailer to the top of the trailer roof rack (long story as to why). It was quite fun to watch them work together, as there was as much strategizing, smoking, teasing and re-doing as actually achieving anything! They had a lot of fun though.

The town of Jurien Bay is just gorgeous, and the beaches very pretty. The kids call it “Collector, with a beach”. It was just a bit too cool to swim properly, but we had lots of fun collecting shells and even starfish that had washed up on the beach. One afternoon we built a whole township of sandcastles, complete with botanic gardens, a bike track, shopping mall and parliament house. We walked into town, we rode our bikes along the beach and explored the marina.

Another mate of Les’s who we got to know was Hadley, a local real estate agent. He had a friendly dog named Rico, a black bitzer who relished time with the kids. We took him down to the beach for a swim, and Daniel particularly, spent hours sitting on the floor patting him.

We spent nearly four days in Jurien, with everyone feeling we could quite happily relocate there. I think Trucky enjoyed having some mates to hang out with after the stress of being in Perth, and the kids and I enjoyed the peaceful surroundings. It started to feel like a holiday again!

More music and the search for sunshine (aka reducing the wildlife population)

Our final days in Perth were spent getting ready to leave, and catching up with friends. The kids spent a lot of time with Karen and Jake, with whom the boys especially got along well with. Jess enjoyed impromptu private bass guitar lessons from Karen. By the end of the first one, she could already play three single-string songs. Karen’s not only a good teacher, she’s a great guitarist, and it’s a pleasure to listen to her play – especially her steel-string acoustic. She and Trucky had a couple of jam sessions which were also entertaining.

We spent a fun evening with Phil and Mandy too, with the kids watching big-screen tv while the adults enjoyed much wine while catching up. Phil is a very funny guy, and Trucky and he rub along well together, while Mandy is a beautiful, genuine lady with whom it was a pleasure to spend an evening. Continuing the musical theme, Phil’s an accomplished drummer, who has offered to take Alex (who’s desperately keen to learn to play drums) along to a gig when next we’re back in Perth.

The weather improved for the last few days but we’d still had enough of the city. We left Perth late in the afternoon of the 28th, keen to depart for somewhere coastal. We drove late into the evening, arriving at Cervantes after 11pm. Driving so late at night facilitated our first unfortunate encounter with a native. (Bus 1: Skippy 0) Or so we thought. Inspection the next morning revealed that Skippy’s parting shot was to break the bull bar in two places!! On the upside, that morning at Thirsty Point we met a lovely couple of fellow travellers, Glenn and Maggie, who run a holiday house at Safety Beach near Dromana in Vic (I can pass on contact details if anyone’s going to that area and needs an awesome place to stay – very well kitted out and sleeps ten!).

Friday, July 17, 2009

Not all hard work though, and itchy feet

While Trucky and John have been tinkering on the multiple vehicles in the yard here (male bonding), Maria and I have been off seeing the sights. We went to an antique show at the University of WA where the buildings and grounds were spectacular in their own right, took Jess before she left to the art gallery to see a couple of good local artist exhibitions, and generally doing other girl-bonding things – shopping, coffee, shopping…

Trucky and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary at a medieval-themed bed and breakfast in Carmel, in the Perth Hills (see It was certainly something different and a bit of fun. And nice to get away from the bus for a while too. We stopped at Lesmurdie Falls on the way back to town - a very pretty spot.

We’ve also spent time with Karen and Jake (my SIL and nephew), and their friends Tracey, Tony and Connor. We've also caught up with some of Trucky's old friends and other relatives including Maria's boys Tony, Joe and Pete.

I’ve been lucky enough to pick up some nursing work through a local agency that supplies locum nurses to operating theatres in Perth. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing some different theatre complexes and how they are run, their standards of practise and the way they operate that’s different from ”over East”.

The kids had an uneventful flight back to Canberra early July, and are enjoying catching up with family and friends back home. They’ll return to us next week (can’t wait) then they can see a bit more of Perth before we head off on the 27th.

I can't wait to hit the road again!

Extreme storms lead to an extreme makeover

We’ve been in Perth now for almost three weeks, camping in John and Maria’s driveway. Trucky had to modify one of the trees in the yard to enable this, but we’re firmly here now.

Unfortunately the massive storms we encountered left a lot of residual damage to the poor old fibreglass roof of the bus, and we suffered badly with water damage inside. The worst affected was the lounge room and Jess’s loft bedroom. We’ve had to dry out all her bedding and replace a few wall and floor panels up there, and get her a new mattress.

The lounge has had an extreme make-over. It’s been fantastic to get rid of the nasty grey couch and hideous carpet, and the horrible chipboard built-in cupboard will not be missed! The whole room looks a lot fresher, bigger and brighter. Maria revamped the couch and it now has new foam and covers on the seats. Trucky and I relined the lounge room walls and recovered the floor with wipe-clean lino which hopefully will be more practical than the dust and mildew filled carpet of old. Thanks to a donation of an old pantry from Karen, we also have a new linen cupboard. The crowning glory is the new built-in cupboard that Trucky and John spent many hours and many swear words on.

Trucky’s also been busy fixing other bits and pieces – amongst other things the passenger door has been re-lined, the solar panel mounts moved and new hinges welded on the maintenance locker together with new floor supports. Oh, and most importantly we’ve both spent many hours on the roof with cans of sealer making sure no more rain can get in. We’ve got all our fingers, toes and everything else crossed to make sure no more water gets in!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

No dates?

Those observant ones amongst my loyal followers may have noticed I very rarely put dates on my blog entries. The reason for this is very simple. Readers who know me well will no doubt remember that despite my general meticulousness and attention to detail, even in the real world governed by calenders and structure, I could go through whole days thinking that Wednesday was in fact Thursday, or Friday, or even the following Tuesday! Now that I am in a universe without such restraints as even clocks, I am completely at a loss to know when anything happens.

I see it is 2:45 am, and I gather it is Saturday morning. It must be 27th June. We’ve been away six and a half weeks!?

Apple fun park, a joyful reunion and the concept of reverse bargaining

After an aborted trip to an apple orchard and cider factory outside Donnybrook (closed on Mondays!) we found the local playground. Hailed as the largest free outdoor playground for children in Australia, we had high expectations of Donnybrook’s Apple Fun Park. We were not disappointed. While not geographically very large, every square inch of space was utilised with innovative, interesting, well-maintained play equipment. There was every manner of slide-y, twist-y, turn-y, climb-y apparatus you can imagine. Even a section dedicated to exercise using your own body weight as resistance kept all five of us entertained for ages.

We planned to meet up with John and Maria (Trucky’s dad and step-mum) in Bunbury later that day. We left Donnybrook reluctantly, but loaded up on fresh local fruit and feeling virtuous for all the exercise had, and found them waiting for us at Boyanup. It was very exciting to see them, as the kids had never met them before, and it had been over six months since Trucky and I were last over west.

They had brought their camper down from Perth, so there was much comparing of mobile homes on the roadside of the tiny town of Boyanup. Between us we took up most of the main street! That done, we headed Bunbury for the night, eventually deciding on a place by the river at Australind. The kids were excited at the prospect of getting the boat out again, so despite the cooler weather, they had a good, if somewhat exhausting, time trying to row against the current in the river.

The next morning Maria took the kids and I on a op-shop tour of Bunbury and surrounds. They are a good source of books for the trip, so we donate ones we’ve finished and buy more for the next leg. I have been teaching the children the idea of reverse bargaining, particularly in the tiny op-shops. At the little church op-shop in Australind, the kids found eight paperback novels they wished to purchase. I took them to the counter where the lovely old lady added them all up and said “Eighty cents”. I told her there was no way I could pay 80 cents for those books, and it had to be at least $2. She was a bit confused but took my money, after checking with me over and over again. It’s not a big deal on my part (after all, eight kids’ books in the shops would cost me at least $20) but I think those little charity shops deserve all the support they can. Double the asking price is a fair thing I reckon! (…off my soapbox now…)

From Bunbury we went to Herron Point. It’s probably a really lovely spot, with the campsite right on the lake, and apparently good crabbing but it was blowing a gale and pouring rain! (Is anyone else spotting a theme here?) We stayed inside and tried to stay dry, but the poor bus sprang a few leaks in the roof. The lounge copped the worst of it, particularly the computer desk. Ah well, there was bound to be a few issues along the way!!

Mandurah saw more rain, but dolphins just offshore helped improve our mood. Our bus was still leaking, and John’s camper had some engine issues with all the water (I’m surprised we didn’t get washed away, there was just so much rain everywhere). The men stayed and tinkered with the vehicles while Maria and I took the kids to the playground on the foreshore at Mandurah. They played enthusiastically between the rain showers, using some of their energy from being stifled by the weather.

Big winds and big trees! (aka the stalkers have names!!)

We left lovely Esperance and spent the night at Short Beach, Bremer Bay. Despite the return of the cold and rain, Jess played in the surf for ages. Alex joined her briefly (they had a seal come and play quite close to them!!), while Daniel and I set up and knocked down domino lines in the bus. Trucky had his most successful fishing expedition yet. From the beach he caught trevally, herring and a whiting. The next morning, all the children braved the weather and played in the water (crazy…) and Trucky again caught more fish.

Arriving in Albany we called into the tourist centre and picked up lots of brochures and ideas about places to go. We booked into Kalgan River Caravan Park, and headed over through the storm and tempest. The kids and I stayed inside, warmish and kinda dry while Trucky tried his luck river fishing (no avail). We dined well that night on the catch from Bremer Bay, watched a movie and went to bed to the sound of driving rain.

We awoke to blue sky, sunshine and wildlife. Outside the bus were about 20 kangaroos and three kookaburras having their breakfast and generally enjoying the day. With the forecast for more storms, we headed off in Terry, westward. Our goal was the Valley of the Giants, and the skybridge tree-top walk, but we had contingencies also, considering the weather.

It rained on the way, but was clear when we arrived at the Tree Top Walk. It was an awesome experience, being 40m above ground in the canopy of the red tingle trees. Jess and Trucky were both a bit concerned with the amount of sway in the bridge, but they still managed to appreciate the scenery. (The kids and I even did the circuit twice.) The Ancient Empire Walk was also interesting, seeing the giant trunks with holes in their bases.

We met up again with Jason and Jeanette, a couple we have nick-named ‘our stalkers’. From the 133K marker peg on the Nullabor onwards, everywhere we’ve stopped, they’ve been there. A really nice young couple working their way around the country, they managed to help Trucky out of a predicament (he ran out of cigarettes in the middle of a national park in the middle of nowhere) and have even offered to teach the kids to surf if (when) we meet up somewhere coastal.

The rest of the day was spent tasting our way back to Albany. We started at the Toffee Factory (chocolate, mango and ginger toffee), then Bartholemew’s Meadery (honey icecream), Denmark Farmhouse Cheeses (Golden Hill Cheddar), Ducketts Mill Wines (Golden Nip) and finally Puzzle Shop for a Rubik’s cube, Tantrix game and Tower of Hanoi.

Last night the wind was so bad I didn’t think we’d be going anywhere, especially with the forecast for hail. But the day was typical – intermittent showers and lovely sunshine. We spent a few hours at the sandalwood factory, touring the facility and sampling various products. Alex wears a sandalwood elephant necklace (bought by Grandpa in India) so he was keen to get some oil to recharge the scent in the little carved animal. The oil is supposed to aid relaxation and encourage deep sleep, so the kids have gone to bed tonight with a little oil sprinkled on their pillows!

Kangaroos on the beach, a new friend and horizontal abseiling

Esperance is GORGEOUS! It probably helped that the weather was much better, but it’s a very lovely town. We stopped by the jetty for lunch, and got talking to a couple who recommended a few sights in the area. We’ve tended to do this, rather than rely solely on guidebooks. The kids enjoyed the clear blue water and white sand while Trucky and I chatted to another couple, this time fellow bus enthusiasts who live in theirs fulltime.

We headed that afternoon to Cape Le Grand National Park. Dodging the kangaroos, we saw in the distance an old black Roll Royce. They stopped, we stopped and all ran toward each other, hugging and laughing like long-lost friends. We’d never met, but heard from various people along the way, of another family with young kids travelling around seeing the sights. A couple of differences from us – they’ve been on the road for 9 YEARS, they have four very young kids (7, 4, 1 ½ and 3 months) in an old 1924 Rolls and a tent, and they’re travelling around the WORLD! They were such genuine, friendly people it was a shame we only had a few minutes to chat. (Check out their website at

We stayed at Le Grand Beach, where the facilities are outstanding. Our bay had a little walking track that lead us right to the beach. We were running up and down watching the sunset, when a fisherman came over the track and down to the beach to try his luck in the surf. We all started chatting, and he and Trucky found lots in common, including a passion for abseiling. Dean the travelling New Zealander joined us for dinner, then he and Trucky strung Alex and Daniel up in harnesses and the young boys practised their manoeuvres tied to the bus.

The next morning Jess, Alex and I walked from Thistle Cove to Lucky Bay, while Daniel, Trucky and Dean tried to find a good abseiling spot. Our walk was quite an easy one, but involved some sections of scrambling over rocks, some glorious scenery and lots of wildlife. Once we got to Lucky Bay we wandered down to the beach, and to our complete astonishment, there was a family of kangaroos also looking to enjoy the water. They lazed in the seaweed, played in the waves, ate, scratched their backs on the sand and generally had a great time. We watched them for ages, with Jess even running back up to the car park to alert some of our fellow travellers. I had no idea kangaroos liked water, and watching them run (okay, hop) toward to big crashing waves with the enthusiasm of children really surprised me. And as if this wasn’t enough, there was a baby whale in the bay too! Talk about Lucky Bay!!

The abseilers had no luck finding anywhere suitable, so the three grabbed their rods and fished instead, at Thistle Cove while they waited for us to complete our return journey. Dean caught a flathead (which he kindly shared with us at dinner that night) then we all returned to Le Grand Beach. The kids spent several hours body-boarding, while I sat on the beach and read, and Trucky and Dean fished.

I think we all felt we could have easily spent several weeks there, walking, swimming, fishing and just relaxing. But there’s always more to see! The tourist loop around Esperance took us to some more glorious beaches, and to Pink Lake, which is kinda mauve if you squint.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More welding, and warm weather

Surprise, surprise, the day started cold and wet, and was quite uneventful (where are all the wild camels?) until about 50km out of Norseman. The rear axle on the trailer had been giving us some concern for a day or so, as the rear tyre was gradually encroaching onto the front one. At this check, it was less than a finger-width away from its mate, so before they touched urgent repairs were required. I drove Terry on ahead into Norseman, in search of a workshop, or at least somewhere we could pull up to attend to the problem. Sunday afternoon, and while not a raging metropolis at the best of times, the town was deserted. The best I could do was a truck resting area, with big signs to the effect of “Cars and caravans will be destroyed and their owners eaten alive if you dare to enter here”. Not very encouraging!

Anyway, that’s where we stopped. We got some planks of wood from a friendly truckie (note small ‘t’) to jack up the trailer so Trucky (note capital ‘T’) could remove the wheels and assess the problem. Ever the pessimist, his on-road assessment of ‘a couple of days at least’ became a quick welding job and back out of the truck bay (still alive!) within the hour.

The night was spent at Kumarl Siding. It was a great camp spot, with fireplaces. Making the most of the opportunity, we lit a campfire and toasted marshmallows. The next morning the kids climbed trees while I cleaned up the kitchen and Trucky cleaned up another oil leak in the engine bay.

But guess what? Sunshine! It’s a glorious day! Off to Esperance to restock the kitchen, then down to Cape Le Grand and Lucky Bay. (and an internet connection)


Another day at Streaky Bay, and then westward ho! Leaving the cold and wet that was SA, we drove through Ceduna (cold) and lured by the promise of whales, stayed the night at the 133k Peg (cold and wet). Alas, no whales that afternoon, but we camped right on the edge of the Bight so the scenery was spectacular.

Trucky spent a couple of hours of grinding and welding to repair the damaged safety chains and tow hitch. It appears that leaving Penong (famed for the last shop for 1000km) earlier that day we’d scraped the draw bar of the trailer on the road leaving the roadhouse. I guess the sparks kept him warm!

The next day we drove over the SA/WA border (cold) and met the lovely chap at the quarantine station. We donated the rest of our fruit, veg and honey, vacuumed Terry (it seems the little 4WD was carrying some grass) and continued on. We stopped at several roadhouses along the way (cold and wet), to use their facilities (anything to prolong the emptying of the on-board portaloo!!) and buy postcards and icecreams.

The destination for the night was Cocklebiddy (cold and wet), as I was desperately keen to get to the caves, and the Eyre Bird Observatory the next day. Calling into the roadhouse for more icecream (do these kids have no feeling at all?) I found a sign giving directions to the observatory. I knew it was off the beaten track, but not quite how much. Crappy dirt road for 17km (thinking, ok, Terry can handle that) then no road, just serious 4WD country for the next 10km. Unfortunately, the little car would have been completely overwhelmed there, so the side-trip was canned.

Resigned to one disappointment, I read on. Next to this disappointing sign was another. This described all the dangers in the cave system, and the safety requirements for those intending to explore. We’d brought the abseiling gear and rescue equipment with us, but not being able to feel my extremities due to cold dampened my enthusiasm a bit. We all decided to give it a miss. So, rather than a couple of days there, we had another driving day ahead of us… I think we are all keen to get back to the coastline again.

Finally Fish!! and haystacks, 4WD and glorious scenery

Next stop Tumby Bay. We spent the night near the jetty, while Trucky again took the rod out. This time, with a bit of advice from a local (and the recipe for “magic goo”) Trucky managed to catch about 15 Tommy Ruffs! Woohoo! A successful fisherman makes for a happier travelling companion…

From Tumby Bay we drove around the base of the Eyre Peninsula, filled up with diesel at Port Lincoln, and headed around to Venus Bay. All the coastline was gorgeous. I’m starting to feel like this trip is no where near long enough to do justice to this amazing coutry. I’d like a lot longer at each place, and more time to see other places in between. (need to win Lotto…need to win Lotto…etc, etc)

We spent the night at Murphy’s Haystacks, a big inselberg formation near Streaky Bay. It was fantastic waking up to see the sun coming up over these amazing rocks. From there we followed the signs to Port Labatt to see the sea lions. (Bad move to take the bus: 17km of very rough dirt road to get there) Once there though, we were lucky enough to see about 60 sea lions, sunning themselves, frolicking in the water or hooning around on the sand. We also met up again with Gordon and Julie who we’d met at the haystacks earlier.

On their suggestion, we checked into the caravan park at Streaky Bay and took Terry our now very dirty 4WD exploring the Westall Way Loop. We spent a couple of hours exploring rock pools and climbing around cliffs, but the highlight for Trucky and Alex was the chance to do some proper 4WDing in the little car. Up and down sand dunes, along cliff edges at Speedes Point, right down onto the beach at Smooth Pool. Since the car is so small and light it got into places larger vehicles wouldn’t. Jess and I were pretty excited because we managed to climb down the cliff onto to the beach at the end of Speedes Point. I’m sure there are not too many people in the world who’ve been to this little beach!

Alex and Trucky went fishing that evening and had further success. They were so excited that they came back to the bus about 1030pm and made us all go out to the jetty. It was freeing cold, but we all managed to catch a couple of fish each. Home after midnight, frozen solid and exhausted. It was probably the best day yet!!

Warships and more rain

Whyalla was an interesting stop. We spent the morning having a tour over the ‘Whyalla’, a 650 ton Corvette warship made locally that served in World War 2. It was fascinating to see what shipboard life would have been like. Very crowded, and on a ship with a 40 degree pitch I’m not sure it would have been a lot of fun – even without the business of war going on around it! Alex particularly enjoyed the wheelhouse, where we were allowed to blow the ship’s whistle.

The weather was still alternating beautiful sunshine and pouring rain. We set up camp at Port Gibbon, dodging huge deep puddles and a few other caravans. Trucky tried his luck fishing from the beach, while the kids in their parkas and beanies went paddling in the ocean. Nutbags!

We continued our streak of interesting weather. A short break at Lipson Cove (what a glorious spot!) saw the kids-with-no-nerve-endings (Jess and Alex) in their swimmers paddling in a sheltered bay, and Trucky again trying to catch something. Anything (spotting a recurring theme here??). In only a few minutes the weather turned from glorious sunshine to pelting rain. We had a mad dash back to the bus, all saturated and freezing. But we dried off and continued on our way.

Drivers reviving and dolphins

Leaving Adelaide in the pouring rain, we stopped at Port Germein. We took the fishing gear out onto the longest wooden jetty in Australia. Carrying all our stuff down the end - 1532m from the shore - we set up. We were joined by three dolphins that splashed and played under and around the jetty for about ten minutes. That was certainly the highlight for me, coz yet again we didn’t catch any fish! The kilometre and a half walk back in the dark, cold drizzle was not so much fun either.

That night we stayed at Lincoln Gap, under the watchful eye of three gregarious ladies at the Driver Reviver station. Plying the kids with Milo, homemade cakes and nut mix at 10pm, they had a tour through the bus and entertained us with local stories until we really had to go to bed. The next morning we were greeted by the shift change. The ladies had gone to sleep in the caravan out the back, and two men were on the kettle. More coffee, Milo, lollypops and cakes were handed around, and further stories from the colourful chaps made the morning very amusing.

Big pillows and new teeth

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It’s been AGES since my last entry. So much has happened since we last had an internet connection (…gotta love Vodafone!)

The kids returned to Adelaide as seasoned air travellers. On their return we were able to show them some cool places around Adelaide, but to be honest I think they enjoyed the jumping pillows at the caravan park as much as anything!! Think 5m x 20m inflatable pillows that you can jump and flip and somersault on for hours – even Trucky and I brushed off our gymnastic skills and had a go!

While in the caravan park, we met heaps of great people. Barry and Fleur, with their kids Mason and Baxter, were travelling from Fremantle to Cairns. Thanks Fleur for our great haircuts. We also met some fellow bus nuts – Roy in his work-in-progress Hino ‘AVNFUN’ and Steve and Fiona in the Denning ‘RUN’A’MUCK’ with the awesome disco floor. Thanks to all for your offers of places to stay, and tips and pointers for places to see along the way.

I’d highly recommend Adelaide Shores Caravan Park to anyone (especially those travelling with kids) who need a base in Adelaide. The amenities were new and very well designed, the playgrounds, pools, and pillows entertained all age groups, and the staff was very friendly and helpful. It literally backs right onto West Beach, is about five minutes by car or easily bike-accessible from Glenelg, and not far from the city.

Our stay in Adelaide was extended a few more days following a chance meeting with Joe, a dental prosthetist with personality – his motto “We make them, you break them, we fix them”. Seeing the appalling state of Trucky’s dentures, he made Operation No-More-Superglue a priority. In four days Trucky had a brand new set of choppers that look great, actually fit and perform as designed. (Joe and Frank’s 0414 341 820)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Adelaide on the quiet

26/5 The three young explorers had an adventure all of their own when they flew unaccompanied back to Canberra for a week, to see their Dad and school friends. After a stupid o'clock start (I didn't think 5am existed when you're on holidays?) they set off into the sky under the care of Qantas crew member Bec. As far as I can gather it was an uneventful flight for all!!

Trucky and I decided to stay on in the caravan park at West Beach. It's right on the beach, and close to everything. Since the kids have gone, we've slept in every day, spent some time on the beach (Trucky fishing, me reading) and done some more maintenance on the bus. We've also been back up to the Hills to see Rosie again and also catch up with cousin Tim who I haven't seen for about 15 years. Tim gave us a private one-man show, just him and his guitar, and he signed a copy of his band's cd for us too - Colonel Kernel "On Wings of Wrens".

We spent one day as tourists, visiting the museum, art gallery (surprisingly we have quite similar taste in art - except the rhino!!), and science centre. We stumbled across a free concert in Rundle Mall, celebrating Reconciliation Week. We were particularly taken by a local band called 'Be Natural'. When Trucky asked them about a cd, they were flattered but shocked. I think they must be a fairly new outfit, but they were very polished and had some great original songs. Hopefully we get to see them play somewhere in the future.
It's quiet without the kids. Can't wait for them to come back (Tuesday 2/6).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thank you CMCA Riverlanders!

Following the advice of Dennis and Cherie who we met the night before at the border, we decided to stay the 23/5 at Mannum, on the Murray River. When we pulled up into the campsite right on the water, we were surprised to find about 40 other motorhomes there. It turns out the Riverlanders chapter of the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia ( were having a monthly meet there too. They immediately made us so welcome. We are already used to being a bit of a spectacle (we're almost 60' long and significantly younger than most of the other MHers) but here we felt like we'd found some kindred spirits. Everyone had a tour through the bus (our kids as tour guides) and then we joined them all in the big tent they'd set up for happy hour. [This photo is Keith and his motorhome "Uneek" - and it was!] We blew up the dinghy and the kids went out on the Murray (cold!!) for a paddle.We tethered them on a rope about 50m long, so they could be reeled in if needed.

We spent the morning with the boat and the jetski on the river. The kids even went swimming. We had planned to into Adelaide for the next few days, but following the advice of our new friends, we decided to stay in Mannum and take Terry (the 4wd) into town instead. We had a brilliant afternoon and evening with Rosie in Bridgewater, and came home very late.

25/5 We woke up late to a knock at the bus door. Elsie from the CMCA said they'd organised a private tour over the paddlesteamer 'Murray Princess' - leaving in ten minutes! A big scramble to get ready, but so worth it. Bobby the entertainer on the ship (and also a CMCA member) took us through the whole ship. It was fascinating. We're all keen to have a cruise on it now!

Horsham and almonds

(This blog-thing seems to have eaten the previous post. Not sure how to retrieve it...)

So much has happened. I can't believe it's been less than two weeks since we left home! We had a huge day in Sovereign Hill, panning for gold, travelling 30m underground on a gold mine tour, watching musket fire displays and the Red Coat soldiers. All five of us had an awesome time, and learned so much about this part of our history.

Because we lost a couple of travelling days with the bus in the shop, we had to make a few changes to our proposed itinerary. We left Ballarat without getting to the Eureka Stockade (I'm disappointed but I'm sure we'll return), and instead of heading south and seeing the Great Ocean Road and Mt Gambier we went inland.

22/5 Horsham was great fun, with a bbq on the river bank and then all five of us (yes, Meredith, even me!) on pushbikes exploring. We met a lovely couple (Garry and Betty) who let us fill up our water tanks from their bore, as the whole area is in drought and there's no public access water anywhere.

That night we stayed right on the Vic/SA border. There we met up with some more travellers. The kids put on a show for us, singing and dancing. Very amusing! The next morning we crossed over the highway (on foot) and went to Lockhart Almonds ( There we stocked up on yummies like fresh almonds and pumpkin seeds, even milk and free range eggs. The lovely gent serving gave us some just baked almond biscuits he'd made, so we had to buy a bag of them too. I highly recommend a stop there if you're in the area.

On the road, finally!

Well, we’re on the road at last!

We had a great first night (12 May) with Ben and Simone on their property outside Bombala. They were fantastic hosts, and we all had an awesome time. We went four wheel driving in the afternoon, and toasted marshmallows on several big bonfires Ben had lit that night. Then we stopped at Pambula Beach to visit Jessica’s friend Maddy Harvey and her family. We stayed that night at Merimbula.

We had Granny’s 95th birthday celebration in Melbourne on the weekend. It was great to see the extended family together. We also visited the most awesome playground in Frankston, and the cake shops on Acland St in St Kilda!

We had planned to leave Melbourne on Tuesday, but the bus had other ideas. Luckily we were just down the road from the most friendly truck mechanic you’d ever hope to meet (Karl Larsen Truck Repairs, Brunel Rd Seaford 03-9776 4099). He made fixing the recalcitrant engine a priority. He let us hang out in the workshop and even gave us use of his internet! With the fix becoming an overnight job, Karl invited us to stay outside his place that night. His lovely wife Sharon made us all very welcome, giving the kids run of the house. The next morning we went back to the workshop (just around the corner) and straight away he was helping us out again.

The kids are getting stuck into their schoolwork already. They have maths and English texts to work from, and are keeping daily journals. They only spend about an hour a day, all up, but I’m sure they’re learning as much as they would in a full day at real school!

Trucky is thoroughly enjoying being behind the wheel again, and the spectacle we make wherever we go! We’ve already met up with several other motor-homers, including ‘Spud’ the train driver from Parkes, who has offered us hospitality if we’re up his way.