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)