Western Australia Part 2

Prt 2 WA-Cocklebiddy-Exmouth Including Eclipse

In Part 1 we had called into the roadhouse at Cocklebiddy,  before leaving I felt compelled to ask the shopkeeper if the population of eight shown on the sign was genuine, she assured me it was and quickly rattled off their names one by one. She added that occasionally there was more in busy times, The 8 residents all worked and resided at the roadhouse. Lovely friendly people who said it was difficult to survive sometimes. Covid nearly killed them, but they just kept on going. True-spirited Aussies doing it tough.

We were in the last stretch of the Nullabor. With another 219 km driven, we pulled up at yet another roadhouse. Quite a lively place with a caravan park, motel, and petrol station.  Balladonia where we had been advised to check out the museum apparently centred around the Skylab crash in 1987.

The museum was neatly presented although only a tiny section of the somewhat small display was concentrated on the Skylab crash with a replica of a part of Skylab. Not exactly authentic but interesting. It’s a good rest stop and breaks the long drive, other than that we cannot be more generous about it. On the last stretch now to Norseman. This is probably the most tiring section being another 220kms and I have to say less interesting landscape than previously. So, the Nullarbor is done, and the anticipation is now gone. The sense of achievement is good and the realisation that it is not hard, not boring and in fact quite interesting. The rest of our trip will see us cover many more kilometres of long stretches which would easily challenge the degree of difficulty of the Nullarbor.

Leaving the Nullarbor, we are heading further into the outback to visit the mining areas on our way to Exmouth. The first stop is Kalgoorlie, nearly 200 km from Norseman WA. The road was good, but the landscape was very sparse all the way with very few signs of civilisation. Out of the blue, a sign for a café grabbed our attention. We turned left and drove a couple of kilometres to our amazement we came across a small town with every facility you could need,  Motels, a caravan park, Woolworths, a gym, and sports ground, etc.  I believe the town was Coolgardie, but we have no idea where the residents resided. Later in our trip, we realised there are a huge number of mines pretty much hidden all over the countryside and other than the odd fence sign you would not know they were there. Obviously, a lot of workers needed supplies, hence the town of Coolgardie.

Next, we arrive at Boulder/Kalgoorlie. My first thoughts are it is a grubby town with lots of old equipment, old buildings, and disjointed infrastructure. Pretty much what we expected. We immediately came across the road to the Super Pit. It was blowing a gale at the top of the hill but thankfully there is a large, covered area over the information boards and a fantastic viewing platform that looks over the mine. Taken from one of the boards:- “In June 1893, Paddy Hannan, Thomas Flanagan, and Dan Shea found nearly 100 ounces of gold in the dry red soil of what is now Kalgoorlie-Boulder. This sparked a gold rush and the discovery of the area known as the Golden Mile, which is one of the richest gold deposits in the world. By 1903 there were 49 operating mines, 100 headframes and more than 3,000 km of underground workings on the Golden Mile.”

Looking through the window you are faced with a  huge deep cavernous hole with walls layered in varying gold, red, grey, and brown layers of colour. Dotted with yellow trucks together with red and yellow hard hats, you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Leggoland with model trucks using makeshift roads to move the endless piles of potential gold from one layer to the next. Surreal and yet an actual working masterpiece. After checking out some of the older buildings in the town we stocked up on fuel and groceries. I have to say there was a large contingency of Aboriginals congregating around the local community centre and shopping centre who were becoming quite boisterous we did hasten our steps a little.

As we were moving into more remote places, we decided a map of WA was a good idea. The mobile had been good to date, but when there is no reception and many km of road seemingly going nowhere a printed map is vital. Popping into the Information centre, I had a chat with the local expert and found out about a couple of interesting sights to visit as we continued along this Golden Mile. Approximately 8 km out of town we pulled onto a dirt road and drove a couple of km when we came across a very large circular tin structure. Two large openings and bench seating following the curve of the shed led our imagination to a very verbal and boisterous game of two-up. I believe considerable dollars had changed hands here on many occasions. To the right was a dilapidated tin lean too with a painted sign “Mens” and further over another sort of structure which we believed to be the ladies although not marked as such.  The interesting part is knowing that this dusty piece of land was still being frequented every Sunday in the present day. I can only imagine the value of the cash passing hands today.

A little while later we turned off the highway at Broad Arrow to visit the local tavern. Nothing much there but a whole lot of evidence of who had been there. The beer was cold, and the locals came and went. Both the inside and the outside walls were totally covered in scribbled names and messages. Not a patch left bare that I could see. Such an intriguing establishment. The stories that must have been told on those bar stools would surely be worth hearing.

Menzies is another tiny town, and we were only passing through on our way to see the sculptures on Lake Ballard. It was late afternoon when we arrived but just enough time to check out a couple of the 51 iron sculptures placed all over the 7 square kilometres of this vast Salt Lake. Absolutely fascinating concept. If the rain had fallen it would have been a red muddy and unpleasant walk, but we were in luck it was dry and hard and therefore easy to navigate. Free camping is allowed, with drop toilets available. The night was pitch black with the stars shining brightly. There was absolute silence even though there were several caravans and campers scattered around. The next morning, we woke to a clear day, and an eagerness to explore. Antony Gormley was the British artist responsible for the stark black steel family of sculptures. Apparently, each one represents previous residents of the town of Menzies. They are all a little different, men, women, and children each now connected by the millions of footprints in the red salty ground.  What also makes It interesting is the out-of-place conical-shaped hill that seems to rise out of the dry Salt Lake. Covered in scrub and rocks it was quite a scramble to the top which I did attempt but gave up very quickly. Ken managed to climb up about ¾ of the way but the continuance of little avalanches of rocks deterred him from reaching the summit.

Another pleasant sight was a young boy on a bicycle having a lot of fun riding on the Salt Lake and a large brown dog expelling a lot of energy running endlessly over the dry lake.

After returning to Menzies our next stop was Kookynie town. It has been labelled a ghost town but the fact that 20 people still lived there refutes that fact.  It was quite a way off the highway and a little disappointing once we arrived. History depicts a flourishing and vibrant working town and certainly, you can see the remnants of that, but many of the buildings have fallen apart and replaced with information boards. There are some brilliant rusted-out vehicles together with plant and machinery. The brochures indicate the town is growing and I hope for their sake this is correct however I do doubt its prospects. A drive out to the Niagara Dam surprised us by actually having water in it, to date we had seen a lot of dry water holes. It was quite hot and dry but an easy walk across the dam wall.  Apparently, as soon as work started on building the dam, the town discovered an underwater bore and therefore the dam was not actually needed. Such a waste but hopefully as Wikicamps has it listed it will be enjoyed by more travellers as a free camp down near the water’s edge under the shade of the trees.

Gwallia is a mere 152 km north and it is an actual Ghost Town. Right on its edge is another very large mining exploration happening today. Luckily, they have seen fit to preserve the buildings of Gwallia as they were. There is a grand hotel, some old shops, houses, and other establishments.  We visited the reasonably thorough Museum of the Times, with a café in the old heritage home visited by Edgar Hoover before his USA presidency. It was beautifully preserved, and the tea and scones would have been thoroughly enjoyed had we not been sitting on the wide-open veranda which had a pleasant breeze to cool us down but unfortunately, the flies had the same idea. an Australian staple we were quickly tired of. Time for working and washing again so we booked a caravan park at Leonora,10 minutes from there.

The advertising for Leonora was such that I was expecting a well-looked-after town with some interesting things to see. I can honestly say this was not our experience. The people we encountered were lovely but there was little to see and the caravan park we were booked into had razor wire topping the entire perimeter. This is a little unnerving. The party started late afternoon/ early evening as some of the locals become extremely verbal. A lot of screaming, aggressive music and abusive language continued through the night.  We were going to stop for 2 nights but chose to limit it to one and hopefully find a free camp further along. I did manage to get some work done, the washing finished, and we had showers so no complaints but obviously did not sleep well that night.

Our plan at this stage was to continue our way to Karijini national park despite the current cyclone off the coast of WA above the national park. We were following it closely but at this stage, the forecasters were indicating a move to the Northern Territory, so we stayed on our planned itinerary.

Our next main stop was Mount Magnet some 432 km to the west. About 280 km along we pulled off just before the town of Sandstone following an advertised tourist trail. Sandstone was formerly a gold rush town and later nearly a ghost town, however in 2021 its population was 109 people who apparently are very proud of their town as the homes are neatly kept and overall, the town is nicely laid out and well looked after. Its claim to fame today is the greatsights you see on The Heritage Trail. Just two of the things we liked were The London Bridge and the Cave Brewery. London Bridge is aptly named and worth the drive. The scenery is wonderful and needless to say a frequently photographed tourist attraction. The Brewery is intriguing. Developed by an Irishman who built the pub at the top of the mound of limestone rock and then ran the pipes down to the cave below to keep the barrels cool.  This place is very remote and hard to imagine people going that far for a cold beer. Ken pointed out there would have been many gold seekers in need of a thirst-quenching beer after the tiresome effort of searching for their fortune all day in the summer heat.  It was getting to mid-afternoon, and we hurried on to our free camp which was not far out of Mount Magnet. Once we arrived it was a little rockier than the reviews on Wikicamps and of course, while trying to decide on the spot we gashed a rather large hole in the front tyre. We were just over half an hour from town, but it was late in the afternoon. A quick call to the local mechanic led us to believe he may be able to get us a replacement tyre. Hurriedly changing the tyre to our space-saver spare tyre, we drove the distance to the town. Alas when we got to town, he had closed along with the rest of the town, so we had to stay at a caravan park. Luckily, we were able to find a spot. Again, another caravan park that was monitored by police. A couple of phone calls the next morning convinced us we needed to drive the 350k to Geraldton as nothing was available anywhere else.  As it turns out our plan was to head for Karijini national park, but we were concerned as a cyclone had crossed into an area a couple of hundred k’s short of where we were headed. At least going to Geraldton, we would miss the bad weather from the cyclone but sadly we would miss the opportunity to see Karijini National Park. This was bitterly disappointing but unfortunately, we had no choice.

So off we went, bright and early and made it to Geraldton in time to get the new tyre. Thank you to Tyrepower who fit us in, changed our tyres around so they were evenly matched and did not overcharge us. A consolation was that the cyclone did in fact hit land nearer to our original destination than we would have liked so we were saved from some very treacherous weather by heading to the coast.

While in Geraldton we checked out the memorial for HMAS Sydney. This is quite large and beautifully designed.  The gardens surrounding it are nice and the lookout is quite appealing. Leaving here we drove down to the Esplanade. The sun was hot, and we stretched our legs with a walk to the end. Here we found a huge Crystal ball on display. Depending on the angle you can see your reflection and the ocean through the glass. Really neat and different.

Now where to stay, it was getting late, so we headed just out of town to a camp referred to as an Eco camp. We drove in and there was a house unattended and a sign to say park and leave your donation. Showers, toilets, and a camp kitchen. We drove around an oval and found some old numbers on trees which we determined were campsites. Picked one which was near the camp kitchen and set up. There was quite a large group just near us who were using the facilities and turned out to be a rowdy bunch. As the facilities looked old and unkept we decided to just use the toilet. I am not sure of the meaning of Eco camp but looked more like ‘Look after yourself Camp’.  We were up and out of there early the next morning.

Another long 480km north and we arrived at our destination, Carnarvon, we found an inexpensive caravan park that was run by a young woman who was super happy and a very hard-working lady. We stayed here 3 nights as I had work to do and we needed time to just catch up with washing, shopping and to relax a little. Once again, we expected a larger more commercial town. There was a nice esplanade, some small gift shops and coffee places and more industrial-style businesses but otherwise, an ordinary town.  We must mention though that we did visit the Space and Technology Museum which proved very entertaining with hands-on activities and a wealth of information. This was a tracking station for early space missions such as Gemini, Skylab and Apollo. It was easy to spend a couple of hours going through all the exhibitions. A very worthwhile visit. It appears small but is jammed pack with interesting and interactive highlights.

Having sorted ourselves out and prepared supplies for our 5 days at Exmouth we left on the 18th to head for our eclipse headquarters. It is 364 km to Exmouth and other than a coffee break we drove straight through. Getting close to the Exmouth turnoff Ken saw a hawk in the sky and just happened to comment that he had not seen an eagle for some time. As if by magic we passed 5 eagles hovering over roadkill on our right. As it happened Ken checked the km at that point and realised it had changed dramatically as we were going the wrong way. We had to turn back and as we drove toward the point where the eagles were feeding, we stopped and Ken walked quietly down to try for a photo. He was rewarded generously as one very large eagle held back until the last minute and he was able to photograph the eagle in flight. It was a brilliant photo and very unexpected. We of course were quite happy that we had missed that turn-off.

 It was amusing to see the many traffic warnings along the way. There were many warnings of traffic delays due to upcoming events, and frequent roads blocked off.   We personally experienced no delays of any kind and drove easily to the entrance of the overflow camp where we had booked along with hundreds or possibly thousands of others. We were cordially welcomed and were instructed to follow the man in the high-vis yellow jacket madly peddling his bicycle to our allocated spot. They were very organised, with many helpers and all just as excited as we were. We had a great spot with few vans around us. We did have to be self-sufficient so up went the annex for the first time along with the Joolca shower and toilet tent. The weather was brilliant. Hot but with a nice breeze. It was afternoon so after unpacking we went for a drive to the centre of town to find a pub and a cold beer. We had no trouble and arrived at the Froth Hotel which quite a few others tried out as well. A short drive around town we were able to get our bearings as to where the beach was, our expected viewing site for the Eclipse. It was conveniently within walking distance from our camp.  We settled down for the night in anticipation of a mass arrival of campers the next day. As it turned out there was a steady stream, but the area was huge and accommodated everyone very well. We did notice that our little corner was still not crowded out.  We were close to an exit which made it very easy to come and go. That morning we had a visit from an acquaintance, Mandy, and her husband Brian. Ken had spoken to Mandy before in relation to a visit we made to Lightening Ridge.

Mandy writes for The Outback magazine for RM Williams. She wanted to ask us about what to expect regarding the eclipse as it was her first experience. They are a happy friendly couple whose company we enjoyed. She will be doing an article, whether we are in it we will have to wait to find out. We hope she enjoyed her first eclipse as we were unable to meet up with her after the event. I am sure she would have been very busy interviewing many people about their experiences.

The morning passed quickly, and we met up with some other friends that evening for a meagre feed of sausage sandwiches accompanied by beer and wine. Earlier in the day we took a drive up to the Vlamingh Head Lighthouse, one of the few places where both sunset and sunrise can be observed over the ocean. We also visited a local beach and went for a brief dip at Town Beach. The water is warm and shallow, and you can walk knee-deep for quite a way out.  The next morning was eclipse morning, and it was decided we only needed to move a few metres from our camp. Ken had decided he would not bother trying to photograph as he wanted to be able to watch the eclipse without interference and in the end was very happy with his decision. It is a spectacular experience that everyone should endeavour to see at least once in their lifetime. It is also one of the hardest things to describe and one of the most difficult to put into words. This was my 4th eclipse and Ken’s 6th, of course not all are successful, but all are meaningful. All I can tell you is that if the sky is clear, it is an exceptional occurrence. The sky changes, the moon covers the sun and at the final moment when the sun is nearly completely covered, the image of a diamond ring appears as the last rays push through peaks and valleys  Once the sun is completely covered you will see eruptions or prominences sprout out from behind the shadow. As the sun was quite active at the time, we were lucky enough to see white baileys beads and red prominences which were a bonus. This eclipse was very short, only 57 seconds in our position. Within moments there were cheers from the field. The number of cameras clicking at the time would have been phenomenal and the number of photos showing up on Facebook pages later in the day proved the absolute joy of those who were privileged to view it. Certainly, an experience that is hard to forget. Absolutely worth the 5,500 km we had travelled so far. I look forward to 2028 when hopefully we can be a lot closer to home in the Blue Mountains of NSW when this event will occur once again with a 5-minute duration.

It was all over as quick as a wink and there was more to do and to see. We decided to try for a drive to the local national park. Some of the park had been closed off to travellers and much of the park is 4wd only. We drove out not sure of what we were going to be able to see. We passed the lighthouse from the previous day and drove on for many kilometres. Passing several side roads leading to beaches eventually, we pulled over to the Yardie Creek Gorge car park. The walk along the top of the gorge did not look too difficult and was about 3-4 km return. At the opening of the gorge and still, on a flat walking trail, there was a river barge taking people for a leisurely trip up to the centre and back. Together with some kayakers slowly meandering up the gorge, it was quite a serene picture. It was not too far up the track, and you could appreciate the beauty of the area. The high cliffs of red rock meeting the deep blue of the ocean water were worth the effort. The gorge turned around to the left and the track headed up to higher ground which looked quite manageable, until of course it wasn’t. We came across a deep ravine that would have to be navigated if one wanted to get to the top.  A little boulder hopping and then a whole lot of rock scrambling got us down and up the other side. I must admit it took a massive amount of self-talk and some encouragement from other walkers to keep me going. I am used to coming up against obstacles in our walks and usually, the challenge means there will be a reward at the end. Part of the problem with this walk was that it was hot, and I had worn a light dress with bike shorts underneath, not the best outfit for climbing. Regardless I soldiered on thinking it would flatten, not long after we came across another canyon to master! Ken turns to me and says just watch where I put my feet and follow on. Well, if my legs were as long as his and I was 20 kilos lighter I would have so much less of a problem. The challenge was met and beaten not without several cries of “I can’t do this“ once again. The sense of satisfaction is tremendous. We find ourselves above the gorge looking down onto the cliffs once again. The wind is blowing, and the sun is beating down as we stand alone looking far and wide across the many ridges. It gives one a feeling of beauty and solitude. It makes you realise just how much of Australia is untouched by humanity. Unfortunately, we had to traverse the same route on the return trip. Of course, we made it back in one piece tired and hungry. A very tasty late lunch at a waterside café and an evening of wine and cheese with our friends saw the day come to an end. Another day exploring the town and our time at Exmouth and this leg of our trip had ended. An early night and early start the next day where we headed back.

Western Australia Part 1 WA Trip 2023

Trip to Western Australia – Main purpose is to witness a total solar eclipse in Exmouth WA on 20th April 2023

We are travelling in a Mazda CX5 AWD and towing our new cub explorer, camper trailer.  We are travelling for around 7 weeks from Blue Mountains NSW Australia, through South Australia and onto Western Australia. There is a lot to see so I will be writing this as I go in sections.

Hazelbrook, Blue Mountains to  Broken Hill.

Currently writing this blog while crossing the Nullarbor Plains. An experience I would never have contemplated over the last 70 years.

It is interesting that the feeling we have when leaving Ceduna, the start of the Nullarbor, is one of excitement, given that we have just travelled over 2000km from Sydney via Broken Hill, Port Augusta, Gawler Ranges, along many long roads with very little  distraction to break the endless plains. Stretching for hundreds of kilometres either side of the road . The prospect of continuing that pattern with even less obstacles to take the eye away from the endless broken white line should seem daunting, rather than exciting.

Of course, so far along the way there has in fact been points of interest which could easily be dismissed if your mindset does not appreciate the history or the beauty of the Australian landscape.Starting off from home the rain was gently falling, leaving us with  a feeling of trepidation.  We left at 7.30am with a 7 to 8 hr drive ahead of us.The prospect of our first night being one in the rain was not exciting. Never fear as we left Sydney we left the rain behind us. Cobar NSW approximately 600 kms being our first stop.The first day of driving was passing through towns familiar to us so little to report. What we did experience later in the day was the massive wide load trucks transporting machinery across the countryside. These require  lead warning vehicles to clear the road. We came across several, some with 2 or 3 lead cars. Each time there is a need to slow down, pull to the side of the road or even stop. Add to this the very lengthy road trains which are frequent and constant, it makes a long drive interesting.

Entering  Cobar, you are confronted with a huge rusty iron, town sign representing  the  look of  the mining industry in all its glory.

Our main purpose here was to find a free camp for the night. We relied on the wiki camps  app and headed to Cobar Reservoir, where we were pleasantly surprised to find a beautiful spacious  campground surrounding a reservoir of water in the centre.  Once setup we took a walk around the water to stretch our legs before settling down with a cool glass of wine  and a relaxing evening. It was a quiet, free, and safe spot.

The next morning, we planned an early getaway, anticipating another long drive to Broken Hill. Along the way we visited Mt Grenfell historical site. Passing, many goats, kangaroos, and emu’s the drive was pleasant and a short walk from the car park we were able to site  a significant show of aboriginal art under a few overhanging rock formations. Pushing on we stopped for petrol at Wilcannia. Such a surprising place, the contrast of preserved  historical  sandstone buildings  next door to  abandoned  residence’s and  dilapidated, bordered up shops. It created a vision of beauty and a yet a feeling of sadness. Even though the town itself sits along a running river, appears to have some pretty parks the distances to travel for work would surely pose a problem for the towns people to thrive.

With 200 km to Broken Hill we had a quick lunch and hit the road  with the hope of getting into another free camp for the night. We were not so lucky This time. It was our intention to stay at a caravan park within the “Living Desert Sculptures”  We had a quick stop for some supplies, then headed out to our destination. As we arrived at the gate, we were told we needed to book online. The ranger pointed us in the direction of the sculptures at theTop of the hill as the reception was better. Alas once there we discovered nothing available for that night. As it was late in the afternoon Ken quickly took some photos of the sculptures and we headed back down to town to secure a spot to sleep. As it turned out the free camps were a distance from the town. We settled on Broken Hill Caravan Park at the end of town.  The cost was $35 but we had the luxury of very spacious and clean showers and toilets. Not surprising at all was how warm flowing water over the body is very soothing at the end of a long dusty drive.

Broken Hill has a few good attractions, one being, The Living Desert Sculptures as mentioned. Worth the trip to photograph the unique sculptures.The second recommended site would be Pro Hart Gallery. We did not visit as we were short on time, however we have been before, and it is an interesting experience whether you like his art or not. The third thing worth mentioning is the recent addition of a memorial to the miners in the area. Placed high on the mounds of iron ore rising above the town there sits a sombre dark brown iron like structure surrounded by memorabilia of old disused mining equipment. There are information boards along the walkway. A viewing platform gives a magnificent view of the entire city and a very expansive view of the mine areas. The names of all the miners are listed. Those who having given their lives in various ways to the harshness of the  surrounding land which provides many of us with the standard of living we possess today. A memorable display with a red roses lining the columns of many names of miners from near and far. Noted were the different reasons for dying and how that changed over the years.

Broken Hill to The Nullarbor.

Our first stop is a town called Peterborough (originally known as Petersburg ) a small but pretty town focused on their train heritage. The houses are small, brick and reasonably well kept. A few plagues around the centre of the town were nicely displayed  and gave a brief story of the history . We did not take the time to go through the museum but I am guessing a train enthusiast would be happy to browse it.  Another fleeting stop to take a photo of the Manna Hill station Hotel. A town of no population so not sure why such a gorgeous building exists. I have been unable to find anything much about it.   We were in fact trying to make it to Port Augusta so we hurried on.  Closing in on our destination the skyline was dotted with hundreds of wind turbines. Huge structures which in the right place, can look quite aesthetic. Another thing noticed on the road in and out of Port Augusta was quite a few trucks towing bulk kayaks or canoes.  We are assuming there is a boat building factory there., as yet we are still debating that question. Lots of hours on the road together creates lots of interesting conversations.

Port Augusta is a busy commercial working town with a military base and airport. I did expect it to be a bit more picturesque than it was. There was major work happening on the main bridge crossing the river which disrupted the traffic flow a little.  A quick stop for supplies and we headed to our next free camp. This proved a small challenge. Instruction was to go passed the military base and we would see the turn off to Question Mark Hill. The clue was in the name. The Hill in question was not huge so we missed the tiny blue caravan sign. After a second attempt we found our spot. Very isolated but looked quite safe. There was a sign on the fence running along the open area, warning us about the unexploded bombs in the area and therefore no access. We just hoped they got the fence in the right place.  We settled down to be presented with a beautiful sunset, a powerful storm in the distance and a rainbow against the brightened sky. Quite spectacular half hour.  We spent the evening watching the huge road train lights glide along the very distant highway.  The area was dark and  other than the  glowing lights of human existence on those trucks , the stars were our only neighbours. The night was silent, but the morning bought unexpected rain. Up until now we had been able to neatly pack up our gear each day  which  was not the case today. We shoved everything in wherever we could, quickly folded down the camper and headed off to find some breakfast and much needed coffee.  No problem as we pulled up to get petrol a restaurant beckoned us. After a Big breakfast which would see us through to dinner, we were off to see the sites. The Flinders Ranges Red Cliffs lookout which is among the Desert National Park. in Port Augusta. On the drive into the car park we had to wait on the way for the little family of kangaroos having a meeting in the middle of the road. Not the first time we had encountered this common occurrence.  The area beckoned us to walk along the cliff edge to view the cliffs and the bridge over the river. The deep red of the cliffs are a contrast to the grey mangroves which lap at their feet, add to that the blue of the water and you are faced with  a picturesque scene. The desert gardens surrounding us  display many of the species the naturalist Robert Brown examined and collected from the area in 1802. These species were completely new to science at that  time.

On the road again and 150kms west brings us to Kimba. Driving into the town there are signs for the Silo Art , the Big Galah, and the sculptures. Petrol is needed so we headed to the Big Galah. Quickly noticing the silo, we stopped to photograph yet another typical country scene appropriate to the area. The silos are huge, and the information plaque informs us how much paint, how long it took and the name of the artist. They are always fascinating, and we, personally think they are a piece of beauty  decorating the harsh reality of the imposing cement of the silos. I must mention the dreaded march flies at this point. We have encountered them before and found they love our blood way too much. In our opinion they are a large silent destructive annoyance of the Australian outback. They land, bite and are gone and one is left with  swelling itchy painful lumps. We kept the bushman’s aerosol  handy after that. Next, we introduced ourselves to the very large Pink Galah  sitting  perched  in front of a roadhouse. After taking one of those photo’s  you just must take even though you know everyone has one the same.  Petrol problem solved we went in search of the advertised sculptures. Stretching  our legs, we walked  up to the lookout to find a life size  iron statue of John Eyre and an aboriginal  man by his side. Continuing this road, we headed to the Gawler Ranges national park.

We were aware this area was best travelled in a 4WD however information gained told us it was suitable in places for  less than that.  It was not too long before we hit the orange dirt of an unsealed road. Even though the camper and the car handled the corrugated rough road, it was a slow and careful drive.  100 km’s later we pulled into a our pre-booked camping spot. No person or vehicle in site, we were happy to see the place completely deserted. No Internet, no people, no traffic. The quietness experienced in these areas is quite addictive. After unpacking we took off on a 4 km round trip walk to a rocky granite  outcrop. Some interesting boulders at the end made it worth the effort. The following day we had a long drive around the Park to see what is known as the pipe organ. . On the drive we stopped at a homestead, built, and occupied in the 1800’s. Surprisingly we were able to enter inside. Photos and information posters were displayed giving us a history of the past families and a small window into the way they lived. The surrounding area was interesting and well preserved. The wind was blowing, and the rain was starting to dampen the red earth. The conditions that people lived in were rough enough but the harsh weather in these places would have been unforgiving. Moving on toward the main attraction, the pipe organ rock formation we were disappointed to discover we needed a 4WD to see them. The road was very uncertain. We had the choice of camping another night and trying the next day or moving on. The weather was a deterrent, so we decided to keep going to our next destination. The road out of the park was a lot rougher so we lowered the tyre pressure  which made it a lot easier. Luckily the rain diminished and  fortunately we spotted  a sign to the Pildappa rocks. This was something on our list to see but thought it was further afar. Quickly turning back, we followed the sign and were met with the massive  granite rock formations.

The rocks are an impressive sight being the highest and longest wave formation on the Eyre Peninsular. It is pink granite and dates 1500million years. There is some free camping around the area so rush to investigate the entire site. If visiting for the day you are able to  drive or walk the perimeter of the rock and in fact can climb to the top. When at the top you can see the countryside for many kilometres. Quite an amazing feeling and certainly not a difficult task. It was a little too windy for us to camp, so we headed back to the main highway very satisfied that we had not missed this natural phenomenon. Further down the road we came across another tourist sign to Tcharkuldu Rock. or boulders.  Not expecting to see much we were pleasantly surprised at this large array of boulders. Some sitting precariously looking ready to topple any moment. Another photographers  delight and something we had not expected to see. Now to find our next campsite.  Once again thanks to Wiki camps we secured a great spot in a town called Wirulla. It was Good Friday so the one shop and one hotel in the town. were closed. We had been looking forward to showers and getting some washing done but at first sign that was not going to be possible, as the shop was the place to pay and secure access to the facilities. We decided we would stay anyway and were lucky enough to be offered an access key by another camper who had arrived the day before. Washing was not possible as no coins available. but the much-craved shower was enjoyed immensely. The red earth which is a major part of this trip so far had started to grind its way into our skin and into everything else.The hot shower made up for the fact that our secret little camp was in fact quite quite noisy for sleeping as the highway trucks were persistant and closer than we thought.

Ceduna, the town at the beginning of the Nullarbor plains were around 140 kms where we stocked up, filled up with petrol and started on the unknown challenge of crossing the Nullarbor.  Surprisingly we stopped for petrol and ran into some friends heading the same way. Quite remarkable to actually be in the same petrol station after travelling so far.

As previously started this particular blog was started as we started our journey along this most anticipated road. The Nullarbor plains stretches in full approx. 1100kms. Many years ago, I think to drive it would have been quite dangerous and harrowing. People were afraid for us even today because of the difficulties of others in previous years. We had done quite a bit of research and believed it would not be as difficult as some thought. However the unknown is always a little fearful. . The land is desolate but the number of travellers are prolific.   Our first stop was Penong, home of the windmill museum.  An arrangement of windmills of all designs and sizes is such a quirky start to this leg of the journey.  Moving on the next time to stop is at The Head of the Bite” an obvious description of this lookout. There is a whaling station, visitor centre and a lookout, where in the right season, whales and dolphins can be seen. There is a fee of $8 pp. It is the first glimpse of the ocean and the fascination of seeing what is known as The Great Australian Bite. It would certainly have been worth the money had we seen whales, but it was.the wrong time of the year for us. The view is very nice though. Stopping for petrol at the Nullarbor roadhouse we hurriedly moved onto to what our  next free camp would be, on the edge of The Bunda Cliffs, a place  we had been. eagerly waiting to see. The view along the cliffs, the contrast of  the  blue ocean and the  wild white waves  striking  hard against the red, white, and grey cliffs leaves you with the  feeling of beauty. and danger simultaneously.  No safety fences, no structures inhibiting the view, just the jagged edge of the cliff face meeting the harsh plains of the Nullarbor. There were a few caravans already there. so, we found a spot a few metres back from the edge and opened the trailer.  The cliff extends for many kilometres so before the sun set, we went for a long walk up and down the cliff edge. Beautiful experience indeed. As time passed the light wind started to intensify a little and our cub camper canvas walls billowed in and out.  It is hard to move your mind away from the thoughts of the van being.lifted and sent over the edge. You know it is not going to happen, but the underlying  thoughts remained throughout the night.  We awoke early to a beautiful sunrise and an appreciation of having this.experience and the prospect of travelling further. A couple more side roads gave  us different views of the cliffs which were all breathtaking.  We then reached The Border Village the cross over between SA and WA.

So far there had been long stretches of driving with nothing but low lying scrub for many kilometres but there are many stops. along the way  for fuel, food, and places to stay. Certainly, better suited to caravan or campers as there are not only caravan parks but numerous spots for free camping

A  very large Kangaroo greets you as you drive into town. Other than that, there is a  petrol station and quarantine station. Being stripped of the few remaining veggies we had on board we were able to move on to  Eucla  to see the

Derelict sand covered postmasters’ residence. There was enough building left to be able to determine the overall size and function but what destroyed the e view was the human element of graffiti.  It never ceases to amaze me that people can be so  thoughtless and destructive. I cannot fathom what makes scratching your name in a wall satisfying. It is just demoralising to think there are people like that in the world.  Walking to the beach behind the hills of the residence you will see a fairly substantial  disused jetty built in 1890.  A photographic gem. Carrying on we see the famous 90mile sign indicating the longest straightest  stretch of road in Australia.  There is no

Arguing with that statement. The scenery does not change much, and the road can be seen so far ahead. It is quite surreal. More petrol and coffee stop until we eventually.

Get to Cocklebiddy.  A famous sign found at the roadhouse state some interesting facts. See photo below. 

Part 2 you will follow us from Norseman at the end of the Nullarbor Plains through to Exmouth WA.

I hope you are enjoying and contemplating doing similiar yourself. So far it has been a wonderful trip and our Cub Explorer has served us well. It is easy to tow, everyday it is getting easier to setup and then the pack up. We have our jobs sorted now.

Our Australian Travels Via Camper Trailer.

Our first venture in the Camper Trailer.

It is not my intention to write every event we will be having in the camper trailer. This was our first experience, so I think it was noteworthy.

The astronomy club we belong to have a property near Ilford NSW.  Its purpose is purely for astronomy but many of us enjoy the social side of meeting up with friends with a similar interest.  The property has all the facilities you want, showers, toilets, and a fully functional outdoor kitchen together with very spectacular wood fire. We took the easy way out to try the new trailer knowing we had complete backup on hand.

Arriving early evening on the Thursday it was cold and windy. We were not exactly prepared for it, understandably, it was the middle of January 2023. It had rained on and off on the drive up to the site, so we quickly got started on the setup. Opening the camper was easy and went smoothly. We then attacked the awning with a few teething problems. Before too long we had unloaded the car, made the bed and were ready to cook. We had a few visitors coming over to check up our setup, so it was late when dinner was finally started. Ken put on the steak, and potatoes, added some pre-chopped salad veggies, followed by some beer and wine and we were ready for our first nights sleep. The wind was certainly putting a chill in the air now. Lying in bed I was quite chilly and needed more clothing under the thin doona. I admit I tossed and turned a lot that night. It was not the best sleep and I worried this was going to be something I would not handle well. I am a person who likes her sleep and her comfort. The problem was solved the next day by using the very good sleeping bags we had stored in our old caravan on site. I can assure you I woke the next day feeling very relieved. That morning, we saw blue sky and sun during the day but were hampered by winds once again. Some bacon, eggs, tomato, and mushrooms together with  some hot coffee filled our bellies and helped to get the day started. We spent the day setting up our Joolca shower tent and toilet alcove not without having to refer to the instructions of course. It’s always simple once you figure it out. What made it a lengthy event was putting it in the wrong place and the leads and fixture would not fit. After realising this we swiftly moved it to the other end of the camper. Testing out the shower was fun and reassuring. We also set up the porta potti and of course tried that out also. All worked beautifully. the rest of the day we relaxed a bit playing on the Ipad and catching up with friends as they arrived for the weekend. That night Ken cooked up a chicken caciatore casserole, we drank some more wine with friends around the fire and headed to bed ready for a solid sleep. We were a lot warmer and slept more soundly that night. It was all a learning experience and a fun one at that.

Saturday, we went with cereal and coffee and prepared to head to Mudgee for a light lunch, a trip to Woollies and Bunnings before a sunny afternoon drive via the beautiful wineries and valleys surrounding us. That night we were feasting on beef curry casserole which was very scrumptious. Ken has become a bit of a master since we bought the Webber Baby Q. He has tried a good variety of recipes and this one stood up to the test.  A friend offered some Panettone cake and rocky road chocolate for a  pleasant finish. Another night with great conversation around the fire with a glass of wine. We retired to a comfortable bed and listened to the rain pattering on the roof overnight.

We were able to use lots of the accessories we had purchased and at this stage felt we had not wasted money, and all had worked efficiently. Although some warmer weather would have been welcomed, we were in fact able to try things out in less ideal conditions. Our last day, Sunday, was cold and wintery with cycles of rain and wind hampering activities. We had breakfast, an omelette and bacon, took our time over coffee, fair-welled a few people heading home and then idly sat appreciating the quietness of the day. After lunch we decided to watch a movie, which was quite a cosy experience in the camper. Overall, a leisurely day ending with Pizza for dinner.

We started our final morning with an easy breakfast of cereal and coffee. We figured we would pack up and then have our second cup of coffee an hour later. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I have to say nothing was hard to do but there was  a lot of stuff that had to get packed up and fitted back into the trailer and car the way it started. We all know that never works. How in the world does one get that large piece of floor matting back into that little plastic pouch, I will never know. After several different tries at folding, quite a bit of groaning on my part, the result was the casing ending up lying on top. We found ourselves making many trips walking back and forth with single items which needed to be packed in Bin 1 or Bin2. In future the rule will be to put things back where they came from at the time of use, another lesson learned.   

We had it done in 2 hours which is not that bad but also not good if you need to get on the road early. We learnt from the experience and now know we must do a little the night before and a little more planning in the future.

We headed back home via Wallace Lake so we could look at their free camping grounds for our next short stay. Stopping at the local take away for hamburgers and coffee. The park surrounds a glorious lake and has many shady trees to camp under. We were able to find an outdoor table and bench under a shady tree to enjoy our lunch and were pleasantly surprised at the beautiful peaceful surrounds.

There is a great park for the kids, a lot of open space for walking and exploring. We noticed lots of people fishing along the waters edge. Generally speaking a very pleasant are. Practically speaking we noted toilets and we think there were showers also. a dump site and rubbish bins to be able to offload.

We headed back home feeling the whole weekend was a relaxing learning experience and left us feeling confident with our next adventure.

I hope you enjoy this little insight into our world. I look forward to your comments. Do you have a camper trailer or caravan. What has been your favourite spot to camp. What is your tastiest camp meal. We are embarking on a trip to Western Australia in April this year 2023 for 6-8 weeks. Any comments and advise are welcome. Please give this a thumbs up before you leave.

New Adventures in Australia-2023

With covid monopolising the last 2 years we have decided to do what many others have. Discover Australia rather than travel abroad..

As you would have read in my previous travel blogs there is usually an eclipse happening at some time during our travels.Our next big trip will be no different. Exmouth in Western Australia will experience a Hybrid Solar Eclipse on the 20th April 2023. A good excuse for us to discover the beauties of the western coast of Australia.

Our first discussion were how would do this, Car, Boat, Airplane or Train or a combination. All options were available but we knew in 6 months time the options would reduce as places book out. It is expected that thousands will make their way to this tiny peninsular to see the spectacle that is an eclipse. Add to that a picturesque place and the school holidays and you have an accommodation problem.

As we want to see as much of Australia as we can, our decision was to drive ourselves. Now, do we use our car, hire a car or a motorhome. Weighing up the costs for each method the answer became clear to us. We decided to purchase a camper trailer with the idea of being able to sell it when we had enough of driving ourselves around.

We have had one before, ie 30 years ago when we were much younger, fitter and more adventurous. I believe my hesitation was valid. We started to look at what was available which promptly eliminated the possibility of my wish for pure luxury. The caravans and motorhomes were way outside our budget which is why we settled on a camper trailer. These are definitely more comfortable than they were in the 90′”s. We opted for an Australian built Cub Explorer. For one it was towable by our existing car and even though a little more expensive than we expected was doable if we were careful.

As noted previously many people had the same idea so our wait period was just under 6 mths. We picked up the van early December 2022 with much delight. We can only speak for Cub but the handover procedure is intensive. Over 3 hours of instruction and advice. We wondered why on earth it would take that long but it did. There are a multitude of little things one needs to be clear on. You do receive a manual also but the actual instruction is absolutely necessary. After the very exhausting 3.5 hours with a quick lunch break the instructor helped us hook up the trailer and checked the lights which to our dismay were not functioning correctly.

Not a great start and a way to add some apprehension to the whole idea of roaming around the countryside on our own. To the rescue, Cub were straight onto it and immediately sent us across the road to the factory to check it out. Once there the staff jumped into action and told us to go for a coffee and relax while they find the problem.

After a half hour or so we received the call to go back and pick it up. All fixed with much apologies and guarantees that everything would be perfect going forward. A huge sigh of relief and we were on our way home, towing our 2nd home behind us. We are home and are happy as it fits into the garage perfectly, allowing enough room for the car and comfortable movement about the garage.

The following day, the first challenge is to open the camper as per the instructions. Season the canvas and then close the camper as per instruction. Opening it is easy and trouble free, maybe 10 mins maximum. Once inside we were elated and our minds started visioning us set up outside the camper, sitting back in our chairs with a wine in hand while watching a sunset or snuggling in our bed listening to the rain on the roof. That daydream was pushed aside quickly as we attempted to close the camper.

Out come the instructions and away we go. All went well for 5 minutes. There is a detachable deluxe awning with the model we purchased and it is recommended this is left on the camper when closing it up. The instruction sounds easy and we watched the instructor do it all by himself when we were at the factory. We gave it our best shot once, then again and again but to no avail. There appears too much awning to be able to close the trailer down without force. On top of that the canvas walls were looking very crooked and strained in places. After many sighs and murmurs of frustration we decided it needed to be reset. Again instructions are fairly clear so we reset the canvas, but still not sure and still with difficulty we eventually got the trailer closed and decided to try again in a few days. Xmas was looming and celebrations waiting to be to organised.

We waited a few days and tried again with the idea of being prepared to go somewhere for a few days over the xmas new year break. Again it opened without problem but appeared completely out of shape again. We, rewatched the videos regarding the resetting and also the close up procedure. We tried again but unfortunately it was quite a hot day and we were a little short on energy. I was beginning to think we had made the wrong decision and my spirits were a little deflated. We managed to get some things packed into it, getting an idea of the weight and eventually got it closed again. All was not easy sailing. Our next try now would be after Xmas day instead of going away we would work on it again.

Once we were refreshed after the xmas frivolities we started from scratch again, reset the canvas again and in doing so realised our error as we went. Finally we were able to get it right and achieve the process fairly quickly. Practise makes a difference and my thoughts were heading in a more positive direction.

Now for the fun part we need to pack it and weigh it. This was going to be a challenge.We knew we would have to be careful with the tow ball weight. A spreadsheet had been started. Over the previous 6 months we followed a few travellers on YouTube, watched many videos and listened to much advice from existing cub owners. The message was clear although conflicting. You will always pack more than you need and always be prepared for something going wrong. Needless to say the spreadsheet set-up changed several times with bins and crates, food and tools all being tried here and there many times until we came up with something that worked physically. The weighing finally happened only to highlight we were overweight. A couple of quick shopping trips to get things right, divorce close on our heels we repacked, eliminated and we redid it all again until we got it right. Finally we were seeing the light. Patience and tenacity were ruling the way.

It was the eve of the new year and our street party was about to happen so the camper trailer was put to bed until 2023 I am hoping my next blog will be about our first venture out in our new home.

Please like and share and comment if you have experiences similar. Hopefully I will have more to report soo

Ballarat/The Grampians/Mungo National Park

Ballarat to Mungo National Park 30th March to 6th April 2022

In April 2018 Ken was attending the NACAA (National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers) held bi-annually over Easter. That particular year it was held at Ballarat, NSW from 30th March to 2nd April. I decided to join him, and we extended our trip to encompass The Grampians in Victoria and Mungo National Park in NSW.

We had not been to Ballarat for quite some time. We arrived at the Mecure Hotel at Ballarat the day before the start of the conference. We first went for a drive to a local area called Lal Lal Falls. This town originated in 1885 as a sheep station. It is only 20 mins out of Ballarat with a tiny population of under 500. The waterfall was not flowing but there were a couple of very easy walks close by. It is a very pretty countryside with an abundance of kangaroos leaping through the trees. The conference is a series of talks on varying astronomical subjects and a visit to the local Ballarat Astronomical Society’s clubhouse to meet up with the local astronomers and view their facilities. We met some friendly, interesting people and enjoyed a  light dinner before wandering back to the hotel with an early start the next morning.

We visited the Ballarat Botanical Gardens, one of Australia’s most significant cool climate gardens. The grounds are beautifully kept with many features such as a conservatorium and a hothouse together with many statues including the avenue of prime ministers. Lunch in their café and then off to walk the six kilometres around Lake Wendouree. The lake is an artificial man-made shallow lake opposite the gardens. It has a paved walking track completely around the perimeter which can be taken at your own speed. It is long but easy with many different views to be taken in. The ducks and swans, birds and artifacts surrounding the water are very pleasing. A very relaxing day overall.

The Great Ocean Road is the next leg of the trip. From Torquay to Allansford. The road is over 100 years old and is 243 km of ocean views. We have been on this road many years prior, in fact, I think there may have been 12 apostles the last time we were there (some had collapsed in the intervening years). This time however a lot less. The road is easy, the views are fantastic and it with now improved facilities, tourists are well catered for. This is a good thing for the country but obviously more people and more traffic frequent the area.  We still loved it and highly recommend it. Whether it is sunny, cloudy, or rainy the beauty of the coastline is not diminished. There are many things besides the ocean to see, lighthouses, artifacts, walking tracks and activities are plentiful. On this trip, we were not stopping off too much as we had more to see.

After visiting the highlights along the road, we turned off and head to The Grampians National Park. This park spans an area of 413 thousand acres. It is a series of low angled sandstone ridges. The area has bushwalking, hiking, rock climbing, fishing, canoeing, camping, animals, pubs, café, lookouts and much more. It is peaceful, spacious, and the animals are friendly and plentiful. We were there for the great walks and lookouts. Hopefully, the photos below give you an idea of its beauty and its accessibility.

We spent a couple of beautiful days here and then headed on our way to Mildura and the start of our short stay in Mungo National Park around 115 km from the town centre.

There is approx. 80 km of dirt road into the park and then a further 80 km out the other side to exit.  We had arranged to stay at the lodge in Mungo for two nights. The worry with this entry is that if the road is not accessible then you are stuck at the lodge. It is a bit of a concern but everything we had read indicated it was worth the effort. Go to mungolodge.com.au for information on accommodation and tours. According to Wikipedia, the park is part of the Unesco World Heritage-listed Willandra lakes region. It covers an area of 274,210 acres. The main feature of the park is Lake Mungo, the second largest of the ancient dry lakes. The Park is noted for the archaeological remains discovered in the park.

We grabbed a takeaway coffee and drove out of Mildura with some trepidation about the quality of the road we were about to endure. The long and wide dusty road stretches in front of you with the typical low lying Australian bush lining the sides of the road. Looking ahead the vast blue skies, green foliage, and deep orange of the road project a stunning view into the wilderness. The road was deserted, we passed the odd vehicle heading back to town. About an hour and a half into the drive we come across the Mungo Lodge. What a pleasant sight. The lodge area and the cabins are laid out in a large circle dotted with shady green trees. The lodge itself is clean, bright, and welcoming. Once registered we headed to our cabin. It was just perfect, large, clean, and very comfortable. A beautiful breeze flows from front to back and a quaint veranda out front and a small porch out the back. All the comforts for a relaxing couple of days. We had booked tours so unpacked and headed over to the lodge for more details. The owners and the staff are super friendly and helpful, and we find ourselves on the Walls of China Sunset Tour.

A small group of people, an excellent guide and a perfect night resulted in a very awe-inspiring evening followed by dinner and drinks. I am hoping the photos say enough as words do little to describe the beauty of the area. The changing colours of the landscape minute by minute were awesome to see. 

The following day after a quiet relaxing evening was very interesting. We did a small drive and a walk to the surrounding area. The landscape is lunar-like, featuring dried up lake beds and sand dunes for miles. Scrub and berries, small trees, and desolate areas where you think nothing could live. Keeping our eyes alert, we found a small kangaroo and her baby, lizards, and other crawling beings. 

After morning tea another organised tour began. The Mungo Woolshed and Visitors centre, the Zanci Station Homestead. Once again, our guide was very knowledgeable, easy to listen to and had many stories to tell. The land is harsh and from the stories told, the people that lived on it were warm, resourceful, and very resilient. We were told The Mungo Lady story, of bones that were discovered in 1968 by a geologist named Jim Bowler. They are said to be about 40,000 years old and show clear signs of intentional cremation and a ritual burial. A further search in 1974 disclosed the bones of a man, buried on his back with hands crossed in his lap and red ochre sprinkled on his body. The details of this ritual showed signs of an advanced culture.

To finish the day a walk around the grounds of the lodge had some interesting moments. Emus, birdlife, lizards, and kangaroos. Dinner and some wine under the stars saw us heading to bed, happy and content with our visit.

An early breakfast before packing and heading the opposite way out of Mungo along another dirt road toward Balranald approx. 2 hrs away.  From here we headed to Orange to meet up with some friends for dinner and an overnight stay. 

That ends our extended trip and we head home to normality once again. I encourage you all to travel around this beautiful country of ours. There is so much to see. I look forward to reading your comments below. Have you been to any of these places and what did you like or dislike about them?

Thank you for reading.

Crackenback Snowy Mountains NSW

Today we started on our way to experience the snowy mountains in summer.  Ken bought me a short stay of four nights in Crackenback Resort for Xmas. It has been raining continuously here at home so we have made sure we packed some wet weather gear and lots to do if we have to stay indoors. The drive which is around 5-6 hrs depending on stops can be mostly highway or like us you can go via Mulgoa road, through Narellan and then onto the main highway toward Canberra. This way you see a few smaller towns and the major development happening at Badgery Creek airport. Highways of course are quicker but can be boring. We were lucky as the sun shone the whole way. Actually the most sun we have seen in quite some time. We stopped off to photograph Lake George because there was water. A rare event I do not remember seeing in my lifetime. It is interesting to see the fence posts poking out just a couple of inches from the waterline. Certainly changes the outlook from the road.  A quick lunch and grocery pickup and we were on our way again. We arrived at the resort and of course as we alighted to take a couple of photos within the grounds of the resort, the rain saw us coming and graced us with its presence once again. Just lightly, but enough to make us scurry back to the car. Driving on a little way we looked for our accommodation nestled at the foothills of the mountain in walking distance to Lake Crackenback. After spending 15 minutes trying to find the key we eventually located the front door. The place was small but perfectly clean, modern, and with every amenity on board. We unpacked and tried to venture down to the lake when the rain decided to visit once again. Back indoors, a glass of wine and some dinner as we watched the clouds and mist settle around the lower part of the mountains making a stunning backdrop. The rain cleared and the cool crisp air was very pleasant. We encountered some very large Pied Currawong’s, a couple of Kangaroos including a Joey and some beautiful Fallow Dear wandering the base of the hills just behind the unit. Movie and an early night are on the agenda before a big day tomorrow. 

Day 2- Roughly 28 years ago we took our six-year-old daughter to the Snowy Mountains and proudly completed the walk to the summit of Mt Kosciusko. What possessed us today to it again I will never know. What we knew but did not realise would add to our kilometres travelled by foot, was that the mountain bike festival/racing was being held in Thredbo and every parking place was taken quite early in the day. Never mind we opted for a car park quite some distance from the chairlift. No shuttles running, not a worry when you are starting out the day. We walked a good kilometre to the chairlift and bought our tickets. Jumped on the open chairlift and away we went. Straight up for 15 minutes with views everywhere. The rain decided to stay at home today so we were afforded some lovely sights. Once alighting from the lift we prepared ourselves for the walk, telling ourselves we can turn around at any time. The first kilometre and a half are pretty steep, so very taxing at the beginning. Having done it before we were able to stay motivated as we remembered the walkway levelled out further afar. Well, we found out that was not exactly the correct recollection. We heard a guide say to another senior couple, “Congratulations, the hard part is done. It is quite undulating and not so difficult for the next few kilometres.” Spoken like a true hiker, who only recognises hard. We continued and my feet started to burn a little. Undulating yes but there is still a lot of uphills to contend with, and did we mention the wind? The boardwalk makes it a little easier but when you look ahead and see nothing but mountains and a small red boardwalk winding around, up and down and seemingly into the unknown, it is very daunting. The positive is, on the entire walk you are surrounded by mountainous hillsides, varying wild flowers in many colours, boulders of every shape and size and babbling brooks meandering under bridges and throughout the hills. You pass by the highest lake in Australia before you reach the highest point in Australia. When the sun shines at the right angle the blue of the water in the lake sparkles against the few patches of white snow spotted here and there. Eventually after a lot, and I mean a lot of self-talk, pauses and groans you will reach Rawsons Point. You would have covered many steps, with pretty strong winds and the sun beating on your forehead. Here a longer rest was needed mainly to psych oneself into continuing on. The sign says 45 mins to the peak( 1.5 kilometres) That sounds easy but is it? The quick answer, not when you are 70 plus. It is an uneven gravel road winding up and around many bends and as you approach each one you are convinced the top is around the next turn only to be confronted with another stretch of gravel. My feet burned, my chest was tight, my legs were objecting severely but my head kept saying you cannot turn back now. I gave in and listened to my head and now I am very glad I did. There is a massive sense of achievement when you round the bend for the last time and see the cairn, which marks the peak, staring back at you. You did it, you beat the challenge and all that was left was to sit and ponder and enjoy the crisp air that is the summit. The hard part is done or so I thought. We took a little time and ate our sandwich, some chocolate and rehydrated. We relaxed for a bit and took the token photo of ourselves standing next to the cairn. Admittedly the views from the top are certainly not stunning if you choose to compare them with other spectacular mountains of the world, however, the vastness of what is The Snowy Mountains, the history of Strzelecki’s work followed by many other explorers braving the elements and the personal achievement of getting there is without argument very rewarding. You can see it and hear it emitting from those who are there waiting their turn to take that one photo. The picture captures each persons face of self-satisfaction.

The last Chairlift down leaves at 4.30pm meaning, if you miss it a further 550 metres of walking almost vertically downhill would be required to get down the mountain. With this in mind, we started our return journey down the mountain thinking to ourselves that it should be a breeze, as it was mainly downhill with a few ups and downs in the middle. I am laughing to myself as I write this. When one uses muscles that have been dormant for some time, forcing them to walk uphill for a lengthy period of time, I believe they must be supported by many parts of the body supported by the mind motivation that helps you along. When you reverse that process and try to use another set of muscles to go down you will discover the result is quite a painful reaction. The kilometre back to Rawson’s pass is straight down on that same gravel road. My sock on one foot was creating friction on my little toe, my hip and thigh muscles complaining immensely and my body tensing from keeping oneself from giving in and slipping the whole way down. This turned out to be quite a frightening and challenging experience. Ken was not much better with his hips objecting loudly. All we could think of was how in hell were we going to get back the 6.5 kilometres to the chairlift and do it by 4.30. What we thought was going to be quick was now looming as impossible. Finally, we reached the last bend where the Rawsons’ pass could be seen.  Our first sigh of relief. The adjacent toilet block allowed a short stay, repositioning of my shoes and socks and a welcome easing of the tension and pain. The muscles were feeling manageable so we decided if we could just keep a steady pace the rest of the way we should be ok. Time was ticking so off we went, we were overtaken by many which were pretty disheartening but we soldiered on. There was still a lot of downhill sections of course which were gruelling but the many flatter sections allow the body to recoup each time. At last, we saw the workmen who were relaying some of the boardwalk. We knew once we got up this hill we only had 1.5 kilometres to go. Checking the watch we also knew we were under pressure. That little hill climb was very taxing and took up valuable time. We reached the top and saw the next downhill section and not far into that section we were very relieved to see the roof of the chairlift building. Motivation increased and a fine sprinkle of rain was with us now so we found ourselves at the pace of a near jog all the way down this next section ( jogging seemed to be easier on the muscles than dragging the body along at a slow pace). Not quite believing it ourselves we made it with 10 minutes to spare. Jumped (on reflection I would say, heaved would be more accurate) on that chairlift and let our bodies relax enough to enjoy the feeling of the cool rain on our aching limbs. Watching all the bike riders weaving in and around the many tracks, some tricky, some muddy, they made it look easy. It is quite fascinating to see young children to seasoned veterans, many in the bright team colours, doing exactly what they love.

Alighting with a heavy thud and our legs frozen from the short spell of inaction we had to stop for a few minutes to enable the blood to flow once again. All that was left was the kilometre walk back to the car. OMG, the last straw. We started and I think I made it 2/3rds of the way until Ken pointed out how long to go. There was no more fuel in my tank. I stopped and could not continue. Poor Ken had to go get the car and come back for me. After a short wait the car pulled up, Ken looked at me and said are you able to manage as I cannot get out to help. I laughed, struggled to move but got the backpacks in the car and flopped onto the seat with absolute exhaustion. We drove back to our accommodation in silence, showered and had a cup of tea. Surprisingly we were ready to hit the road to find the wine and the steak our body was yelling for. Afterwards feeling refreshed and accomplished we happily returned home to sleep.

Day 3. We woke this morning with a little pain which was quite surprising. Both of us expected to be immobile. We thought we would be flat on our back for the whole day.  After taking our time over breakfast we decided to test the limbs and do the walk around our resort while the weather was good.  We started off and not very far onto the walk, Ken stopped abruptly as a snake crossed his path heading away from him. We later investigated to find out it was a Highland Copperhead. We were able to watch it slithering along heading to the river edge. It was a shiny black with distinct yellow markings along the underside. Quite beautiful to watch. We ventured on to see a very young duckling sitting together with his sibling on the edge of the lake. After only a short time one ventured into the water leaving one little fluffy body seated alone. We watched for a few minutes and after what appeared to be much trepidation he faltered and eventually hit the water. Once in, there was no catching him. It was only a short time before he caught up with mum and the sibling and continued on safely. Moving on watching the ducks, of which there were many and all very active we crossed a small footbridge heading to the start of the walk that had ironwork sculptures dotted along the track. The grounds are kept clean and neatly laid out but still allowing them to look quite natural. The facilities in the park areas are extensive for all ages, walking tracks, bike tracks, fitness tracks, children’s trampolines, canoes and kayaks, archery, a cafe, a restaurant, and of course the gift and ski shop. The resort boasts an indoor pool and spa and gym so there is little to complain about. We finished the lake circuit taking in all the unique iron sculptures and headed back to our unit. We decided to drive into Jindabyne to obtain our national park pass, have lunch and take a slow wander around the lake. Lunch was fine and the pass was secured, however, our body was now telling us enough is enough. We were both now feeling the effects of yesterday. A quick decision to take a drive to Perisher and Charlotte Pass instead. It is such a pretty drive with many sweeping views of the surrounding vegetation and waterways.  We got to the end of the road and what faced us was a short 15-minute boardwalk. Should we, should we not. Of course we did and found ourselves among some beauitful ancient snow gums. It was a superb and simple walk but of course at the end, a looming staircase.  Once again you cannot leave without reaching the top. So up we go and again not disappointed. The hills and mountain ranges reached far and wide. Heading back we concentrated on the snow gums which were hundreds of years old. Over the many years of existence, the wind had moulded and twisted them into remarkable shapes. A small area but some fantastic specimens all together to be marvelled at. Walking back to the car we were quickly convinced that a horizontal position at home was needed quickly. Some recovery time was vital. After a few hours rest, we headed off to the resort cafe for a beer and pizza.  I decided I could manage the little walk home so took myself off while Ken took the car home. The wind had dropped and the air was clean and nice. I encountered many birds and three kangaroos who appeared to object to me being in their space regardless of the fact it was a human walking track they were grazing on. I moved aside and skirted around them. I am sure they were wondering why I was in their space. Looking at me with a look of bother in their eyes. Quickly hurrying on as the sky was darkening with nightfall, just a few metres from our accommodation a large mass moved suddenly in front of me. Before I could get the camera activated it scurried to the right and down the hill. A large wombat I believe heading to the hole in the gully we had seen earlier in the day. A nice way to end the walk. Another glass of wine and an early night to rest this very tired but satisfied body. 

Day 4 – It is the last day of our stay at Crackenback and we discussed last night that we would take it easy and just lounge around all day. Well, that was the plan and you know what they say. We started out slow and then Ken came across a waterfall walk which looked pretty flat and easy. We decided why not, let’s do it. Our legs had restored and we just did not want to waste a day. We donned our walking gear and drove up toward Perisher Valley, parked the car and started off. We knew it was a 6-kilometre return easy walk with few stairs. We had no time limit so we went slow. The walk was a pretty, natural bush track surrounded by unbelievably tall snow gums. Straight up with fantastic colours and craggy trunks. The water droplets from the mist hung on the leaves making the bush sparkle. The many spider webs twinkling in the sun. Not far in we see a medium-sized kangaroo sitting on the walking track. He raised his ears, looked at us intently for several minutes and then quickly moved a few metres into the bush. We followed his eyes and noticed him still watching as we passed by.  A little further along a joey was watching inquisitively and not far behind, his mum was guarding quietly. No matter how many times I see them in the wild, I find them intriguing. Maybe it is something to do with my feet bungling through the bush and watching their boundless leaps which seem effortless.  

There were many tiny bush flowers and many snow gums to take our eye along the way. After nearly 3 kilometres and a few muddy spots to manoeuvre we came across the waterfall. It was quite pretty and flowing freely. Worth the effort and my legs were feeling ok. We were both however a little tired and Ken’s face was showing the grief of his unyielding hip pain. The track headed up a little which was a bit gruelling but nothing we could not handle. We located a large fallen tree trunk to sit and rest our bones and enjoy our rissole sandwiches and fruit with a little chocolate for energy. Once rested we took off again. There were a few mutters along the way as we did seem to be climbing quite a bit. So much so that we questioned ourselves as to whether we had missed a turn and were on the wrong track. Ken found a faint signal on the mobile and located our whereabouts to determine if we were going in the right direction. There was no sun at this point to guide us so we took note, tramped along for about what we thought was a kilometre and checked the map. We were a little relieved as it looked like we were making progress in the right direction. Turning a bend we saw a plethoria of magnificent boulders on the side of the track. It is a little strange when you are walking among bush and trees and suddenly from the ground, massive rock structures impede your way. Like giants forbidding you to go further. They stand immovable, imposing and intriguing. Children would relish the challenge of mastering these natural monsters. The track wound on but it was starting to feel like we were heading down now. A couple more kilometres and we reached the bottom without incident.  By now my legs were feeling the strain and Ken was certainly battling the pain. Back to our car and a quick drive to Jindabyne for some much needed Tiger Balm ointment and even better a beer and a glass of wine. Some takeaway Chinese food for dinner and home to settle in for the night. A pat on the back for both of us for making the effort. It is interesting as Ken and I have been doing this type of walk and adventure throughout all of our married life. I constantly say it is not my thing but I go with him trekking through the bush many times and I always finish up feeling accomplished and satisfied. Why I complain, I have no idea, a habit I guess. If you asked me what I like, I would say sitting on the rocks at the beach, watching and listening to the waves tumbling, or sitting with friends in a cafe with non-stop conversation, both of which are just a tad different to bushwalking. I guess I just like doing something.

Day 5-We have to head back home today, our short stay in the Snowy Mountains finished. We had breakfast, packed our bags, removed the rubbish and we were on the road again. We stopped briefly at Jindabyne to photograph a memorial and the many seagulls lining the shore of the lake. We had intended to do a small walk but our physical bodies were not agreeing. We headed off to Cooma to visit the graveyard. I have been doing some ancestry investigations on our families and I know both my mother’s parents lived in Cooma and surrounding areas at some point. It is a very laborious task researching birth certificates etc and trying to substantiate the connections. I wanted to see if there was an old section in the cemetery where I might find some relatives. I managed to find one very old grave of the wife of my Great Great Grandfather who died in November 1902 at just 40yrs old. I will now have to connect it to a death certificate so I can be sure.  Pretty happy I was able to find anything at all.  We drove onto Queanbeyan for lunch which was pretty ordinary.  Ready now to return to our haven at Hazelbrook. Overall a really great five days which we vowed we will do a similar trip again while we are still able. I have also added a few photos of the animals roaming free at the resort at Crackenback. Would definitely recommend this place for everyone.

Hope you have enjoyed following us around and will come back and visit again soon. Please feel free to comment and follow my blog for further travel and life experiences. Enjoy your day.

Lightening Ridge, Opal Mining

A week away with friends at Grawin

We are spending this extended long weekend with some of our friends from the astronomical crowd. We have all journeyed to Northern NSW to visit Frances and Brett who own mines at Grawin, west of Lightening Ridge. On the way is certainly interesting landscape. Lengthy flat roads , bright yellow canola fields ,the wide expanses of farmlands splattered by trees and red clay areas. Hills in the distances and quaint country towns to break the silence and stop for coffee or lunch. It is somewhat sad but thought provoking to see the uninhabited homesteads left to ruin. So many stories left to our imagination. The once vibrant shops now empty and forlorn. We are pleasantly surprised that the grounds show signs of recent rain and green pastures increasing. Lands that were surely brown a few months back. 

Friday night we all arrived at the Opal caravan park. we had booked a small cabin on line and were really happy to see it was in very good condition, clean and comfortable. With some friends already there our first night started with wine and cheese moved onto a makeshift barbecue dinner with whatever we had to contribute and lots of catch up conversation. We all chatted about the varying routes we took to get here and relaxed under the perfect serene country dark sky. A good clear night sky is always a priority for this group.

The following morning we headed to Grawin Opal fields to experience life as an opal miner. Certainly a new experience for us. The drive there is pleasant with a few homesteads dotting the countryside, some native flora and fauna along the way. The small quaint town of Cumborah with a population of roughly 500 indicates we are close to our destination. Driving a little further on bitumen we get to a dirt road to our left. Our first amusement came with the sign for the golf course. Advising us to be wary of flying golf balls.There were no green pastures, no buggies or men in golf shirts. We had trees, bushes, dirt and rickety signs depicting which hole you were on. We thought it was a bit of humour but in fact it is an active used golf course. Next we were to find our meeting place.There are no streets to speak of in Grawin and no Macca’s for direction so our friends told us to meet at the local, the Club in the Scrub, and they would direct us from there. I will fill you in on this unique abode when we come back for lunch.

Once everyone had arrived and we had used the pubs facilities we got back in our vehicles to follow our hosts. They were wise with this decision as we would never have found their dwelling. The first thing that strikes you as unexpected is the multitude of inhabitants scattered all over the area in makeshift dwellings, partially built homes, sheds and wrought iron buildings. We are surrounded with much corrugated iron, rock mounds, trucks, rusted out cars and abandoned mine shafts. We arrive at their humble home for a cold drink and some nibbles. Outside their home is no different to the others, it is iron and wood and whatever else is available. Inside we are greeted with a very cool, quirky comfortable kitchen with a mixture of old and new. A beautiful old ceramic /iron stove complete with cast iron pots and special iron heat fans for warming the air on the cold winter nights, Separate comfortable bedroom and a work in progress shower recess. Living room with flat screen, wifi and a working Hot tub in progress. All the comfort you need after a hard day down the mines or noodling for those elusive opals in the hot day sun. Brett has built a very unique astronomical observatory on the top of one of those rock piles. He is a miner but also an astronomer and the clear black skies and the absence of suburban street lights allows him the luxury of doing what he loves after a day of hard labour. Frances then takes us outdoors to explain and to try our hand at noodling. This is the process of searching, selecting and washing the rocks with the express hope of finding glittering colour amongst the white mounds we are surrounded by. You are hooked immediately. It is fun, scrounging through buckets of rocks looking for those shiny sparkles which catch your eye, then rinsing them off to see what you have discovered. A very mindful exercise which takes you away from the continued jumbled thoughts which tend to crowd our heads daily. The quiet achiever comes to the surface as you strive to be the one who makes the discovery. Is this my lucky day! They provided us with little jars so we could take home our findings. I have put my in a cupboard of treasures and each time I notice it, I am reminded of this trip.

It is time for lunch so we head back to the starting point for a mean hamburger and a cool drink. The club is a work of art with gregarious structures and subtle sprinkles of outback humour. Numerous historical photographs and stories scattered throughout. It is worn, it is old and the walls reek of stories of the past. Outside there is a pleasant beer garden, and further afar a large cactus garden to wander through. Your imagination goes to the miners after sweltering in the days heat or isolated in the depths of the mines eagerly joining their friends for a cold beer and a hearty laugh to bring them back to normality. A couple of handwritten signs on the trees leaving the car park of the club caught my attention as I felt they depicted the true blue Aussie spirit.

After relaxing in the beer lounge we headed to see our friends underground mine. Major decision time now, who will go down the mine shaft into the deep dark depths of the earth. This is not an organised tour when you know all is safe and its all been commercialised for your enjoyment. It is a hole in the ground with a ladder and darkness beyond. Having said this we all trusted Brett explicitly and knew he would not take us down unless it was safe. We get to see down the shaft to decide if we are to venture further. Of the 11 of us only 3 were brave or keen enough to descend the ladder into the deep pit of the unknown. We watched the hard hats of the brave disappear and wandered off to explore a little, finally retreating to a shaded area to wait their demise. No dramas here everyone returned safely with awe in their eyes. A great experience gained from their braveness. A little regret from others that they had not taken the plunge.A guided tour by our hosts took us for a visit to the war museum which had much memorabilia of the war years, surrounded by pleasant natural landscape and a large memorial site. We then saw the huge nobbies (soft greyish claystone often referred to as opal dirt) another 2 pub visits at which one I eagerly downed on the the few glasses of Beer I have had in my life due to the intensity of the dry heat surrounding us. After experiencing the entire area of the opal fields we returned back to collect our cars and head back to Lightening Ridge. We finished the night with another light makeshift dinner and plenty of beer and wine and very tired but cheerful conversation. 

Visiting the mine was the purpose and the highlight of our trip, however Lightening Ridge and the surrounding areas have a lot more to offer. There are self drive tours or walks aptly named the Car Door Tours. Each one is clearly highlighted with an old car door resting on a tree, painted in a specific colour showing you the direction to go. They all have their own unique specialties worth seeing. The town itself is full of miscellaneous shops displaying and selling a huge range of differing artifacts and many beautiful Opals. The John Murray Art Gallery is worth a visit with many stunning prints to help lighten your wallet. We were lucky to dine in a lovely local restaurant called Piccolo’s, where the food, wine and service was fantastic and reasonably overpriced. I would highly recommend it and would suggest you book early. There is also an RSL and other cafes and restaurants. On the Sunday there was market selling opals mined by locals and turned into stunning pieces for the keen eye. We are not people who spend on souvenirs when we travel. We will often buy one thing of value if we really like what we see. We both like opals and therefore checked out the markets just in case. Needless to say with the guided hand of our hosts who told us what to look for and who to buy from a couple of us are now proud owners of some stunning jewellery. Last but certainly not least is the Artesian Bore Baths. We were able to sample this on our 3rd night if I remember correctly. We did not venture down the very short walk until late in the evening. Around 10 we arrived and it was quite busy. A long line saw us sobering up while we patiently waited our turn. It was during the early stage of covid restrictions and only so many people allowed in at a time. Around the time we were discussing whether to go back and try another time a whisper came down the ranks that all would be good at 11pm. This was when those managing the restrictions clocked off and went home. No more restrictions, we were now happy. The water was absolutely beautiful, hot and yet refreshing. It was clean with fresh showers available once one decided the body was sufficiently pruned enough to alight. With our bodies now soothed and our heads a little clearer we slowly walked back to our cabins and heavily crashed into blissful sleep for the night.

On our last day a few of us returned to Grawin for an impromtu barbecue with our friends. An event was planned which we felt we could not miss. A new hole was being escavated, not for another opal mine but for something much more important. A huge, deep hole to house the sleeve for the exciting new outdoor toilet. One has to appreciate the difficulties incurred for this to happen. A simple facility we all take for granted in the modern world. Brett and Frances were ecstatic with the nearing possibility of having a decent, functioning dunny close to the homestead. We all look forward to our next trip to Northern NSW to try out this life changing facility. Hope you enjoyed this journey and welcome your comments below.

Our Backyard – The Blue Mountains

In 2020/2021, Covid, vaccinations, masks, stay at home orders are all that we hear on a daily basis. It is easy to become preoccupied with the enormity of this situation. I know for some it can be quite distressing. We are super lucky as our local government area is huge and is filled with lookouts, walks, flowers, mountains and waterways. I would like to share a few ventures we have had since moving here 5 years ago. I hope this will encourage people to look around and see what is there. If you are in a area that is more heavily restricted and unable to find beauty close by I hope the photos will help to brighten your day. (I am not a photographer by any means though)

This was a walk I particularly enjoyed. Ken and I went there in July 2018 during the week. It was like a little secret world of enchantment. It is quite close to the main highway and being so close to civilisation its beauty is very unexpected. It is also surprisingly very accessible. We spent maybe and hour or two just taking the 2.6km walk slowly enjoying what was on offer. On the way down the ground is carpeted with ferns, fungi, huge grass trees and native flora. At the bottom of the walk you will come across a sparkling creek with rocks jutting out, caves, bridges and waterfalls. It is a natural little piece of paradise. The path is primarily quite easy but can be a little rocky and a little steep on the way out but it is certainly worth the effort. I would highly recommend it to families as the children would love it.