Day 1: Melbourne to Port Albert
The day started in somewhat untypical fashion with an early morning start. However painful, it was necessary as we still needed to pack our things and do a load of washing before heading to pick up the camper van near the airport. It took us a while to find the depot despite having the exact address and we were treated to a scenic tour of various Tullamarine business parks as a result. Finally, we managed to locate our destination by spotting a “shitload of white vans” in a nearby parking lot. After the best part of an hour amusing ourselves by watching French and Italian couples try (in vain) to communicate with the staff, we had our van and were on the road back to Huntingdale to load up.
By the time we had reached the house Sam was already deeply in love with the van describing it as “the best thing we have ever rented” (competition includes a pedalo, a student room and a Toyota Yaris). His favourite features include; the reversing camera in the rear-view mirror, a half decent sound system, the storage solutions and most importantly the fact that he can stand up in it. After filling the car with all of our belongings, we headed towards Wonthaggi in order to get some last minute caravanning advice from the expert Grandma Jill and Grandpa Fred. We enjoyed a cup of tea with them whilst discussing our plans for the coming days. By the time we arrived at theirs it was already getting on to about 4 o’clock and so we decided to scrap our original plan of spending the night in Lakes Entrance in lieu of a free camp site in Port Albert (an hour and a half from Wonthaggi).
This slight change of plan ended up working nicely in our favour as our spot for the night sits right next to a beautiful (we think – its pretty dark right now) harbour with a brilliant fish and chip shop just down the road. After dinner, we embarked on our biggest mission to date – turning the table and benches at the back of the van into a bed. Although it took probably twice the normal time, we managed it without any casualties and then spent the rest of the evening playing cards and reading books. Tomorrow we plan to wake up early and check out the scenery before heading towards Buchan Caves!
Road Kill Count: 2
Day 2: Port Albert to Eden
We awoke to one of the most beautiful sunrises either of us had ever experienced over Port Albert harbour (admittedly, we’re rarely awake at sunrise). After grabbing a few photos, we set off for Sale to shop for supplies and something to eat for breakfast. We walked out of the supermarket at around 8:30 to find that it had started to rain, this was to continue intermittently for the rest of the day.
Luckily, our plan for the day was to explore Buchan Caves – which ended up being both warm and dry. On the way to the caves we passed through Stratford on the river Avon – I can only imagine they failed to negotiate for the naming rights – and even saw a few wild Emus on the side of the road. We arrived at the visitors centre in Buchan at midday and had an hour to kill before the Fairy Cave tour was due to start. So, we made some soup and decided upon a campsite in Eden for the night (about a three hour drive from Buchan). We even had a little bit of time for Claire to practice driving the van for the first time – she started shakily but was soon dodging kangaroos like a pro. The tour of the caves itself was fantastic and our group (consisting of an Irishman, an Englishman, an Australian and a Frenchie – there is a joke in there somewhere) was shown around by a brilliant tour guide. Claire was particularly happy because some of the passages were quite small and custom made for people her size.
After the caves we rang up a campsite in Eden to book a powered site and realised that we had exactly three hours to get there before the office shut – it is a three hour drive according to Google. Claire decided that she wanted to drive and so naturally, as navigator, I sent her along the mountain pass which included jaw dropping views but also quite a few hairpin bends. After joining back up with the A1 at Orbost, we drove through Cann River and Alfred National Park. Some of the forests we passed through looked like movie sets for a new Jurassic Park film and it was a shame that we didn’t have enough time to stop and soak it all in – something for next time I guess! We arrived in Eden with a few minutes to spare and found our camp site despite my best efforts to get lost amongst the myriad of caravans already parked. We plugged our van in for the night to recharge the battery, poured ourselves a glass of wine and Claire is now cooking dinner while I attempt to write all of this! Tomorrow is Claire’s birthday and we plan to take our time driving up to Bateman’s Bay for the night!
Road Kill Count: 15
Day 3: Eden to Congo
Although Claire was promised a great day, she was first awaken on her birthday at 3am, following Sam having to unlock the car to go and relieve himself. Naturally, because she had had three cups of tea the night before, she had to go do the same when he came back. Needless to say, when Sam started singing ‘Happy Birthday’, Claire was not happy.
We then ignored our 7am wake up call to casually rise at 8am, took showers, and had proper oatmeal and peanut butter toast for breakfast whilst planning the route of the day. We first stopped at the famous killer whale museum in Eden, where we were staying, to catch a glimpse at the whaling history of the New South Wales town – once considered as a contender for Australian capital, so it’s a big deal. From seeing “Old Tom’s” skeleton, we went to the lookout point where, in season, one can whale spot. Obviously, we weren’t in season, so we just imagined it and then watched a movie about it in the museum.
From then, we continued our trail north to Pambula Beach where we stood at the beginning of the ninety miles beach, quite a spectacular and windy site. We then made it to Merimbula where we decided to walk along its boardwalk that trails along the oyster farms: it was a stunning and peaceful walk, and we got to enjoy the sunshine we did not get yesterday. We picked up what we needed to make dinner with, as we knew where we would stay would be quite remote, and made a move to Tathra.
In Tathra, we found the most scenic café on the old historic wharf with timber frames and a beautiful view over the harbour with the most exquisite food. We picked up hot drinks, a sandwich to share, and a couple of our favourite cakes for today’s celebration. Our last stop before our campsite was the Blue Pool at Bermagui, which was the coolest pool we had ever seen, and we both swore we would have gone if it had been a couple degrees warmer (although, that was a lie in Claire’s case, she needed at least 15 more degrees to even dip her feet in there).
We made it to Congo, not the Democratic Republic, but the New South Wales camp site just off Moruya (less than 30 km south of Bateman’s Bay) in time to enjoy a birthday sparkling shiraz at sunset. It was the most perfect setting as a couple kangaroos were grazing along less than ten metres away, which made out for the best Australian birthday one could ask for.
Road Kill Count: 4
Day 4: Congo to Canberra
We woke up to find that the temperature had dropped to minus 3 degrees during the night, and that we could see our breath whilst still laying in bed under the covers. What made that grim realisation better however was the most spectacular view we got at sunrise. Since it was as cold outside as it was inside, we decided we would take a walk on the beach four strides away from our van. There really is nothing better than waking up and going straight outside, listening to the waves and the birds waking up, as well as Sam’s terribly good impression of David Attenborough.
We set off for Canberra fairly early as we wanted to spend as much of the day there. The 3 hour drive started off with Claire almost running over parrots and a road worker and climbing to the most ridiculous altitude whilst having to deal with extremely sharp bends you had to go down to 25km/h for on a national highway. The scenery was breathtaking, and finally seeing the site of the Australian Parliament at the end of the drive was deeply pleasing – that is until it took Claire over ten minutes to park the van properly in the underground parking lot.
We visited Parliament, where we checked out the House of Representatives that were sitting at that moment – all six attendees in total – and where Sam was already seeing himself work. The most striking aspect though, is that the politicians that work there do not know how to differentiate a Queensland scarf from a Gryffindor one. During the whole time we were there, Claire got comments and sniggers of how Queensland was so unlucky and how stupid it was for her to wear that scarf today. We were confused for a while, but it turns out Queensland had lost a sporting event the night before. Nonetheless, when Claire started correcting everyone about her scarf, they looked confused, and she was not impressed.
Passing by the visitor centre gave us a great view over the Captain Cook memorial, we headed to the National Portrait Gallery and the National Gallery of Australia before going to the War Museum and Memorial. We agreed that this was possibly the biggest and most informative museum of war we had ever visited and that one would need an entire couple of days to read all the information at hand. The highlight of the day was to be able to attend the last post ceremony at 5pm at the memorial during Reconciliation week. Three schools were present, the Australian A Cricket team, veterans, their families and the tourists that were present in the museum at the time. Aside from almost getting attacked by crows and cockatoos, the ceremony was very special and gave us a glimpse of how much remembering the troupes in Australia is respected and a priority.
We arrived in our campsite, located in the Exhibition park of Canberra, without too many wrong turns, ready to cook everything we had to warm the van up for the night.
Road Kill Count: 6
Day 5: Canberra to Nowra
After one of the coldest nights in nearly twenty years, we woke up to the sight of our own breath in Canberra. We quickly put the gas on to have a cup of tea and a bit of warmth in the van. After a hot shower and filling up the water level in the tank (some of which I imagine was frozen), we started on our way to Nowra to visit Sam’s mum’s cousin David and his family.
The drive from Canberra to Nowra takes about two hours on a good day, but Claire and I decided to stop in Goulburn along the way to try and find a map of New South Wales. After trying two different newsagents we eventually found one in the visitors’ centre. We both thought Goulburn was a pretty town and enjoyed the distraction from the monotony of the Hume Highway. Sam was however greatly disappointed to later discover that there was a twenty-foot sculpture of a sheep in the town that we had failed to see. The next disappointment for Sam was soon to follow as we approached a T-junction indicating the Donald Bradman museum on the left, but Nowra on the right.
Luckily, that to be the final disappointment of the day for Sam as he did his favourite Lewis Hamilton impression along the winding roads up and down mountains through the pristine Kangaroo valley. We both decided that if our dream of owning a vineyard does come true one day, the valley is definitely on our short list of locations. After Kangaroo Valley we were soon at David’s and spent the rest of the afternoon getting to know more of Sam’s family, checking out their amazing brand new horse truck (which resembled a NASA space project more than a equine transportation device) and playing with the various pets on the farm. The highlight of the afternoon was most definitely travelling up to a nearby lookout point with an amazing view of the valley complete with the sound of Lyrebirds communicating in the jungle below. We managed to get a bit of footage so hopefully that makes it into the video!
We ended the day with dinner at an Asian restaurant where we had amazing dumplings and a really tasty Chicken Laksa. Tomorrow we plan on spending the day in Jarvis Bay (about forty minutes from Nowra) and then spending one more night on the farm before heading to the Blue Mountains for a couple of days!
Road Kill Count: 5
Day 6: Nowra to Jervis Bay (and back)
Today is the first time on this road trip where we will spend consecutive nights in the same place. Having spoken to David and his wife Penny yesterday, we decided that we needed to spend the exploring Jervis Bay (just down the road from them) and they very kindly let us stay another night at theirs to give us enough time to do so. They had a dressage event to attend during the day and so we followed them out of the farm at around 9:30 and headed towards Booderee National Park on their recommendation. We started at the historic lighthouse which was torn down and rebuilt elsewhere because it was actually coaxing boats onto the dangerous rocks around the bay (someone must have got their angles wrong). We then drove to Cave Beach and were met along the way be some surprisingly tame wild Kangaroos which took full advantage of Sam’s free belly scratches (one of them followed us after we left wanting more!).
The low point of the day, however, was most definitely Sam’s idiotic decision to jump off a rock for a photo opportunity, landing on the unbelievably hard-packed sand and seriously bruising his heel. Although, Claire thoroughly enjoyed filming his attempt to ease the pain by running up and down the beach shouting at himself. He is still in a bit of pain now and we are waiting for the inevitably colourful bruising to appear, exciting! Claire is also in sole charge of driving for the next couple of days as a result.
We then drove slowly along the coast, checked out the reputably whitest sand in the world at Hyam’s Beach, before having a lemon, lime and bitters (our new favourite drink) at the Huskisson Pub. We also enjoyed laughing at a group of French tourists sharing a freezing cold shower in the open at one of the beach car parks – when will they learn? We then drove back to the farm and had a relaxing evening ahead of our trip to the Blue Mountains tomorrow, lets hope Sam’s heel is better in the morning!
Road Kill Count: 1
Day 7: Nowra to Katoomba
After having a quick shower, eating some breakfast and saying goodbye to Sam’s family at the Hutchinson farm we headed towards the Kiama blowhole on David’s recommendation. We arrived at the attraction at around 9:30 and Sam managed to hobble his way twenty metres from the parking lot to the viewing platform. It was well worth it as we were treated to four or five impressive bursts of water into the morning sky. We then decided to stop off at a supermarket to restock supplies (some more paracetamol for Sam and an electric heater for Claire!) before continuing on towards the Blue Mountains.
The drive from Kiama to Katoomba (our stop for the night) was fairly uneventful as it was mostly along motorways, so we listened to music and generally talked nonsense for the best part of four hours. About twenty minutes out from Katoomba we stopped at Wellington Falls in order to see (unsurprisingly) a waterfall. Sam once again managed the walk despite his injury and was pleased to finally be confident enough that it is in fact a bruised heel rather than a broken one. We then drove on to our camp site for the night, the Katoomba Christian Convention. We spoke to the only staff member on site who helped us to park the van and seemed genuinely happy to see us. He stifled a smile when Sam asked whether they had enough room to accommodate our van, then directed us to the empty camp site (bar one other van). We took a quick look, decided it was indeed just as lovely as the reviews we had read online and then drove five or so minutes down the road to our final stop for the day – Echo Point and the Three Sisters.
We weren’t quite expecting to find every single tourist in the whole Blue Mountains National Park at Echo Point but there can’t have been many others elsewhere. This is of course because the Three Sisters rock formation is probably the number one tourist attraction in the area and a site of great significance to the local Aboriginal people. According to Lonely Planet, “the story goes that the sisters were turned to stone by a sorcerer to protect them from the unwanted advances of three young men, by the sorcerer died before he could turn them back into humans.” After climbing down and up the 80 metres of stairs to the viewing deck, we trudged wearily back to the van and drove to the camp site for the night. We managed to catch the last hour or so of sunlight and so took advantage of the free wifi whilst Sam put this post together and Claire finished the accompanying video! This time next week we should be somewhere near Hervey Bay so look out for more soon!
Road Kill Count: 7
Note: It has been brought to our attention that the road kill count is somewhat misleading. We are counting the number of dead animals we see on the road rather than the number we have hit with the van – that number is still 0 so no need to notify the RSPCA just yet!