We have officially finished our road trip around Australia!
The last leg of the journey, all along the southern coast took 51 days and covered 11,777 km.
In total, we drove 22,500 km in 5 months.
The Great Ocean Road
After leaving Tasmania, we had one final drive to complete the trip, the famous Great Ocean Road. Just west of Melbourne, the Victorian coastline has some beautiful cliffs, all in various states of erosion, falling into the ocean. There are many distinct features to stop and see.
The most well-known (and most-visited) are the 12 Apostles, twelve limestone towers scattered along a stretch of beach.
Did I mention it was crowded? We had to actively dodge selfie sticks for 1 km.
The best part of the trip for me, was, of course, a chance to see wild koalas. There were several places to easily spot them sleeping in the trees in various towns along the highway. We lucked out at the first one with this beauty, hanging out with a flock of king parrots.
Next stop on the way back to Sydney was a fantastic microbrewery, Prickly Moses Brewery at Otway Estate. Paul got to taste 10 beers, and I had a nice refreshing cider. A rain squall came through while we were there so we happily stayed indoors drinking.
We stopped briefly in Canberra, the capital of Australia, to see the unusual government center, check off the last Australian state ACT (Australian Capital Territory, like Washington DC)– and see Star Wars 🙂
We finally arrived in Sydney on December 23, just in time for the holidays. We spent Christmas with Linda, Fergus and the rest of the family in the Blue Mountains (where we visited when we first arrived in Australia). It was wonderful to be welcomed into their family celebrations for our first Christmas away from home. Needless to say, we were well fed. A great Christmas Eve spaghetti dinner, and a Christmas lunch of salads, cheese, dips, ham, crisps and more.
After that huge lunch, Paul, Fergus and Linda managed to go out on a Christmas hike along Darwin’s Track (again, the same one we did back in June). I managed to get on the couch to watch a documentary instead.
Christmas Dinner was spectacular, roasted chickens, potatoes, vegetables followed by a smorgasbord of dessert: Christmas plum pudding (steamed and covered in brandy sauce), minced fruit pies, fresh fruit, whipped cream, lemon & mango sorbet, chocolates and ice cream. We can’t thank them enough for including us in all the delicious meals and the sharing of gifts.
A few days later, Paul celebrated his 29th birthday at a great little Sydney microbrewery.
We also re-visited Bondi Beach, now in its summer-glory, full of holiday crowds.
And we finished up 2015 by going out New Year’s Eve to Darling Harbour, enjoying the beautiful light displays and a magnificent fireworks show!
It’s been a fantastic 2015, full of crazy adventures and unforgettable experiences, we can only hope to accomplish as much in 2016. Happy New Year and thanks for reading!
Van Diemen’s land was the original name used by most Europeans for the island of Tasmania (later renamed after dutch explorer Abel Tasman, the first European who landed there in 1642). This infamous place was home to 40% of all convicts sent to Australia via the transportation system, some 75,000 men and women. It has a gory, tragic history (including the most thorough genocide of aboriginals), contrasted with the most gorgeous, dramatic, wild landscapes in all of Australia, home to unique and prolific wildlife.
The Tasman Peninsula
Our first stop after leaving the farm was to the Tasman Peninsula, notorious for the penal colony Port Arthur, home to the worst re-offender convicts, and run by some of the nastiest, most brutal wardens. Driving down through the narrow isthmus Eaglehawk Neck, I vividly recalled the historical importance of this section of land. At only 30m (98ft) wide, it used to be fenced, guarded by soldiers, man traps and half-starved dogs, always on alert for escapees fleeing Port Arthur by foot.
These days, it’s a lovely tourist destination. Since we had our dose of depressing penal history thanks to Robert Hughes’ epic book The Fatal Shore, we skipped the tour, and explored the glorious natural landscapes instead. First, a little sea cave, whose opening is shaped like the island of Tasmania:
From there we visited the stunning Tasman National Park, and hiked to Cape Hauy to see the amazing dolerite sea cliffs dropping into the ocean.
The next morning, we experienced our first car trouble of the entire trip– but it was only a flat tire. We put on the spare, and thankfully, we were headed back through Hobart anyway, so we quickly got a replacement and continued on our way.
The Little Devils
On the way to Hobart, we stopped at a little animal park called the UnZoo to see the infamous Tasmania Devil. Although we frequently saw road signs for them in the wild, they are increasingly rare since the rise of the horrible contagious facial-cancer in the 1990s. It’s killed off 80% of the population, and put devils on the Endangered Species List in 2009. Thanks to the tiny isthmus at Eaglehawk Neck, the disease has not spread to any individuals on the Tasman Peninsula, so the UnZoo Conservation Park is protecting and monitoring the last disease-free population in the world. We had a great time watching the devils and a few other animals as well.
The Wild Southwest
As we headed west, we drove through a large hop-growing area, which neither of us had ever seen before. A nice change from vineyards.
Mt. Field National Park is home to arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Tassie, Russell Falls. The weather turned rainy here (how shocking in a rainforest!), so we couldn’t explore the whole park as intended, but we made it to the falls, and even ran into an echidna along the path.
The Southwest National Park is the most remote and wild part of Tasmania. The vast wilderness is virtually inaccessible, but for a narrow winding road up to Strathgordon, Lake Pedder and the Gordon Dam. It was another stormy day, but definitely worth the long drive to see the gorgeous mountains we’ve been missing after months on a dry, flat continent. The weather cleared for a moment just as we arrived at Lake Pedder.
As we approached the end of the road in the mountains, we were blasted with hail and rain. We sat in the car wondering if we’d have to brave the elements for a glimpse of the dam, but again, the weather cooperated and gave us just enough time to hop out and walk down to the immense Gordon Dam. It was so surreal walking along this megastructure in the middle of nowhere.
Across the Lyell Highway
To get to the west coast of Tasmania, we had to drive along the Lyell Highway through more mountains and forests. It’s a beautiful drive, with stunning vistas and our first glimpse of Australian snow! The southern end of Cradle Mountain National Park is Lake St. Clair, where the 6-day Overland Track ends (we hope to come back one day and complete it). This is Australia’s deepest natural lake, at 200m (656 ft) deep, at an elevation of 738m (2,421 ft). We went on a nice stroll through the forest to the lakeside, where platypus live happily. It had a very different feel from the rainforest, almost like the Sierras at times.
On the west coast of Tasmania, we made a special trip out to Hells Gates, the tiny, narrow inlet to another infamous penal colony, Sarah Island, in Macquarie Harbour. Isolated by vast mountainous wilderness, treacherous seas and deathly tidal currents. Despite the location, several convicts managed to escape, most notably Alexander Pearce (who escaped twice, both times cannibalizing his fellow escapees. Yum.)
We finally made it to the one and only Cradle Mountain National Park, by far the most visited and touristy parks in Tassie, complete with foreigner-filled shuttle buses. It was a cloudy, windy day, but we were excited to see this wonderful place…and as luck would have it, the last Australian animal on our list to see: the wombat.
That night we setup camp in another lovely rainforest, near the wonderful Liffey Falls.
Bay of Fires & Freycinet
After driving a loop around the west coast, we headed east to the pretty white beaches and granite cliffs. Beautiful sandy bays make it an ideal swimming area, which I delighted in, even though it was pretty cold (low 60s F). We went on our last long hike of the trip along the Wineglass Bay & Hazards Beach Circuit (11km), and enjoyed every minute of it.
Freycinet National Park also extends into the ocean as a Marine Reserve, protecting one of the most diverse and unique underwater areas in Tasmania.
Our last night in Tasmania was spent in Narawntapu National Park (the first Tassie park to revert to the Aboriginal name). A wildlife haven, we went on an evening hike around the grassy Springlawn where countless pademelons and wallabies grazed, and to the bird hide on the lagoon where we watched black swans, ducks and grebes float idly at sunset. A special end to a special place.
After a pleasant trip overnight on the ferry, we made it back to Melbourne just in time for a stunning sunrise.
Now all that remains is the Great Ocean Road, Canberra and the final leg back to Sydney!
For the last month Christina and I have called Grandvewe Cheesery our home and place of work. Grandvewe is located about 40 minutes south of Hobart nestled in the hills of Birchs Bay. The name Grandvewe just about sums it all up. The cheesery is home to about 80 milking sheep, quite a few lambs, adolescents, older sheep, and rams (over 200 in all). Grandvewe is family owned and operated established by a a savvy business woman named Diane, her awesome her daughter Nicole, her son Ryan the head distiller and her partner Chris. The cheesery is located in a retrofitted house, where the dining room is where the cheese is made, the family room where the tastings are held, a small kitchen, and a terrace for patrons to enjoy the stunning view of Bruny Island and maybe some coffee or cheese.
From a WOOFers perspective Grandvewe is pretty idilic. In exchange for working a full 40 hours a week you get a free bed and food is provided all seven days of the week. The family also asks that woofers stay for at least four weeks since they train you to do a multitude of tasks from cheesemaking to caring for the sheep and lambs, preparing food in the cafe, or helping in the distillery. Plus all the odd jobs that come up on a farm. This requires the help a number of woofers to complete all the tasks.
During our four weeks there were nine other WOOFers, all of whom were fantastic wonderful people.
The apartment for the woofers filled up quickly so Christina and I spent four weeks in a caravan parked under the Grandvewe terrace. This was only slightly inconvenient and cold, but did give us privacy which was lacking in the apartment.
Fortunately, the other woofers are wonderful people with whom we bonded over shared meals, drinks, board and card games, plus working eight hours a day together. These people enhanced our experience of Grandvewe in a way that is hard to put into words. In short, I am grateful to have met and got to know each and every one of them.
Here’s a little video showing the milking process and more:
We got to help make all sorts of cheeses, including roquefort, manchego, reblochon & camembert, pecorino, fresh, halloumi, ricotta, la mancha, crottin, extramadura. We helped make the cheese from the raw sheep milk, stir the curds, drain the whey, hoop the curds into molds, turn them, wash them with yeast (to make the rind), salt them (dry and wet), store them, cut and package and label them.
On top of the cheese, they also make their own vanilla whey liqueur and the only sheep whey vodka in the world. I spent a lot of time down here.
Each week Christina and I had two days off together where we did our best to explore the surrounding area (or make a Thanksgiving dinner). Our first adventure was to the island visible from Grandvewe called Bruny Island. Bruny is accessible by car via a ferry which leaves from the town of Kettering ten minutes away.
At the lighthouse we took photos, had lunch, and took a look inside the small museum that explains a little about the history of the lighthouse. The only thing that I remember is that at the height of the lighthouse before electricity, the lighthouse burned a pint of sperm whale oil an hour. After lunch we took a walk that lead us to one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen so far, Jetty Beach. Jetty Beach was much like the beaches we have back in Northern California with seaweed and other cold water plants.
Later that night we set out from our campground to find the animal that we came to the island to see, the fairy penguin (smallest species). The small penguins make their way from the water to their nests once the sun has set and it is quite dark out. The only way to see the smallest penguin in the world is by using a red light flashlight. Luckily, Christina had one on her headlamp so we were able to see these cute critters really well as they shuffled under the boardwalks and into their burrows.
The next day we took a short hike in Adventure Bay. Here we saw some really amazing dolomite cliffs as well as a boat touring around below us as we walked down from the top of the hill to the shore. And another adorable echidna 🙂
On our next weekend out we headed up to Hobart to check out the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). The MONA opened in 2011 and is the largest privately funded museum in Australia. Curator David Walsh is a Tasmanian millionaire who made his money through gambling. MONA is difficult to describe.
The museum itself is actually underground to preserve the beauty of the surrounding area (and the winery). The exhibits inside are diverse and at times very strange—mostly centered around sex and death. The exhibit that MONA is probably most famous for is the Cloaca Professional, a machine that is specifically designed to recreate the human digestive tract—culminating in real poop. It’s fascinating and smells foul.
We also made the best of our evenings when there was something interesting to do. We were invited to a pirate beer party by one of the full time employees at Grandvewe, a wonderful and generous young french woman named Pauline. She knew the owners of the brewery and knew that I have an interest in brewing, and wanted me to meet the brewer.
The next evening we went to a traditional bush dance in the town of Woodbridge, a two minute drive from the cheesery. We weren’t sure what to expect from a bush dance, but we knew we had to go and find out. So, we packed six people into the Subaru and headed out for the dance. Whatever our expectations were, I can say for a certainty that none of us were disappointed. We arrived fashionably late to find that the whole town had turned out for the bush dance.
The dance was held at the Community Hall, which was 125 years old. There were people of all ages there from babies all the way up to eighty-year-olds. The bush dancing was all choreographed by one man who lead the group through the steps of various folk dances and partnered those looking for a dancing partner. It was a moment of pure bliss when you let go of all inhibition and just have a good time dancing with strangers and friends alike. And yes, I even danced for a little while.
For our last weekend Christina and I spent our time cooking pies and the rest of the trappings for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Our hosts were kind enough to by us a turkey breast and most of the rest of the ingredients we needed to make two pumpkin pies, an apple pie, potato boats, candied sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and vegetables. For many of the woofers this was their first Thanksgiving dinner and everyone enjoyed the exercise in over eating. We still have stuffing leftover from that meal!
Overall we’ve had an incredible time working for food, helping out a family business, and interacting with people other than just the two of us. We’re both going to have a hard time leaving this place, the view, the people, and the sheep and lambs. We’ll miss them all. Thank you to everyone who made this an experience of a lifetime.