Aussie Driving Tour
Aussie Driving Tour
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!
Christina & Paul
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!
After two months in Western Oz, we finally make it across the border, into a new territory! We also travel along the longest straight road in Australia, 146km long (although I can’t say it seemed different from most of the other drives we’ve done).
Right along the border between Western and South Australia, we visit Eucla National Park, famed for its old telegraph station ruins, half-buried in white sand dunes.
The road east takes us through our last expanse of emptiness, the Nullarbor. The name comes from “nullus arbor” meaning “no trees”, a fact we can confirm. It also looks uncannily like Nevada/Idaho. The reason for this treeless plain is the rock underneath: 200,000 square kms of limestone—the biggest, flattest piece of limestone in the world, up to 300m thick. Even more amazing is that this giant slab of limestone juts right up against the ocean, along the Great Australian Bight. The resulting cliffs are stunning.
All along this coast we looked for Southern Right Whales, but sadly we were a little late to the party. The whales spend the winter here giving birth and resting in the shallow waters, sometimes only a few meters away from the cliffs (which has created quite a tourist industry), and spend the rest of the year in Antarctica. However, we don’t feel as bad about missing them when we find out it’s been a bad year altogether. It used to be you could spot several dozen mother and calf pairs at peak season, but this year the most they saw at one time were six. And they didn’t come nearly as close as years past. I think it’s probably a combination of climate change and El Nino.
We made our way down along the Eyre Peninsula to Lincoln National Park at the very tip. We had a nice time here, with a quiet little beach next to our campground in Spalding Cove, and lots of kangaroos and emus running around to keep us entertained. This is also the best place in Australia to see Great White Sharks, so we basked in the warm, fuzzy feeling that they were nearby. However, we were also being tormented by a much more horrible and terror-inducing beast… the Great Australian Fly. Although we brought one fly-net with us, we were wise enough to buy a second in Esperance. Most of hikes from here on out would be overshadowed by them. Literally.
From here we drove north towards the mountains, through a town called Whyalla, but it’s also known in some circles (my kind of circles) as Cuttlefish Mecca. Yet again, we missed the season. But something tells me we’ll be here again… Hundreds of giant cuttlefish court, fight and mate here in the winter, all with dazzling color-changing flashes and shows. Yup, we’ll be here again, somehow.
Here, the flies worsened. In case you haven’t experienced it yourself, camping with swarms of flies is one of the least-enjoyable things you could do. Cooking is a pain, everything has to be constantly covered and fanned. Eating is impossible with a fly-net on, so we end up sweltering in the car (after killing the 5-6 flies that inevitably get caught inside with us). Our only escape is the tent. So after a difficult night, we hoped by climbing a mountain maybe the wind would keep them away.
With our fly-nets on, we set out on the trail. Most of the hikers we passed also had nets, so at least we weren’t the only people who looked like idiots. We even passed a group of people with multicolor streamer-wands to swat them away. As we made our way toward the trailhead, we were stopped by a mob of juvenile delinquents:
With our spirits lifted by the friendly encounter, we hiked up Mt. Ohlssen-Bagge, and were rewarded with a spectacular view. And fewer flies!
And we had plenty of company from the reptiles running around, too. The trail was very steep and rocky, and it seemed like every time I laid my hand down on a rock, it ended up inches from a skink or dragon, who just looked at my wondering why I was trying to steal her sunbathing spot.
At our campsite, we also had a deadly redback spider behind the toilet. I hoped she would at least eat some flies.
Remarkable for somehow having more flies than any other park. And with the weather taking a turn toward hellish (38C), our usual respite, the tent, was quite unbearable. Luckily, the next day was going to be much cooler, so we planned a long hike to keep ourselves busy. We chose the popular Hidden Gorge trail (18km) which turned out to be one of our absolute favorite hikes of the trip. Since we started early, we saw lots of kangaroos, and even a pretty yellow-footed rock wallaby hopping straight up a cliff.
We also saw at least five goannas, one of whom wasn’t the least bit concerned about us and went about digging for food right in front of us.
And yes, the flies followed us the whole time. The photo below shows how many flies we typically carry around with us, but at their peak there were easily three times as many.
After a brutal week of flies, we were so excited to be in a city (and indoors at an Airbnb) that we completely forgot to take any pictures. We did manage to eat some fantastic indian food, though.
The marine emblem of South Australia is the extraordinary leafy sea-dragon. A spectacular animal (related to sea horses) they are native to these seaweed-rich coasts, and nowhere else in the world. And although we desperately wanted to see them in their natural home, the weather and water was pretty cold, and another scuba-diving trip was not in our budget. But at least we scoped out the dive site for in case we come back (Rapid Bay Jetty, in case you’re wondering).
On the southern side of this peninsula is Granite Island, a little island connected to the town of Victor Harbor via a 630m wooden boardwalk. Turns out it’s also South Australia’s most-visited national park, and it’s home to a small colony of Little Penguins (they come ashore in the evening).
The large granite boulders are what’s left after the limestone around it eroded, and has the same geology as “Remarkable Rocks” on Kangaroo Island to the west (which I visited 10 years ago). Although not as large and strangely-shaped as those of Kangaroo Island, these granite rocks still had some character.
The wooden boardwalk that connects the island can also be travelled by horse-drawn tram, which has been in service since 1894.
From the coast, we travelled inland to several other parks, including Cox Scrub (where we went on a rainy 4km hike through sandy terrain), Padthaway (where we searched unsuccessfully for koalas on a 4WD adventure…pushing our poor Subaru to the limit), the Naracoorte Caves and Bool Lagoon.
South Australia’s only World Heritage Site, this cave system was excavated in 1969, and was found to hold some of the best fossils of ancient megafauna marsupials from 200,000 years ago. They have a strange old museum/animatronic display with recreations of these bizarre animals…which sounded too intriguing to pass up. It was meant to bring the creatures back to life and give visitors a chance to walk back in time, but now it just “frightens small children” as the receptionist said. And he was right. Even for a 28-year-old, the creepy jolty-movements of the moving stuffed animals was enough to give me scary flash-backs…especially the snub-nosed kangaroo that looked like an evil, giant Tim Burton-esque rabbit… Most of the displays were clearly 30 years old, showing wear and tear and molting fake fur underneath a good deal of dust. Unforgettable, I suppose.
After shaking-off the strange experience of the museum, we then made our way to the Wet Cave, where we explored the various caverns at our leisure.
Just as we where about the leave, we were graced with the presence of an animal we’ve been desperately searching for, and had nearly given up hunting. They are nocturnal, timid and yet fairly common across the whole country (which made us even more annoyed), and here we found one in the middle of the afternoon only a few meters from the parking lot, and happy to walk right up to us. Relative of the platypus, the echidna is the only other egg-laying mammal alive today. And again, impossibly cute.
After the caves we drove over to our next campsite, at Bool Lagoon, and immediately made a new friend. This turtle was trying to cross the road (wisely doing so right past the turtle-crossing sign). After snapping the photo, I decided Paul needed a better look (he was waiting in the car), so I picked her up and brought her over to the car window. He was not amused.
The next day we walked along the many boardwalks in the reserve. There’s usually water under them, but with the drought everything was very dry and there were barely any birds at all.
Canunda National Park
We thought we’d visit SA’s coast one last time, so we spent a few nights in Canunda National Park, where we went on a nice 10km walk along the cliffs and beaches on the Seaview Hike.
We then headed south toward the border, for a visit to our last parks in South Australia.
This little park (along with Ewans Ponds, nearby) is special because of its crystal-clear limestone pools, which you can snorkel and scuba dive in. We opted for a just a little walk around, which turned out be a boon for snakes! We saw 4 snakes within an hour (3 red-bellied black snakes, one eastern brown), all highly venomous, of course. Three of them were shy, and disappeared off the narrow grassy trail as soon as they saw us, but one of them was a bit more nervous. She stayed perfectly still, but she started flattening her neck (a sign of unease or aggression in snakes). We had to pass by her to get back to the car, so we waited a minute, and slide by her VERY slowly, and made it out without any trouble. Sure got our hearts pumping, though.
Although we didn’t jump in the water ourselves, we got a glimpse of the strange underwater world thanks to the GoPro. Here’s a little video of what the ponds look like underwater:
That wraps up South Australia! Victoria here we come!
We have successfully finished the journey along the West Coast of Australia! From Broome to the Cape took us 50 days and we travelled 13,175 km!
As a grand hurrah (and a break from all the driving), we decided to go on a 4 day backpacking trip along the Cape to Cape track in the Margaret River area. It’s one of the most well-travelled trails, and we had plenty of company. Since there are a few towns along the way, many people opt for a more luxurious walk staying at hotels, eating out and even getting picked up/dropped-off each day, but we wanted to be true to form and pack-in pack-out everything we needed. We only did the first half of the trail which was 65km of gorgeous rugged coast and long sandy beaches, starting at Cape Naturaliste in the north and ending in Prevally–which includes crossing the Margaret River. [The full hike is 135km, and takes 5-8 days].
Here we are at the start of the trip, looking like normal people…
Not even 2km into the hike, we saw a snake! Not just any snake, a brown snake…the first venomous snake we’ve seen the entire time in Australia (geez, only took us 4 months)!
The beach walking was grueling!
One morning, we ran across this little bunny on the trail. We approached quietly so I could get a good photo, and slowly we realized she wasn’t doing too well. I got even closer and nudged her with my boot, and she barely noticed, and then almost fell over…poor little dying bunny…
Turns out A LOT of the trail was sandy, even inland. Sometimes we were on 4WD tracks, as a lot of good surfing beaches were tucked away along this coastline.
Days 3 and 4 we saw lots of goannas! We’d been missing them most of the trip, but here they enjoyed basking in the sun along the trail, so we were thrilled!
Finally, we made it!
The next day (after a nice shower, pizza and cocktails) we drove down to the southern tip to officially finish our route along the West Coast!
Now, time to head east for the last leg of the trip!
While we may not have timed our trip well for whale sharks, we did happen to visit southwestern Australia at the perfect time for spring wildflowers. From Kalbarri south, we marveled at the bright colors all around us. They brightened all our hikes, brought birds and bees right next to us, and made the landscape come alive on the long drives. Here is a little taste of the rainbow – all from one day in Kalbarri:
As our little guide book describes it, Geraldton is the “key port and administration center for the region” – meaning there’s not much to do. And sadly, we had to occupy ourselves for a whole weekend in this town since we arrived on a Friday and had to wait til Monday to get the car serviced. Even worse, every shop in town closes at 1pm on Saturday, and nothing is open Sunday. There was, however, a nice little market (where we bought some fudge) and a nice museum about Western Australia’s natural history, local culture and the fascinating shipwrecks off the treacherous coast. The stories of the dutch ships Batavia (1629) and Zuytdorp (1712) include some serious blood-thirsty episodes, if you care to look them up…
The best part of our visit was hands-down the jumping pillow pad at the caravan park. There’s something amazingly satisfying about bouncing around like idiots until you fall over from laughing too hard you can’t move anymore. If you know of one nearby, go visit it NOW.
Although we were eager to get to Perth, we couldn’t skip over the last few parks on the way. And as luck would have it, just after entering Beekeepers Nature Reserve, where we planned to camp, I spotted a tiny creature on the road, with a unique wobbly gait, and I wailed for Paul to stop the car. He dutifully turned around and we manged to find the little lizard we were desperate (and unable) to find while in Shark Bay… the one and only Thorny Devil!
Moloch horridus is a remarkable being that would be nightmarish if only it weren’t so small and cute. With pointy scales all over its body, and skin that changes color, it sits around eating tiny black ants and nothing else. Even more amazing, is its ability to collect moisture from dew on its body that flows via tiny channels between its scales straight into its adorable stubby mouth. BEST DAY EVER.
While few things could ever top finding a Thorny Devil, we continued onward to Lesueur National Park for a wonderful hike to a lookout over the area. Apparently, it has more plant species per unit than anywhere in the state (200 of 800 are endemic to the park).
Next, we made out way to Jurien Bay. We were hoping to see some friendly Australian Fur Seals, but alas, they hide away from humans on the offshore islands. The beach was still very pretty.
The most famous site in the area is undoubtedly the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park. Thousands of limestone pinnacles pop out of the sand, up to 5 meters tall. They were formed when plant roots cemented with calcite in the dunes, exposed by wind and shifting sands.
You can drive right between the strange structures, giving the place a very other-worldly feel.
Our last stop before Perth was Yanchep National Park, where we spent a rainy morning wandering around the wildlife and flowers.
While we have yet to visit any captive animals parks (every creature we’ve seen so far has been wild), we stumbled upon the (free) koala enclosure in the middle of the park, and got to see our first koalas of the trip.
The next stop on our way down along the west coast is Shark Bay. It’s a huge marine park comprised of multiple national parks and World Heritage Areas. The first bay, Hamelin Pool, is home to some of Earth’s first creatures: stromatolites (cyanobacteria). While they’re not much to look at, walking amongst them is like walking back in time, to see the organisms responsible for making the oxygen in our atmosphere.
A little farther up the peninsula is Shell Beach, a suitable name for a vast stretch of beach made entirely of little cockle shells that thrive in the super-salty water of the shallow bay, 25-30 feet deep in some areas. They used to make stone bricks out of them, too.
Farther still, is an amazing rugged cliff looking down on crystal blue ocean where the casual onlooker can sit back and leisurely watch all sorts of sea creatures wander into the bay. Within a few minutes we saw shovel-nosed sharks, several reef sharks, stingrays, a pod of dolphins, sea turtles and humpback whales in the distance. Not bad!
That night we celebrated with margaritas! Our tequila even came with its own sombrero.
The next morning we made friends with a shingleback skink who was happily sunning herself in the middle of the road, who, when provoked by a waving hand, showed-off her fabulous blue tongue 🙂
Our next stop was a very touristy spot called Monkey Mia (I still haven’t figured out why it had that name) where local humans have been hand-feeding wild dolphins for decades. In the ’60s they used to let people feed them as much as they pleased, and the dolphins loved it, coming back every day to get a free meal. However, after about 20 years they noticed a sharp decline in young dolphins. Turns out all the free meals meant the mother dolphins weren’t teaching their calves how to find wild fish, and so they couldn’t survive on their own. These days, they are limited to 3 feedings a day, starting at 8am. All the humans line up on the beach and listen to the rangers while awaiting the dolphins (they all have names, and we saw mother, daughter and granddaughter). Some special people get picked to hand-feed the dolphins, while trying the evade the hungry fish-stealing pelicans. We were not the chosen people.
The dolphin experience was a nice treat, but the real draw of Shark Bay for us was the dugongs. Relatives of the freshwater manatee (with a forked tail instead of a rounded tail), dugongs are the only true vegetarian marine mammal, eating seagrass all day long. They are actually negatively buoyant, with very heavy bones, so they don’t need to exert any energy while feeding on the bottom. But this means they only have time for one breath each time they surface. While they remain a threatened species, about 20% of the world population resides in Shark Bay. The best way to see them is to jump on a wildlife cruise, so we dutifully followed suit.
The cruise also stopped at a pearl farm, which is a huge industry all the way up to Broome and beyond (and has its own crazy history involving kidnapping aboriginal women and forcing them to dive down to collect pearls, and later a huge migration of asian labor, including the still-best Japanese). We got to see some of the new inventive techniques they use to create unique shapes under the shell (hearts, anchors, dolphins, etc) and imbedding gold and gem stones to be covered in nacre (the white, iridescent coating that makes a pearl a pearl).
Kalbarri National Park
This park has both red rock gorges and rocky ocean coast, making it one of my (Christina’s) very favorite places in Australia. We started inland with a lovely loop hike (imaginatively called The Loop) starting on the rim at Nature’s Window (a large wind-created hole) and followed the trail down into the red and white banded gorge along the Murchison river.
The second part of the park, and its most spectacular in my opinion, it the wild coastline. Even though we’re farther south, the water still has that tropical light blue color, paired with white limestone cliffs or iron-rich sandstone. What is truly stunning about this part of Western Australia is the mix of warm-tropical and cold-water marine life. The west coast of Australia has the only southward flowing current in the southern hemisphere (the currents along South America and Africa both flow north). The Leeuwin current brings down tropical marine species from Southeast Asia, while the cold waters from Antartica bring the nutrient rich water north. They meet here and form a wonderful seascape that mixes coral reefs and bright tropical fish with seaweeds and kelps of the rocky intertidal.
One of the best places to explore was Eagle Gorge Beach, which was a small beach, but had an amazing amount of marine life, from little snails in the tide pools, to a huge crab-eating gull, and the remnants of creatures washed up on the beach (endless shells, urchins, cuttlebones, etc). I could have stayed there for days exploring all the nooks and crannies!
We continued along the coast to other beaches, lookouts and bluffs, each one presenting new and beautiful treasures.
Where ever we went, the whales weren’t far, and today we managed to get a photo!