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!
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.
One of the main attractions on our road east was the Karri Forest Explorer Drive. The drive is a jagged loop that covers three different national parks over 80 km. Along the drive we stopped at Beedelup National Park to view the falls and walk over a planked suspension bridge.
The main attraction for the drive is obviously the large Karri trees which can grow up to 90 meters tall. That’s just ten meters shorter than some of the tallest redwood trees. The Karri is a large straight eucalyptus tree with a wide truck, which is ideal for climbing. Within the drive there are three Karri trees that are used for spotting fires and are accessible to the public. They are the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree, the Gloucester Tree, and the Diamond Tree with a heights ranging from 52 to 65 meters to the highest platforms. Gulp. These trees have had rebar poles driven into the trunks and platforms built amongst the branches to help you feel safe while taking in the view. I’m terrified of heights, but faced my fears and climbed to the top of all three of the lookout trees. Apparently, only 20 percent of those who attempt the climbs actually make it to the top. This statistic played out hilariously when a middle aged gentleman had started climbing up the Diamond Tree after his kids, but came back down after only ten meters and exclaimed out loud, “I just remembered, I don’t have to do this shit anymore.”
The day after climbing the trees we head south to D’Entrecastraux National Park. Nestled along the coast it had some very beautiful views of the southern ocean and amazing rock formations. Unfortunately, some of the coastal walks were closed due to fire damage, so we only spent a day exploring.
Continuing east we drove through a lush and vibrant landscape populated by forests, wineries, and a few breweries. Most of the time we just whizz by these things on our way to the next park, but just before getting to Albany, something caught our eye and we had to turn the car around to have a look. It was a meadery. Bartholomew’s Meadery, which had a variety of different meads to taste and even wider variety of honeys for sale, including a chili honey. We didn’t get any honey, but we did try some of the meads and actually bought a bottle for the potential cold night. The mead we bought was a spiced mead style called Methelglin, served warm. I can’t remember the spices used, but it was damn good and very special treat.
The next park on our list to visit was Torndirrup National Park. We wanted to stop here because the parks brochure said it had blowholes and we had yet to investigate Australian blowholes. I was under the impression that these blowholes would be visible with water or air spouting from them like what happens with whales. I was mistaken. These blowholes were not visible, but very audible. On days with particularly large swells, water and air are pushed up through small fissures in the granite rock creating a loud whooshing sound. It’s a bit shocking the first time you hear it, but it turns into something quite satisfying once you’re anticipating the whoosh.
Within 200km of Albany there are three very beautiful national parks: Porongurup, Stirling Range, and Fitzgerald River. And we were intent on seeing all three within a two day period of time. We were drawn to Porongurup because of the granite skywalk. This sounded interesting and it was on the way to the Stirling Ranges, so we decided to check it out.
The hike to the Granite Skywalk was two kilometers straight up a steep slope. Even though the hike was a little fatiguing, it was worth the climb. The Granite Skywalk itself is composed of stainless steel rods and rivulets, and see through plexiglass arranged so that it feels like you’re walking on air. In 2011 it was built by contractors who abseiled from the top of the granite peak along the sides to put all the nuts, bolts, and planks of plexiglass into place. The end result was aesthetically pleasing and offers some spectacular views of the surrounding area. A very memorable place.
Stirling Range: Bluff Knoll
North of Porongurup, and visible from the Granite Skywalk, are the Stirling Ranges. The tallest peak in the range is Bluff Knoll standing in at 1095 meters. The summit of Bluff Knoll can be reached from a carpark that is most of the way up the mountain. The rest of the way to the top is an short 6km return hike, meaning 3k all up hill (plenty of stairs). Since this was one of the only accessible hikes in the area we decided we had to summit this peak. The hike was by far the most strenuous hike that we’ve undertaken yet. We started off early in the morning to avoid the heat of the day, and so we could get to our next destination at a reasonable time, with the peak of Bluff Knoll periodically shrouded in clouds. The ascent slow and steady, with breath taking vistas to give us an excuse to stop and rest. As always, the strain on our muscles was rewarded with expansive views and sense of accomplishment. Totally awesome hike.
Fitzgerald River: Kangaroo Attack
Fitzgerald River would definitely be on my top 5 national parks if it weren’t for a few factors totally unrelated to the beauty and splendor of the park itself. First, the road into the park was long, gravel, and corrugated. Second, the flies were horrendous! Third, the wind there was unrelenting, even at night. Ugh.
Fortunately, Fitzgerald wasn’t all terrible. It did have a couple upsides. One, was that Point Ann, usually a good place to see Southern Right whales, was one of the most beautiful places that we’ve had the pleasure of stopping. Second, while having dinner a small kangaroo came into our tent site. It was very curious about what we were doing and came right up to the table. I was very hungry and didn’t want to share the food so I stood to shoo away the roo, but in doing so it only jumped straight up in the air and scared me more than I scared it. I tried running at the roo, but it hopped away and shortly returned again. Christina recommended running and screaming, so I tried this tactic much to Christina’s delight and the roo ran away. The roo and I were both pleased that Christina and I were only staying one night.
The next big town on our journey east was Esperance. But before arriving at our destination we had to make a quick detour to Stokes Inlet, which was said to be “one of the most picturesque and interesting estuaries along WA’s southern coast.” We didn’t find many birds but we did find this very interesting fish cleaning station.
Once in Esperance we had the intention of going straight to a neighboring national park, Cape Le Grand, but found that the all the campsites were full. Or so sign outside the park had proclaimed. Feeling a little defeated, we headed back to town to stay at a caravan park. Good thing we did. That night the wind was gusting ferociously and the rain came along for the ride. Luckily, the caravan park was well protected against the wind and we weathered the storm.
A couple days later we were back in Esperance and took a short scenic drive along the coast.
Cape Le Grand
Between our days in Esperance we did finally manage to get out to Cape Le Grand. Le Grand is about 60km east of Esperance and is home some very stunning beaches (whitest beaches in Australia), granite hills, and kangaroos on the beach. During our stay we climbed a medium sized peak, called Frenchman Peak, hung out with kangaroos on the beach, and generally took it easy. A great break from a very busy week.
Perth is the capital city of Western Australia, situated in the southern part of the west coast, the geographic equivalent of LA. As a metropolitan area it is home to around 1.8 million aussies making Perth the fourth largest city in Australia behind Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Perth, like many of the great Australian cities, is cut in two (north south) by the mighty Swan River. The north side is were the Central Business District (CBD) resides and the south is more residential with trendy bars and restaurants thrown in the mix. The CBD also has a free museum of Western Australia of which we took full advantage. But, a lovely city and free museums are not the only reasons we stayed in Perth.
Before arriving in Perth we knew that we wanted to spend a little extra time in the area and extend our trip in an attempt to arrive in Tasmania closer to summertime. To accomplish this goal we signed up for this service called Aussie House Sitters. Basically you pay a one time fee, create a profile, see what house sitting gigs are posted, and apply. Some house sitting is for a week others for a month to a couple months and everything in between. We had applied to several different gigs, but were turned down each time, until a lovely lady named Katie accepted our request. Katie had actually setup the account for her mom, Sue, who lives with her and her family. The gig wasn’t so much to watch the house, but to watch Sue’s three Maltese/Shih tzus. The family was going on an eight day holiday to Bali and the dogs needed company. Normally I don’t really like small dogs, but these guys were alright, even if they were a little barky.
During our stay in the Perth area we did a lot of sleeping, watching Netflix, and baking various treats for ourselves. You know, cookies, quiches, casseroles, fries, and chicken nuggets. Comfort food. Even though it was exceedingly difficult to pull ourselves away from the cute dogs and comfort of a roof over our heads, we did manage to do a little exploring. On our big day out we played disc golf, went to a brewery, and a park.
On another day we visited the very popular suburb of Fremantle. Fremantle, or Freo, is known for its laid back, do what you want philosophy. It is also know for its weekend markets which offer a wide variety of fresh and cooked food, buskers, koala petting, and other treats for the whole family. Like good tourist we walked around, Christina bought some chocolate covered strawberries, and later we washed it all down with some locally made beer and cider. All in all, a very lovely little town.
Ok, to be honest, the real reason why we stopped in Perth was so that I could attend a beer event and for Christina to change her hair color. And that is exactly what we did our last day in Perth. While Christina sat in a chair for six hours turning her hair aquamarine, I went to a local pub to celebrate Zwanze Day. What is Zwanze Day? It’s an international beer festival created by Cantillon Brewery in Belgium to celebrate a serialist art movement that was started in the late 19th century in Belgium and continues to influence the life philosophy of the people of Belgium. Or at least that’s what the breweries website claims. Either way the brewery releases a special beer for the annual event and only a very select group of bars around the world get a keg of the beer. Last year a bar in Melbourne was the lucky recipient for all of Australia. This year the bar happened to be in Perth. AND as luck would have it, we were passing through Perth at the same time. So, I had to attend. At the end of the day, the beer was fantastic and Christina’s hair turned out beautifully.
Begrudgingly, we had to leave our new friends behind and hit the road once again to explore the national parks right outside the Perth area. The first place we visited was Lane Pool. Here we walked through Jarra forests and acclimated ourselves back into camping life. For those of you wondering, Jarrah trees are a type of eucalyptus that only grows in southwest part of Australia.
Jarrah forests are also home to a very endangered marsupials called numbats. To try and find these elusive critters we head east to Dryandra National Park.
We didn’t find any numbats but we find a wild honey bee hive, went on a very cool night hike, and had a face to face encounter with a brush tailed possum who wanted to eat our dinner.
Next we head back towards the coast and the end of the West coast…
Upon our arrival in Broome, we officially completed the Savannah Way across the north of Australia! From Cape Tribulation on the northeast coast, we drove 6,908 km in 32 days, and were thrilled to see the crystal blue waters of the Indian Ocean!
Broome is famous for Cable Beach, a huge pristine white sand beach, voted the #1 beach in all of Australia! It certainly was wonderful to jump in the ocean after spending endless days in the red dusty outback. After all the waterholes, rivers and lakes, the saltwater was so strange!
Not as strange as the camel caravans that appeared silently behind us…
Broome (and the Dampier Peninsula to the north) is also revered by paleontologists for its dazzling collection of dinosaur footprints—a rare treat anywhere in the world—but here they have the prints of over 20 different species, from 120 million years ago. There’s even one right in town you can see at low tide.
Just behind the footprint is the best place to watch the sunset, with fabulous rocks to catch the light.
The main event, however, was Indian curry and beer tastings at Matso’s. They are especially famous for their tasty ginger beer, so Christina was happy too. A delicious dinner to celebrate our trip across the north!
From here we travel south along the Coral Coast, eager to see the western reefs!
Up until this point not many of the names of our campgrounds have caught or kept our attention, but with a name like Hells Gate, you have to stop and take notice. The accommodations were actually quite nice for a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. Hot showers, sink for washing dishes, delicious water, and the front desk had a free book exchange which we took advantage of.
Hells Gate also lived up to it’s name not only because the weather was about to get consistently warmer, but because the road conditions between the roadhouse and the Northern Territory border were some the worst we’ve encountered yet. Indeed, we felt like we were in hell during that part of the drive, creeping along in second gear (sometimes only first). But as soon as we reached the boarder the corrugation diminished (the dirt remained for another 100km).
The Northern Territory
All the corrugation and endless dirt road was worth it as we saw our first emu run swiftly across the road in front of us. No picture was taken because those things move fast! Instead of getting a picture of an emu we did find time to take a picture of some really cool termite mounds (they are a constant feature along the entire northern road).
The other constant by the side of the road is cattle. They roam around everywhere, including crossing the highway at whatever pace they please.
Our first day in the Territory ended with us camping at a free rest stop outside Cape Crawford. The rest stop had no toilets, but it did provide for a very pretty sunset and bird watching the next morning.
After a leisurely morning of breakfast and birdwatching we headed out for the Stuart Highway and our next stop, Daley Waters. Daley Waters was recommended to us by some greys nomads and their son who said that the roadhouse was famous for its pub and food. So we thought, hey, why not? This turned out to be a fantastic recommendation. Let me tell you why.
First, when you walk into the bar you immediately can see that it has a lot of…character. And by character I mean your typical country/dive bar kitsch: panties and bras hanging from the ceiling, student IDs and international currency stapled to the walls, and lots of silly signs with purposefully bad spelling. Basically every square centimeter covered with some kind of crazy decoration.
Second, their was live entertainment in the evening. But before the show started we looked around and noticed that about 90% of the people around us having dinner were over 70 and confirmed what we’ve long suspected: Christina and I are living a retired couple’s life. Hence the title of the post.
Then the live entertainment started. This was by far the best part of the night. The show starts with a man named Steve standing on stage with a electric guitar slung around his shoulder and what looked like a small television setup on a table next to him. I wasn’t sure what the television was for but soon found out that Steve would be playing guitar and singing along as the words to the songs were shown on the screen next to him–essentially doing karaoke with a guitar. He played the hits from the 50’s and 60’s and even had his own rendition of ‘The Gambler’ by Kenny Rodgers. In a word it was fantastic. Just pure entertainment. I suppose the heat or the beer was getting to our heads, but we had a really good time watching this older gentleman serenade a group of his peers. We couldn’t have asked for more.
Our next stop, Mataranka, was another recommendation from greys we met way back on the road to Carnarvon. Mataranka is in between Daley Waters and Katherine on the way to Darwin, the capital city. The draw to Mataranka are their lovely hot springs, the best being Bitter Springs where you float down the river, hop out, walk back and jump back in again (over and over). The temperature of the water is what makes Bitter Springs special. The water temp is a consistent 32 C. That’s pretty much 90 F! The water comes from a limestone aquifer that is filled every year by the monsoon rains and spills over into Bitter Springs. The color of the water is what is most striking. I don’t have the vocabulary to describe it other than beautiful.
It’s also been the only water so far that I could have stayed in all day and not get cold. In fact, we had to get out of the water to cool down!
Our next stop was Edith Falls, which is part of Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) National Park and the falls are located on the north side of the park. Edith Falls has three different parts to it. The bottom plunge pool, which was only a few hundred meters from our campsite, the middle pool, and the upper pool. The upper pool is only accessible by a short walk, 1km, and the middle pool is not accessible at all, but could be viewed from a distance on a return walk to the plunge pool. We decided to do it all!
The upper pool was extraordinary beautiful. Cold, crystal clear water, cascading down the side of a basalt rock into a deep emerald pool. The water was extremely refreshing after hiking almost straight up hill, but I couldn’t stay in too long since I get cold easily. But, I soon found a place to get out of the water and jump from a rock.
On our way back down toward the plunge pool we had to stop and take a photo of the middle pool.
Once we arrived at the plunge pool we had warmed up and decided to take a dip. The water was again very cold so we didn’t spend too much time swimming around, but did manage to snorkel (always looking for freshwater crocs, but only saw fishies). A bit tired from all the swimming and hiking we decided to retire for the day to rest up for our next part of our journey at the Top End.
Made it to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland! We finally got a break in the weather and mad a gorgeous sunny day to explore the city. We took the Citycat river ferry all the way down the river, walked across several bridges and along Southbank park. Then we got to visit the oldest clocktower in Queensland (in City Hall), the botanical gardens and ended up in Fortitude Valley at a lovely beer garden (of which there are MANY). On our way out of town we managed to find a disc golf course (although it was totally unmarked so we just improvised the first 9 holes).
We spent two nights in Great Sandy National Park, which is a popular spot for 4WD excursions and the home of famous Fraser Island (largest sand island in the world). Although Fraser has been on my to-do list for a long time (learned about it from Steve Irwin, of course) we decided not to pay the exorbitant fees for a tour, and instead choose to hike the sandy rainforest.
We undertook our longest hike so far (17km roundtrip) which we accomplished in good time (5 hrs), passing a few lakes along the way.
After the hike we got to sit back and enjoy the last rays of sunshine
Thanks to the break in the weather we got to glimpse the stars in their full glory.
Choates of Oz
On our way inland from the coast we were driving through small towns and out of the corner of my eye I spotted the a family name on a building…
Sadly, it was a Sunday and it was closed, but we peeped through the windows and enjoyed finding long lost relatives in the outback. Maybe we’ll go back one day and meet properly. Best unexpected find for sure.