The rain didn’t last long. By the time that we’d made it to the outskirts of Christchurch the drizzle had stopped and the sun was starting to peep through the clouds. Our chariot is a well-used VW T35 camper which has 200+km on the clock and will probably double that before it reaches the end of its working life. Having spent a few minutes this evening working out how best to store our goods and chattels in the van’s various nooks and crannies (what is a cranny?) we’re sure that it’s going to make a perfectly comfortable home for the next five weeks.
First stop of the day was Ashburton Cemetery to call in on Great Uncle George. About a decade ago some kind soul kindly sent me a photo of the grave, so fortunately we were able to recognise it pretty quickly and didn’t have to traipse past too many headstones in order to track him down. Ashburton is quite small now, but judging by the number of folk who were buried there in the first few years of the 20th century it must have been quite a lively place back then (not, of course, for them!). Anyway, the gravestone has stood the test of time for the last century and looks like it will continue to do the job for a few more decades. He was 21 when he died in 1913 – it must have been heartbreaking for his parents to bury their son in a distant, foreign land knowing that they’d never see his last resting place. His sister, my grandmother, lost two husbands and two brothers in less than 7 years; that’s hard.
Getting back to the land of the living we moved on to Timaru which is another 60km or so further down the coast. We didn’t go all the way into the town but had a wander around Caroline Bay and paid our respects to the Pacific Ocean before moving on to Pleasant Point – at which point it was time to pull the waggons into a circle and set up camp for the night.
It’s tragic – the 2011 earthquake has left the centre of Christchurch in a terrible mess and the process of putting it all back together again is going to take years. Whole city blocks have been levelled in preparation for rebuilding and there are still large numbers of large buildings standing empty, presumably waiting for demolition of for someone to decide what to do. What must have been a very attractive city has been hit very hard and it doesn’t take much imagination to recognise that it will be five to ten years before it starts to be a destination once again. That said there are some bright spots still remaining – the Botanic Gardens are lovely, strolling along the banks of the River Avon you wouldn’t really know that anything had happened; no surprise that nature has been faster at the repair process than man.
We woke this morning to ….rain! It doesn’t seem quite fair to have left Australia roasting in temperatures in the high thirties and for Christchurch to welcome us with 19 degrees and ….rain. No matter, we pick up the Van later this morning and start heading down the coast where the weather should apparently start to improve. First stop Ashburton cemetery – admittedly not your usual tourist destination but the last resting place on my Great Uncle George who emigrated to New Zealand in the early 1900’s and sadly died within a few years of his arrival. More than a hundred years on this will be the first time that a member of the family has visited the grave – must go, can’t keep him waiting!
If this is Wednesday we must be getting near Melbourne. The Cockatoos were back for breakfast but worked out pretty quickly that it wasn’t for sharing. As we drove East from our overnight stop at Airey’s Inlet through Anglesea and Torquay the character of the area started to change – rather less quaint and rather more ‘big money’; this is obviously where the wealthy of Melbourne have their beachside houses and apartments.
After a brief visit to the Bellarine Peninsular, where we had coffee overlooking the entrance to Port Phillip Bay, we stopped off at the State Rose Garden at Werribee which (for the non gardeners amongst you) is rather more interesting than it sounds. Dozens of different varieties of roses (surprise) and most exciting of all…. fruitbats! With a wingspan of 2 to 3 feet, not something you’d really want to encounter on a dark night.
OK, so today was just a teensy weensy bit warm. Just as we thought we were getting used to the warmth of the Australian summer it decided to throw in a hot one; 41 degrees on the thermometer and a warm breeze blowing from inland – the effect was like putting your head in an open oven at regulo 5! Still, given a choice of this or a light covering of snow in the Cotswolds, its got to be a no-brainer hasn’t it? (Sorry Claire).
Just for a change the Great Ocean Road which took us from Port Campbell up to Airey’s Inlet was quite busy, so we took our time and soaked up the sunshine and the scenery. Most of the traffic was, like us, happy to coast along – not that we had much choice in the matter (note to self; if ever we decide to buy a small car be sure to avoid the Hyundai i20 which has marginally less power than Denise’s sewing machine). Still, it didn’t matter too much as around every bend we stopped, either for a swim or to snap some more photos of the fantastic coastline.
The Twelve Apostles are one of Australia’s most famous landmarks – the only problem is that from time to time coastal erosion does its bit and one of the apostles falls into the Southern Ocean. I think that at the last count there were ten; but no matter – they are , simply, stunning.
Now, believe me, in the course of my life I’ve seen a cockatoo! But when the bloody things sit on your veranda and demand to be fed that’s another thing altogether. Just goes to prove that no living creature can resist the smell of freshly cooked bacon!
No shortage of spectacular scenery today. The drive from Hamilton down to the coast at Port Fairy was the usual wonderful combination of empty roads and stunning countryside displayed in the largest imaginable number of shades of brown with vivid splashes of green. Port Fairy itself is a pretty little town with a number of historic buildings and a small quayside – the adjectives ‘historic’ and ‘scenic’ tend to get used quite a lot over here. In reality of course virtually nothing is truly historic, but absolutely everything is scenic.
A quick walk around the bird sanctuary at Griffin Island should have produced sightings of Mutton Birds, but they seemed to have taken the day off – however we did spot a Blue Tongued Skink which produced a predictable reaction from the female half of this partnership.
Driving up the coast towards Melbourne we joined the Great Ocean Drive which has enough scenic (that word again) viewing points to satisfy even the most enthusiastic ‘snapper’. Stopping every ten miles or so to take more pictures brought us into close conflict with the Australian Fly! If you’ve ever wondered why tourists in this neck of the woods tend to wave to each other quite a lot, the reality is that they’re actually executing the Aussie Salute. Frustratingly its all to no avail because there are so many of the little buggers that no sooner have you swatted one but ten more are making a bee-line (or should that be a fly-line?) for your salty bits!
Stopped overnight at Port Campbell and after supper popped up to one of the ‘scenic’ viewpoints to watch the sun set slowly over the Southern Ocean. Lovely.
Having decided to stay in Hamilton for a second night, the next day which happened also to be Australia Day, was spent exploring the Southern Grampians, a small but impressive range of sandstone mountains around forty miles to the north west of Hamilton which rise to something over a thousand metres – we decided that they looked a bit like ‘the Malverns on Steroids’!
A climb up The Pinnacle (2.7km, 285 metres of climb and 32 degrees Centigrade) gave us our exercise for the day.
The day started with a quick dip in the pool before we set off for a brisk walk along Rode’s 12 mile long beach – no, we did about four miles, but it seemed like a fairly energetic start to the day nonetheless. Aside from stopping briefly for breakfast in Millicent our first proper port of call was Mt Gambier which boasts (among other things) the Blue Lake – so named (yes, you guessed) because it has a wonderfully blue lake in the bowl of a defunct volcano . In truth it seems that the lake is only blue for certain months of the year , but it was certainly bluer than a blue thing for our visit.
The drive from Mt Gambier to Hamilton took us a little further than usual off the beaten track – down long, straight roads bordered by enormous stretches of open grazing land with the odd herd/flock of cows and sheep scattered around for good measure. This was our chance to see something of the local wildlife, but despite frequent signs warning us to watch out for koalas and kangaroos much to Denise’s frustration they declined to show!
We arrived safe and sound in Adelaide after the two and a half hour flight down from Perth. We’d originally thought about driving down, but the thought of 1,400 miles of nothingness and a couple of extra days behind the wheel soon put paid to that bright idea, Our flight was with Jetstar, which we soon found out is at the cheaper end of the airline spectrum – a bit like Easy Jet but with added courtesy.
The Sebel Playford Hotel in Adelaide was excellent and would have scored a 10/10 rating for comfort and style if only someone had bothered to check the settings on the radio alarm after the last guest left our room – Denise was distinctly unimpressed to be woken up at 4.30am and the Duty Manager now probably feels that its a mistake they won’t want to make again in a hurry!
After a quick swim in the hotel pool followed by a chat with a couple of nice ladies at the South Australia Tourist Information Office we drove the thirty miles down to Victor Harbor, which by chance was the setting for the fourth stage of the Tour Down Undercycle event. We didn’t see anything of the racing but there must have been five thousand followers, all on bikes – the thought of all that lycra makes me feel quite unwell!
The 200 or so mile drive down from the Fleurieu Peninsular through the Coorong National Park to our overnight stop at Robe was wonderful; fabulous scenery, empty roads and pelicans! What more could any man want?
Wednesday morning started badly. Some kind soul obviously misjudged their parking in the hotel car park and left a 40cm scrape down the passenger door of our innocent little hire car. Fortunately we’d had the sense to take out extended insurance with the hire, so we’re only (!) going to be $400 poorer as a result. Never mind!
After breakfast we found our way to the nearby Gloucester Tree, yet another massively high Karri tree with a lookout station at the top. Even Perthy wouldn’t go up this one – but that didn’t stop a group of young people (who I can only assume must have escaped from the local lunatic asylum) who were only too keen to clamber their way up those flimsy steep poles.
A few miles further down the road brought us to Big Brook Dam where we enjoyed a refreshing swim before starting the 150 mile drive back towards Perth. Great scenery – every shade of brown interspersed with lush greens – and virtually empty roads… fantastic.
The end of the day brought us to the Heritage Country Motel at Armadale – not much to look at from the outside, but comfortable and with that most essential of all Western Australian facilities, a pool!
Monday night was spent in Margaret River at the Margaret River Guest House – a pretty B&B within a five minute walk of the centre of this bustling and attractive little town. Converted a number of years from a small (and I do mean small) chapel and convent, its a comfortable little spot and they made us very welcome.
Next morning it was down to the beach down to Gnarabup beach just to the south of Prevelly for a quick dip. Despite it being the middle of the summer holidays the beaches we’ve been on have been pretty empty and of course they’re all well cared for. Heading down the coast we stopped off at Hamelin Bay which it turns out is a top spot for seeing stingrays – well apparently they’re Eagle Rays to be precise. I managed to get some better photos this time – but if only I’d had the polarising filter on the camera!
Turning east we made our way down to Pemberton which is noted for its Karri (a variation on the Eucalyptus) trees which can reach up to 70 metres. Here you see Perthy attempting to climb to the top of the Dave Evans Bicentennial Tree – the fact that the public are actually allowed to climb this monster is amazing! We declined to follow Perthy’s lead!
….holiday blogs, motoring obsessions and a look at our family history