Sunday, March 19, 2017

Oz - More Transitions! What Bit the Dust?

Road to Blowhole Beach, Deep Creek area, South Australia - 4 Wheel Drive only.  This is one of the reasons we sold our van
and bought a 4-wheel drive to complete our circumnavigation of Oz.  
How many folks allow 3 days to sell one home, move into another much smaller one and hit the road? And how many of those moved only a month earlier from their home of 5 years into another, much, much smaller one? How many of them do that whole process in a foreign country, halfway around the world from friends and family, with no place nearby to store their stuff?

It’s crazy, but not impossible.

We’re living proof.

Our first gauntlet, however, was not 4-wheel driving or downsizing, but navigation Melbourne’s hellish road construction….

We bought our 4 wheel drive in Melbourne, but in large part to get out of Melbourne and maddening driving like this,
encountered on our trip to pick up the Land Cruiser we bought.  Melbourne, Australia.
First, a little background….

Given the available options at the time, we’d decided on the first 4-wheel drive was saw – a 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado Grande with about 300,000 km. “Cruisies are good for at least 500,000 km,” opined our sage Townsville “bush-block” friend Peter. It was set up with a comfy bed, a roo bar, under-bed storage, a roof rack, and – key for us – air conditioning. Other nicities included the usual assortment of kitchen necessities (pots, pans, dishes, cutlery etc), a very small “fridge,” 2 chairs, a substantial fold-out table and an awning. Other than a sunburnt hood, the SUV was in great shape.

Leo (the guy we bought our Land Cruiser from) and his girlfriend crossed the Nullarbor, and spent a month travel/ sleeping in the Cruiser, but after 6 weeks of driving, didn’t find they needed it now that they were working in Melbourne. Leo lamented the loss of the Land Cruiser bed though, as they found it more comfortable than the mattress in their apartment.

Before we completed our purchase of the Land Cruiser, we wanted to wait until we had a buyer identified for our van. Leo’s next potential buyer wasn’t around for another week, so we had the time. Apparently the market for Land Cruisers wasn’t as hot as the market for vans.

It was time to close the deal on our-new-to-us Land Cruiser. We paid $7800 AUD, $1000 more AUD than for our 1982 Toyota Hiace Campervan conversion (click here for more about that).

Still blocked.  Our long drive in Melbourne to buy the vehicle to get us the heck out of the big city!  Melbourne, Australia.
What we didn’t expect was that our former 15 minute drive would take us an hour and a half – an hour longer than we’d allotted. A couple main thoroughfares near Leo’s were closed off for a substantial stretch. When we finally got clear, we got stuck behind a road truck. Several “We’re almost there – really!” texts ensued. Fortunately, it was Leo’s day off work, so our tardiness didn’t put him into a jam.

We gave up a lot of "creature comforts" to make the switch from our van to a 4-wheel drive SUV.
Still, a lot came with it, too.  Melbourne Australia.
Then came the hardest part of all….

It was time to downsize yet again, my second time in less than a month – the first time was from our watery home of nearly 5 years to the van. The boat was ~150 square feet plus a ton of or more for storage; the van about 50 square feet for everything (click here to see my embarrassing photos of that downsizing process).

Now our home for the next 5 or so months, the Land Cruiser, was only ~¼ of the storage space of the van.

Once again, I danced my humiliating little walk of downsizing shame, writ large, as this time, it was more public.

Yard sale?” inquired a soccer player, one of many encroaching in “our” space in a formerly deserted field of a Melbourne suburb.

As usual, it took me several hours deciding what to shed. As usual, Wayne waited, as for a minimalist like him, the process took only a few minutes.

How was I going to manage our meals with no kitchen, no sink, a “fridge” only large enough to hold a six-pack, a one-burner portable gas camp stove, one small box for coffee and tea, one box for all my cooking implements and utensils and one box for all food and food ingredients? Oh and did I mention we rarely eat out, we would frequently be in wilderness areas far from grocery stores and that Wayne is on a gluten-free diet?

We also needed to carry our clothes for the next 5 months, all required personal hygiene and 1st aid products, two laptop computers, a Kindle, and iPad, several mobile phones and whatever else we believed we’d need for entertainment and about 20,0000+ km of travel for 5 months.

I began the process late afternoon, and struggled to complete my task as fall’s early darkness approached. Meanwhile, my sorting space got smaller and smaller as the empty soccer field filled with several matches. At least the weather cooperated, it was mild and sunny, neither windy nor wet. My prior downsizing was executed in 100 degree weather a motel back parking lot.

Finally, I was done, at least done enough that we’d tossed some items, identified what would stay in the van for its new owner, what was coming with us, what was getting donated to charity and what was else was getting shipped back to the US to sit in my generous in-laws garage.

What didn’t make the cut (partial list)

  • about half my clothes
  • tupperware” all but 2 bowls with handles, 2 sandwich-sized flat squares, a few really tiny ones and 2 spice boxes
  • the 2 remaining broken, scraped picnic plaid Everett Washington op-shop trays we used for plates (and Wayne adored and we used daily for the last 4 ½ years)
  • fish sauce – used in home-made pad thai and Asian salad dressings (since found a tiny bottle of fish sauce)
  • ketchup
  • rice (I buy pre-cooked when we have a meal that lends itself to rice)

Wayne's favorite and overly-loved dishes... that didn't make the cut.  Downsizing (again!) Melbourne, Australia.
What did make the cut (partial list)

  • 3 oils (rice bran, olive, sesame)
  • 2 vinegars (balsamic and rice wine)
  • 1 gluten-free soy
  • 1 oz wasabi paste tube (for sushi, our cheap lunch of choice, out)
  • chili-garlic paste
  • chipotle sauce
  • A-1 (for Wayne - I find it disgusting!)
  • Mexican seasonings, mixed herbs, smoked paprika, salt, pepper
  • mustard
  • vanilla extract (for French toast!)

  • gluten-free pasta
  • quinoa (one final serving left)
  • gluten-free bread (we nearly always have a loaf on tap)

  • 2 4-oz cans of flavored tuna
  • canned beans
  • peanut butter (and jelly)
  • plus whatever we buy for the next lunch or dinner and refrigerate in our six-pack-sized "refrigerator")

  • coffee, melitta coffee maker, tea (still trying to connect with my instant Tipus Chai, ordered 6 weeks ago but we just missed), raw sugar
kitchen basics:

  • cutlery set for 4, 2 steak knives, 1 paring knife, 1 cleaving knife, can opener, grater, peeler, ladle, spatula, scraper, pasta stirrer, whisk, 2 liter pourable measuring cup + 1 measuring cup and spoon set

Time will tell what jettisoned items I’ll regret and what kept items weren’t worth their space.

Warnambool, Australia, at the end of New South Wales Great Ocean Road, and where we jettisoned yet more stuff
to lighten our load for our travels through Australia.
What would you keep – and lose – if you only had a few bins for your galley for 5 months road-tripping?

Wayne, reducing drag on our Land Cruiser whilst I added more stuff to the Salvos box.  Warnambool, Australia.
Location Location
We transitioned between our van and the Land Cruiser in the Melbourne area, February 23, 2017. We are currently over 5,000 km and 3,000 miles down the road since then.  We're currently in Western Australia, near Perth.

Our Land Cruiser on stunningly beautiful Lucky Beach, Cape Le Grand National Park, Western Australia.
Another great reason to have 4-wheel-drive when touring Australia.
Up Next
We’re continuing our clockwise circumnavigation of Oz, targeting completion in August 2017. There will be posts along the way, as well as continued catch-up up posts.
We added this $99 AUD (~$72 USD) tent.  We left the canopy off when we set up in this Deep Creek South Australia campground.  The bed and bedding came with the Land Cruiser.  If we're setting up late, leaving really early or the weather is bad, we sleep in the Land Cruiser; otherwise we sleep in the tent.  If it's really bad, we'll go for a backpacker lodging or an affordable motel, but not much room for many of those in the budget.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Oz: Udderly Hilarious

Funny road trip sight two cows one with its tongue out
Two cute calves at Bodalla Cheese Factory, New South Wales, Australia.
Flashback -- a light moment from about a month ago on our road trip....

The beauty of a long road trip is you can stop for just about any whimsy that strikes you.  In this case we were traveling through New South Wales, feeling a little hungry and thirsty. The Bodalla Cheese Factory's kitsch sucked us in.  

We tried a few of their fabulous cheese samples.

Then Wayne sprang for some un-homogenized milk - and we rarely just drink milk.  

Decadent!  We felt like contented kitties lapping up cream.

Wandering back to our van, we noticed a couple cute calves and went down for a closer look.  They were as interested in us as we were them.  

Or -- was it just the milk we hadn't quite finished?

Wayne, about to share the last of our un-homogenized milk with a clearly interested calf.  For all we know, it came from its momma!  Bodalla Cheese Factory, New South Wales, Australia.
What do you think?

In case you were wondering - even though I didn't capture it, Wayne did actually give the calf some milk (and didn't just tease it).

My niece, Lauren, once commented, derisively, "Humans are the only animals that drink another animal's milk!"  Maybe so, Laur, and maybe billions of cows can't be wrong -- the stuff is pretty delish!  And we were willing to share, given the opportunity!

Location Location
Bodalla, the spot that inspired this post, is in New South Wales.  We're currently in between Augusta and Margaret River in Western Australia at Boranup campsite in Leeuwin National Park - but it has internet via our Telstra phone hotspot!
Bodalla - New South Wales, Australia - relatively early on in our road trip -- already three territories ago!

Up Next
We are making a clockwise tour around Australia, targeting August for completion.  Margaret River is our next stop, then Perth.  It's amazing how limited our internet time is since we're mostly camping - there are LOTs of catch-up blog posts coming!!!!

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Oz: Weirdest place I’ve ever cooked

Classic Nullarbor area road sign. We’ve seen ‘roos, and one wombat (but not in this area) but no camels (yet?!?).  Australia's Nullarbor region -- a different kind of place.  South Australia.
Almost Nullarbor.
Fierce and dusty as the winds were, the flies were worse at Nundroo Roadhouse. Nundroo’s on the Eastern fringe of the Nullarbor. Technically, though Nundroo’s a little over 100 km to the Easternmost edge of Nullarbor National Park.
In any case, it 5:30 pm and time for us to stop the night.
Nundroo Roadhouse does boast a restaurant, but the concept of paying $25 AUD for special $5 off the Scotch fillet steak (aka a cheap generally tough cut) didn’t appeal. Besides, I had the makings for a nice Asian rice noodle soup with precooked chicken breast and fresh veggies.
Wayne, ever resourceful, surmised the laundry trailer offered the perfect makeshift galley. 
Laundry facility, Nundroo Roadhouse, Western Australia.

Flat surfaces (two washer and two dryer tops), running water, and best of all – no flies! He also carried the majority of the supper makings out to the “galley.”
Makeshift “galley” maestro, still mosquito-netted due to a recent run
outside to gather cooking more accoutrements.
I thanked Wayne heartily, for being a good sport. “Are you kidding?!?” he retorted. “You’re the good sport. Other women I’ve been with would’ve demanded ‘Get me on a plane and the hell outta here!”
I guess it’s a good thing we found each other – being able to find humor in this type of travel is not for everyone. We’re lucky, in a strange sort of way.
So, readers – where’s the weirdest place you’ve cooked? Or, why do you believe your particular love match is both excellent and unique? Inquiring
 minds want to know!

Location Location
We arrived in Nundroo March 11th, 2017 and left the next morning not much past sunrise the next day. While charmless, for $8 AUD for a hot shower, laundry room with running water and ample garbage, Nundroo’s a screaming deal (even if its fly-free bar closes at 8 pm and the wifi’s pretty sketchy). We’re currently stopped briefly in Eucla, the Nullarbor, just past the border of South Australia, in the Eastern corner of Western Australia.
Where the Nullarbor road trip officially began for us, still in South Australia
We just crossed the border at this post into Western Australia.
Up Next

Still lots of cool stuff to catch up on! And we’re planning on another 5 months to continue our clockwise circumnavigation of Australia’s ocean of land. Then, lots of blog-site additions and navigation aids, plus tons of short video clips.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Oz: Agony & Ecstasy -- Australia's Not Always So Great Ocean Road

Map of Australia's iconic Great Ocean Road.  To see more about The Great Ocean Road and its landmarks click here for them from Lonely Planet's map (pictured here).  Or read on about our travels across it....
"The Great Ocean Road is an Australian National Heritage site -- 243 kilometres (151 mi) stretch of road along the south-eastern coast of Australia," intones Wikipedia.

Ocean viewpoint, Great Ocean Road, by Split Point lighthouse.  Victoria, Australia.
Iconic.  Amazing.  Stunningly beautiful.  

Twelve Apostles viewpoint, looking South. Great Ocean Road, Australia.

Over-hyped.  Ridiculously crowded.   Over-priced.

Best territorial viewpoint for the 12 Apostles on the Great Ocean Road, Australia – if the crowds weren’t there!

Yup, that's the same place alright.

Twelve Apostles viewpoint, looking North. Great Ocean Road, Australia.
Which is it?

Andrew makes travel suggestions; Wayne marks them into our Camps 8 book. Laver Hill, Great Ocean Road, Australia.

Uncrowded Loch Ard Gorge, painted in dawn’s gentle pastels. Great Ocean Road, Australia.
The Great Ocean Road showcases some magnificent Australian coastline.  The 12 Apostles (well -- what's left of them -- 7 or so) justifiably garners oodles press and thus attracts hordes of international tourists.  There were many worthwhile places to stop and take the vistas in, and we stopped at many.

Razorback Ridge at dawn, Loch Ard Gorge, Great Ocean Road, Australia. Dramatic – and uncrowde

The route is clogged with busses disgorging multitudes of passengers at the most popular stops, especially the Apostles.

The only Asian tourist at Loch Ard Gorge, bundled up for dawn and happy to mug for the camera.
"Don't bother trying to get shots of the Apostles at sunset," warned Ozzie local Sally, when we chatted at some waterfalls near the Great Ocean road.  "Last time I went there, a guy set up three big tripods in the best viewing area and wouldn't budge.  He just kept moving between each one.  Plus, there were all the others...."  

Arch at Loch Ard Gorge, Great Ocean Road, Australia.
Worse still, we discovered, were the rental vans, manned by folks who were clearly unused to driving faster than 60 km on the smooth, curvy highways with 80-110 km speed limits.  Nor did they get the etiquette of pullouts or protocol of passing lanes.

Loch Ard arch shining in the early sunrise glow. Great Ocean Road, Australia.
We came across a brilliant cartoon that summed it up nicely.  It showed a campervan wending its way through the hills.  "Look at this pristine country!" the driver exclaimed.  "And not a single car in sight!"  The driver was followed closely by a dozen vehicles, hidden to him behind his pokey rig.

"I call it Phyco Circus," was Andrew's opinion of The Great Ocean Road.  We met Andrew, another Ozzie local, in Laver Hill, just off the Great Ocean Road.  It was early.  Andrew was sipping a coffee when Wayne wrangled him for some local where-to-go advice.  

Posing upon request with his BMW motorcycle at Laver Hill.
While the crowds drove the joy out of cruising great Ocean Road for Andrew, he recommended Loch Ard Gorge; said he liked it better than the 12 Apostles.

Vibrant cliffs above Shipwreck Bay, Loch Ard Gorge, Great Ocean Road, Australia.
Indeed, the crowds at the 12 Apostles sucked the much of joy out of what was otherwise a lovely series of scenic vistas.  I quickly nixed my earlier notion of returning from our nearby Port Campbell digs for a sunset photo.  It was pretty likely Sally's photo-zilla observation wasn't just some one-time exaggeration.

Then we saw the tour busses also parked outside Loch Ard Gorge....

Stalagtites, Loch Ard Gorge, Great Ocean Road, Australia.
Wayne brilliantly suggested since our Port Campbell hostel room was only a 15-minute drive from there, that we get up early enough in the morning to see it before the crowds arrived, and in time to make it back to our room and hit the showers before check out and hitting the road.

Shipwreck Bay just after sunrise. If we were staying longer, this would’ve been a great place to spend the day on the beach and swim. Great Ocean Road, Australia.
The hostel was top-rated, and quite nice.

And yet....

The Grotto, overview, Great Ocean Road, South of Port Campbell.
It was also $140 AUD -- that's over $100 USD, for a simple private room, but a shared bath (but far cheaper then $270 for the Best Western).  Ok, linens (sheets and towels) were included, as was wifi and full access to the communal kitchen, but little else was free.  You could gaze at the hostel's barista-made coffee for sale, while either imbibing in some free instant or doing what we did, making our own.

The arch to the see in The Grotto, Great Ocean Road, South of Port Campbell.  I did have to wait for a couple to stop taking selfies first.
We got up at 6:30.  Hit the road by 7, and were at Loch Ard Gorge well before sunrise.  And we had it nearly all to ourselves!
It was amazing! 

London Bridge, mid-morning, not too crowded. Great Ocean Road, South of Port Campbell.  
Bottom line -- Agony or ecstasy – should the Great Ocean Road crowds keep you away?

Maybe it’s like pizza… even when it’s bad, it’s kinda still good.

If you have the time to go, and can plan to be at a scenic spot in good weather before the sun comes up, the Great Ocean Road is positively magical. Great Ocean Road is good as or better than the promo pictures, and best captured by being there, whether your photos do it justice or not.

Watching the waves roll through the gap at London Bridge.  
Location Location
This post reflects the time we spent on the Great Ocean Road, February 24-27, 2017.  At the moment, we're getting in some last minute wifi and topping off our gas tanks in Ceduna before we begin our trek across Australia's famed desolate Nullarbar Road.

Up Next
More catch-up and more on our circumnavigation across Australia's ocean of land.

Wayne and Dana, bathed in the sunrise light over Loch Ard Gorge, Great Ocean Road, Australia.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Oz: Bye-Bye Hippie Van, Hello 4WD

Buying and selling a Western Australian registered vehicle between nomadic backpackers is a snap.
Chandra, happily posing at the wheel of her new-to-her camper van, our now former '82 Toyota Hiace poptop.  Melbourne, Australia.

The van was a great transition vehicle for us. After 4 ½ years, it was hard enough to downsize from a 36 ½ foot boat to a 14 foot van for 6 months. But at least with the van, we had a kitchen, bed, couch, table, tons of storage and could stand up inside, thanks to the pop-top.


We wanted to get lost in Australia – figuratively. When we hit the road in we quickly realized to do that we needed 4-wheel drive. Besides, while we don’t mind life in the slow lane, we figured we’ll drive at least 20,000 km on clockwise tour of Australia’s ocean of land . At a normal cruising speed of 80 km (even in 100 kph zones) we weren’t sure we’d have enough time to see what we wanted to see.

So we decided the time was right to head for Melbourne, the next “Big Smoke” (major metro area) with a sufficiently big enough population to trade in our mini-mobile motor-home aka hippie pop-top camper van for a Land Cruiser.

At 10 pm we posted our Gumtree ad. “The first person who sees this van will buy it,” we promised. Pings began almost immediately. By the next day we had 9 folks seriously interested in looking at our van.

Chandra taking her first look at what was our van.  Wayne gives her the skinny on it.  Melbourne, Australia.
Only one did that day, Chandra, a Canadian backpacker in country for her sister’s wedding who “happened to be in the neighborhood.”

Chandra, post champagne toast in her new van and
all our respective adventures in Oz ahead.
It was love at first sight. Heck, she even viewed the lack of power steering as a great way to get a workout.

Chandra drove a rental van previously in Tasmania, where the roads are far steeper than Australia's mainland. Her rental van was slow, and she was fine with it. Besides, she also didn’t plan to travel as far as we did.

The van just had to pass a mechanic’s inspection first, especially since her sister was interested in buying it off Chandra when she was done. While as a fellow on-resident nomad Chandra could enjoy the ease of Western Australia territory’s vehicle ownership transition, her Victoria-based sister needed the van to pass Victoria territory’s tough “roadworthy” test.

Wayne already invested in several mechanical improvements on the van, and it was running better than ever. We promised to absorb the cost of anything within reason discovered in the inspection. There were a few minor items. As promised, we dropped the price from what we paid, $6800 AUD, by $300 AUD, the estimated repair cost.  We recommended the Oasis Auto Repair, the shop we used in Bendigo, as that’s where.  Chandra was headed anyway.

Chandra’s good to go, and so are we. And we made another new friend in the process.

Travel well, Chandra!  Please keep us posted on your adventures - we trust they will be as awesome as you are!

Chandra, Wayne & Dana in front of Chandra's new-to-her van.  She's the more photogenic one.
Location Location
This post reflects our time in Melbourne, Victoria, from Feb 21-24, 2017. We’re currently in South Australia, making our way for the Nullabor and Western Australia. At moment we’re camping in Lawrie, at the base of the Southern Flinders Range.

Up Next
Still massively behind on my posts! Up soon: Great Ocean Road, what we’re driving now, and our sweetest Oz campsite to date.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Oz: “Drop Bears”-- Fact or Fiction?

Koala - in the wild! Otway National Park on the way to Cape Otway lighthouse.
Off Great Ocean Road Victoria Australia.
Watch out for the drop bears,” warned Ozzies, with a wry smile.

Given the Ozzie penchant for leg pulling, I assumed they were joking, like Peter Meyer did on Fraser Island, with his toy koala wearing a backpack.

Besides, in my Australian travels, I’d never seen a live koala anywhere besides in a zoo, despite several trips to Australia before, which included a fair bit of wandering about in the bush.

Much like spotting bison in Yellowstone, and grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, the telltale sign was not my brilliant spotting ability, but the intelligence of crowds. We stopped to see what the cars in front of us stopped to see.

And there it was! Our first sighting of a koala in the wild of not just one but two koalas — about 25 feet up in the gum (eucalyptus) trees, each on a different tree.

More amazingly, as the cute critters typically sleep up to 22 hours a day, one leapt horizontally, about 10 feet, from one branch to another! He (or she – hard to tell from my vantage point), then promptly tucked in and fell fast asleep.

Bare manna gum trees. Otway National Park on the way to Cape Otway lighthouse. Off Great Ocean Road Victoria Australia.
A bit closer to Cape Otway lighthouse we noticed a ghostly stand of trees, weather-bleached gray leafless silhouettes. Were they stripped bare by voracious koalas (no - they only eat about a pound and a half of gum tree leaves a day). Insects? Wind? Disease? Ranchers?

In fact, as we later discovered*, the full story on these trees plight is still considered a bit of mystery.
Conservation Ecology Centre Cape Otway info poster about bare manna gums.

Koala “drop bear” fallen on the road between
Cape Otway lighthouse and
Great Ocean Road, Victoria Australia.
Leaving the lovely Cape Otway lighthouse in search of a campsite for the night, we rounded a turn and encountered stopped traffic both in front and facing us. In between in the center of the road, a koala lay on its side, feet and belly pointed our way, its upper ear twitching.

Cautious when it comes to handling wildlife, I puzzled momentarily over what to do. In the past, I’ve used towels to protect my hands when moving a wayward bird or an upset kitty.

Whilst I racked my brain on our towel’s location, the docent we met earlier at Cape Otway lighthouse pulled up behind us, exited her car, grabbed the koala with her bare hands and relocated on a tree. “It’ll be ok,” she assured us. Whew!

A few kilometers later, once again parked cars flanked by standing tourists alerted us to another koala. This little Ozzie sleeping tree bear was a mere 10 feet up a tree.

Our final koala sighting of the day was pointed out to us by some fellow campers later that eve at Aire East Campground. The small, sleepy koala was nearly close enough to touch.

Cape Otway lighthouse docent rescues “drop bear,”
bare-handed. Victoria Australia.
What a day! From never seeing a koala in the wild, to seeing five, including one “drop bear.”

Yes, “drop bears” are indeed real. Fortunately for both us and the drop bear, the condition wasn’t fatal.

If you’d like to learn more about koalas and the efforts to better understand and protect their environment, check out the Conservation Ecology Centre Cape Otway website. Consider supporting their efforts with a donation.

And if you’re in Australia, watch out for the drop bears – seriously – but be far more careful of the kangaroos. ‘Roos are a lot more prevalent, bigger and more likely to cause damage.
Koala in the Aire East Otway National Park campground. Victoria, Australia.
Location Location
This post covers a few of the events on February 25, 2017 in Great Otway National Park, off Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, Australia. This was posted when we returned to wifi, when we arrived at our current location, Hahndorf, in the Adelaide area of South Australia.

Up Next
Still lots of catch up posts. Meanwhile, we’re taking a clockwise tour of Australia over land, in a new-to-us 4-wheel drive. In particular, we’re looking forward to spending time in the wilder portions of Australia’s Western and Northern territories.
Closer view; koala in the Aire East Otway National Park campground.