7 & 8 June – Bairnsdale to Canberra
After a couple of days in Bairnsdale, mostly spent cleaning the boat and doing a few minor bits of maintenance, we hit the road again heading north. The sailing is over for a while and we aim to tour Canberra, our only other visit being back in 1989, a very fleeting visit.
We followed Hwy 1 as far as Cann River, through Lakes Entrance and on to Orbost. The road is good as far as Lakes Entrance but after that the overtaking lanes largely disappear and the “Rough Surface” signs become more common. Fortunately, the Queen’s Birthday long weekend did not produce a lot of traffic, possibly because the weather is currently not very conducive to getting out and about. From Lakes Entrance on, the road wound inland up the ranges, through some spectacular forested hills. In places, the stands of mountain ash with low understorey of bracken fern reminded me of karri country in the SW of WA. The numerous creek crossings and deep valleys contained some gorgeous tree ferns and there were even places where the road had a ribbon of moss running down the centre. Coming into Orbost, we crossed the Snowy River, winding across a flood plain soaked in emerald green. It was a glorious drive, only marred by the need to concentrate so hard in negotiating our rig around some sharp bends and up and down the deep valleys.
At Cann River, we turned off onto B23 to climb sharply up into the Snowy Mountains. It was still not alpine country but the altimeter in the Land Cruiser showed a definite change and the rainforest gradually gave way to more woodland forest. Eventually, we crossed the border into NSW, an event marked by an amazing change in road quality. The verges were suddenly wide enough to pull up on in an emergency, the surface was generally good and we rediscovered the joys of passing lanes to let our collected tail of cars get by.
Our stop was an early one at a small town called Bombala, about 35km inside NSW. We stayed at a small and cheap Shire run caravan park that was half full already by 1pm. We found that an extended family, half living in Victoria and half living in NSW, had got together for a family reunion. There were caravans, kids, dogs, bikes, warm fires etc. It all looked very cosy. When the Eagles got too far behind in their match against Hawthorn, we wandered across the river into town to admire the quaint old buildings and streetscapes. The town has a look of having seen better days.
The next day’s drive took us across the Monaro Plains, a plateau at around 1000m altitude behind the Snowy Mountains.
The Monaro region consists of vast rolling plains of low grasses with only occasional woodlands, most of the original vegetation having been long since cleared for sheep and cattle grazing. The mountains in the distance added to the spectacular scenery. We stopped for a while in Cooma to tour the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme Interpretive Centre, which proved interesting enough and gave an excellent view of just what was what and how the waters had been harnessed. We rolled into Canberra around lunchtime, planning to stop at a roadside stop on the outskirts and research the caravan parks. Amazingly, this proved impossible, with absolutely no information bays or rest areas for the final 20km into the city. We ended up driving right across town to the Canberra Information Centre in Dixon. They sorted us out and we negotiated a short drive on to the Alivio Tourist Park to set up for a three night stay.
Once set up, we drove down to Lake Burley Griffin to get the bikes out and do an around the bridges ride. The full circuit of the lake is 28km but we just did a short ride of about 5km. Being a holiday, and a sunny one at that, the crowds were out and we had lots of company on the ride. It is a great way to take in the fabulous vistas of Canberra, the city’s greatest asset. Everything is so well planned and all the significant buildings are shown off to advantage. Add to that the autumn colour still hanging on many of the trees and it was really quite beautiful. The wind, however, was biting but we are getting better at knowing just how many layers of clothes are needed for each situation.
9 & 10 June Canberra
The Monday was the Queen’s Birthday holiday (everywhere but WA) so the city was quiet. We took the opportunity to do the full tourist circuit using the typical red double decker open bus that one finds in almost every city of the World. We spent the first leg upstairs in the open air, but the wind chill factor was pretty grim. We got off at the National Gallery to get our fill of “kulcha” but found that it didn’t open until 10am, so we were forced to kill time in the coffee shop. What a shame.
The crazy thing about the bus is that it only comes around every 2 hours. We can do a museum in 10 minutes if we are really on our game. The National Portrait Gallery and National Galleries took us a bit longer but we still couldn’t get the times to work. The Portrait Gallery was interesting enough but the National gallery seemed to be over full of pieces that struck us as absolute rubbish. I never pretend to be an art expert, but pieces of black plastic with a few burnt holes in it next to a white canvas with a splash of spilled grey paint on it is not worth 10c of this tax payer’s money. Even the famous “Blue Poles” is better seen in a magazine than viewing the original. Call me an art moron but I just can’t see the merit in it.
It was sunny anyway so we were happy to walk through to the Old Parliament House. The Aboriginal Embassy on the lawns out the front is still going but down to about 5 small tents at present. The building houses the Museum of Democracy and the organisers had taken advantage of the public holiday to have kid’s events. The Kings Gallery was filled with kids and tables building things out of Lego. The exact link to democracy escaped me but the kids liked it. We sat for a while in both the Senate and the House of Reps to just soak up the history of the place. The leather on the benches is still oozing history.
It is only a short walk up the hill to the new Parliament. We have visited this before on our last time in Canberra and the Hop On Hop Off Bus appeared so we jumped aboard to continue the tour through the wonderful embassy area full of glorious buildings, each reflecting some aspect of the culture they represented. We alighted in the central CBD to find a bite to eat. The shops were quiet but there were enough eateries open to keep people happy. Prices seem cheap by Aussie standards and there is plenty of variety. We tried some Turkish fast food before walking on in deteriorating weather to the next bus stop outside the Casino. Why does every city need one of these things? Why not just have a big bucket to throw your money in to? Canberra’s is right next to the Convention and Conference Centre, an excellent marketing move.
The next leg of the bus tour took us to the War Memorial. On our last visit, we made the mistake of trying to visit on November 11, even getting there at 11am. The crowds were ridiculous and we abandoned all thoughts of touring the museum and Shrine of Remembrance so we felt obligated to give it our best this time around. We managed the World War II Gallery, the Flight gallery, the Discovery Centre, the hall of Valour and the Café before we found ourselves “displayed out”. As museums go, there are none finer than this. The displays are stunning but we have a limited capacity to keep touring static displays.
The bus dropped us off back at the Information Centre and we got in the car to head off to the shops for a few supplies. Christine elected to leave her finger in the door while closing it, changing the shape of the tip of her index finger in ways that made me ill (and her too). The blood began to flow so it was out with the first aid kit, to find it woefully understocked. I found a pharmacy in Dixon and bought enough supplies to get her going again but she won’t be doing any nose picking for a while.
By this time, the day was nearly done and we have found that once the sun lowers, the temperature simply plummets. With zero and sub-zero recordings over the last few days, we headed back to Sandpiper and the comfort of our $14 electric heater.
Our final day in Canberra was another full one, starting with a drive up Black Mountain to the Telstra Tower. This prominent feature of Canberra can be seen from almost anywhere. The building itself is worth a visit because it is an amazing piece of engineering. We rode the lifts up 70m to the observation decks, the first of which was enclosed and nice and warm. The next two were exposed to the elements and the temperature was in the very low single figures. However, the view was worth it, affording uninterrupted views across all of the ACT and nearby Queanbeyan in NSW. It was a worthwhile visit after touring the city the previous day and seeing all the sights again from a different perspective.
Back at ground level, we navigated our way out of Canberra proper to the Gold Creek Village, a collection of tourist attractions some 15kms to the north. Here we wandered amongst the dinosaurs in the Dinosaur Museum. The displays out the front satisfied us however, and we didn’t bother to pay up and enter the facility to experience the full deal, complete with animated models. This looks like a wonderful display and certainly one that kids would love.
We did pay to tour the charming miniature world of Cockington Green, a huge array of marvellous miniature buildings, villages and landscapes. The developers have done a staggering job of integrating everything into a very entertaining place. Miniature railways run through the exhibits and a steam driven small train hauls willing passengers around the grounds every hour or so. Another amazing display was found inside in the form of several exquisite doll houses with unbelievable detail to all rooms. We spent several delightful hours wandering around this fantastic place.
The Gold Creek Village also features a reptile park but Christine and reptiles don’t mix well so we trekked right across the ACT (it doesn’t take long) to enter NSW at Queanbeyan, a small rural town which benefitted greatly (or not depending on your outlook) from its proximity to the nation’s capital. By the time we arrived, our stomachs were protesting and so we were attracted by a cafe sign offering a wonderful sounding steak sandwich for $7.70. Alas, they must have been good because they were sold out. We settled for a plain hamburger and sat down to watch. After seeing a number of later arrivals served before us, we enquired. We had been overlooked so we got a refund and headed off chasing other fare. It was now after 2pm and things were winding down so we had to settle for a pie and sausage roll with coffee at Donut King. By the time we had explored Queanbeyan and crossed the ACT once again to reach Sandpiper, the dark was on its way and the temperature dropping quickly. It does that here.
After an early rise, we were on the road by 9am and headed north along the Federal Hwy, a luxurious dual carriageway which eventually turns into the Hume Hwy and winds its way to Goulburn and on towards Sydney. At Moss Vale, we left the Hume, and joined the Illawarra Hwy to cut through to the coast at Shellharbour. We knew that we had a 1000m to drop before hitting the coast but we were not quite ready for the awesome experience of towing a 25’ boat down the Macquarie Pass, 15 kms of down, down and more down. It was low gear, brakes, anchor over the side, grab some trees etc. It was such a long way and so narrow. For much of the trip, we followed behind a yellow truck with a trailer and figured that he would shield us from anything oncoming but he eventually pulled over and insisted we pass.
Once at the bottom, I naively thought that we would run along a coastal plain south to Jervis Bay. For a while, things were good, running on the Princes Hwy in the form of a big freeway but this eventually gave out, turning into terrible road works that wound through coastal mountains then into a horrific stretch between Kiama and Berry. We arrived in Jervis Bay, our next sailing destination, in a state of complete exhaustion.
We had chosen to launch at Callala Bay on the northern shore. The town consists of a small cluster of rather impressive beach houses with an associated school and shopping centre. Amazingly, there is no fuel outlet so it was a good thing we had enough for our needs. We found the launching ramp and a parking bay good enough to stay in for a bit. We walked to the shops, then returned to slowly rig the mast and ready Sandpiper for sea. Chatting to some locals, it seems the navy is currently bombarding the eastern shore of Jervis Bay (as they do) so a number of excellent sailing destinations are out of bounds. The positive signs were that everyone was bringing in loads of big squid, so we are hopeful of returning to a seafood diet. We rigged and settled down for the night, ready to launch in the morning.
With the morning temperature still low, we slept late and took our time getting in the water. The ramp is an interesting affair, very steep and without a finger jetty. A regular long high jetty is nearby but is 6 or 7 metres away from the ramp so long lines are needed to control the boat. The area is subject to a low surge and even a small shore break in places. This surprised me because Jervis Bay is quite deep but the further south one heads the larger the swell effect. Good team work saw us in the water and up against the jetty for a brief time before motoring out to check out a suggested overnight anchorage behind Red Point. Jervis Bay is a marine park and many areas are total sanctuary zones, meaning no anchoring. In our case, all forecast winds were in the northern quadrant we were committed to returning to Callala Bay at the end of the day. Red Point looked good, with a secure anchorage area behind a protruding finger of reef, but no better than the anchorage around the launching area.
We raised all sail and headed south across the bay to an area known as the “Hole in the Wall” after a beach side rock formation. The low rolling swell increased markedly as we drew closer to the entrance to the open ocean but it was long and low and the wind waves small so sailing was pleasant, despite the temperature. As we passed the spectacular Point Perpendicular, the northern headland on the Jervis Bay entrance, the dull thuds of exploding ordinance started. We watched the shore line in vain for explosions or smoke trails but saw none, although later in the day a smoke trail from a shell landing did show up.
The beaches we were headed for were not suitable for a landing without the tender set up due to the onshore breeze so we admired them from the water and sailed towards the western shore and past HMAS Creswell, a naval training facility, and towards the small settlement of Hyams Beach. A naval helicopter appeared, flying low, and headed towards a large power boat motoring out of HMAS Creswell. It must have been practising dropping men onto the boat because we could see it hovering over the vessel with what appeared to be people being lowered on lines. The enormous cloud of spray caused by the rotors actually looked like smoke and must have been unbearable for the sailors on board the boat.
The rest of the sail was more of a motor straight back into the wind. Along the way, we marvelled at the gannets feeding. They pick their prey from quite a height, then dive steeply, entering the water like a bomb hitting. They seem to be underwater for some time before suddenly popping to the surface like a cork. It is an amazing spectacle. We headed across to the area that we had seen fishermen successfully squid fishing the previous afternoon and drifted for an hour or so. We were actually disappointed that we only caught one but at least it was a big one and enough for a delicious meal.
A down-side of the fishing was that I had to retrieve fishing rods from their storage space under the cabin floor. On lifting the floor, I found, to my horror, that there was quite a lot of greeny-brown liquid sloshing around in the bilge. It had two distinctive odours; (1) portable toilet chemical (2) urine. It seems the porta-potty cap was leaking, and the contents ended up in the bilge. Fortunately, the toilet had only been used for No 1s since its last emptying. Even so, soaking up loads of chemical infused urine and sluicing out with Napisan was not a pleasant job. Christine watched. She does real nappies with the grandchildren so I guess we are square.
The night anchorage was taken up inside the main mooring area with no public mooring vacant but we made sure we anchored over sand and left the precious seagrass undisturbed. As night fell, I turned on the LED spotlight at the rear of the boat in the hope of attracting squid. The squid stayed away but we did lure a big school of yellowtail scad. I caught one to rig up on a squid jig but this tasty morsel also failed to attract anything. The poor little fellow died in vain.
Our time on Jervis Bay has been very short, yet the place has definite appeal. The water is clean and sparkling. The warm Pacific Current keeps the water warmer than its latitude would suggest and the large area of marine reserves maintains a healthy population of marine life. The surrounding forests are equally attractive. All in all, a place worthy of a visit.
June 13 Shellharbour
The morning was incredibly beautiful, with low mists drifting over a glassed out anchorage. It was a warmer morning than any we have experienced for weeks and we both donned shorts for the trip back through the moorings to haul the boat out. The clutch on the Power Winch failed again with the boat only inches from its destination so we had to muck around a bit to get things squared away. Sourcing the required parts for the winch in Sydney is a priority. Once on the hard ground again, we squared things away and prepared to hit the road to Shellharbour, an outer suburb of Wollongong.
The thought of driving back over the terrible stretches of the Princes Hwy filled us with fear but the return proved easier than the drive down. Perhaps we were fresher or maybe it was the fact that the sun was shining. It still wasn’t fun, but at least it was bearable.
Shellharbour Village is a delightful seaside village with more eating establishments than people, with the result that prices are excellent and options plentiful. We set up camp in the Shellharbour Seaside Tourist Park and marvelled at the amazing views across the bay to the industry of Wollongong in the distance. Lots of surfers braved what appeared to be suicidal conditions with a big swell running. Christine caught up on a lot of washing while I headed down into the bilges to deal with more of the left over nasty stuff.
After housework and showers, we walked into the village to stroll up the hill along the main street, purchase a few bits from the butcher and stroll down, pausing for a suitable break at the local pub. We even managed to sit outside and have a beer, the first time we’ve managed this since SA.