19-22 May Waikerie (SA) to Sale (Vic)
We faced a 1000km drive into Victoria and through Melbourne to East Gippsland to access the much talked about Gippsland Lakes. A check on Google maps gave us three possible routes, each within 5km of each other so I talked to a Victorian who was parked near us in the caravan park at Waikerie. I figure he would know because he’d been a truck driver all his life.
Unfortunately, he advised us to go down the Sunraysia Hwy through Ballarat. His advice proved poor, because for much of the trip, the yacht acted as though it was caught in a heavy sea, pitching and rolling over the horrible uneven surface. The Victorian roads lived up to their reputation. Crap!
Our trip took us through Renmark and across the Murray to Mildura. Once again, we gave up our fruit and vegetables, despite the fact that they were grown and sold in quarantine controlled lands. Travelling along the Murray, one learns to only buy as much as you need for the day.
The sheer size of Mildura surprised us, and it took quite a while to get out of town heading south. We drove through some beautiful mallee country, showing the first green of Winter to overnight in a little place called Woomelang. Christine had found this gem on WikiCamps and it sported a FREE caravan park with hot showers and powered sites. We are not sure why they do it but it was a bargain at any price. As has been our practice in small country towns, we headed off for a pint at the local to talk those that know all. Alas, the pub was shut, not quite boarded up, but very much shut and definitely for sale. What a tragedy!
The next day took us south along the terrible B220 through the towns of Donald (we looked for the duck) and St Arnaud. Both were bigger than I would have imagined, since I’d never really heard of them before. The mallee country gave way to the Grampians, all clothed in a beautiful cloak of green. Every town had a main street of autumn coloured plane trees, making us feel as though we were driving through Europe instead of Australia. Finally, the pain of the B220 gave way to the Western Freeway and we entered Ballarat, to stay the night at the Windmill Holiday Park. This place boasts an indoor heated swimming pool. The thought of actually swimming some laps was too much to resist.
We set up our “caravan” and headed into Ballarat. Ballarat is a serious city with a population 86,000 and the process of finding desired locations and parking reflected this. The traffic was medium to heavy, and some of the road habits somewhat foreign but we managed to find the train station, Target and Rivers. What more could anyone want? We bought a couple of train tickets from Sale to Melbourne so we could get to the footy on Saturday. Then it was off to the general shops for a pair of jeans (the old legs are getting cold) and an Eagles beanie from the AFL store for the big match against Collingwood.
On the way home, we dropped in to Lake Wendouree, a large man-made lake in Ballarat surrounded by beautiful gardens. Once again, the autumn colours made a gorgeous display. We unloaded the fold-up bikes from the car and cycled the 6.5km around the lake, feeling every metre of it because we have let our fitness slip of late.
Then it was off to the Aldi store. We can’t wait for Aldi to come to WA. The shops are full of really cheap stuff that we probably don’t want but can’t refuse at such bargain rates. It makes shopping fun again. Mind you, we bought the Brooke James Shiraz and SSB in 2 L casks for $8.95 that we had had in Melbourne earlier in the year. It is so much better than any other cask wine it is worth a trip to Aldi.
Once back at the caravan park, we headed for the pool, despite the fact that the temperature was only around 10 degrees. The wonderful indoor pool is a delicious 29 degrees and the twin spas an incredible 39 degrees. Swimming laps then jumping into the spas and watching the giant screen TV has a lot to recommend it. The old body is feeling better already.
The drive from Ballarat to Sale is mostly along the Western Freeway through Melbourne itself over the West Gate Bridge. Things are pretty well sign posted and the GPS on the iPhone helped a lot. Even so, we managed to get caught in the wrong lane as we passed through Melbourne and were forced to exit the freeway into South Melbourne. As we came down the off ramp, we were faced with the terrible sight of a low bridge, one of the old train subways, that was limited to 3m. Sandpiper is 3.4m where the mast rests on the rear bar work so things didn’t compute. I managed an immediate right turn into a factory area and we found a way of getting back to an on ramp and the safety of the freeway.
We negotiated the City Link tollway tunnel, surrounded by huge trucks and cement mixers, all roaring along. The lanes are extremely narrow and at times it seemed as though there was no room to squeeze through. I learned not to look in the mirrors and just focus on the lane ahead. Once clear of the tunnel, the road fed through a series of interchanges until settling down into a standard four lane dual carriageway and we were out of Melbourne.
The scenery heading towards Gippsland is very pretty, with some lovely rolling hills and low mountains inland. Once again, displays of autumn colours amongst the lush green was an added attraction. We passed through Moe, Traralgon and Sale before heading off to Maffra, where Paul and Tamsyn, some contacts through the trailersailerplace.com, had kindly offered us room to stay on their 8 acre property. We found the place with little difficulty and waited a short time before Tamsyn arrived home from picking up their lovely children from school. The property is beautiful, with a horse and donkey in the front paddock, numerous ducks and chooks out the back and a variety of fruit trees in evidence. We found a spot to park the boat and unhitched, finding to our dismay that a hose had broken on the hydraulic brake system. More repairs needed but not too bad.
Paul arrived home around 6pm and after dinner we got together to pick his brains. Paul and Tamsyn proved to be absolute gems and gave us so much valuable information and made the area sound so attractive our only problem will be doing justice to it in the time we have. It is so good to have the hospitality and help from local people as we travel. Hopefully, we will be able to repay the kindness when they manage to get over to the West.
The next day I tackled the problems with the outboard, stripping down the carby and cleaning out the low speed jets. Fortunately, Paul has a well equipped shed so I was able to use a compressor and really give things a good blast of air. After putting things back together wrongly three or four times before getting it right, all was well and the outboard restored to its best (fingers crossed).
Then it was off into Sale to find someone to help with the hydraulics. An inspection showed that it was not just a case of a simple broken pipe bit rather a break in one of the main steel lines. A contact Paul had given me was unable to help but referred me to a mechanic who could do the job and we booked it in for the following Monday, on our return from Melbourne. We arrived back at Paul and Tamsyn’s tired but content that we had our life sorted and settled in to catch up with a few administrative things and a iPad Facetime linkup with Ben.
23-25 May – Melbourne
The train trip from Sale to Melbourne took about three and a half hours on a comfortable diesel powered train. We paid about $5 extra for First Class, giving us wider seats and more leg room, money well spent. The whole round trip for two only set us back $92, much cheaper and easier than driving. The country east of Melbourne is green at this time of year and quite picturesque, with the line running back along the M1 through Tralalgon, Moe Warragul etc. We alighted in Flinders Street Station, right in the heart of Melbourne and had about an hour to kill before Azba could get off work and join us for a tram ride to her place in Richmond. We used the time to buy two tickets to the Eagles-Collingwood match and settled outside St Pauls to watch the passing parade. With Azba off work, we headed to her place to order Pizza in and consume too much wine (what’s new?).
Saturday dawned with a beautiful Autumn day, warm by Melbourne standards. We needed to access a boat supplies in Collingwood for some very specialised sealant, so we walked the 3km from Azba’s, putting Christine’s knee to the test. It held up quite well and is improving steadily. My back, on the other hand, just chooses random times to protest, usually for an hour at a time. The walk was pleasant and with the sealant procured, we trammed across town to Harbour Town in the Docklands to shop in the factory outlets. We scored some real bargains in the AFL outlets, with a great Eagles wind breaker for Christine and shirt for me. Eagles buyers were in abundance and we were both surprised by the number of Eagles supporters walking the streets. By contrast, Collingwood supporters were not in evidence but we figured they were home sharpening their teeth.
Catching a tram down Bridge Road to the MCG in full Eagles colours was fun. We were welcomed by a group of young men who had just exited the pub who hailed us as visiting Sandgropers. Most were expats and there was a lone Magpie being very quiet. Once on the tram, the group had some banter with a very rough looking Collingwood supporter and when the guys jumped off the tram again, having gone a whole four stops without a drink, and headed for the next pub, the Collingwood guy started yelling out “Eagles @$#%&”. They happily gave him the finger. Pulling up to some lights, the Collingwood gentleman proceeded to lean out the door and call across to a young girl, telling her what a lovely arse she had. She tried hard to just look straight ahead and spent the time until the lights changed trying to pull down her skirt as far as possible. He and his kids exited just before Jolimont Station and he walked along drinking from his can. True to form, he finished it and tossed it into the bushes. Where was God when you needed Him?
There is nothing quite like the excitement of sport at the MCG, even if a 55,000 strong crowd only half fills the place. We had good seats, on the first tier along the 50m line. Even with a crowd of this size, we found that Vauna Watson, a friend from Marmion Primary School was seated four seats away and a group of teachers from West Greenwood that Christine knew from her time there were two rows ahead of us. There were enough Eagles supporters around us to make a lot of noise, especially since the Eagles led for most of the match. Unfortunately, the Magpies over ran us in the final quarter by 8 points and the noise from the Collingwood army was deafening. We slunk out licking our wounds and caught a tram back to Richmond. Mike had arrived for the weekend and Azba had cooked up a delicious fish meal so we dined like kings and consumed more wine.
The train trip back on the Sunday turned out to be a short one, only to Packenham, before we were transferred to coaches so work could be done on the station at Warragul. The coach actually proved very comfortable. It concluded a very relaxing and wonderful trip to Melbourne, one of our favourite cities anywhere. The big downside was only discovered later that night. I had left my Android Tablet in the seat pocket of the bus. I have a very bad record with these things, having sat on one in a plane and smashed the screen, left another on charge under a hotel bed where the maid could hit it with the vacuum and smash the screen and just cracked a screen through no apparent cause.
26-27 May – Port of Sale
Once back in Maffra, we organised Sandpiper ready for an early departure. The hydraulic brakes need attention so we have planned to take the boat off and spend the day tied up in Port of Sale while the work is done. As often happens, the work was more complicated than anticipated and we spent a lovely day in Port of Sale and a night tied up to the jetty. Christine contacted V-Line Rail and the bus company about the Android with no luck.
Port of Sale is a small series of docks located on the Sale Canal, a narrow canal cut through to link Sale to the Gippsland Lakes via the Thompson River in the 1880s. Today, it provides secure facilities for a number of small boats and a small slipway for boat servicing.
We spent another day at Port of Sale, this one no so pleasant, with low temperatures and regular light rain. Everything was damp and slushy. I checked my Google account on the Internet and found that my Android was at a place in Highfield, part of Melbourne. We could narrow it down to an address, but it was a block of apartments. Even so, we went around to the Sale Police and gave them all the information that we had. They took all the details and promised to do what they could, short of getting a search warrant for the whole building. After a number of tries, I managed to contact the tablet itself and lock it, with a screen message asking the person to give me a ring. I won’t lose any sleep waiting for the phone to ring.
With the trailer work complete, we picked it up late in the day and decided to sleep over night and pull out fresh in the morning, to head off to sail the Gippsland Lakes, the whole point of being here.