Thursday 9 October to 5 November
The Big Trip Home
With the Whitsunday sailing done and dusted, it was time to think about heading home, all 5,500km of it. We had some people to see on along the way and some places to sail so we gave ourselves plenty of time. It was pretty clear that Christine’s knee is ready for some serious attention and she was not ready for more sailing so, at some point along the way, we abandoned the idea of more sailing and really picked up on the idea of going home, so things accelerated somewhat.
From Airlie Beach, we did a quick run down the 150km to Mackay in the Greyhound Bus to pick up the car and trailer and a quick run back to Airlie. With Sandpiper safely back on land, we set off south once more.
Kilcoy – Our new friends, Steve and Denise, had some upcoming commitments so we made Kilcoy our first stop and caught up. As with our previous visits, the food and wine flowed to excess and we all had a wonderful couple of days stacking on the kilos. It was also a great opportunity to give Sandpiper a serious clean and take care of a few urgent running repairs. It was nearly tears all round when we finally pulled out of Kilcoy. It has become our second home.
The Sunshine Coast – With so many good friends from PVI on the Sunshine Coast, a stay back in that part of Queensland was essential. We had a truly wonderful time, catching up with a good PVI crowd while staying in Noosa with the McKennas, then more sailing and good times staying with Glenn and Gail in Wurtulla, near Caloundra. Glenn and I managed another sail in “Shiraz”, winning as usual. Christine and Gail got into the quilting together, which means that the knitting has been put aside for some Xmas quilts. We spent some more time in a caravan park at Alex Beach, near Maroochydore, and did plenty of walking, cycling and exercising to try to negate some of the excessive living.
Christine needed an invasive body test after getting a bad reading on a routine bowel cancer scan. Fortunately, Gail managed to secure her a colonoscopy without the usual nine week wait so we hung around for an extra week. As we suspected, all was good but it was best to be sure before pressing on. Somehow though, during that week, I grew accustomed to the idea of going home and so we abandoned plans of more sailing and pushed on south to commence the 4570km trip ahead of us.
Ballina – No trip down the Pacific Highway could be complete without a stop at Kilcoy to catch up with Jack and Jude. These two are such good company. We all share a love of the sea, fine food and a good wine. Jack and Jude are planning to rejoin their boat, “Banyandah” in December but are yet to decide on a sailing destination. So many tough choices. We spent a couple of nights with them and took a trip down to the Bangalow markets on the Sunday in search of some suitable hedging plants. It was a great excuse to further explore the area and an even better excuse to stop at Lennox Head for a pub meal and a beer or two. We left them to return to their peaceful life with promises of catching up should their sailing take them west to Albany and pushed on south to Taree.
After an overnight stop at the Taree show grounds, we followed the Pacific Highway down to Newcastle then turned inland and up the Golden Highway to Dubbo. This is one of the easiest passes up the Great Divide and we enjoyed the chance to get away from the heavy traffic of the A1. The drive to Dubbo was very pretty, with the vegetation gradually changing from forest to woodlands and then to more open grasslands.
Dubbo – Dubbo is a significant regional centre with a population of around 40,000. The town looked reasonably prosperous with an interesting town centre. We stayed a couple of nights and spent part of one day at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo. We usually aren’t “zoo” people but this one is different enough to attract us. Instead of the usual cages and small enclosures, the animals live in large paddock sized environments and there is heavy use made of moats and electric fences to restrict movement. The grounds are very extensive, the full circuit being 6.5km in length so we used our folding bikes to do the tour. It is possible to drive but this would mean a lot of parking and walking. Hiring a golf cart is another option and would be a good choice for family groups. For us, the highlight exhibits were the giraffes and the rhinos, both black and white types. The zoo tends to concentrate on breeding endangered species and has notched up many notable successes. It was a most worthwhile visit.
Around Broken Hill – The long dry drive from Dubbo west to Broken Hill rivals the Nullabor Plain and the Barkley Tablelands for sheer boredom. Long, flat and straight roads are the rule. Emus outnumber vehicles and towns look like wearing a six shooter is compulsory. The temperature was in the very high thirties and a punishing headwind saw the vehicle temperature climb a little. Turning the air-conditioner off solved the problem but made the discomfort levels soar. The Darling River cuts across the road at Wilcannia, once the third largest river port in the country but now a forlorn collection of incredibly beautiful old stone buildings. We stopped overnight just out of Wilcannia on a station called Warrawong on the Darling which has established a very nice caravan park.
The owners put on a barbecued goat (of which there is absolutely no shortage) and invited all guests to share a meal free of charge. It was an entertaining night and the goat was excellent, so much so that Christine sliced off sections to supplement our lunch meals along the way. Once past Broken Hill, the far distant Flinders Ranges became our target, crossing into South Australia and pushing west to Petersborough. The head-wind was intense but the temperature had at least eased a little so the climb into the Flinders was not too bad.
The Nullabor Crossing – Our fourth Nullabor crossing this year was the first without rain. Except for another day of fierce headwinds, the weather was quite mild and conditions comfortable, boredom being the only real enemy. We drive strict 100km rotations, to keep our minds active, the body rested and the waits between drives short. Christine at least has her quilting. I just sit or managed short naps. I have difficulty reading in a moving car. Some 40km short of the WA border, we came across a 4WD and caravan roll-over. Thankfully, no one was hurt, the driver being a retiree from Wanneroo travelling alone with his lovely miniature collie dog. He had just lost control of the rig and it ended up sliding down a short embankment and rolling. We weren’t first on the scene and others had managed to get him out safely. A police escort for an over-width convoy happened on the scene within minutes and organised help from Eucla so we elected to stay with the driver and his dog to watch for signs of stress or shock. When the police team from Eucla showed up around 40 minutes later, we pushed on, through quarantine and finally back into WA.
Quarantine inspections are a process that involves more rules than logic or understanding. We had the Internet, lots of road signage, advice from traveller forums and a guide book but still we couldn’t get a handle on what is allowed and what is not. The inspectors could not handle the concept of us living in a boat, preferring to hunt through the back of the car for plants and food despite being clearly told that we lived in the boat and that there was a fridge and lots of food. Only one inspector even climbed the ladder into the boat and he wouldn’t actually enter the cabin. Perhaps they tend to suffer from sea-sickness.
Walkers and Riders – It is hard to imagine just how many people are currently riding or walking around Australia, either to fulfil a personal goal or to raise money for charity. We saw a lot of cyclists crossing the Nullabor. One time, we pulled over to change drivers and then realised that there was a very skinny little Japanese fellow pulling a cart and heading straight towards us. He obviously thought we had stopped to talk to him and he beamed as he put down his cart and came over to shake our hands. He showed us his cart and the map on the side, illustrating where he had been. He was following Highway One right around. He had virtually no English and our Japanese matched that so it was a conversation filled with lots of bowing and pointing.
The Last Night – We spent our final night of our big road trip parked in woodlands next to the Bodallin Memorial, a sad remembrance of the three truckies that lost their life in the tragic bushfires of 2007. After a drive of over 4000km in around a fortnight, our respect for truckies has been strengthened. There are a few impatient ones out there but in the main they do a great job of looking out for the touring public, despite the fact that there seems to be too many caravanners and backpackers on the road who don’t know how to handle their rigs. We were home in Dowerin by 11am the next day, ready to start the big unpack. The sight of the weed growth in the yards was heartbreaking, especially since I had left the place clear at the end of August during our last trip home. Some good October rains have produced a whole new weed crop. The bonus is that the fruit trees are bearing and the passion vine is loaded so all is not lost. The work begins.
We were away from January 4 to November 4 2014
- travelled 27,500km in the car
- travelled about 800km on the water
- came home three times during the trip, driving from Port Lincoln once and flying from Sydney and Brisbane
- spent $500,000 on fuel (at least it felt like it)
- met lots of wonderful new friends that we remain in contact with
- caught up with lots of old friends from previous travels
Wow! Must start getting ready for the next trip.