Roadtrips, Roos and Good Old Aussie Radio

Trip Start Feb 02, 2006
Trip End Aug 09, 2006

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Sunday, May 14, 2006

The coastal road between Melbourne and Sydney is considered by Australians to be a well-kept secret. Few foreign tourists venture to this corner of Australia which is surprising given that it holds some of the most diverse and spectacular natural beauty on the island, but we were now to tackle it armed with a battered old estate car and a leaky tent. From Melbourne our drive would take us through the Lakes District and National Parks of East Victoria then up along the northbound coastline of New South Wales into the Blue Mountains before finally descending into Sydney six days and 1200 miles later.

The first thing that strikes you about driving through Australia is how disappointingly distanced map points are. Our intention on the first day had been to make it to Wilson's Promontory, one of the most popular National Parks in Australia because of it's abundance of wildlife and variety of beach activities, but it took two hours of driving in circles and indicating with our window-wipers just to clear the ugly, sprawling suburbs of Melbourne. It was early evening before we reached a quiet picnic spot at Kilcunda, still three hours from Wilson's, where we watched frothy waves crash repeatedly with mighty force against a wind-swept, rain sodden beach. Above us thick grey clouds stretched out in every direction and later that day a fisherman would be swept to his death from a stretch of beach just 15 miles from where we stood now. It was winter here at the southern most tip of mainland Australia, and we knew it.

Over the course of the first two days we made our way through the small, oddly-titled towns of South Victoria: Ku-Wee-Rup, Wonthaggi, Fish Creek, Welshpool, and on Tuesday night we rested at the ridiculously named Loch Sport where we found, much to our enjoyment, a crown green bowls tournament taking place on a roll-out mat in the pub. That night was horrific with a wind which kept us awake and rain so dense that it eventually broke through our outer tent and sprinkled a light covering of dampness over us. At one point we woke to find the tent leaning a little too precariously for comfort, and in my semi-conscious state I snatched at the inner-tent and pole to save us from being hurled off into the Southern Ocean, much to Giovanna's amusement. We decided it was time to get out of Victoria.

Before we did however, we embarked upon a Roo hunt in the nearby Lakes National Park, where we spent two unsuccessful hours searching through the bush in stealth-like fashion only to return to the car park to find three of them staring inquisitively at our stationwagon. Then on the drive out of Loch Sport we rounded a bend to find one standing immediately in front of us in the middle of the road forcing us to swerve dangerously to avoid extensive damage to both car and kangaroo. What a strange place Australia is we thought.

From Loch Sport we were determined to reach New South Wales by sundown so sprinted in rain through several tightly packed National Parks, the imposing mountains of The Great Dividing Range to our left and the runaway plains of Gippsland to the right. It was a glorious drive but somehow it all looked understated in the dullness of the day.

One thing driving through Australia does provide you with is an invaluable exposure to the Aussie culture and sense of humour through the medium of local radio. The big news this week was that two blokes, Brant and Todd, had in that quintessential Australian way got themselves trapped down a mine shaft in Tasmania for two weeks, creating a media frenzy around why the mine was unsafe, and more to the point, where the bloody hell Skippy was.
Listening to them jabber on endlessly for a week on radio phone-ins you wouldn't think plausible: 'Wheat Speak' and 'You Wouldn't Believe The Things I've Forgot' to name but two, we couldn't help but warm to them. Subtlety, you see, is something altogether lost on Australians. In one particular heated debate on the aforementioned 'Wheat Speak', for example, the presenter terminated the call of one listener who had phoned to protest against a fertiliser composition being recommended with a simple 'You're a dingo mate, goodbye'. And in another phone-in, 'Injuries I Never Knew I Had', a caller confided that her husband had gone 23 years unaware of his broken back, only for the presenter to reply after consideration 'He must be a bit of a Wombat', and cut her off.
But what's great about Australia is that this directness is visible everywhere. In the Sydney aquarium, for example, there is a sign above the crocodile enclosure which reads 'Don't Jump In. If The Fall Doesn't Kill You, The Croc Will'. And fortunately, to our constant amusement, the roads are no exception. Australians like to inform drivers of a one-way system with the notice 'Stop! You're Going The Wrong Way!' and efforts to deter long distance lorry drivers from falling asleep at the wheel have culminated in the road sign 'Hey Droopylids, Powernap Now!'. But without doubt our personal favourite is their campaign against drink drivers which has the clever slogan 'Don't Drink And Drive, You Bloody Idiot'. You know where you are with the Aussies.

In welcome, abrupt fashion the weather picked up immediately as we turned the corner into NSW and headed north. Instead of winter we had spring. The landscape was alive with colour and the air with birdsong as the sun beat down. There was still a cool breeze, but it was refreshing and we welcomed our new surroundings. The small towns and villages we passed through and stopped at for our dinner, Eden, Tilba and Kiama amongst others, were more interesting and attractive than those of Victoria with better preserved buildings and a more apparent air of community and township.

The improved weather also made for better progress and by Friday morning we had reached the Blue Mountains, yet as we climbed from Penrith to Katoomba fog decended upon us in a thick, blinding paste. At Echo Point, the home of the famous Three Sisters, the mist had swallowed the whole of the view and the only thing to look at were confused Japanese tourists. We had dinner in the car and set off back down the hill to salavge something of the day with sightseeing around Sydney, but decided to turn back and give 'The Blueys' one more chance. It turned out to be one of our better decisions because by late afternoon the mist had cleared, replaced by a golden sunset across the canyon, and we had it all to ourseleves. The floor of the valley was lined with lush rainforest and was surrounded by soaring cliffs, all steeped in the deep blue haze created by the fine oil of the Eucalypts in the valley below. It was simply incredible, truly breathtaking, and there was no better way to conlcude our journey.

The next day we returned with gusto to Sydney to deposit our car with the adolescent idiot at the garage and sped out by train to the airport for our flight to Cairns that afternoon. It is from here that we begin the next leg of our Australian exploration as we make our way down to Brisbane.
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