Trip Start Oct 15, 2011
Trip End Nov 11, 2011

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Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Wednesday, November 9, 2011

We tootled north east-ish on the Princes Highway, along dead straight roads and endless miles of fields. The Princes highway is a curious road being one of two main routes to the north. It was two lanes and once we started climbing a little, beautifully wooded and inviting. It was also empty. In six hours, apart from being stuck between a caravan and a lorry for 20 minutes, I didn't see another car on the road. This was a working Thursday but no one was moving. Where the hell were they all? I guess this simply reiterates the sheer size of Australia and shows  how few people there actually are out here. On English Motorways they suggest that if you’re feeling a little weary then perhaps you should stop for a coffee at a service station; one of which will be appearing within a mile or two. In Australia they have road signs saying

'Drowsy? Power nap area’.

As there are no services, which would be a waste as there are no people, I guess the Australians simply nod off at the signs and then awake before the next bend. As the next bend could be 20km away, this is almost equivalent to a night’s sleep. A remarkable talent, you have to agree.

When you did come upon a little town in the middle of nowhere, they looked just like mid west American towns; with a street of local shops and very little else. One big difference in Oz though is the Bottle shop. This is, basically a drive through off licence. I’m not suggesting the Aussies are a bunch of drunks but they do like to imbibe a beer of two and what better way to get it than a drive-through. Foster’s, the Australian beer, does not exist out here, contrary to all expectation; Carlton draught (lagerish) Toohees New (lagerish) and VB (lagerish) are the three main tipples and very nice they all are too. However VB is a Victorian state drink and Toohees belongs to New South Wales. Asking for Toohees in a small town in the State of Victoria is akin to asking for a pork chop in a Vegetarian restaurant, as we found to our cost.

 ‘Toohees? You’re in Victoria now mate’ was the polite version. I found it very curious.

After a short stop over near the border at a place called Eden, where we camped at the paradise, or, heaven, or Snakey garden campsite or somesuch (sigh, really!) we moved into New South Wales and stayed at our most basic amenity yet, in the Murramarrang National park. This was a beautiful, state run forest sitting on the coast. We parked amongst the trees in the camper van spaces with the beach to one side and the fire pits to the other. However space being available out here, neither were close enough to bother us. Toilet facilities were basic and showers non existent, although there was a metal tub that may have sent brackish cold water through its high level nozzle if you’d been brave enough to try it. In general, with regard to the water, they cautioned

 ‘Don’t drink it. Really. Not without boiling it for a day or two’.

After setting up we strolled along the white sanded... (yeah, yeah. Yawn) and suddenly saw Mike waving frantically in our direction. What can it be we wondered; naked ladies; a beer-shop; Mcdonalds; perhaps Penguins? It was none of these (sadly) but a flock (school? Bounce? Hop?) of Kangaroos; real live Kangaroos. I was beginning to think I would never see Kangaroos except for a fleeting view from the car or as roadkill. There were fifteen of the hoppity fellows grazing an area next to the sea. They are so alien to the English eye that we watched them laze, scratch, bounce and pretend-box for what seemed like hours.  It was delightful and I loved it. It was only a rustling in the undergrowth that finally distracted our attention away from Skippy and his pals. We watched the bushes ready to be amazed, surprised or alarmed and wondered what it could be

 (‘What’s that you say, Skippy. Get ready to run. Bugger young Johnny  down a well, just get ready to move’)

 My vote was a wombat. Nature not being my strongest point I was not surprised when a huge lizard sauntered out of the green growy things. We’ve all seen lizards; they look like dwarf dinosaurs and scurry quickly and amusingly  across hot concrete in sunny lands. But this is Australia. This was too big to scurry, it ambled. We fought each other to try and climb trees, just to be away from the damned thing. Then we all thought a variation on the idea ‘can Lizards climb trees; do spiders live in trees; Koala’s: Snakes’? then we all climbed down again, quickly, and ran around in useless circles, squealing and acting like girls – only two of us could truthfully get away with this but we thought we’d sort the details out later. The Lizard was 6 feet long. For once this is not an exaggeration; they made me lay beside it for a comparison photograph, although I wasn’t quite alongside this creature and was prepared to spring up quickly if it so much as looked at me.

We were so excited/shocked that I could barely eat the ‘mess of beans’ that we prepared for our tea. I’ve always wanted a ‘mess of beans’ s it made me feel I was camping in the wilds (albeit, probably on a cattle-drive). The wandering ranger came by in a huge jeep to collect our nights rent and offer the friendly and reassuring advice that we

 ‘watch for snakes, as they are recently out again’.

 So, to ward off snakes and spiders as well as dinosaurs, we built a huge fire as reassurance and light (it was incredibly dark in that forest). Or we did in our minds, anyway. Actually we got a few sputtering twigs alight, covered ourselves in smoke and then gave up and went to sit in the camper van. It was so muggy that we used the van’s air-conditioning and all the lights and then went to bed without switching anything off properly. You can work out the result for yourselves, I guess. In the middle of nowhere, with no Phone signal, very few people but lots of ‘creatures’, we were stuck with a van and a flat battery. Our tool kit consisted of a sleeveless Girl Guide jacket and a tub of dairylea cheese and we were not in a good place. We had an early morning shower – which consisted of joining hands and running straight into the surf- and pondered our options.  The nearest camping plot  was occupied by the world’s most battered van that looked in far worse state than ours and was crammed full of strange smelling items and two of the dirtiest looking Hippies that you have ever seen. But options were few so we enquired, with dispirited air, if they could possibly help. Of course, they had everything ‘Jump leads? No problem’; ‘A tow rope to pull you out? No problem’; ‘Advice on driving in Australia? No problem’. They were Israeli’s who were touring for six months before returning to the Caribbean to work on American Super yachts. One would never have guessed.

We had one more nights camping, at a badly chosen site to the north of Jervis Bay, where static caravans were crammed into all available space and the music from the film ‘Deliverance’ could be heard gently in the distance, before we returned to the horrendously busy city life of Sydney. We had driven 2000km, drunk far more beer than is strictly necessary and worn, basically, the same clothes for a week. The Homebush bay swimming pool will never be so welcome again.
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