Observation number one - Although fat, many campers are friendly.
We get up at 9am for brekkie of Corn Flakes and toast with English Breakfast Marmalade. A four and a half foot long Goanna - Australias largest lizard (see photo) - waddles nonchalantly past us on its search for eggs. Few people pay it much heed. Next to the beach and have great time in the crashing surf. Water temperature is 22 degrees C. I have booked tee -time at Nelson Harbour Golf Course at half one so leave Nicola to the waves and get changed for golf. Taxi to the course costs $20 each way. Green fees are $35 as is the club hire. I wait about for someone to join but decide to go on my own. Beautiful tree lined course but temperature has reached 42 degrees on the course according to the green staff. The kangaroos and kookaburras are sweltering in the shade
. See my first Joey in a pouch. The cockatoos are multi coloured yellows, blues, oranges, reds, yellows and purples and allow you to get quite close. Unfortunately I haven't brought the camera. Hit some good shots but by the 17th I have to lie down on the tee to recover from the heat. Summon just enough energy to get back to the club house. Meanwhile Nicola stays in the lovely breeze on the beach and walks the length of the sand to the nudist beach. She says that it was mostly full of old men. Aye right. I would have thought she had seen rather enough of that sort of thing at the Mardi Gras. I have another dip in the Pacific Ocean to cool off. The news announces that Sydney has had its second hottest March day since records began at 39.6 degrees C missing the record by 0.3. It is still hot by sundown. Our van lights wont come on and we worry that we are draining our battery instead of running on the 240 volt feed from the park. Phone the NQ Rentals After Hours Helpline who are of no help. Decide, therefore, on an early night watching Futurama squashed into our bed. Our air-con, which only works off 240V, is thankfully still working so we sleep with it on all night. The wind picks up dramatically at about 5am and the shoddy work I have made at securing the awning is found out. We both get up and stow it away before climbing back into bed. The joys of camping.
Day 195 - Wednesday 10 March
. The weather has turned decidedly less hot and there are clouds in the sky as we check out of the camp site at ten and drive for an hour and a half to the Lower Hunter Valley. There are about 40 wineries within a 20 mile radius. Our first stop is Wyndhams Estate, Australia's oldest vineyard, where we are the first tasters to arrive and are treated royally. We try about eight different wines and the guy takes a shine to us and takes us into the vats to see the latest batch of Shiraz. It was picked 48 hours previously and smells gorgeous. We are allowed to stick a pole into it which was nice. Early morning wine buzz takes hold so we buy a couple of bottles and bid them adieu. Next to McGuigans where the owners daughter, Lisa, has just married her wife. Yes wife. Apparently the father, Brian, isn't too impressed. We take lots of photos and then introduce ourselves as original McGuigans. This garners little favour. We are disappointingly treated just like normal people. Not ones to bear a grudge we purchase some wine and souvenirs. The girl doing the tasting is Chris McGuigan, who is married to one of the sons, and she had just purchased a little breathaliser. We give it a whirl and Nicola just falls over the limit but I am just below. Half pleasingly the wine isn't as nice as the Wyndhams we tasted earlier. We try some nice cheese in the adjoining cheese factory then sit in our van and have sandwiches for lunch whilst looking out at all the other retired people. Suitably sobered we drive on to Lindemans
. As it is a bit busier here we only try a couple of wines before heading on. Our last call for the day is to McWilliams Winery. This is the smallest of the four but nice and friendly. The girl introduced us to an Aboriginal fellow, John I think his name was, who is holding an exhibition of his paintings in the tasting room. Before long he is playing his Didgeridoo for us, followed by his Didgeridont. The latter is an ordinary piece of clear plastic tubing on which he produces exactly the same tunes as the wooden one. This rather spoils the whole romance of the instrument. Before he can tell us that boomerangs don't actually work we beat a hasty retreat. On the way back to Port Stephens our lack of camping experience is once more exposed. The un-pegged fridge bursts open disgorging its contents of slowly cooling wine over the floor of the vehicle and the improperly stored table slides off the shelf with a crash. An emergency stop and mutual blaming later we resume our journey to Halifax Holiday Park near the centre of Nelson Bay. Not as nice as One Mile Beach. We have the other two steaks with potatoes then play a game of beanie whilst polishing off a rather fine bottle of McGuigans Sauvignon Blanc 2004. So there.
Day 196 - Thursday 11 March
Check out of Halifax Holiday Park and go round the bay to Fingal Bay Holiday Park
. It's not as nice as One Mile Beach so we decide to go back there for a couple of nights. On the way we get some groceries and, true to our Gucci Backpacker form, a TV in the local pawn shop for $60. It's an old Thorn colour TV with the chunkiest remote control in the world with only six buttons. Unlike the newer models that the shop had this one has 'rabbit ears' for when there is no cable available on site. The pawn shop, rather poignantly is chock full of surf boards. Force Nicola to try driving the van but she is not overly happy. Back at One Mile Beach we go for a swim in the surf. Another cloudy day but warm and the sea is refreshing. Lots of surfers. Spend the rest of the evening tuning the TV. This must be one of the most annoying jobs in the world, especially on an old set. Manage to get two stations and watch 'The Panic Room' with Jodie Foster - and Nicola.
Day 197 - Friday 12 March
Another overcast day and decide to play golf whilst Nicola lies on beach. I drive the van to Nelson Bay Golf Club and start out on my own but join a couple of Aussie men about half way round. Play a little better and enjoy the company. Have a couple of beers in the club house then drive back to the camp site as the rain begins to fall. Nicola has been waiting for 2.5 hours
. Play Beannie until light stops play then go to bed. We have worked out a new sleeping arrangement where I sleep in the long skinny bed over the cab and Nic sleeps on the short wide one in the back. Much more comfortable.
Day 198 - Saturday 13 March
As we check out of site I empty some of the toilet cassette into the dump point and the rest over myself. Drive, with the windows open, north to Port Macquarie, leaving Port Stephens with no flys. Just as we turn off The Pacific Highway to Port Macquarie we call into 'The Billabong Koala Park'. $9.50 each to see various birds, kangaroos (including an albino Joey) and of course the koalas. The koalas are doing what they do for 21 hours per day. Whilst looking at the sleeping koala balls we get eaten alive by mozzies. I plan to check to see whether the owners take up my suggestion of waiving the entrance fee and charging visitors $1 every time they go aaaaawwww at the koalas. Arrive mid afternoon at the award winning 'Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park'. A nice little town full of inappropriate shops, like wool shops, boasting Closing Down Sales. We walk up to 'Finnians Irish Bar' for a few beers / wines. The bar is nice and has an integrated bookmakers and all races shown live. It also has a room full of 'Pokies' as they call them
. These fruit machines cost 1 cent per spin and are invariably patroned by middle aged house wives. Try Guinness which is rank so move on to Kilkenny which is fine. Walk back to park past the crowds admiring the vintage car display in the town centre. Back at van and find that we can get six channels using the rabbit ears. Watch 'The Bone Collector' and crash at midnight.
Day 199 - Sunday 14 March
Check out of site and drive towards Coffs Harbour. The weather is still poor so as we approach the town decide to drive on through to Byron Bay which has been recommended by many as a cool hippy town full of great beaches and surf. We arrive at 1530 and get the last site overlooking the beach. A short walk along the beach to The Beach Hotel which is bunged full of hippies of all ages watching the live band. Excellent place with hippy mothers holding their babies while dancing to the band. Dreadlocks aplenty. Back to van in time to watch 'Our 'Restaurant Rules' at half seven. Can't be arsed making dinner so have some cheese and bikkies.
Day 200 - Monday 15 March
I go into town and book hotel in Cairns for the 8th and flight from Cairns to Darwin and Alice Springs to Sydney
. We plan to travel on the newly opened Ghan railway from Darwin to Alice which leaves on Wednesday mornings at 10am arriving next morning at Alice Springs at 9am. The fare is $240 each for a reclining seat or $880 for a sleeper. The seat fare drops to $120 for YHA card holders so we might try to get cards. Back to find Nicola lying on the warm but overcast beach. Back up to van and sit drinking wine whilst watching the sun setting. The lifeguards practice rowing up and down the bay. Bright green parrots squawk overhead. The Fujitsu helpdesk eventually ring me back to say that the Lifebook is not covered under warranty because America do not recognize the serial number. Decide therefore to apply the head-in-the-sand technique and hope that the problem goes away.
Observation number two - Surfers, although very fit, have no sense of humour.