Australia - Driving around Southern Australia

 

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Antarctica!
Dec 7-20, 2000

Europe - Germany, Belgium, and France
Nov 28 - Dec 6, 2000

Nepal - Around Manaslu
Oct 30 - Nov 27, 2000

India
Oct 18-29, 2000

Australia - Driving around Southern Australia
Oct 6-17, 2000

Australia - Olympics
Sep 25 - Oct 5, 2000

Australia - Great Barrier Reef
Sep 17-24, 2000

Bali
Sep 10-16, 2000

Thailand - Bangkok
Sep 4-9, 2000

Cambodia
Aug 30 - Sep 3, 2000

Vietnam - Central and South
Aug 20-29, 2000

Vietnam - North
Aug 10-19, 2000

Laos
Aug 5-9, 2000

China
Jul 26 - Aug 4, 2000

Egypt - Along the Nile
Jul 16-25, 2000

Egypt - Touring and diving
Jul 11-15, 2000

Israel and Jordan
Jul 5-10, 2000

Norway
Jun 22 - Jul 4, 2000

Brief return to the USA
Jun 6-21, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and surroundings
Jun 1-6, 2000

Ecuador - Galapagos Islands
May 25-31, 2000

Ecuador - Quito and the jungle
May 21-24, 2000

Peru - Machu Picchu and Lima
May 17-20, 2000

Peru - Cusco and the Sacred Valley
May 11-16, 2000

Bolivia
May 3-10, 2000

Zimbabwe and South Africa - Vic Falls and Blyde River Canyon
Apr 27 - May 2, 2000

South Africa - Motorcycle trip
Apr 12-26, 2000

Argentina - Buenos Aires and Iguazu Falls
Mar 30 - Apr 11, 2000

Argentina - Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes
Mar 25-29, 2000

Chile - Exploring the Lake Region
Mar 17-24, 2000

Chile - Pucon and the Bio Bio
Mar 9-16, 2000

Argentina - El Calafate and El Chalten
Mar 1-8, 2000

Chile - Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine
Feb 18-29, 2000

Argentina - Rio Gallegos and Ushuaia
Feb 13-17, 2000

Chile - Santiago and Punta Arenas
Feb 8-12, 2000

Guatemala and Honduras - Rio Dulce and Copan
Feb 4-7, 2000

Guatemala - Coban and Spanish school
Jan 28 - Feb 3, 2000

Guatemala - Tikal and Spanish school
Jan 22-27, 2000

Guatemala - Antigua and Spanish school
Jan 16-21, 2000

Belize
Jan 6-15, 2000

 

Fri Oct 6, 2000 - South of Sydney

Brian woke us at 7:30 to help us plan our driving trip for the next few days. We didn't have a great map, so he went next door to enlist Pat Joliffe, who proved quite helpful. We took notes and made a tentative plan, then called a few more rental car places, but nothing was cheaper than Hertz with our corporate rate.

We elected to save a day's charge by picking up the car at 3pm, and spent most of the morning packing and cleaning up our mess in the house. We still had lots of time, however, so we decided to go to the mall and run some errands.

We hopped on the train and changed for the Paramatta Westfield Shoppingtown. There we managed to accomplish nearly all of our errands - books, maps, post office, haircuts, final items for Nepal and Antarctica, and a Wired magazine with a picture of Tom's old roommate Insik quoted.

Finally our errands were done, and we took the train to Bankstown. We found a taxi to take us the last mile to Hertz, then spent a while trying to get the car - they were not efficient. Finally we ended up with a smaller car (at a cheaper price) and were on our way. We found our way back to Brian's to pick up our luggage, and he was back from work already - he was surprised to see us again so soon!

We grabbed our bags, said goodbye, and finally hit the road. Traffic was light, especially considering that it was Friday at 5pm. We did crawl past one car fire for 10 minutes, but otherwise we cruised south with no problems.

Towards sunset we found ourselves in Kiama, so we stopped to peek at the "famous" blowhole - a decently pretty stretch of rocky shoreline, but hardly impressive. We did find a great restaurant for dinner, however, a small place called Zumo. The food was great, and the service friendly and fun. We thoroughly enjoyed it, and would highly recommend it.

We decided to drive a bit longer, so we cruised through the darkness. At one point we saw a kangaroo grazing on the side of the road, but it bounded away as we slowed to look. We finally got tired, so we stopped at the Dolphin Motel in Vincentia, where we got a basic room and crashed.

 

Sat Oct 7, 2000 - Coast South of Sydney

We stop in at the local bakery in Vincentia. While we waited for the muffins to be heated we checked email at their new internet connection. After breakfast we entered Booderee National Park.

Murray Beach is at the end of the park's peninsula. The beach is gorgeous - white sand, blue water and a few craggy islands off of the coast. We ran the 5km Murray Beach trail. The sandy track runs a loop above the coast and through some heath. During the run we saw beautiful red lorikeets, in flight and standing still. It is amazing to see exotic parrots flying by as robins might at home.

We took showers at the park's beach showerhead then hit the road. During the drive we discuss buying Australian real estate since we love the people, the countryside and the dollar is quite strong. Unresolved on the issue, we call our families.

The entire Tice/Offenberg clan was at MomC's for a pizza dinner family gathering . Great timing since Louisa got to talk to most of the 30 there. Tom talked to his parents for the first time since Lyn's return from England. As always, it was fantastic to hear friendly and familiar voices.

The sun shone strongly out of a blue sky. We stopped in Milton for a lovely late lunch at the Verandah cafe. The owner was quite friendly and we had a nice chat with her.

As we continued south we neared another state park with beaches where kangaroos swim on hot days. We hoped that the day would be hot enough to bring out the kangaroos. First we tried Durass North. It was a gorgeous beach, but lined with trailer parks, not kangaroos. Next we stopped by Depot beach. Again, quite beautiful, and this time deserted. We saw kangaroos on the next beach south but they were only shapes (binoculars later indicated that the shapes were not kangaroos but people).

After this adventure we decided to make miles since our current pace was quite snail-like and if we wanted to see a good part of southern Australia we would have to get moving. We drive and drive. Louisa took over for a short while and laughed at the strangeness of driving on the left side of the road. Fortunately she caught on quite quickly, but still was not as smooth as Tom.

We stopped for pizza dinner in Eden. It was quite good and the woman in the restaurant were thrilled to have two Americans for dinner, they even asked us to sign their guest book.

We continue along the road in the darkness. We forgot to stop at a river that supposedly houses some platypus, which would have been perfect since they are nocturnal, but difficult to see since it was a pitch black night. We did see a kangaroo beside the dark road. As we maneuvered the car headlights to shine on it, it bounced away into the surrounding forest.

We pulled into a small motel in Newmerella. It redefined basic, but we were too tired to care.

 

Sun Oct 8, 2000 - The Prom

After quick showers we hopped in the car to find civilization. The motel was the only building in the town of 'Newmerella.' A diner in Lakes Entrance served bacon and eggs. As usual in Australia, the waitress was quite friendly and made Tom a mocha - her first ever. We devoured the eggs and the Sunday paper before hitting the road and heading for The Prom.

The miles between Lakes Entrance and Wilson's Promontory were a nice backdrop to conversation and contemplation. Louisa added some excitement. When leaning her head out the window, her sunglasses blew off into the road. We did not think that they would have survived the flight at 100 kmh, but we went back to look. Luckily we found them in the middle of the road, unscathed.

The next stop was lunch in Foster. A few store fronts were open and we had lunch in the bakery where they offered a sandwich bar (ham, ham, or ham) and a variety of pot pies.

We stopped in the local real estate office for a brochure about the surrounding land and the food store to pick up provisions for a picnic dinner in the park.

The ranger at the gate to 'The Prom', Australia's southern most continental point (Tasmania, but that is a separate island) was quite helpful. She inquired what we wanted to do and laughed at our response: 'See kangaroos!' She recommended the fields just south of The Gums picnic area near the airstrip along with her favorite trail up Mt. Oberon, but only if the skies stayed clear.

We did not see kangaroos in the fields, but did see emus. We tried to get close, but once the first one started to run away, the entire group did. The lack of kangaroos was not worrisome since we read that they are most active at sunrise and sunset.

We found the trailhead for Mt. Oberon (Telegraph carpark), donned our wind jackets and headed up. The trail is quite wide- we guess that it is a road for maintenance trucks for the antennas at the top. It also consists of quite a steady grade.

We filled the hour with conversation since most of the views were blocked by trees. We thought hat we had reached the top when we reached the plateau with many radio and telephone antennas. This spot reminded us of Mt. Diablo in San Bruno that we climbed with David Carney.

We spotted a staircase however, and reached the true summit. The views over the ocean were fantastic. The wind was quite strong and biting, but we stayed at the top for awhile since it was quite beautiful. Down was easy compared to up and soon we were back in the carpark.

The park literature touted the Lilly Pilly Gully Nature trail with educational plaques. This was our next stop. We decided to do the entire 5km loop, determined to see the koala bears, assuming that the koalas would prefer areas with fewer walkers. An hour later we were back in the car park having not seen any koalas, nor many informational signs. It was a nice walk through the woods, however.

On the drive out of the park we kept our eyes peeled at the ranger's previously indicated fields. On spotting one kangaroo we decided to walk closer, in case this was the only one. As we approached we realized that three more were near it, but not visible from the road. They let us get within three meters before bounding off into the bush. A wombat came out briefly as well, but was much more quickly frightened.

Walking back to the car, we found an entire kangaroo skeleton and also three more kangaroos. The latter looked larger than the first four that we saw, but were also much more shy.

We started to drive away, but noticed another kangaroo on the other side of the road. We parked again and started walking back. Soon an entire field filled with kangaroos became visible. Slowly we walked closer and closer until we were within two or three meters of the first couple. One of them was a mom with a baby kangaroo (a joey) in her front pouch. We watched and took pictures for awhile. Soon they became used to our presence and we edged closer to take more photographs.

Before leaving the park we had a picnic dinner - the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches tasted great. The drive to Melbourne lasted about two hours. On the way we called The Tilba hotel in South Yarra who assured us they had a lovely room. South Yarra was hopping even on a Sunday night. The room was attractive and cozy. We snuggled in to the soft bed for the night.

 

Mon Oct 9, 2000 - Great Ocean Road

We awoke somewhat late in our beautiful room in The Tilba. We were so stiff from our hikes yesterday that we didn't motivate to go running - we were bummed when we found out later that we were just across the street from the beautiful and famed botanic gardens, which would have been perfect for running through.

We read the paper over a nice breakfast of weet-bix and toast in their dining room, then packed up and checked out. Upon finding out we were headed for the great ocean road, the man behind the desk gave us a good tip on where to see kangaroos. We then got loaded the car and drove into light traffic.

Melbourne on a Monday morning is no more busy than Columbus, Ohio, on a light day. We drove around and looked at the buildings for a few minutes, then found our way to an internet cafe. We spent an hour or so there responding to emails and trying to get ftp working on our site after an attack by some hackers. We got directions to Fitzroy for cafes for lunch, and found one that looked interesting. After quiche and veggie lasagne, we got back in the car and hit the road for real.

On the way, we called Kira and David, and enjoyed hearing their voices and catching up. We ended up calling several times, because even in the heart of downtown Melbourne the cell coverage is quite spotty, and our rented vodaphone kept losing the signal. We finally pulled over, and even then lost the signal once.

We quickly left the Melbourne outskirts and drove through rolling hills towards the Great Ocean Drive. Just before the official start, we turned off in Anglesea to the municipal golf course, following the tip from they guy at the Tilba. We were astounded to see dozens of kangaroos grazing on the 10th fairway! Fascinated, we approached quietly and slowly, finally stopping only feet away from them. They were grazing or just lying on the grass, big males and smaller females with baby "joeys" in their pouches. When we first approached the joeys all scrambled to hide away in their mothers bellies, but after 15 minutes or so they began to come out and play again. We were delighted to watch them, and sat in the grass excitedly whispering to each other about how cute they were. After a wonderful half hour or so, we said goodbye, and got back on the road.

A surprising number of kilometers after the official start of the Great Ocean Road, we saw the water. The first part of the route is occasional curvy road, but lots of beaches. We didn't really stop at all, partly because of nothing interesting, and partly because it was raining on and off. We did get a few nice rainbows, though.

About halfway through the 200km drive we noticed the low fuel light go on - oops. Next town was about 10km, but the gas station was closed - it was about 6:30pm. Next town after that was 30 more km - gas station also closed. Now we're starting to worry. Feigning nonchalance with each other, and talking about other topics, we continued to drive. Another 15km later we finally saw the famous rock formations called the 12 Apostles.

We pulled off to take a few pictures, and noticed that it was almost sunset. We stuck around for twenty minutes or so, and it was worth it, with the sun sinking into the ocean and lighting the clouds red and orange behind the solitary rocks jutting from the frothy ocean. We enjoyed the show, despite being a bit cold and tired.

We got back on the road carefully, trying to conserve fuel as much as possible, and made it into Port Campbell, the largest town on the map within 100km. Unsurprisingly, however, both gas stations were closed, so we "decided" to stay the night.

On the main drag was a nice, new-looking restaurant called Waves. We went in and had a decent meal, although nothing quite lived up to expectations. They were out of salad, and the steak didn't come as ordered, etc. They also had large but spartan rooms for relatively high prices, so after dinner we went down the road to the Great Ocean Road Inn and got a nice room. We journaled a bit, then hit the sack.

 

Tue Oct 10, 2000 - Coonawarra

The rain thundered onto the roof of the hotel room all night and morning. We huddled inside the room for breakfast (almost all hotel rooms in Australia have kitchenettes in them). We emerged as the rain stopped and drove off. The Shell station was open this morning and we filled up our little car, 65 kilometers after the gas light lit up.

"Trading hours" are very different from the US. Most businesses even in the cities close by 6pm, open at 9am and are not open on Sundays and perhaps a half day on Saturday. This included the gas stations that we drove by last evening.

Somehow we missed the turn to rejoin the Great Ocean Road for its last 15 kilometers. Instead we went shunpiking through country roads lined with large cattle or dairy farms. Each piece of property seemed vast. We lunched at a diner in Portland. It was a town that reminded us of Mayberry in the Andy Griffith Show but set on the ocean.

The cross into South Australia was only noticeable because of the sign posted, otherwise the farms and land looked the same. In Mt. Gambier we decided to stop at the tourist information and an internet cafe. The first internet cafe was closed. Its trading hours were 4pm to 11pm. Fortunately there was another one down the road. Harris had sent an email that he spent his Columbus Day holiday uploading our pictures for us - yippee! So Tom got busy with making them appear on the site. Louisa started researching cars to buy, perhaps in Germany starting with the BMW X5 4.4 liter engine. Why not start at the top of the line, she quipped?

Next we pulled into the Tourist Office and thought that we had just missed them since our watches said 5:15, but it was open even though the sign stated until 5:00pm. We found information on Penola/Coonawara, although not as mch as we expected. On the way out we asked the woman behind the counter the time, she replied that the time in South Australia is 1.5 hours earlier than Victoria/NSW. Weird!

We arrived in Coonawara and stopped at the first winery that was open, Lindeman's. We tried all of their current red wines, none of which were good enough to ship a case home. Being midweek and just after the school holidays, hardly anyone was in the area. Many wineries were closed even though they should have been open, restaurants were closed, etc.

We tried to stay at a Cobb & Co cottage that was recommended but all three of their cottages were filled for the night. The restaurant looked quite good, however. We checked into the Chardonnay Lodge surrounded by wineries. The receptionist recommended that we duck out the back and run along the winery roads, which is what we did. The cool air and beautiful countryside, and fabulous sunset made the run much easier.

After showers we drove back to Cobb & Co for dinner. Quite a few of the tables were full. The meal was okay. The Zema Estate 1998 cabernet sauvignon was good, but not worth shipping home. The service was slow which is not what we needed when our bodies thought that it was after 10pm. We tried the Bush plate and had a taste of crocodile, kangaroo and emu. The emu was terrible, the kangaroo okay, and the crocodile good.

Once back at the hotel, Louisa fell to sleep immediately and Tom continued to devour every word of the Wired magazine.

 

Wed Oct 11, 2000 - Coonawara Wines

We got up to rain, so we journaled a bit while eating a "light breakfast" of cereal and toast provided in the room. Soon we packed up and went to some wineries for tastings.

Since we didn't know much about Coonawara wines, we started at the nearest, Brands. The wines were not bad, but the best part was chatting with some other tasters there, who told us to try Hollicks and Weatherall. Our next stop, therefore, was Hollicks, where we adored nearly everything. Unfortunately, they have no experience shipping to the States, but promised to look into it and call us on the mobile. The folks we met there we also saw later at lunch in Sweet Grape in Penola. We tried Weatherall, but they were closed. We also heard that sometimes the local bottle shop has better prices than the "cellar door" of the winery, but the one in Penola was almost exactly the same on the ones we compared.

Sweet Grape had great food, we ordered too much and devoured every bite. They also had books on wine, so we looked up Coonawarra, and decided to check out the remaining wineries that were highly recommended. We drove back up the valley to Majella, where we were underwhelmed, and then to Wynns. Wynns had their highly decorated (and expensive) John Riddich Cab for tasting, and while we loved the "nose", the taste wasn't all that special to our palates.

We were ready to make some miles by this point, so we started back towards Sydney on the most direct route - through miles and miles of dandelion-studded fields filled with sheep and cows. Some of the sheep had already been shorn for the spring, and looked funny all naked and skinny. We also saw occasional fields of bright yellow which we later found out were canola flowers.

We detoured off the main road to go into the Grampians, a national park of 1000m high hills jutting from the surrounding plain. We looked for a hike, and as the sun was starting to set, found a trail called the Pinnacle that looked good. We hurried up the trail, trying to get an hour of hiking in before the sun went away. We didn't quite reach the end of the trail, but did get on top of the hill to look over the valley below. We also heard some rustling off the trail, and on investigating, found an echidna curled up in an old stump. We took a picture and moved away before we could scare it too much.

Tired and happy, we went into nearby Hall's Gap for dinner. On the way down we surprised quite a number of small black kangaroos grazing by the side of the road, and got a picture of one or two before they bounded off. In Hall's Gap, the nicest looking place was called Kookaburra, and although the service was abysmal, we had a very decent meal there. We decided to make some more miles after dark, so we drove steadily for a couple more hours to Ballarat. This larger town seemed to have no vacancy in a lot of their motels for some reason, but we finally found one in the center of town and got their last room. We fell into bed without even showering, we were that tired.

Notes from our tastings in Coonawarra:

Lindeman's - We tried their entire flight of red's from 1998 and were not impressed by any of them.

Zema Estate - 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon. Friendly Italian woman. Great reviews for this full wine, but we were not overly impressed. We had a bottle with dinner and again it was good but not amazing. It had the most character of any of the wine's that we tasted and is categorized with the Hardy's Tintarra that we had in Cairns and adored.

Brand's (Barwang in USA) - We tried the Shiraz, Cab Sav/Merlot and the Cabernet Sauvignon. The blend was our preferred of the three with its nice balance. OK, and drinkable, but not great, although better than any of the Lindeman's. Brand's label not exported to US, look for Barwong with bright blue banded label. www.mcwilliams.com.au

Hollicks - Recommended by the Australian couple at Brand's. We tried their entire flight of reds. The 1999 Pinot Noir surprised us with its flavor. It was very smooth and very drinkable now, not robust like we enjoy a Cab Sav, but very nice. The 1998 Cab Sav/Merlot blend was really good. Being 85% Cabernet it was like one but with a little less tannin. The 1998 Wilgha Shiraz took us by surprise. It was delicious. Very full bodied, complex and almost spicy. We loved it. They also had a new wine to us, a sparkling merlot. She served it thoroughly chilled. It was fun - light, a little sweet and very refreshing. While it was really different we could imagine drinking it while sitting by the pool on a hot summer day. Finally we tried the Nectar, their dessert wine. It was quite good and fruity but needed to be tasted with cheese. We talked with Clair about shipping some home and she got it all started!

Majella - read fantastic reviews about their '97 Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and blend of the two. They only had '98 of the Shiraz and of the Cabernet Sauvignon available for tasting. They were full bodied. The Cab Sav was a bit tannic. Very drinkable, but not outstanding enough to ship home. We do want to try to find the '97 Maleella which we read is their outstanding Cab Sav/Shiraz blend and that they were sold out of both the '97 and '98. www.majellawines.com.au. USA contact: Dan Philips of The Grateful Palate 601 Del North Blvd. Unit G Oxnard, California 93030 USA. Phone 805 278 9095

Penley Estate - Cabernet Sauvignon '97 (we think). It was fine, but not great. We did not visit the winery because the bottle we had with dinner was fair and we did not find an amazing review anywhere.

Wynn's - Read about their John Riddich Cabernet Sauvignon '96 (5 stars). We tried their entire flight. The Shiraz was nice, a bit sweeter than the others of the region. The Cab Sav/Shiraz/Merlot was smooth but did not have much complexity. The black label Coonawara Cab Sav '97 was smooth with a nice finish, but not outstanding. The '96 was just as smooth, but did not have the nice finish. Both should be available in the USA. We lucked out that they had the 5 star 1996 John Riddich on tasting. The aroma was delicious! However, while it was smooth, it was not very big and bold. In our opinion, it did not merit the $85 (Australian).

We also researched, but did not taste: Normans Signature Series Langhorne Creek Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc. 5 stars. AU$24. Also, Yalumba The Signature Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz. 5 stars. AU$35.

 

Thu Oct 12, 2000 - Towards Sydney

Our pace tends toward late mornings and this was no exception. The early check-out times of 10 or 10:30 are what get us going. After a jog through downtown Ballarat and showers we checked out and had a delicious breakfast at L'Expresso on the main street. The brioche toast was amazing as were the eggs with parmesan or pesto accompanied by fancy coffee - this was the way to start the day!

The local bookstore happened to be a discount one where Tom found some Science Fiction and some books about real estate. We also stopped in an internet cafe. This turned into an hour as Tom uploaded more pictures to the site and Louisa worked on re-captioning the pictures from Vietnam (we lost the captions for 200+ pictures when the Psion crashed).

The day had turned sunny and quite warm which made driving easy. After an hour or so on real highway we pulled into a McDonalds for lunch. While Tom drove Louisa tried using the cell phone, but continued to be frustrated by its lack of signal even on the outskirts of Melbourne. Well, we had to have some sort of frustration during our travels in Australia.

As Tom continued to drive, Louisa read the books on Australian real estate. We found them fairly helpful, especially with terms and selection criteria. We created specification sheets for vacant, rural land in Australia as well as for a future home in SF.

The only stop during the afternoon was to refuel, and sometime later to switch drivers. Louisa drove us across the Murray river (Australia's Mississippi) into Albury. We had an early pizza dinner at an attractive pizzeria on the charming main street. Again we stopped in an internet cafe to send a few time critical emails then hit the roads again.

The Murray river marks the boundary between the states of Victoria and New South Wales. It also marks the boundary of divided highway and non-divided highway. Travel was slightly slower on NSW's roads, but we chatted about business ideas until we reached Yass less than 300km from Sydney. The Sundowner motel was quite comfortable, new and warm, and we went to sleep right after checking in.

 

Fri Oct 13, 2000 - Land Shopping

Heart Attack Preventative: Before our parents get seizures, we looked at rural, vacant land outside of Sydney, but did not buy any. We have no plans to move to Australia, but think it is beautiful and thought about owning a piece of it.

We awoke and had a cup of coffee - one nice thing about Australian motels is they all come with a hot pot, instant coffee, and tea. The pouring rain outside did not encourage us to hurry, and we checked out at 10am. Tom was tired from tossing and turning all night due to a sore upper back - we don't know what's wrong there.

Louisa drove the couple hundred kilometers to Bowral, where we decided to look for a real estate agent. We had been talking about finding some land to buy, as an investment and vacation place, if we could find the right parcel. It would have to be pretty special, but Australia seems to have quite a few beautiful places, and it would be nice to own one.

We talked to a nice guy named Greg at Drew Lindsay real estate, and he got us information on some interesting plots. We then went to lunch at Epicure Cafe for gourmet (and good) sandwiches.

We tried the LJ Hooker agency, but they were not exactly on the ball - an entire room full of agents couldn't tell us the meaning of a "square" when used to describe a house. A large house might be 30 squares - clearly not square meters. First they told us it was 10 sq feet - also obviously wrong. Finally, several phone calls later, we found out it is 100 sq feet, or 9.5 square meters - that makes sense!

We stopped in an internet cafe to send a few quick emails, then went to yet another agency {there were at least 8 that we saw in the town of less than 10,000 - an incredible number). We collected some more ideas, and headed out in the drizzle to look at some.

The first we looked at one we couldn't get to from the road - apparently a new road is being built. It was expensive, although it looked nice enough. The next one was also near Bowral, but a bit further away. We had to drive the Toyota across a stream to get to it - who needs a 4wd? This property was beautiful, but the stream was anemic.

We then headed to Berrima, and after a few wrong turns, found another parcel. Unfortunately, it was right next to the freeway, and the constant noise turned us off. We did look for platypus in the river, but since they're nocturnal, we didn't see any. We did see a number of foxes and rabbits, though.

Finally we went into the Berenglo State Forest to find the last, and most interesting parcel. We drove quite a long way on steadily deteriorating roads, until finally the Toyota simply could not negotiate the rocks. We parked and walked, and it turned out the entrance gate was only a few hundred yards further. We hiked down the hill into the property, looking for the river frontage, but we were fast losing sunlight. Finally, after a kilometer or more, we turned around and headed back up the hill to the car. We slowly negotiated our way out, glad that the Corolla was a rental.

Back on the highway, we cruised up to Mittagong for dinner. The nice bistro we picked out was fully booked, so we ended up in a crowded and mediocre Italian restaurant. After a forgettable dinner, we got back on the road to Sydney. Soon we were in familiar territory, and after a stop at 7-11, we made it to Brian's. He was out dancing, so we threw our laundry in and went to bed.

 

Sat Oct 14, 2000 - Around Sydney

Brian left early in the morning for his weekend in Kiama, so we missed him. We enjoyed not being on the road and had a leisurely morning. Louisa went for a jog, but Tom's back was still tight so he stayed home and journaled. We did laundry and decided to have a relaxing day, but we soon got stir crazy around the house and headed out.

Louisa found a neighborhood that was written up as young and fun, so we went there to see what it was like. We arrived in Glebe, around lunchtime, so we parked and went in to a crowded cafe. We had great spinach rice chicken pie, and lingered reading the paper. After lunch we spent an hour or so in an internet cafe, working on the site and travel arrangements. Then we decided to explore some more.

We wanted to see the harbor bridge up close, so we decided to drive across it to Mosman, and wander around some of the parks there. Mosman is a more affluent community, and many large houses have great views across the harbor to the city.

We drove down to the end of the peninsula, where we sat on the grass and watched the sailboats with their colorful spinnakers race past. After a while we decided to try the zoo - we still had not seen platypus or koalas.

The zoo has a gondola that was closed when we got there due to high winds, so we drove up to the upper entrance instead. We loved the koalas - they even had a baby that looked so cute peeking out from the branches. On the way out, we were surprised by a kookaburra on a branch, hanging out near the path.

We checked out the interesting Australian animals at night with some crazy bats, but the rest were medium size rodents that made Louisa not want to go camping in the bush anytime soon.

Next stop was the platypus exhibit, but no platypi (does anyone know the plural of platypus?) were in the tank. Bummer!

We went on to see the echidnas and the kangaroos, but they weren't as exciting since we had seen them in the bush. We did see some wallabies, which basically look like kangaroos to us. The zoo had lots of other zoo-type animals, monkeys, zebras, etc, but we were tired and it was late afternoon, so after another stop at the platypus exhibit (still none there) we made our exit.

We hadn't really walked around the Opera House during our previous trips to Sydney, so we made our way there. After a few wrong turns, we found the parking garage (an amazing underground building by itself). We walked around in the late afternoon sun, enjoying the waterfront and the beautiful buildings. The giant waves of the Opera House make an amazing setting on the edge of Sydney Harbor. We thought about having a drink, but decided to go find dinner instead.

The trailer for Space Cowboys looked good so we researched movies. It took us awhile to find the right phone number and figure out Sydney's suburbs, but we finally found the movie in Bankstown. At the movie theater, we bought tickets and the girl selling them recommended Bruno's restaurant downstairs.

We lingered over dinner waiting for the movie to start. We laughed throughout at some of the great one-liners. Space Cowboys entertained us, but half the fun was just going to the movies.

 

Sun Oct 15, 2000 - Blue Mountains

The morning started with a phone call from MomC. We enjoyed hearing her voice, and chatted a bit before breakfast. Today we decided to see the Blue Mountains, and on the way out we grabbed a change of clothes, just in case.

We zoomed up to the mountains on the highway, stopping at the first tourist office to pick up some information. We walked across the park for some much-needed cappuccinos, and decided where we would go. We had found a spot called Hanging Rock, and upon asking where it was, found that it had been omitted from most maps because it was not well fenced - this made it a must for us!

In Leura, we stopped to walk up the cute main street. Most lunch places were packed, but we found a nice spot and sat at the counter for a good meal. We checked out the real estate listings, but the only listings were houses on small lots which did not interest us. Tom's parents called and we chatted with them for a while, catching up on events. It was fun to talk to family throughout the day!

We had to see the escarpment that the Blue Mountains are famous for, so we drove down some winding streets to Sublime Lookout. The view lived up to our expectations. The tree filled valley with the Grand Canyon-like cliffs were gorgeous.

Next stop was Evans Lookout, a short distance further into the Blue Mountains. It was more developed as a park with picnic benches, walks and a few car parks, but the lookout was beautiful. We thought about hiking along to Govitts Lookout, but the high wind made the day quite cool and it was already late in the afternoon, so we opted to continue in the car.

We simply had to find Hanging Rock, so we started down the road, expecting to find the same house-lined streets and fenced overlook. What a difference! The road was gravel, and quickly became extremely rocky and rutted. We carefully piloted the Corolla along, taking it easy on the 4WD road. The way went up and down through dense forest, and we could hardly believe we were in the same part of the country - there was nobody!

After quite a long way - about 20 minutes or so - we reached the end, and enjoyd the amazed looks from a few drivers at our compact car made it down that road. We walked out to the overlook, but at first we did not see Hanging Rock at all, and simply admired the view from yet another great overlook, this one unprotected by fences. But as we explored, we saw an amazing overhanging rock split off from the main cliff - the Hanging Rock.

A man had walked down, jumped the crevice and walked to the edge of hanging rock. Louisa stepped back from the edge of the cliff terrified for the man, while Tom exclaimed 'Cool! Let's go down there!' We compromised by walking along the path at the edge of the lookout towards the rock to get some pictures, but did not jump over onto Hanging Rock itself.

The final stop for the day was Govitts Lookout. It has much the same view as Evans, but the Blue Mountain beauty was wonderful.

We started to discuss what we wanted to do on our last day in Australia the next day, and found some hot air ballooning in Hunter Valley. We called up immediately and made a reservation.

As we started to drive out of the area, we realized that we had not seen the Three Sisters, so we pulled over. After seeing the Twelve Apostles of the Great Ocean Road, these rock formations paled. We took a back road to Leura from there which wound through forest and by a waterfall. Back on Leura's main street we decided to stop for an early dinner before driving to Hunter Valley.

The cafe was nice and we chatted with the owner who recommended the Chocolate Rock cookies for dessert which we took to go.

Heavy traffic slowed our progress out of the mountains and it seemed as soon as the road opened up we had to turn off onto side roads to head North to wine country.

We arrived in Branxton late and stayed at the unassuming but nice Branxton House Motel. We went to sleep quickly since we had to wake up early.

 

Mon Oct 16, 2000 - Up, Up and Away

Surprisingly we woke up at ten til 5 before the alarm went off. Tom took a quick shower before we drove in the darkness to the balloon company's meeting point. We greedily drank the coffee to get our bodies moving at 5:30am.

Three balloons were going to fly. The captains gave us a briefing before we piled into the cars and drove in the darkness to the lift off point. The winds were light and variable, so they didn't expect to go very far this morning.

In a local farmer's field, they rigged the balloons to their baskets and filled them with air while we helped here and there. One of the balloons was a bright-orange Harley Davidson logo, ours was huge and striped, while the third was a colorful checkerboard.

As the sun rose, the ten of us jumped into the balloon and took off. There was not much wind, so John, the English pilot, took us up to 2000 feet quickly to catch whatever breeze he could.

We looked over the green Hunter Valley as the sun rose and lit the vineyards. The Broken Back range of hills loomed in the distance, and the other way we could just see the coastline.

After a while, John dropped us into a field filled with kangaroos and cows eating breakfast. They seemed unfazed by the balloon, until he revved the burner to keep us from touching the ground.

We rose to 2000 feet again and drifted along for an hour, then had a slow and soft landing. We were the last balloon down and the first one to get back to the meeting place which meant more champagne!

John encouraged us to try guava juice and champagne (like a mimosa). Surprisingly, it was quite delicious. Some women told us that it is called a pink lady. The other groups arrived and the leader led us through a balloonist prayer then handed out official flight certificates. With all of the formalities finished we went across the street for breakfast.

Breakfast across the road at Hunter Valley Lodge's restaurant, Shakey Tables. There was quite a nice ambiance, despite the plain outer facade of the hotel. We had a good breakfast with John, our captain, and he regaled us with travel stories and his conservation ethic.

Since we were in one of the more famous wine regions of Australia, we had to taste some wine. The fact that it was 9:30am did not deter us - we started right in. We had a few recommendations from reading the wine book at Fishlips, the restaurant in Cairns, so we decided to go to those vineyards first.

We arrived at Tyrrell's just after 9:30 in the morning - pretty early for drinking wine. The man was willing to open any bottle, which made the time enjoyable. We did not like much until a top end Shiraz which was good with a heavy smoky taste - the classic Hunter Valley earthiness. We decided to buy a bottle to have for our first wedding anniversary.

We drove along the empty country lanes and found a Hardy's winery, which did not carry the McLaren Valley Shiraz that we enjoyed in Cairns. However, the friendly woman served us their selection of reds. We did not like the sparkling Shiraz as much as the sparkling Merlot. This one was a full red wine, but chilled and sparkling which just did not work for us. Their $14AUD Shiraz was almost as good as the top end Tyrrell's we just bought, oh well. We bought a bottle to have with dinner.

One winery in the notes we had starred, Brokenwood, had a Graveyard Shiraz that was supposed to be sublime. On their tasting list it stated they did not offer tasting of the Graveyard. We almost left, but the great music they had playing lulled us into staying.

We tried their 1999 Cricket Pitch red blend which we enjoyed a lot and thought was very drinkable. Their 1998 Cabernet Sauvignon was very decent, but unspectacular. We would drink it but it was not worth the hassle of shipping to the US. Their 1998 Shiraz surprised Tom. It just did not taste like the other Hunter Valley Shirazes with the smoky flavor. Overall it was good, but not worth shipping.

At this point she offered to have us taste their two top line Shiraz wines side-by-side, the 1998 Shiraz from McLaren Valley and the 1998 Graveyard Shiraz. Yummy! We tried the McLaren Valley first and thought it quite good, but when we tried the Graveyard there was really no question. We started filling out the paperwork almost immediately! She told us that the Graveyard is a spectacular blend every year, but 1998 was being touted as particularly great. We agreed, and shipped home half a case.

After this, we were done tasting - and it wasn't even noon yet! We decided to drive back down towards Sydney, but take a detour out to the coast, for a scenic drive home.

An hour later, we were in the coastal town of Newcastle, looking for a place to eat lunch. We didn't find anything that looked great, so we had meat pies from a local stand. It was an old railroad car decorated like a fifties diner. It had heaps of character.

A bit further south we passed through a town called The Entrance, and stopped for ice cream. As we licked our cones we walked along the estuary where the ocean broke through to an inland lake.

A bit further on we decided to do a few more errands, so we stopped in a mall and looked for new running shoes for Louisa - her Chinese ones had gotten quite, shall we say, odiferous. Unfortunately, we didn't find any, although we did complete some other errands.

We took a wrong turn through another town, and ended up finding an internet cafe, as well as some duffelbags for Nepal. Tom chatted with the cafe employee and found out a little about the difficulty of getting high-speed internet access in Australia.

We called Brian and made dinner plans with him, then continued back into Sydney. The sunset was spectacular. It started out amazing, but the sun lit up the clouds into various shades of pink. We rode along amazed at it, and then drove by Olympic Park with the gorgeous pink sunset behind it. We tried to take a picture or two from the highway, but with no success.

We arrived at Brian's around 7pm. With the thought that tomorrow we're going to a primarily vegetarian country where cows are holy, not edible, we requested a steak house. The steak and salads were delicious, but we enjoyed the lively chat with Brian even more. He kept telling how "keen" and "unique" we are - much like he is.

Back at the house we started to organize all of our gear before heading to bed.

Some Aussie vocabulary tips:

There is the ubiquitous "G'day, mate", although we much more often heard "How're you going?" The word "mate" seems to combine elements of friends and acquiantances, and is used constantly, usually like "Me mate and I went..." We heard heaps of "No worries," and even more "Good on ya," sometimes written in the newspaper as one word: "Goodonya." Others include "you're right" meaning you're doing fine, "hot bread shop" is bakery, and "tea" means the evening meal (lunch is often called "dinner"). One really threw us: "It's my shout," meaning "It's my turn to buy beer for me mates." It was used in a commercial during the Olympics, and we had to ask an Aussie for translation. Finally, one important tip: Aussies don't "root" for teams, since the word "root" has a different (sexual) meaning down here.

 

Tue Oct 17, 2000 - Good-Bye Sydney

Surprisingly we woke relatively early. After breakfast we went out for a last run through the Birrong neighborhood and park. The day was gray and rainy which made it easier to leave.

Brian was up when we returned to the house. The rest of the morning we chatted with Brian, packed and ran a few errands (such as sending another box of stuff home). During lunch the mail arived, but not with the expected package from Magellan's for the GPS. At that point, we found the slip stating that the delivery man had come by, but no-one was home. We were annoyed since one if not all three of us had been there all morning.

Tom called the company and got stonewalled, but Brian got on the phone and sweet-talked the woman into radioing the driver. Love that man!

We drove into town to pick up the plane tickets from our new favorite travel agent, Andrew at STA travel. On the way in, Brian called to let us know the package arrived. Yay!

Unfortunately the "highway" into Sydney is really a four lane road with cars parked in the curb lane and plenty of traffic lights. Going was slow and we ended up leaving Brian's for the second time when we should have arrived at the airport. Fortunately, going to the airport was faster and we made it by 4:00pm. This ended our 4,425km driving tour of Southern Australia.

Tom returned the car while Louisa checked in to the flight, with no wait thanks to the Gold status with the Star Alliance - we love globalization!

In the airport we returned the phone and went through immigration, both of which were terribly easy. Then we went to the TRS (Tourist Refund Scheme) office to claim the GST back. It turns out that we should have had the box of wine with us, but did not. After some level-headed sweet-talking, the two woman let us refund it all, which was a huge booon for us since the wine had GST and a 14.5% WET tax - bonus!

The Thai airlines lounge was there, so we went in for a soda before the flight. We tried to call Marcia to say happy birthday, but did not catch her at home.

The flight was packed for the nine hour journey to Bangkok. We entertained ourselves with three bad in-flight entertainment movies (Big Momma's House, The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, and Shanghai Noon) while journaling.

Checking in at The Regent went smoothly. When we got to the room we discovered an on-TV internet access with wireless keyboard. We tried to fire it up, but our keyboard did not work. The engineers delivered a new keyboard to the room and we surfed into the wee hours of the morning (even though the technology seemed archaic in how it interfaced with the net).

Revised: Wed Feb 13 11:37:55 2008 on www.shieldsaroundtheworld.com.
Copyright 2000 Tom & Louisa Shields. All rights reserved.