Friday, April 7, 2017

WHEN ROMANCE DIES...

Prior to retiring earlier this year, I had no idea what I wanted to do really when I became an Old Age Pensioner (OAP). Then one day as I headed to Brisbane to visit family, I passed a small motor-home which gave me the romantic notion that I could travel like that, cat in tow. 
In my head I could see us hitting the road in style, stopping wherever/whenever we wanted to along the way. I even worked out how to take along a cat enclosure so he wouldn't be cooped up inside all the time. We would be self sufficient when we stopped to visit friends and not straining a friendship. When I returned home that day the first thing I did was look up motor-homes for sale on line and there was a small Winnebago for a single person with a motor scooter included! OMG, haven't I always said that a photographer needs to travel by motor cycle so they can stop along the side of the road to capture that wonder scene? Was that a sign? Yes, that was the life and all I had to do was buy into it; once I had the small superannuation payment I was expecting after I retired. 

My wise daughter who had hired a campervan a few years ago and (happily) travelled alone around NSW suggested that before I commit my money to something like that, I should hire one to see if I liked it.  Such a wise girl.  Then I was told about a scheme where hire companies would give you a car/motor-home/camper van to relocate for them. You only had to pay for fuel and sometimes they even gave you a small fuel voucher and allowed you time and extra mileage to get their van to the required destination. So I picked Brisbane to Melbourne, gave them some dates that would suit and waited to see if anything came up.

Bingo! Soon I had 8 days to get a camper van (stocked with kitchen utensils and bedding package) from Brisbane to Melbourne and extra mileage in the time period I'd chosen. I booked a flight home from Melbourne a few days after their return date so I could visit friends. Surely a camper van would be not much different to a motor home? How wrong I was. I discovered that camper vans are for young, agile backpackers, not aging romantics who need to visit the loo a couple of times during the night.
The van had a small section at the back to use as a kitchen when the door was up but otherwise the rest of the rear space had a double mattress (5 sections of soft foam). Later, I would find I could set up a folding table inside (or outside) at night with some difficulty. 

I left Brisbane on a rainy Tuesday planning to stop in Ballina to have a look around the following morning before continuing to visit a friend south of Coffs Harbour. First I decided to "set up camp" and arrived at a seaside caravan park and asked for a powered en-suite site. Apparently no such thing exists in Ballina, according to the lass who served me.  Powered sites aplenty but no en-suites. I was staggered by that. After Cyclone Tracy devastated Darwin, we had temporary accommodation in a caravan park up there which had an en-suite sites. That was in 1974/5.  I'd assumed that sort of site would be common-place in this day and age. New plan. Ring friend and see if I could arrive a night early. No problem, so off to Valla Beach. 
Some of the Valla Beach birdlife...
Cloudy day at nearby Urunga...

I ended up staying 3 nights with lots of photographic ops but before leaving, cleverly rang ahead to my next planned stop of Nelson Bay, north of Newcastle and asked for an en-suite site. It took 2 calls to get one but I was relieved eventually to find civilisation had reached that far.  The bonus turned out to be that I could leave my luggage in the roomy en-suite area and lock it. I had been concerned about driving into town and leaving the van which I went shopping or sightseeing. Vehicles aren't particularly hard to break into, I know.

Travelling on your own can be lonely of course and I discovered I'm poor company. What to do after dark when there's no TV or book to read? Not one to hit the clubs and play pokies, I bought a magazine to read. Then I discovered I couldn't open the back door. I'd had trouble before leaving Valla Beach but had finally opened it there. All the things I'd tried then didn't work this time. Another park resident saw my distress and tried to help but had to agree, it was not working.  Dusk was looming and I needed to get the bedding package and the electric cord to power the van.  Thinking there must be some trick to it, I rang the company and asked. "No trick Ma'am, just ring roadside assist."  Finally, the mechanic arrived, was also unable to open the door but using some brute strength managed to get it open and eventually found an old spoon jamming up the lock. Not from my utensils package but presumably had been kicking around for a while.  Thank you, NMRA.

I briefly thought about moving all the foam sections into the large en-suite room but decided I really needed to try this camping thing. In the end I decided to look on it as "an experience". The mattresses were a little too thin for my comfort so I put 2 on top of 2 others and tucked the one sheet in tightly around the lot. As it had been hot and I wasn't going to be leaving any windows open, I declined to use the only other bedding which was a sleeping bag. It had a funky smell and I tried not to think about what previous renters had gotten up to in there. However, during the night when temps dropped and I was shivering, I used it; after all it would have been cleaned after the last backpacker used it, right? In the end, after a very uncomfortable night because I gradually falling between the 2 mattress pieces, I didn't have to get up for the loo once! Mind over matter I'm thinking.
I had been getting up early every morning on the trip to see the sunrise and was defeated each day by thick, morning cloud-cover but finally was treated a beautiful sunrise at Shoal Bay before packing up and heading south. Next stop Gundagai!

I managed to spill 2 cups of coffee over myself and the van during the trip because there was no cup holder. That started me thinking that I could invent some sort of pack for solo travellers who have no one to pass them the tissues or hold their coffee instead of scrabbling in a handbag that went MIA the minute you brake or turn a corner. I daresay there is already such a thing and if I'd prepared properly I may have found something useful. Note to self: next time (in a motor-home) do some prep about the vehicle you'll be driving. The van travelled very well I have to say. No dramas or difficulties on the road and I kept up with main traffic although I suspect the speedometer was showing at least 5km faster than I was actually doing thanks to those roadwork speed signs that chastise you for speeding. That may have saved me from a speeding ticket in NSW when I was possibly over the limit when I passed a mobile speed camera.  We'll see eventually anyway.
I saw the sign to exit for the Dog on the Tuckerbox just in time.  I stretched my legs, took a photo of the dog and enjoyed an ice-cream while I checked Google maps. Where to stop? I hadn't booked ahead deciding I wouldn't be camping that night but getting a room or cabin somewhere.  

Gundagai was the original place I was headed for that day but now I was there it was so early I could continue to Albury and would arrive before 5pm.  Just for fun I checked to see have much further from there to my destination of Romsey which is to the north of Melbourne. Less than 3 hours.  Jeez, if I kept going I'd be there before 7.30pm! So I could spend money on a room in a strange town where I knew no one OR I could push on and be in the lap of luxury with my friends by nightfall. My training as a graduate of my ex-husband's School of Holiday Driving, whose motto was "Why stop when you can keep driving?", kicked in and after checking to make sure my friends were home, I set off happily on the next phase of my trip. Sometimes I felt like I was the only car on the road with nothing ahead of me and nothing behind. 
I even managed to stop a couple of times for photos. Loved this handsome tree on a country road Google Maps sent me down.
 The rock formations in the Mitchell Shire are called The Boulders by locals (although I couldn't find anything on Google about them) and at sunset were absolutely striking. 
We went back to the area on my last day to have a look around and although there were other different formations which were also amazing, I didn't think they had quite the gravitas the setting sun gave them.
I was as relieved to see Mr Darcy as he was to see me...

It was a great relief to hear "you have reached your destination" from my phone as I turned into my friends' street, 11 hours or so after leaving Nelson Bay.  I returned the van a few days later. Although I had "an experience", it's not one I'll repeat unless I'm in a motor-home with its own shower and loo and I'll have done some solid preparation and planning, working out what I need and where I'll stop each night. If that doesn't live up to my expectations then I'll know the Romantic Me has left the building.




Tuesday, March 26, 2013

WERRIBEE ZOO-MING...

We headed for Werribee Open Range Zoo one day.  It's quite a way from where we were staying and although we meant to leave early, by the time we got there, we only had a short time before our Open Adventure Tour. Hence, we were zooming around trying to see everything.
  
Although not technically an exhibit at the Zoo, these blue wrens were everywhere and jolly hard to snap. This one was hanging around the entrance, probably trying to sneak in for free.  
The first exhibit was this tortoise;  I think it's a tortoise (why didn't I take shots of the signs I ask myself now). At least they move so slowly I couldn't complain about them being too quick for my trigger finger. I remember they all seemed very interested in procreating, except for this guy.
During the zooming around we found this hippopotamus who looks a bit sad.  Just stood there with head hanging.  We would see some others later.
Perhaps he was spooked by this tourist who was dressed rather exotically.  We were looking for a photographer but she seemed to be on her own.
The meerkats have a couple of compounds and this little guy was in the first one as we walked around. 
Again, I was sorry I didn't make notes or photograph the signs because I don't know what sort of monkey this one is.  And can't help wondering what the heck he/she is doing....  rock painting perhaps?
This big brute with the sweet face had a blankey.  Yes, I kid you not; you can't see it here but firmly attached to his toes was a hessian bag or something which he toted around where ever he went.  So cute.
                There were a couple of gorillas so not sure if this is the same guy which I spotted later.
This lion was cunningly camouflaged to the point that when I first photographed him I couldn't see him at all because I'd focussed on completely the the wrong log!  Couldn't help wondering if he was cross eyed though.  We missed the lion show.  Zooming has its drawbacks.
It was a hot day and these African Wild Dogs (not to be confused with Hyenas) were takng it easy and although something got their attention, they didn't get up to investigate further.
These cheetahs wasted no energy on marauding tourists either.
After a brisk walk around the Zoo, it was off to the Safari Station to catch our ride around to ogle the savannah animals.
One of our carriages with our driver, Rhonda. There was bridgework going on so we had to dismount on one side of the creek and jump into another vehicle on the other side where we saw the zebras, giraffes and rhinos.
It's hard work to get a drink when your neck is so looonnnngg. Amused us all  no end watching this giraffe carefully position himself.  I think the giraffes were my favourites.
"Yes, I see 'em. Bloody tourists!"
"Are you, looking at me?"
This is Leroy the Rhino.  He was with some ladies he looks after but is apparently a cheeky and inquisitive boy and followed the truck around for a while.  Below are some of his ladies, snoozing in the shade.
***
Lots of zebras roamed the area and this mother and baby were a big hit.
How rude!
What's black and white and sits on black and white? Willy wag tail of course!
The ostriches were slightly inquisitive and not one had their head in the sand.
***
Is it just me or does this female Greater Kudu antelope look like Jar Jar Binks???
They're perfectly camouflaged for the bush, not sure how they'd go in space.
These Oryx antelope have huge horns which, of course, make them a target for poachers in the wild.
Another poaching target; but can't remember the name.  Death to all poachers!
They have some bison. The Bison in America story is heartbreaking, herds chased off cliffs.  There's a bit of a theme happening here with wild animals.  Man always wins.  If only the animals had learned to handle guns, the stories would have a different outcome.  
We came across more hippos but one turned her back when she saw us.  Strange creatures, they almost looked like mechanical animals while eating their hay; a lot of chomping but not much seemed to go in their mouths.  That was the end of our Open Vehicle Adventure and it was well worth the money.  

We ended our Zoo visit with a visit to the Meerkat Bistro.  I hadn't realised until we got in there that there was another meerkat compound in there separated by big glass windows from the Bistro itself.  This fellow was quite the poser, although apparently oblivious to us.
These leucadendrons were planted in banks near the Bistro and also put on a fitting show for us, given they are natives of South Africa.
*******
After zooming out of the Zoo, we headed over to nearby Werribee Mansion and its famous rose garden, whereupon we proceeded to zoom around the garden.  So pressed for time were we, we didn't even stop to admire the Mansion.  Next time.  Below are a few of the beautiful rose specimens we saw.
 




My favourite


Saturday, March 2, 2013

CLOSED TUESDAYS AND WEDNESDAYS


During a recent, week-long trip to the Mount Macedon area of Country Victoria with a travel sister to visit a mutual friend, we were treated to some magnificent food, wine, sights and company. Typically, we were also treated to just about all types of weather during our time there, except snow.  Bushfires were raging in parts of the area nearby and daytime temperatures predicted for the week ranged from 30deg to 38deg at one stage; yet actual temperatures dropped considerably below those predicted. We enjoyed a bit of very hot weather, some rain on a couple of days, endured chilly winds one day and we froze in our beds during a couple of nights.


I was keen to get some good photographs of flora and fauna, of course, and the number of subjects available did not disappoint.  Firstly, I was impressed with the crimson rosellas which frequent my friends' yard but they were a canny bunch who knew the minute I put my finger on the shutter button and either turned their backs or flew off.  I managed to get a couple of shots, despite wind blowing the trees around.  Somehow the wind also knows when I get out my camera.  
Our hosts have a magnificent pine tree in their back yard which they decorate for Christmas and I thought the cones were gorgeous.

I found a new man while I was away (be still my beating heart); so attentive and adoring of me, Mr Darcy was hard to resist. But resist I did, after all, his owner would not appreciate my bringing him home, although I enjoyed his comforts while I could.  My feline owners would not be impressed with a new resident in the house.
During a quick trip to the city one day for sightseeing, buying various delicacies, window shopping and lunching, I was besotted with this "graffiti" in Fitzroy.


We visited historical Sidney Seymour Cottage in Romsey where I was more interested in the plants growing in the old garden than in the unique cottage which was built during the gold rush days.  You can read all about the building here.  In the front garden there was a scraggly vine growing over some lattice.  Lapageria rosea or Chilean bellflower was in bloom. It is a delightful bell shaped flower with stiff, waxy petals and according to the Historical Society lady on duty, usually is only found growing in a hot house. By twisting myself into a pretzel shape I managed to get a couple of nice snaps.  


I also found some holly in that garden, which I didn't realise even grew in Australia.  It is classified as a weed here. There were no red berries on the huge shrubs but I guess that'll change in another few months.  That was also the day I got the nickname, Bambi, thanks to a new nonagenarian friend who is a little hard of hearing.





I didn't even look at the price of this carved, driftwood horse statue I saw in a nursery that was closing down.  I knew I couldn't afford it.  You wouldn't be able to ride him but what a statement he'd make in your garden.  

Lots of driving from town to town around showed us that parts of this area of country Victoria are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays because they're open on weekends.  Quite a few of our hosts' favourite restaurants and shops had signs to that effect hanging in their windows.  Major bummer as we were booked up for the Zoo on Thursday and were flying home Friday afternoon.  Still, we saw some interesting sights, like this gate in Daylesford and had some very tasty meals in different cafes.  More window shopping to be had.

HANGING ROCK - PICNIC AND WINE 
First, we visited Hanging Rock Winery to sample the local wine and were not disappointed. Our host liked it so much he purchased quite a few bottles. Worried about baggage weight, I restricted myself to a glass etched with the winery name.  Much to see there as well as partake.  Roses grow at the end of each row of vines and there are several rose beds dotted around as well.  They made a glorious show.                                                                                                                                   
The views are quite impressive even though, at the moment, more rain is desperately needed and bush fires are an ever-present spectre.   
The winery dogs were attentive but I was more taken with this trio of geese and dog.
  And is this rustic old wagon looked sublime under the massive spreading eucalypt.
***
On our last day in Victoria we actually climbed Hanging Rock and, although afterwards we did picnic, I must confess we did not drink wine and didn't even get tea because the tea bags were forgotten, however, the picnic fare our hosts provided more than made up for that.  Some locals believe the story of the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock is true, however, we discovered in the Hanging Rock Discovery Centre that it is not.  The film was adapted from the novel by Joan Lindsay who apparently played up the factional aspect of the story eg some kids went missing once long, long ago somewhere in Victoria but turned up later, or not.  The Display Centre is quite specific, saying that there are no newspaper reports to back up the story, although any search on internet will show there is still quite an argument about it. 


The climb to the top was well worth the effort; not that it was too strenuous as there are asphalt trails or steps most of the way to the top. I was disgusted with the amount of litter we found (and carried back down), some stuffed in logs. There were probably only about six other people on the rocks at the same time we were there but as we came down, a party of 17 excited school kids were on their way up with their teachers.  I sternly told the children not to litter.  "We won't," came the chorus.








The rocks are a rare lava formation which has been hewn over the centuries into some interesting shapes.  Some rocks had names like The Eagle & The Letterbox (which I didn't find) but we preferred our own names for them.  Like Winking Dragon .....

Or Cobra, although this is actually The Eagle.  
        Is this The Letterbox? I think it's more like The Phantom ... eeeeeek! Are they bones in there????
And this one looks like a miniature of our own Mt Tibrogargan, here on the Sunshine Coast. 
Once at the top, spectacular views abound, virtually 360 deg....
... even the odd ride.
To the left is the actual Hanging Rock and some scenery framed by the rocks.
It wasn't just the rock formations that were interesting. I call this tree Lightning Jack.
There was a group of butterflies dancing around up there and I managed to snap this one when it landed. It's murder on the dance floor apparently; looks a bit tattered and torn.
As well as the butterflies, there were lots of yellow insects flying around and on the way down I saw a clump of dried grass that was full of these guys who weren't flying faster than a camera shutter can snap. I called it the Love Bug Hotel.
And another crimson Rosella hoping for some crumbs from our picnic.  
****
This was the sunset waiting for us when we got home to good old Brisbane after our day at Hanging Rock. Pretty spectacular day all round.