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.




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