One Drive For The Bucket List

An unlisted ‘bucket list’ drive. Wed 8th April 2015. I’m happy now I’ve seen the mysterious, invisible lake on the edge of the Derby village, having climbed the hill and gazed into the jaws of death (a minor exaggeration, but the cliff edge was a bit scary).

Our Travel Australia adventure has already produced some amazing experiences as you may have read in previous articles and now we were looking at something entirely different.

We have agreed to consider looking after a roadside ice-cream cafe, 11 kilometres south of Bicheno on the Tasman Highway in June after we complete our Hobart mission at the end of May.Derby to Bicheno map

During the winter the business is essentially closed but still needs a ‘presence’ and today was the day to meet up for a coffee.

A bucket list drive. Wow.

It was overcast this morning, a few light showers had passed through but that means not a lot with weather gods so fickle. By the idyllic unhurried standards to which we have become accustomed this was an early start. By 9.15am we were on the road heading uphill to St Helens, a 70 kilometre run to the south east.

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The Invisible Lake

The invisible lake. Derby, Tasmania 28th March 2015. After meeting the three toed, clipped-nail Bridge Platypus yesterday and engaging in Friday night’s pub conversations that brought forth a strong desire to see Briseis Hole, for that is indeed the unfortunate name given the mysterious and so far unseen lake in the heart of Derby, we did something else instead.

What we really need to do before I fall off any cliffs and bring myself and our house-sitting career to an abrupt end is have a look around the area. After the resurrection of our now very drivable Nissan Urvan camper, this sunny Saturday morning was perfect for filling the thermos by two (can you say thermoses?) with brewed coffee, pack a few sandwiches (not platypus) and hit the road.

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The Platypus

The platypus. Saturday was drizzly weather, this second week of the Tasmanian Travel Australia, perfect for working inside, in this case putting together some business cards. Friday night at the pub and illuminating conversations reminded me that I need something to give people so they can find the Diary of the Universe website and tell them how to contact us directly.

But, I can’t postpone it any longer, tomorrow, weather permitting I am going to start on the expensive and for me, herculean task of bringing the van up to a reasonable standard again. I’ll start by at least removing the tail-shaft and replacing the dodgy rear universal joint, but first I need some quick pointers from You Tube about the process.

Fair enough, I’m doing the easier one first and it was obviously not technically difficult but I would have to improvise on facilities. To create a work environment, I slung a tarp between the trailer and the lean-to that served as a wood shed.

gderby 01

As it happened, Sunday was fine and the whole tail shaft process was completed without too much trouble. Next morning, with the encouraging success of the uni joint behind me, I almost reluctantly removed the front passenger side wheel and got to work on the ball joints.

For those joining me on this adventure without the joy of intimate knowledge of the front end of a motor vehicle, these are the swivels that allow your front wheels to point towards where you want to go. Rather important elements, I think I don’t need to say. That’s a crude apophasis for the word collectors out there.

They come as a pair (not the word collectors)  basically a big C shape chunk of metal with a ball in the top and the bottom. So far, so good.

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The Derby Dinner Dance

Today, Monday, we are beginning our next Travel Australia house-sitting assignment and our first in Tasmania. By lunchtime Neil and Liz have introduced us to our three hairy canine house mates for the next 35 days, save for Mika the cat who doesn’t do introductions.

We are actually living in what used to be the residence for the general store, shortly to be restored to its former role. Upon their return, the hard work in ‘restoring the store’ Anzac Day 2015 will see the birth of a new enterprise, coffee shop, takeaway and store combination.

derby 08

There are plans too for the small property next door which is home to some petrol bowsers and a small garage and this is where our elderly Nissan Urvan and trailer will live for the next month or so.

derby 01

We have an early dinner with our hosts and they head off to Launceston to be ready for an early flight in the morning. An overseas holiday beckons and they are keen to hit the road.

We are here, at last.

Tuesday morning dawned on Derby and upon us, clear as crystal, the sun pouring in through the old double sash windows. The air is crisp, very much like late autumn in more northern climes, the sun is warm and we seized the chance to sit on the verandah with a freshly brewed coffee and absorb our surroundings.

We are right on the main road, so traffic can be heavy, in peak sometimes up to 1 vehicle passes per minute.

This is Tasmania, only a quarter the size of our otherwise smallest state of Victoria and for us, the fulfillment of an unrequited desideratum for 20 years since our first fleeing visit when we could afford the time and cost of travel. A bantam sample of Europe in the southern hemisphere, more in common with the South Island of New Zealand than mainland Australia, this is like visiting another country and the strict regime of quarantine does nothing to dispel the notion.

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Crossing To Tasmania. At Last.

It’s overcast this March morning, on our Travel Australia, leaving the Lang Lang Caravan Park. We’ve packed up our little Nissan Urvan campervan and with trailer firmly attached, we’re heading for Port Melbourne where the ship taking us to Tasmania is waiting. The weather system that had brought the wind sweeping across the plains has passed and blue skies are predicted for this afternoon.

It’s normal for the drive from the eastern end of Victoria towards Melbourne to be buffered by headwinds. Weather systems originating around the continent of Antarctica move eastwards, highs, lows and capricious cold fronts, they move across the plains of Victoria and the 300 kilometres of this flat country offer little resistance.

We minimized our exposure by finding protected areas to camp and staying put twice, for two days spending the time reading, writing and simply listening to the sounds of the wind rushing through the trees and whistling around buildings. This diapause was no burden, no inconvenience, this was an opportunity to cease movement to revel in the experience, the joy of holing up, snug and safe, warm and comfortable while all around was in turmoil. These are memorable times.

We’ve developed a renewed interest in the weather, given the notoriety of Bass Strait and the hazards of negotiating its relatively shallow waters. Strong storms can blow up fairly quickly and there is nothing much between Antarctica and Tasmania. We’ve heard stories of crossings one would prefer to avoid. (If it got too bad, Julie suggested, I should buy a Viagra so I won’t roll off the bunk.) To keep costs to the minimum we opted for sharing all-male, all-female 4-berth cabins, so I figure I’ll give her advice a miss, assuming they put me in an all-male cabin.

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Salty Pandas and Boat Sheds

The bloody wind. With two great days of our Travel Australia adventure camped on the river bank near Marlo behind us, we continued our march westward and stopped for lunch in Lakes Entrance. Our goal is boarding the Spirit of Tasmania Ferry in Port Melbourne this coming Sunday. This is the only point in Victoria where the Princes Highway touches the ocean so unless we leave this highway, that’s the last sea-breeze we will feel for a while.

This is a very attractive town, worth coming back we comment, to visit the waterways of this district but we’re reluctant to move on actually, dawdling over lunch in the park taking in the sights and smells of the water front. Lakes Entrance 02

Lakes Entrance is also the most easterly point of the Eastern Plains, the exposed flat country that stretches westward over 300 kilometres, right to the doorstep of Melbourne itself.

As a matter of curiosity, on the other side of Melbourne, the flat country is called the Victorian Volcanic Plains and they stretch another 300 kilometres west, past Portland and almost to South Australia. They’re not called ‘Volcanic’ for nothing, in fact the whole area is covered in low craters and volcanos considered by many in the field to only being dormant ie a temporary lull,  with the last eruption only 7,000 years ago.

With no more excuses and gritted jaw we turned away from the gentle local sea breeze to engage with the full-on, in-your-face bloody wind that slowed our progress and exhausted our tired little engine.  After another 100 kilometres or so, we’d had enough of the conditions.

Obviously new and inconvenient, several highway roundabouts had just been installed on the ribbon of development that defines the eastern entrance to the unremarkable city of Sale. With no reason to stop, we pushed on against the wind, aiming for Willow Park, a free camping site another 20 kilometres west of the city, just before the attractive little town of Rosedale.

The park has a plaque that informs the visitor that ‘at one time this park was considered the prettiest park on the highway’. We couldn’t see how could have occurred unless it was the only park on the highway. We’re not saying it was ugly, but pretty?

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Swimming With Seals and Cows

Swimming cows and seals. We had already decided that Genoa was to be one of our stops and it was a mere 62 kilometres from our hilly campsite in Eden so we had no motivation to hurry. We refueled at the top of another very steep hill (in Eden? Who would have guessed?) and headed … Read moreSwimming With Seals and Cows

The Biggest Stingray Ever

The biggest stingray. It was a little sad to leave our new friends Arthur and Olive. The last 5 weeks of our Travel Australia house-sitting had been a lot of fun. We expected to enjoy their company and we were not disappointed. While we may be separated by a generation, we will miss Olive’s cheery if not necessarily musically uplifting singing and Arthur’s friendly “paper boy” when he brings in the papers every morning.

Bruce and Diane were almost recovered from the jet lag and they were there so see us off on another adventure, Bruce champing at the bit to get on the ‘ride-on’ mower and frustrated by the rain. I was pleased too that Bruce was keen to get a Diary of The Universe poster for his grandson who is teenaged and interested in science.

I had managed to complete the research and publish another article (link opens in a new window) … How to Make a Galaxy…but the task is enormous, 300 essays. Fortunately I still have nearly two years to reach my self-imposed and overly optimistic finish line.

The run South East from Bowral, even at this late hour (after 10am) engendered the feeling of excitement that all ‘going-on-holidays’ moments bring, a sense of adventure and joy that I doubt we will ever lose. It had been raining on and off all morning which had become normal over the last few weeks but I’m not sure if that is standard issue for Bowral at this end time of the summer season.

bowral to batesman

Within half an hour we were plunging down the range into Kangaroo Valley. This is not a difficult drive but in the rain with a ton of trailer, as I described it before, a cross between a blue heeler and a rhino, relentlessly trying to pass us like it was a race to the bottom, let’s just say it was ‘interesting’.

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