In Australian Spring 2020 it was clear that Covid-19 will stay for longer, and that border measures won’t go away quickly. The NSW and South Australian border from Victoria was closed, as was the Tasmanian border. The only way to get into Tasmania was to drive (in your own car) straight from the NSW/Vic border onto the ferry in Melbourne. You could always get into Victoria, but you weren’t allowed to get out. And as I didn’t want to get stuck there, I bought another car, just as a temporal solution to go to Tasmania for a few weeks. I didn’t setup the car properly, just put a few plastic containers for storage from BigW into the boot, as well as a mattress. I also ordered a JetBoil MiniMo, as a multi-purpose cooking stove. I can use it for hiking, but also for normal cooking on the road, as it can simmer. Contrary to other stoves from MSR, which are just good for boiling water or melting snow. In order to save some additional money, I even got an adapter to use the cheap gas canisters from Bunnings with the RVR safety vent and bayonet connection. It’s such a waste, as they’re not refillable, but still cheaper as the camping gas cans, which are also not refillable, but lack the RVR. Anyway, I thought for a few weeks that should do.
The ordered JetBoil was never delivered. So in the end I went to Anaconda and bought one in store. Thus, finally at the 1st December 2020 I said goodbye to Michelle and left Sydney to drive off towards Melbourne. I wasn’t in a particular hurry, and planned maybe 5-6 days until I’m in Melbourne and could hop onto the ferry. So I went out of Syndey directly into the Blue Mountains into the West across the main dividing range. My first stop was at the Blue Mountains Botanical Garden at Bells Line of Road. I had a stroll through the Garden and watched some nice flowers. There was no view, as I was directly in the clouds. Afterwards I went down to Hartley Vale on a winding road, where I basically left Greater Sydney. In Oberon I had a quick stop at the former railway station before heading to the Oberon Dam. The Dam was initially built to supply water to Glen Davis Shale Oil Works, but then later that shifted to water supply for coal fired power stations in Wallerawang and later Mount Piper.
After Oberon I headed further westwards. I crossed farmland on sometimes gravel road. The small village of Rockley had a nice appearance, but there was not really anybody around. I made a brief stop at the camping area at Carcoar Dam (to take advantage of the free warm showers), before arriving in Cowra. Cowra has a well maintained Japanese Garden. The garden was designed after Japan decided to rebury all their Australian war dead of WWII in Cowra. I continued to drive westwards via West Wyalong to Hay. This landscape is agriculturally shaped, and for kilometres you either see grain fields or sheep meadows. Well, meadow is an overstatement, as the sheep eat the last blade of grass. In Hay there is Shear Outback, a museum dedicated to the sheep industry. This gives information about the past (less than 200 years), how shearing technology developed, which influence unions had in the past, and how many sheep could ben shorn per day per shearer (the record is at 346 per day).
In Deniliquin the old school is the local museum, which was free to visit. I spent an hour or so there, where all the white settlement (and hardship which comes with it) is explained in great detail. Not that white fellas, would have been the first people to have lived there. Deniliquin is famous for their annual Ute muster. Yes, they’re not only muster cattle and sheep, but also Ute’s. Technically, the original Australian Ute’s are a dying species, since the GM withdrew manufacturing of Holdens in Australia and eventually also dropped the brand itself. Now US style pick-up trucks are also classified as Utes, which is not correct, as Ute’s consist of a single chassis, whereas pick-ups aren’t. Anyway, Australians are shorten anything, and they would never speak of pick-ups. They stick with their utes mate.
I was approaching the Victorian border quickly, and in Mathoura I thought it’s a good idea to book my ferry ticket. Well, in the mean time things have changed. The border from Victoria to its neighbour states reopened incl. NSW and Tassie. Summer holidays have been approaching quickly, and international travel were still off-limits. As such, a lot of people had the idea to go to Tasmania. The next free ferry I could book was mid of January 2021. I thought fuck, now I’ve a bit too much time. On the small campground in Mathoura there was a retired couple. They invited me over for a coffee, and we had a nice chat. They just came over from Victoria if I remember correctly. And as we were talking I mentioned that I like rock climbing. So it turned out their daughter Jackie is also into rock climbing. She’s living in Natimuk with her partner, which is close by to Mount Arapiles. I’ve never heard of it before, but thought well, now that I’ve enough time, why not check it out. As such, I again changed my direction and headed further West. I crossed the Murray river in Koondrook. It was still a bit of a bad feeling, as you never know, if they would suddenly close the state borders again.
After Kerang (nice library btw) and via Quambatook I entered the Victorian wheat belt and headed to Hopetoun. In each small village along the railway lines you’ve this tall grain silos. The newest hype is now that there’s some artwork on those to attract visitors, which ultimately spend their money there (well the last part doesn’t work for me, as I’m such a bad capitalist and don’t spend my money). So on the way to Horsham I stopped at several silos for the artwork. Most of it depicted hard working white people. Only one made a reference to the indigenous people, who lived here a bit longer than just short of 250 years. But this is when history starts, deep in Nationals territory. At one of the silos I met Cheryl. We started chatting and it turned out that she’s an avid cyclist from Melbourne, and is just on a short roadtrip before Christmas to escape the city after their lockdown was finished. I made a quick stop in Warracknabeal before heading to Minyip. Minyip was the filmset for “The Flying Doctors” TV series from the 1980’s. I just stopped by and had an ice cream, but most of the town is definitely in decline since then. I continued via Rupanyup and Horsham to finally arrive at “The Pines” in Arapiles.
I stayed in Arapiles for about 10 days before heading to the Grampians. Over Christmas 2020 I went for a 3-day hike to “The Fortress”. After the Grampians I went to Port Fairy and then followed the coast line all the way to Adelaide. This closed the gap of the coast line I haven’t seen before, as in 2008 we went from Port Fairy inland to the Grampians and then along the main highway to Adelaide. We must have crossed Horsham back in the days, but I can’t recall it anymore. The towns along the coast are packed with people from the city. In Victoria from Melbourne and in South Australia from Adelaide. After Portland I went to Cape Bridgewater and had a short walk to watch its petrified forest (which are now rock formations). Crossing the SA border still required a permit. That still didn’t feel good to cross, but surprisingly there were no coppers at the border who would check anything. They are more concerned of introducing fruit flies which would threaten their agriculture business. In Mount Gambier I walked up the volcanic cones and had a look at both lakes in the caldera. Via Tantoola I headed to Beachport and did the scenic drive. I’ve heard Beachport has nowadays a decent butcher 😉. The next day I went to Robe. It was packed with yuppies from the city. I went to a craft beer brewery, but I didn’t like the vibe in town. So instead of staying there for New Years Eve I rather decided to head further north via Kingston SE. There is enough lonely beaches, stretching for several kilometres. The weather was fine but quite a bit windy. Nevertheless, at midnight I could even see the fireworks in the distance.
At New Year’s Day I continued my drive towards Adelaide. I crossed the Murray river at its mouth on a ferry on my way to Langhorn Creek. That’s a small village in the middle of all the vineyards. In Victor Habor I walked over the bridge to Granite Island (no, I didn’t need the horse drawn tram to get over) and had a stroll there, before heading over the hills towards Adelaide in order to enjoy the sunset at John Yeates Memorial lookout. In Adelaide I met with Tracey and her partner. I met them before Christmas in Arapiles, as they were on a road trip from Melbourne to visit family in Adelaide. Afterwards again I went bouldering in Adelaide.
In Adelaide turned eastwards, as my actual destination is Tasmania, and not Western Australia, which was off limits anyway back in the days. So over the Adelaide hills into the (almost) outback. I drove via Sedan to Swan Reach for another ferry over the Murray river. Then I loosely followed the Murray river in the following days. There are huge areas of irrigated land, and an ongoing big discussion about water rights all along the way. Because of the drought in recent years, and an increased salinity of the Murray downstream in SA the Victorian farmers can’t use so much water as several decades ago. From a global perspective that makes sense, but for each farmer in Victoria who doesn’t want to change, that’s a big outcry (no it doesn’t make sense to produce rice in Australia). If the irrigation canal is dry, you can be most certain that the Eureka flags are raised on each farm along the way. But in the end, if you don’t let the river enough water to survive, all your fish can only die once. Most of the farmers have their self-centric view, and all of them are only after their own profit, not taking into account their impact on the greater environment and society. And it’s fair to say, there is no monetary incentive to do so.
In Echuca I left the Murray river and headed towards the Victorian Alps. I stopped in Bonnie Doon and had a walk across Lake Eildon using former railway bridge to Mansfield. Mansfield is the base for Mt Buller ski resort. Now with the closed railway, we can be sure that everyone has to drive in his own car (presumably at least a 4WD, maybe even high-clearance for the potholes in the bitumen) to Mansfield to approach the ski fields. Don’t let people any choice, just drive your own car. And as such, I also have to drive through the Alps. I popped out in Moe in the Latrobe valley. The capital of brown coal mining. The dirtiest (but hey cheapest way) to produce electricity. And most importantly it safes jobs (a handful, but it doesn’t matter they’re potential voters). Further south on top of Mount Hoddle I had a nice sunset with views stretching all the way to Wilsons Promontory National Park.
After a few days hiking in Wilsons Prom I finally headed to Melbourne mid of January 2021. On my way I stopped at Phillip Island to watch the Penguins. They built a whole stadium for the observation, and you’ve to pay for it. In the end it’s such a bloody tourist trap. You’ve only a few minutes once they made it ashore, and then you get pushed out. Back in 2008, someone told us to stay until dusk at one of the beaches along the Great Ocean Road to view the penguins (it’s not Teddy’s lookout in Lorne, but I can’t remember the exact beach). And yes, after all the tourist vanished the penguins came ashore. It was such a wonderful experience to see them in their natural environment. Nobody pushed you away, and it was even the same kind of penguins.
In Melbourne Cheryl, who I met earlier at the silos, hosted me for a few days. We had some nice conversations in her apartment at the 20th something floor. In the night the police helicopter was soaring above the city and landed on top of the Victoria Police Headquarter in the night several times. It felt quite surreal and a bit like Gotham city. I was also able to catch-up with Cynthia who I met before in Alice Springs. We met at Flinders Station in the CBD and had a few beer at the Yarra river close by the MCG.