Tuesday, 26 October 2010

National Parks and Forests of northern NSW

The last ten days have been spent getting used to the scale and scope of exploring the National Parks both on the coast and up in the Great Dividing Range - both areas lacking in 3G or mobile coverage so the PLB has been a great re assurance as I have seen very few other cars or people - particularly up in the mountains at Nymboi Binderlay and here in Chaelundi. Mount Chaelundi is a high point and rather surprisingly had a signal hence this blog and photos.

The variety of wildlife both mammalian, avian and reptilian has been remarkable - sinister black snakes, colourful parakeets and the remarkable roos and wallabies have been highlights but perhaps so far the humpback whales migrating south have been the most awe inspiring.

The weather has generally been hot and sunny although a spectacular storm broke out on the coast at Yuraygir NP. The van has been performing well and I have stayed mostly on the NP camping areas so relied on strip washes, solar power and the odd wood fire in the evening.

I intend to drift slowly south spending some time in Barrington Tops before picking Sarah up a week on Saturday- it will be lovely to be reunited and explore together.

A number of good walks have been enjoyed in a mixture of rainforest complete with leeches and the drier eucalyptus woods with their lace martins (the tree climbing goanna) and colourful butterflies.

Pics here.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Settling In

So the first week on the road has passed without incident but with much progress. Munmorah gave me a very peaceful place to relax for a few days but being within reach of good beaches would I figured be busier over the weekend. Thus armed with information from the books bought in Sydney I headed for Watagans Forest a large (by UK standards) area of woodland straddling the sandstone escarpments of the Great Divide. Here at Gap Creek I took a walk and within minutes had encountered a variety of lizards and the like - the anxiety was mutual as was the desire to shin up the nearest tree.

I spent the night in a wooded clearing at Onley where the noise of the birds and other creatures at dusk was remarkable - during the day I had enjoyed extensive views to the coast from the lofty escarpment and met a wallaby hopping down the road towards me - fortunately he veered in to the foliage before I did.

With strong winds forecast I headed back to Gap Creek which was more open and spent a quiet night after cooking steak and all the trimmings on the gas BBQ provided (like the camping )free of charge.

My onward journey to Myall Lakes took in a shopping expedition in Newcastle for a variety of items to fill gaps in our inventory. The 'spare' spare wheel now has a cover and houses a washing up bowl; spare water containers, a new solar shower and food saw me right for the stay at the lakes which are inland waterways separated from the Tasman Sea by extensive dunes. Although it was sunny the southerlies meant that for me it felt comfortable whilst the few locals around were wrapped up and my chosen camping area was empty being right on the lake edge and subject to a refreshing blast.

Today started with a fix to the water tap/switch which had ceased to function overnight and I then dived beneath the van armed with a can of spray grease as the AQIS steam cleaning had left the brake, gear and other mechanisms devoid of both grime and grease. Otherwise all looked well under there and I decided to take the bike out for a spin - five hours later after an excellent ride along forest trails with lizards galore I returned for a shower courtesy of our 12v pump and spray head using water collected from the lake and topped up with a kettle from the hob - wonderful.

Finally trout cooked on the barbie as the sun set followed by strawberries and cream and a lengthy chat to Sarah rounded off a very enjoyable day and the end of a very positive first week.

Pics here and if you do get a copy of the SPOT message the link in that will put you overhead thanks to the wonders of Google maps.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Worth the Weight

Well against expectations I am at last on the road in the van which was released last Friday. I had actually quite enjoyed my time in the Jucy as the staff were all very friendly and the depot location gave me 3G internet access and was within walking distance of the shipping company offices. The incident with the compound's sliding gate was a classic comic interlude but for Thursday I returned to the excellent YHA at The Rocks with its superb terrace view and completed a number of tasks in the city.
I collected the van with a stern warning that it should have been steam cleaned before leaving NZ – not what we had been told in Auckland and then headed off to friends at Turramurra. I spent the weekend there being very well looked after and fed whilst I sorted out the various boxes, repacked in to cupboards and sourced new gas cylinders and a SPOT PLB.
Two good pub meals introduced me to the concept of 'barbie your own' and reacquainted me with Guinness before on Monday I obtained a second spare wheel for which Draig Engineering knocked up two fixings.
Later that day I stocked up with food before heading north to Freeman's Campsite at Lake Munmorah where I have spent today Tuesday just relaxing after a rather hectic fortnight. A 12v computer fan to enhance the fridge cooling has been fitted and the locator beacon and contacts activated alongside a few other jobs that will prepare the way for us to head off – my plan is to circle anticlockwise around northern New South Wales returning to Sydney in early November to collect Sarah.
Warm sunshine but a refreshing breeze set the scene – tomorrow might see the emergence of the solar shower!

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Still Waiting

The cunning plan to escape the city in a Jucy worked well until the head gasket blew leaving me stranded on the motorway until towed back to the depot. There the team agreed that I could base myself there in the same vehicle - an unusual but satisfactory arrangement as I had internet access and it was a short bus ride in to the centre to chase up all manner of things.

Contact with the shipping company confirmed that the long weekend had delayed cleaning of the van until today Friday but that it should be released in time for the weekend - we'll see!

I spent the day in Sydney yesterday allowed me to chase up car insurance and roadside recovery, buy a couple of guide books from Dymmocks where Rick Stein was signing copies of his latest fishy tome and look in to the purchase of a SPOT personal locator beacon which may one day save our bacon.

To escape from the confines of the Jucy I also returned to the excellent YHA at The Rocks for a night giving me a chance to enjoy the top class vew from the roof terrace and later walk through Circular Quay soaking up the atmosphere.

Sarah is filling her time at home with all manner of trips and treats and looking forward to coming out in just under a month - our plan is to drift south and head over to Tasmania for about 6 weeks but we may need to adjust our plans to take in the huge size of this vast continent.

Pictures here - finally mastered the new camera!

Sunday, 3 October 2010

The Waiting Game

After the pavlova of getting to Sydney the first night in the airport hotel went someway to restoring my energy levels and I caught the shuttle back to the airport on a gorgeously sunny day after contacting the shipping companywho said that the van was currently undergoing its Customs inspection. Trying to find Qantas staff who knew anything about our refund proved frustrating and with a heavy bag to lug around I hit on the idea of leaving it with the van so caught a taxi out to the address. Unfortunately the driver's sat nav took us to the right road in the wrong suburb - a fact I only discovered once he had disappeared. A second taxi took me back to the airport and on to the correct address where at Specific Freight the van was waiting in a large depot. It was amazing to see it sat there yet again after another long trip but there seemed to be some confusion over carnets and the van was likely to need quarantine cleansing. As Sydney was due to celebrate a long weekend off the van would not be available for almost a week so I decided to head in to the city to find accommodation and sort out a number of issues.
A brand new YHA in the trendy Rocks area provided clean good value accommodation with a view of the Harbour Bridge and Opera House augmented by the departure of a vast cruise ship. Later that evening a spectacular firework display lit up the foreshore and by early next morning another cruise ship had slipped in to the docks.
This combined with the long weekend off, a jazz festival and a major sporting event meant that all accommodation was fully booked which left me with a problem for the Saturday and Sunday nights as even the dive in King's Cross I found for Friday night would be full.
Meanwhile I made use of the time in the city to purchase a 3G modem, obtain my Qantas refund, check out book shops and car insurance and finally hit on the idea of renting a small camper for the period until ours became available. After a haircut where Frank from Naples recommended a good restaurant I checked in to the Formule 1 motel which was as noisy and grubby as I had expected. The Italian turned out to be a scruffy but bizarrely popular cafe complete with formica tables that did a basic but excellent bolognese with salad and bread for £10 - more than enough to fill me up.
Noisy revellers had me awake and away by 8 only to find that many shops in the centre did not open till late so I jumped on a bus up to the Jucy depot near the airport. Here after observing the skilled sales patter offered to other hirers regarding insurances and liabilities - cheap hire rates rocket skywards when you take out insurance cover but your liabilities are huge if you don't - I collected my vehicle which would provide car hire and accommodation for the next five days at considerably less than the hotel options left.
I headed slowly out of Sydney crossing the Harbour Bridge and heading north until I stopped for food supplies. As expected the Jucy Crib was far less satisfactory than the van with limited storage, facilities and space and being a 2l automatic petrol seemed remarkably thirsty for fuel. As I was still tired from the long journey I decided to stop at Stockton near Newcastle which is the largest coal port in the world - glamorous eh? In fact the site was on a peninsula and would have been OK had it not been for the holiday weekend crowds who occupied every nook and cranny. I was as a favour squeezed in and began to discover the full horror that is the Jucy - we had observed broken misshapen people emerge from their interiors across New Zealand and now they had even more of my sympathy.
Even for one the whole concept was beyond a joke but for me it provided a snug retreat out of the intermittent showers and a chance to catch up on some sleep.
The dongle worked well and I rang or skyped a few friends and family during the Sunday as I had decided to stay a second night rather than head in to the hills as the forecast was poor - mild but wet. Sunday evening was enlivened by most fellow campers watching the soccer match and celebrating in true Aussie style although by 10 the damp conditions had sent most to bed.