Adventuring in Australia with Tackless II
Tackless II is a CSY 44' sailboat in its tenth year cruising the world.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
March 30 – The Run Back to Queensland
The next morning we parted ways with Mike and Kathleen. We felt our clock ticking, since we were to fly back to the US April 15th. We had emails from our yacht broker(s) indicating some interest in the boat, which stirred the pot of our mixed emotions. Being out on the road so completely away from the boat had really helped us gain a little distance, but it was getting time to tie up some final loose ends.

We had a great drive northeast out of Greenfell through Eugowra, Molong, Wellington, Dulon and Merriwa. We tried to stop for the night at Merriwa Caravan Park, a tidy little curve of park right in town on the edge of a river, but the weather became abruptly gusty and flattened the tent before we could finish pitching it! A look over our shoulder revealed ominous clouds building, so we packed the tent back up and waited a half hour for the park’s attendant to arrive to see if the park’s one cabin was available. Incredibly, despite there being no one else in this park, the cabin was booked for that night! Bugger!

Back in the car we pushed on. We were now re-entering foothills of the Great Dividing Range. Our intention was to drive north back to Queensland via the New England Highway that we had earlier crossed at Glen Innes going and coming from the Mann River camp, and maybe the next day detour to the coast via the scenic Waterfall Way.

As the day grew late, the rain began. The entrancingly-named town of Scone offered on the map a caravan park with cabins. Unlike most we had stopped in, it proved to be a very close-quartered kind of place, but they had a cabin we could back the Grey Nomad right up to unload all our stuff – food, bedding and clothes! Talk about nick of time! The rain came down in torrents. Sooooo glad we’d discovered the caravan cabin option

The next day the rain on our side of the Dividing Range ended, but the skies remained cloudy. The morning news was reporting heavy rains producing very serious flooding on the coast dashing our hope to cross the mountains by way of the steep and twisty but much-hyped Waterfall Way. So, instead, we drove all day the next day through beautifully hilly country with lots of horse farms on the aptly named New England Highway. Strangely, the fall colors of New England we anticipated for this time of year were confined only to the towns where non-native species like maples and poplars had been planted.

We stopped for the next night in Tenterfield, birth place of singer Peter Allen – famous in the late 70s and early 80s, particularly for the song “I Go to Rio”, “The More I See You,” “Bi-Coastal” and “Tenterfield Saddler.” Tenterfield was just south of the Queensland border and almost due east of our first overnight stop near Texas. On our own, we were too lazy to set up camp so opted for another caravan cabin.

The next day we carried on northeastward, rejoining our outbound track at Warwick, back over the glorious Cunningham Gap, and back through the golden horse country southeast of Brisbane. At Ipswich, however we bore off north to pass along the shores of Lakes Wivenhoe and Somerset, vast catchment basins supplying water to Brisbane and the Suncoast. As we drove past in hot sun, the water level was way low. In just a few weeks it would be overflowing!

To end out our trip, we wanted to spend a few nights camping in Mooloolaba. Every morning from November to January that we had walked out from the Wharf Marina to do our daily 6-10k beach walk, we had passed the little campground on the beach, and it just seemed right to end there. We also wanted the chance for a last goodbye to many friends.

It was hot and sunny as we pulled into the Mooloolaba Caravan Park, and, as it was mid-week we were able to get a site at the back right behind the beach boardwalk. The price, however, was about double what we’d been paying, and the site itself was packed dirt, with tree roots threaded through!

However, the beach was right there. We could hear the surf. We set up the tent and nipped out the back gate with our books and beach towels.

It was a perfect beach afternoon: clear, with a light breeze, and mild. We spent quite a bit of time in the water, although the waves were too big and dumping for us for body surfing. It didn’t matter. We just enjoyed swimming and then lying in the sun and soaking up a view – from the Moololaba entry channel to our right, right up the beach past Alexandra Headland to Maroochydore – that over the previous months we had truly come to feel was home.

That evening we had a grand reunion/farewell with our Aussie-based best friends, Tricky and Jane of Lionheart, now based at the Mooloolaba Yacht Club and Randy and Sheri of Procyon, just back from their cruise to Tasmania. It was a lively evening! The girls alone knocked back two bottles of bubbly! Dinner was the carvery roast beef at the Surf Club overlooking the beach, and the night went late with good food, good drink and good friends.

Later… poured. The heavens burst, the wind blew and the mud ran. Fortunately, we had put one of our spare tarps over the top of the tent, so there were no leaks, but the tide of muddy water was rising. Surely, it would pass, yes? Every time we went in and out of the tent we tracked in puddles of muddy water. Don and I hid out much of the afternoon at the movie theater in Maroochydore. In the evening we huddled in the cozy salon aboard Otama Song for a second farewell dinner with our friends since Tonga Peter and Sandy. But the wind continued to blow and the rain rained on.

And on. The next morning we gave up. We took advantage of a pause in the squalls and struck the wet tent, bundling the sodden mess into the trunk of the car, and drove back to the boat in Scarborough Marina. It was an anticlimactic return in some ways, while, of course in others it seemed like mighty good timing.

The boat had done fine in our absence, riding very high in the water having been emptied of so much of our stuff. The inside was very clean, but also felt impersonal with most of our remaining personal belongings moved off to a storage locker. It was very nice to have a guaranteed dry bed, one from which we didn’t have to get up from ground level, and a private, flushing head only two steps away. But the camping trip had done its secondary job, we were beginning to disassociate, beginning to move on.

It took us days to get all the mud rinsed from our gear and to get the tent dried and stowed.
Monday, March 30, 2009
March 29 – To Greenfell
Oh, it was hard to crawl out of bed the next morning!  Once we did, we found the morning dew had been heavy and everything was wet, so we drew out our coffee and cold cereal while the tent dried.

This day’s plan was to head west to the town of Greenfell to visit some Aussie friends Mike and Kathleen had made during the previous season’s camping in N. Queensland.   These nice people had invited Mike and Kathleen to visit them at home, but graciously welcomed us to come as well.  It was a goodly drive, and the farther west we drove, the flatter and drier the land became.

Arriving in Greenfell on a Sunday was reminiscent of our arrival in the town of Texas up in the north of the province.  The town was deserted and all the shops closed.  It was a surprisingly charming town center, though, with some interesting storefronts that would have been fun to explore.

Mike and Kathleen’s friends’ new house was a bit outside of town on a rise in a field that probably not long ago had been used for grazing.  A huge tree shaded a circular driveway, but everything else seemed baked by the sun.   The house itself was fairly new and combined their residence with a still-evolving bed-and-breakfast enterprise.   We were made quite welcome and given pleasant rooms of our own at one end of the house, which opened onto a big shared living and dining area.

Colin and Pippa, a couple in their 70s, were recently retired from a 4400 acre farm on which they had run some 20,000 sheep, cattle, and a few crops.  Not long ago, they had turned the farm over to their son, but all was not going smoothly…at least from Colin and Pippa’s point of view.  With fairly short dispatch, the son had abandoned the sheep farming his parents had sustained and passed on to him and shifted his attention to grass-feeding beef cattle in six-month cycles in what he described as “a holistic system of spoke-paddock rotation.”  Colin made no secret that he was sorely disappointed.

After lunch we went out to watch the son load 24 head of cattle into a truck. On the way, Colin pointed out the boundaries of the farm.  Afterward the cattle were sorted and loaded, Colin and Pippa showed us the abandoned sheep shearing shed which still held eight packed bales of fleece awaiting cleaning, sorting and packing, and Colin demonstrated the how the shearing machine would work.  I must admit I’d have loved to have seen an Aussie sheep station in full operations.

We walked up a hill with Pippa to survey the land and listened to her describe how their daughter-in-law – now mistress of their old house – doesn’t want her to drop in to see her grandson without an appointment.  Clearly retirement was not proving to be all it was cracked up to be.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
March 28 – Janolan Caves
After a snug night, we woke to a gorgeous morning. The sun was out strong in a clear sky, and the camp ground was filled with noisy birds. Despite our plan to move on, we got a slow start, lingering over Mike’s pancakes, and, after packing up, detouring on the way out to Katoomba’s Chocolate Factory to stock up.

Our route to the Janolan Cave took us back west toward Lithgow, until we turned south. The landscape again was gorgeous, rolling hills and forests, until we entered the final approach to the caves where the road grew narrow and twisty descending through tight forested switchbacks deep into a narrow valley bottom.

You never know what you’re going to get in OZ! After passing though an incredible rock arch, TaDa!!...we might have been in Disneyland. It turned out that Janolan Caves is a well-developed tourist destination. A narrow street of touristy shops and cafes surrounded the hotel complex, whose architecture was a hybrid of kitschy alpine and castle! We were funneled up to a second level parking lot, from which we hiked back down to the street, where we stood in line to buy tickets to one of ten main cave tours. The tours, each billed at 1-2 hours long, were grouped into three different price ranges, and, were we staying longer, we could have bought a whole package. The choice was unexpected! How to choose just one? We hemmed and hawed over options as the line moved forward, the best-sounding one -- “The Orient”— showing as sold out. Then, just as we reached the ticket window, the phone rang, a bus tour canceled and suddenly we were in!

The Saturday 1:30 tour for The Orient drew a good crowd, probably around two dozen people. The group ascended a hill and entered the mountain through a “new door” blasted in the 1950s in order to tour the cave top down. Our guide let us know that she preferred the old way, bottom up. May be, but I’m sure top down is easier on the old folks, and it was a damn impressive show as it was.

After the entry tunnel, there were probably five caves linked together by ladders through tunnels, all of which was theatrically lit in stages. How they place these lights (now mostly converted to LED) is a mystery. It would be like stringing stage lights through a giant crystal shop, with fragile-seeming formations the guide called “decorations” growing prolifically up, down and horizontally over every inch of surface! The chambers were named after different countries – Persia, Egypt, India, etc. – and colors varied from blinding white, to apricot to terra cotta. It was mind-boggling. Everyone took dozens of pictures.

And then we were gone! Back out in the glare of sunlight, climbing back out of the deep valley, back out into the rolling countryside driving in search of a campsite! One would never imagine such a fantasyland lurking below ground!

The afternoon growing late, we ended up near the town of O’Connel at a free roadside camp spot called “Peat Rock.” This was little more than an open sloping field with a desultory river at the bottom. The several “prime” sites – ones with tables and fire rings along the river -- were already taken, so we simply plotzed ourselves in the middle of the field. It was rather rubbly and not quite level, and we ended up making up our beds athwart the tent so that we wouldn’t be rolling downhill on top of each other in the night! We cooked a big dinner on the smokeless grill set-up – lamb, mashed potatoes and salad – and sat back to enjoy the clear sky. Despite being out of the mountains proper, the night air grew chilly, and after our long day of driving to and from the cave crawl, we all slept snug and well.
Saturday, March 28, 2009
March 27, Katoomba and the Blue Mountains by IMAX
Rain began in the middle of the night, and the next day dawned foggy and drippy. It was too wet for the long hike we'd planned, so we opted to start the day with a couple of loads of laundry. Dawdling over our hot breakfast, we talked more with Elton and Patty (ending up buying their cooler) and decided to follow their recommendation to go see the Blue Mountains IMAX film at the Edge, a multi-theater complex in town.

The movie was awesome, showing us not simply the Blue Mountains at their best, but views of the park we would never otherwise see. The film divided itself between male rock climbers ascending cliff faces and female climbers belaying down waterfalls into subterranean gorges and pools, all supplemented with lots of aerial shots. Plus, there was a side story about a hidden gorge with the last remaining stand of a prehistoric tree, 4-storeys tall, dating from the dinosaur era.

In the lobby after the film, we noticed a poster for a live Aboriginal performance in one of the other theaters due to start in minutes. The day still being overcast, Don and I spontaneously decided to nip into this show despite all promises of it being a touristy production. Mike and Kathleen demurred, since they had seen much of the real thing in their travels in North Queensland, but we hadn’t and most probably wouldn’t, and I do love the didgeridoo! It turned out we were the only people in the audience.

It was a very short show for the price, but we enjoyed it none-the-less. Called Goomblar’s Dreaming, the show was a mélange of didgeridoo, dance and narration. Of the two main performers, one looked very traditionally Abo while the younger one looked nearly white! The troupe fairly successfully cast the spell, taking in their dance the character of various animals important to Aboriginal traditions, and the didgeridoo accompaniment was haunting. At the end, the actors pulled me onto the stage to join the dance! Afterwards they made themselves very accessible, and Mike came in to take our picture with them.

Outside, the cloud cover was beginning to break up. The air would go hot, cold, hot, cold as the sun came and went. The 2.5 hour hike we’d wanted to do seemed unwise in the remaining daylight, so we instead we walked via the Prince Henry Cliffwalk to the Three Sisters, a famous set of pillars projecting from the cliff face. Although there are handrails and steps, it was still quite a descent to the bridge that crosses to the nearest “sister,” and once out there you feel quite exposed. It is an impressive spot, but it is the kind of thing that, guard rails or no, turns my innards to liquid and my knees to jelly. It was hard work to climb back up!

When the cooking hall was overtaken by rowdy young campers, we decided to cook our marinated pork chop dinner at our site on the camp stove using our “smokeless grill” – a funky US product shaped like a donut with a griddle plate on top we’d brought along from the boat. Mike rigged a tarp to the awning to cut the chill breeze, and that, good food and a hot toddy finally warmed us up. Over dishes, we meet yet another travelling couple, this time young Americans from Iowa just back to Sydney after travelling on a 1 month rail pass to Darwin. Like I said, we have always loved crossing paths with young world travelers like this.
Friday, March 27, 2009
March 26 – To the Blue Mountains and Katoomba
We woke up Thursday to beautiful weather with yet another dramatic change in landscape on the agenda. From Lithgow, Matilda and the Grey Nomad climbed the steep highway east into the Blue Mountains proper. Our loose destination was the tourist town of Katoomba, the center of all Blue Mountain hikes and tours, but we weren’t sure or agreed on where we wanted to camp. Obviously, the caravan parks were convenient with bathrooms, hot water and amenities, but we all kind of liked, at least in principle, the wilder spots. After a stop at an “i” center along the highway, we picked three possibilities.

The first several miles before Katoomba was a caravan park that looked pretty if a bit sterile, but the manager, once we found her, evinced such a decidedly bitchy attitude at our presumption of an unplanned arrival that we left promptly, determined to camp rough at a small “park” the map showed on Megalong Valley Road.

But Megalong Valley Road was mega long, carrying us down, down, down tight switchbacks reminiscent of our foray to the Mann Valley, but this time into ever wetter and wetter forest. At the bottom of the road, we found a cluster of sites, barely hacked out of the soggy woods with no river and not even an outhouse! After our cold wet stint at Mann, we decided we just weren’t up for that after all, plus it put us a fair drive from the center of things at Katoomba. So, with our tails between our legs, we climbed laboriously back up the road and pushed further into town where we struck pay dirt at the new Katoomba Caravan Park.

Although the camp, which seemed to have two parts – a sweeping “lawn” for tent and small camper sites and a “parking lot” for bigger C-class-style campers up above, was fairly full, they were able to put us both on one site on the far perimeter of the camp – one site for the price of two! Hah! Oh, well, it was perfect for us, with the cook building just next door, and only a slightly longer jaunt to the facilities. Those facilities had warm, tiled showers (which were quite a luxury) and a laundry! A far cry from the Megalong sites! Ah, well, you’ve gotta tough through life’s compromises.

We set up our tent on a square of fairly level, cushy grass and Mike and Kathleen pulled in behind us, popped Matilda’s top and put up her awning. Then we emptied the Grey Nomad into the tent so that four of us could fit in the car for getting around.

Our first hike in Katoomba was the Leura Falls Walk to the Leura Cascades, then to Bridal Veil lookout, and then to Copeland’s Lookout. The Blue Mountains National Park in Katoomba is honeycombed with paths that descend from the ridge top down the nearly vertical cliff front to the valley floor way below, most well maintained and marked and many with steps and handrails. You can go down one path and up another, or branch to the right or left for relatively level paths that parallel the ridge top. There are promontories at various levels producing precipitous views, plus a cable car and a tram. We returned to the campground via Echo Point, our relatively easy afternoon circuit taking about 2 hours!

Unlike the other two caravan parks we’d stopped in, the folks in this campground were super friendly, perhaps because the Katoomba area drew more international visitors. Don quickly befriended Rod and Judy, an older Ulysses club couple who were pulling a Camparoo pop-up trailer behind their Honda Goldwing, on which they had a “wedge-tail trike conversion” (“Five minutes on and off,” Rod claimed). The pop-up trailer opened up and out to include, when fully set up, a queen-sized mattress, a camp table, and even a covered patio! Don was totally entranced! How could so much come out of such a small container! Then over our dinner of kangaroo steaks and salad, cooked in the BBQ center, we became friendly with Elton and Patty, a Canadian couple from Vancouver who had been car camping Oz for two months. This being their last stop before flying out from Sydney, they had lots of stuff for sale. It’s always fun meeting fellow travelers!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
March 20-23, 2009 – Part Two -- The Two Captains Become Two Campers
In the local Aboriginal dialect, Mudgee means "nest in the hills," which turned out to be fairly apt as we drove south into the long Cudgegon valley. Said to be a three and a half hour drive from Sydney, the region has all the ingredients to make it a desirable weekend getaway for urbanites. The town center has lovely old buildings, dating from the 1850s when the area experienced a gold rush, in which today thrive artsy boutiques and cafes side-by-side with all the businesses of a modern Aussie town. Mudgee's wine industry was established at about the same time as the gold rush by German immigrants and although the region is now famous for its chardonnays, there are lots of other varietals for one to try at any of the forty "cellar doors". And we did. But I get ahead of myself.

Don and I arrived a day ahead of Steve and Rachel. We set up the tent in a pleasant, maple-shaded caravan park right in town, and set out in the afternoon to explore the main street, pick up a little something for dinner, and get Don a haircut. The town was gearing up for the weekend's big event, a film festival out at one of the wineries on Saturday night, which explained why Steve and Rachel had had a hard time finding accommodations.

Don and I had never done the winery thing. Our knowledge of wine goes only a little beyond the basics of red and white, and more practically usually focuses on bottles or boxes! Saturday morning, we poured over the pages of wineries in the Mudgee regional magazine trying to decipher how one goes about it. I mean where do you start? We ended up putting ourselves in the hands of the local "I" center host who sent us off to the Pieter Van Gent Winery and Vineyard which offered a "spit on the floor" indoctrination on Saturday mornings. We called and spoke to a sexy voice named Luciano to see if there was still space available, and he said, "Come now." It seemed like a good way to get a start on things before Steve and Rachel arrived midday.

There are vineyards and wineries and cellar doors, but not all proprietors do all three. The Pieter van Gent operation did. The winery and cellar were set under some trees right amidst the grape vines. We were welcomed by two unexpectedly young men, one of whom was Luciano of the sexy Italian voice, who turned out to be the assistant winemaker. Luciano was looking a little worse for wear, but we didn't find out until later that it was because they had harvested four tons of grapes the day before and had had to load them into the crushing vat without the use of their normal forklift! Luciano took us outside to show us a vat of freshly crushed red grapes, in the first day of fermenting, which emitted a most heavenly aroma.

The juice is then strained, mixed with yeast, and put into 300-liter oak barrels. There followed an explanation of the different yeasts used for various wines and of two different kinds of oak barrels: French and American. The American ones are made from raw wood and impart a more "aggressive" flavor, while the French oak is aged two years first. About this time we were joined by another couple just as Luciano started extracting tastes of young wine cloudy with yeast from different barrels.

From the keg room we moved into the cellar tasting area. Let me remind you that it was barely ten in the morning, but we proceeded to sample pretty near every one of about sixteen of the wineries products, from their famous Chardonnays, through some reds, straight into their equally famous Mudgee White Port. They even had a spiced vermouth I thought intriguing. The young fellows produced an endless supply of tasting glasses, and let me tell you, nary a drop ended up on any floor.

We tottered out to the car (having boughttwo bottles), and managed to dial the phone and determine that Steve and Rachel were just moments away from their nearby B&B. Somehow the Grey Nomad conveyed us to the correct location. Hopefully no one was watching. It was quickly decided, after greetings and hugs, that lunch would be a prudent next move! We ended up at the Blue Wren Winery's pleasant café and spent about two hours there sobering up while catching up. (The process involved a nice luncheon and some Mudgee ales and a couple glasses of their Merlots!)

Readers may recall that Steve and Rachel were at Vuda in Fiji at the same time Tackless II's paint job was happening. Their boat Apogee was also on the hard, awaiting the installation of a new engine, a project in the hands of Baobab Marine who just didn't seem to be able to get around to it. As it turned out, Steve's employer had once again offered him work he couldn't turn down, so it wasn't the disaster it might have been. And as that turned out, it was just as well they were in Australia rather than out cruising because Steve's Dad was found to have lung cancer and Rachel was able to be with him throughout the duration of his illness while Steve commuted between Sydney and Perth. A tough year for them, this weekend was one of their first getaways together since his passing.

We spent the remains of the afternoon visiting three other wineries, one specializing in French varietals, one in Iberian Peninsula varieties (Spanish and Portuguese), and one in Italians. We were much more restrained in this second go around, but all voted the DeLusso Estate's Italian reds our favorite. After our elegant lunch, we did a more homely dinner at one of the town's pubs. Unfortunately, Steve and Rachel's dinners were served about forty minutes after ours, a situation that is always irritating.

Certainly a highlight of our time with Steve and Rachel in Mudgee was as their guests at the B&B's sumptuous breakfast the next morning. Called the Myan Breezes Guesthouse, the house was a lovely modern estate with six rooms, surrounded by gardens and a vista across the valley. The hosts, Michael and Ruth, turned out to be former cruisers themselves, and so made an exception in our case allowing us as non-guests to join Steve and Rachel for breakfast. Our table commanded the premium view out the window, and the meal began with fresh brewed coffee and fresh fruit salad (with wild blackberries!) with yogurt, all ready at precisely the moment we arrived. Then we had a plateful of eggs, Aussie style bacon rashers, grilled mushrooms and tomatoes, garnished with sprigs of thyme, and home baked toast. It was altogether heavenly. I know we spend a lot of time talking about food, but, you know, when it's good, it's worth celebrating!

After breakfast we drove in two cars east to the village of Rylstone, gateway to Dunn's Swamp, a campground in the foothills of the Wollemi National Park on the west side of the Blue Mountains. We paused for a coffee in a small café with two friendly couples that rode in on their motorcycles. They pulled a table together with theirs so we could chat about their bikes – a BMW 1200RT and a Honda 1300ST – and about the famous Ulysses motorcycle club of which they were all members. The Ulysses Club has a minimum age of forty (for junior members) and claims a motto of "Growing old disgracefully," but they are a pretty upstanding group. I point this out because during this whole month Aussie outlaw biker clubs have been in the headlines daily for an ongoing gang war erupting in public places around Sydney. The Ulysses bikers are like us: "boomer zoomers" enjoying the riding for the riding's sake.

Dunn's Swamp was reached by another long, dusty dirt road. The remote campground is situated on a sinuous waterway created by a dam down river to provide, we understand, a steady water supply for a nearby cement works. We were concerned that the "swamp" might be as dry as Yarrie Lake had been, since bodies of water seem to be having a tough time surviving in Oz. We worried for naught, as the lake snaked away through yet another striking gorge, this one composed of limestone "pagoda" formations.

What was unexpected was the crowd! No place we had previously stopped had more than a handful of campers. The sites here were packed, and what empty sites there were were mostly "closed for native plant rejuvenation". Hoping most of the crowd would leave by evening, we parked the car without setting up and took off on a short walk along the lakeside path. Rachel is a great photographer and the winding lake and the unusual pagoda rock formations made great subjects. We also scared up a pair of lyrebirds, large birds reminiscent of roadrunners. While tracking them through the rocks, there suddenly came a great crash. Whipping around we caught a most embarrassed possum who had either fallen out of his tree or whose branch had broken off under him.

The good thing about arriving Sunday afternoon was the guys with the watersports concession were still there. Closed during the week during the off-season, on weekends they run a river cruise on a pontoon boat and rent out a fleet of canoe-kayak hybrids. We caught them in time to work a deal for use of a canoe on Monday, else we would have been up Dunn's creek without a paddle. (Sorry, couldn't resist!) They asked if we could swim, and we answered, hell yes, and licensed captains, to boot. They said, okay, you run the cruises and leave us the money. Unfortunately, they were just kidding!

Saying goodbye to Steve and Rachel that afternoon was the first farewell in Australia that we pretty much knew was going to be final. It was rather sobering. They have been in our lives for three years. We were very grateful they were willing to make the drive up to see us.

As hoped for, the campground gradually cleared out through the afternoon. Don and I stalked the campsites trying not to miss the ideal one. There were lots of tent sites networked into the woods and rock formations as well as along the water's edge, but we didn't want to get too far from the car where all our clothes and food would stay stashed and we didn't want a major midnight hike to a loo. We would have liked to pick a site down by the water, but several large groups lingered to the last minute, so we ended up picking a spot up the hill along the road where we figured it would be easiest for Mike and Kathleen to spot us if they made it in.

This was our first night bush camping on our own…and it was quite inconvenient without Matilda, because the campground was one of the ones with no picnic tables. We muddled through a pasta supper, and we did manage our own campfire, but the evening was marred by the crying of an unhappy child late into the night. We admit to un-grandparent-like thoughts. The next morning, we simply climbed out of the tent and into the car and drove down to a water-side picnic table to make coffee and breakfast.

How beautiful the "swamp" was in the morning mist. It was quite chilly, and we huddled around our mugs in all our clothes. Our cooking activity quickly drew the attentions of the local bush hens, a chicken-like bird with deep black and blue feathers and red legs and heads, and they amused us with their stalking. We were quite surprised then to see one fly across the water, although its water landing was essentially a belly flop.

We decided a brisk walk would warm us up so we set off down the trail for the pagoda formations. A short while and a little scrambling later, we were high above the gorge with a stunning view.

Later we ventured out in one of the plastic canoe-yaks. In the morning we paddled left a couple of kilometers down the twists and turns of the gorge to the dam, keeping our eyes peeled all the while for the elusive platypus. (Unfortunately, I forgot to bring the camera!) Not only was there no platypus, but, surprisingly there seemed very little wildlife around at all. Not even obnoxious cockatoos. In the afternoon, after several hours reading in chairs which we'd carted to a waterside campsite (by the time we were done we pretty much used the whole park!), we went for another paddle upstream, where it does finally become a little swampy. Swamp in this case, is tall dense grasses, gradually filling in the watercourse, but this direction also gave some great views of waterside rock formations.

As the afternoon waned the skies grew threatening, and we had a stiff paddle back to the campground. I landed Don on the nearest beach so he could dash up and close up the tent. When he got there, Matilda was squeezed into our niche and Mike and Kathleen were just zipping us up. Whew! We were back in the hands of professionals!

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March 23, Dunn’s Swamp - Part Two
With the family with the crying baby departed (along the majority of the other campers), it was a much more pleasant night our second night at Dunn’s Swamp.  Plus, despite our usual tendency to prefer being on our own, it was good to have our mentors Mike and Kathleen (not to mention the conveniences of Matilda) back close by!  We reprised the coffee at the misty waterside and then together walked the now emptied camp, particularly the waterside sites, where we found there were just enough other campers left to make it not worth moving our campsite.

After a proper Content-inspired breakfast, we all set off on the hike known as the Weir/Long Cave Circuit, starting with scrambling back up to share the Pagoda lookout experience.  Beyond the Pagoda, the walk was long, hot and rubbly, though not terribly strenuous, but we reached the dam we had paddled to the previous day having made a big dent in the water we carried.   Beyond this, around the base of a hill was the Long Cave where there were alleged to be aboriginal cave paintings.  The cave was more of a long overhang, and while we identified what might have been some ancient hand-prints, all in all the graffiti overwhelmed the effect.  It was a long hot walk back to camp on which we finished off the last of our water, so upon our arrival back at the beach, we all walked directly into the lake.  Very cold, but very refreshing!

While Mike opted for a post-lunch nap, Don, Kathy and I carried chairs and books down to the waterside for a lazy afternoon of reading.  Later, Kathy rounded Mike of to make last use of the canoe-yaks, while Don and I explored the first bit of the Waterside Walk, a trail that led off the opposite direction around the swampy end of the camp.  We stumbled on two kangaroos at the start and further on with the dense brush at the turn of the shoreline caught a fleeting glimpse of the elusive swamp wallaby, but otherwise the animal life was quiet.

Drinks, dinner and a blazing campfire beneath the stars kept us awake and social until after 11pm!  A big possum found some bread Don had tossed and he ignored us utterly as he munched in the firelight.

March 25,  To Lithgow

Although the next day was a planned moving day, we decided that we couldn’t let a walk go uncompleted, so we all set off after coffee to do the rest of the Waterside Walk, a 5+k jaunt that swerved up hill and down in and away from the watercourse and ended up at the “gauging weir,” at the upstream end of the watercourse.  Highlights were kangaroos streaking away from our approach, a tree with unusual flowers that were attracting local bees, and a sole blue and scarlet parrot.  It all took longer than expected and it was nearly lunchtime when breakfast and packing up were completed.

Our drive south out of the dry forest and pagoda formations of Dunn’s Swamp and Rylestone produced an abrupt landscape change.  The road dropped out into a long valley paralleling a dramatic escarpment on our left, our first look at New South Wales’ famed Blue Mountains.  This is coal country and as the hills grew closer together as we neared Lithgow, we drove beneath conveyors carrying coal to a nearby power plant.  On a whim, Mike turned into the Mt. Piper Power Plant entrance to see if we might arrange a tour.

We discovered that plant tours are usually offered in the morning, but we were lucky that management had a special tour for some financial mucky-mucks scheduled and they graciously allowed the somewhat skuzzy looking American campers to follow along.  It proved very interesting.  Unlike America, in Australia power plants are located as close to the coal fields to minimize the cost of transporting the heavy coal.  The plant had two generators each capable of producing 700 megawatts of electricity out to the grid at 330,000 volts!  We saw the control room where engineers try to balance production with demand, we peeked through portals at the blinding blaze of combusting coal, we felt the vibrations of the huge generator, and gazed down on the fields of coal and the rain from the cooling towers.  We learned a tremendous amount about energy production, including Australia’s drive to have the cleanest coal use possible and their many strategies for conserving water, a scarce resource.  Even so, the quantities of water and coal needed are mind boggling.  Our glimpse at the hugeness of one afternoon’s consumption in just one plant makes very real the questions of Earth’s finite resources.

We came out of the plant to lowering clouds and the rumble of thunder.  Our impromptu stop had delayed us from planned reprovisioning in the small city of Lithgow and we had no camp reservations awaiting us.  We dodged raindrops to shop in a well-stocked Woolie’s in town, and as dusk fell backtracked a bit to find a campground with not just space available, but a rental cabin.  With the rain now falling steadily, Don and I were keen to leave the tent in the trunk.

Evidently, it’s a fairly common amenity at Aussie campgrounds to have a row of units, usually on wheels, available for tenting and motorcycling campers to have the option of a soft bed, a hot shower, and a dry night.  Not quite an RV, not quite a mobile home, not quite a cabin, these units are little motel rooms on wheels.  You bring your own sheets and bedding, but pots and cooking equipment -- like a double hotplate, electric frypan and microwave -- are provided.  We were lucky to find one unit available at a campground north of Lithgow.

With the rain continuing and the temperature outside dropping, we were all happy to have a warm, dry place to gather for supper.  There was even Internet!  And  won’t deny it was a sweet moment of payback that Mike and Kathleen had to go back out through the rain to sleep in the chilly Matilda! We hardly minded that the bed sagged in the middle!

Saturday, March 21, 2009
March 11-20, 2009 – Part One--The Two Captains Become Two Campers
Australia is a huge country, and like the US, touring one corner does not count for seeing the whole of it. We did NOT see Uluru (Ayer's Rock), Alice Springs, Tasmania, Darwin, the Great Barrier Reef, the Kimberlies or Perth – all destinations on our wish list. BUT, our month crisscrossing the countryside behind Mike and Kathleen of Content in their campervan Matilda, did give us an amazing sampling. Obviously, we will have to come back.

Our departure was delayed first by Kathleen being laid up with a bad bout of sciatica. Kathy is a fit and active woman, but she and Mike had just spent a couple of months in the boat yard rebuilding and refitting their two wooden masts (they ended up replacing their mizzen with a new aluminum one), literally backbreaking work in the hot Aussie sun. As she began to bounce back through a combination treatment of muscle relaxants and exercises, we were delayed yet again by late-season Cyclone Hamish running towards us off the Queensland coast. The one good thing about a southbound Queensland cyclone is that the dangerous semi-circle is on the seaward side…as long as it stays offshore and doesn't turn inland. The forecast had possible tracks that included Moreton Bay, the bay where Scarborough Marina perches on a point, but although it brought several days of strong blustery winds and rain, causing old T2 to heel in her slip, it fortunately never did get here. At that point we had delayed so many times for one thing or another, we were actually thinking of taking he tent and mattress back to the store. But, finally the cyclone doubled back on itself and fizzled, allowing us to finally hit the road Thursday the 11th, both vehicles packed to the brim.

I don't think we have properly introduced you to our Aussie wonder car. It's a 1990 silver Toyota Camry four-door sedan, and it is a jewel. Don calls it the Four-wheel Harley and I call it the Grey Nomad, the nickname here for Australia's campervaning retirees. In the trunk we had a carton of pots, pans, plates and utensils from the boat; a borrowed one-burner camp stove; a carton of food; a borrowed cooler for food; a crate of leftovers from our booze locker; a dishpan, assorted sponges and dishtowels; a bag of blue tarps leftover from Fiji; a dust pan and a fly swatter. In the back seat, we each had one of our roller duffle cases, a bag of books, a computer, two camp chairs that we have been carrying since St. Thomas, our brand-new untried tent, a double self-inflating camping mattress, and a bag with two pillows, two summer-weight blankets, and a set of dark green sheets that used to be our charter sheets. Oh, yes, two foul weather jackets and an umbrella… just in case. In the front seat were a road atlas, a campground guide, a Lonely Planet, two water bottles, a mini-inverter to charge 110v gizmos from the cigarette lighter, and a large bag of Aussie gorp – a mix of nuts, dried fruit, and yogurt-covered somethings.

Our first day's drive took us southwest from Brisbane on the Cunningham Highway through lovely rolling countryside dotted with horse farms. It's Fall here, and the fields were deep in yellow grasses dotted by glades of tress. I'm told that most all the trees you see in Australia are some variety of gum, but the only ones I recognized are the white eucalypts with the peeling bark. Then the road began to climb steeply up the Great Dividing Range. We had plenty of time to appreciate the views as we discovered that Matilda goes uphill even slower than the Grey Nomad. The tops of the mountain were wrapped in wet and mist as we climbed with sheer crags on the left side and bellbirds bong-bonging away in the adjacent rainforest.

We came down quickly enough out of the cool and drizzle into a terrain of grass prairie and dry forests. We were bound for one of Mike and Kathleen's favorite parks in the hills just over the state border into New South Wales near a town called, of all things, Texas! Around 3:30pm, though, in the midst of a stretch of woods, Mike decided we wouldn't make it before dark and turned off the pavement down an unmarked dirt track! We followed tentatively well away from the road until Mike rounded up into a gap in the trees.

Welcome to bush camping! Of course, all Mike and Kathy had to do was pop their top and they were home. The Two Captains,…err the two novice campers, had to put together their tent for first time! Mike is a very mechanical do-it kind of guy, so he had to have a finger in the job. But I must point out that the boys' secret weapon in assembling the construction of poles, netting and nylon was having someone willing to read the instructions: Namely me!

Leaving Don to pound in the last of the tent pegs, Mike set off with a shovel to dig the latrine. The Content-ers carry a folding toilet seat which is a very handy thing to have. With the addition of one of our tarps and a roll of TP, we had the nicest facility of the whole trip. What's not to like about a loo with a view?

Before departure, Kathy and I had done a whirlwind tour through Woolie's (Woolworths is one of Australia's major supermarket chains) in the course of which I happily learned we would not be eating "rough." For our first dinner, I sliced and diced as Kathy whipped up a one pot meal of pork chops with mushroom sauce and rice along with corn on the cob, while Mike built a campfire from the wood Don collected.

Matilda the campervan is a mighty nice asset. She is a 1988 whitish, diesel Nissan Urvan, a slightly longer than normal pop-top van, fitted out with a sink and counter and propane fridge behind the driver with a swing-out cabinet for pots and pans fitted with a two burner stove and broiler on top behind the passenger seat. While Kathy stood at the stove and sink, I could do my chopping at a swivel table while sitting in the seat that would later convert to their bed. With 12-volt lighting, it was a cozy place to work.

Dinner and a toddy or two around the campfire set the routine for all subsequent nights. We listened to a lot of jaw-dropping stories about the off road jeeping our gurus used to do in California's rugged Sierra mountains or in the wilds of Baja. Many of the tales involved vertical ascents by jeep up places I'm not sure Don or I could get by foot! As the fire crackled, we could hear but not see the occasional traffic on the road beyond the trees. Aussie drivers, even the huge double truckers, avoid driving at night because the kangaroos are nocturnal. We were disappointed not to see any wildlife that night, but there was bird chatter at sundown, and a full moon above the treetops.

We slept fairly well that first night, getting used to being on the ground. The hard part, of course, is how far up you have to get, to get up…especially in the middle of the night! I'm not sure I didn't feel more "out there," bare-butted in uncharted woods, than I ever felt on the high seas! I was very grateful for the Content-ers' seat of ease.

One doesn't awake in Oz to the sweet twitter of birdsong. Day starts with the inane laughter of the kookaburra (a kingfisher species who has lost its way to the water) and is followed by the screeching of cockatoos, the squawking of various parrots, and the complaining of crows. The crows here go "Ahn, Ahn ahn, awwwwwww." Very loudly.

After coffee and egg and sausage burritos (oh, YUM!) we struck camp and continued on through Texas, which is appropriately named as we were now in the midst of cattle country. At the small town of Ashford we turned up a dirt road that ran twenty-some kilometers back into hills increasing dotted with granite boulders that would do the Baths proud. Every so often the road would clatter over a cow and sheep grate or dip down through a gully with water in it. Our one wrong turn rewarded us with the sight of our first two emus, ostrich-like birds, making a getaway through the woods.

Lemon Tree Campground in Kwiambal National Park was our first official campground. The camping area was loosely defined on a grassy glade we had to share with a "herd" of kangaroos who sprawled lazily on the grass they munched. Aussie camp-sites are defined by a parking notch and a fire ring and one or more drop toilets (aka outhouses). Matilda would stay in the notch while we pitched our tent on the grass. At the bottom of the slope was a gorge of granite boulders through which ran a river so lazy we couldn't tell which way it was flowing. The midday temps were so hot that a swim was in order. The cola-colored water was surprisingly cool, especially if you stuck your feet down.

We indulged in a lazy afternoon, reading, napping and kangaroo watching. After a year and a half in the country, Mike has become quite knowledgeable in the birdlife and introduced us to our first butcher bird (so named because they are meat eating) and the willy-wagtail who boldly make their way into your camp. Aussie birds, he explained, are often named by obvious traits. In the evening the bush-tailed possums came to check out our pasta dinner, their red eyes glowing in the reflected light, their silent vigil on a tree limb above occasionally jarred by screechy territorial disputes.

The next morning we all went for an "early" hike. Well, it was supposed to be early, but Don and I slept so well snugged together against the morning chill that we actually didn't hear the "whizzz-bang" that announces the egress of Mike and Kathy from the campervan! After slurping down one coffee, we set out on the track to "The Junction". We'd been hoping with an early start we might spy a timid platypus in the river, but instead we disturbed a huge flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos that set up a ruckus. We learned later that the cockatoos actually post a watch while the rest graze!

The first leg of the hike, about 1.5km, led to a string of overlooks above a huge gorge. Clearly there have been times when a great deal more water rushed through here. Still fighting her sciatica, Kathy grudgingly let Mike turn back to camp at the halfway point, while Don and I continued on down. The trail led up and down and over great boulders another few kilometers to the Junction proper. WOW. How I wish I were a painter like my parents were! The path led down a bank of rock to a valley where two river beds come together in a granite jumble. White cockatoos flew across at eye level from one piney hill to another, and there was no sign of mankind except for the big spots of white paint on the rock that marked the way down.

By the time we trudged back into camp, M & K had another luxurious breakfast ready, this time one right out of our charter menu: bagels with smoked salmon and all the fixin's! The food must have smelled good because we had a visit from a lace monitor lizard, an Australian cousin to the Komodo dragon.

The next morning, after packing up, we detoured to the other section of the park and took the trail there down to MacIntyre Falls. This would be the "other" river course that feeds into the Junction. The actual trail was short, but it led us right down onto the sculpted rock. We spent an hour or more clambering over the backs of huge boulders to get where we could see the falls and pools cupped deep in the granite gorge. It happened to be Sunday, and I've never been in a cathedral more majestic!

Being Sunday, Don was foiled in his hope to score for his mid-morning snack an authentic Aussie meat pie from the bakery in Ashford that claimed to have the best meat pies in the country. Things are pretty quiet in small Aussie towns on Sundays. The main streets are like something out of the Wild West, parallel strings of flat store fronts that always includes at one end or the other a commercial hotel with decorative wrought iron across the façade and a pub. Parking is either in the center of the street or diagonal or both, but always stern to.

Thwarted in our quest for pies, we drove on south to Inverill, a much bigger town with a Woolies where we could replenish our stores. Our big score here was a polyester quilt for $22. Don was skeptical that there would be space for it in the car, but that quilt would soon be our salvation!

Before leaving Inverill we collected a whole slew of tourist brochures on places to go from the local "i" center. Most Aussie communities have one. We also whipped up some sandwiches in the town park where the entertainment highlight was the Lion's Club "Exceloo", a fully-automated, space-age rest room. You push a button, the door slides open, you step in, the door slides shut, and a voice tells you you have up to ten minutes! Then the muzak kicks in! TP is dosed out like an ATM receipt, the toilet flushes itself, the basin dispenses soap and water and blow dry automatically as you pass your hands by, and, if you're are lucky, the door opens again on your command! Beam me up, Scotty! I actually said that as a teenager rode past on his bike, and he looked at me like, "say what?"

Mike and Kathleen had warned us that they were prone to wandering, so it wasn't a real surprise when we swung back east into the mountains of the Great Dividing Range for our next campsite. Our destination was another of their favorites, the Mann River Campground. We climbed eastward across the New England Highway through Glenn Innes, where, by golly, the town's street trees of a distinct maple persuasion were turning fall colors. We turned off on a side road that led through deep woods and then plunged in tight switchbacks down, down, down to the Mann River valley. (Don and I wondered if Matilda would be able to climb back out again.) Rock wallabies perched on boulders by the roadside, while fern fronds attested to our nearness to the rainforest, and at one bend, Mike came to a halt in order to collect wood for the campfire from fallen limbs along the roadside!

At the base of the hill, the campground opened up in a meadow along a babbling river. Perhaps a dozen sites were strung out along the bank beneath tall pines, although there was just one drop toilet set on a rise a fair hike from the river. A couple of campers were there before us, but we got a big area to ourselves, set up and then went for a swim in the swimming hole downstream. It was as the sun was setting and we were grilling and assembling cheeseburgers, that we noticed the lightning to the north. By the time it was dark and the camp fire was blazing, we could hear thunder, even though the sky overhead was bright with stars.

By morning it was gray and COLD! Nobody was laughing at my quilt now! The thunder was now coming from the south, and by the time coffee was ready we were all huddled under the awning Mike had providentially set up as the rain began. It rained hard, and got colder and colder. Even Kathy's hot breakfast couldn't ward it off, so eventually we all climbed into our respective vehicles, running the engines for heat! We spent the whole morning, reading behind steamy windows. At lunch time we emerged, and under the awning I started a pot of veggie soup. About the time we finished, a patch of blue had begun to take shape in the south. Then a frontline of clear sky assembled and slowly but surely pushed the cellulite-puckered rain clouds firmly off to the northwest. How bizarre! We went from freezing cold to hot and sweaty within an hour!

Don had checked the tent several times during brief breaks in the rain, and it seemed to be doing fine. However, as the blue sky rolled in we discovered a puddle had formed somehow and wet the bedding, so we spent a good part of the afternoon stringing clotheslines and hanging things up to dry. Afterwards we strolled down the dirt road that once upon a time was the major thoroughfare of the region between the coast at Grafton and the hinterland behind the mountains. Kangaroos were everywhere in great bands.

That evening the stars were very bright, at least until the fog rolled in. It got so thick, it was hard to find our way to the loo. Don and I remade our bed and snugged down under our blankets and the quilt. "This," Don said to me, "was a good idea." In the morning it was Mike and Kathleen in the van who were freezing! Was it a coincidence that our route took us back through Inverill and back through Woolies? Maybe, but Kathleen came out with their own $22 special!

Looking for a drier option for the night, we pushed due west again. We came rapidly down out of the mountains, through the rolling prairie, all the way out into flat, flat farmland. Our goal was Moree, famous for its hot springs. Here we set up in Gwydir Carpark and Thermal Pools, a regular campervan park, complete with showers, toilets, laundry and even a kitchenette. We set up the van and tent on our assigned strip of lawn that we belatedly realized was directly under the security light! Don layered up several tarps over the tent's rain fly which may not have been pretty but did knock down the illumination level inside the tent from broad day to at least twilight.

We hustled into our bathing suits and made our way over to the pools. There were four very large round pools each a different temperature. It is a rare treat for yachties to immerse ourselves in hot water! For Kathy's persisting sciatica it was heaven, and I won't deny it felt pretty good to these two captains. We had our own share of sore muscles and stiffness from the hikes and sleeping on the ground, although we can't say that following the prescription of plunging into the cold pool last did anything for us.

Moree was definitely an Aussie tourist destination. The park was full of trailers and pop-ups, and the pools were well attended. Some of the accents in the pools were so thick that we just nodded and smiled without a clue of what had been said! No foreigners but we were there. However, in the kitchenette that night we did meet a fellow towing an American amphibious duck, essentially an amphibious jeep built by TKTK for World War II. Restoring the war relic was this fellow's hobby, and he was on his way back from TKTK, where disappointingly his baby had failed to run and so missed the parade.

From Moree we headed south to Narrabi to check out the Australia Telescope, consisting in this location of 6 22-meter radio telescopes. There's an Aussie movie Don and I once saw on a plane called "The Dish", about the Aussie telescope that received Armstrong's first words from the moon. That wasn't here, however. That, I believe was the Parkes scope, somewhat to the south. However, despite being set out in a hot, fly-plagued savanna, it was a pretty informative display. The telescopes, however, were idle for service.

We had thought we might stop over night out at nearby Yarrie Lake, but we barely survived a sandwich there. In the midst of hot red-clay country and thanks to Australia's ten-year drought, there is no lake at Yarrie Lake anymore. Campsites ring the dry, grass-filled depression with nice concrete pads, picnic tables and steel shelters, but the flies were horrendous. We packed up as fast as we could and beat a fast retreat south.

It was a great relief when the road rose up from the dry plain into a huddle of mountains called the Warrumbungles. How quickly things can change! The landscape coming into the pretty town of Coonabarabran lifted and rolled with nice forests and billboards for the world's largest virtual solar system. It seems Coonabarabran (don't you just love saying that!) is the "Astronomy Capital of Australia". The virtual solar system places the planet billboards around the countryside at appropriate scaled distances from the Siding Spring Observatory, which serves as the "Sun" from its mountaintop in the State Park. In the course of the next week or so I think we encountered all of the planets except Saturn!

We bypassed Coonabarabran's in-town caravan park in favor of the Warrumbungle State Park. (I also love saying Warrumbungle!) It was quite a drive out through the steeply lumpy mountains, but we were rewarded with more emu sightings by the roadside! The park's visitor center was closed when we arrived so we continued up to the campground on the hilltop and selected two side-by-side sites with a million dollar view of the surrounding mountains.

This state park was somewhat more in the fashion of US parks with four camping areas to choose from, (two with powered sites and one for actual big-rig RVs, which are fairly rare here), but there was no more than a handful of campers in the whole place. Again, instead of placing picnic tables at each site, this campground had a big eating area with four grills (each with two side burners for pots) and about eight tables. Up the hill was a service block with hot showers, toilets and a washing-up area. It was a perfect place to grill the butterflied leg of lamb we'd found at Woolies! (BBQs in Australia are not what we Americans think of as grills; they are big flat griddles…which is just a little disappointing! Still the lamb was outstanding.) It was late when we finished up eating, and while the boys were up doing dishes and Kathy and I were packing up, we were startled to notice an owl sitting on the step watching us from about five feet away! Punch another hole in the wildlife card!

Warrumbungle State Park was another great wildlife spot. We were beset with noisy cockatoos in the morning that would try to land on a power wire and end up hanging upside-down, their wings flopping loosely. There was another lace monitor as well as six emu sightings, and at breakfast one morning, a kangaroo surprised us by coming right up to our chairs. Koalas, although said to be here, eluded us. (there's only so long you can walk with your head craned back!) Warrumbungle is most famous for an all-day hike to a formation known as The Bread Knife, but at 12-14km kilometers of steep walking, it was not a destination for Kathy's sciatica. We stuck instead to easy walks around the park…much to Kathy's obvious disgust (and our relief!)!

However, the Warrumbungles really came into their own at night. The air is so dry and clear, it's no wonder the area is the astronomy capital of the world. We could easily see the two Magellan clouds, distant galaxies that can only be seen from the southern Hemisphere, particularly suitable as I was reading a history of Magellan's voyage.

And so we were motivated to make a trip to the Siding Spring Observatory the next afternoon. As we climbed the approach road in the car (the backseat excavated of stuff to carry all four of us), we passed "Earth," "Venus," and "Mercury" all huddled relatively close to the "Sun". We were able to walk up to the observatory itself and see the inside work area from a glassed off visitor balcony. Of course, the dome was closed during the day, and tourists aren't allowed up at night when the scientists are at work. But they had a very extensive, quite sophisticated display that deserved a full day to take in, not a few hours in an afternoon. We were told that in town there is a small private observatory for tourists.

It is hard to believe that at this point we had been traveling barely ten days. With Mike and Kathy as mentors we had picked up the routine of camping quite readily. Now as we prepared to leave the Warrumbungles, we had decided to part ways for a while. We wanted to rendezvous with Steve and Rachel Phillips, our friends from Fiji, who are currently based in Sydney and who had pledged to drive out and meet up with us one weekend, while Mike and Kathleen had their own friends they wanted to visit in a different direction.

From the pile of brochures we'd collected at the "I" center, we picked the vineyard area of Mudgee on the West side of the Blue Mountains for our rendezvous with the Phillips. Steve and Rachel had found it on the map, found a B&B to book via the Internet and vowed to meet us. So, after we exited the Warrumbungles on at their southwest corner (after four more emu sightings!) we struck off on our own, driving for the first time without the white square of Matilda's backside in front of us.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009
2 C Camping Update March 18 2008
We are having a great time! We are so fortunate to have hooked up with old friends Mike and Kathleen of sv Content. Then are very experienced bush campers (as opposed to RV park camping) after spending their land lives exploring the Sierras in California. We have learned loads. We can set up our tent in about 15 minutes, and, after the purchase of a comforter at Woolies, we have been sleeping snug as bugs. And speaking of bugs, there haven't been THAT many. There HAVE been lots of kangaroos and wallabies, possum, and exotic (for us) birds: cockatoos, parrots, butcher birds, willy wagtails, etc, and we have seen some fabulous countryside. We have even survived a six hour deluge and thunderstorm...although I will admit we took refuge in the car and ran the heater for warmth! We will come back and add all the details when the trip is over. The camping life is not computer friendly!
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
10 March 2009 -- What the 2Cs Have Been Doing with Themselves in Oz
Nearly a month has gone by without an update here from the Two Captains. You probably figure that life in Mooloolaba as we’ve depicted it was so good that we’ve just settled down into an uneventful retirement routine. To some extent that is/was true. Our long 10K walks along the beach were the highlight of the day, the rest spent primping the boat so that she would be beautiful should someone come by to look at her. We made some local friends who entertained us at their homes or on their boats, we faithfully caught the Wednesday night cruiser dinner and the Sunday morning market in Maroochydore, and we were connected to the world via broadband Internet on the dock. Given the economy, it made for a quietly attractive lifestyle. It could have gone on indefinitely.

However, a couple of things happened that interrupted the flow. First, our visas came due, and although we applied for extensions on schedule, weeks went by without hearing from immigration. We were uncomfortable with taking off camping to parts unknown until the visa issue was resolved, and so we lingered. Next, the weather took a less friendly turn with hot days and regular rain showers, making our tenting plan less inviting. Finally, our three month deal with the Wharf Marina came to an end. Because the plan was/is to get out camping, it dawned on us that it really didn’t make sense to sign up for another three months at the most expensive marina around. And the month by month price was even worse. Don’t get me wrong. We don’t regret a penny we spent at the Wharf, what with its great situation and nice services.

But Mooloolaba is an hour and a half north of both our broker in Deception Bay and the Brisbane airport into which fly most Australian boat buyers. If we weren’t going to be on the boat, it made sense to move her closer to the action, especially as we could save a couple hundred bucks a month.

And so it turned out that our run down from Wide Bay Bar to Mooloolaba was not our last cruise in Tackless II after all! On Monday February 16th, we motored out the channel and turned right to putter down the coast to Scarborough. It was a lovely day with gentle seas but not enough wind to sail, although we put the sail up in hopeful anticipation. The Queensland coast of beautiful beach after beautiful beach unrolled as we aimed for Caloundra Head in order to slip into Moreton Bay the back way as it were.

Moreton Bay, like Hervey Bay was off of Bundaberg, is a wedge of water trapped between an offshore island and the mainland. In Moreton Bay, however, great long bars of sand have built up across the mouth making the ships heading for the port at Brisbane stick to confined channels. We had several big ships catch us up and pass us by, so we were happy to hug the coast. Caloundra was a neat looking town crammed in the lee of the head with the unexpected crags of the Glasshouse Mountains rising in the distance. From Caloundra we followed the deserted sandy shore of Bribie Island, another National Park, rounded the corner at Skirmish Point, and squeezed into Deception Bay, where moments after we gave up and dropped the mainsail, a sailing breeze came up.

Our first impressions of Scarborough Marina back in November when our friends Whisper and Procyon were here did not compare well with Mooloolaba. However, giving it a second chance has come good. Our slip near the end of the main dock is much quieter than the one at the Wharf, (except when the fisherman are launching or retrieving their runabouts at the launch ramp right behind us.) It is less lit at night, which makes for better sleeping, and there is a nice roster of cruising friends and acquaintances around. Scarborough biggest negative is that it is a bit remote, but, since we now own a car, that has proved less of an issue.

Getting the car down from Mooloolaba was a bit of a chore, requiring several train and bus connections and a few hours travel. But since then we have made four or five runs back and forth to change storage lockers for one closer, and to follow up on various appointments we’d made up there.

Our morning walk, which we had thought would be the biggest sacrifice of the move, has actually been a non issue. The Queenslanders sure like their waterfront parks and Scarborough is no exception. Pleasant measured walkways lead from the marina, past playgrounds and a work-out station just like the one in Mooloolaba, through local neighborhoods to just about as far as you could want to go, and because Scarborough is a quieter residential area to Mooloolaba’s resort pulse, those sidewalks are relatively deserted. No more dodging on-comers! We even found a little neighborhood café run by a spry old Greek gentleman Dimitri, with whom we can pursue our coffee research.

Even our social life got off to a great start by getting in on a jazz concert in nearby Redcliffe where fellow cruiser John of Gingi sat in with his horn with a combo at a local RSL club (Retired Service League) which led to drinks with a local group of sailors at the Moreton Bay Boat Club. The Aussies dearly love their social clubs, whether it’s a surf club, a bowls club, a boat club, a sports club or whatever, all of which seem to have cheap booze, affordable meals and pokie machines (gambling is big here).

So I guess a little to our surprise we have really enjoyed being here! However, the one thing that has been a disappointment is that there has been almost no activity on the boat. Our broker has dropped by a number of times and she insists that our boat is generating more interest than any other listing. We see lots of boat shoppers roving the docks looking at boats for sale with the Marina’s in-house broker. And boats have been selling! It’s a puzzlement.

Because we are ready to sell! Don, of course, has been ready for months, but I have been dragging my feet, hoping, I guess, that Don would have a change of heart or that there would be some kind of new revelation. And perhaps there has been, in the guise of our plans for our future. In this economy, the spring feeding our cruising kitty has contracted and these two old captains can’t come home and just rove the country in our RV like we planned. We need to create positive cash flow, so Don has been researching opportunities since we’ve been here. And we have pretty much decided to go with the mobile espresso cafe business. Guess it’s all that coffee we drank in Mooloolaba’s cafes. We have actually started the process back in the States! It’ll be a new adventure.

We’ll tell you more about all that later, but having made the decision, we’ve made reservations. Yes, the Two Captains are returning to the US…..on one-way tickets. We will depart Brisbane on April 15, leaving Tackless II in the hands of the brokers. It will probably work out much better than way, without me and my emotional second thoughts clouding the cosmic synergy.

So, now, having left it to the eleventh hour, we are indeed going to take off for a quick look-see around the countryside. It won’t be the full-fledged campervan tour we had imagined, but a briefer sampling that will fuel our fantasies until we can come back here and do it right. We are taking off tomorrow with our friends Mike and Kathleen of Content, to follow their experienced lead and to pitch our squeaky new tent in the lee their campervan. We’ll try to update from the road.
Tackless II is for Sale
(Note: This post will always be on top! Check below it for our latest updates!)

Tackless II is FOR SALE in Australia!!! See the full specs

After a nearly ten year cruise from the Virgin Islands to Australia (see our South Pacific Blog and the main website for all the details), this fully-equipped cruising boat is ready to continue on with her next owner!

She will be going on the market officially here in Australia in a few weeks. Follow the link to see all her specs.

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