Our luck with weather was about to change.
Until arriving in Victoria the worst weather we had experienced was cold nights and wind. We had that one experience with rain at Nanga Bay but other than that, the cold wind was all that had troubled us. I should have known that travelling closer to Victoria and Tasmania would see the weather gods turn against us.
Just before crossing the border into Victoria we drove through the Hallett Wind Farm area. Producing enough power to supply 200,000 households, the 167 giant wind turbines that make up the Hallett Wind Farm are truly a spectacular sight – I hadn’t seen anything like it before. Spread out over a series of hills in the area around the town of Hallett, I was struck by the beauty of the wind farm. We couldn’t get close enough to hear them turning but they appeared as majestic tributes to modern energy production. It was an interesting juxtaposition to see all the stone ruins in the area around the wind farm. This area was once a large rail area with the town of Peterborough being the hub of stream trains transporting goods from Port Pirie to Broken Hill. Apparently 100 or more trains would pass through Peterborough each day and the surrounding area was built up to support the rail workers. They lived in stone buildings and the ruins of all these buildings now litter the surrounding fields. Seeing these ruins in front of the giant wind turbines was quite a sight.
We crossed the border and reached Mildura, our first ‘eastern’ destination. We were spending two nights in Mildura, two nights in Echuca and two nights in Ballarat, essentially following the Murray River. Mildura was a shock to our system – they had traffic lights! After spending so much time away from large towns/cities it was quite strange to drive through such a large town. We saw McDonalds, BCF and the Reject Shop all in one block! 😉
Our time in Mildura was largely to refresh our batteries after a series of one-night stops. We didn’t have any plans ahead of time as to where we wanted to go but it was nice to drive around and see what the town had to offer. We went to Lock 11 and the Mildura Weir, walking along the banks of the river. We also visited Woodsies Gem Shop which was a surprisingly pleasant little find. The Gem Shop advertised a maze and ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of gems which we were interested in seeing. A family business, Woodsies is owned by the Woods family (surprise surprise) and is situated on their own land next to their house. The original shop has expanded now to a thriving café, gem shop, maze and pay-to-enter ‘cave’ that houses their collection of semi-precious gems and related artefacts that have been collected from around Australia and the world. It really was an engaging place that kept us busy for a few hours. There were also a few humourous signs on the displays 😉
Our campsite in Mildura was full of wildlife and interesting sights. Rabbits wandered the grass at night, there were fairy lights in most of the trees and the odd tree carving as well. We even had a very friendly possum visit our site – clearly he/she was used to being fed by the campers because he came right up to us and essentially demanded we feed him!
From here we travelled to Echuca, staying in the near-new Moama Waters caravan park. This park was similar in quality to the Streaky Bay caravan park given how new it was but the difference was we had an ensuite site. I haven’t seen one of these before so it was a bit of a novelty. The site was essentially a drive-through site where you park/set up next to a building that houses a toilet, vanity and shower just for your use only, accessed with a key. We used this as a space to lock our bags etc in when we went off exploring and it was great to have this little luxury right next to our camp site. The fauna visitors this time were in the shape of two ducks that just wandered through the camp site helping themselves to whatever they could find! We had to shoo them away because they seemed to take a liking to the ant powder we’d put down around the bottom of the annex poles.
The site also came with a fair deal of wind and unfortunately we came back to camp one day to find our annex had been blown down. Our neighbours had thoughtfully tied it off so that no further damage would be done but we snapped the new make-shift ridge pole that Brandon had put together back in the first weeks of our trip (after we left the original one at Bramwell Station). Thankfully we had spares of these poles so a new one was soon created 😉 But that was our first taste of the wind that would soon mar a number of future camp sites.
The main activity we planned for Echuca was a Murray River paddle steamer cruise. I remember doing one of these as a kid and I really wanted Charlotte and Brandon to enjoy the paddle steamer like I had once done. We went on the PS Emmylou and enjoyed a nice lunch on board as we cruised up and down the Murray River. At one point we went past the giant pile of wood they have cut up for the Emmylou which impressed Charlotte. She was able to see the engine working as we chugged up the river but I was disappointed to see that the paddle itself was housed behind a series of wooden slats so Charlotte wasn’t able to see that in action. There was a small window looking in to the paddle wheel but it was a little hard to see.
Leaving Echuca we stopped at McDonalds to grab a quick breakfast. At every stop we make like this Brandon has gotten into the habit of checking our rig – going around the outside to make sure all looks OK, touching the wheel hubs to check nothing is running too hot etc. This is left over from all the corrugations we experienced in the first half of our trip and it certainly helps to avoid potential hazards to check things like this and make sure all your ropes are still tied etc. On this occasion, as Brandon was checking the hubs, he felt that one of the camper’s hubs felt extremely hot, even though we’d only been driving for 10 minutes. This wasn’t a good sign L We drove to a quiet back street that had lots of room for us to pull over and Brandon proceeded to take the entire wheel assembly apart to check the bearing. He could smell burnt grease which can sometimes be a brake issue, but as we’d only been driving for 10 minutes around the Echuca streets, it wasn’t likely to be caused by that. Without a replacement bearing kit on board, all we could do was pack in more grease and hope for the best. We drove very slowly onwards, stopping every 20 minutes or so to check the hub. Thankfully the work that Brandon did must have made a difference because we made it to Ballarat without any problems and in fact, that wheel ended up performing much better than any of the others on the car or camper! Disaster averted 😉
When we arrived in Ballarat it was raining, cold and windy. I had decided we would try to get a cabin at the caravan park because we were only here for 2 nights and I didn’t want to pack up a wet camper to then get on the boat with. We’d also be warmer and more comfortable. Thankfully the local Big 4 had a cabin free for us to use, although we still had to use the caravan park amenities. It was a small, quiet caravan park and within walking distance to Sovereign Hill, so this only caveat wasn’t too problematic. It also helped that our cabin was directly across the road from the toilet block 😉 Once we were settled in, I looked out our window from the warm, dry cabin at the others in camper trailers who were setting up in the rain and felt rather satisfied with our decision!
Our main purpose for going to Ballarat was to see Sovereign Hill, another memory I have from my younger days travelling in this area. Sovereign Hill is like a living museum and piece of the Australian goldmining history. Gold was discovered in Ballarat in 1851 and within 10 years the city had grown to be an established town. You walk the streets of Sovereign Hill and soak up the history, the shops are all set up like the shops would have been in the mid 19th century. There’s a blacksmith, a wheel-maker, bakery, and metalsmith. There’s a confectioner, horse and carriage rides and you can even pan for gold in a stream of water that was what the original goldminers used back in the day. All the attractions are staffed by people in period costume who show you how people did those particular trades back in the day. There is also a tour of one of the underground gold mines where you enter and exit on a genuine mine tram that takes you down into the very dark mine. There’s also a ‘gold pour’ where molten gold is poured into a mould to make a $160,000 gold bar. As part of that demonstration and the mine tour we learnt about how the gold was separated from the quartz rock that it came from. The whole day was just fascinating and other than some tired legs by the end of the day, we all had a great time. That being said, it was a nice treat to come home to a warm cabin at the end of the grey and dreary day.
We left Ballarat on the morning of the day we were due to board the Spirit of Tasmania and cross the Bass Strait to Tasmania. It was a relatively quick and easy drive to Melbourne where we caught up with a friend from Charlotte’s original parents group who had agreed to hold some of the stuff we had that we weren’t sure we’d be able to take into Tasmania (e.g. all of Brandon’s frozen fish!). Thanks Matanis family! Great to see you 🙂
Pretty soon it was time to head to the boat in Port Melbourne. You wouldn’t believe how excited Charlotte was about the boat trip – I don’t think I’ve ever seen her this excited before! We were the first tall car on board (i.e. over 2.1m tall, park in a special area), so we were marshalled on fairly quickly (and, as it turns out, were able to get off pretty early). We had a porthole cabin with 4 bunk beds in it right under the bridge at the front of the boat – Charlotte was even more excited when she realised she could see out the very front of the boat as we were underway. Alas we couldn’t book a deluxe cabin with a large bed in it because they only cater to two people – next time when it’s just us adults 😉
The trip started out well with reasonably smooth sailing while we were in Port Phillip Bay. But as soon as we left the bay and went through the headlands the boat started rocking a little more noticeably and I started to feel a little queasy. Too late for a sea sickness pill now! I just had to put up with feeling a little unwell while I showered and got into bed. I figured if I slept through it, all should be OK. Thankfully that’s exactly what happened – I woke up around 5am to lovely smooth sailing as we approached Devonport’s harbour. As predicted, we were amongst the first cars to leave the boat and by 7am we were driving the (very quiet) streets of Devonport 🙂
The second-last part of our big adventure was now about to begin…
Weeks/nights on the road to this point: 12 weeks.