It was with a bit of a heavy heart that we started our trek north after disembarking from the Spirit of Tasmania. On the one hand, I was really excited about heading closer to home, and the call of a comfortable bed and familiar belongings was pretty strong. But I was also sad at the thought that in a few short weeks this amazing adventure would soon come to an end. Still, we had a few more sights to cross off our list before getting home so we headed out of Melbourne with the excitement of a new and unfamiliar destination around the corner.
We headed east from Melbourne, towards Lakes Entrance. We were heading towards Burra on the NSW/ACT border to spend a few nights with a friend and decided to take a more scenic route. I suspect Brandon is probably swearing at me for this decision (I did the route planning for this leg of the trip) because our lack of inter-cooler on the new turbo engine was regularly apparent to us as we drove the outskirts of the Snowy Mountains and through the high country! (when the turbo works hard, such as towing a heavy load up a hill, our exhaust gas temperature increases, causing an alarm to sound. We need to let off a bit of power to cool the exhaust down and avoid engine problems. Needless to say, this route created a litany of ringing alarm bells and made for a very slow climb!)
I wasn’t entirely certain of our first camping spot but a quick scan of WikiCamps as we were driving led us to a lovely farm stay called Tostaree Cottages. They have room for a few campers in a well-maintained, flat, open pasture that essentially feels like you are camping in their backyard. Covering something like 300 acres, the rolling green hills of this property were a lovely change from the rainy, snowy mountains we’d just left in Tasmania. The weather was sunny and glorious, although the air was still a bit crisp, but we didn’t need our annex and set up for a quick overnight stay. There was only one other group of campers there, a young family with similar-aged children who Charlotte quickly made friends with. The children then announced that shortly one of the farm’s owners, Greg, would be coming by in his ATV (all terrain vehicle) to take us all on a tour of the farm if we wanted. What fun!
Oh lord – what an adventure that ride was! Charlotte was desperate to stand up in the back with Daddy and one other child while I shared the front seat with Greg and our neighbour’s second child. Greg gave us lots of information about farming cattle and sheep (for meat purposes) and we identified new calves that were only a day or two old. Over hill and down dale we went, bouncing and banging and generally having a scream of a time. Now I know why those things are so bloody dangerous and cause so many injuries on farms! But we escaped unscathed and returned to camp after an hour or so with flushed cheeks and lots of laughs.
From Tostaree it was onwards to Burra and across a new state border into NSW.
We were heading to a visit with Chris and Peter (Chris is Kerrilee’s brother, my best friend we stayed with in Devonport). Chris and Peter live on acreage about half an hour outside of Canberra (officially in NSW) and we were made to feel very welcome during our stay there. We didn’t need to set up the camper as we were offered their spare bedroom. Chris and Peter both enjoy gaming so Brandon was able to catch up on the World of Warcraft gossip while we were there and I was able to catch up on some reading while Charlotte enjoyed the Nick Jr channel!
We were so comfortable, I forgot to take any photos at Chris and Pete’s place, so I asked them to send me something instead 😉 Here is Chris’s selfie!
It had been years since I was last in Canberra so it was great to be able to see the new parliament house site for the first time. And we crossed our second last state border! (a few times – we crossed out and back NSW/ACT every time we left Chris’s place!)
We were counting down the days until we had to be home, so we only had time for a flying visit to Canberra, which included a drive around the outside of Parliament House. Charlotte loves a good Australian flag at the best of times, but even she was bowled over by the majesty of this giant flag pole high atop the hill at Parliament House.
After Parliament House, we went to Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre. This was lots of fun! Like a giant science museum, every room is a different gallery with hundreds of hands on things to see and do. Charlotte was in her element and there was much squealing to be had… mostly by Charlotte, although a little from Brandon as well 😉
Charlotte had to play ‘cool’ and was told to show her ‘guns’ (finger points) but she struggled because the glasses she was given to wear only had one arm and kept falling off!
A favourite was this light harp – instead of strings, your hands passed over the lights in the harp’s frame which created the musical note (clearly I’m not giving you the technical explanation!)
One exhibit allowed you to feel a simulated earth quake. You built a tower and then watched to see if it would withstand the quake!
After leaving Burra we drove to Parkes, NSW – home of the The Dish, a radio telescope instrumental in supporting NASA throughout the Apollo program, and still active today. I had driven past this place (officially called the Parkes Observatory) quite a few times but never stopped so I really wanted to get there on this trip.
I really enjoyed our visit to the observatory. We watched a few 3D movies which gave us some interesting information on space, the relative size of things in space, and other topics relevant to the telescope. We were able to get quite close to the telescope and watched it move around quite a lot which was exciting. It stands 58m tall, is 64m in diameter and the dish alone weighs 300 tonnes. It can tilt to 60 degrees from the vertical and takes 5 minutes to get to this maximum tilt. For a full 360 degree rotation, the time is 15 minutes. Officially it is only rated to operate in maximum wind speeds of 35 km/h but apparently on the night when the Apollo landing was taking place, the winds peaked to 2-3 times that speed and it managed to cope (albeit with some nervous operators in the control tower).
At the entrance to the visitors centre there are two opposing, smaller dishes called ‘whispering dishes’. Charlotte and Brandon went and stood next to one and about 20 metres away, I went to stand next to the other. Charlotte talked into the arc of the dish nearest her and I was able to hear her clear as day! It was fascinating and a great learning opportunity for us all 🙂
If you haven’t seen the movie, check out The Dish (movie) with Sam Neill and a host of other familiar faces. Classic Australian cinema 🙂
That night we stayed at Peak Hill just a little north of Parkes. Our plan to was to hit up Taronga Western Plains Zoo (aka Dubbo Zoo) the next day but we had been warned that Dubbo wasn’t that secure so best not to leave the camper unattended. To combat this, we decided to camp at Peak Hill then we’d be only an hour away from Dubbo and would take the car and camper to the zoo. Then we’d go to a Dubbo caravan park that afternoon after finishing up at the zoo.
We happened across a lovely little caravan park in Peak Hill called the Double D Caravan Park where every morning they put on a free pancake breakfast and the windscreen cleaning fairy comes to clean your windscreen! It was fantastic. It was also the only caravan park we’d stayed at that had a lovely looking (new) vegetable garden. Charlotte was attracted to the ponies and birds, of course 😉 We had a camp site immediately next to the toilets but it wasn’t a busy park and the visitors were mostly older so it was very quiet and we had a nice peaceful night.
From here it was on to Dubbo and the zoo. I will do a separate entry for that as there are quite a lot of photos from the zoo, including a very special memory that I will treasure for the rest of my life!
Weeks on the road to this point: 14 weeks, 6 days.