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Kym and Lyn  -  Where are we now?

 Devonport to Mackay  April-May 2012

Farewell Tassie, we're on a trail back to Queensland!

We farewelled the island state with mixed feelings - such an amazing start to our Australian travels, along with the knowledge that returning is not as simple as just pointing the rig in that direction again.  We were grateful we had embarked across the strait with both an open ticket and open mind as to how long we should stay on the island.  In five months we'd taken in so much, and without sounding corny, we were 'Tassie inebriated', finding it hard to stop singing it's praises.  Undoubtedly, we were still in holiday mode -this whole long-term 'leaving everything routine, home, jobs and travelling thing' had only just begun - what an appetiser Tasmania had provided.   

Just to vary the experience from our night journey over, we chose to travel the Spirit back by day.  Apart from being blessed yet again with remarkably calm waters, that was about what we saw - lots of it.  As happens at times, there  was a hitch in the Spirit's schedule that saw our departure from Devonport delayed by several hours.  The domino effect  on those passengers waiting to cross on the next ship from Melbourne meant they were almost a day late in leaving.  Instead of the ships passing in mid strait, we actually waved at each other as we entered, and they finally left Port Philip Bay. 

SORRY TRAM, WE DIDN'T SEE YOU
The delay meant we arrived in Melbourne after dark.  This put a bit of a dint in the confidence we'd gained from earlier planning our escape route through the city. To top it off it was raining!  As we were still learning about the GPS system, it (and we) were struggling to make sense of direction.  Panic - just a little - navigating around inner Melbourne with the van, in the dark and rain, trying to determine which to decipher - the signage, maps or GPS, when whoops - we almost came to grief with a tram, other vehicles on a roundabout (dopey buggers, didn't we have right of way?).  Instincts - both survival and directional took over, and with a bit of 'nava-guessing' we finally made our way onto the Highway north and heading towards Grasstree campsite.
 

Arriving late, we were disappointed to miss a planned rendezvous with fellow Tasmanian travellers Sharon & Geoff, but with the wonders of facebook we keep in touch and will no doubt meet up again somewhere else on our travels.  When daylight emerged, the landscape confirmed we were back on the 'big island'  and we were reminded that Tasmania does have a profile all it's own.  A short run through what was a bit of an assault on the senses - flat, flat land, with not a mountain in sight, we travelled from Benalla, north via Yarrawonga to the Murray River border town of Cobram.  Fortunately just ahead of the Easter crowds, we found a quite river-side camp and a place to let our minds and bodies overcome the 'travel-lag' of the past 48 hours.  Just two weeks earlier, widespread flooding had seen the river break it's banks throughout this area.  The marks on the trees indicated our camp had been a good two metres under water. 

A LESSON IN PUTTING THE TINNIE'S FUEL LINE ON THE RIGHT WAY
Murray River novices at the time, we were delighted when we explored a number of very accessible and pleasant campsites that line the river, family friendly and with 'beach access'.  We just had to put the boat in this mighty Murray, for the first, and hopefully far from the last time.  It was very easy to picture the old paddle steamers moving along full of wool bales and other product in the early settlements - at least until our 'cruise' came to a quick end when the motor stalled.  Thanks to a helpful local boatie, we were towed back to camp, only for a very embarrassed Kym to realise he'd put the fuel line on the wrong way around.  Won't do that one again.   
 

Northward bound through NSW via the Newell Highway, the scenery changed little until after Finley, where it started to take on the drier scrubby look - this at least, until we noticed some "inland lakes".  These "lakes" were the remains of the same flooding event.  So much flat land, so much water.  The roads were showing signs of water damage, and we were saddened for the farmers as we evidenced property loss and wash-outs. 

Left:  Kym at the town centre of Ardlethan which claims to be the birthplace of the Australian Kelpie

There were some interesting little townships along our route, where we took vantage of rest stops and quick check-ins to get some feel for each locality.  Our overnight stop was a campsite promoted by, and located opposite the Mirrool pub.  With the exception of power, all facilities were provided, along with good old country pub hospitality by both publican and staff.


A BIT OF A PEAK AT PEAK HILL

We were heading for Peak Hill for a specific reason.  For some years, we had regular online forum contact with Leighton and Pauline, the then owner operators of Peak Hill Caravan Park.  This was our opportunity to meet and experience the result of their hard work in establishing their traveller's oasis and reputation for great hospitality.  We've heard since that Carol and David have taken over, and we wish equal success.

Peak Hill's streets reveal that it has known a time past when it was more abuzz with people and wealth.  The town was built around gold mining.  On the outskirts is an open cut mine, and although now abandoned, it  is open for tourists to walk around.  Info boards give a history lesson, and there are fantastic views of the mine and surrounding landscape.  New mines are predicted to open soon so hopefully this will inject another stream of new life into the region.

There's a funny story to tell about our departure from Peak Hill.  Once out on the road, Kym was convinced something was not quite right.  Pondering on it, he decided that he hadn't removed the TV antenna before leaving the park.   We checked in the mirror, pulled over, had another look, no, not there.  Convinced that it must have fallen off somewhere, the rig was turned around to head back, and in the meantime a call was made to Leighton to ask him to have a look in the park for our antenna.  When we got back, Leighton said it wasn't there!  At this point we checked the tube where the antenna is kept - guess what, it was there!!  Old age creeping in, or maybe even an omen - this day turned out to be an eventful one. 


THE BEST LAID PLANS.....

We'd set our sights on travelling to Pillaga where there is a hot mineral bore at one of the free camps.  This seemed like another nice way to soothe our travel bodies for a bit and defer travel along major roads over what was now the Easter break.  A back road via Coonamble would take us off the Newell Highway.  We topped up supplies at Dubbo, a town well placed for a  quick shopping run, with car parks catering for caravans and motorhomes.  While travelling we review camp sites and parks, using "Camps Australia Wide", the most comprehensive Australian guide to budget, independent or nature-based camping.  We have to comment here on the uniqueness of a caravan park in the town of Gulargambone along the Castlereagh Highway.  The owner/operators are providores of both humour and humanity.  Guests are treated to camp fire nights, the odd "guest" concert and their is a definite appeal about the grassy and cool shady grounds.  We bought a souvenir bottle of red from Gulargambone Caravan Park - Gular Piss!!! - no less. 

Coonamble, on Easter Saturday gave us a quiet and peaceful rest stop in the riverside park - we saw one other car in town!  Our next stop - not so tranquil, or expected!  Just 20k along the Coonamble-Pilliga road, we hit a lumpy bit of bitumen.  Five ton of Patrol and caravan was sent across the other side of the road and into "the long paddock"  Kym did a marvelous job in preventing disaster, controlling direction and slowing down without the van overtaking the car.  Despite the loneliness of this road, at that point there was also an on-coming car to contend with.  How we missed it, we do not know, there was only seconds on our side.  The poor girl driving must have got one hell of a shock cause even in that flash, we saw her eyes were like full moons.   Once stopped, a big sigh of relief & a "what the f..... happened there?"  

REGULAR CHECKING AND SERVICING OF VAN SUSPENSION NOW ON OUR CHECKLIST
We had a look under the van, but long grass made it difficult to detect fault or damage.  After re-gathering our wits, we moved back onto the road to continue on.  Something definitely not right.   When suitable road-side clearance appeared, we stopped to have a clearer look under the van.  A snapped rear leaf spring - RACQ time.  It was 2:00 PM - Easter Saturday.  After a number of phone calls and geography lessons for some Roadside Assistance staff, we were told a tow truck was on its way.  Eight and a half hours later a set of lights and a call on the UHF radio confirmed our "white knight" was approaching.   Apart from the isolation, we were fortunate to have had plenty of food, water, power and each other for company and raised spirits. 

Our white knight tow truck driver had driven from Parkes, (300 kms south), stopping in at Dubbo to pick up the truck, to where he was returning the van and truck, after which he then had to return home to Parkes in time to enjoy sharing the Easter bunny delivery with his young family the next morning.  Where else but in country regions would you find such service.  A huge thank you to the driver and RACQ - everybody was very empathetic.  It is an odd feeling driving the Patrol behind a tow-ey in the midnight hour, watching our van bounce around on the tray at 100 KPH!  
As for Dubbo, this was the beginning of a long, on again, off again relationship.
                                                                                                                                                            
GENUINE AND GOOD OLD FASHIONED COUNTRY SERVICE    -  
Chris at Better Steel Products, Dubbo
As a traveller, you're most always an 'out of towner'.  So often, you have to rely on the honesty of those around you.  On this occasion, we were very fortunate.  A recommendation to a local engineer proved fortuitous for us.  Chris was fantastic.  He provided easy access to our van while it was in his workshop, kept us up to date with news, good or bad, and allowed Kym to get in and assist with repairs - all very reassuring.  For twelve days, our RACQ Ultimate cover provided motel accommodation.  Insurance assessment and approval, and procurement and transport of parts caused most of the delay.  As our frustration turned to acceptance and even gratitude, we did relax into using the time to enjoy some of Dubbo's features.  The Japanese Gardens in town aided and abetted some of the solace we gained, as did a day boating on the tranquil waters of nearby Lake Burrendong.  The thermal springs at Pillaga, will wait for another day - time lost through the incident and recovery meant a straight run back to the Gold Coast.

TOOWOOMBA RANGE SCARE

The Toowoomba range was to give us another heart-stopping experience.  With recent touring up and down Tassie's Tiers, we had a healthy respect and caution for towing the rig on such runs, which no doubt proved a blessing.  Half way down, smoke started from under the car, along with the smell of hot brakes.  We took the first opportunity to safely pull over, stopped for some time to let the brakes cool before we continued on without problem.  However, it was a scare; we knew something was not right, and needed to be checked out.  Gold Coast's Nerang Bridgestone branch did establish that the front left brake line was twisted.  They indicated that the fact that it was even sort of working was surprising.  We knew that Burnie Nissan had replaced the pads only days before our Tassie departure.   When contacted, they were embarrassed, and covered all expenses for the remedial work at Nerang - and we were all the more both incredulous and thankful we'd made it down the range in tact.

FAMILY TIME
Our sojourn on the Gold Coast allowed time to be with family.  There was our new granddaughter, Paysen, to get to know a bit more; Lyn's dad, Don, had been convalescing in hospital for a long four months, Kym's Mum, June, was recovering from surgery and step-Dad, Kevin contending with a long-term illness.  With Don's condition deteriorating, the decision was made for Kym to proceed on to Mackay, where a job awaited him.  A visit with our friend Julia (founder of travel accountancy specialist firm, Bantacs) led to our extending our network in Mackay - and a temporary home for us and our van was negotiated for our Mackay stay.  A large yard, access to power, water, toilet, approximately 16 kms north of Mackay central, and two stone throws from the serene tropical outlook of Bucasia beach!!!!  A winter heaven and haven.  Kym headed north solo, staying overnight at Boyne River camp.  About three hours into the next morning's drive, came the sad news that Don had passed away.  He will be so missed.  He was so supportive of our travels, often reminding us that it was the experience that he and Mum had talked much about, but never achieved. 

Next -    MACKAY to DUBBO, Via Hunter Valley and Eastern Creek,as you do! - The journey continues.