CAMPSITE # 55 - Branxholm Caravan Park - shooting for success

Alarm bells were ringing and Princess Amy put her foot down... TIME FOR A SHOWER PLEASE TOMMY. When I tell people that I haven't had a shower for four or five days, Tom always feels the need to correct me so that people don't think that I'm unhygienic and smelly.. he always says "But that doesn't mean you haven't washed... you just haven't showered." Either way, I hadn't stood under on-coming fresh hot water for four days and after being blessed with showers to our avail for at least the last four weeks, I was really hanging out for one.

We found Branxholm Caravan Park. Calling it a caravan park is a little bit of a stretch considering it's council land surrounding the local pool which they've fenced off and called a caravan park but regardless of the name for $7 a night with hot showers and flushing loos... what more could you want?

We chose our location wisely as we didn't want to be too far a drive from Aaron's place. The friend that we made at the last campsite invited Tom and I over to his place for a meal and for an experience completely new to me. So off we went...

Turns out Aaron has a love for beekeeping and so Tommy and he donned the beekeeping suits and went off to the bee hive. Aaron pulled out a comb of honey and gave it to us both... I LOVE FRESH HONEYCOMB. He also stocked us up with 1.5 litres of honey that'll certainly keep us going for a while. 

I know what you're thinking... big whoop!! Everyone's seen a bee hive before? But that wasn't why we went there. The honey was just an added extra. Nope, we were there for bigger reasons. When in the country, you must do as country folk do and considering I am not a practising vegetarian, I certainly have no reason to be against the sport of shooting. These guys take shooting very seriously and are actually approached by local farmers to enter their property to shot the likes of wallabies, kangaroos and rabbits that are overrunning their property and turning into pests.

I, having the weakest stomach in the world, was not willing to partake in the actual shooting part (not that I'd be able to hit anything with my terrible aim) but I was certainly up for riding on the back of the truck an being a spotter.

The entire time I was riding on that truck all I could keep thinking was ... "My mother is going to KILL me". So everybody let's not tell my mum that Aaron's brother Josh is a butcher and he skinned and gutted a rabbit and a wallaby and gave them both to Tom and I. We now have fresh wallaby and rabbit in our fridge, now all we need to do is figure out how to cook the buggers...

Tom might be off mums Christmas card list for a little while...

CAMPSITE # 54 - Stumpys Bay Camping Ground, Mt Williams National Park TAS

Finally, we had arrived in Tasmania. We no longer had thick heads & it was time to explore this intriguing island. For our next campsite, we were determined to find an absolute oasis. We were desperate to drive around and see what Tassie had instore for us. The weather forecast was looking to work very much in our favour so, we decided to check out a variety of campsites and then make our choice on our number one spot to setup camp for a few days.
We thought we'd check out Georgetown, we hadn't done any homework on the town but it was the next town on the map from where we were and thought we'd drop in for a little peak. We had a lovely breakfast in the sunshine at Georgetown Scenic Lookout and learnt that the town is actually Australia's oldest town having been settled by the European's in 1804.

More interestingly than the fact it was the oldest town in Australia was that we were there  for the biggest action in Georgetown for years to come. Turns out, a couple of youths took a home made bomb to the local ATM that backed onto the bank during the early hours of the morning. I assume they didn't know the brunt of their own bomb as they blew the back windows out of the bank and one of the guys was rushed to hospital with cuts & burns and is now in custody. I'm pretty sure half the township was there to witness the aftermath. One of the bank's employees was in her element, standing on the street corner out the front waving down all of the passing by cars repeating "We've been blown up love, yep BLOWN UP!!!" She'll be talking about this little incident for weeks to come, that'll keep her amused at least! 

 Of course, being the travellers that we are, we are known to get easily distracted along the way particularly when strawberries are involved. At Hillwood Berry Farm you can pick your own Strawberries, Raspberries, Blackcurrants and Redcurrants. Being the strawberry lover that I am I, of course, made a beeline for the strawberries. 

They give you a little bucket and you can pick as many of whatever berries take your fancy for $9 a kilo. Of course, if it just so happens that a kilo or two end up in your mouth and not in the bucket and you only end up buying half a kilo... well then what a shame you've just had an hours worth of entertainment in the sunshine and a very full belly for just $4.50.

After driving around aimlessly for a good few hours in search for a campsite, Tom and I were pretty over it and ready to just set up camp. We singled out Stumpy's Bay Campsite in the Mt Williams National Park.  with four campsites to chose from we were quite confident that we'd find something to our liking. Unfortunately though, it wasn't quite that simple...

Campsite # 1 - you could light fires but was the only campsite where caravans would fit so it was flooded with folk.
Campsite # 2 - no campfires allowed... not so cool when you've got a packet of marshmallows waiting to be toasted.
Campsite # 3 - campfires were allowed but it had a really horrible lingering smell to it that we just couldn't figure out where it was from.
Campsite # 4 - no campfires allowed AND we found the source of the horrible smell....

They weren't kidding... ew, ew & ew...

So we decided to make our way back to Campsite # 1 and make friends with all of the folk... we quickly understood why there were so many people at this site, considering the lack of alternatives.

The beach at Stumpy's Bay is absolutely beautiful... crystal clear waters and white sandy beaches are always a favourite...

We spent a lot of the time on the beach, as you would when the weather is perfect. Tom got out his fishing equipment (I think he was beginning to have withdrawals as it had been so long since his last fish) and I lay on the beach working on my tan. We made a couple of friends when one of them,  walked over with a couple of drinks in hand to share them with us. Very quickly, the 'fishing on the beach' morphed into 'drinking on the beach' and we spent our time laughing and drinking with our new friends, Tasmanian locals - Aaron & Phil.

This fish was obviously caught before the drinks where brought out...
A whiting wrapped up in aluminium foil along with garlic, dill & salt made for a scrumptious feed.

I love how graphic this sign is...

CAMPSITE # 53 - Welcome to TAZ-MANIA

Most normal people who had been spending months and months counting down their work days left until holiday time would probably be over the moon from excitement. For a big 5 week adventure over to that tiny little island that everybody forgets about; Tasmania. To those holiday goers, they wouldn’t mind waking up before the town baker’s for an early morning start followed by a 9 hour long journey over Bass Strait in “The Spirit of Tasmania”. MOST people wouldn’t mind it at all, even those who got sea sickness would endure this discomfort purely out of shear excitement.
The difference between us and most other people is that those who are willing to book themselves in for the voyage on the day after Australia’s most celebrated public holiday, don’t drink copious amounts of alcohol the day beforehand and only have five hours sleep. I’m getting old... well at least as far as my drinking clock goes... it’s a-tick-a-tocking... and boy did I feel sorry for myself. I could tell Tom was suffering too but he’s a little more well trained than I.

After the first hour or so floated on by, we began to get our sea legs back and were tackling the voyage rather well. Thanks to Ned’s recommendations, we scooted straight up the stairs to score ourselves some comfy seats on the tenth floor with mattresses to have a snooze and even an electrical port (GOLD!!!) to plug in the laptop and watch some flicks (me = trash, Tom = David Attenborough). We were set for the rest of the ride all of the way into Devonport, Tasmania – or at least so we thought...

I really should have investigated what they were doing there, generally when you walk into a pub and see them setup – you know you’re in for a good night. We, unfortunately, did not put two and two together – we were far too distracted when we initially chose our seats. In retrospect we really should have been a little more switched on, surely the Spirit of Tasmania staff don’t just leave two microphone stands and a sound system setup for the fun of it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for supporting new & upcoming musicians who have some seriously amazing talents and are in it for the love of it but so help me GOD if I’m going to sit in a boat swaying from left to right with a god awful hangover listening to these two washed up musicians and their renditions of Elvis, Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. I’m sorry, I’m sure they are both lovely people and they might just be doing it to earn a living but after two hours into it, when they tried to tell us all that they were going to try and ‘wake us all up for the last leg of the trip’ and ‘crank the volume’ and start singing some ABBA specifically from Mama Mia and the likes of the Nutbush. These poor people, the only patrons clapping at the end of their songs were either children who didn’t know any better or booze hounds how thought they were ‘faaantsahic’.  Let’s just say, in five weeks time on the way back.. we are not sitting on the tenth floor.

Goodbye Melbourne...

Hello Tasmania...

Once we had arrived at Devonport, I instantly forgot about the last horrible hours of my life. It was as though our trip around Australia just teleported us over to Europe (except with the Aussie weather!!). Even from the first few minutes that we spent staring in awe of Tasmania and it’s beauty, I can safely say it is a beautiful island. Both Tom and I are so excited to spend the next few weeks exploring the wonders of this lovely place.

After we had gone through customs (a make-shift setup under a tin roof) we headed towards our first campsite.. by that time it was already approaching 7:30pm so unfortunately it didn't leave too much time for adventuring. We headed towards Narawntapu National Park about an hours drive from Devonport. One thing we noticed very quickly about Tassie is the huge number of road kills lying on the road, at one point there were 4 lifeless animals within a 100 metre distance. We both figured that this place must be running rampant with a huge variety of wildlife, or at least I hope that's the case and we're only seeing a tiny percentage of them on the roads.

We're keeping our eyes peeled for a Tasmanian Tiger, believed to be extinct with the last known Tasmanian Tiger to have died in Hobart Zoo in 1936 but there have been thousands of 'sittings without proof' ever since. I, as passenger 95% of the time, am in charge of always having the camera in the ready position at all times. Gees I hope we don't see one cause I'm not very good at my camera duties and to miss that million dollar snap will just be disastrous.

N.B. for those who we may have fooled, this photo was not taken by us.

CAMPSITE # 52 - Ned's Place - Sandringham, VIC

I know, I know, Tom's family back in England will cringe when they see this photo but believe me, it was all for a good cause.
We realised we had been waiting for nearly six months for news of Tom's permanent residency application. And while it worked out to be a great excuse, it meant that he couldn't work during the time that he was on his bridging visa. We knew this when we left for the trip and figured we would take the plunge and just keep our fingers super crossed and pray that he wasn't denied and therefore needing to leave the country within 28days... kinda hard to do a trip around Australia together without him if you know what I mean.

Immigration advised us that it would take a predicted six months until we heard from them with their decision. As we were quickly approaching the six month mark, we figured it was best to give them a call. While Tom was talking to them on the phone, I was eagerly trying to figure out the meanings of the "Yes, I have", "No, didn't" "Oh really" "Oh, OK, interesting"... come on Tommy thumbs up or thumbs down??? But like most men, my darling Tommy struggles to do two things at one time. It wasn't until he hung up the phone that he advised me "They've already made their decision. They sent through the decision via email on the 8TH OF OCTOBER LAST YEAR!!!" All of this time, we could have known. From all of the advise we were given, we were waiting for something via snail mail, we never expected to get it by email and so were never diligent in checking for new mail.
As the excitement of finding out sunk in, I quickly realised that he could infact have been denied and therefore have been in the country illegally for the last 5 months. Tom was given some details to access the decision online and we sat there ... with all of these emotions running through us. As we read through the page "Name" "DOB" "Passport Number" yeah, yeah, yeah get to the good stuff, together we read "Permanent Residency Status" ... "Effective". That little word had no idea how much it meant. We were officially off the hook and thankfully, Tommy was not getting deported. He was allowed to enter and exit Australia as frequently as he likes.

And, I'm still trying to figure out if it was a good thing that we can now work. Yay, work. The one thing I miss most about being on the road.... working to make somebody else more money. (Please ensure that you read this in an extremely monotone and uninspired tone).

Permanent Residency could not have come at a better time for us both with Australia Day & our two year anniversary due to be celebrated all on the same day. Last year for our one year anniversary, we wined and dined at the amazing & exclusive fine dining seafood restaurant in Brisbane called Lure. This year, as we are retired and on a budget, we celebrated our anniversary in a food court indulging in a cheesecake for Tom, a muffin for me and two coffees... and it was lovely. I kept teasing Tom that he's lowering the bar a bit but of course we're so much happier being on the road doing what we're doing and that lovely little anniversary morning tea, while it may have been with a bunch of fast food junkies, was a real treat. 

We figured, given recent news, Australia day officially deserved even more reason to celebrate & drink beer. We caught up with Ned & Tren, two friends we made in Eden NSW when we were stuck there for 10 days waiting on a Toyota part. Ned & Tren live in Melbourne and they very kindly invited us to join them for a bike ride & fish and chips by the beautiful Half Moon Bay and off then to celebrate Australia Day at a friend's barbie in Brighton. 

We had an absolute cracking time... and it just proved that this is what travelling is all about. Meeting great people that you will keep in touch with for years to come and creating some rather random and exciting stories to tell. 

CAMPSITE # 51 - South East Holiday Park, Melbourne

In a bid to never ever stay at my most dreaded trailer park trash caravan park that we stayed in last time we were in Melbourne, I was 100% determined to find a better alternative. And for a park within 45mins to the CBD of Melbourne, South East Holiday Park was quite passable... as nice as an inner city caravan park could possibly be.

Even if you never saw a map, you would always be able to pick the parks that are near a major city, mainly thanks to the people staying there. The ones that I can only assume are experiencing some 'difference of opinions' with their partners so, in protest, they go and sleep in their car in a caravan park and the single mothers with three kids living out of a tent to save money (and spend it on 'booze & fags' instead).

Tom and I made a pact, that if we removed all of the non-essentials off of the roof, we were allowed to get a couple of bicycles. Initially, we thought we would be best hunting down some second hand bikes but when we saw the price tags... HOLY MOLY!!! There's a serious market in reconditioning old bicycles and selling them off for $200 PLUS! I figure, these brand new ones with a one year warranty from BigW for $98 each will be worth at least $298 in 15 - 19 years time. We're really excited to take these babies for a burn. Because we purchased identical bikes & helmets, our biggest challenge now will be finding enough stickers & accessories to decorate them to make them a little more individual. I'm all for a cheesy girls basket on the front and tassels hanging off the handle bars.  Now, we have the opportunity to set up camp in a lovely town for however long we want and jump on the bikes to go into town. These days, if we want to go anywhere further than somewhere within walking distance we have to pretty much pack up the entire camp.

The day after Australia Day (also known as our anniversary) we're jumping on the Spirit of Tasmania for a 9 hour journey over Bass Strait to then spend 5 weeks in Tasmania. We're really looking forward to it, even more so with our new wheels!!!

CAMPSITE # 48, 49 & 50 - Three different sites in BRISBANE!!!

We know we don't have super human powers. We know that we weren't going to be riding in on our white horse to save the day. But we couldn't just sit back and do nothing...

An estimated 28,000 homes were affected by flooding in central Brisbane last week.

The total cost of the rebuild was expected to exceed $20 billion Australian dollars.

Each of the 24 iconic City Cat terminals in Brisbane were somehow destroyed during the floods, with a predicted recovery period of 18 months until they will once again be fully functional.

Thousands of Queenslanders lost their homes, all of their possessions and some, sadly, lost their lives.

It was time for us to play our part and try to make a difference, even if it was only minor. So, we checked Charlie into an undercover secure parking bay and flew ourselves back to Brisbane to volunteer for the flood recovery. And we're glad we did...

I think Brisbane should be really proud of themselves. The kindness that was displayed even by people who were not directly affected by the floods... generously giving their time, money and supplies to those in need. During such a difficult time, it’s so important to help others out wherever possible. Having witnessed some upsetting circumstances for so many people, I’m just so thankful to be a part of such a loyal country.

Out of respect for the people who were severely affected by the floods, we decided not to take many photos as we figured we were there to help, not to plaster their misfortune all over our blog. We managed to get a few discreet snaps.

My brother managed to capture alot of footage of the flood, here is a link to the one that stood out the most for me.

Unfortunately, even when we are surrounded by so many people with hearts of gold, there are those that can only find the time to think of themselves flying their own flag all wrapped up in cotton wool. I know that everyone deals with things in their own way but Tom and I were really put out by the behaviours of a selected few people in Brisbane. At one point, we had teamed up with a small handful of other volunteers to assist with loading people’s destroyed belongings from off the gutter out the front of their house and onto the back of tip trucks for disposal. We were loading thousands of dollars worth of treasured items, each of which had a story to be told by its beloved owners.

I turned red with rage when we were approached by a rather selfish middle aged woman who, by the looks her immaculately presented home, had not been affected at all by the floods. She’d seen that we were loading rubbish onto the back of tip trucks and viewed it as her chance to have some free rubbish removal done. When she had the nerve to ask us to put on hold assisting those in need who had lost everything and help her remove rubbish from her home that had clearly been lying around for a good few years, there was no way I was even going to give her the time of day. Lucky for her, some of the other guys reluctantly assisted and Little Miss Inconsiderate could wash her hands from all of the icky-wicky-yucky-wucky-dirty-wirty and return to the comfort of her pristine home and sit back on her pedestal. I just couldn’t understand how neighbours in the same street as those who had lost everything could simply turn a blind eye and continue on with their day as if nothing had happened. Mowing their lawns, going for jogs or walking the dog right in front of emotionally destroyed people covered in mud, desperately trying to salvage even the tiniest of things. For those people, I just remind myself that what goes around comes around. Lucky for them though, when they are in dire straits they’ll still get the help they need. I just hope that in the mean time, a plank of wood knocks them over the back of the head and they finally get a much needed wake-up call.

My hat goes off to every single person who has helped or will help return Brisbane to the beautiful city it has always been. From those mother and daughters baking cookies to offer to the workers, to the local church groups driving around to hand out cold bottles of water and ice blocks, to the volunteers walking up streets with a mop & bucket in hand, I am so proud of you and I am so proud that we were able to be a part of it and assist even just in the smallest way.

Eventually, Brisbane will rebuild. It’ll be quite a big slog but we just have to keep our spirits high and remember that while losing your home and possessions is difficult, what matters most is the comfort & safety of those you love.

CAMPSITE # 47 - Melbourne Airport Tourist Park VIC

As we drove from Ballarat towards Melbourne, we decided to flick on the local radio to touch base with the goings on in wet & flooded Brisbane. After we had been updated by Brisbane's aftermath and cleanup missions, the news then proceeded to inform us that Ballarat had also flooded. We had no idea.. and it was faaaantastic. Well, not so fantastic for the manager of one of the local CARAVAN PARKS(!!!) who had to evacuate his entire park during the middle of the night as the rush of the water had begun uprooting the static caravans. We made a great decision to stay at the backpackers as, unlike those staying in the caravan park, we had a dry & uninterrupted night's sleep.

One thing's for sure, we weren't sending Christian home on a 36 hour long journey in stinking wet clothes & luggage. I think we were all pretty scarred by the down pour at the Grampians that when I suggested we booked a cabin in a Caravan Park, the boys were very obliging... to no great surprise.

Once again, we were able to be privileged enough to live like normal people, if not for just one more day.

I think Christian could have hugged the girl at reception when she told us they had a pool in the complex. Chris was able to sneak in a few cheeky hours under the sun & around the pool afterall, you can't return home from a 2 week summer holiday in Australia back to cold old Europe without a tan!! He was determined... maybe even a little too determined!!

Somehow, the last two weeks with our friends managed to fly by so quickly. We were now at a point where we had to farewell our final visitors and consider returning to the trio of just Tom, Charlie  and I. But there was one thing playing on our minds, one thing that had been bothering us both for the last few days. We decided to put it on the back burner and weigh up our options after we had farewelled our friends.

CAMPSITE # 46 - Sovereign Hill - Ballarat VIC

The boys have officially retired from guest posting and you're back with yours truly. Rest assured, the cricket banter is officially over.

We had originally planned to stay at The Grampians the entire week, right up until the Friday and then drive straight back to Melbourne to deliver the boys to the airport on the Saturday. Just like a lot of Eastern Australia, we were severely rained out. We didn't quite realise the extent of it until I stumbled across this footage of the main strip of the local town in The Grampians called Halls Gap - absolutely remarkable and it was only taken just 24 hours after we had left it.  We were wet and smelly and over the rain. Everything was soaking and disgusting, after a two hour drive in the Troopie, the stench trapped inside the car would have even made a homeless person dry retch. We needed a washing machine, stat. We needed somewhere dry, stat. We needed a roof over our heads, STAT!!! More rain was due and I certainly wasn't going to crawl back into a stinky & disgusting wet tent only to sleep on top of a stinky & disgusting wet mattress.

We were heading to Ballarat, home of Sovereign Hill and we were heading straight for cover. It's funny how to Tom & I nowadays, staying at a YHA backpackers is like staying at the Sheraton... OMG clean sheets!!! Running water!!! A Roof!!! ELECTRICITY!!!

For $26 per person per night, we had a dorm to ourselves and somewhere to spread out the mess. I hijacked the washing machine for what felt like eternity and we were able to cleanse ourselves.

The YHA at Ballarat is right on Sovereign Hill, an  entertainment village re-enacting an old gold mining town in the 1850's. It was quite entertaining. 
The three geologists were absolutely in their element when we went on the underground adventure. It didn't help that it was pelting down with rain outside so left the tunnel with a lovely smell and loads of puddles everywhere. The boys were even challenging the tour leader during question time which was quite a laugh.

I hated the 60 seconds downwards in pitch black. I wouldn't be surprised if Tom has some serious bruises on his forearm!

The Tour Leader tried to convince us that this was real gold. The boys, in their professional wisdom did not concur.

All in all, Sovereign Hill was quite entertaining. Tom even said that it was a lot better than what he was expecting. They had some great demonstrations including my favourite the confectionery making AND the gold pouring of a bar of gold worth $140,000. Tom spoke to the guy after the demonstration and he proceeded to tell Tom that that same bar of gold is melted & poured 7 times a day and has been done so far the last 14 years. The boys were busy plotting the best ways to pocket the bar themselves as we were all surprised at how few security measures were taken to protect it.

Panning for gold was the highlight for Tommy, he was certainly the most patient out of all of us. I would say that it paid off as he found 4 specs of gold but when we later found out that they were worth approximately 5 cents each, we quickly realised that we probably shouldn't have paid $1 for a jar of water to store them in.

Matt was the naughty boy in the back row distracting all of the other students... while the star student Christian scored himself an A++

Sovereign Hill was quite an adventure, even for the adults. They had loads of demonstrations & actors to give it a true 1800's feeling. At $42 entry per adult, you're guaranteed a full days entertainment, it's definitely worth visiting if you're travelling through Ballarat.