Merry Christmas From The Top Of Australia

For a fleeting moment Lucy was the highest person in Australia. We had just completed our 9km fairly gentle hike to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in Australia at 2228m. Having our photo taken at the cairn marking the top, Lucy decided to climb on top of the cairn and as such was higher than anyone else in Australia just for that moment.   We had been wondering what to do for Christmas for a while. As Christmas falls in the main summer holiday here, most Australians head for the beach,so we decided that to escape the crowds we would head for the mountains instead. Gilly and I had the idea that it would be fun to do something different on Christmas Day and to climb Mount Kosciuszko. Alisha and Lucy told us this would be so unfair to do this on Christmas Day so we decided to climb it on Christmas Eve instead. We were lucky, the weather could not have been more ideal. It was beautiful and sunny but not too hot with a gentle breeze. We were rewarded with some fantastic scenery over the Alpine Heath with the Snowy River starting it's long descent to the coast. Since it was not Christmas Day we told the girls there was no need to rush back so took the longer more up and down route back and were rewarded with even more magnificent scenery.                    We had hoped that a 22km hike would tire the girls out for the arrival of Santa. We were amazed that when we returned to the campsite where we were staying for Christmas that the girls quickly ran off to play with some other girls they had met the previous evening. Gilly and I were ready to collapse but they weren't, even dragging us out to feed the campsite kangaroos with special "kangaroo food".    Whilst Lucy want straight to sleep on been put to bed, Alisha stubbornly refused to go to sleep. As we stayed up we heard a rustling outside, could this be Santa arriving early? No it was a possum scampering around near the truck.    Eventually everyone dropped off. Lucy of course was then the first to wake. At 5.45!! Fortunately Santa had been by then and she and Alisha found their pillow sacks full with presents. Even though we had said not to wake us before 7am it was impossible to ignore them in the tight confines of truck and so just before 6.30 we were all up, cup of tea in hand, to open Santa's presents.      We had a lovely relaxing day doing nothing in particular but letting the girls play with their new toys. The weather was fantastic and there were kangaroos hopping around the truck. We feel very at home in Australia as many things are very similar to England. In fact in some respects things are more English than in England. This meant it was easy to cook a traditional English Christmas dinner. Whilst our oven is not big enough for a whole turkey we were still able to do a turkey roll with all the trimmings such as stuffing, parsnips and sprouts and we could even finish off with traditional Christmas pudding so I was very happy. Although the weather was fantastic, unfortunately this had brought out the flies so we retreated back to the truck to enjoy lunch.       Mind you we could not finish Christmas without a passing nod to Australian cuisine so although we did not need much for tea we introduced the girls to the classic Australian desert, the Pavlova. A great way to end the day. Christmas week had started with us leaving Melbourne and heading to Philip Island. We were here to see the march of the tiny Fairy penguins up the beach. Every night at sunset nearly 1,000 of these penguins come out of the sea and waddle up to their nesting sights for the night. As the area was experiencing one of its hottest December nights on record we did not need to take heed of the warning to dress warmly and instead could sit on the beach and enjoy the scenery while waiting for the Penguins to arrive. It was funny to watch them as they tried to get their courage to do the dash across the beach. Initially they would come just out of the water and then dash back in again but eventually they summoned up enough courage and waddled up the beach. I am sorry we don't have any photos but photography is prohibited due to flashes scaring the Penguins. From there we made our way around to the Wilson Promontory. A spectacular national park on the ocean. It's very popular so we had booked our camping spot in advance. What we had not realised was that there were 485 camping spots here and nearly everyone was full. We are certainly not used to this and almost drove straight out on seeing so many people but are so glad we did not. The vibe from the other campers was really relaxed and friendly and everyone was just intent on enjoying themselves. There were lots of families spending a few days before Christmas.   As we arrived the weather was breaking so we went straight to the beach to swim in the sea, which was delightfully cold and then to bathe in the warm river.      The area is famed for its resident wombats which come out at dusk. As we had not seen a wombat in the wild yet, Gilly headed out after the girls had gone to bed but without success. So I went for a walk. Having spotted one I dashed back to the truck to tell Gilly. She needn't have dashed off to see it as whilst she was gone one strolled nonchalantly under the truck.    The next day was much cooler. Ideal for a hike along the coast through some bush and along some spectacular beaches. The place may have been busy but the scenery more than made up for it.             With the campsite been so large it even had its own open air cinema. While we were there they had their premier of Star Wars so I decided to go. It was a rather different experience watching it under the stars with people laying on bean bags on the grass. Gilly and the girls decided against as it didn't start until dusk (9.15 pm) so they went out on another wombat hunt. It was time to head to the hills. Whilst we have been loving Australia, Gilly and I love the mountains and the State of Victoria gave us the chance to head up into the Snowy Mountains. After all we wanted to see it ourselves after watching "The Man from Snowy River" and decided we had to camp ourselves by the Snowy River. Australia has lots of signs telling you want you can and can't do and warning you of any possible danger no matter how small. Unfortunately they do not differentiate between the level of danger. We had become used to seeing signs every time we turned off wonderful asphalt roads, warning us of danger ahead and bad roads only to find nothing of the sort. Clearly the people putting up the signs have never been to South America or Africa. So a bit like the "boy who cried wolf", after a while we just started ignoring them and going with our own common sense. So when we pulled off the "main" road to head down a gorge to the Snowy River we only paid a cursory glance to the warning signs. The next sign said "no caravans" no problem we were not a caravan. But this time the signs had a point, as we descended the beautiful gorge the track became narrower and narrower; steeper and steeper; with a big drop off on one side. We were fine taking it slowly until we met someone coming the other way. He clearly had not read the signs either as he was pulling a trailer. Fortunately I did not have to reverse too far uphill to a spot where he could pass. It was worth it though for the views and to camp by the river in amongst the beautiful gum trees.             The next day we retraced our steps and joined the main road which had now also become a track to cross from Victoria into New South Wales. At the border there was another sign saying "Danger, narrow twisting road. No caravans." Well it was a bit late to be telling us now as it was a couple of hundred kilometres to go back and round so we ploughed on. We wish we had had more time as the scenery was gorgeous and there were some lovely spots to camp by the river.    But we had our date with a certain mountain and so entered Kosciuszko National Park to spend a lovely few days over Christmas. Merry Christmas everyone.

Familiar Faces in Melbourne

As we drove along the Great Ocean Road, the bright lights of Melbourne beckoned, but first we got to enjoy the delights of the wild coast. We spent a couple of nights in the bush by yellow sands and the surf of Johanna Beach. After several weeks of driving almost everyday we all enjoyed a day of relaxing and doing very little.   At the tiny village of Kennet River, we stopped to seek out koalas on a dirt road up the hill. We arrived in time for lunch and lots of tourist buses, making us realise we were back in the more populated part of Victoria, but by the time we had eaten we were almost alone again. We saw lots of cockatoos, parrots and about 10 snoozing koalas, high up in the trees.    That night in the unimaginatively named "Big Hill" free campsite, the parrots came to visit as we tucked up early as the temperature dropped to 8 degrees. The next afternoon as we headed into Melbourne the temperature started to rise, it kept on steadily getting hotter until it hit 42 degrees on the day we left. Phew! It even beat our previous personal record in Brazil. dsc07128 Although the area around the caravan park we were staying in wasn't too inspiring, it was an easy bus ride into town. After some Christmas shopping (Steve and I taking turns to distract the girls, while the other one dashed into a shop), we headed to the food trucks at Victoria Market. Steve knew it was his sort of place when he found 3 spit roasted pigs turning at the entrance. We managed to eat and drink our way round the world with Filipino pork, Southern Indian Dosas, Greek calamari, Spanish sangria, Thai coconuts and Australian beer - a perfect international mix. dsc07131 dsc07138 dsc07141 We are lucky enough to have many friends from all over the world. During our time in Moscow we got to know many Australians and many of them have returned home after their time overseas. After a day of sightseeing and an afternoon "school trip" to the excellent Melbourne Museum, we headed out to the suburbs. It was lovely to catch up over some excellent wine and food with our old friends Dean and Janine. The girls disappeared with their lovely daughter Georgie, while we got to know delightful over 6ft tall Henry, who we had last seen as a toddler. dsc07168 dsc07158 dsc07166 dsc07170 dsc07171 The next day the girls and I had a late start as Steve went in to town to meet Paul, who he had worked with over 20 years ago in London, he had a great time catching up. That afternoon we met up with yet more friends in Williamstown, Dave, Matt and Olga (all ex-Moscovites) for drinks at the pub. Fortunately Williamstown was near the sea and there was a nice breeze to lower the temperature a little. dsc07174 Our last friend we saw isn't even from Melbourne or even Australia but the timing worked out perfectly to see Benita, an old friend from University, who realised from the blog that we might be in the same place at the same time. She was just in Melbourne for a couple of days on holiday but we managed to catch up for brunch just before we left. dsc07177 We had a lovely time in Melbourne and it was great to catch up with so many old friends.

Contrasting Weather

With it been summer in Australia we had expected fairly consistent hot sunny weather. Well this week has shown just how much the weather can vary. We started the week near Adelaide where the temperature reached 41 degrees. According to the newspaper this was the hottest day for the first week in December in Adelaide for over 90 years. By the end of the week we were on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria with blustery wind and showers coming off the Southern Ocean and maximum highs of 17 degrees. Quite a contrast. We had perfectly timed our visit to Flinders Ranges National Park before the heatwave. As we left the thermometer was rising and it would have been too hot to do any walking. Instead we went to the Barossa Valley, the heart of the Australian wine making industry. So even though it was going to be a scorcher we could not miss out on doing a few wine tours especially as our stocks from Margaret River had virtually run out. One of the advantages of doing wine tasting was that it was conducted in either cool cellars or air conditioned rooms. As it was already 37 degrees by 10.30am we decided to start early. The first winery we chose, Peter Lehmann, proved to be an excellent choice. The person showing us the wines was excellent, very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. He insisted we try a very wide range of the wines so we could appreciate and understand the different flavours. When I explained I was driving he said I should still taste but use the spittoon. It seemed such a waste but as there was at least 12 wines to taste I had no choice. Gilly on the other hand could just enjoy herself. The winery even had a toy corner so the kids could happily play while we enjoyed the tasting.    We visited a couple of other wineries in the afternoon so by the end of the day were well stocked back up with wine before heading into Adelaide. We had decided to stay at a caravan park in Adelaide, not our normal choice, but this one was only 2kms from the centre of the city so was perfectly located to be able to walk in and out. On arrival we were initially told there was no space big enough for us but fortunately the gardener overheard and said he would be able to get us into a spot. We were glad he did as the location proved ideal and the walk into the city was through the beautiful botanic gardens. We spent our time in Adelaide visiting the Botanical gardens as well as the Migration museum which very interestingly set out some of the history of the migrants that have come to live in Australia and the diverse countries they have come from. It also explained the dramatic effect this had on the local aboriginal people and some of the policies applied to migration over the years. The girls are studying Australian History, so it was very relevant to their studies. I also had a chance to visit the Wine Museum of Australia and did not need to worry about driving this time.       As Christmas is approaching we also thought we had better start our Christmas shopping. After a dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant we also took the kids to see the Christmas lights.    One place I had wanted to visit was the Central Market but it was closed on Mondays so before leaving the next day I went back early to stock up with fresh meat, fish and some wonderful cheese. We found Adelaide interesting. It did not have that big city feel of Sydney or even Perth and in some ways felt quite provincial but in a very pleasant liveable way. Heading out of the city we went to McLaren Vale another wine producing area so had to visit another couple of wineries. We really were well stocked now. We pulled into a free camp that evening which I realised was right next to a winery. To my surprise I found it was the winery of a wine we used to drink a lot of in Prague and really enjoyed. If only we had known, I would have been able to enjoy the tasting much more if I knew we were parked up for the night. Still we really were full of wine so would need to give this one a miss.    The weather had already started to cool down and as we headed towards the South Australian Limestone Coast it cooled further. First we had to cross the Murray River by ferry before camping at Coorong National Park. We took a walk to the beach when we arrived but the strong wind meant it was too cold to stay on the beach.       The following day we crossed the state border into Victoria and the weather had now completely changed. We arrived at Cape Bridgewater a wonderful windswept surfing bay. We took a delightful but bracing walk along beach.       As we headed along the coast we joined the famous Great Ocean Road a spectacular coastal drives. All along the way there are great views along the cliff faces of rock formations that were previously part of the cliff face. Getting out was bracing as there was a strong southerly wind blowing off the Southern Ocean but the views more than made up for it. As the afternoon wore on it was getting busier and busier so we decided to leave the main sites until early the next morning and headed to a recreation ground to camp. As it was cold we needed to sit inside the truck. Fortunately the kiosk at the site was renting DVDs, so Gilly decided we could continue the girl's Australian education and rather than renting the latest blockbuster we rented the classic "The Man From Snowy River" (from the famous Banjo Paterson poem) starring Kirk Douglas. When the movie finished we were able to enjoy all the large kangaroos that had come to feed around the truck.                   The next morning we headed to the main site the 12 Apostles. We were there before the coach parties but the weather had not improved. Still we managed a few photos of the wonderful scenery when the clouds briefly cleared.