Hobart – day 330

Deciding to avoid the squeeze in the kitchen for the final time, we opted to grab all our cereal, milk, foldable bowls and our sporks to eat breakfast al fresco at the summit of Mount Wellington. The drive through the streets towards the 1270m high mountain was pretty straight forward although, with no petrol stations en route refreshing our memories, we had got half way up to the summit when the petrol gauge light came one… Driving straight past one of the view points on our way up, the glimpsing view was spectacular and made us even more excited about the view from the top! However, after about 5 more minutes of winding up the road through thick temperate forest, we clearly started going through the cloud line… The lunar rockscapes were surrounded in mist and we couldn’t see more than 10 metres in front of us. Deciding that there was no way that the cloud was going to magically disappear by the time we reached the summit, we decided to cut our loses and head back to the view point we had driven past to park up for breakfast. Would have worked out quite well too had the fog not descended at the same speed as us and we got about 2 minutes of view before we ate our breakfast looking at a stone wall and some fog!Undeterred by the start of our morning, we headed back down the mountain, stopping at the closest petrol station we could find, happy to pay the extra cost for petrol in exchange for not breaking down in the middle of nowhere on the day we were due to fly back to Melbourne. Managed to weave our way through the back streets to the Cascades Female Factory, another UNESCO site but part of the 11 convict sites in Australia so we can’t count it. The Cascades Female Factory is Australia’s most significant historic site associated with female convicts and certainly one of the more interesting convict sites we have visited, despite not having much left. The original yard was built as a gin distillery but the other four yards were purpose built, creating a self-contained institution intended to reform female convicts who had been transported from England under the pretence of being criminals but basically being sent to reproduce with the male convicts to populate the British colony. 

Thousands of women and children were imprisoned here, and many never left, due to high rates of illness and infant mortality. ​​​​Using our YHA membership cards again, we got a concession rate on entry and a guided introduction to the site and its stories. During the guided tour of the site, the guide gave us insights into the regimented system of punishment and reform that operated within these walls. Made us question whether these women were more sinned against than sinning?​ The only building still standing is the Matrons house that was, until recently, still occupied by a local family before being resold to the historical society (I guess it must have been frustrating having tourists pressed up against your lounge window every day). We finished our visit to the site by looking at the book of names for children who had died at the site… The list went on and on – very sad, especially when the cause of death for most of them was due to poor sanitation and drinking dirty water. Getting back in the car, we headed out of town and, with a few hours to kill, headed to Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. The Sanctuary houses wombats, koalas, birds, quolls and many amazing natives including the Tasmanian devils. They also have over 80 free-roaming kangaroos which we got to hand-feed with complimentary kangaroo food. They were so much bigger than the kangaroos we fed on Kangaroo Island – it was slightly intimidating. We managed to squeeze in the 2pm guided tour where we got to hear some little-known facts about the wildlife (such as a wombat can outrun Usain Bolt) and stories of orphaned animals in care at the sanctuary. The tour included seeing the devils devour a snack (it looked like the carcass of a hedgehog) and pats and take close-up photos of the wombat and koalas – it was surprisingly good for a small place. 

Back at Hobart airport, we returned the car (having clocked up over 900km in four days) and waited for our plane back to Melbourne. A quick flight, an easy transfer on the SkyBus to the city centre and we were checked in at the YHA. Decided to treat ourselves to ‘dinner’ out, we went to the kebab shop we had spotted all those weeks ago when we had come to Melbourne for the weekend. Ordered a ‘snack-pack’ that was so enormous, we had to share it! Watched a little bit of TV in the television room before heading up to bed. Thursday 1st September 2016

Coober Pedy – day 322/12

Waking up 6.5m underground in a dug out that was excavated decades ago was weird… The sounds of other guest waking up in the cavernous holes (otherwise known as the hostel dorm rooms) were joined with pitch black darkness – until we turned on our room light and then we were squinting like blind moles! Managed to find a bathroom that had cubicles free for all of us where we proceeded to spend our shower time singing across the partitions, only to have a man cough halfway through our rendition of the ‘Muppets’ theme tune – cue some girly giggles from us and a hasty exit from the gentleman. Managed to get a clothes wash done whilst we had breakfast, choosing to sit outside (slightly cold) after spending the night in what can only be defined as a fancy coffin, complete with bunk beds and a mattress. Decided to spend the day walking in the town rather than partaking in one of the over priced tours which, apparently, showcase this town as a mining and tourist mecca. As we walked down the street and out of town towards our first opal mine of the day (that’s right… The first!!), it seemed like we had arrived in a post apocalyptic wasteland with the dry barren desert being riddled with holes, adjacent piles of dirt and signs warning of the dangers of ‘deep shafts’ and ‘walking backwards’. There were rusty car wrecks in front yards of houses that appeared to only have a front porch – the rest of the house is dug underground to cope with the 50°C summer days and lack of trees! Even at 10am in the morning, there were groups of aboriginals loitering on the streets in small groups, either already drunk or still intoxicated from the night before. The scene was the same for nearly every group we passed – swearing, shouting and poor attempts at fighting each other whilst calling ‘hello’ to every person who walked past them. Arriving at Tom’s Working Opal Mine, we were given hard hats and a map before being sent down into the working excavation. We were allowed to try the bosun chair that the miners used to descend themselves into the mine shaft, posing for the obligatory photos with a pick axe as we hung precariously several feet off the ground, not entirely sure if the cable on the ‘Ute’ could withhold our weight and/or had been checked in the last decade. All on solid ground and in one piece with an extensive amount of stone dust on our backs which glowed up under the UV light like a min solar system on our backs, we headed off down into the mine, exploring all the nooks and crannies including the sections where miners are continuing their search for the big vein. Jayne got far too involved in searching for her own small fortune by using the tools in the museum to crack open undiscovered opals in the rocks strewn around the place – alas, no opals found… Heading back up to the reception area, we got to watch a video on opal formation and mining (which was really interesting but I couldn’t tell you anything I learnt except that the big dinosaur skeleton found in Coober Pedy is not in Coober Pedy!). Heading back into town, we stopped off at the bakery to get some lunch of meat pies – the label said beef however none of us have seen any cats in the town – coincidence?!? Just saying! We consume our ‘beef’ pies on the veranda of the bakery listening to the dulcet tones of the fighting aboriginals al. around us. Walked over to the Catholic Church of St Peter & St Paul which was Coober Pedy’s first church and still has a sweet appeal with its statue-filled nooks and hushed classical music. Back to the hostel to have some lunch before crossing the road to explore the underground museum in the Desert Cave Hotel. More information and photos rather than anything else, the display of photos showing how people fall down the deep shafts and how they are rescued was equal parts funny and disturbing – we can only hope that they are staged photos. 

Walking back along the Main Street, we tried to find the leftover spaceship prop from the film Pitch Black but couldn’t spot it, so headed instead to the Big Winch which has sweeping views over Coober Pedy. From the view point it is obvious that the surrounding desert is jaw-droppingly desolate, a fact not overlooked by international film-makers who’ve come here to shoot end of the world epics such as Mad Max III, Red Planet, Ground Zero and (the only one I’ve watched) Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The ‘if’ painted on the side of the big bucket is designed to sum up the towns spirit and from viewpoint we found the spaceship – we had walked straight past it! Heading back down the hill and with a couple of hours still to kill before our night bus to Adelaide, we decided to visit another museum mine – Old Timers Mine. It was an interesting warren of tunnels that was mined in 1916, and then hidden by the miners. The mine was rediscovered when excavations for a dugout home punched through into the labyrinth of tunnels. We started with a demonstration of the ‘blower’, a piece of mining equipment that is fundamentally a giant vacuum cleaner on the back of a ‘ute’ which, predictably, sucks up rocks from one place and blows them out of the other end. We each got to have a go feeding rocks and our arms into the machine – imagine a giant Dyson air dryer and you’ll understand what our hands looked like… Old ladies hands! Literally had to drag Jayne away from the noodling area at the end of our tour as the museum was closing and everyone wanted to go home, except us! We headed to our last stop of the day, Josephine’s Gallery and Kangaroo Sanctuary. A bizarre combination of art and kangaroos left us all feeling a little bit uncomfortable. Clearly not as well funded as Brolga’s sanctuary in Alice Springs, the kangaroos were feed with wasabi peas and banana chips by the tourists. It wasn’t all bad though – Jayne and I bought our Australia painting. An aboriginal night scene around a fire with native Australian animals in the background. 

Heading back to the hostel, we packed up our bags on the front veranda. Jayne and Tracey popped to Johns to get take away dinner to consume whilst we waited for the coach to turn up whilst I guarded the bags, listening to the continuing arguments that floated down the streets from the groups of aboriginals. Walking the five minutes down the road to the coach ‘station’ we ate our food before boarding the bus. Tracey was disgusted as Jayne and I tucked into our local speciality – a coat of arms pizza which is topped with kangaroo and emu meat. Maybe this explains the lack of red kangaroos in the area?!? Had to sit near the front but we all got a two person seat each so we could spread out a little bit. Clearly one of the older Greyhound buses, it was a little rough around the edges with no wifi or in seat USB outlets – not a huge issue except we had all run our iPhones down with the assumption that we would be able to charge them on the bus – fool on us! Jayne and I watched the only film uploaded onto our iPad (About a Boy) and Tracey watched the only film on her iPad (Sixteen Candles), before we all tried to get some sleep on the rather juddery coach. 

Wednesday 24th August 2016

Shepparton – day 254 (K)

Took me forever to fall asleep last night – my mind was clearly working on overdrive and it was weird being in a double bed alone (for the first time in years) which resulted in me making a Skype phone call to Jayne at 1am. Fortunately, that is 4pm back in the UK so I didn’t feel too bad as I was the only one yawning through the entire chat!! Woke up around 8am with the daylight streaming through the windows since I’d forgotten to shut the blinds last night… Got up and made breakfast for Tracey. Anyone who is familiar with my cooking ability, or lack there of, will now be concerned that I was preparing food for another human being (who I actually like!!). Fortunately, the offer of making scrambled egg was declined and I was allowed to prepare the slightly easier muesli, Milo cereal bars and coffee from the Nespresso machine. Deciding to be slightly more active today than yesterday, we were both showered, dressed and out of the house before midday! First stop, was a little drive around to find some kangaroos. We found some around the back of the motor museum. I have never seen a real kangaroo before, not even in a zoo (that I can remember). I have to admit, I was surprised at how big they were. Standing erect, the kangaroo was as tall as I am with massively powerful legs – even in slow motion jumping, that beast moved bloody quickly!! Don’t think I ever want to be at the receiving end of an angry one of those…As we headed back towards the centre of town we visited the Shepparton MooovingArt exhibition. Scattered across several of the parks, riverbanks, gardens, footpaths and public buildings in the area are some colourful 3D life-size fibreglass MooovingArt Cows. Prepared by local and internationally renowed artists, the art exhibit is designed to promote the Greater Shepparton region as the dairy capital of Australia. They sound ridiculous but they were actually quite special in their own way from Spider-Man cow to Shrek cow, from pirate cow to tourist cow. My favourite has to be hotdog cow whilst Tracey liked the skeleton cow. Apparently, every now and again, people drive around and ‘tip’ the cows. Whilst I don’t endorse this kind of behaviour, the thought of drunken youths walking around tipping fibreglass cows is kind of funny although probably not to the artist or the police… (who have their own painted police cow outside the station!).

Got back in the car and drove to the Last Straw cafe to get a latte. Clearly arriving at a busy time, we managed to grab the last table whilst an ever growing line of people waited to be seated. The back section of the cafe is literally in the kitchen part of the cafe. Drank our coffees and freed up the table before heading to the Chocolate Apple factory. Greater Shepparton produces 90% of the pears in Australia and 30% of the apples which you can see as you take a drive around the area – it’s back to back orchards. The 22-hectare orchard that is home to the Chocolate Apple factory is near to Tracey’s work, although she has never been! The owners of the orchard developed their products after some unfortunate natural events back in 2004 (drought, frost and hail). Inside the shed behind their house was a small retail outlet where we got to try some of their speciality chocolate apples – smooth creamy chocolate on the outside with a layer of soft caramel coating a crisp flavoursome Pink Lady apple inside. They are also beautifully decorated with more chocolate and other edible trimmings such as sweets, marshmallows, peanuts or Maltesers (to name a few). Obviously, after trying a couple of the different kinds, we both bought one each (sorry Jayne but don’t expect there to be any left when you get here!!). Also got some local produced apple juice with ginger before heading back into town to visit the Shepparton Art Museum (SAM). A small but lovely gallery with a variety of different art pieces – paintings, photos, sculptures, ceramics and prints. The exhibition of 80 pieces of art from their 80 years of collecting was a total eclectic mix of pieces, each interesting in its own way (although some I wouldn’t necessarily consider ‘art’). The main show stopper is the ‘Woman and child’ statue created by Sam Jinks. Incredibly realistic, the fact that you are looking at a sculpture and not living human beings is disconcerting to say the least. It is truly mesmerising and the detail is magnificent.  Upstairs was dedicated to a Chinese artist. There was a rather percular video of her sitting in front of a mirror, wearing a wedding dress, on a construction site having cake thrown at her whilst puppies ate what fell on the floor… Another one of the exhibits was an aroma installation with six scents to represent the town of Shepparton, both in its history and present day. The smells were of pear, green apple, wood fire smoke, eucalyptus, garlic and chilli pepper. Outside the SAM there are some more MoovingArt cows which we looked at, only to be approached by a local man who wanted to share his many conspiracy theories with us, ranging from 9-11 to Princess Diana… Stopped off on the way back to the house to pick up some noodles for a late lunch/early dinner. In the evening, we went to the cinema to watch ‘Finding Dory’. It doesn’t stray too far from the original film in plot and tone but, with the new characters, it is still full of humour and touching moments. Tracey and I even got to use our new joke of ‘I’m drying’ (the fish equivalent to ‘I’m drowning’) on two occasions! Back at the house to ring Jayne and HSBC before heading to bed. 18 days to go!

Friday 17th June 2016