Monday, February 28, 2011

Last night in Oz, in the Brisbane airport

Flight:  Virgin Blue Brisbane to Nadi, Fiji, 3.5 hours, horrible airline not even a glass of water with the flight.

We checked out of our great condo at Sunshine Beach, Noosa by 11am, and headed south towards the city and the area beyond.  We have been in Queensland for a week, but other than Rick and Travis' venture to Goondi and our day trip to Australia Zoo, we hadn't done much exploring.  We thought we should at least see the Gold Coast area before we left Australia so the kids would know what that was about when they decide to come back to Australia on their own.

Two hours to the city, across the beautiful bridge on the Brisbane River (no longer in flood) then another hour and a half  to the Gold Coast.  The drive had the passengers dozy, so we didn't have to deal with the "ask" when we passed all the theme parks - Dreamworld, Waterworld, Movieworld, Drop-your-dollars-here-world, and the like.  We did the scenic drive over to Surfers Paradise, and yes, there are even more skyscrapers and fancy buildings that on our 1993 trip, and even fewer places to park.  We did eventually find a stall (next to a "gentlemens club", closed thankfully) and headed to find a cafe that would still be open for a "late lunch".  Very few places in Australia are open between 2 and 6 pm and if you miss lunch hour, you are stuck with a meat pie from a petrol station.

Derek voted Italian, so we sat on the sidewalk patio and were greeted by a Canadian girl from Manitoba. Nice, as we are all starting to yearn for home.  Pizza was good, prices were more reasonable than we had seen for a while, and the beer was cold... what more could we want for our last day in Australia?  We headed over to the tourist shops for a few "prezzies" and then back in the direction of the airport.  Flight  the next morning was an early one, with us needing to be at the airport for 5:30 am and still needed to return the rental van, so we were looking for a cheap comfortable option, which apparently does not exist in this part of the world.  Our first 4 hotels quoted us $500, $450, $375 and $425, and truly, the last three looked like any small town motel so "comfortable" and "clean" were probably debatable.  What to do?

Well, all this travel, but this was a first.  We went to the airport at 8 pm, took back the vehicle, and found a few comfy couches in the departure lounge.  Not comfy, but yes, clean, and the price? FREE.  Wifi not included at this airport though.  I hope the resort in Fiji makes up for the crappy night in Brisbane, but judging by my trusted "Trip Advisor", I think it will.                        

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Changing Plans, again

Good news on Facebook, the Barnes family is all safe and sound, and though they were without power and water, and are still shaking, they are staying strong. I wish we could pick them up and fly them out of there for a bit - come join us in Brisbane for a week? - but for them, I guess, earthquakes are a part of daily life, and that is home.  We are very disappointed that New Zealand is not going to happen for us, but honestly, the airlines are being asked to fly in vicitims families, aid workers and auxiliary police officers, so we would not feel right taking our family of six on holidays there, not now.  I guess it leaves a "top of the list" place for our kids to come on their own in the future.

So, back to Virgin for yet another credit.  Don't even like that airline, but since they won't do refunds I guess we have to fly part of our trip home with their carrier.  Unfortunately, they don't go straight to Hawaii, and wont transfer to their V partner that goes to LA, so that gives us only a few options:  somewhere else in Australia (Darwin, Sydney, Cairns, Whitsundays maybe?), or an island en route that we can get a one-way onward flight to Honolulu... Cook Islands and Tonga don't give us any forward options, so that leaves Fiji and  Samoa.

Best value for dollar, we think Oz is out.  Australia is very expensive for all items:  food, gas, hotel, everything.  With our dollar par with the US, we are better waiting in Hawaii for the snow to melt, though by the weather reports from home, we might have to wait til June!  After several hours of Expedia, Trip Advisor, Vayama, and all of our other favorite websites, plans were set.

Wow, I marvel again how much technology has changed the world.  We have not set foot in a travel agency apart for initial inquiries with Maria in Lamont, and I know we have paid way less for our fares, as well as had much better flexibility by "flying by the seat of our pants".  Maybe not everyone's comfort zone, but it has worked for us.  And with everything that has happened along the way (you know, riots, floods, cyclones, earthquakes), I am very glad that flexibility was within our budget.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Christchurch Earthquake Disaster

It is in horror that I watched the television the last couple of days.  Right after Rick and Travis left, and only hours after we booked our tickets for Christchurch next week, the news report of the devastating earthquake in Christchurch interrupted Katie's show. At 6.3, it is not the strongest earthquake they have had, but due to the proximity to the downtown of the city of the epicenter, as well as the shallow nature of the fracture, the destruction has been massive.  And many lives have been lost.

Our hearts and prayers are with the people of Christchurch. We hope that our friends are safe, and that their friends are safe as well.  Many people have been trapped in buildings, crushed by walls and rocks and glass, it is truly horrifying.  Especially heartbreaking are the stories of those trapped, lost in the piles of rubble, able to phone or text to family and loved ones, but unable to be found before it was too late.  Australia has rushed to their aid, as have rescue workers from many parts of the world.   There is no running water, no power, most of the downtown has been cordoned off, and the airport has been closed.  The aftershocks continue, measuring up to 5 and adding to the difficulty of the rescues, and schools are closed.  They are expecting over 200 lives lost, and many, many more injured.  It is beyond sad.  And this type of disaster will take a long recovery.  The Red Cross is trying to set up temporary housing and food and water, sanitation.  This is not a place for tourists.  I think our trip to New Zealand is off.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Boys Trip to Goondi

The storm followed us home from the Zoo, where we had a super-hot day under the sun with little wind to cool off.  We could see the dark clouds as we neared the coast, and the wind whipped up as we entered the underground parking.  From our third floor balcony we had a great view of the surf at the bottom of the seacliffs, where the experienced surfers played in the 20' wake.

We got on the internet and connected with Vicki and Craig, to make sure our plans to head to New Zealand would be okay dates for them.  It will be really nice to visit with them again, as it has been since before Katie arrived at Stuart and Chantel's wedding in Vancouver that we last saw them.  Craig is Stu's brother, and they spent several months with us in Lamont at the farm when the kids were little.  We first met when we were in New Zealand in 1992, when they were managing the Blue Duck Valley ranch in Kaikoura, but they have now relocated to Lincoln in the Christchurch area on the way to Banks Peninsula.  We are very excited to spend some time there with them next week.

Rick and Travis also made arrangements to spend a couple days out in Boggabilla, just over the Queensland border in NSW by Goondiwindi.  That is the area where big floods went through when we first arrived in January, but the water has now receded and the cleanup is mostly complete.  Graham and Kylie run the Turkey Lagoon station there, growing cotton and raising cattle.  This storm means the temperature will be cooler, not the staggering 40's they had on our last attempt to visit the beginning of Feb.  So in the morning, Rick and Travis will head out to the plains, back to farming country.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Crikey! Is that Steve Irwin's Crocodile?

A trip to the Sunshine Coast would not have been complete without taking in the Australia Zoo.  Apparently Steve had started it on our previous visit, but remained in relative obscurity until the reality TV show took off, and it is now quite centered around the crazy Aussie wildlife icon.  An hour drive from Noosa, the Zoo is really in the middle of nowhere on the Glass Mountain tourist road, and is a testament to the Field of Dreams saying, "If you build it they will come".  It is located on the Steve Irwin Highway, of course.

The best part of the zoo:  Derek says the crocodiles; Jaclyn voted for the koalas. Katie said both, and especially the Show when the croc snapped his jaw shut on his offered morsel of sacrificial chicken.  Travis loved the snakes, which included the Top 10 most venomous in the world, most of which are found right here " in a veggie garden near you!"  I think I liked the birds - can't help but be amazed at the beautiful birdlife in this country, from the cockatoos and budgerees to the incredible heron-like prey birds who fly into the "crocoseum" with a 12 foot wingspan.  The birdsong is so LOUD!  And the Parrots are trained to speak with an Aussie accent!

We got some great photos and after enduring the hot humid day as long as we could (like, I don't want to complain about the heat, but we were seriously melting) we retired to the Etamogah Pub for lunch and a couple of cold ones.  The day broke the budget (Steve's estate certainly works hard to lighten the visitors pockets) but was a highlight of the trip... Crikey, would you look at that? Six Canadians looking for a bit of entertainment.... they's a beaut.  Must be good for at least a hundred a head.... yeah, check this out....slowly, yes! GOT EM!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Surfy Dudes

Our condo has the best location, overlooking Sunshine Beach with full ocean view of the surf beach and within walking distance to the Surf Lifesaving Club as well as the coffee shops and restaurants and pubs.  The sun has been shining since we arrived, and the boys are excited to practice their skills in the waves, especially since the weather is "beaut" and the water is "warm as".

We headed into town and found a second hand shop with some great boards, which they have pledged to "buy back" before we leave, a cheaper alternative to the 10 day rental contracts we were offered at the surf shops.  Armed with their boards and wax, we headed first to Witches Cauldron - sounds scary, but really had the nicest small-ish regular waves and is only waist deep off the point so great for building confidence... too shallow for Great Whites!

We have been visiting and traveling and moving non-stop on this trip.  It is nice to put in for a ten day stretch, unpack the bags and not drive anywhere for a bit.  The kids are catching up with their friends (facebook and skype have truly changed the world!) and I have been able to have wifi long enough to update the blog - as well as sit still and just read a book before making dinner and in between loads of laundry.  Rick will no doubt be bored of playing hearts on the computer soon enough and want to GO SOMEWHERE, but for now, time to relax.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Squeeky Beaches

Yes, the beaches in Noosa still squeak when you walk.  Gotta love that; and they are also so hot and white you need shoes, sunblock, and really, a good umbrella.  Even after all our time in Thailand, Coral Bay, Busselton and around the beaches near Melbourne, we are still getting a burn in the hot Queensland sun if not lathered right up and out of the sun in mid-day.  It's that hot.

The best place to eat for our crew on this trip is certainly the Surf Clubs.  They are great pub atmosphere, beachside with a verandah, always friendly, good simple (and sometimes gourmet!) menu, tv's with the sports on, often live music for happy hour and even Sunday brunch.  We have met many nice families and couples on holidays, as well as locals that will sit to hear our tale of life on the road.  Our accents still give us away as North Americans, with most people guessing Canada first.  Many have stories of their trip to Canada, and know exactly where we live, and all compliment us on the great Winter Olympics in Whistler, and tell us of dreams to return to the Great White North.  Though when we share the photos we have of the snow right now, most opt for a summer trip instead!

The beaches are patrolled by the members of the Surf Clubs, both from towers and on ground, as well as in the water on surf boards and boats.  Even the helicopters fly by a few times a day checking the water for rip currents, and I suspect anything with sharp teeth.  They encourage swimmers to stay between the flags (which we happily do!) and shout out advise on side currents, the rip and any incoming storms.... a great system of volunteers that is very impressive.  We have seen the young kids participate in their trainings, the teens helping each other with new surf rescue techniques as well as challenge other clubs in competition, the adults organizing the beach quads and equipment and the grandparents patrolling under the shade of umbrellas or large hats.  A big family and community, working together, for the serious business of safe play.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Three Times a Charm, Queensland

Flight: Virgin Blue (credit) Melbourne to Brisbane, 1:30pm, 2 hours
Accomodation:  Costa Nova vacation condos, Sunshine Beach on the Sunshine Coast, 11 nights
Car:  Avis 7 seater Kia van

I remember why we fell in love with this place some twenty years ago.  The Queensland air is tropical, moist and warm.  There are palm trees and flowers, thick vines and sugar cane.  The breeze is warm, and the water is warm, with surf beaches and squeaky sand, or calm quiet bays for a pleasant dip rather than body surfing.  Brightly colored parrots and other songbirds fill the air with sound.  What a great place to stay for a while.

We flew Thursday afternoon from Melbourne up to Brisbane after relinquishing our home-on-wheels and our life as gypsies.  The flight was 1h50, pleasantly uneventful other than the boy with the harmonica (who gives their kid a harmonica on an airplane????)  Virgin Air won't even give you a glass of water for free, but as air tickets go, they are cheap and on time.  We still have our credit from our Bali-Sydney flight to use, so we need to book at least one or even two more flights with them.... hopefully also short-hauls.  Kids are all lobbying for a side trip for a day in Sydney to see the Opera House and the port, so we may be headed there on our way to Chirstchurch, NZ, in a couple of weeks or so.

Picking up a mini-van at the airport was easy and less money than the pre-booked on the internet.... glad we picked that option.  The two hour drive north out of the city was fun, since Rick appreciated the extra pickup and maneoverability compared to our last 24' caravan - whooo the power.  Zoom Zoom, and Zoom.  Now time to stay put in a little seaside home, with a couple of bedrooms, kitchen, wifi, pool and considerably more than 200 square feet of living space.... we are certainly a close family, but after 35 days we need to stretch out a bit!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


The seaside suburb of Williamstown is absolutely lovely.  With sandy beaches, cafes and boutique shops, it is still within an easy commute to the heart of downtown Melbourne as well as being a very up-scale place to live.  Our friend Peter has a great spot on a quiet street, so in true "National Lampoon Christmas Vacation" style, we slung an electric cord over his fence and parked right up on the sidewalk.... gotta love those redneck friends from CANADA!

Derek, Jaclyn and Travis hit it off great with Paris, Peter's lovely 14 year old daughter, and Katie loved playing with the border collie, Tess.  Lynda extended an invitation to us to join them for a gourmet meal - wow can that lady cook!  After a few glasses of wine and a lovely meal with Peter's family, we realize again why we love Australia and the people who live here - and hope they will allow us to return the hospitality on their open invitation back to Alberta.

Lunch with Aunt Rachel

John lives in Spotswood, not far from Williamstown in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria.  The trip into the city with the RV was a little hairy, toll roads and multi-lane bridges, and loads of traffic.  Melbourne is now a city of over 3 million, and growing, and there are tram tracks in the middle of traffic lanes that you are somehow meant to yield too.... and pedestrians everywhere too.  A tad of a stressful drive.

We tracked down John on Skype once we were at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds, and pointed the RV over the West Gate Bridge (beautiful that) to park next to his spot, across from a primary school.  Katie eyed the playground instantly, but school was in, so she played there until all the children were sent for recess.  The kids are all dressed in uniform, and hats are a must due to the high level of "sun awareness" - they have a "no hat, no play" rule.  Gone are the days of sunbathing in baby oil!  Tans, apparently, are very OUT.  (Opposite of the Vitamin D deficiencies we have!)

John's sister Frances brought her children by after school to meet us - Rachel and Will ages 14 and 9.  Her husband Tim was away on a business trip to the US, so we were able to compare weather in Denver - Rachel was quite concerned Dad only packed a light "jumper", but luckily it was 11 degrees there today.  We shared the incredible snow pictures that Travis' hockey coach sent us - snowmobiles parked ON the houses! wow, we are missing quite the winter.....timing or what!

Wednesday we arranged for a lunch date with John and Frances and Aunt Rachel (their mom) at the Boatyard, down in Williamstown near the ferry port.  It was wonderful to see Aunty Rachel again, and we were sad to mark the passing of Uncle Billy (my grandma's brother, 15 years ago on Valentines Day).  He was so wonderful to us on our first visit here over Christmas 1992.  They had made us so welcome at a time of year that could have been lonely, and we were thrilled to share that time with them.  Aunt Rachel is still lovely, hasn't aged a day, and Jaclyn and Katie were honored to gift her with an Irish jig at the end of the Pier (until the skies opened up and we were all drenched!)  That Scottish humor, watching over us for sure!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Torquay, Surf City

Monday morning, so the Neely's had to return to the routine of school and work - my, our children are getting it so easy these days! Such a shock it will be to everyone's system it will surely be upon our return.  Ocean Grove was quiet, which  allowed us to get some laundry done, do some homework and take a side trip over to the surf area of Bell's Beach and Torquay.  A bit of shopping to replace some well-worn clothing? Outlet stores it is.

The headquarters of Rip Curl, Oakley, Billabong and Roxy are all lined up in Torquay, which calls itself "Surf City".  Many warehouses have clearance stores, so we were able to find a couple items as souvenirs/wardrobe additions.... flip flops for $10 is a great deal here, and after wearing sandals for the last 2 months straight, we have all worn out the gear.

The day was sunny but windy, so a great opportunity to watch the wind surfers jumping off the cliffs and soaring over the beaches below.  The water is rough here, world class surfing is not really happy swimmer territory, as we dont like the idea of rip tides and Great Whites.... let's leave that to the pro's shall we?  Plus, we are pretty sure the water will be way warmer when we hit Queensland in a few days time.  (What a bunch of wusses).

Valentine's was a lovely Mom and Dad night out - the kids prepared their own meal at the caravan park, and Rick and I walked across to Dune's, a seaside restaurant with ocean view and delicious food, not to mention to-die-for desserts.  We have been spending most of every waking minute (as well as sleeping ones) within 5 feet of all four kids, so it was nice to have a blip of adult time.... can anyone not relate to that?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Ocean Grove with our Neely cousins

From Ballarat, we headed back to the coast for a couple of nights with my cousins, the Neely family.  My mom's mom, Mary Neely, immigrated to Canada as a war bride in 1946 from Glascow, Scotland.  Her youngest brother Billy headed to warmer climes and the shores of Australia with his wife Rachel and her family, the MacDonald's.  So my mom has an aunt and a raft of first cousins in Melbourne, and they are the best people imagined!

John and his wife Rachel (sorry, this is where the story might get confusing) met us at the beach, along with their boys Scott and Matt, ages with Travis and Derek.  John's sister, Leslie and her son Dion (also 15) were there to meet us as well. The five boys instantly bonded as they were off to catch the waves - it is so great to see our kids connect with our extended family, as the generations reconnect.  I am sure my grandma as well as Uncle Billy would have had huge grins on their faces watching their children's children (and in our case, add another " 's children") play and laugh over the same video games and movies.  On the Racine side, Donna and Mark spent time here in the early 80's, then Rick and I, then Donna's Tyler, and now Mom and our second trip have made the connection.  I would encourage the Neely side to pay us all a visit back - we would love to have the chance to introduce you to more of your Canadian family, anytime.

John cooked up a feast on the barbeque, which the pack of teenage boys managed to wipe out almost completely.  And yes, there were shrimps on the barby, too.  We had a great time catching up since our original meeting at Christmas 92, and my Mom had just been visiting in January so John was able to fill us in on some of their trip stories too.

We spent the night at Ocean Grove, a little deja vu there.  John's caravan site is at the same park as our friend  Peter's, so Rick and I recognized the place as we pulled in.  We had spent New Years there with Craig and Kirsty, Peter and Kirsty's sister Fiona, once upon a time.  It is across from a great surf beach, with the river flowing on the other side creating a sandspit several miles long, excellent sunrise and sunset over the water, too.    We found Peter's caravan, but no one was there for the weekend, but it reminded us again we need to find a number for Peter before we leave the area, to see if we can connect.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Ballarat for the weekend

A trip to Victoria would not have been complete without a visit to Bill and Raylee Stoddart's beautiful mountain-top home near Ballarat.  Craig's mom and dad were very gracious to shelter us on our last two visits, when Rick and I first met Craig in New Zealand in 1992, and again when Rick and Anita joined them for Craig and Kirsty's wedding in 1997.  They also got over to visit us in 1994, and have always treated us like extended family, and it was a joy to see them again.

Bill is a master craftsman wood-worker.  He has built beautiful cabinetry and worked for years at the Ballarat historical village known as Soveirgn Hill, where the original gold-mining town is celebrated.  There he built the solid bar in the pub, restored several old buildings and furnishings, and even built a bowling alley complete with the lanes, queues and wooden balls, too.  He and Travis spent the morning in his workshed with his full line of lathes and saws, as well as antique toolery that he still uses on his craft today.  And the quality seen in his work is truly becoming a lost art, replaced as it is by cheap imports and woods in the name of price.

Raylee prepared a lovely meal of homemade savories - the boys are loving the meat pies! and a beautiful pavlova for dessert, true Aussie meal that was.  Her gardens are full of veggies, and with the extra rain this summer, delightfully green and lush.  At dusk we watched the wallabies bound on the other side of the fence, and Katie, Declan and Niahm were off chasing skanks (lizards) and bunnies.  Hard not to appreciate a lovely night in the Victoria countryside.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cream on top of the Cake

Jaclyn turned 13, and to celebrate her big day we booked a trip to the hair salon followed by a shopping trip in Warnambool.  Nothing like a couple new outfits to rejuvenate a very tired wardrobe, and end of season summer sales offered good value in an otherwise expensive country.  Craig also treated us to a trip to his bookstore, which meant a pick of books from the shelves including a Science text for both Jaclyn and Derek, a Guiness World Records 2011 for Trav, and some great Australian picture books for Katie to share with her grade one class once we are home.

After a birthday luncheon, we headed out to the dairylands east of the town, at the invite of Craig's neighbor in time for milking.  He and his brothers have a herd of over 700 cows, with a rotary system and calves on the way.  We were lucky enough with our timing, as Rick noticed a heifer in labor as we arrived, and we got the added pleasure of watching Dad help with the assisted delivery of the new calf.  Same birthday as J!  The kids all got a lesson on the dairy process, marvelled at the complacency of the milk cows, and found exactly where milk comes from... and not just the chocolate kind.  And after spending the afternoon in the c-c-c-cow shed, we hope the cows are making plenty more!

Rick and Craig took Travis off to the golf course for the evening, so JC, Derek and I headed on a side trip to Mickey Dee's for dinner - her pick.  Kirsty made a lovely birthday cake, complete with Fairy Floss on top.  Katie and Niahm play so well together that Jaclyn found a little free time of her own.  After a rousing game of cricket followed by several sets of netball 21, we settled into a new, good book.  Great day to turn 13!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Great weekend with great friends

We had a wonderful weekend catching up with Craig and Kirsty, who we have last visited with in Y2K.  Since then they have added two lovely children to their family, and are doing well in the coast city of Warnambool.  We spent the afternoon at Logan's Beach watching the Australian National Kitesurfing Competition, quite entertaining even in the cool wind and weather. 

News Sunday morning showed that our cool day was "good weather" as Melbourne, 4 hours up the Great Ocean Road, experienced record downpours, as a tail of the Cyclone dropped up to 190mm rain in some areas causing flooding of homes and roadways right across the region.  More "inundation" and rescues as children are swept away in the streets.  Truly, we have been dodging clouds.  I hope our cousins in Melbourne are all okay, hopefully also escaping the damages that seem very widespread.

A quick trip to the shopping center let me replace a couple of items in Katie's wardrobe, both due to boredom and damage - red boxer shorts purchased in Thailand seem to have colored many of Katies clothes a horrible shade of off-brown.  I am sure by the end of this trip, we will be throwing out many of all our clothes.

Now there are fires reported in Perth, in the area we visited a couple of times as we passed through on our travels.  High winds, high temps, another "natural disaster zone".... poor prime minister Anna, she has had a very hard month.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Harsh weather, harsh news

It was 860k between Clare Valley and our destination of Warnambool, home of Craig and Kirsty our dear friends from Victoria.  We arrived a little weary, but still ready to share a glass of wine and a lot of laughs.  Katie hit it off instantly with Niahm and Declan, and was very happy to play with TOYS.  It was nice to see her be a little girl for a while rather than needing to act the mini-teen with her siblings.  Craig and Kirsty's home is beautiful, on a hill-top with a river view, and the ocean only a 10 minute drive away - far enough to be sheltered from the winds yet perfect to spend an afternoon at the shore.

As the cyclone Yasi ripped through Northern Queensland, we were again struck by the harsh nature of this climate.  Much of the coast has been devastated, and the rain is again flooding the state.  Now as much as 3/4 of Queensland has been declared a Disaster Zone in the last month or so.  And more flooding to come, as the cyclone causes flooding downstream on all the rivers as they  flow to Victoria and South Australia.   If we do get to Queensland, what will be left to see?

Add to the disasters, we now have news of the violence in Cairo, Egypt and are concerned for the safety of our friends we have met only six weeks ago.  We hope that they and their loved ones are all safe, and we are concerned for their future.  I'm afraid there will not be many tourists to support their economy for quite some time.  Hopefully their troubles will be righted quickly.  There are many good people in Egypt who deserve a better life.

Crossing the Mighty Murray

Dawn the next morning marked the start of another big day of driving.  Passing kangaroos in wheat fields, we crossed to the Goyder highway, which is the mark of arable land in South Australia over to the Murray River basin, near theVictoria state border.  The River is in Flood, but has not peaked yet at Redmark, where we crossed the bridge and floodplain. We left the Clare Valley, one of the key wine-making regions, and passed through ag towns to another wine region, the Murraylands.  More meat pies, and more roads to cover.

We debated which way was the best choice of direction - follow the Murray to Mildura and then south through the Grampian mountains, or south through more farms and vineyards.  Luckily we went south, as we found out later Mildura had 155mm of rain that afternoon and several homes were "inundated" (they use that word often here it seems).  The roads in the Grampians were closed and the area evacuated  - good split-second decision on our part, dodging clouds again. 

The drive was scenic, through rolling hills and crops, with many herds of cattle and sheep dotting the landscape.  Then into the wine area of Lockier, where a lunch stop at The Poplars winery and restaurant .  We learned alot about the Australian wine industry over a glass of Cabernet and Chardonnay.  Fosters, the export beer company, has in the last 5 years or so bought up much of the South Australian vineyards, including Wolf Blass, Lindemans, Pennmans, and many of the other brands we would see in Canada.  Then they get an export subsidy allowing them to pass all production costs off to the grape producers they buy from, and avoiding all the sales taxes of the Australian local markets.  They are not well liked, nor respected as vintiers in these parts.  Ummm, with the volumes produced in ideal conditions and relatively low-cost land, it certainly makes us rethink our Okanagan production options.  There would be no possible way to compete with Fosters Beer Conglomerate.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Clare Publlic Library

A barbeque breakfast of bacon and pancakes (we are becoming pro-griller's), and we were ready for a a 4k hike along the trail into the town.  The old railway line has been developed into a great bicycle and walking path, with shady fruit trees and vineyards along the way.  It was a hot afternoon, so made us think of Penticton and the Kettle Valley Rail... without the lake to cool off in though. 

We found a great store called "Cheap as Chips", a type of Liquidation World with housewares, toys, some food items and "lollies".  Derek and the girls were happy to find brand name Gatorade for cheaper than home, and we picked up some hair clips and a snack or two.  Next stop was the library, a stone heritage building with the best librarian passing out coffee and treats as well as unlimited internet access - with the air conditioning, and refreshments, it was a great place to spend a few hours reviewing the Periodic Table (jr high science) and some new books for Katie (she is reciting her own by rote now rather than reading the actual words on the page).  Travis was very happy to chat with his friends at home for a couple of hours.  Even the kids agree, a library is a wonderful place.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Clare Valley, S.A.

We crossed the Eire peninsula to Port Augusta, and the temperature raised to 46 degrees, with a hot wind blowing.  A quick stop for groceries for lunch and the ice cream melted in our hands faster than we could lick... man, a country of extremes (happy to report the grocery stores in South Aust are much better priced than in the Western State).  Word from Graham and Kylie in Goondiwindi dashed our plans to head straight to Queensland as they told us it was "hot as" all the way across the Outback to Bourke and on to them, plus many roads are in flood as the floodwaters from three weeks ago had created lakes of rivers, one 90 k wide and 500 k far, an inland sea of a floodplain really, with the highways mapped somewhere beneath.  As we didnt want to chance a hot drive to nowhere, we instead pointed the caravan south.

Down the highway past pink salt lakes and lightning skies, we directed our troop to the country town of Clare.  The origin of vines in the valley dates to the Jesuit priests in the 1840s who barreled the sacramental drink for the alter of the churches of South Australia.  As a town, Clare was on the wealthy transport line of copper mines and slate production, and had wealthy agricultural lands with stations shearing up to 200,000 sheep in the late 1800's.  Beautiful stone buildings with leaded glass windows and great gumtrees are the legacy of the towns early days.

The caravan park with a swimming pool was the perfect place to stop for the night. We dodged the heat and cooled off under the trees, with the flocks of carellas and parrots filling the sky at night.  We ended up staying for two nights, as a day of not driving anywhere was in order for the entire group of 6.  And what a better place to stay than the pretty town of Clare.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cocklebiddy, who came up with this name? lol

Day 2 - shady spot along the road near Cocklebiddy, WA to Cedona, SA.

Up at the crack of dawn, we went through two time zones, 45 minutes ahead each time… weird.  I though only Newfoundland did the “partial hour” thing, but Adelaide SA is 1.5 hours ahead of Perth, and it is managed by two 45 minute increments.  Not sure where we make up the next 1.5 hours to Melbourne Victoria?

Coffee at a beautiful plateau of Madura, where the tablelands begin.  Still nice scenery and decent cloudy cool weather, we are so lucky.  Cross over the border to South Australia (ditch all fruits and veggies, sadly), quick lunch since the kids are finally awake at the Nallabor Roadhouse (ummm, pumpkin soup and more meat pies) and by 5 pm (really 1.5 hours earlier with time change) we are happily at the head of the storm, the sunny side, in the seaside town of Cedona, South Australia.  We have crossed the Nullibor in 26 hours (take off hour for tire rotation in Albany), only 24 degrees heat and with the top diesel fuel price of $1.97/l.… not so bad at all.  Next stop?  Well, the Outback perhaps...