Sunday, August 1, 2010

From Adelaide to Sydney: The final push

Adelaide, Wentworth, the Darling River, Menindee, Broken Hill, Orange, the Blue Mountains, and finally Sydney – thus finished our Australian odyssey on Saturday as we returned good old Ned to his carers in Sydney. Hope he gets a while to recover. The raw stats of the journey are as follows:

- 90 days
- 18,657 km (194 km/day on average)
- 3,338 litres of diesel (nearly 18 l per 100 km on average – big-time carbon deficit against the Chapmans)
- 4 shredded tyres
- One smashed windscreen
- One dead crank battery
- 2 random breath tests
- Zero parking tickets!

I guess we were starting to flag a bit towards the end and not extracting as much as we might have from each of our stops because we needed to slow up a bit. Still, we gave Broken Hill a fair shake, visiting some of the many art galleries in the town (there are over 20) including the Pro Hart gallery, doing a self-guided walk around the key historical sites in the town, and slipping out to Silverton to see what all the fuss is about (the ‘fuss’ being the steady stream of film crews coming through from all over the world to do feature movies and TV ads using the iconic Sliverton pub and the flat desert-like landscape for maximum effect). Broken Hill began as a mining town in about 1895, when 7 local pastoralists took out a mining lease after one of them found silver, which subsequently led to other mineral finds (lead and copper included). These were the founders of what is now BHP Billiton, one of the world’s biggest ever mining companies. BHP stopped mining at BH in the 1930s but plenty of others have ploughed on, literally, and kept the town ticking.

Before Broken Hill we had a great trundle along the lower Darling River from Wentworth, where the Murray and the Darling Rivers join. There is water in the Darling (this isn’t always the case), but it is highly regulated from the Menindee Lakes area to supply irrigation water to all the orchards and vineyards downstream. The highlight was bush camping at Bindara Station and sitting round the cracker camp fire with about a dozen others shooting the breeze, or however you want to describe it. Freshly caught Murray cod from the river on the hot plate, Ian (from Melbourne) on the guitar, trivia quiz, and hosts Bill and Barb giving us the benefit of their 30 years experience farming beside the Darling River. Good stuff.

From Broken Hill, we hit the Barrier Highway and high-tailed it to Cobar, and then Orange where Di and Warren Mason took pity on us in rain and cold weather and treated us to our first night in a real bed since the start of May. Not to mention the magnificent locally produced red wines from Warren’s rather well-stocked cellar.

The weather has been pretty shizenhousen since we left Broken Hill with lots of rain. It threatened to cruel our time in the Blue Mountains but we got lucky and had a half day of reasonable visibility to do a good, 4 hour walk from Echo Point at Katoomba, via Three Sisters, down the Grand Stairway and through the forest to the Scenic Railway where we wimped-out and took the fossil fuel-assisted way back to the top rather than walk it. Great views in all directions. The Blue Mountains is about as far from Sydney as the tourists get when they come to Aus. They do a day-trip from the city and take lots of photos from the rim-top lookouts so there was no-one else down in the valley floor. It was so peaceful and quiet, bar the bird song which we stopped and listened to for a good 20 minutes or so. The day before this walk, when it was raining quite heavily, we opted for the Jenolan Caves, on the western edge of the Blue Mountains, which were a revelation – and dry! Great drive in and out to the caves on steep, narrow and winding roads and amazing walks through the caves via paths and steps carved out of the rock and calcite back in about the 1930s and 1940s – you’d never be able to get away with such "environmental vandalism" these days, so aren't we lucky it was done a half century ago or no-one would get to see these natural wonders at all.

So to Sydney, the harbour city, where we will knock about for a few days with Hugh before flying to Melbourne, and then to Christchurch to start our next adventure. We will remember this trip for ever, and have a few thousand photos to help that cause. Thanks to Tony Canterbury (a.k.a. Captain Courageous), Geoff and Sue Saul, Jill and Paul Donnelly, and numerous others for all the advice on what to see and do. It helped mightily. If you ever get the chance to see Australia from off the beaten track, or even on the beaten track – TAKE IT. It might nudge you out of your comfort zone at times, but you won’t regret it.


The Chappies

Doesn't look like much!

Junction of Murray (coming from the left) and Darling (coming from right) rivers at Wentworth.

Darling River at Bindara, about 140 km upstream from Wentworth

Kinchega woolshed, near Menindee, built from river red gum in late 1800s and still in good nick. At one time, it had stands for 64 blade shearers, and the station ran 160,000 sheep. Now part of Kinchega National Park.

Silverton pub.

Jenolan Caves, Blue Mountians

Echo Point lookout, Katoomba, Blue Mountains

Scrambling down the Giant Stairway. Bloody steep

The easy way out of the Valley. The Scenic Railway goes between the platform visible in the bottom left and the rim-top station in the top right. Slope of 52 degrees!

With Hugh, you know where. End of the line.