I wond’r if we’re going to bump into Karl Kennedy? Roadtripping South from Sydney to Melbourne

It was touch and go whether we’d be allowed to leave New Zealand, well, at least for Joella. We’d forgotten about re-applying for our Australian tourist visas, and only remembered the night before. Mine came through but there was no sign of hers… Fortunately, after running around departures in Christchurch like those idiots you see on airport documentaries, a member of staff managed to sort things out for $50NZ – phew! So after a warm welcome back in Sydney from Uncle Martin, Auntie Christa and excited Lilly the American Staffy, we were ready to sink a few beers over a Mexican (meal, not a person).

New adventures travelling on familiar roads to Narooma

Having been thoroughly organised before we’d left for Middle Earth, our car was packed and ready to roll, leaving time for a relaxing brekky. It was good to be back on the road again with Pelly our trusty(ish) white Holden Commodore, and even more so to be joined by Sam! We were headed for Melbourne, but our first days drive was to Narooma, where we’d enjoyed a lovely beach holiday back in January. This allowed us to enjoy the familiarity of the road and surroundings, whilst feeling like experienced tour guides, impressing Sam with knowledge and sights along the way.

First stop were the glorious views from Bald Hill lookout, mesmerised by swarming hang-gliders gracefully looping their way dow to Stanwell Park Beach, far in the distance. Our surroundings continued to impress, as we drove along the aptly named ‘Sea Cliff Bridge’ that slowly snakes its way over crashing waves hitting the steep cliffs below. Jealous of the treats our eyes were gorging on, the sounds of rumbling stomachs soon became the soundtrack to our drive. Successfully making it a little further South to Kiama, we made peace with our appetite in the form of flavoursome Banh Mi and meatalicious pies. Before leaving town, we couldn’t resist checking out the giant ‘Kiama blowhole’, whose watery tantrums briefly created colourful rainbows in the spray overhead.

Keen to work off our carb heavy lunch, we pulled off the main highway to take a stroll on Hyam’s beach – said to one of the whitest on the planet. Although after a quick Google we discovered this is very much fake news, we were more than happy with our surroundings, especially the comedic squeakiness of the sand between our toes. Successfully making it to Narooma just before dark, we parked up under the glowing eyes of a hairy possum, then fittingly enjoyed a documentary on Australia’s past presented by Tony Robinson.

Making a (Lakes) Entrance

Despite failing to catch a glimpse of migrating whales from the cliffside golf course, our early morning wasn’t completely wildlife free. Fortunately a herd of playful and lazy seals alike, were ready to greet us down on the quayside, as we posed for cheesy photos at the peculiar shaped ‘Australia rock’. As Sam, like I, lives for food; we made a ‘brie’-line for Central Tilba and its famous dairy, to satisfy our lust for cheese. Having pushed the limits on what’s considered samples, and possibly crossing the boundary into theft, we made some token purchases and hit the road once again.

Before reaching our destination for the day, we were pleasantly rewarded with some exciting driving in the form of numerous rickety wooden bridges criss-crossing the numerous waterways that feed the inland Gippsland lakes. Lakes Entrance, our stop for the night turned out to be rather more quiet than expected, feeling more like an old people’s home than a holiday town, so we struggled at first to find drinking or dinner options. Having told Sam tales of whale sized chicken parmiganias, the Bowls Club buffet certainly wasn’t going to do. Luckily my gamble of pushing us on to the Community Club further afield paid off, where they knew how to make these Australian pub staples.

A cheeky drive-by on Ramsay Street in Melbourne

Keen to make Melbourne in decent time, we departed the slower coastal roads and headed inland towards the gumtree forests. One of the highlights of our drive that day was unashamedly the splendid array of pies we came across in Warragul. Regretfully I can’t recall the exact fillings we went for, but I can assure you they they were of the usual high standard we’d come to expect down-under. Feeling a touch of pastry regret soon after, an outdoor adventure was very much needed. What we thought would be a quick stretch of the legs turned out to be a half day detour, encompassing nearly 2 hours of driving down dirt tracks. I’m not sure whether seeing the Ada Tree – the oldest in Victoria – was necessarily worth it, but it certainly helped break up the day!

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For our 2 nights in Melbourne, Sam’s welcoming Aunt Nora and Uncle Max kindly took us in, and looked after us like long lost relatives (although Sam is their nephew, so that probably helped). Their hospitality was very much welcomed, while they fed us local travel tips on Australia’s second largest city, as well as plenty of hearty, home cooked meals – it was great to have a roast dinner again!

The general vibe in Melbourne definitely felt more urban than it’s sunnier counterpart Sydney; in fact it very much reminded us of being back in London. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why, but the colder climate, greyer skies and fact that it doesn’t seem squeezed in between numerous beaches definitely plays a part. Our first morning was spent whizzing through the maze of buzzing tramways taking in the giant street art, while trying to pick which cutesy eatery we’d dine at. Once filled up on brunch and people watching, hipster Brunswick street kept us busy with it’s lovely independent boutique shops.

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Unexpectedly, the next morning led us somewhere we really should have paradoxically predicted – Ramsay Street of course! Feeling rather like criminals breaking into a TV set, we parked up at the far end, and took a wander, then a cheeky drive down the famous cul-de-sac, half expecting to be shouted at. The fond memories of our uni days rushed back, as we attempted to recall the residents of each house – Karl and Susan Kennedy, Harold Bishop, Toadie…

Once over our adrenaline fuelled shenanigans, we headed over to the seaside town of St Kilda, where we enjoyed incredible cake and coffee, before our day came to a comedic close: My poor eyesight coupled with penguin obsession caused me to become mesmerised by a black and white critter sitting on some rocks opposite the pier. Disappointingly and rather embarrassingly the creature flew off, leaving me perplexed, and Sam and Joella in hysterics!

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It was lovely spending time with Sam, who’d travelled so far to be with us. So much so, it felt like a holiday within a holiday – if that’s even possible to contemplate. Time to wave goodbye to ‘Melbs’ and it’s urban charm; the wilderness of Tasmania beckoned…

I wond’r if these are avalanche conditions… Unreal & treacherous hiking with Sam in New Zealand

After a near miss, well quite a large miss really, to the tune of over 1,000 miles, Sam made it into our loving arms, as we greeted him in the arrivals hall of Christchurch International Airport. You see, Sam, our good friend from London had taken up our invite to join us, but unfortunately referred to an out of date schedule when originally booking flights. This meant he’d be landing in Sydney, while we were across the other side of the Tasman Sea, in New Zealand. But hey, that doesn’t matter anymore – the three amigos were back together, ready for a road trip so awesome it would make us question our reality!

Criminal sheepdogs and glacial walks

After a year apart we had a lot to catch up on, and fortunately the long journey ahead of us provided plenty of opportunity to do just that. While not gassing away or filling up on gas, we were of course using gas to locate eateries en route. That night our accommodation was to be a cabin expertly curated by moi, in the small town of Lake Tekapo. Amusingly it felt as though we’d been transported back to the 1970’s, with it’s warm pine interior and ancient ski paraphernalia, precariously hanging from the walls. The next morning we awoke to skies as blue as the deepest ocean, beautifully framing our incredible surroundings now visible in the daylight. As Tekapo is perched on the side of a huge lake, it offers stunning views across the water, with snow capped mountains loitering in the distance.

Following a pleasant chat over modest, instant coffees on the terrace, we were ready for whatever the day had to throw at us. First in fact was a coach load of tourists, bustling to get their photos in front of the famous ‘Church of the Good Shepherd’.

It didn’t bother us too much though, as the beautiful lake views and lovingly cast sculpture of ‘Friday’ the New Zealand Border Collie kept us occupied. He’s believed to have belonged to a shepherd turned sheep rustler: James Mackenzie back in the 1850’s. Comically after James’ capture, Friday continued to drive the sheep of his own accord, much to the annoyance of the authorities. Rather than celebrating illegal farming antics, the statue commemorates the indispensable role of sheepdogs for the local people.

“Iceberg, dead ahead!” I enthusiastically proclaimed – That afternoon we’d opted to take on the ‘Hooker Valley Track’, which would eventually lead us to Hooker Lake, interspersed with lumps of ice that had broken off from Hooker glacier at the far end. The relatively flat, three hour return walk gave us the perfect introduction to New Zealand’s astonishing scenery.

While struggling to keep an eye on the path and swing bridges ahead, we couldn’t stop looking up in awe of Mt Cook / Aoraki – New Zealand’s highest mountain. There he stood, impossibly large yet almost graceful, watching over the surrounding hills and mountains like an older brother. As we arrived at the end of our walk on the the edge of Hooker lake, the mysterious clouds surrounding him dramatically dispersed, giving way to his mighty peak. Managing to pull ourselves away from the magnetism of the scenery, we set off towards our next stop: Wanaka.

Celebrity trees and avalanche warnings

Wanaka is a popular tourist destination for various reasons; it’s situated like Tekapo on the edge of a beautiful lake, has many of New Zealand’s best ski fields nearby, but most importantly is home to the world famous… #ThatWanakaTree. Wanting to see what all the fuss was about, we reluctantly went to take a look. Yes the uniquely crooked willow tree, with its spellbinding scenery makes for gorgeous instagram envy shots. However, the throngs of surrounding tourists and their buzzing drones definitely detracted from its beauty, and made us slightly embarrassed to be part of the whole charade.

Given how incredible the previous days walk had been, we were almost convinced there was no need to explore anymore of New Zealands great outdoors. Although FOMO of course got the better of us, and the Rob Roy Glacier Track caught our attention, partly due to mine and Sam’s Scottish roots. After some off-roading on the 10km of unsealed roads, then a quick photoshoot of the curious velvety cow nearby, we set off on the days adventure.

This walk was to be bitter/sweet, in such that it was far hillier and exhausting that yesterdays, but at least meant a totally different experience. A large swing bridge across a deep gorge heralded the beginning of our climb.

After an hours walk we caught a glimpse of something brightly coloured through the trees. On closer inspection, it turned out to be a warning sign, signalling possible rockfalls for the next 50m. Having successfully survived our first ‘test’, Mount Rob Roy didn’t waste any time in lining up our next challenge, in the form of treacherous avalanche terrain up ahead. As we’d seen plenty of other walkers pass us heading down, we bravely/stupidly carried on, thinking the surrounding trees would surely lesser the impact of runaway snow.

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Our natural defences however soon disappeared, as the valley opened up in front of us, offering glorious panoramic views of the dramatic cliffs and glacial ice on top. Once at the upper lookout, we tucked into our sandwiches in satisfied silence, while taking in our surroundings that now featured a staggeringly tall waterfall, beautifully cascading down the steep rock face.

Driving back through the various fords we’d overcome to get here, took us far longer than on arrival. This was mainly due to taking comical slow-mo videos – crashing through the pathetically small strips of water, while attempting to out-do each other with cheesy tunes. The general consensus was that my selection of ‘I’d do anything for Love’ by Meatloaf, was near impossible to top.

That evening, having spent nearly an hour bumbling through car parks in near total darkness, we finally found ourselves in what must be one of the most secretive bars on earth. This was further underlined, by the fact there was no more than three other people inside, including the barman! There we enjoyed an eclectic mix of cocktails overlooking Wanaka lake, while enjoying entertainment provided by the poor driver of a large motorhome, struggling to escape the carpark in which he’d entered.

Unexpected birthday blizzards in Queenstown

While enjoying a spot of shopping in Wanaka the next morning, we exchanged tea-towel purchases for valuable route advice from the friendly shop keepers. Putting this new intelligence to use, ‘Cardrona Distillery’ was well and truly in our sights. Unsurprisingly we wasted no time in frantically completing a full sweep of the shop in search of locally produced whisky. Confusingly there was no sign of any liquid treasure, and after asking, we discovered this would be the case for another year, until their golden nectar reached its third birthday. Luckily they had other delights on offer, including a fruity, smooth orange liqueur that we had as part of Irish coffees.

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Once we (the royal we) satisfied our immature minds with photos of the quirky ‘bra fence’, featuring thousands of undergarments lining the road, our priorities soon turned to food. Despite grumbling stomachs, we couldn’t resist pulling over to properly take in the awesome scenery our road was snaking along – featuring rolling hills, snow capped mountains and shimmering lakes beyond.

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Finally making it to Arrowtown, the local bakery was of course our first port of call. Within a blink of an eye the rich, gravy pies, silky mash and peas disappeared; all washed down with the sweet nectar that is New Zealand’s famous soft drink: L&P. After exploring the historical wooden buildings, followed by a riverside walk to undo our pastry sins, we departed for Queenstown where we’d been upgraded to a spacious two bedroom apartment 🙂

Considering it wasn’t that cold and Spring was in full swing, what welcomed us the next morning for my birthday was quite a surprise – three inches of snow and a raging blizzard! We felt rather sorry for those who were caught out camping… Although we’d planned a day of extreme sports, the surreal weather and full cooked breakfast that Joella and Sam prepared, definitely made up for it. Fortunately, when reaching near critical fullness the snow stopped, allowing us to venture outdoors into the white world.

Given the wintery conditions, our noses led us to an old wooden boat moored up on Wakatipu Lake downtown, offering aromatic mulled wine. That evening we treated ourselves to half price fine dining thanks to First Table, including famous New Zealand lamb, which truly melted in our mouths.

Exploring the eerily quiet streets of Christchurch

Thankfully New Zealand is well versed in dealing with snow, so our drive to Christchurch the following day was without a hitch. Upon checking into our hotel, complete with futuristic bathroom ‘pods’, we set off in search of 21st century’s bread and butter: beer and wifi. Despite Christchurch being New Zealand’s second largest city, it was eerily quiet and we struggled to find any sort of drinking establishment. Eventually settling for a Wetherspoons lookalike, a quick google reminded us why the city was so deserted – it was still rebuilding in the wake of a deadly earthquake back in 2011. Fortunately there were signs of recovery in the form of a lovely cocktail bar in New Oxford St, and Little High street food market.

The following morning, Joella and I – minus Sam who’d stealthily left on his red eye flight back to Sydney – checked out of the hotel, and secured a caffeine hit. Before looking anymore like a hobo, I popped into a nearby barbers, where I received more than just a haircut… It turns out that hairdressers are hot on the heals of taxi drivers and tourist information for recommendations on things to do. So with my new found local knowledge, we made little work of Christchurch’s top attractions, including the tranquil botanic gardens and cutesy trams that trundled through the streets like it was still the early 1900s. Before long it was time to wave goodbye to Archie our trusty mechanical steed, and hop onboard our plane back to Sydney.

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Given the number of documentaries, stories from friends and the Lord of the Rings films, selling New Zealand as possibly the most scenic country on the planet – it had a lot to live up to. So I can happily report back, that following our six week jaunt from top to bottom, it most definitely lived up to all expectations! We’ll be sincerely sorry if we don’t return to explore more of this wonderful wilderness again very, very soon…

I wond’r if we have enough petrol to make it to the next town? Petrol scares and kayaking with crocodiles en route to Darwin

Our first days drive from Cairns to the nice little historical town of Croydon was a rather sophisticated affair by our standards, seeing us drop past Coffee Works in Mareeba, the region that grows 80 % of Australia’s coffee. There we took the opportunity to sample some cold brew nitro – silky smooth icy cold black coffee that tricks your tastebuds into thinking it’s been sweetened and has milk added, by being poured from a tap with the help of Nitrogen, similar to beers like Guinness, mmmm…

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Settling back into outback life

The next days travels took us past Normanton, where we checked out the impressively large tourist information centre that reminded us more of a museum, staffed by local Aboriginals with great local knowledge. Before heading off we couldn’t resist taking some obligatory photos with ‘Krys the Savannah King’ – a massive life-size replica of the largest Saltwater Crocodile ever caught. It was hunted and killed in 1957 by Krystina Pawlowski, a Polish crocodile hunter who amazingly switched sides and became an outspoken crocodile conservationist in her later life! That evening we camped in a sunny show ground with plenty of space for a spot of badminton – a great way to stretch our stiff legs after a long days drive 🙂

The following few days saw things become even more desolate, with towns growing further apart and roads deserted, except for the occasional monstrous road trains we overtook once having plucked up the courage!

Surprisingly we didn’t often know where we were headed each night, as the maps hadn’t finished downloading on the WikiCamps app (Australia’s campers bible) and we rarely had any signal. Amusingly this meant all we had to go on was distance and direction, while trying to home our flashing blue dot in on a campsite, shown on a blank background. It certainly provided some entertainment at the end of tedious afternoons full of monotonous driving!

A benefit to being in the wilderness of the Outback however was the enormity of the nights sky; with no light pollution, the infinite twinkling stars that flooded the sky above us was truly spellbinding.

Despite the emptiness of our surroundings, there were usually things to see along the way to reward us for driving these long lonely roads. A couple of notable examples were the never ending magnetic termite mounds that stretch out into the horizon (so called as they’re always aligned North to reduce heat from the sun) and the brilliant Royal Flying Doctors Museum in the lesser known town of Cloncurry. John Flynn is famous for setting up the innovative Royal Flying Doctors Service back in 1928, bringing much needed medical help to the remote towns of the Outback. The impressive museum features three floors full of fascinating history and enthralling stories, brought to life through a variety of galleries, exhibits and film.

Almost running out of petrol, en route to Katherine

With such large distances between anywhere, comes an element of risk. We’d done well so far to always fill up with fuel when having the chance, but unfortunately forgot while wrapped up in the awesomeness of the museum. We only noticed we were running on empty once half way to the next town, so couldn’t turn back. The next hour was therefore spent in nervous silence, as Joella and I struggled to take our eyes from the petrol gauge, willing the car to keep going. Thankfully our seemingly never-ending tank did us proud, and we made it to the forecourt of BP in Mount Isa, wearing the biggest Cheshire Cat smiles imaginable! To prevent a similar occurrence in the future, I taped a reminder to the steering wheel so it wouldn’t happen again.

After spending a night in Camooweal – the last Queensland town before the Northern Territory border, we intended to hit Tennant Creek the following day and explore the surrounding area. But following a friendly chat with the groundsman of the campsite, our plans soon changed. He recommended avoiding Tennant Creek due to the seeming collapse of the community (petty and violent crime among parts of the Aboriginal population continues to grow). Instead we headed to Banka Banka: A cattle station full of cowboy charm, featuring fire pits, dangerous bulls and camels!

Now a day ahead of schedule, we were nearing true civilisation once again; in the form of Katherine – the town “where the outback meets the tropics”. But before arriving, we couldn’t resist stopping in past the famous Daly Waters Pub for a quick feed. The old world establishment (by Australian standards) is as you’d expect from an Outback pub, but with one significant difference; there’s random stuff hanging from every inch of the ceiling and walls. As the story goes, this peculiar ritual originally started with a bunch of bras being hung up by a bus load of women, who’d lost a bet with their driver! While pretty much draped in lingerie and tucking into our steak pies, we conveniently used the free wifi to book some kayaking the next day, to explore some nearby gorges…



Attempting to avoid crocodiles and snakes in Nitmiluk Gorge

After a very early start the next day, we eventually arrived at the jetty and climbed aboard the boat that shuttled us through the first gorge. During our briefing en route, we were surprisingly advised the signs we’d spied earlier were in fact correct and there are crocs about!

With relief, we learned these are of the fresh water variety, and have brittle jaws that prevent them from tackling larger prey like humans, although can still bite if provoked. Apparently, we can be sure there are no dangerous Salt Water Crocs present from the annual floods, through the use of three methods: 1) Low level helicopter surveys during the day, 2) Night time boat inspections using search lights to look out for reflections from their eyes, and 3) Traps. Although reassuring to a point, these practices don’t sound very scientific or entirely foolproof :-/

Once we’d arrived at the end of the first gorge, we picked up our double kayak and began exploring the second, then third gorge beyond. Kayaking proved to be a fantastic way to witness the beauty of these natural geological formations in such tranquil surroundings, while they slowly changed colour from reds to oranges as the sun rose higher in the sky. Following multiple foul mouthed tirades from me, Joella can confirm it did prove difficult finding a rhythm while paddling together, but we eventually got the hang of it. On our return leg through the first gorge, we were pleasantly rewarded to a double sighting of Freshwater Crocodiles, thankfully from the safety of the boat 🙂

That evening we treated ourselves to a stay in the more expensive campsite within Nitmiluk National Park, allowing us to fit in a longer trek the next day without any driving beforehand. We opted for the charmingly sounding ‘Butterfly Gorge Trail’ that proved to be full of diverse surroundings; first we began with a hike up to a scenic viewpoint of the first gorge below, followed by trails through arid landscape then finally down into a gorge enclosing luscious rainforest.

During this last section through the thicker undergrowth I heard an ominous rustling sound that led me to immediately scream: “RUN, THERE’S A SNAKE!” despite failing to see anything that resembled a threat. We then embarrassingly spent 10 minutes trying to decide whether to proceed or turn back. It was only until some fellow hikers casually strolled past without any sort of issue, that we decided to continue, feeling a little stupid in the process! Thankfully our bravery was eventually paid off, with a beautiful waterside view of the second gorge, appropriately surrounded by fluttering butterflies.

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Next stop: Darwin, to visit my Cousin Jess and her fiancé Ben!