We are travelling for a few weeks in a campervan from Melbourne to Brisbane via the Victorian Alps and coastal NSW.
Omeo: Fom Melbourne we head down the highway, through the tunnel, past the new sprawling estates at Pakenham where orchards once stood, and on past Warrigal, Moe and Morwell. We turn on the wipers and spend our first night in wet and unglamorous Traralgon. At Bairnsdale we follow the mighty Tambo River north to Omeo. Golden poplars fringe the river, we climb to Tambo Crossing, onto Swifts Creek and into Omeo – once known as the most lawless goldfields in Australia.
The main street undulates across the side of the hill and the mist settles in the valleys. A bit out of town the pleasant leafy caravan park is set by the river complete with outdated facilities and a couple of campers. We chat with fellow camper McIntyre who is boiling his stew in a tin can. He has walked from Cooktown down the Bicentennial track following old drover’s trails. Carrying little and mailing his kit ahead, he tells us a few yarns including how he persuaded Dunlop to sponsor him with free Volley runners for the trip.
Bright: It’s misty and mild but by the time we leave Omeo it’s misty and cold. Then the sun comes out as we climb to Mt. Hotham. We cross the watershed of the Great Divide and pass Brian Ray’s new resort and spa at Dinner Plain. At Hotham it’s only 5 degrees we drive through the mist and fog the wind comes up and the temperature goes down. We wind our way around to leafy Harrietville and Bright then through the Ovens Valley with its colourful autumn trees and on past the town of Smoko.
Bright is caught in a frenzy of grey nomads visiting for the Annual Autumn Festival. We receive sideways looks since we are not part of a tour group – no visible name tags and wearing sunglasses we feel like the outsiders. Bright with its canopy of autumn is a kaldeoiscope of colour bathed in dappled sun. We camp beside folk from Melbourne who pilgrimage to Bright each year for the festival always staying in the same spot, they’re ready with a VB at 10.00 am. That evening we sit out in the brisk night air and watch the stars dance, our neighbours stay inside and watch ‘Dancing with the Stars’.
High Plains: Onto Mount Beauty for coffee and information. We spot three green Mazda convertibles with three middle aged men out driving all dressed in the same outfits drinking coffee in the main street. We head up the windy road to Falls Creek in the fog and the mist and cross the causeway in dense fog and drive along the High Plains gravel road. We stop at Bogong Village where a new power station is under construction. As we round the lake we notice we are being followed by a minibus of tourists from Mt. Beauty.
We take a break at Wallace’s Hut, as does the minibus, it’s a brisk 750m walk in biting winds and mist down to the hut. Wallace’s Hut is the oldest of the huts still standing in the Alpine National Park. It was built by the Wallace Brothers in 1889 from slabs of snowgum. In the 1930’s it’s woolly butt roof shingles were replaced by the SEC when it was used as a workers hut. It now serves as a refuge and slice of wild country history.
Back in the van heater on full, we lose the minibus in the mist and meander along the Bogong High Plains track across the plains and down the range to the Omeo ‘Highway’ and head for Tallangatta. There is no traffic on the Omeo ‘Highway’ but it’s not much more than a gravel road. On through Mitta Mitta where we make a sharp turn and accidentally redirect a street sign.
We come out of the valley into grassy pastures and speed towards the Murray Valley Highway. We head east to Tallangatta which claims itself as ‘The Town that Moved’ next to the eastern reaches of Lake Hume. We reach Cooryong and the ‘Clack Clack’ Caravan Park where we can take our pick from the 72 sites.
Snowy Mountains: Undulating pastures to Khancoban in NSW – built to house the workers of the Snowy River Scheme. We wind around the mountains and stop for a look at the head of the Murray and the No.1 Power Station onto Tom Groggan in the upper reaches for morning tea, not a car in sight all day.
Across more high plains and through the pass at Dead Horse Gap the winds gust across this watershed between the Snowy and Murray River systems. Then on down into Thredbo where we are told that the winds have closed Mt Kosciusko for the day. So it’s onto Jindabyne for lunch and a chat with the Rangers about the weather but there is not much joy ahead and gusty winds and heavy rain buffet the van all night.
The next day gale force winds continue into the morning and we decide to head back to the coast. Down through Jindabyne onto Berridale and into Cooma for a few supplies and a salute to the flags of the nations of the people who built the Snowy Scheme. We scoot down the Monaro highway to Nimmitabel for a morning espresso and cake in a trendy café across the road from the famous Nimmitabel Bakery which is full of grey nomads.
Continuing south we follow a ‘wake in fright’ log truck into Bombala. Then down the Genoa River valley before crossing a small range into the Cann River valley which we then follow down to the town with the same name and a nice place for a little morning tea. We push on through Genoa and onto Eden to visit the Killer Whale Museum and then camp in a park on the beach just south of town.
Eden: Up at the sound of bird calls we head to Ben Boyd National Park and the historic Davidson Whaling Station but our efforts are foiled by a fallen tree. So it’s onto the Ben Boyd Tower.
Ben Boyd Tower: built in 1842 from sandstone the tower was made in Sydney and shipped to Eden for assembly. Benjamin Boyd was a pastoralist, entrepreneur and land developer who planned a ‘city’ south of the current Eden on Two Fold Bay. The tower was planned as a marker for his ‘city’ but was never authorised or exhibited and was only ever used as a whaling lookout. When Ben Boyd’s empire eventually collapsed it is rumoured he ‘escaped’ to California.
Mallacoota: Back down to Mallacoota for morning tea and to secure a camp site on the water and wait for our friends Bob and Olga to fly across in their light plane from the Grampians. By lunch time Saturday the town is deserted and the shops are shut. We sit in the sun and read the papers, Bob and Olga tie down the plane at the airfield and we all head back into town for a few beers on the water’s edge watching the sunset and then dine at one of two local restaurants. Next morning we take a morning walk along the river and then it’s back to the airfield for their flight home.
Dalmeny: We drive north to Eden and then onto Merimbula. It’s sunny and warm as we continue along the coast to Tathra – a town of oysters and football then onto Mimosa Rocks National Park with its scenic spotted gums, onto Bermagui and back to the highway to Tilba Tilba through Narooma and onto Dalmeny. We carefully choose our spot in the Council Campground on the headland.
The next day John strolls the town and the beaches taking photos and reminiscing about the family holidays and surfing at Dalmeny as a youngster. He laments the changes in the Southern Coast. Once dotted with small sleepy villages with quaint fibro fishing shacks and holiday homes, the main street consisted of a fish and chip shop and a general store with a bowser out front. Now, it’s an urban sprawl of brick veneer housing estates serviced by McDonalds, Coles and IGA supermarkets ‘Sea Change’ has a lot to answer for!
We drive to Bodalla it’s green and lush along Australia’s No.1 highway. At Moruya we take the tourist drive along the coast to Bateman’s Bay the coastal holiday town for public servants from Canberra. From Bateman’s Bay we head to Ulladulla and note the town is celebrating the ‘Return of the Tibetan Monks……ooommmm’!
Jervis Bay: We head for Jervis Bay and look forward to camping at the Booradue National Park where ‘the rainforest meets the ocean’. We take a late afternoon walk through rainforests to white sandy beaches where kangaroos tilt a glance and a Kookaburra makes enquiries about our menu all this and only a couple of other campers to share it with.
We meet George a Canadian in a Wicked Van on his way to Melbourne. He cooks up two days of provision on the BBQ hotplate as he tells us how amazed he is by the camping facilities and the beauty of Australia National Parks. Early morning in the tranquil setting the kooka makes further enquiries about our breakfast menu.
Sea Cliff Bridge: Heading north to Nowra and a brief stop for information on how best to avoid Sydney traffic. The area is surprisingly built-up with a few pockets of private beaches. We push on to Shell Harbour and morning tea by the seawater swimming pool.
We drive the amazing Sea Cliff Bridge three times to imbed the experience then up the escarpment from Stanwell Park onto the Freeway around the western suburbs on Route 6. We come out at Hornsby with only one U Turn not bad for a human GPS. We head north up the motorway through large sandstone cuttings the weather is getting warmer. We turnoff for The Entrance loads of roundabouts and housing estates. Up across the bridge we are looking for the Budgewoi Caravan Park but we miss it completely so head on to Swansea. A good choice with a van site overlooking the lake, a large treed and grassed area only a couple of other campers, quite a few rabbits, great lake view and plenty of quiet.
Cabbage Tree Island: We take the Newcastle inner city bypass and head up the freeway to Tea Gardens and Port Stephens and Hawks Nest for morning tea. We gaze out over the ocean to Cabbage Tree Island looking for a Gould Petrel but it’s an unlikely we will see one in May.
Cabbage Tree Island: two kilometres off shore from Port Stephens and taking its name from a crop of trees that cling to its side the island is the most southerly offshore rainforest in Australia and the only forested offshore island in NSW. Over 100 species of birds have been recorded around the island the most notable is one of the world’s rarest and critically endangered. The Gould Petrel only comes ashore to breed for three months of the year starting in October and only on this island it has a diminishing population of 300 breeding pairs.
Laurieton: We drive through the Myall Lakes National Park to catch the ferry across to Bombah Point. The Seal Rocks road is closed so we head onto the Booti Booti National Park and to Forster and the Tuncurry Information Centre, which is hopeless but friendly, so we buy a snow jar. Back to the freeway and past Crowdy Bay National Park and a servo stop, we take the advice to avoid the bumpy Diamond Head road and head onto Kew and Laurieton and then north to the Haven Caravan park on the beach, that night we watch ‘South Pacific’ on DVD.
Bellingen: We follow the tourist drive along the coast stopping at Crescent Head for morning tea, it’s wet and windy but surfers are still braving the elements. We head further north to Stuarts Point, Grassy Head and Scott’s Point and then onto Bellingen, it’s still wet and miserable. The Caravan Park at Bellingen has closed down. There used to be one but the protected bats ‘stank’ it out. Casual campers can use the showground but not this weekend as it is ‘Show Time in Bellingen’.
We ‘camp’ in front of Brett and Thelma’s house. After a cuppa and a catch up we head off to a nice dinner in the local pub. Bellingen is a quaint little town that was rescued by the ‘Hippies in the ‘70’s. It has great architecture and plenty of restaurants cafes and trendy stores. After farewells to Brett and Thelma we head onto Coffs Harbour past the ‘Big Banana’ and up the coast to Grafton. The weather is still wet and overcast into Byron Bay wipers still slapping. Lunch at Clarks Beach but we can’t reconcile staying in a van in the rain when our comfy home is only 45 minute away. Back on the highway we head north and at Tugun there is no rain, the roads are dry and home is cosy.