Exploring Australia From The Left


Hey folks. At the end of last year, we complete a 11 month adventure in Australia. We kept a blog of our travels, and it is my plan to recount it here over the next few weeks.

Some background. We got introduced to overland traveling after working for an airline. Ironic isn't it? We could fly for free just about anywhere as long as we had time, and didn't mind getting bumped by just about anyone above us in priority. We hated being pressed for time, and being anchored to major cities. So we bought a van, quit our jobs, and just started driving.

Our first rig was Chuck, a 1982 VW Vanagon Westfalia. We roamed from Alaska to Panama and back

After about 18 months on the road, we started planning our next adventure, this time to Australia and New Zealand. So we sold Chuck, and started building something a bit more ambitious.

Chucks Next owner was recently spotted roaming the desserts of southern California.

After a sufficient mourning period, we bought... A sprinter. I am a serious gearhead, but to avoid detracting from the amazing nature and scenery, I won't delve into the details here. Needless to say, our new steed Fernvey, is a bit more comfortable than Chuck.

After a lengthy build and accumulation of funds, we shipped Fernvey to Australia.

We are science and nature lovers, so my posts tend to focus on that aspect, and less on the vehicle and road itself. We aren't interested in punishing ourselves and our vehicle without cause, so when we drive difficult roads, it is because something interesting lies at the other end.

Without further distraction here is installment number one.


Australia, The First 10 Days.

For everyone waiting for an Australia update, the time has come. I will try to bring you up to date on the last 10 days down under.

From the beginning. We arrived on Australia on the morning of the 16th in Sydney. As we were flying standby it was touch and go for a bit, and we had to overnight in LA after not getting seats on the only AA LAX to Sydney flight. After a grueling 13 hours in tourist class, we stumbled into the light with cankles and jetlag.

In a daze we managed to book a Quantas flight to Melbourne where our van was to be delivered. Based on limited information from the receiving shipping company we had expected to have the van by the 18th. We were sorely mistaken, it would take until the 24th for the van to be released to us.

In the meantime we were going to stay in hotels and enjoy the city. Unbeknownst to us the Australia Open (AO) was being held in Melbourne. The AO combined with the peak tourist/vacation season meant that accommodation in the city was pushed to it’s limit. The day after we arrived 95% of hotel rooms were booked out, and the few remaining had doubled their rates. After 2 days we realized it would be a while until the van was released, so we started booking Air BnB rooms in the suburbs. While it was a 40 minute drive into the city, we were no longer hemorrhaging cash at an alarming rate.

During the last 10 days we have thoroughly enjoyed Melbourne, though like most large cities parking is a challenge and expense we would prefer to avoid. The public transit system here is quite good, with daily fares maxing out at about 7USD. A number of locals have contacted us over the last week, and we have met many of them. Thanks for the warm welcome!

In preparation for the vans arrival we needed to clear it with customs and arrange an Australia Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS) inspection. We opted to rent a compact car until the van arrived as we needed to reach various locations which are a bit far by public transit. Driving on the left is a bit of a challenge, but after a few days behind the wheel, I have gotten the hang of it…mostly…

Customs and AQIS are located in an unassuming building near the Tullamarine airport. It took three tries to find the visitor's parking and entrance, but most of that can be chalked up to my poor left-side driving skills. We were directed to the second floor waiting area, where 30 chairs sat empty, and only 1 other person waited. After about an hour, we had cleared customs. This consisted of getting our CPD Carnet stamped (they keep a sheet from it), and processing our list of unaccompanied personal affects which were packed in the van. AQIS (one counter over) reviewed our effects list, vehicle information, and bill of lading. From this, they generated an inspection protocol for the inspectors to follow. We paid for the inspection and received a reference number. We forwarded this information to the Australian shipping company who would arrange for the inspection at their warehouse (where we would be present).

After customs and AQIS, we played the waiting game. On the evening of the 19th the van's container was delivered to the warehouse. Most businesses here are not open after 5, and do not work weekends, so it wasn’t until Monday that it was unpacked and the inspection scheduled. On Tuesday (finally!) we arrived at the warehouse for the inspection and clearance. We passed with flying colors. The inspector said that most vehicles do not clear on the first try, and require cleaning. This means trucking the van to an approved location, and paying to have it cleaned. This could take up to 14 days, and cost $400AUD or more.

After a few hours and a call to the AQIS help line, the approval document was emailed to us (they are all digital here!), we settled our paperwork with the shipping company, and drove the van out of the warehouse.

In the parking lot, we discovered that when putting on the shipping wheels in LA, some idiot had cross-threaded two lug bolts on the left rear wheel. Apparently turning harder doesn’t fix the problem… About half the threads in the hub were destroyed, and 2 lug bolts were beyond saving. No one had told us about this, even though they had a month, and we were going be stuck with a expensive repair $$$$ and a flatbed truck to a shop.

At this point, it was near closing time (about 4:30). The shipping company had a shop on site for maintaining their 40 trucks, and they offered to help. After a closer examination, I decided that there was sufficient threads left in the hub to recover the hole using a tap. Unfortunately, 14mmx1.5 is not a common bolt size, so the shop didn’t have the correct tap (my tap kit maxes out at 12mm). They graciously offered to give me a ride to a nearby tool shop (which was closing in 15 minutes) where I was able to buy a tap of the correct size.

Back at the warehouse, I recovered the holes, and borrowed two lug bolts from the front wheels which got us back on the road. Other than the damaged hub, the van was in one piece with all its contents intact.

Here is the van finally on Australia soil (or pavement) for the first time.

A local sprinter owner had offered us a place to camp on his property in the suburbs, so we made the drive out west the next day. He also gave us 2 new lug bolts to replace the damaged ones. Thanks, Eric!

Eric also helped me install a set of right-hand-drive headlights on the van. These were donated by a consortium of interested parties. Thanks! This way we don't blind oncoming drivers with our left-hand-drive headlights.

Here are some random photos of our explorations around the city.



Tasmania, Northeast

A decent part of the our visit to date has involved free camping along windswept shorelines and visiting various attractive villages, national parks, and forests. Add in wildlife watching and our days are pretty full! Some photos below should tell the tale better than I can.

The ferry landed in Devonport on the north central shore of Tassie. We free camped 30k away and started driving south east the next day.

Along the way we stopped at the Woolmers estate which has a number of historic farm buildings and 6 generation turn of the century homes that can be toured. In addition they have an extensive (albeit poorly maintained rose garden created by the 2nd or 3rd generation. Like many plantations in the US South this estate once farmed over 30,000 acres using convict labor. (Australia and Tasmania were founded by penal colonies.

Next we opted to visit nearby Ben Lomond National Park. (Pretty much everything is near by, as the island is only about 4 hours across by car.) Ben Lomond consists of an alpine plateau surrounded by steep dolomite cliffs. In the winter part of the park is a ski field and resort as it gets reliable snowfall despite being only 1500m tall. In the previous ice age a small glacier flowed from the summit creating glacial boulder fields in several areas.

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The final ascent to the plateau is a series of steep switchbacks (called a Jacob’s ladder). Here we are about ready to make the drive.

Here we are at the overlook at the top of the ladder.

There is lots of interesting plants that live exclusively in the tree free alpine zone.

We did a short hike to the summit, mostly for the views.

If you look closely you might see a blue van down there.

If you look carefully there is a bit of wildlife around as well. This is a Bennets Wallaby



Tasmania, Northeast Part 2

We have been on numerous hikes and visited Launceston. I won’t go into much detail, but the photos should tell the story well.

This is a skink.

We visited a Lavender farm. We were a bit late for the bloom, but the smell was insane. The lavender blueberry ice cream was quite good.

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We free camped near an old tin pit mine. The granite around the mine leaches chemicals into the water (such as aluminum) giving it a unique color.

Not a bad view out the window.

A few days later we visited Mount William National Park. This park is on the northeast most corner of the Tassie (not counting islands). A few tens of thousands of years ago, Tasmania was connected to mainland Australia by a land bridge. As sea levels rose it was covered by the sea. All that remains now are a chain of islands across the Bass Straight. Mt. William park is home to a population of Forester Kangaroos which are the largest Tasmania marsupial. They are bout 1.5-2x the size of wallabies here. They need lots of grass to graze on, and keep the fields of the park neatly trimmed. Being active from dusk to dawn means extra precautions are needed when driving.

This park also had a few very nice beaches, minus the flies (which didn’t bite).

We hiked to the top of Mt. William (about 230m) for some panoramic views. In the parking lot this little guy was looking for a snack. We could have pet him if we wanted… DON’T FEED THE WILDLIFE!

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On the way down we nearly stepped on an echidna with its snout buried in an ants nest. Echidnas are like a cross between a porcupine and an anteater. They can’t see well at all though.

More to come in installment three.


Tasmania Northeast Part 3

We took an evening drive through Mt. William to try and catch a view of some forester kangaroos. No close encounters, but we spotted quite a few (plus a ton of wallabies).

The next morning we went for an early morning kayak in Musselroe bay in the north of the park. Plenty of wildlife birds, fish, etc.

Tasmania is home to black swans. The early settlers caught these birds for their feathers.

We saw some small fish jumping near a garden of sea grass, and a few seconds later up pops a fairy penguin. They are the smallest penguin species at around 10 inches tall. What makes them even more unique is their bright blue feathers. They were too quick for us to get a picture though!. I guess we will have to find a colony of them to get a longer look.

We did some driving through some rainforest near the east coast, lots of tight turns, and steep grades.

Our next destination is referred to as the Bay of Fires. It is a confusing name though. First, because it is a series of beaches, not a single bay. Second, it was named for the fires seen by settlers which were lit by the aborigines, although now it is known for the fire red lichen that covers the rocks. A beautiful area with mile after mile of scenic windswept coastline dotted with scenic little towns, national parks, and free campsites.

Yet another nearly perfect empty white sand beach. If only the sun would come out!

There is at least one species of parrot native to Tasmania. These parrots can be seen in small to medium sized flocks in various parts of the island. Often they can be spotted from afar as they are constantly talking to each other.

We visited the town of St Marys and used this chance to hike up the nearby mountain of St Patricks Head. It was a steep climb through a wet forest. Quite a few unique plants and animals for a short hike, with a great vertigo inducing view at the top, complete with fast moving clouds.

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A whole flock of parrots was foraging on the hillside throughout the day.

At the end of the hike it was a rock scramble including a rusty ladder to the summit.


At the beginning of our descent I noticed my left sock was soaked in blood?! Very surprising as I had no noticed any pain in that area. Even stranger was the tiny wound that had caused the bleeding. Chocking it up to exertion, I put some gauze on it and started down the mountain.

Back at the van, while cleaning up the mess, we discovered the cause. Apparently I had a hitchhiker! Another leach had found his way onto my bare right foot in the time between taking off my socks, and washing my left one. A bit of salt took care of it, and its friend which was on Jen’s leg. A third one was wandering around on Jen’s coat. A word of advice about leaches. Don’t panic and pull them off. You need to coax them off with salt or alcohol, or gently apply pressure by sliding your finger downward to sweep them off. Pulling a leach straight off will leave its jaws in your skin, and could cause a nasty wound. Their anticoagulant really makes the bite bleed. Some corn start or baking soda will speed clotting.

A few days later we stayed at Douglas Apsley park. In the morning we did a shorter hiking loop into the gorge carved by the parks main river. The return hike was down the mostly dry riverbed, boulder hopping all the way.

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Some photos will randomly not Load on Chrome (for me) but load fine in other browsers. Strange. You can always click on the image to view in a new window.

Bowls carved into the bedrock (about 4ft across) bares witness to the raging rapids that form here during flash floods.

One of the common reptiles in Tasmania, a skink.

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some of those last pictures from your post show broken links on my browser.

Great looking trip!!
Thanks. Must be something with the new Expo software/forum. They display fine in the preview function. I checked on other forums the photos appear. Very strange... :mad:
“Voyage of the Damned”

By Jen.

No, honestly, it wasn’t that bad. I was just inspired by the title of the premier for one of the Doctor Who seasons I was watching in the States before “geographical restrictions” cut me off. As a note on that, Amazon doesn’t seem to have a lot of content down here that we had been watching. But, Netflix does (even if they didn’t have it in the States). That said, we might have considered keeping our Netflix subscription, except that it doesn’t support downloading movies onto our tablet (Nexus 10, since it isn’t a commonly used device).

Anyway, back to the title. We had just finished the 2 “strenuous” day hikes at St Patrick’s Head and Douglas-Apsley National Park and were taking a rest day as we camped in Freycinet National Park. If you have ever heard of Tasmania, in other terms than of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon, you may have heard of Wineglass Bay. This beautiful highly-photographed beach is located here in this park. Rather than just being attracted to that site, though; Jonathan had heard that the Peninsula Circuit (a 3 day hike) is great. Offering far better views than those who just wander to the Wineglass Bay lookout. He seemed confident that we could do it, but I had my trepidations. We had only walked at most 5km (by the way, in my head, I normally say “ks” or “clicks” every time I see km, since saying kilometer is so long) in a day. I think most hikes we had done were closer to 3-4 (though often steeper) and we had always taken much longer than the posted signage for the journeys. This 3-day hike consisted of a 12km day 1, a 15km day 2, and a 5km day 3. To top it off, the long day 2 was steep, going up between 2 small granite “mountains.” Comparing past walks to the future walk, it just didn’t add up well.

However, I read up on the hike on a blog. They made it sound easy. So, convinced, we started planning the trip while we did some laundry. First, we drove around looking for an outdoor store that would have freeze-dried foods, but didn’t have any success, so we made a trip to the grocery store to see if we could pick up some items we knew would work on the trail. Then while waiting on the laundry cycle to end, we took inventory of the food and Jonathan did some math to figure out if he would have enough calories for the trip. He was determined to not starve. We finally figured out enough food and meals for 3 days. The laundry finished and we went to find a camping site. Since we didn’t want to have a long drive in the morning, we tried to find a spot close to the trailhead carpark. There were none available (it was a Saturday), so we settled in the carpark, which is apparently a $318 fine, as we found out in the morning (thankfully only warned about, not issued, but I don’t recommend trying that). I set about cooking dinner (an ambitious Curry Vegetable Pot Pie, where I even made my own biscuits since Australia doesn’t seem to have any refrigerated “scone” dough here). Jonathan was taking a break watching a show. We let time get away from us, and so we did not get a chance to pack up everything like we had planned and left it all for the morning.

Sunday morning, we started pulling out our gear and figuring out what we wanted to take. After some trial and error, we eventually got some manageable-sized packs situated. We estimate that weighed about the same somehow (not ideal, since I weigh about 35 pounds less than him) at about 30-35 pounds, carrying 6 liters of water. The water was the killer part. We learned that there was only water, which was limited, at one of the campgrounds, so we needed to carry enough for 1.5 days, including drinking and cooking. We estimated 3 liters per person per day. We ended up using only 1 liter per person per day, then about 0.5-1 liter for cooking per day. We started out around 1015, then realized we had forgotten the sandwiches we had planned for lunch that day. Since we hadn’t gone far, we went back and made them and added them to the pile.

Finally, at 1030, we were officially on our way. But, by the time we got to the fork for our trail, we realized that we hadn’t seen the trail register. You are supposed to check in and out so that they know if you are lost and how long you have been gone, etc. I suspect they also use it to figure out if the vehicles in the parking lot are being camped in or just parked overnight. So, I watched Jonathan’s pack while he went back to find it. All boxes checked, we finally were on the trail. Only 2kms in though, we already needed to stop for lunch. As a plus, each time we stop for a meal or take a drink, our packs get a bit lighter!

We were both doing fairly well, though a bit tired, over the first 6km (which I thought was a really long 4km the first time down it). However, my right foot’s arch was feeling a bit cramped, so I removed my inserts and retied my shoes. At this point, we hit Hazards Beach. It was at low tide (ish). Most of the coarser granite sand couldn’t support our weight. After some trial and error, we found some sand that didn’t sink in while walking on it. By the time we reached the first campsite (Hazards Camp) at the end of the beach, I was exhausted, my arch still hurt, and both feet were really feeling it. After taking a restroom break, I got a foot massage and Jonathan got a shoulder massage for our sorest parts, and we moved on. Only 4 more kms to go, approximately 1.5 hours, which was closer 2.25 hours for us. But, we finally made it, footsore and exhausted. Upon pulling off my shoes, I realized I had a large blister on my left heel as well.

We set up camp, but while making dinner, we discovered we had chosen a poor spot. The wind kept blowing up this fine black sand and grit into our tent. We were covered in it. So, we decided to relocate. At this point, I could barely walk at all. Not very promising for the hike ahead. However, we both took some time to stretch and walked down to Cooks Beach to get some salt-water therapy. Walking in the cold water did help my feet a bit, as it constricted the blood vessels, reducing inflammation and pain. Jonathan actually rinsed off in the frigid water. As a plus, it was a beautiful sunset. However, our hot-weather gear was just not sufficient for the 50°F temperatures and breezes that night, so we were both a bit cold. And, we had forgotten our ear plugs. And, the sleeping pads we had are not anywhere near as comfy as our own bed. Made it a bit miserable and neither of us got much sleep.

After a walk to the bathroom in the morning, we made the decision that it was just too painful to continue on and do a longer, more strenuous hike. I thought this had been made for both of us, but later on I discovered that Jonathan thought he could have done it without me; nothing like thinking that I am holding someone back from a great experience! We held out hope that we were going to circle through Wineglass Bay on the way back, since it was a similar distance. But, as we got closer to the turnoff, I realized I would not be able to handle the elevation changes on the last bit of the hike. Probably a wise choice that we did avoid it, because by the end of the milder hike, I could barely walk. During the last 6 kms, we were both feeling every step of the journey. Every foot pounding through our bodies. Jonathan ended up carrying my pack through the parking lot. For the last 2 kms, I had tried to pick up my pace like a horse heading back to the barn, but I was in too much pain to do so. We had left at 845 that morning and got to the parking at about 4pm, which was only 45 minutes earlier than we had arrived the day before in the reverse direction. What should have been a 5-hour hike (according to everyone else) had been a 7.25 hour hike because of the pain.

You can tell we weren’t thinking quite well because of lack of sleep and hurry. There were several other options we could have done than the rigorous path we choose. For example, we could have stayed another night at Cooks camp to recover. Or we could have not gone 12kms the first day and instead, done 8. Then used the isthmus track to go to Wineglass Bay camp. Then we could have left our packs at the camp and done a round-trip day hike to Mount Freycinet. Alas, instead, we punished ourselves. You would think we are masochists, but we definitely did NOT enjoy it.

While relaxing in the carpark before trying to find a campsite for the night, we ran into our new friends and spent the evening hanging out with them. Between the friends and the great views, it wasn’t a total loss for the day.

They were heading down the same path the next day, planning to do the whole circuit, so we made plans to take 2 rest days and catch up with them at Wineglass Bay Campground so that we wouldn’t miss out on the iconic experience.

The second try at a walk in the park was much more successful. Only planning on one night stay, the water and food requirements were much less, making our bags lighter. We also remembered our ear plugs. And, the walk was only 5 kms per day.

As I am going through these posts from over a year ago, we really sound wimpy! These days we do a 20km hike with 30lb+ packs (in the mountains of NZ no less). It is amazing what a few years behind a desk will do to your body (and mind!).
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Thanks. Must be something with the new Expo software/forum. They display fine in the preview function. I checked on other forums the photos appear. Very strange... :mad:
I'm seeing them now, may just need a refresh. this has happened a few times for me on the new forums.