Exploring Australia From The Left

Sometimes the urge to drive down a dirt track just to see where it leads can be overwhelming.

At the end is often the vestiges of human occupation, left for the wilds to reclaim.

Of course not without the most impotent of us leaving their marks upon it.

The isolation and small communities do weird things to people.


By Jen.

While traveling in the great land of “Oz” (derived from the pronunciation of “AUS”), we definitely haven’t been suffering for tasty food. Surprisingly, after we received the van, we weren’t able to eat out too often. Between not knowing where we will be at lunch time and not wanting to drive at dusk/night, we often are only able to eat out when the “stars align”. Of the restaurant options when we do go out, noticeably lacking is Mexican food restaurants and Hispanic-related food in general. This isn’t too surprising, as we aren’t even remotely close to Mexico or any other Spanish-speaking country, and travelers from those countries tend to drive more than fly. On the other hand, Asian food restaurants more than make up the difference. Plus, instead of a “Chinese” or Asian restaurant consisting of foods from many cultures (like many restaurants in the States), each country’s (e.g. Thai, Sri Lankan, Chinese) food has a separate unique restaurant, sometimes even only specializing in a subset of that food (e.g., dumplings). Quite different from what I am used to, but still quite enjoyable. There are also more of other ethnic foods that we aren’t used to seeing in the Midwest, like Lebanese and Greek. Quite fun.

For cooking ourselves, we have had to adapt a bit. Normally, one meal a week, I like to “splurge” some money and get a pre-prepared meal that I can just throw in the oven or the skillet and be ready in a few minutes. This is just so I don’t actually have to work hard or plan a meal for one night a week; plus it is a chance for Jonathan to have something non-vegetarian. However, there doesn’t seem to really be that option here in Australian stores. You either have a one-person microwave meal or warm-up savory pies (for oven or microwave). So, we have started having the savory pies once week. They come either frozen or refrigerated and we just put them in our largest skillet with the cooktop set to 180F so that they warm to 160F without burning (we normally flip it once or twice just to make it cook more evenly). Works pretty well.

With the induction stovetop’s temperature option, we have been able to do a decent amount of cooking that normally requires an oven. We have cooked several cakes. I have even made biscuits. I learned how to make stovetop apple crisp. I have even made a cobbler (Thanks, Grandma for the cup recipe!). We are trying pizza this week with a premade pizza base from the store. As you can see, not too much suffering over here.

Also, randomly missing from the stores here is corn meal (which is a shame as I really wanted to make cornbread!). Also very hit and miss on whether they have it is whipping cream. They don’t really seem to use it. In its place is thickened (with gelatin) cream (bizarre…). And, the produce section is interesting. With potatoes, some come “unwashed;” perhaps as a way to save labor costs? All produce is pretty much from Australia with a few rare exceptions. But even within Australia, produce can’t cross state lines to prevent the spread of pests and disease. A very strict country in regards to imports and exports.

There is annoying Australian habit of not really telling you what you are consuming. For example, when reading labels, it will say “sweeteners” and “spices”. This frustrates me as I really don’t like the taste of certain items (or just want to avoid stuff) and I won’t know if it has it until I have tasted it, which means buying it first. Similarly, on many cheese items, they don’t list what types of cheese are used. How bizarre/frustrating is that? They do mention Colby and mozzarella, but other than that I am not really sure what the cheese is. I think it is cheddar, but the only description it gives is “tasty” and “very tasty”. How vague is that?! I guess they do indicate its strength from very mild to very strong.

Also, I find the “health star” rating system very entertaining.

As for snacks (a lot are 0.5 health stars
), a lot of our budget is spent on snacks. They are roughly the same cost as in the States, but here, that cost only buys you 1 weeks’ worth of snacks, whereas in the States, it would last 1.5-2 weeks. However, we have picked out several favorites:

  • Arnott’s TimTam (Jonathan likes Chocolate, I like White)

    Arnott’s Farmbake cookies (for Jonathan, of course)

    Arnott’s Orange Slice cookies (for me)

    Nestle’s Dairy Milk Berry Crumble (for me; very tasty! Why don’t we have similar in the States?)

As you might have guessed, we have not lost any weight here, despite our more active lifestyles.
The cereals we have gravitated to while traveling are these:

  • For Jonathan:

    For Jen:

Here are some cereals that are rebranded from the States.

They also have a lot of mango-flavored food here (which I love).

WA Gold Country

After the Nullarbor we ventured slightly north into the heart of WA Gold Country. Many miners from across the globe ventured before and after the turn of the century to pursue riches in the brutal desert of the goldfields. With almost no reliable surface water, a miners best companions were his camel and a water skin.

Many small towns have restored the tools used in the mines, and places them for public display, often in a well maintained park.

Enormous steam winding engines rarely survive being scrapped.

Equipment used in mine shafts was often powered by compressed air, usually provided by a steam driven compressor, and later by diesel engines. Early shaft mines used horses or oxen to pull loads out, and hand drills, and explosives did the clearing.

Hauling the ore out by hand in the 40C heat...

We also visited the "Super Pit" in Kalgoorlie. Still operating, this enormous pit mine extracts thousands of ounces of gold each month. The scale of the operation is simply overwhelming.

That tiny spec down at the bottom of the mine? That is a face shovel. We could see over 20 load trucks working the mine roads from here, each one over 20ft tall (you can see 2 of them on the right center of the photo).

The remains of mine equipment used in the old shaft mines was removed before the entire area became the pit.

The load trucks move 280 tons of ore per load to the surface. Each one yields a golf-ball-sized amount of gold.

Several enormous head frames dot the landscape for both current and closed shaft mines.

This one marks a mining museum.

Victoria by the Numbers

Victoria is kinda hard to do, since we left in the middle of our stay to go to Tassie. And, we are going to be coming back when we ship our vehicle, but we will give a go at it anyway.

Here are some interesting statistics from our journey in Australia’s 2nd-smallest state.

  • Time
    • Time zone: UTC+10:00; participates in Daylight Savings Time (while we were in VIC, DST began in the US and ended in VIC, but not on the same day)
    • Day entered 1: 16-Jan-2017
    • Day left 1: 29-Jan-2017

    • Day entered 1: 15-Mar-2017
    • Day left 1: 06-Apr-2017
    • Total # of days: 14+23=37
      • Nights slept in van: 37
      • Nights slept in tent: 0
      • Nights slept in hotel/etc.: 9 (these were all before we received the van from customs)
  • Distance
    • Driven: ~3000 km (~1875 miles)
    • Average speed: 59.4 kph (36.9 mph)Hiked: 41.4 km (25.9 miles)

      • Date Location Description Distance (km) Distance (mi)

        1/19/2017 Beaconsfield Nature Conservation Reserve Walk around reservoir 3 1.875

        1/27/2017 Point Nepean NP Cheviot Hill 2.8 1.75

        3/24/2017 Wilsons Promontory NP Mount Oberon Summit 6.8 4.25

        3/25/2017 Walhalla Tramline Walkway 3 1.875

        3/27/2017 Alpine NP Black Duck Hole 1.4 0.875

        3/28/2017 Alpine NP Mount Cope Summit 3.4 2.125

        3/28/2017 Alpine NP Fainter Falls 1.5 0.9375

        3/30/2017 Mount Buffalo NP Horn Summit Lookout 3 1.875

        3/30/2017 Mount Buffalo NP Old Galleries Track 1 0.625

        3/30/2017 Mount Buffalo NP View Point Nature Walk 4.5 2.8125

        4/3/2017 Lorne Erskine Falls 1.4 0.875

        4/3/2017 Lorne Allenvale Mill Car Park to Phantom Falls & The Canyon 5.9 3.6875

        4/4/2017 Port Campbell NP Loch Ard Gorge 3 1.875

        4/4/2017 Port Campbell NP The Grotto 0.72 0.45
    • Fuel fill-ups: 7
  • Money
    • Total spent: $3965 USD ($5370 AUD)
      • Consists of the costs of traveling full time in Victoria, including TAC and insurance
      • Does not include gear or van conversion costs
      • More than 3/4 of it was spent in the first part of the VIC experience (14 days), with only less than 1/4 spent in the last 23 days.
    • Average cost per day: $107.18 USD ($145.17 AUD)
    • Average cost of diesel: $1.249 AUD per liter ($3.039 USD per gallon)
  • National Parks visited: 8
    • Point Napean
    • Port Philips Head
    • Wilsons Promontory
    • Alpine
    • Mount Buffalo
    • Great Otway
    • Mount Richmond
    • Lower Glenelg
Interesting observations about Victoria:

  • Australian Open (tennis) occurs here every year in January.
  • This state has “shires” instead of “counties”. (LOTR fans will love that!)
  • Melbourne and Sydney fought so viciously over being the national capital that neither one of them wore allowed to be the capital. However, VIC also required that the capital be no fewer than 1000km from Sydney.
  • Apparently VIC is just contentious as it also had an argument with South Australia over its border. For years, this contested border area was ignored by both states until it was finally settled in court, where Victoria won the land (even though the line had been surveyed incorrectly in the first place and belonged to SA per its state’s charter).
  • Victoria is very strict with its road rules. Most people report that if you go even 2 kph over the posted speed limit, you can expect a ticket, especially if caught on a speed camera. These cameras can be mobile as well, and aren't always in the same spot. They also post an abundance of signs in hopes that it will reduce traffic accidents.
Esperance and Cape Le Grand

After leaving gold country, we headed west along the coast to the beach town of Esperance and the nearby Cape Le Grand National park. A lot of places say they have the best beaches in the world, but the ones around Esperance would at least make the first round.

This is Hellfire Beach in Cape Le Grand.

The water is still a bit cool down here this time of year. The west coast gets a tropical current in the winter, so the water is much warmer. While at Cape LeGrand we climbed up a one of the odd looking "mountains". Many have large caves and overhangs. This on in particular has a spectacular see-through cave/arch.

It is wildflower season, and we enjoyed plenty of them on our hikes.

Wave Rock

After Cape Le Grand and Esperance, we took a detour inland to the tourist destination of Wave Rock. This is a long drive across WA's wheat belt. Fields of wheat so large that you cannot see the other side.

A prelude to wave rock (and a free parking spot, instead of the 10$ fee) is the yawning hippo.

As we walk in, the wave starts to appear.

Along the way are some interesting plants. Including this little carnivorous flower. Only a few cm across, they are covered with sticky hairs, which are used to capture insects.

Some nearby aboriginal cave painting finished up the day. As a side note, the extent the locals go to in order to capture rain water is intense. Many large rock surfaces are covered with dams and channels to produce a water catchment area.

Fitzgerald River NP

On our way to and from Wave Rock, we noticed many somewhat older signs of a major flash-flood event in the region. Lots of recently-reworked ditches, repaved roads, etc. Once we got back on the south coast highway, we discovered just how large the flooding event had been.

In this photo you can see a river crossing. To the left is the original bridge position, about 350 meters upstream of the new temporary crossing. On the far left, you can just barely see the remains of the old bridge.

On the new "bank" of the river (bare rock at this point) lies a nearly complete bridge.

Note the debris built up on the guardrails.

With concrete pilings, a wood bridge was originally built over the river. Later on a 80cm thick concrete bridge was built over top of the wood one. You can see the gouges as the concrete was pulled across the wood.

The entire bridge was picked up, and floated over 150m downstream, in one piece! Just amazing.

On our westerly drive, we detoured to Fitzgerald River National Park. We hoped we might catch a few early whales, but no luck. The park itself is interesting, very nice facilities at the coast and entry.

We did a hike around the southern viewing area. Lots of wildflowers and birds. The hike is partially along the Number 2 Rabbit Proof fence.


Originally built to keep the plague of European rabbits out of West Australia, the Rabbit Proof Fence was the longest contiguous fence line in the world stretching 2,023 miles. Maintained by fence riders, it was a pretty amazing feat for the time. Most of it crosses utter desolation, uninhabited by humans, traversable only by camel.

At plague proportions, the rabbit problem was so severe that livestock industries were taking a major hit. The rabbits with no predators (the dingo was mostly eliminated from the south half of Australia) bred out of control, grazing the land into the ground. When the myxomatosis virus was introduced in the 1950s, the rabbit population went from 600 to 100 million in 2 years. The increase in livestock yields was substantial.

The dirt roads in the park were, hands down, the worst "maintained" roads I have ever driven on. About 70km of constant, complete, and brutal washboard (corrugation).

Even with my tires deflated to max, shocks at full damping, and driving to minimize it, my body was going numb after 10 minutes. Upon exiting the park through the main entrance, we found this sign.

Along the way our radio decided to eject itself.