Genoa

With mill-pond conditions and perfect blue skies, we packed up and left Lakes Entrance (because Murphy goes on holidays too). Another short hop, just 182 km, saw us at another Kristen sleuthed WikiCamps gem, a free camp at Genoa. Genoa is the sad reminder of what happens when towns are bypassed and industry closes down. This once bustling logging town feels like a scene from a Stephen King horror novel. Boarded up windows, peeling paint, some doors shuttered closed, a very derelict hotel motel and a pub. All closed. Apparently some footprints of 350 million year old amphibian mammals were found here in the 1970’s. They were obviously the first to leave.

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The only good news was the ‘entry by donation’ free camp, set on lovely grassed banks of the Genoa river. This relatively well patronized camp has plenty of space, nice loos, cold showers and BBQ’s. The decaying town is joined to the camp by a wooden multi-truss bridge, opened in 1927. This was built to carry road traffic over the then newly opened Princess Highway and is quite an imposing structure. Now it acts as a pedestrian bridge, from which the odd platypus can be spotted in the evening twilight.

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A benefit of the high bridge was a tyre swing erected by some industrious locals. This gave the kids plenty of entertainment, and just a few accidents! In one true Buster Keaton moment, Sam swung, fell off into the shallow water, stood up a little dazed and was promptly boinked on the head by the returning tyre, knocking him back into the water. Sam eventually saw the funny side, but it took awhile!

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Whilst wandering up to the old bridge for a sticky beak, we met a rather flustered looking cyclist desperate for some water. Katie, a sculptor, had decided to ride from Melbourne to Sydney to meet her family for Christmas. I think she vastly underestimated the task involved, and admitted she might just make Berri before succumbing to train travel for the remaining miles. We filled her relatively small stock of water bottles and her tummy with some dinner. We didn’t see her again on the way out towards Eden the next day. Another example of the interesting lives we intersect with.

With just 34 days of our epic (to us) journey remaining, I feel that we are obliged to savor every moment. None of us are quite sure what to think or feel about returning to the folds of ‘normal’ society.

Marlay Point, Lake Wellington

Lake Wellington is the western most lake in Gippsland’s famous Lakes District. This connects to Lake Victoria and finally, to lakes Entrance and Bass Straight some 60 km further east. Marlay Point, on the northern shores of Lake Wellington, is another free camp that Kris found on Wikicamps. After getting our warranty replacement car battery at the Repco dealer in nearby Sale, we visited an interesting swing bridge near Sale.

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1883 Swing bridge near Sale. The oldest still functional in Australia and the first built in Victoria.

One new battery! Writing the date helps me remember when warranty expires.

A few kilometres later it was time to set up on a lovely patch of grass and watch the pelicans battle the wind as they fished in packs on the choppy surface. James’ fresh flathead was delicious as first course for dinner!

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A pod of pelicans fishing on windy Lake Wellington.

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Once the wind died down just after dinner it was a lovely spot to spend the night and next morning – very tranquil.

Reeves Beach – 90 Mile Beach – Gippsland

or In full Nancy Drew mode, Kris uncovered a delightful free camp along 90 mile beach in Wikicamps. I guess being such a long beach, they had to break it down into smaller chunks of similar sandiness. Ours was called Reeves Beach, a mere 112 km from our last camp at Yanakie. The distances between camps have reduced significantly now that we’re in the final stretch of the trip with a bit of time to kill, meaning that we no longer have any large distances to devour and sadly, we could be home in one very long days drive.

Looking southwest along 90 mile beach, on a good day…

One bit of excitement was a flat battery at Yarram, the last town before our camp. One thing we have to manage are longish stops with the caravan hooked up. The Cruisers two batteries are huge, but are getting very tired after almost 35,000 kilometres and countless corrugations. They have to run the enormous caravan fridge and the car fridge unless we switch the van over the gas. Long story short; the car wouldn’t start so I called NRMA, who directed the call to RACV, who were there in under 5 minutes! We hadn’t even finished making lunch. Tim, our friendly RACV technician, confirmed with a battery load tester that one battery was deceased, and the second one just didn’t have the grunt to start the car. This was timely as both batteries were new when we left 330 days ago, and with just nine days of warranty left, I needed to know if lady luck was travelling with us. With the RACV confirmation of ill-health, apparently she was.

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James, desperate to wash up, fights Kris for the tea towel.

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The boys lost in a blissful imaginary world with their monster trucks.

Reeves Beach is a lovely little grassy camp nestled in behind a large sheltering sand dune. We spent our three days here walking along the beach and fishing. In practice this meant feeding the huge population of crabs who were growing fat on bait from luckless (or hopeless) fishermen like me. The boys spent their time playing monster trucks on the beach, playing Lego or doing the homework required to keep their stern teacher, Miss Kristen, satisfied.

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I actually caught a few like this one. Desperate to eat the bait, they hang on the hook.

I decided to feed the crabs my last bit of bait on the morning we were to leave, with James agreeing to join me ‘just for a chat’. If we go fishing, it is invariably James that nails the elusive suckers. Sure enough, as I watched my line tug and release, classic signs of a crab party at the other end, James ran up the beach dragging his rod and squealing that he’d caught something. Seeing that he was about to run out of beach, I convinced him to actually reel in his catch. Sure enough, a rather large and angry crab was tangled in the line, as was a beautiful 44 cm flathead. The crab lived to fight another day, the flatty went into the fridge. Well done James.

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Yanakie – Wilsons Promontory

We slogged through Melbourne’s eastern suburbs in an attempt to replace the holey boots Sam screwed to a tree in Melrose. No luck on that front. We did however manage a decent restock shop, including a gas refill at BCF, guaranteed cheapest in Australia don’t-cha-know! As the traffic mercifully dwindled to something we were more used to, we drove towards Wilsons Promontory. Famous for being the most southerly point on the Australian mainland. Because the weather forecast was lashings of Victoria’s best, with tops in the mid teens, cloudy, windy and with a high chance of rain, we wisely opted for a powered caravan site. We chose a caravan park at Yanakie, which is on the edge of Wilsons Promontory (known locally as ‘The Prom’). Curiously, the Yanakie caravan park was almost half the price of the National Park, which swayed our decision given our six night stay here.

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The view from Bishops Peak.

With the wind-a-blowin’, we drove into the NP on our first day to climb Bishops Peak before the rain set in. This provided expansive views over the magnificent coast. The actual southerly most point in Australia (ignoring that island to the south) is a 30 km return walk from the closest car park. Had the weather been kinder, I might have attempted this as a day trip. Not to worry.

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Views and adventures at Bishops Peak and why James seems to get tired bush walking.

We easily filled in the days with the boys playing on the local beach building their usual extensive monster truck cities, fishing (unsuccessfully) at a local tidal river inlet, and further visits down towards ‘The Prom’ to visit Whiskey Bay, Picnic Bay and Squeaky Beach.

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James and the monster truck city at Duck Point, Yanakie.

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K – reliving the 70’s beach holiday.

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It was at Squeaky Beach that we ran into Brett and Kim and their boys Will and Brodie. We first met them in the Warrumbungles 14 long months ago. We were both doing ‘shakedown’ trips as preparation for our respective ‘Big Laps’. We’ve just clicked over day 328 and 34,000 km. They were on day 4 of their own 7 month adventure. It is indeed a small small world.

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Sam and James enjoying Bass Straight’s best with new travellers Will and Brodie.

At least the last two days were sunny, warm and still. I even managed to brave Bass Straight with a swim and surf! On our final day we climbed from Tidal Inlet up to Pillar Point lookout with our friends before joining them for dinner and a pat of the local resident wombat.

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Views from Pillar Point.

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This was a rare occasion where we were driving back to our campsite well after dark and on the way home in the car we played a game counting the prolific numbers of wombats and wallabies on the side of the road. Our first of many sightings happened on our first drive into the NP. I absolutely insisted that the little furry speed hump was a koala bear as it waddled purposefully across the road. Granted that I may have been mistaken, all further sightings then became known as wombears or koalabats.

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Pacific Gull at Duck Point!

K – I was awoken at dawn on at least three mornings by the most incredible bird song of the trip.  The dawn chorus must have contained over a dozen different bird types.  It was truly beautiful to listen to.  Curiously most of the birds seemed to fly away after an hour or so after dawn so the daytime chorus wasn’t at all as interesting.

Creswick

A short hop landed us at a free camp in Slaty Creek Nature Reserve a mere 15km from Ballarat near the picturesque town of Creswick. Since replacing the solar panel we’ve increased our camp site locational diligence, which was exacerbated by the signs threatening that ‘limbs may fall at any time, even without wind’ (K – read –  now we’re careful not to park under trees).

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The area was next to a pretty and almost dry creek, surrounded by magnificent gums. Kris noticed they were pretty much all the same height and diameter, suggesting a similar age. Put two and two together and it’s easy to picture this place in the 1850’s with thousands of miners searching for gold. Every tree would no doubt have been cut down for housing, for fires, for mine heads and for shoring up pits and tunnels. There was plentiful evidence of the gold rush era here. Literally every 5 to 10 metres were the remains of old mine pits and piles of spoil, now melted into the landscape.

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We stayed three nights here and had a few interesting visitors, including an older woman Chris, with her two donkeys (Archimedes and Marbles). She’d left her husband at home to walk alone along The Goldfields Track. Previous donkey expeditions included from Canberra to Brisbane. We also had several tradies who were in town to erect mobile phone towers. If they free camp, they get to keep their travel allowance. This, it transpired, was converted into liquid form until late that night. A night it turned out, that there were very high winds, meaning a total fire ban on two of the three nights. At least Forestry and Parks had the good sense and diligence to come around each morning to advise the fire ban status.

On our last day, Kris suggested we visit Creswick wool mill. Another educational adventure. The mill was founded in 1947 by Polish immigrant Paul Ryzowy. He saw a market and started from scratch. Sadly, this is the last mill operating in Australia and has stayed ahead of the influx of cheap Chinese imports by diversifying into Alpaca wool as well as Merino, possum, Angora and camel. We learned all about spinning yarn (as if I need help), as well as the complicated process of making and finishing blankets. This is a labour intensive process and it seems not much has changed since the industrial revolution. Whilst Kris engaged in some retail therapy, the boys busied themselves feeding alpacas, goats and camels. Kris said her favourite was the very soft possum yarn.

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IMG_3500K – We broke camp and headed off to Melbourne calling in at the quaint town of Daylesford.  The winds had brought a cold change in and after braving the chilly morning streets we treated ourselves to hot chocolates and coffees at a rustic café.  A bit further down the road there was the Diggers Club exhibition garden at St Erth (a gardening collective and seed supplier specializing in heritage fruit, veggies and flowers).  Their gardens were lovely, even in the sleet which fell for 10 mins! After a very yummy veggie filled lunch at their home-grown café it was back in the car, with heater running, for the last little leg to Melbourne and our first freeway since Perth.

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