Saturday, August 16, 2008

Vacation Australia: Melbourne- Sydney along the pacific coast- Part II.

Foster - Wollongong
Monday June 2nd :
Foster reminded me of an Australian Beer but this tiny town didn’t display any sign of it. It rather showed the character of dairy farmer’s than a beer guzzler’s sojourn. I would also remember this town for my first experience of filling up gas on my own. I was too sheepish to admit my nervousness to the petrol station owner but he readily helped me not just with the filling but also with the directions to hit A440
S. Gippsland Highway. As we turned and hit the highway, I saw the board ‘Foster Population 1,500’ confirming that town was indeed a tiny.

Road from Foster to Sale goes through a vast land occupied by grass grazers. On either side of the road are cows, cows and cows. The only possible variation is their colour. Some are brown while some are white on black. A familiar Indian sight of shepherd holding a wooden stick in one hand and pushing the grazing cows did not exist here. Aussie cows didn’t have any human boss prodding them. They just churned at will, unmindful of an occasional car passing along the barricaded fence. We crossed small townships of Toora, Agnes, Hedley, Gelliondale and Yarrum hoping to see jumping Kangaroos in this vast land but ended up with a mere glimpse of a sheep or a horse. By noon, we reached the town Sale. Sale appeared bigger than Foster and the population board showed as 13,000. The small towns in Australia look similar. Arterial Street is lined with shops ranging from butcher to hairdresser with Church and school in the vicinity. In Australia, besides grazing animals, the next largest congregation must be those of resting in the countryside cemeteries. Private companies own and manage them providing all the serenity as they merge with the mother earth. At Sale, we took a bite at the familiar McDonald that would remind me of communication battle between Aussie versus Indian English. I asked for corn cup, but we got ice-cream cone scoop.

Seeing signboard of ‘Stratford’, I wondered if this city’s forefathers had migrated from Shakespeare town. Soon Avon river followed with board of ‘Stratford on River Avon ‘. This tiny town of 1,300 hosts an annual Shakespeare on the River Festival. Listening to Melbourne FM Hindi service was a pleasant surprise. It was giving a round up of just concluded IPL final and also tips to Asian Taxi drivers who want to drive in Perth or Adelaide.

Crossing a small town of Manroe, we reached Bairnsdale. A layout of this town was similar to sale but it looked more modern. Most towns in Australia have yellow colored i kiosk - an attempt by Australia to make their country a tourist friendly destination. These kiosks have maps, directions with booklets and staff ready to help you. We reached Bairnsdale at 4pm giving us enough time to touch Lake Entrance before sunset.

Lakes Entrance with a population of 6,000 is an elegant and orderly town. On one side of the road was the tranquil lake with yachts tucked at its edge while the other side had a bevy of small hotels with protruding balconies to enjoy the lake view. Lake Entrance is the gateway to ocean for all five major rivers and their tributaries that form Gippsland Lakes. No wonder this lake is as huge as 400 square kilometers and extends 90 kilometers along the coast. A drive around the serene lake gave us an idea about the impending evening that would lie ahead of us. After previous night at Wilson prom, would there be another quiet evening with wine, pasta and hitting the bed at 8pm? The thought did not gel well after traveling all the way to a distant country to explore the place. Perhaps, in the company of grazing cows, we were longing for hectic city life. The darkness was falling rapidly. We checked with the staff of i if we could travel further. She suggested trying Orbost or Cann River for a stopover. We decided to go ahead. After all, we were keen to reach Sydney at the earliest and savor the city life. Curvy roads running over small bridges took us towards Orbost - Cann River. We reached Orbost and ensured that we are on the right path. Darkness had not sunk in yet but by the time we reached Cann River, it was dark. This little sleepy town appeared just around the traffic junction. One road led along the coast to Sydney and the other via Canberra. On our left was a Victorian décor motel with no sign of activity and on our right was a Mobil petrol station that had more trucks than people. The other side had clustered shops and café with a sign of post office – albeit closed . Would this be a safe place to stay with a small baby? I thought of checking with grocery store at the gas station but seeing the deserted look inside, I decided to settle for a coffee and proceed towards Eden. Cann River to Eden was just 147 Km and despite dark cover I felt confident. How misplaced this confidence was!!.

Just as we cruised past the Cann River, we realized that the road was ascending a steep path. Realizing it could just be another hill, we marched forward. Slowly steepness of climb was evident with car falling in speed. It was pitched dark by now with silhouettes of spear shaped trees making the scene look grotesque. There was no traffic on either side of the road. We were heading somewhere in the forest. One car did follow us for a while but relief of seeing another vehicle gave a way to the anxiety and the fear of robbery. Despite being a single lane traffic, after every few kms, road gave away an extra lane on either side for overtaking. At the next opportunity, we let the tailing car overtake us. We marched on. By now, forest grew thicker by blanking out even the distant lights from far away stars. Driving through the winding roads, my eyes were transfixed on yellow highway signs. What if our car breaks down? What if a wild animal hits our car? I decided to shoo away those thoughts. Occasional illuminated big truck that passed on the opposite side gave a glimpse of how thick the forest was. We were in for an adventure but were not sure of the outcome. The steep climb amidst winding roads made distance look longer. Soon Eden milepost showed double digits as ‘Thank You’ sign of Victoria and ‘Welcome’ sign of New South Wales flashed. We were happy when winding road gave a way to straight road but this relief was only short lived. Soon moving clouds replaced trees on either side bringing the visibility to bare minimum. As our car speed dwindled down to less than 15 kms/hour, my head was close to the with eyes piercing through the haze that was stubborn to the car headlights. Soon, the stretch of tress on either side came to our rescue by blocking the cloud cover. Now I could make out that we were on the top of the mountain. Concrete sidebars on the road made me realize that it must have been some bridge. However, I had no idea how steep we were! We carried on at snail’s speed until we saw shimmering lights down below. We knew Eden was in sight. Having sampled the forlorn life style, we were not in a mood to settle in a hotel away from the city. We reached Motor Lodge that had lot of restaurants and music in the neighborhood. As we were devouring pizza from the next-door restaurant, my hands were on the blackberry goggling ‘Cann River to Eden travel’. I realized that we had undertaken the most adventurous alpine forest journey traversing through Albert State Forest, Mount Drummer, and Mount Raymond at an elevation in excess of 361m. I gathered that at this height, mist gets very dense and northeasterly wind makes the road wet and slippery. Now we understood why no vehicle was in the sight all through our journey. However, all goes well that ends well. We had sound sleep at Eden!!

Tuesday June 3rd:

Motor Inn was next to the Eden beach but had no access to the beach. Reception staff recommended us to drive along the interior road instead taking princess highway. We shall always be grateful for their advice. Else, we would not have savored spectacular natural paradise that New South Wales can offer. Sky was clear with overnight rain but roads were still misty, wet and soil slippery. I could imagine our travel previous night.

Bermagui – Wallaga Lake Road- Beauty Point – Akolele – Central Tilba.
One of the fascinating aspects of Australia is the ‘Tourist Drive’. They usually are detours that pass along the most scenic part and are numbered. We took tourist Drive 11 that began at Pambula and continued through Merimbula and then headed along the sapphire coast drive to Tathra and Bega. We could see some of the most premium properties along this route that also housed National Parks. Very often, right side of the road would indicate joining the beach while the other side would be hilly area with bushes and native flora. Suddenly in an open stretch of land barricaded on either side, we saw Kangaroos cowering under rain, crouching in a single row, gazing at the passing vehicles. How cute they looked while drenching in the rain. We were so happy to see them that we took U-turn and stood next to them. They were not brown as we had envisaged but more of sand gray. No amount of shooing and booing would budge them. Seeing them in large numbers in the wild made our journey to Australia accomplished.

The Scenic Route along the Tathra-Bermagui Road was one of the most spectacular coastal drives we have had. Passing through forests around Mimosa Rocks National Park, the landscape turned into rolling green hills with a backdrop of densely wooded mountains. We crossed number of timber bridges along the route, crossing many rivers, creeks, estuaries, lagoons and lakes. Nature was at its best and so was the weather. Tathra - Bermagui is a zone rich enough to imbue great creative energy all poets, writers, filmmakers, photographers and musicians.

When we reached Bermagui heights, we were almost on the edge of the sea – sea breeze flowing from the lake that lay on the opposite side while not so Steep Mountain flanking along the beach. Just past the Bermagui village, we came across a spot that took our breath away. Akshta uttered ‘wow’,her new term after witnessing anything spectacular. Here was a spot that had two huge lakes on either side. With breeze flowing, ripples of the lakes had turned into smaller waves on either side. This spot is so scenic that local authorities had put a board ‘no caravan parking’. A wooden bridge bisected these two lakes. Bridge was narrow and only in one direction a vehicle could pass. This is in fact was a blessing as we could move slowly impinging the imprints of this natural beauty. Droplets of the rain shrouded the camera lens making it difficult to capture the moments of this breathtaking natural beauty. But no movie or pictures would bring out the natural beauty witnessed by naked eyes.

We were still immersed in the effect of Wallaga Lake and didn’t realize that we had reached twin Heritage Villages of Central Tilba and Tilba Tilba . This town was created to get a feel of historical township amidst modern living conditions. The stunning landscapes that surrounded this place that housed shops and restaurants along the single Street tempted us to stop over the lunch but heavy rains made us decide otherwise.

Bateman’s Bay- Ulladulla- Wollongong

Having missed our lunch at the Central Tilba, we decided to stop over at Bateman’s bay. A nice building that turned out be the club did welcome us but their kitchen was to close at 230. We had lunch at Chinese restaurant. Bateman’s Bay on the Clyde River is a delightful holiday town named by Captain Cook is famous for its crayfish and oysters. After Bateman’s bay, we crossed Ulladulla and were on the way to Wollongong as the rolling hills gave way to plains along the beachside.

Wollongong University had made this city name familiar but we did not realize that it was a big city. In fact, it is the ninth largest city in Australia. However, under the cover of darkness, drive towards Wollongong was depressing with heavy traffic and the lack of streetlights. We managed to locate a hotel Ibis on the corner of Market and Church Street. Sanity would have dictated that we park our car to hotel and eat in the hotel. Instead, we drove out again and made a mess while turning left at the narrow city road at the traffic signal. Our car climbed on the footpath and when hitting the ground damaged wheel rim cover. There was a pole mounted on the edge of the footpath that otherwise did no job but this time he made sure that it left a dent as the car brushed past him. Sweet memories of Wallaga Lake took a blot from this incident. We went to bed wondering how much damage that would be despite being additionally covered by insurance.

Wednesday June 4th: Wollongong _ Sydney

Overnight sleep does dilute the effect of the nightmare. Good weather at Wollongong and our excitement to reach Sydney made us forget about the car damage. We wanted to take a scenic Grand Pacific drive that is depicted on Wollongong travel brochure. We headed in the direction of the beach and arrived at a spot that wore a deserted look. But from this place, we could see surfing crystal white foam on top of blue ocean waves crashing on the brown sandy beach. It was a windy day and strong breeze made it difficult even for sea gulls to hold their sway. Akshta enjoyed being in the company of seagulls and so did we. We then moved on towards north along the beach but instead of taking grand pacific route landed up in climbing Mount Pleasant that took us to the top of mountain peak point known as Sublime point. What we saw was an amazing! City of Wollongong below looked spectacular. Luckily, for us, cloud cover had just moved as we reached the point. By the time, we finished our aerial shots; another chain of clouds shrouded the Wollongong with white sheet. Following blue sign of ‘Sydney’ we marched on through the Princess Highway 1 to enter Sydney via Sutherland. I think we should have taken detour to Lawrence Hargrave drive to drive along Grand Pacific Drive.

We reached Sydney two days earlier than planned. We had to return our car at Kings Cross street but were unsure of navigating through Sydney megapolis. Avis sign on the way was of great help. ‘Oh ! Do you really want to drive to Sydney downtown?’. Her expression combined with pity and amazement was evident for someone who has just arrived in Sydney. But she was great help. Following her advice, rummaging Sydney map at the traffic signals, we managed to reach our destination. Now the real test lay ahead, what would be financial hit ?

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Anonymous WoW pinaya said...

Informative, adventurous and excitement
!thanks for sharing!

3:44 PM  
Anonymous AnA said...

Nice discription

3:44 PM  
Anonymous jinsi said...

Milind you never cease to amaze me with your travels, so fascinating and wonderful, I can't see me ever visiting Australia, I don't have relatives or friends that live there, of course if I win the lottery then I shall surely visit, but thank you so much for sharing with me your delights as ever. I hope the family are well and my best regards to you. Love Jinsi

3:45 PM  
Anonymous sumana said...

Really very expressive...took me through a quick trip
Thanks for sharing it with us........

3:45 PM  
Anonymous sereena said...

Fantastic description!

3:46 PM  
Anonymous amanda said...

As always you describe things so vividly that I'm almost travelling with you guys!!!!

3:48 PM  
Anonymous jamrazi said...

A good write-up. Thanks for an exciting adventure.

3:49 PM  

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