Day 139 – Milk & Cream

Home. It drew ever closer despite my wishing our trip could go on. As we approached Canberra everything became more familiar, gradually at first then more and more quickly.

Family at Gundagai
Family at Gundagai

The roads changed from an ever unfolding adventure into streets I could drive backwards at night with my eyes closed (although probably not legally). We stopped in at Tim’s cafe first to say hello and ease our arrival. We were in no rush to actually be home despite being in Canberra. Afterwards we put off the inevitable a little longer by surprising the Sunday picnic crowd with our arrival.

Eventually it could be put off no more and we made our way up Somerset St and home. It looked just as it did when Mum and I pulled put of the drive five months ago. Inside, even the sound of the kids shower water running down the drain struck a familiar chord.

When we were planning this trip the thought of just three months away seemed so extraordinary that I considered that to be more than sufficient. Emma however was always of the view that longer would be better so we waited a little, saved some more and strung together the resources for five months on the road. Five months! Wow what an eternity. But it passes so quickly! Time always does I suppose but every now and then something like this trip comes along which heightens perception of the brevity of each moment.

The completed lap!
The completed lap!

When we pulled into our drive we had travelled 21,259 km. We traversed those kilometers at an average speed of 58 km/hr and spent 365 hours and 28 minutes in the car. For all that being in the car seems like such a tiny part of our trip. As previously mentioned only on the Nullarbor did we feel like we’d spent too much time driving and even then it wasn’t an issue. The point is that this is a BIG country. We have only really explored one state in any kind of detail and have seen nothing of the centre, the east coast or Tasmania. Even where we did linger there are nooks and crannies that we glossed over. Three years I reckon you’d need to make a reasonable attempt at seeing what this gorgeous country has to offer.

I didn’t come up with any answers to the meaning of life while away but still managed to kick a few goals. We created a whole stack of memories for one. Plunging in plunge pools, exploring (recently) untouched beaches, floating over coral gardens, wading through crocodile inhabited waters, tasting wines, watching glorious sunsets and moon rises, boat rides, plane flights. It was fantastic to experience it all as a little foursome. Emma for the record I love you and hope that we have many more adventures to come. Amy and Oliver, that I love you goes without saying.

The family at Gundagai
The unpacking!

I always fuss over the cost of trips like this and even question the extravagance of spending many thousands of dollars on a holiday. I related strongly with the father of another family that undertook a journey similar to ours who was known to his crew, affectionately, as BN or the ‘Budget Nazi’. It sounds like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. But as with every other trip Emma and I have taken, I have never found cause to question or regret the cost after the fact. Knowing what I do now I’d pay twice as much if that was the price.

Good as this trip has been though we still love our life in Canberra and it has been fantastic to see family and friends

I’m even looking forward to going back to work odd though that may sound. I’m happy to indulge in well earned r&r but life isn’t all about enjoying the cream. There is milking to be done as well and I look forward to doing my share.

Speaking of family and friends some thankyou’s are in order. First of all to Grandpa Bruce for lending us his caravan. Sorry I knocked the awning off but it’s all fixed now. I’ve now washed two months worth of dirt off and the van is otherwise none the worse for wear. Thanks also to Grandma jumbo for accompanying me on the drive to Darwin and hanging out with us for a few weeks afterwards and to Grandpa Ian for the fishing lessons, wine, dinner and maze etc in South Australia. Thanks to Rach and Josh for looking after our house our hounds and our mail and for all the errands that come with all of that. Thanks to Jase and Belinda for keeping Emma entertained over five months of words with friends! We didn’t get the scrabble board out even once. Thanks to Nikki for horse sitting Emma’s horse especially through the shedding season and thanks to everyone else who has read our blog from time to time. It’s been really great to be able to share our experiences and know that somewhere somebody was at least a bit interested!

Day 133-138 Country roads, take me home

We have drifted home along sections of the Murray, cutting the odd corner here and there for the sake of expediency. From Victor Harbour we headed across to Wellington just above lake Alexandrina. An unexpected ferry crossing of the Murray added interest to our drive.

Wellington Ferry crossing
Wellington Ferry crossing
Wellington Ferry map
Wellington Ferry map

We spent that night at a recreation reserve in the mighty metropolis of Underbool. Hugely expensive it was at $6 for the night with big green oval for us all to run on an playground and hot showers. We ate dinner that night with a 82 year old from Echuca who had driven off road to Underbool before doing his gearbox in. He seemed very grateful for the hamburger and told us we were welcome to look him up. His tow arrived and off he went.

At Swan Hill we camped on the banks of the Murray river. It’s dirty brown water drifted lazily past between a tunnel of red gums. The serenity punctuated only occasionally by the pleasant chuff chuff of the local paddle steamer and unpleasantly by the whir of a speeding jet ski. Fisherman hauled carp from the river and hurled them backwards over their heads into the bush rather than return them to the river to stir up yet more mud. All manner of bird went about their business up, down and besides the river.

Murray dinner
Murray dinner
Murray sway
Murray sway

The next day we visited the Swan Hill Pioneer Settlement (after a very late start so that I could jog a quick 13km), so named because the Queen suggested that would be more appropriate than whatever it was called before her visit long long ago. A bit like old Sydney Town used to be, the settlement was one of those stepping back in time experiences. A bit kitch, but plenty to see and enhanced by the fact that many of the buildings were the genuine article gathered from across the region into this location. A cruise on the PV Pyap, a paddle boat, was the highlight and a very popular experience with tourists of all ages. We shared the back deck with a rowdy school group from Bendigo. Entertaining in it’s own way.

Pioneer settlement - the first Jayco?
Pioneer settlement – the first Jayco?
Pioneer settlement school's in!
Pioneer settlement school’s in!
PV Pyap
PV Pyap

A short drive the following day landed us in Echuca. It was hot so we enjoyed the pool for a while before I dragged everyone back into the car for a drive out to Barmah Forest. 15 years ago Emma and I didn’t quite get together in Barmah Forest but it was perhaps the height of our flirting during a Uni field trip some. There is a bunk house with a campfire at Barmah where Emma and I chatted into the wee small hours of the morning while unbeknownst to us (at the time anyway) our friends watched on placing bets on whether we would get together then and there.

Our Barmah campfire
Our Barmah campfire

I didn’t expect we would find the spot all this time later but we did. I reminisced as I took photos musing on the passage of time but the sameness of the place. Emma waited in the car with Amy and Oliver. They had fallen sound asleep exhausted from keeping themselves up until 10pm the night before. Who knew we would return to this place 15 years later with a family in tow? Life is a many splendid thing. Barmah is still a beautiful spot or maybe I’m just sentimental.

The next morning we walked the streets of Echuca picking up various bits and pieces along the way. With just two days to go the purse strings were being relaxed as we sought to eek out the most of our remaining time on the road. About lunchtime we hit the road for Wagga Wagga where I am writing this. Soon we will be home. I’m not quite sure where five months went.

Echuca ice creams
Echuca ice creams
The gang!
The gang!

Life in a caravan, Chapter 5 – car travel

Before we left, a number of people with kids of their own, while envious of our travel plans made comments to the effect of “no way I’d do that with my kids, they’re terrible in the car”. With such comments ringing in our ears we did leave with some trepidation. Now that we’ve travelled over 20,000km I’m happy to report our two are terrific travellers.

So for those of you looking to do some travel with kids we thought we’d let you know what worked for us. It is Emma writing today, because Greg generally took the easy job of doing the driving, while I did the wrangling. I should also mention that none of us get carsick and so can spend quite a bit of time with our heads down.

Key point number 1 – Don’t attempt to drive too far in any one day.
Before we left we worked out how many days of holiday we had and how far we could comfortably go without having to rush too much. The proposed route and timing had us averaging 84 kms per day. And as it worked out we rarely went more than 250kms in a day. This meant we haven’t really had to listen to complaints of being in the car too much.

Key point number 2 – Don’t be in a hurry.
We often stopped and look at things along the way. We learned early on to accept that we would be pulling over for toilet stops fairly regularly.

Key point number 3 – Keep the children fed.
Probably like most kids ours don’t go too well if you don’t feed them, and there seems to be definite relationship between level of boredom and degree of hunger. We start out each trip with the fruit and crackers and cheese type food, and end up with a special treat type food which could be anything from a frozen fruit box to tiny teddy biscuits.

Key point number 4 – Enable them to keep busy.
I wasn’t sure how to word this heading. I don’t keep them busy by suggesting a whole lot of games or activities, but I do provide lots of options they can select from themselves. See list below, I’m sure I’ve forgotten quite a few! We did download a few audio books and have listened to those and some music along the way. The stories and music time are interesting because often the kids will spend more time looking out the window because they are not head down drawing etc.

Driving activities

Wool work
– winding up balls of wool (generally because the wool bag gets in a giant tangle)
– finger knitting
– french knitting
– knitting (Amy)
– Gods eyes
– paddle pop stick weaving
– cats cradles
– hanging up toy animals with wool, pulleys
– stitching up wool work and felt (only attempted a few times, but reasonably successful)

– paper dolls
– fans
– kites
– simple origami
– paper airplanes
– cutting and sticky taping
– drawing (this has been by far the most popular activity, they have each filled numerous A5 art books with drawings)
– colouring in books (Granny got some great dot art ones that have lasted the whole trip)

– modelling wax (many hours spent creating all kinds of creations)
– eye spy with colours (mostly only when Granny was with us!)
– noughts and crosses