Australians get annoyed when us wimpy Northern Hemisphere types obsess about their dangerous wildlife. Yes, there are killer spiders, crocs and sharks, but Aussies like to play down the danger of their great outdoors and find the idea of a kangaroo sighting being a novelty wryly amusing. For us however, whilst we were happy to avoid an encounter with a snake or a nasty arachnid, we were somewhat disappointed that not a single kangaroo, wombat or koala showed themselves on during our five day trip. Possoms, whilst sometimes present vocally, were also failed to appear. However, that’s not to say we didn’t see some sights.
Waving goodbye to the Bulls in Sydney, we guided our garish but practical green campa out towards the Princes Highway, the road that would take us all the way to Melbourne by Friday. We stopped to fill up the little fridge from one of Australia’s extremely well stocked supermarkets, but otherwise we pressed on to our first intended stopping point, Kiama. The small and pretty town is famous for its blowhole which noisily spouts seawater, and for a small fee, we could camp on a beautiful council run site right on the beach just down the road from the main attraction. This was what it was all about, cooking off the back of the van in view of the sea and enjoying a beer on the beach. Coupled with the opportunity for a shower at the site, we decided that the camper-van life was good.
And it continued to be so the next day…until it rained. After a visit to the blowhole and at least seeing some galahs, we headed off to get more miles under our belt. Lunch was a stop at Kangaroo Valley. Needless to say, there were no roos: more dubious advertising.
The drive was dotted with small towns, some delightful and elegant, others a little more Murial’s Wedding, and when the rain started they seemed to err more on the side of the latter. Thus we ended up at Bateman’s Bay, having achieved not very much but milage. Our sleeping arrangements consisted of a car park. Despite this, and the fact that the “Best Fish And Chip Shop In NSW” over the road was closed, we managed to get our fish’n’chip fix and hunkered down for the night, the rain bouncing off the roof percussively.
Bateman’s Bay is in an area where Australia’s first gold rush began in the 19th century. Desperate for something other than driving to do (so many more miles still to get through!) and with something of a dearth of animals available, we stopped off at what was essentially a gold mining theme park. Here we learned how to pan for gold (“I know there’s gold in that trough, folks, I put it there meself to make sure…”) although we declined the opportunity to be photographed in an “old world” style and photoshopped into a wanted poster.
As we moved on the sun began to dazzle the previously dreary coastline and we began to see how beautiful this part of Australia could be. Given this opportunity, we found our way to a rough track from where we could access a long and picturesque beach. For a huge stretch in either direction we were unaccompanied. This became therefore, the perfect place for a cup of Yorkshire Tea. The joys of the campavan were returning, and as we later stopped briefly at another beach, so was the wildlife: dolphins occasionally dipping their fins playfully above the waves.
Our stop that night was at a rest area – a space set back from the road with areas for fires and highly dubious toilets. Here we enjoyed Aussie hospitality, with tinnies around the campfire, tales of sharks, possums and spiders, and very few jokes about cricket. It turned out that the people we met had been having numerous kangaroo encounters on the same stretches of road. They were incredulous that we hadn’t.
By Thursday, the need to shower meant the need to stop for the night at a real campsite. The novelty of the van was beginning to wane and the distance we needed to cover was still quite large. So, at Sale we prepared for our last leg of the journey on Friday, a three hour drive into Melbourne down the freeway. As freeways are pretty much kangaroo free, it looked like our chances of seeing the little hoppers were over. If it hadn’t been for a creative menu at the pub in Melbourne on Friday night, and a delicious cooked fillet, we could have gone the entire week without spotting a Kangaroo…