Journal

Vanlife – Week 4

Thanks to everyone who has been reading these posts and keeping up to date with our travels.  I’ve even had a few people asking when the next update is coming.  I hope everyone enjoys the photos as much as I do and, hopefully, I’ll have some good news relating to photography in the next week or so.

Last week ended with us travelling down to Cowra and setting up camp in the showground.  It was run by John, a 70+ former professional bull rider, who was incredibly friendly.  He owns the cattle farm next door and is hoping to retire soon so he can travel Australia in his caravan.  The campsite was everything we needed (we can’t go too long without power) although we couldn’t park under any shade.

That wasn’t great as it just so happened to be the hottest few days since we’d arrived in Australia.  It might even have been the hottest weather we’ve both ever experienced.  Try living in a metal van in 42 degrees heat.  We had to sleep with the boot open but nothing could stop the sweat from dripping. 

We met even more grey nomads (retirees travelling permanently) with trailers the size of houses who were lovely to talk to.  No-one invited us inside though to share their air-con!  The locals that we spoke to kept referring to me as ‘young fella.’

Given the heat, we couldn’t bare to do too much but try and seek out what little shade there was.  We also had to deal with hundreds of flies trying to get in your mouth, nose and ears.

At the tourist information centre in Cowra, there’s a hologram film that describes what happened on that fateful night when 1,000 Japanese POW’s tried to escape.  It was quite interesting and had been praised by Bill Bryson on his travels round Australia.  I really wish I’d brought his book ‘Down Under’ with me as it would have been great to refer to as we go through each little town. 

On our last full day, we checked out the POW camp itself.  Unfortunately, the land was sold years ago into agriculture and only the foundations of various buildings have survived.  The area was huge and too big to walk around in the searing midday heat but we managed to get near where the main breakout occurred.  There were also loads of cats heads (I think that’s what the Aussies call them) which pierced through our flip flops not to mention the huge warning signs for snakes so we quickly headed back to the van.  I still end up jumping at any noise in the grass and do some sort of weird karate chop.  Like that’s going to save me from the most deadly snakes and spiders in the world.

We spent quite some time in McDonalds thanks to its incredibly cold air-con and free unlimited WI-FI.

After Cowra, we’d planned a route north towards Orange and had scoped out three low-cost campgrounds on the way.  All three offered deals where you pay for two nights and stay three.  We didn’t like the look of the first two and luckily we managed to get a powered spot at the site in Molong.  It worked out $15 a night including free laundry which is the cheapest we’ve paid anywhere.  It was also a 2 minute walk from the town centre.

Molong is much smaller than Cowra with a small high street filled with, as usual, colonial style buildings and pubs with balconies over the path.  There wasn’t much to do in the town but we enjoyed a great meal and a few beers in the local pub which dates back to 1911.

The dates we were staying meant that our final night would fall on Australia Day.  26th January is the date that the First Fleet captained by Arthur Phillip settled in Port Jackson (later to be Sydney).  The Aboriginals refer to it as Invasion Day.  There’s talk about changing the date of Australia Day to decrease tension.

There was no tension in Molong on Australia Day.  Most of the small community gathered at the oval for a BBQ and a game of cricket.  We showed our faces and turned up during a speech from the local councillor about living in the ‘bush’ and how other towns were ‘just down the track.’  We aren’t quite in the Outback but this is almost as rural as you can get. 

With two nights neighbour free, we were a bit disappointed to find three older men and a caravan right on top of us.  One of the men had two teeth left, his t-shirt pulled above his beer belly and they began talking to us straight away.  What had we let ourselves in for. 

Well, it turned out okay and we all drank a few beers and toothie (Terry) shared with us his freshly caught yabbies (crayfish) from the ‘creek behind the golf course.’  It was a bit embarrassing having to ask Terry to peel it for us but he ended up getting us a bowl full.  They were nice and fresh but I wish he’d taken the yellow guts out.  He said that was the best bit.  Once he’d gone, we spoke to the other two guys (his brothers) who were visiting for a 60th birthday party who were much more normal and were actually travelling with their wives. 

After a few hours, we managed to escape to the pub to catch the yabbie race and sink a few more beers.  Australia Day couldn’t have been any more Australian: beers, BBQ, cricket and scorching weather.

As seems to happen every time we stop somewhere, our plan changed again based on recommendations so we decided to head west to Parkes with the intention of driving through Dubbo to Coonabaran; the home of the Siding Springs Observatory in Australia’s first Dark Sky Park.  If you ever watched Stargazing Live back in the UK with Dara O’Brien and Brian Cox, this is where the show is filmed.  You can’t go in the observatory after dark but it was somewhere that I’d wanted to go before we came out here.

It didn’t take too long to get to Parkes but it felt as though we were getting towards the final frontier; the last few towns before the Outback.  Parkes is known for two things; the huge satellite dish that helped with communications during the moon landing and an Elvis Festival every January.  We’d just missed the Elvis Festival by a week but we drove the extra 19km out to the Dish for a quick look round.  You’ll see that the satellite is in a locked position facing directly up due to light winds.  During the moon landings, the winds were supposedly in the hundreds of kms per hour and still had to keep on communicating.

We’d planned to stay the night in a rest stop with flush toilets which turned out okay apart from the fact that about seven huge trucks joined us.  One of the trucks left its generator running all night but we still ended up getting a decent night’s sleep.  After all, it was free. 

We are trying to do as much of inland New South Wales as possible before we set off on the lap of Australia so that we can simply head north on the coast road.  Lonely Planet recommended visiting Utes in the Paddock, an outdoor art gallery where Holden Utes had been transformed into different characters a bit like Transformers.  It was also recommended in the Parkes tourist guide we’d picked up the day before.

We set off early at 9:30am on the only sealed road heading west.  One and a half hours, 70km, on an arrow straight road followed by an unsealed dirt track later, we were staring at an empty field.  There was nothing there.  We couldn’t find it anywhere so, frustrated, we headed straight back in the opposite direction.

If only we had checked Google earlier when we had WI-FI as some reviews said that they drove all that way to find the cars were in for repair.  It wasn’t the best way to waste three hours and $30 of fuel!

We settled on driving up towards Dubbo stopping over at a free camp behind a pub.  On the way, we checked out the open cut gold mine at Peak Hill.  This area was shallow mined extensively during the Gold Rush back in the 1800’s and then abandoned before the big companies came in in the 1990’s and drew out over $50million worth.

Peak Hill
Peak Hill
Peak Hill
Peak Hill

The Crossroads Hotel was a pub directly out of the 1800’s, it didn’t seem like much had changed inside but it had incredible charm that you only get with the old pubs.  It wasn’t busy but they let us stay out the back for free and we had a few drinks inside.  Emma and I played just one game of darts that managed to last about an hour!

The next morning we set off early to get away from the rather large spiders and to get to Dubbo to plan our next move.

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