Saturday, February 28, 2009

Where the bloody hell are we?!

Wombats that look like koalas; possums behaving like cats; pademelons that think they are children; devils that look like giant rats; trees on steroids; Jurassic Park rainforest; turbulent oceans; sublime turquoise bays; death defying cliffs; sugary white sandy beaches…


Dust off the passports everyone; you’re coming on an overseas adventure!

We left Australia and sailed across the dark waters of Bass Strait to Tasmania, escaping the long humid tentacles of Melbourne as it descended into a stifling heatwave.

To be honest, I’m at a bit of a loss to write about our adventures of the past 3 weeks. How can you in words, describe a land that is so ancient, so uniquely diverse and so historically significant to Australia’s history; a place that is all at once wild and rugged, pristine and picture-perfect, quaint and cosy?

Oh Tasmania my heart belongs to thee!

All our expectations were tossed out the window on our very first day in the Apple Isle as we encountered heat wave conditions, dramatic coastal scenery, secluded coves hiding stunning beaches, rolling fields of opium poppies and people with only one head instead of two. (Sorry Tom, couldn’t resist).

Contentedly we meandered our way west, all thoughts of recent mechanical dramas set aside as the big red truck hummed smoothly along the coast. When we hit the Roaring 40’s a few days later, Kris momentarily considered putting on shoes for the first time in 3 years, a sure sign that our heat wave was gone and we promptly returned to the cold drizzly weather Tassie is so famous for.

One chilly evening we found ourselves camped alongside a remote and isolated west coast beach. We’d only passed two cars the whole day and there was not a soul in sight as we settled in for the night. Suddenly, headlights appeared on the horizon and four kids on quad bikes emerged from the thick black night. In a greeting apparently unique to this part of the world, one of the foursome turned to Kris and said, “Do ya wanna flounder?”

Not understanding this strange greeting, Kris and I turned to each other a little startled. Was this some strange Tasmanian dialect? Perhaps there was a phrasebook out there that could help us translate this weird Tasmanian language into English?

“Excuse me?” Kris replied.

“Do ya wanna flounder? Do ya like flounder?” the boy said again.

This time understanding the question, Kris replied, “Yeah, is it filleted?"

After discussing this for a moment, the four kids came to a consensus that this mysterious flounder would in fact be filleted and with that, they disappeared into the darkness. Expecting not to see them again we relaxed back and had a laugh at the strange encounter we just had.

But not 20 minutes later
the kids re-emerged from the darkness with three filleted but not quite dead flounder, freshly speared straight from the ocean and ready for us to cook up! And after presenting their payload to us they promptly vanished into the night, the smell of diesel and three almost-dead fish the only evidence of our encounter with them.

These Tasmanian folk were odd…we loved them!

I’d like to say that we left our mechanical troubles behind on the mainland but alas, no. It would seem the BRT’s repair shop interludes are directly proportional to the number of crazy roads it tackles. This time the rear diff was at the centre of the action when a tooth was ground off and spat out through the metal casing. Luckily for us, we coincidentally happened to break down directly next door to the west coast’s only 4WD mechanic so we were quickly on our way again, a new rear diff heavier, a few wads of cash lighter. At this rate, by the time we get home in July we’ll have replaced every part of the car and have a brand new 4WD.

(Just for the record, we've discovered that you actually can drive a 60’s series Landcruiser up on 2 wheels. Need I say more…)

Since then we’ve passed through ethereal countryside, climbed our way through stunning world heritage national parks, hiked along the top of death-defying ocean cliffs, and visited magnificent waterfalls, alpine plateaus and historic convict ruins.

We’ve camped on remote back roads, on the edge of heart-achingly gorgeous beaches and on rugged mountain summits. To say we are completely taken with Tasmania would be a gross understatement. Every one of you should come here and experience the magic of this place.

OK, enough of the tourism commercial. (Did I mention that we love Tasmania?!)

In four weeks we’ve managed to circumnavigate the island and are now regretfully coming to the end of our time here. Of course, no trip to Tassie would be complete without a hiking adventure and a mountain top helicopter rescue...but more about that in the next blog...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Huts, high country and HELP!!

In our never-ending quest to bring you exciting tales of life and high adventure, we have continued to trawl the long lonely highways and byways of this great nation of ours, pushing on through downpours, hail and fog in our relentless search for snippets of sunshine to colour your lives.

So it pains me to report that over the past 2 weeks the Big Red Truck has itself become the main character in our little story. It’s been a sordid tale of bent up U-bolts and shaky suspension, of dodgy diffs and 4WD sub-cultures, with a sequined g-string thrown in for good measure.

But let me start from the beginning…

After our triumphant ascent and taming of Mt
Kosciusko, the adrenalin was pumping, the endorphins were flying and the beer was flowing…which is probably why I agreed to reprise my Himalayan yak impersonation for one more lap around the national park.

The very next day we once again donned backpacks, loaded up with enough camera gear to shoot a Hollywood epic and off we set on a 22km hike to a distant hut.

As the Everley Brothers would say, the road was long with many a winding turn. Personally I thought the road was VERY long with many steep winding hills but those boys didn’t think to ask me about it when they put pen to paper did they?

Sorry…I digress. Where was I?

Eventually we set eyes on a fantastic little settlers hut hidden away in a grove of old alpine gums and it was here that we made camp for the night. After the obligatory 278 photos and a roaring campfire, we settled into our sleeping bags inside the hut and drifted off to sleep.

It was around 2am when Kris felt the call of nature and wandered outside barefoot in his underpants to find a heavy frost and a minor hurricane massaging the trees. It was also around that time that we noticed the rather large gaps in the hut’s timber walls and the brisk alpine air conditioning, which had plummeted the hut into sub-zero temperatures. Ah, alpine weather…perfect one minute, Antarctic the next.

I must say it was an interesting sight watching Kris light a fire in sub-zero temperatures at 2 o’clock in the morning in his underpants. My only regret is that I don’t have a photo of it to show you but I guess some things are better left unshared.

At first light, Kris braved the icy conditions in search of another perfect photo and I happily snoozed away like a polar bear in 17 layers of clothing. Unfortunately for Kris, I also snared his sleeping bag as soon as he left the hut. When I finally woke and wandered outside I found Kris sleeping in the dirt next to an outdoor fire and 3 mountain bikers standing over him looking very perplexed indeed!

The BRT was a welcome sight as we arrived b
ack at the car park and we headed off seeking new adventures in the Victorian high country. Crossing the Murray River into Victoria we wound our way higher and higher into exciting 4WD territory - rough dirt tracks, steep inclines and steeper descents.Permit me to pause here for a moment, for I’m reminded of a little poem by the great A.B. Paterson. (Some would say he had the BRT in mind when he penned these famous lines, but I’ll let you be the judge.)

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
That the big red truck from old Sawtell had got away,
And had joined the wild bush 4WD’s…

It’s here dear readers that this tale turns to woe, for it was in the high country that the BRT met it’s nemesis, a legend in these parts that goes by the name of Billy Goat Bluff.

Billy Goat is a rather steep rocky track that has tempted 4WD enthusiasts to its challenging route and tantalising summit views for generations. Now here we stood face to face with old Billy, Kris drooling with excitement at the thought of tackling its rocky track, and me gripping the seat in terror at the thought of tackling the m
ountain in front of us.

So off we went, onwards and upwards we nudged ever higher into the stratosphere, clinging precariously to the side of old Billy, the BRT revving contently like a suped-up Torana in a Sydney street race…

then CRUNCH!...

I’m no expert here but I can tell you with certainty that when you combine lengthy U-bolts on a 3 tonne truck with a large rock ledge, more often than not the rock ledge will come out on top.

Match statistics

Score: Rock ledge - 1, BRT - 0

U-bolts: bent
Suspension: stuffed

BRT: injured

Driver: cranky

Passenger: holy shit!

Fortunately for us, we had coincidentally stumbled across a bunch of Victorian 4WD experts the previous day, and like knights in dusty 4WD’s they now charged to our rescue. Limping back to camp we were greeted by a triage team
at a hastily erected 4WD emergency hospital. Within minutes this expert medical team had hoisted the BRT onto logs, inspected its underside, diagnosed the problem, operated on the offending part and bandaged the BRT back together again. Boy did these guys know or thing or five about cars!

Suddenly I found myself submerged in a sub-culture of U-bolts, springs and after-market suspension. It’s a world of Toyota versus Nissan, of All Terrains versus Mud Larks, a world where mild mannered family men try to out-flex each other in 4WD flexing competitions!

These wonderful people not only attended to o
ur wounded car, they took us in like little orphaned kids, patched us up, dusted us off, and took us on what I personally thought were “I think I need to change my undies now” 4WD tracks.

So to all the crew from Talbotville – here is a massive thank you from the bottom of our hearts for welcoming us into your circle. There will always be a bed, beach and a beer waiting for you if you ever venture north of the border to Sawtell.

But we must make particular mention here of Gary, our chief surgeon and saviour, who took us back to his home, fed and watered us, coordinated
mechanical repairs, played tour guide, and turned us into guitar heroes! To both Gary and Karen - words can’t express how grateful we are for your overwhelming generosity, time, patience and hospitality. We really don’t know where we’d be without you.

And finally to old man Billy, you may have won the first round my friend, but we’ll be back. Until then, the BRT story continues.

Oh, and about that sequined g-string…