Australian Alps – break out the oxygen bottles

From Canberra we make our way to Jindabyne, a gateway to the Australian Alps.

Jindabyne is one of the towns that benefit from the Snowy Mountains Scheme, a giant hydro power-and-water-conservation project.

Australian Alps
There’s no business like snow business

It’s strange to see snow in Australia. Above is the Perisher Valley ski resort. It’s on the way to Charlotte Pass, from which you can walk to the peak of Mt. Kosciusko, Australia’s highest mountain. We see many masochistic cyclists working their way up to Charlotte Pass, no doubt looking forward to the gravity-powered return trip.

In the background is the Snowy River, a household word in Australia thanks to the poem The Man from Snowy River. The river has its origins around Mt. Kosciusko.

(By coincidence, a few days later we pass through Marlo, Victoria, where the Snowy enters the sea.)

Australian Alps
Source of the Snowy River

‘He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
Where the river runs those giant hills between…’

A rare photo with both of us, thanks to passing couple.

Australian Alps
Australian Alps

Maria rests on a snow gum.

Australian Alps
Eucalyptus pauciflora

We backtrack to Jindabyne and head to Thredbo on the other side of Mt. Kosciusko. Thredbo is the Whistler of Australia – such as it is – including sky-high prices for everything.

Australian Alps
Thredbo from the top of the chair lift

It’s a breathtaking journey from Jindabyne to Omeo on the Great Alpine Way, via Khancoban.

Australian Alps
The road less traveled
Australian Alps
Australian Alps

The scenery driving through the mountains is spectacular. We don’t have many pictures because that means stopping every few minutes. You can get an idea of what it looks like here. (Thanks, Google.)

After crossing the Murray River back into the state of Victoria, we spot another echidna and help him cross the road.

Australian Alps
Call me Spike

We spend the night in Omeo, Victoria. Our caravan park sits on Livingstone Creek. There are platypus in the river, but we don’t see any.

We make a point of visiting the Buchan Caves, after seeing this antique  tourist poster in the Australian National Museum.

Fairy Cave, complete with real fairies

Turns out to be worth it. The formations in these caves are on the mind-blowing side.

Australian Alps
Buchan caves

Once again, we can’t stop every few metres to take photos, so we enlist the help of Google images here.

Australian Alps
Cave man

Sight or Insight of the Day – Australian Alps

We drive across Gippsland to Wilsons Promontory. At the Tidal River campground where we stay, the wildlife is very tame.

Australian Alps
Maria gets up close and personal with a grazing wombat

Canberra – Australian Capital Territory

From northeast Victoria, we travel through New South Wales to the Australian Capital Territory.

Australian Capital Territory
Nice scenery, but watch out for echidnas

We call ahead to several caravan parks in Canberra. They have no vacancies. Probably because many people are in town for the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. We find a place near Yass, NSW on Lake Burrinjuck for the night.

Australian Capital Territory
Top of the lake

It’s pretty idyllic. We have the place to ourselves. Except for a very friendly dog that adopts us. (We assume she belongs to the proprietors.) She behaves perfectly and doesn’t make a sound. She sleeps outside the van and is still there in the morning. We name her Molly.

Australian Capital Territory
Hills near Yass

As the sun sets, the surrounding hills turn red.

Australian Capital Territory
Hills near Yass

The only sound is sheep bleating in the hills.

Some jolly jumbucks

Our first stop in Canberra is the Australian War Memorial. Essentially a war museum. It is extremely well done.

Australian Capital Territory
Poppies at the AWM

The scene of lots of activity the day before we arrive, November 11, but now quiet and uncrowded.

Australian Capital Territory
AWM entrance

It contains lots of nifty hardware, including a Japanese midget submarine that attacked Sydney Harbour, a WWI tank, and a Lancaster bomber.

Australian Capital Territory
Australian War Memorial courtyard

We spend four nights in Canberra. Like most planned-from-scratch cities, it features sweeping boulevards that look great. As long as you’re not a pedestrian.

Australian Capital Territory
Looking down ANZAC Parade to the new parliament house.

Being the national capital, Canberra has some great museums. We see a special exhibit about Rome at the National Museum of Australia.

Australian Capital Territory
Cool architecture of the NMA

We visit the superb National Portrait Gallery. Ottawa has been dithering over creating a national portrait gallery for decades. Jeeze, just friggin’ build it, already.

I like this portrait of Nick Cave.

Nick Cave portrait by Howard Arkley

We visit the Museum of Australian Democracy, housed in the former Parliament House.

Australian Capital Territory
You can still feel the hot air

Australia and Canada are similar in being burdened with less-than-impressive, mediocre, self-serving politicians, yet both countries manage to be great places to live.

We visit the new Parliament House.

 Australian Capital Territory
Just visiting

By design, it is a delightfully open place. After a security check, people are welcome to poke around its interesting features. A pleasant change from the Iron Fortress isolation from the public found in most other western countries’ government buildings.

Still, there are enough men and women around toting machine guns to discourage any would-be jihadis yearning for martyrdom.

Australian Capital Territory
Looking down Federation Mall back to the Australian War Memorial, with the old Parliament House in the foreground

Sight or Insight of the Day

You can see the fields of red in the photos of Parliament House above.

This is an ocean of poppies.

Australian Capital Territory

Each handcrafted poppy has been created by a volunteer and represents an Australian life lost in the First World War. There are 62,000 of them.

Victoria – In Kelly Country

Our interest in the Ned Kelly story continues. From Melbourne we drive north east to Kelly Country.

First stop is the village of Beveridge. This is the house Kelly’s father built in the 1850s. His brother and fellow gang member, Dan, was born here.

Kelly Country
House of ill fame

Next to the town of Avenel. As a boy, Ned saves a seven-year-old Richard Shelton from drowning near this spot on Hughes Creek. Shelton’s grateful parents present Ned with a green silk sash.

Kelly Country
In the background is the Avenel Bridge, a minor marvel of Victorian engineering

‘I do not pretend that I have led a blameless life, or that one fault justified another, but the public, judging a case like mine, should remember that the darkest life may have
a bright side …’ – Ned Kelly

The Kelly name still means something in these parts.

Kelly Country
Australian graffiti

After an excellent pizza in town, we go to Euroa. The Kelly gang robs a bank here, takes hostages, and treats the locals to daring feats of horsemanship.

Our next stop is Benalla. They have a lot of Kelly memorabilia here, including Ned’s famous sash, which he wears at the siege of Glenrowan.

Kelly Country
The green sash of courage

The Benalla Gallery also has a tapestry based on one of Sydney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series.

Kelly Country
The siege at Glenrowan

Benalla cemetery contains several Kelly-related graves, including that of gang member Joe Byrne.

Kelly Country
Joe Byrne’s grave

We like the stylized Ned Kellys that indicate Kelly-related graves.

Kelly Country
Kelly in profile

It’s based on a contemporary etching that appears in the press.

Kelly Country
Ned Kelly at bay

Further down the road is Glenrowan, site of Kelly’s last stand.

This is Glenrowan train station. A train full of policemen arrives from Melbourne to take down the Kelly gang.

Kelly country
People get ready, there’s a train a’comin…

This pony paddock is the site of the Glenrowan Inn. Police besiege the inn and eventually burn it to the ground.

Kelly country
Such is life
Kelly country
Kelly country

This is the spot where the police capture Ned after his collapse.

Kelly country
Man down
Among all the tourist tat in Glenrowan is a well-presented collection of Kelly memorabilia in the shop ‘Kate’s Cottage’.
Kelly Country
Replica settler’s homestead

We move on to Beechworth, a pretty town now, once a centre of lawlessness in the gold rush days.

Many of the Kelly family spend a lot of time here, um, doing time.

Kelly Country
Jailhouse Rock

Or otherwise appearing before a magistrate.

In the basement of the Beechworth courthouse is a cell regularly occupied by Harry Power. Ned Kelly is ‘apprenticed’ to this bushranger at the age of fourteen.

Kelly Country
Your usual cell awaits, Harry

Murdering thug or avenging friend of the oppressed? Probably just a flawed individual like the rest of us. But so iconic is the Kelly story that the opening ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 featured a troop of Nolanesque Kelly figures.

Heroes and villains

Sight or Insight of the Day  – Kelly Country

On our way north of Yass, NSW, we see another echidna.

Kelly Country
Spining for the fjords

Tradition says if you see an echidna, you’ll have good luck for the next three days. (I just made that up. We simply like them.)


Melbourne – horseracing and more

From the relative calm of Geelong, we arrive in the urban maelstrom that is  Melbourne.

(This entry is brief and at least a week out of date. As usual, finding reliable WiFi in Australia is always difficult. At the moment, we’re reduced to sitting in a McDonald’s in Canberra to leech off of their one hour of free WiFi.)

City by the Bay

To navigate these streets is enervating. We are more accustomed to driving in conditions like this:

Heavy traffic in the MacDonnell Ranges

By accident, we arrive on the day of the Melbourne Cup. This is a big deal here. We toy with the idea of attending, but a deluge of rain on the day puts us off.

Instead, we head for Heide.

‘Heide’ is short for ‘Heidelberg’ – a local neighbourhood

This is the former home of John and Sunday Reed, patrons of the arts in the 30s, 40s, and beyond. Probably most well-known for bringing the talents of Sydney Nolan to the world.

Most of Nolan’s famed Ned Kelly series (which we were fortunate enough to see in Perth) were painted at the kitchen table as the Heide circle thrashed out artistic solutions to the world’s problems.

Table of discontents

The Reeds and Nolan were engaged in a ménage à trois that was unconventional and, um, interesting, to say the least.

There’s also a wonderful library.

The rear windows are painted by Mirka Mora, another Heide


Clearly creative
We like the tiles over the stove in the kitchen.

The surrounding grounds are now a sculpture park. Signs warn to beware of snakes, especially at this time of year.

Serpents in the garden

We visit the impressive State Library of Victoria.

More than just a library

In keeping with our interest in the Ned Kelly story, we seek out Ned’s famous armour.

Iron Man

The SLV also has the original Jerilderie letter on display.

Ned’s sort-of manifesto
A word to the wise
There’s an interesting video about the construction of this armour out of stolen ploughs.
Bush blacksmithery explained

The weather in Melbourne continues to be cool and wet. Good weather for visiting the State Gallery of Victoria.

Our luck continues, as the Gallery has an exhibit co-featuring Brett Whiteley, whom we first learned about in Sydney.


The other artist is George Baldessin.

But we prefer Brett.

More words to live by
Whiteleys on show

Sight or Insight of the Day – Melbourne

We never free-camp. Often, when people speak of traveling around Australia by camper-van, visions spring up of overnighting on a deserted beach or under the stars alone in the bush. We thought like this as well.

As it turns out, we prefer the luxury of having electricity and proximity to a hot shower. Worth the AUD30 or so, in our opinion.

Livin’ large in the caravan parks of Oz


Adelaide & the Great Ocean Road

From the Barossa Valley, we arrive in nearby Adelaide

Adelaide GPO, where we pick up some mail

Poor South Australia often gets missed by overseas visitors – people with time restrictions usually limit themselves to the east coast. This state has so much going for it.

We take a tram out to Glenelg, where there is a beach.

Glenelg foreshore

The water is a beautiful blue, but cold at this time of the year.

Glenelg coastline

Yep, South Australia has it all; great seafood, rich wheat-belts, mineral wealth, superb wineries, opals, former nuclear weapon test sites, and a classy state capital.

We visit the National Wine Centre. Explains the history of the ever-more-successful Australian wine industry.

38,000 bottles and counting

We take a city bus from our caravan park into town every day. Beside the bus stop is a palm tree that doubles as a sort of bird condominium.

Rainbow lorikeet and pigeon share quarters

We depart for the Victoria border. But not before visiting one last South Australian wine-producing area: McLaren Vale.

McLaren Vale vista

We restrict ourselves to a single vineyard, d’Arenberg. We already carry as many bottles of wine as we can reasonably transport. (But we make room for a few more.) The proprietor, Chester Osborn, is quite a character.

This is the visitor centre. It’s ‘different’, as my mother would say. It’s her polite code-word for ‘weird’.

The Cube

Among its oddities is a smell-o-rama room, where you squeeze bulb horns (mounted on bicycle handlebars) to get a whiff of the distinct aromas to look for in wine.

‘Fruity’ scents for reds…
…’Floral’ scents for whites. Get it?

The urinals in the gents are, um, unique.

Not something you see every day

It’s wonderfully warm in this part of South Australia.

The layers start to come off

We arrive in the state of Victoria and follow the Great Ocean Road.

It has pretty coastal scenery, of course.

Canola fields

Parts of the GOR pass though forests that look like Canada.


There are grand views over the white-capped Southern Ocean.

Lone ship offshore

Many remote rock formations.

Bay of Islands
The grotto

We stop at the Twelve Apostles. (Spoiler alert – there aren’t actually twelve.) It is very popular, attracting the busloads of visitors that make us uncomfortable.

We hike to the beach below and try to keep warm in the cool drizzle by performing some interpretive dance.

‘Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune’
‘La Mort du cygne’

The landscape in Victoria is a far cry from the parched rocks of central Australia in which we’ve spent so much time.

Verdant hills

We arrive in Geelong and visit the engaging National Wool Museum.

Sight or Insight of the Day – Adelaide & the Great Ocean Road

Until a few weeks ago. Beginning on the road to Norseman in WA, we start to see snakes both alive and flattened.

Snake in the grass

This bad boy is a death adder. We can tell by the worm-like tail appendage (hard to see in this photo) that they use to lure their prey.

We hear snakes are appearing now after a winter spent semi-hibernating. Still doesn’t explain why we didn’t see any in the always-steaming North.


South Australia – Barossa Valley

From Ceduna, we drive through South Australia down the seafood-rich Eyre Peninsula to Port Lincoln.

Barossa Valley
Sundowner on Boston Bay

By the way, these locations have nothing to do with ‘Abraham Lincoln’ or ‘Boston, Massachusetts’: they’re named after places in Lincolnshire in the UK.

On the way up the peninsula to Port Augusta, we stop for lunch in village of Cowell, on Franklin Harbour.

Barossa Valley
Main street, Cowell, South Australia

According to local info:

‘This area was first seen by Captain Matthew Flinders in HMS ‘Investigator’ in 1802. In 1840, Governor Gawler visited the area from Port Lincoln, and named Franklin Harbour after a midshipman on Mathew Flinders’ vessel – John (later Sir John) Franklin.’

Yes, it’s that Sir John Franklin, so prominent in Canadian history.

At a seaside kiosk, we enjoy tasty fish and chips, with calamari for Maria.

Barossa Valley
‘I’m on a seafood diet. I see food, I eat it.’ – ancient joke

In Port Augusta, Matilda gets a long-awaited bath.

Barossa Valley
Bubble bath

From Port Augusta south, the landscape is more hilly.

Barossa Valley
South Australia landscape

We like to stop in small towns and check out the frontier architecture from pioneer days.

Barossa Valley
Redhill, South Australia
Barossa Valley
South Australia landscape

North of Adelaide, we spend three nights in the Barossa Valley.

Barossa Valley
Sea of vines

We visit many wineries. Some are international giants, like Jacob’s Creek, Penfolds, and Wolf Blass.

Barossa Valley
Barossa Valley

Incidentally, there really is a body of water called ‘Jacob’s Creek’. It’s tiny.

Water sign

Some are large and well-known in Australia, such as Yalumba, Seppeltsfield, and Kellermeister.

Barossa Valley
Best cellar?
Palm trees abound, giving the area a tropical feel.
Barossa Valley
On the road to Seppeltsfield

And some are smaller boutique wineries that we find online, such as Two Hands,  Yelland & Papps, Tscharke, and Lou Miranda. These are probably the most fun.

Barossa Valley
Maria cradles a rosé

Largely because we’re less likely to find ourselves elbow to elbow with other avid wine-slurpers than at the big-name cellars.

Barossa Valley

We don’t think we’ve ever seen grapevines this early in the season. Our caravan park has vines growing and we observe how the grapes-to-be are at this point like tiny dewdrops.

Barossa Valley
Embryonic chardonnay

Sight or Insight of the Day – Barossa Valley

Well, Adelaide actually. We check into a caravan park near Adelaide and discover there is a koala living nearby.

Barossa Valley
I dream of eucalyptus

We’re lucky enough to spot him. He’s darker than his East Coast brothers.