18 December 2009

Snowy Mountains

Arrived in Sydney after the long flight from London, to be met by Jules, Flave and the kids. Bit of a wait as the Kincaids had been to see Green Day. So we were left eerily alone at Sydney's international terminal for a few hours, just us and the local tramp.

A couple of hours later we had driven south of Sydney on quite roads, arriving at Murramurang Resort at 3.30am. Having now been up for 30+hours we instantly crashed, but woke a few hours later to the sound of the crashing sea, Kookaburra's and Kangaroo grazing in the camp site. Murramurang is on the coast south of Ulladulla close to Bateman's Bay and makes a pretty place to spend the first couple of days on the GPA.

After a day vegging out, watching the kids learn to surf, swimming and swapping yarns we packed in a for an early night and a day's travel on Sunday, Ash's birthday. The Kincaids have a fantastic camper trailer that unfolds revealing beds for all four of them and has space for food and all the necessities of camping. A fridge goes in the back of the old Toyota 600 series 4WD with space for extra's on the roof.

Clang and Bop have rented a similar Land Cruiser from Britz, and while the car is great the customer service has been appalling. Definitly not recommended. With 3 kids under 10 in tow it gets a little fraught at times but in general the youngsters are adapting well to life under canvas and are having a wonderful time playing in the dirt, swimming in beautiful fresh water and hanging out with Ash & Mal.

Sunday provided our first drama of the trip when shortly out of Murramurang on our way to Cooma, as we crossed one of the steeper parts of the Great Divide the car 'blew a sandshoe' shearing the bolts in the right rear wheel, which strangely allowed us to use 4WD but not 2 WD. A bout of worry ensued but we decided to crack on to Canberra and see what we could find by way of a repair shop.

The Blakes had forged ahead without the encumberance of a trailer and to buy Krispy Kreem donuts for Ash. Undeterred we skirted the capital and made through rolling hills towards Tidbidilla, then deciding it was too hot for lunch there back to Australia's contribution to the space race, the satellite tracking station at the Canberra Space Station. Set in rolling hills four huge dishes probe the sky, still reporting back to NASA. The Moon Rock cafe is good for a traditional meat pie and the interpretation centre gives a good history of the space race in the 50's and 60's.

On to Cooma where a garage had been located for repairs the following day and our first tent set up, slowly done but we will get faster as the GPA progresses. Cooma is a small town serving the Snowy River region. A pleasant place to spend a day with a cheap garage, (thanks Massimo), hotel, bottle shop, a couple of restaurants, camping store and information centre. The Macdonalds in Cooma is a prime contender for the slowest service ever in a fast food joint, 20 minutes for 6 shakes, but the owner of the Thai restaurant shows just how friendly the people can be by givving some very tired campers a lift home after a nice andf suprisingly authentic meal.

From Cooma into the Snowy Mountains with one night at Pinch River and two more at Little River Bend. At both campsites we were the only people there making for a very relaxed few days.

The Snowy Mountains are not at all what I expected. Having visited Mt. Kosciuszko 17 years ago when it was cold,wet and misty I hadn't appreciated the beauty of the region. More an endless series of rolling hills, characterised by eucalyptus forest, small sparkling rivers and some precarious mountain roads.

Setting up just above the Snowy River after an exciting drive over a fantastic, challenging dirt track that undulates its way to the deserted campsite at Little River we all plunged into the clear river washing away the grime and dust of the journey. The water is cool but not cold, with a mild stream running. One evening we see a wallaby grazing on the opposite bank and have possums and goanna in the camp. It is fantastic.

On a GPA you always eat well. Everyone loves food and is happy to cook. As with everything we resume roles that we first entertaimed years ago ensuring that our camp food is gourmet not gross. Highlights so far have been Bop's paella and Mandy & Jules's fajita's, with an honourable mention to Flave's camp pizza and the garlic & cheese damper. Rest assured we do not starve.

Have now moved on, back into relative civilisation in Bemm River, where Annie our next GPAer has joined. Staying at her folks holiday/fishing house overlooking the Sydenham Inlet and enjoying a real bed for a couple of nights.

Next onto Melbourne with a stop over at Wilson's promontory National Park.

4 December 2009

GPA 2009-10 Tasmania

Long lost camping equipment is being fetched from the recesses of the loft, sleeping bags are being washed and tunes are being carefully selected for the iPod. In a few days time everything will be carted off to Heathrow for the long journey to Australia. It's a journey that never gets any easier, especially in the cheap seats where I seem to spend my travelling life. Yet the reward at the end is always worth it.

Being greeted at Sydney by old friends and then travelling down the coast will immediately consign the jet lag to history. Old friends who we have travelled with many times and old friends that we love. For this is not just a holiday this is the tri annual GPA, this time out a return leg in the antipodes.

GPA? Well a tricky one to explain, so some background. In 1992 eighteen travellers convened at a small hotel in Harare, then still a prosperous and engaging city, to join an overland truck travelling to Nairobi. Without boring you with the detail, the truck and the company running it turned out to be pretty darn unreliable. Yet the adversity helped all these people from Britain and Australia bond together. (With the exception of 'the great big pudding bear') and many of us remain lifelong friends.

Whether it was breaking the axle in the Khalahari and buying chibuka from a passing beer lorry or dancing all night long in a brilliant little jazz club in Bulawayo, grins fixed to our faces, or maybe it was camping next to lava flows or finally abandoning truck and driver to do it ourselves. Whatever it was many of us found life long friendships that we rekindle every few years with a new adventure.

So why GPA you ask? It comes down to Jules & Flave; every meal was either Good Puss or Bad Puss. Don't ask me why, they are Australian and work in mysterious ways. So after that first trip they organised our next meeting (rented landrovers, self guided camping in Namibia, 1994), under the auspices of Jules & Flave's Good Puss Adventures, and the name has stuck ever since. so these days the question is always when is the next GPA?

As we have become older, and I was reminded yesterday when I met Laura that she was only 22 on that first trip and is 40 next year, we have fluctuated in numbers as people have married and had children, all of whom are welcomed with open arms into the throng of GPAers. The last few adventures would not have been the same without the kids there, covered in mud and dust, playing with rocks, endless swimming and wonderful humour and fortitude, they are brilliant to have on board.

So this time out there will be 2 British, 3 Australian families, 1 still to get hitched , all finally meeting in Melbourne, meeting some more GPA veterans who can't make the journey this time, before the ferry to Tasmania and wine tours, treetop adventures, sea kayaking, national parks, waterfalls and forests, but best of all banter round the campfire.

I'll try and keep the blog up to date and watch out for some Tweets at @oarsmanpete.