Country Road, Take me Home

After a wonderful Christmas, family reunion, and 9 days of luxury living in a house, we were back on the road for the final stretch home.

The NSW coast is a very well trodden track for us, so we decided to avoid the clutter and traffic jams of peak beach holiday season, and travel through the country. Although we had a lot of ground to cover before I was due back at work, we planned the journey around some attractions on our most wanted list.

After having mild weather all throughout Christmas, the temperature started soaring, and the truck struggled a bit on the big hills through the Great Dividing Range. We took it slowly to avoid overheating, and praying we would make it home without any breakdowns.

Our last night in Queensland we set up at Yelarbon, a pleasant little town with one of the best value rest areas we have encountered the entire trip. Ten dollars per night with power, hot showers, clean toilets and afternoon shade. Score…

Virtual Solar SystemCrossing into NSWAfter 3 days of fairly solid driving, we decided to have a day off the big km’s and spend some time in Dubbo. Now, during my life I have passed through Dubbo a couple of times. Passed through but never stopped. To top it all off, visiting Taronga Western Plains Zoo has been a lifelong dream for me. So this time, I wasn’t going to miss out.

I love zoos, and I love seeing animals, both exotic and endangered. Yes, it is more fun seeing them all in their natural habitat. Unfortunately, African safaris are not on my doorstep. But this zoo is the next best thing.

Many zoos are actually quite sad, where animals have tiny and unstimulating enclosures just for visitor’s entertainment and profit. Taronga Western Plain Zoo is unlike most other zoos. As far as animal welfare and conservation is concerned, it is probably one of the best zoos in the world.

Because the zoo is out in the country, they have the land to give the animals space. The enclosures are HUGE. In fact, the entire place is so vast you need a car or bikes to go around it easily. Apart from the space, an enormous amount of effort is taken to keep the animals stimulated and active as they would be in their own environment.

Asiatic BuffaloOne of the main aims of Western Plains Zoo is conservation. It houses some of the world most exotic and endangered species, including black rhinos, greater one-horned rhinos, Sumatran tigers, Asian elephants, gibbons, Galapagos tortoises and cheetahs. They are committed to conservation, research, education and breeding programs. They work with other zoos, including their sister zoo, Taronga Zoo in Sydney, to enhance their research and breeding program.

To read more about our wonderful day at Taronga Western Plains Zoo, click here.

From Dubbo, we travelled to Parkes to see the massive radio telescope, famously known as the dish. You may remember it was the subject of a very entertaining movie called ‘The Dish’ several years ago. It was largely filmed on location, and was about the role of the dish in the transmission on the first moonwalk to television across the world. Of course the story was greatly dramatised for the movie, but it is largely true.The Dish - CSIRO Parkes

The dish is certainly an impressive structure on the horizon of central NSW. It is definitely worth a visit.

For New Years Eve, we set up camp in Hay, and drove out to the local sunset viewing area for the final sunset of 2011. Here the landscape is flat as far as the eye can see, with only scrubland over the salt plains and a sky bigger than you can imagine. This place is renowned for its spectacular sunsets. Unfortunately tonight there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, so calling it ‘spectacular’ would be an exaggeration. But we enjoyed the tranquillity and the wide open spaces, and seeing the year out together.Hay Plains Sunset NYE 2011

On New Year’s Day we treated ourselves to a day out in Echuca. We had a lovely lunch in a shaded cafe terrace, and then headed down to the wharf area for a trip on a Paddle steamer.

A century or more ago, Echuca was a thriving port along the great Murray River, where all sorts of goods were transported. The main industry was logging Red Gum, and logs were conveyed down to mills in Echuca, and then transported on for export or to other cities in Australia. Today, some of the vessels have been beautifully restored for the tourist industry. A trip to Echuca would not be complete without cruise up the Murray on a Paddle steamer.

We had our trip on ‘The Pride of the Murray’. It has been converted to a diesel engine, but still holds its original charm. It is also one of the only air-conditioned vessels in Echuca, quite handy considering it was over 40°C on the day of our trip.

To read more about our trip on ‘The Pride of the Murray’, click here.

Echuca itself is a lovely old country town. There is plenty to see and do here. Even wandering around the old part of town, with all its historical charm, unique storefronts, and engaging crafts and trade shops will hold some interest for all ages. You can even hire houseboats, and spend a couple of days on the Murray and around Echuca.Port of Echuca Steamers

For our final night, we camped at Lake Bolac, known for its accessibility for water sports in the SW region on Victoria. It was still really hot, and we were grateful for the shady campground and the cool swimming. From here it was only a two hour drive home.

So after 10 months, and over 35,000 km, we were back in Port Fairy. As we entered the shire, the clouds rolled over and it started to rain. This is just how we remembered it. It will take us some time to get organised and settled again. We don’t have a house yet, so we will be living in the caravan for a little bit longer. But it was straight back to work for me.Back Home...

This has truly been the adventure of a lifetime. Both Mike and I will never regret taking the time out to see the country and, more importantly, spending time together as a family while the children are at that critical learning age. It has been the most wonderful experience that has enriched us all.

Is this the end? I think in the future we will always make an effort to spend holidays and some weekends getting away and seeing the countryside. We are all hooked now, and will try and drag others out with us.

But this is not quite the end of the blog. I know many people who read my blog are planning their own jaunt around the countryside, and would like some information and advice from the more experienced travellers.

So stay tuned for my next post, where I will reveal all the facts, figures and costs of the adventure so you can go off and plan your own Big Road Trip.

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