Thursday, 31 January 2013

Travelling in Australia, Part 4

Our next stop was Bonegilla. We were going to spend two nights there with Debbie and her lovely family.

 

When we had left Melbourne the weather had been cloudy with a bit of a promise of rain in the air but by the time we reached Bonegilla it was hot. And it was to get hotter. Nothing like the recent weeks have been in Oz but close to 36 degrees. But it was nice and cool indoors. And there was no fire danger.

 

Fire danger rating sign

 

This is where we saw our first live kangaroos. As we took a drive to Lake Hume we passed Latchford Barracks, an Army base, and there they were in a fenced-in area doing nothing. One supposes that they´d at least would bother to hop along but no. They were grazing in the grass and were determined not to come any closer.

 

But that was only the beginning of our animal encounters. Later in the evening Debbie had arranged for us to meet Bruce and Bouncer, 2 young wombats being cared for by registered wildlife carers. It was amazing. We got to hold them and were told how their mother had been killed in some sort of an accident. They weighed about 14 kg and loved being patted after they were sure that we meant no harm and they had their carers close by.  As far as we could tell, they were the happiest wombats on this earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Nature wombats dig extensive burrow systems with rodent-like front teeth and powerful claws. You can see their claws and teeth in the picture. One distinctive adaptation of wombats is their backwards pouch, which is very handy when they are digging; that way they do not gather dirt in their pouch over the young. Although they are mainly active during twilight and at night, wombats also venture out to feed on cool or overcast days. They are not commonly seen, but leave ample evidence of their passage, treating fences as minor inconveniences to be gone through or under. They leave behind distinctive cubic droppings so you´ll know they´ve been around. So to get to hold them and observe them at such a close range was something not even all Aussies have done.

 

Wombats are herbivores; their diet consists mostly of grasses, sedges (which superficially resemble grasses or rushes), herbs, bark, and roots.

 

Wombats' fur colour can vary from a sandy colour to brown, or from grey to black. All three known species of wombats average around a metre in length and weigh between 20 and 35 kg.

 

Female wombats give birth to a single young in the spring, after a gestation period, which like all marsupials can vary, in the case of the wombat: 20–21 days. They have a well-developed pouch, which the young leave after about 6–7 months. Wombats are weaned after 15 months, and are sexually mature at 18 months.

 

Wombats have an extraordinarily slow metabolism, taking around 8 to 14 days (!!!) to complete digestion, which helps them survive in arid conditions. They generally move slowly. When threatened, however, they can reach up to 40 km/h and maintain that speed for up to 90 seconds. Wombats defend home territories centred on their burrows, and they react aggressively to intruders. The common wombat occupies a range of up to 23 ha.

 

 

Next day we went for drive in the mountains rounding Lake Hume. It is mainly a water reservoir and man-made artificial lake formed by the Hume Weir on the Murray River just downstream of its junction with the Mitta River. It is beautiful and it is easy to believe that its shores are used a lot by people going on a picnic or swimming, diving, fishing, boating or camping. I was told that it gets really packed with holidaymakers during the holiday season.

 

 

Scenery near Lake Hume

I am not quite sure if these ponds qualify as billabongs. Anyway, billabongs are ponds that are formed when river or creek changes direction and the billabong is cut off from the main source of water. Or maybe they are just watering holes for the cattle. An Aussie would know….

 

 

 

The lake looks funny because you can see dead trees in the middle of the lake or live trees a few metres from the shore marking maybe the previous waterline. Now there was plenty of water but it was obvious that that had not always been the case. When the lake was completed Tallangatta township had to be removed to a new location eight kilometres west from the original site, the old town is still there in the bottom of the lake.

 

Pelicans in Lake Hume

 

Hume Dam is the major operating storage of the River Murray system. The storage regulates the River Murray, and re-regulates water discharged from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme.

Releases from Hume Dam and downstream tributary streams supply irrigation, domestic and stock and urban demands to Victoria and New South Wales, and provide about one-third of South Australia's entitlement.

 

 

 

 

 

We stopped for lunch at a general store. Does it not look like something you would expect to see in an old movie? Only the horse wagons and ladies in long skirts are missing.

 

 

 

Plenty of delicious food to be had

 

But also other stuff was for sale or on display…

 

Beautiful old things

 

 

 

Then for a pint in a pub run by an English lady. The only Australian beer brand that we knew of was Foster´s

lager and it  turned out not to be sold in Australia. But there were others….

 

 

 

 

 

One customer had had enough…

 

So many things beer can do for you. Here is just one example.

 

 

Some customers had obviously left without their bras. Some had been sent in later. Jasmin and I walked out wearing ours…

 

 

 

 

Friday, 4 January 2013

Travelling in Australia, Part 3

We had loved our time in Melbourne but it was time to move on and since we knew we would be coming back for our flight back home, we weren´t too sad to leave. We also managed to get our SatNav working with the help of our host who went online and solved the problem for us. It only needed rebooting and it was business as usual. Happy days! That was the one thing that we could not have done without. Take note.


The few days that we had already spent in Oz had given us reason enough to fall in love with the country and its people. Every day we had been faced with something new, something surprising, and something fun. The only thing that we had not laid our eyes on yet was the kangaroos. Not that it really was very surprising as we had been staying in Melbourne. We did not really expect the roos to be hopping about in the Melbourne Metropolitan area, the same as somebody would expect the polar bears to be roaming the streets of Helsinki, or maybe not quite! But the evidence of the kangaroos´ presence was made quite clear when we hit the Hume Highway; the carcasses by the road spoke loud and clear. Hardly surprising, given that there are 45 kinds of kangaroos and wallabies in Australia and their number is estimated to be over 50 million and counting. The roos are most active at dawn and at dusk so we decided to avoid those times if possible and when it wasn´t convenient to do so, drive very carefully keeping an eye on both sides of the road. 



Kangaroo warning sign (NB the innovative use of an old milk can as a mailbox)


However, there is not an awful lot you can do if the roos decide to cross the road where you happen to be driving. All the guide books told us to try and minimize the damage, of course, and if the worst came to happen, just let the roo take the shorter end of the stick.  After the hit, we were told, you should always check the roo´s pouch for live joeys (baby kangaroos), because the females usually have one in the pouch. Wrap the joey tightly in a sweater or any warm piece of clothing you have handy and take it to a vet in the nearest town or call Wildlife Rescue Services. Most vets, we were told, will treat native wildlife for free.
We were lucky not to have any accidents on the road or anywhere else, for that matter. The closest we came to wildlife on the road was to see an echidna (sometimes known as spiny anteater) cross the road in the rural part of our trip.





He was quick to start burrowing


We also witnessed flocks of cockatoos fly peacefully over the road. One of the amazing things that we who have seen these lovely birds only in gages in pet shops find hard to believe real. The rest of the fauna kept themselves well out of our sight. We did, however, find a stowaway in the car. It was the biggest spider we had ever seen. We found it hiding on the body of the car when we opened the back door. It gave us a scare but then we remembered that the small ones were the most dangerous and just shooed the guy away. Later we found out that it was a huntsman spider, the largest spider in Australia. It can bite you if it feels threatened but the bite causes only mild discomfort. It doesn´t weave a web to catch its prey, but stalks its prey and catches it running. So it moves very fast.



Our first acquaintance with Mr Huntsman


Here watch a nice video clip somebody made on the huntsman: http://largestfastestsmartest.co.uk/largest-spiders-in-australia-huntsman-spider/

Australia is a very big country, and while driving is a fun and interesting way to get around, one has to remember that getting from point A to point B might take several hours, although the kilometers might not always seem to indicate that or you might not think that they do. For instance, driving from Melbourne to Canberra, about 660 km, will take you about 7 hours ‘solid driving, which I don´t think anybody (in their right mind) wants to do. One of the biggest killers on the roads in Oz is fatigue. The rule is to take a 20-minute break every two hours. You think it is BS when you read about it, but once you are on the road, you very soon notice that the endless, monotonous road ahead will get the better of you. This is very true about the Hume Highway. First you admire the scenery with great enthusiasm but after a while you notice that it is the same all over again, as is the road ahead. You are tempted to drive faster and faster to break the monotony – or without even noticing it, if your car doesn´t have cruise control – but we were advised not even to think about it, not even a smidgen, in Victoria. New South Wales allows you to exceed the speed limit by 10 % but Victorian police will book you at 113 in a 110 km zone. And there are no 120 km zones, in case you wondered.



Not enough…

…to keep you awake…


…but they are trying to do something about it!

If this doesn’t wake you up…

…maybe this will…

…or this…

…or this…

…or this…

…or this…

…or this…

...you must be ready to take a break now!

Somebody cautioned us to be aware of the merging traffic. We forgot to ask how one is supposed to go about it, so we followed the gentleman´s rule: whenever a car was ahead of us, we let it go first. We later checked the rule online and it proved to be the thing to do. The zip merge.
 








This is a Zip Merge. The "new" one, introduced during the year 2000.
If any part of the other vehicle on your left or right is ahead of you, then you must give way. Zip Merges happen at any place two lines of traffic are forced into one line or lane and there are no lines to cross.

In the more remote parts of Australia there are a lot of road trains. Since we drove in Victoria, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory, we did not see many of them but the ones that we saw were pretty impressive. And what are they? A pity I did not have a camera handy when we saw them and as they were on their way to the opposite direction – luckily – we do not have a picture of them.

A road train is a tractor trailer with multiple trailers (not a simple two-trailer truck). These trucks can have up to four full-size trailers behind them, and they can haul anything from food to cars to logs. Road trains really are enormous in length, some stretching over 50 metres in length, and weighing around 200 tonnes. So you would need a really long passing lane before you even start to think of overtaking these “babies”.

Oztransport supplies this photo online

Driving along the Hume Highway you get a few roadside caf├ęs. They are the same as everywhere else. Junk food, coffee, a petrol pump, and a shop selling this and that. It is also quite easy to pick an exit and go to explore the small towns, which are normally no further than two to five kilometres from the Hume Highway. Some of these towns are really nice and provide a nice break, often also lunch or a cup of coffee with nice pastries. Or should I say really NICE pastries. Some of the towns boast antique shops but that is not what we would call them. Not that they do not have interesting stuff for sale, but antique I would call it not. As petrol stations seem to be few and far between these little towns are a safe bet.

Our mobile phones had different service providers (mine Telstra and his Vodafone), luckily, because most of the time one of them was without signal when we were driving. We found that very strange but thinking back we remembered somebody mentioning that earlier. The small towns that I mentioned earlier had coverage, which was good because we wanted to keep our hosts informed of our progress.

We had the phone numbers of our hosts on our phones´ address books but little did we think when we copied them that we should have been more careful writing down whether they were mobile or land line numbers. It is very difficult to tell which is which in a strange country, I can tell you that. So we ended up sending messages to people´s land line phones. Silly us!
On this happy note, I wish each and every one a very Happy 2013. May your travels take you faraway but also safely back home.

Next post by 20 Jan.