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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Days 7-9: New South Wales to Victoria coastal road

The national parks all along the coast are home to Aboriginal lands and middens, wild kangaroos, and beaches. Unfortunately, I have seen only the last of these, unless you count roadkill. Part of it is the time of day but the other problem is lovingly detailed maps of the parks and park areas--which you only see having driven all the way into the park. At that point, you've invariably taken the wrong access road, and of course there's no way from here to there; it's coast. So although every beach is stunning in its own way, I would advise travelers who want to see something in particular to know which road they want to take off the Princes Highway before they get there--don't look for signs. You cannot have too big or detailed a map.

Or too much money. It should be no surprise for an international city but Sydney was *expensive*. And if you thought you'd stop hemorrhaging Australian dollars when you got out into the country, think again, because I have never been as comprehensively ripped off in my life as in Marlo, at the mouth of the Snowy River. Not only did I not meet "the man from," but the lady who sold us lunch (and down Snowy River) attempted to charge more for a postcard than it would cost to mail from Australia! Which is saying something. Did I mention that this estuary area is also brimming with flies? They don't seem to bite, like Canadian blackflies, and everyone in Marlo seemed inured to them all over their clothing, bodies, babies. T. summed up Marlo with a reference to Skippy, the Bush Kangaroo, Australia's version of Lassie: "What's that, Skippy? Someone charged $100 for a bowl of soup? Who would do such a wicked thing?"

The rest of the scenic route from NSW across the Victoria state line was more than worth it, with so many national parks along the way one couldn't possibly stop at them all. In fact, I wondered, not for the first time, where all the Australians are. Working in London, I expect. It takes a lot to make London seem inexpensive but this place is doing it for me, and no wonder, with no one here but us visitors. They can see us coming a kilometer away!

The bugs that were singing as we set off on our coastal drive were unbelievably loud, as they are again three nights later. I would call them cicadas in North America. We took our time on the Grand Pacific Drive out of Sydney, which is as breathtaking as it sounds, stopping at a little fishing spot called Audley and then down the road at Garie Beach. Further on to Coledale Beach and the delightful town of Kiama, which has a blow hole (that wasn't blowing). Vineyards vied with Christmas tree farms as we made our way along the Shoalhaven River, finishing in Jervis Bay for the night. We walked along Hyams Beach, which is apparently cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the world's whitest sand.

Trying to stay with the spirit of the holidays, I put on Ella Fitzgerald's "Christmas Island" which was as appropriate a carol as one could play in this climate. "Veni Emmanuel" was playing as we drove back from the beach, and the "fingers of God" were stretching down from the clouds. One of those moments a photograph cannot capture.

There are no photographs from Pebbly Beach in the Murramarang National Park either, but that is because it is a clothing optional beach (or we made it so). There was a roadblock just out of town where the police were stopping drivers and breathalyzing them. This is normal in Australia. It was 11:00 in the morning. I have never seen anyone stopped on a British motorway for any reason, at any time, no matter if they were going 100 miles an hour or weaving in and out of lanes. So it was kind of nice to see the police at work. There are so many cutesy signs along the Princes Highway warning (in rhyme) of the dangers of falling asleep that I started to tune them out after a while, so not sure how effective that is, but the focus on safety is admirable.

Perhaps appropriate, given my snake handling in the Singapore Zoo, we stayed our second night in Eden. Along the way we picked up some fresh fruit at a roadside stand, including what I have been made fun of for calling my all time favorite food, delicious fresh peaches straight off the tree. This was at Tabourie, or, as T. thought I'd said, "Tim Hortons"! Wishful thinking maybe.

There was also some good grub to be had at Milton Heritage Bakery, dating from 1870, which is old in modern Australian terms. Having scored our second lovely motel manager in a row (this one accompanied by a lovely dog called Maggie), we made our way to the Eden Fishermen's Club a.k.a. Fisho's, which had a view, seafood, and slot machines. Not being interested in the last of these, I found Lady Gaga and the Muppets Holiday Spectacular on TV and was perfectly content.

The best stop in Victoria so far has been Betka Beach, with a gorgeous lookout and powerful surf. This was on a detour to Mallacoota, an inlet in Croajingolong National Park. Conran Coastal Park contains the only stand of native palms in Victoria, and the road there leads you to the aforementioned Snowy River.

I have noticed one thing advertised everywhere is Devonshire tea. Scones, that is. It seems odd at this end of the world, but then, the coast is not totally dissimilar to the southwest coast of England. Except the water is not freezing, and it is summer during the holiday season. Imagine my joy at listening to Woody Guthrie's "Happy Joyous Hanukkah" as we drove along the forested Princes Highway.

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