Monday, January 24, 2000

Greetings From Perth WA!

Hello Everyone!

With the new Digital camera I picked up in Malaysia you can now see select photo's from our trip

The last time you all heard from me at once, I was in New Zealand on a business trip (Actually, that was just the excuse; Vantive did not obtain the proper visa for SGK and I so we had to leave the country and return); a lot has happened since then -

While I was busy working uselessly on the fruitless deals that Vantive's turdball of a GM of Australia had going, SGK was at play - but we did have several breaks.

The Blue Mountains

Shortly after SGK had arrived, we took Vantive's car up to the Blue Mountains (more hills by American standards), supposedly one of the most picturesque spots in New South Wales. we drove up the Bells Line Of Road and back down on the motorway. They are called the Blue Mountains because when the temperature is hot, the Eucalypt trees in the mountains let off some of their oil giving a Blue haze to the air. It looked like a nice place to camp, so we decided that once we had purchased a van we would return and see it properly. - Which we did when Alice and Andy arrived.
Alice and Andy whom we met last January in Mexico were stopping by for a week or so on their way to Asia. We had a lovely time, I finally got to see some of the Sydney sites - We took a harbour cruise on a former Americas Cup challenger, drank lots of beer, and generally had a good time. They helped us pick out Daisy - our new van. Andy was so excited about the idea of the two of us driving around Australia in Daisy that he convinced Alice to stay a few extra days so that we could all go camping in the Blue mountains over the coming long weekend.
Boy did we have plans! We were going to camp out in the woods, see the Three Sisters, the glow worm caves in Jenolan, and hike down to the bottom of the canyon. Well, reality set in; as it was a holiday weekend, the only campsite available was in the center of a cricket pitch, and it RAINED the whole time! but we certainly did not let that deter from our fun - we hung various tarps all over the place and proceeded to drink all of our booze. Alice, once drunk decided to try dipping snuff (AKA Copenhagen chewing) - and what a site that was - the 4 of us sitting under our tarp next to the shopping cart full of beer that we got in town spitting tobacco on the ground! (with one flat tire on Daisy)

The Hunter Valley

The following week, so sad to see our British friends go, we decided to take Daisy out again - this time to the New South Wales wine growing region f the Hunter Valley. All the books mentioned that the Wineries were a mere 1 1/2 to 2 hours from Sydney - but then again these writers were not driving Daisy. 3 hours plus later, we arrive in Cessnock - the Napa of the Hunter Valley. No campgrounds. Only more cricket pitches to camp on. We say sod it, head off to have lunch in a winery, and then down south to a state forest to camp in the rough. The winery lunch was good, but did nothing to improve our impression of Australian wines - in order to get a good full bodied Aussie red you have to pay about $40.00 - well out of our budget. So what we ended up drinking was usually this years vintage! Miserable, especially after the delicious Californian (about $10.00) and Chilean (less than $10.00) reds we are used to!
That night we found a sanctioned camping area in the State forest - Bathroom, picnic tables, the lot, but totally deserted! We camped there the whole weekend and only saw the ranger. And him only once. He told us that it had been MONTHS since the last group had camped there and that this was quite normal. Way cool to have the whole forest to ourselves! (but kind of spooky at night when you hear the roos crunching in the forest - you don't see them, but just hear them. Shades of teenage horror flick nightmares pass through our heads whenever we hear a stick break).
On the way home we passed a big sign "Sydney Reptile Park" with a tacky 18 foot long statue of a Goanna. We had to stop! It turned out not to be so tacky at all, but quite a good time. You haven't lived until you've seen a 30 foot long salt water crocodile lunge out of the water to grab a chicken!

Phillips Island

After wasting several weeks on a multi-million dollar software deal in Melbourne that Vantive's GM of Australia sabotaged through his ineptitude, SGK flew down to join me for the final presentation. While I was in hot, sweaty offices all day long with the prospect, SGK was out touring the town! Well once it was over, we both got on the train and headed for Philips Island.
While on Philips we stayed in what the locals call an "On-Site Van". This is a camper trailer that has been more or less permanently installed in the caravan park.
Phillips was grand, just what we needed. We spent 3 glorious days there, and even got to see the Fairy Penguins march out of the water. These are little penguins (about 5 inches in height) that all come up on the beach at sunset and wander about the coast looking for their burrows. Highly recommended.

New Zealand

Well, at this point it's November. I arrived in Oz in August, so my Visa is about to expire. This means that SGK and I have to leave Oz and return. Vantive's idiot of a GM for Australia new that this would happen because he was in such a hurry to get me here that he got the wrong Visa, but he still argued that he shouldn't have to pay for SGK to leave the country and return - I told him we came as a package, and that if she had to leave the country for good because her visa expired, then I would to, so he set up a visit for me to our distributer in NZ.
Well, there was no real value that I could add to the prospects in NZ as the sales rep in Wellington had no clue I was even coming until the day before, so after visiting with one existing customer, SGK and I had the weekend free!
We rented a car and drove up to Aukland, stopping at the Waitomo caves and Rotorua. The Waitomo caves are an area of Karst in NZ with these fabulous glowworms living in them. We went on an inner-tube ride down the river in one of the caves and watched the worms. Way cool. We next headed for Rotorua - and yes Eric, it still stinks! We stayed in a backpackers there called Cactus Jacks - they even had their own thermal pool! Way cool. We did a traditional Maori dance and dinner - much better than the one that Eric and I had done years before. Then back to Sydney.

Jervis Bay and the Mom's.

SGK's mother Helen flew out to spend the month of November with us, and we had the first good weather of our time hear in Oz. Then my Moms - Marilyn and Phylis joined us later in the month. We took Daisy out again (and got another flat tire! and one of the spares was flat to boot!) and took Helen down to Jervis bay - one of the highlights of the New South Wales coast. It's a very picturesque cove many miles south of Sydney. We had great expectations of seeing whales and so on, but manly spent the time lounging about the beach. When my moms got here, the 4 girls went crazy! they took so many tours that I'm surprised that they could walk anymore. We even took the moms up to the Blue Mts (on the train) and made them hike in to see the 3 sisters. This is when my Job took it's final turn into HELL and it was definite that I had to leave. We celebrated this fact with a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner and invited all of our friends in Oz - only a few of whom are Aussie - There was Helen (who did most of the cooking Yea Helen!), SGK and I, Mac who is a South African we met in Ecuador/Bolivia, Randy Sell an old fraternity buddy and his Aussie Girlfriend, Jim and Marla (Americans I met in England) and their 3 kiwi kids, David and David (Aussies) Keith (Irish), his wife (English) their kid (Aussie) and Cindy (American). It was the first time for many of these people to have a traditional Thanksgiving feast.


December has rolled around, ad I told my boss's boss that I wanted out. I had given a three month commitment, and three months had passed. He asked me to stay until the end of the year, and I was asked to help my old friend Bill Cave out by doing a presentation in Kuala Lumpur. Ah, Malaysia! I had never been there before, and as it sounded like a real live QUALIFIED prospect (unlike the ones I had been working on in Oz) I agreed to go. Malaysia is not at all what I expected. It was more modernized than Korea was - A shock. I had expected a slightly more wealthy version of Indonesia - not a booming consumer society complete with omnipresent cell phones. I was due to arrive in the midst of Ramadan - I had expected difficulties getting something to eat in what has been publicized as an Islamic nation - but to my joy found that not so true. Almost all of my dealings in Malaysia were with the ethnic Indian and Chinese communities (some 2/3 of the populace) and food was readily available. And one of the things I missed from home was readily available as well - Good old fashioned American Root Beer. Yes sports fans, Malaysia has A&W franchises!

Christmas and the Millennium

After returning from Malaysia, we had to vacate the apartment that Vantive had rented for us - the owners had rented it out to someone else for the "Silly Season" as the holidays are called down here, so we moved into a pub instead. This Pub was NOISY! LOUD ThUmPiNg music until dawn played directly under our room. But beggars can't be choosers; there was no other accommodation to be had as Sydney was about to celebrate the Millennium. We decided to spend New Years Eve in Manly instead of at the Harbour because the city council in their great lack-o-wisdom had canceled all public transport for the course of the events. Can you believe that??!!!!

Drive to Surfers

Well, we still have not heard from Vantive about my severance package. You see, since they were bought by PeopleSoft, they had to give me a new job offer. Which they did on Christmas eve - and it was insulting. I told them so and asked for my severance. They claimed it was a mistake, and said that they would give me a better offer. I told them no, after all I have been through, I don't want a new one, and besides, it just makes it look like they want to get out of paying me a severance. Whilst all of this was going on, we decided to not hang around in Sydney, and instead drive up to Queensland to transfer ownership of Daisy.
We went up the coast route - planning on stopping in Coffs Harbour and visit our friend from Panama/Columbia Kym. It was a pleasant drive - about ever two hours we cam across a roadside stand with FREE coffee as part of the Australian campaign to stop sleepy drivers - "Every two hours, Stop, Revive!, Survive!" and "Drowsy Drivers Die" are the slogans. 8 hours later (Daisy is SLOW!) we finally made it to Coffs (after a nice little rest area called New Italy - Chris would have loved it) And still no sign of Kym! Since Coffs is a little seedy, we debated on moving on, but we had driven for SOOOOOO long that day, so we picked a caravan park and camped.
The next morning we tried out our campfire toaster for the first time - Adam and Claire you forgot to tell us how to use it! 4 pieces of burnt toast later, a nice Aussie man came over and said "From your toast, it's obvious that you're not Australian" and told us the correct method of using it.
The next morning Kym called! (Yea!) and we stopped by for some coffee and to chat about Latin America. To those of you that know her, she's still the same! During the reminisces, when she was saying how much she missed SA, a chicken or two walk across the lawn and the neighbors across the street turn on some loud Salsa music. I looked around, and realized that she said her rent was only $50 a week, so I said "What's to miss; You're paying less than $10 a night, you have chickens wandering around, and loud salsa music whenever you want!"
After that we headed up to Lennox head to swim in the Tea-Tree lake (silky smooth waters the colour of Coca-Cola). Our plans were to spend the night in Byron Bay - but there was no place to camp. All booked out, so we drove on up to Surfers.

Surfers Paradise

Surfers Paradise has a somewhat dismal reputation as a tacky tourist land, somewhat like the worst of Waikiki, Cancun, and the Costa Del Sol all wrapped up into one, but we quite enjoyed it. Accommodation was cheap, the people friendly and the beer cold. What more could you ask for? The only downside was that the ocean was full of Blue Bottle Jellyfish, so swimming was out of the question. As our primary reason for being here is to register our car, we head on down to Queensland Transport (the DMV for you Californians) and find out that things are not so easy as we expected. You see, Adam had signed a NSW transfer form which Queensland didn't want, so we had to get a notarized letter stating that there were no QLD forms available. Then they questioned our residency; they would not allow us to register the car unless we were QLD residents, so we had to find someone to claim we lived with them (a hotel receipt wouldn't do), then we had to pass a road-worthiness. Simple, but as the car was rated for 5 passengers and there were only two seats, we had to bring it to a special place to have the modification approved, then back to the DMV. Whey! All of that work in the tropical QLD sun calls for some cooling off, so we head on out to Wet 'n Wild a water slide park and dowse the heat!
Vantive/Peoplesoft has finally accepted the fact that I'm leaving, and that they have to give me a severance package, so we head back to Sydney.

New England Highway

On the way back, we decided to take the less traveled inland route through a region called New England. We are very glad we did, as there was no traffic at all, and it was much prettier and our campsite was only $12AU powered! We also stopped at Tropical Fruit World (a tacky papaya farm) and Thursday's Plantation where SGK was in heaven seeing a real live tea-tree plantation.


Immediately (I can never spell that word correctly!) following my exit interview, we hop in Daisy and head for Canberra (Australia's Capitol). Canberra also has a dismal reputation as a soulless city. In this case it's deserved. Our first impression was that it was quite nice, with all of the parks and stuff to do, but after two days there we realized that it was completely dead and filled with civil servants who are spending their exile here pouting. We met another nice English couple here (Hi Ellis and Rachel!) and spent most of our time at the botanical gardens.

Kosciusko National Park (the Snowy Mountains)

We left Canberra and headed into the Snowy Mountains (Ever seen The Man From Snowy River?) and drove slowly through them (we had to - the road was unsealed for most of the way). Quite nice, no entrance fee which was great! We walked through some extraordinary caves here called Yarangobilly. Not as extensive as Waitomo in NZ, but nice nevertheless. We camped that night at a free campsite at the headwaters of the Murry river called Clover Flat and were infested by flies! Australia must have the worlds highest population of flies per square meter, and it's evident everywhere, but this was ridiculous! I mean at times we couldn't even see our food. Nasty!

Alpine National Park

Directly after exiting Kosciusko, we headed down the Omeo highway. This has been the highlight of our driving thus far. Much more scenic than the Snowy Mountains, and completely EMPTY of all other traffic. Again, much of the way was unsealed, but it was gorgeous! We camped that night at a spot called Angler's rest (Free!!!) and had drinks at The Blue Duck Inn an incredible place. The only building we had seen for miles, and it was the friendliest pub in Oz. Highly recommend it. The only downside of Alpine National Park was the 10 hour ride we did the next day to get to the Great Ocean Road.

Great Ocean Road

We decided to bypass Melbourne (having already visited there previously) and head straight to the start of The Great Ocean Road in Torquay. Torquay must be the most unfriendly town in Oz. We found a caravan park to spend the night - It had room. We told the woman there that we had to go to the ATM (we really wanted to see the other parks first as she seemed pricy) and to hold it for us. So we drove around to find the other parks full, so we headed back to the first one to find out that she had rented the spot she told us we could have to someone else! Fed up with that and after a 10 hour drive, we decided to eat. We saw a cute Mexican place and thought we would try it. We get there, and only 1 table is full (The place is empty) and ask to see menus. The Waitress asks if we have reservations, we say "No, but your restaurant is empty" She says we can not eat there. Bitch. So we leave. Head down the Great Ocean Road (The Great Ocean Road is famous in Oz for having some of the best scenery around - it reminded us of the Pacific Coast Highway in CA). Every place we pass it's the same. No Vacancy. We pass Bell's Beach (from the movie Point Break) and keep going. Still no room. We end sharing a bed in a dorm room in a hostel full of teenagers. Yea!
The second day on the Great Ocean Road was much better. More Scenic. Fantastic rock formations. Glorious. We spent the night in a little town called Port Fairy whee the caravan park was in the middle of a Mutton bird colony. Fantastically eerie to see these birds all coming in at once at dusk silently. Way cool.

The Grampians

From Port Fairy we headed due north to the Grampians National Park. The Grampians are a cool formation of rocks (The locals call them mountains - but at only 700 meters ASL I think not - We have TREES in CA that stick up higher above the surrounding ground than these guys!) It was EXTREMELY nice. We stopped for a bit at a place in the park that used to be some guys honey farm (he rented cabins too) and the Victoria parks people put up some really nice plaques detailing the history of the place. Our Park service tries to hide the fact that people might have used the park land for stuff in the past, so it was refreshing to see the Aussies telling all about this guy.


The drive from the Grampians to Addelaide down the Dukes Hwy was GRUELING. 45ºc heat (113ºf) Us with no air conditioner. Daisy protesting. SGK protesting. We ended up only finishing by soaking towels with water and sitting on them. The territory we covered was interesting though. It felt (and looked) like we were driving up CA's central valley on Hwy 50 (with no traffic however). Same type of land, crops and climate. The last 20k's of the Dukes Hwy is weird though - it suddenly plummets in altitude (didn't realize we even had any to lose!) and is EXTREMELY windy. There's even a turn called Devil's Elbow - presumably for it's twistyness.
Addelaide itself is quite sleepy - we walked around, checked out the Immigration Museum (Quite worth a look BTW) and just recharged in general before heading off to Kangaroo Island.

Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo island is Australia's third largest island (behind Tasmania and Melville island) and is somewhat of an enigma in Oz - there are not that many introduced species on the island. No foxes, rabbits or cat's. The only non-native animal that really stands out is the Ligurian Bee - imported from Italy where it is now extinct. After getting off the ferry, we headed 180k's (again largely unsealed) to the western end of the island to Flinders-Chase National Park. The park was marvelous! At first we were invaded by Kangaroos! Then at nightfall, Possums. LOTS of possums. The climbed all over Daisy and peered in the windows at us. Way cool and highly recommended. The next day we drove down to the south coast to see the Remarkable Rocks (left over from Gondwanaland [look it up]) and some historic ruins at Cape Du Couedic. We also got to see Koalas in the wild! neat. One old guy even climbed down from the tree to pose for us. We also spent a couple of hours on the shore of a pond waiting for platypus to surface (in vain I'm afraid!) On our way out we stopped at an organic Ecualypt oil distillery (very primitive techniques used here) to further SGK's Essential Oil tour, and a Bee farm for some Ligurian bee honey, then spent the remainder of our last day at a quaint little beach called Antechamber bay.

The Indian Pacific

We left Kangaroo Island after three nights on the first ferry of the day - the Cargo ferry full of road trains (for those of you unfamiliar - Australian trucks are allowed to tow as many as 6 trailers - with up to 2 semi cabs at once - hence the name road TRAIN) and checked in for the Indian Pacific train journey. The Indian Pacific is the train that runs from Sydney to Perth via Addelaide and the Nullarbour plain. It boasts the longest stretch of straight rail in the world. They let you take your car on the train. We of course checked into coach class. Nice wide comfortable seats that were great until you wanted to sleep on them - then they proved so uncomfortable that the beer sodden floor looks attractive. After the first night, we upgraded to Holiday class for a proper sleeper. The train stops only twice - at a place called Cook (population 3) and Kalgoorlie. In Kalgoorlie we took a bus tour to see the largest man made pit in the world -they have removed an amount of dirt from the ground in pursuit of gold that could completely fill San Francisco Bay. Supposed to be visible from orbit (the only other man made object visible from orbit apart from city lights is the Great Wall of China) One bad thing about the train though is that they broke Daisy! They tied her down by the bumper and when we arrived, the stress was too much and it was detached, so she made the trip only tied down by the rear!


This is where we are now. The most isolated city in the world. As physically as far from New York one can get and still be on dry land. Believe it or not, this city of almost 2 million feels like a small town!

Where do we go from here?

Our plans are to drive "Over the top" that is to head north and continue our circum-navigation of Oz in a clockwise direction. But for the next few days we are going to take it easy here in Perth, see Freemantle, do some winery tours (via a cruise on the Swan River) and Rottsnest Island.


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