We passed through the town of Braidwood after a tough uphill drive that was about as much as my car’s engine can handle: 40km/h uphill was the fastest I could do on most of those slopes. Braidwood had a great “frontier” feel to it, yet it was quite busy being on one of the main roads from Canberra to the coast. We had lunch in the park there (and later found out we forgot our camping table at that point).
A highlight for me was the antique store ran by a French guy for the past 30 years. Me and Simon talked a bit to him, about how he ended up here and that his store had such a great atmosphere to it. Even the music he was playing great, some obscure Australian jazzy hiphop album.
We continued on to small roads from Braidwood (which was our halfway point). To save some money, we intended to camp free on a free campsite in the middle of the forest near Canberra, to get there early the next day and explore the city.
The GPS ended up sending us on some really small, private roads that required us to open and close a lot of gates. There was no explicit sign telling us to keep out however, and the driving there was fun after the climb on the motorway.
The campsite was pretty cool, it was at the site of an old logging camp. There were some relics left there from the old logging days, a real treat for a rust-aficionado like myself!
With some difficulty, I had booked an AirBnB stay in Canberra for one night, after camping for about a week. Everybody agreed it would be nice to stay in a real bed, do some laundry, have a nice shower and so on. At 120 dollars for 4 people it was cheaper than the hostels even! We just had to get through that one cold night next to the rusty relics in the forest.
Canberra is an interesting city. It was chosen to be the capital of Autralia because it would not be tied to any of the coastal state capitals and thus have a neutral role. It had about 100 inhabitants when the spot was chosen is being developed ever since. Our AirBnB hosts described it as a “big country town” which seems about right. It’s a city because it has to and checks all the boxes, but on all other areas it isn’t really compared to all other Australian cities. Less traffic, less busy, more green, more space. Not as much hip things to do like you’d get in Sydney or Melbourne, but that doesn’t bother me.
We visited the new Capital Hill, where the Australian government convenes. A most impressive building and we got some excellent background info from friendly staff.
Next up was the ANZAC War Memorial. I thought this would just be a monument, but it turned out to be an amazing museum, that was free to top it off!
I had to keep thinking back of my visit to Sinsheim in Germany, together with my brother. This museum was smaller, less flashy and had less content on paper, but it was better by several orders of magnitude (plus did I mention it is free?). The layout, the lighting, the presentations were all top-notch. They had audiovisual displays with projectors and background lights around some of the big exhibits, such as this Avro Lancaster, “G for George”, one of the most heavily used, still surviving WW2 airplanes ever.
Highlight for me was the A7V SturmPanzerWagen “Mephisto” that they had on display. This is the only surviving example in the world of the first ever German tank. They only built 20 of them back in 1918. It’s a primitive, ugly monster of a thing, with certain great features like no exhaust muffler, making the sound deafening for the crew inside.
The museum was close to closing time so I missed all of the WW2 exhibits. The girls didn’t seem too interested so I guess the 45 minutes I had in there was an OK middleground. Upon exiting the memorial we were once again confronted with the planned layout of Canberra, the War memorial being on one end of the so called “Capital Triangle” of the map.
That evening, me and Simon went for a (steep) walk to the top of a nearby hill to see the sunset, recommended by our AirBnB hosts. There were kangaroos everywhere again, they’re starting to be a common sight. I’d hoped to get a quiet evening in a nice sofa and salon, but unfortunately a little mishap earlier in the day with one of the car door locks had me dis- and reassembling the door until long after dark.
The next day we headed for what I really wanted to see, the view from the Telstra Tower on top of Black Mountain, just outside of central Canberra. I was curious to see if I could get a good view of the city layout.
Upon seeing some photos in the entry hall, my travelmates decided they didn’t want to spend the 7 dollars admission for the top floor. Once up there I think they missed out. While it wasn’t as amazing as a flight over the city would have been, it was still quite a good view. You can see how small the central business district of Canberra really is. The tower is less than 5 minutes drive away from it even.
Next we headed for the Australian National Museum, again free (unfortunately the parking wasn’t free). The museum was huge and had a strong focus on indigenous aboriginal history. My favorite however was, how typical, this weird contraption that was sort of a token of the Great Depression era in Australia. It is the trailer of a man who wandered around Australia trying to scrape by sharpening anything and everything. He got very creative trying to attract customers when he inevitably had to move from one place to the other when business ran out.
I didn’t know what to expect so we only got 2 hours parking, but you could easily spend 3 or more hours there. We extended the parking a bit, but the girls felt they’d seen enough of the museum much quicker than me and Simon, so we headed on.
When cheking the weather, I found out any progress towards Sydney would bring us into some really bad weather. The storms and tornado in Sydney the next day confirmed that. So we sat down and talked a bit, not only about our plans but also that I felt like I was driving nearly everything. In the end I decided we’d just stay on a campsite outside of Canberra for 2 more nights. That way I could still see the NASA space centre that I had expected to miss out on. I also had to do an oil change on the car and it would give me some time for that.
Canberra Deep Space Communication Centre, or Tidbinbilla Tracking Station is the single remaining tracking station of three near Canberra. Australia has had a history with these space tracking sites that mainly serve to communicate and track spacecraft and satellites. NASA has three main station at approximately 120 degrees laterally across the world (California, Spain, and this one near Canberra), so they can have constant coverage in any direction. The site itself wasn’t accessible, but there is a small, free museum attached to it with some good displays and objects, including a real moonrock! One antenna at the site used to be at the older Honeysuckle Creek station and was the first antenna to relay images from Armstrong and Aldrin’s historic moon landing in 1969.
After Canberra we decided to make up some distance, we had about 3 nights left before we wanted to be in Sydney. We took an alternative road to the coast that would a oid backtracking completely to Batemans Bay. This road alternated between dirt and a little bit of pavement for the first 40-50km.
Halfway through was the Negirra Hotel, which is actually a pub, “hotel” is just the Australian word for that. An actual hotel is a “motel” then. We’d seen the sign at the start, saying no fuel stations for 120km or so until Nowra. I think that was our longest stretch so far, no big deal for us and in general, as you can go 5-6 times as much without fuel supply in Australia.
We then got to Hyams Beach, as the others had sort of made it clear a bit they really wanted more beach and sun after our 5 days without. Hyams Beach supposedly has the world record for smoothest, whitest sand in the world. I have to say, that could very well be true, but I’m no expert on sand quality. It definitely was smooth, but only in some places.
We stayed at a camping nearby, where the very friendly lady at the reception told us about the storm from the night before, when it had rained 15cm in an hour. The amount of water had destroyed the roads through the camping, leaving 30cm deep holes and cracks. Good thing we stayed away, we could’ve drowned.
After that we went on just a little further, to Beecroft Weapons Range, a little bay called Honeymoon Bay. That turned out really good. It’s an active Navy testing range, so you can only camp there in weekends. It was also quite popular and busy (not terribly so), so we were lucky to get a spot. The swimming was great, there was a kangaroo hanging out with us on the beach and we had dinner on the beach that evening, virtually alone. One of our very best stops of the past 2 weeks, maybe so far even I think. And it was Simon that came up with it and suggested it, he really stepped up helping me out with planning a bit after the first week.
The next day we made another stop at Gerroa, Lookout Headland. I love these spots along the sea, the good ones you can spend quite a bit of time walking along the rocks, looking at the sealife, finding shells and watching waves.
Some local fishers pointed out that there were dolphins nearby. After some patience I was treated to a few moments of them all jumping through the waves, some of them seemed to jump meters high out of the water. Places and things like this you just don’t get to see much in Europe…
We were making quite a few stops to stretch time till our camping that night. Kiama turned out to be not that interested. Once overweight families and selfie-stick toting tourists are being unloaded from vans on a spotless parking, I feel in the wrong place. I guess that’s what happens once you are within daytrip-reach of the city, so I didn’t take many pictures there.
Bass Point turned out a little better. My rust-sense was tingled again by leftover wreckage pieces from the Cities Service Boston grounding, a 9000 ton tanker that ended up on the rocks there in 1943.
There were also some really nice, big seashells to be found there, one of the best spots for it so far.
We headed inland again towards a free, unglamorous but decent sounding campsite by the highway (with free hot showers). I really liked the change in scenery here again, the rolling golden hills with more European looking trees and cattle here and there looked great in the late afternoon sunlight.
Simon and Miri would leave us in Sydney, as they had arrangements for Christmas and Newyear in Sydney. Julia brought up she’d also exit the roadtrip in Sydney. It wasn’t that big of a surprise, she’d been getting on much better with Miri (same language and age) than me, and she’d been along for almost a month by then. That would leave me alone after that, something I admit I might have craved a bit at times the last weeks, but was also a bit of an unsettling thought; by then we had a good routine of everybody doing tasks related to setting up and breaking down camp, it would all be down to me. Costs would also be much higher, while the past weeks we spent a little over 100 dollars per person per week.
I dropped them off at the station near the camping I would stay. They had to start carrying their heavy backpacks again for the first time in weeks, in the heatwave currently going on in Sydney. I didn’t envy them.
It was almost weird, 5 minutes after I said goodbye to them, I met up with Chris and Mike from back at the farm in Moree. The two guys have bought their own four wheel-drive car with a nice rooftop tent. We plan to travel together for quite a bit now. It was awesome seeing them again, and hearing their stories. The boss, Darrel, who really didn’t like me, had even gifted them two new tires for their car and was so sad to see them go that he almost wanted to come along. They didn’t tell him they’d meet up with me though, haha, but he stayed with his farm anyway.
So now I’ve put out some messages to see if anybody else would join me, but I haven’t had much substantial response so far. I think most people want to be in Sydney for Christmas and Newyears (I don’t care so much about that). Me and the boys might visit some areas around Sydney and I could try again after newyears, I don’t know yet. I think this time around I’d take 2 people max, since 4 in total in the car is just a bit much. If anybody in Sydney reads this and wants to join, get in touch 😉