Thursday, October 23, 2014

ROADTRIP: Dubbo to Armidale

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This photo says almost everything about today’s journey – open road, relatively sparse vegetation and the intense light of Australia … and yes, some dirty streaks on the windscreen. I’ve driven at least 30,000 km around Europe, but never with skies like this, even when filtered through my sun-glasses as in the third photo.
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Today’s route is simply in-your-face Australian rural landscape, covering as much distance as yesterday – a bit quicker given we have no city traffic or mountains to deal with – and bringing us slightly east of Sydney. This is all new road to me, with new towns: Gilgandra, Coonabarabran and Gunnedah.
Dubbo to Armidale
Our morning leg-stretch is in Coonabarabran, self-described Astronomy Centre of Australia, due to its proximity to the Anglo-Australian telescope at Siding Springs. In a different time-line of my life where I continued studying physics with an astronomy bent, I may have found myself living out here.
Munson in Coonabarabran
When went in search of a rest-room, we passed what may be the most specialised business on earth “TIMOR LANE: Specialising in the spiral galaxy NGC362”, which seems to share quarters with a service for counselling illegal aliens.

Also spotted, a French street sign “Une access centre”. This is a really cosmopolitan town.
Timor Lane
Une access centre
With some more time I might have explored the Warrumbungles, mountainous remnants of a thousand-metre high volcano that was active here millions of years ago. A little further east is Mount Mullaley, one of a series of lava domes rising from the plain near Gunnedah.
Mount Mullaley (1)

Mount Mullaley (2)
Solution for a hot dog on a hot route: a bag of ice in his water bucket!
Munson's ice bucket
We reached Tamworth around 2.30 and lunched on one of the tree-lined main streets. I’d visited here for a 21st birthday when I was at college, but have few memories of the town itself. By the time we reached our Armidale accommodation we were quite content to hang out in our air-conditioned room while Munson tried to get to know the owners’ dog.
DSCF0348 Moore Park Inn, Armidale
In the morning we went into town for breakfast, which we found at a cafe with outdoor seating. By 9am the sun was beating down so much we hurried gobbled everything down and scrambled for a shady venue to get a second coffee. Then it was time to refuel, pick up another bag of ice and hit the road for the last northward leg of the trip.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

ROADTRIP: Sydney to Dubbo

Bathurst Gustav's reward for 6 hours on the road Munson's hidey-hole
Roadtrip departure day has finally rolled around. Munson has seen the bags accumulating near the front door and knows that some travel is afoot.

The first week of accommodation has been planned after scouring the state for Munson-accessible hotels along the general route. The book of pet-friendly venues across Australia has grown in recent years, but the majority are weekend holiday rentals along coastal areas; they’re not designed for stop-overs along the inevitably long road routes that characterise Australian travel. The limitation for many of the “pet-friendly” venues is based purely on size. They specify that the dog must be quiet and well-behaved, just small. Your tiny little pooch can presumably yap its heart out and they’ll welcome it.

I’ll be paying a “size premium” for Munson at one of our stop-overs, which I’m guessing won’t entitle him to any additional services other than permission to lie on a slightly larger floor area. It was the only pet-friendly place in the area not booked out – so there is a demand, but one that Australian hoteliers are slow to wake up to.

Today’s drive to Dubbo is one of the longer driving days. I figure that we should get these over and done with at the start of the holiday. Since Gustav has already seen the Blue Mountains as far as Katoomba, I’ve selected the other mountain crossing known as Bells Line of Road, which converges with the Great Western Highway in Lithgow.

Before we made our mountain ascent,  a noisy problem presented itself: I’d had aerodynamic roofracks fitted a few weeks earlier, and they sometimes made a bit of a humming noise, turning the Renault into a mobile carmonica (sorry). It wasn’t until the speed increased on Sydney’s outer roads that the musical accompaniment transformed into a high-pitched squeal. I don’t know what it sounded like to those outside the car, but it was intolerable inside. Around Richmond as we stopped to refuel, I asked the internet what to do. The main idea was to disrupt the flow of air around the crossbars, so I wound some bungee cables around it and found that did make some improvement.

Our first touristy stop was in Bilpin, at one of the many fruit shops that are particularly known for their local apples. After Lithgow we were able to pick up some speed, and our unearthly musical accompaniment resumed. Reaching the outskirts of Bathurst, we pulled into a large hardware outlet, where I bought some foam rubber used to insulate pipes and strapped that to the rails with duct tape. Problem solved.

When I was a kid, our family’s car journeys to Sydney often involved a night stopover in Bathurst, staying with a friend of my grandmother. I don’t remember us ever going into the town centre, and so today I took that opportunity. We had coffee and lunch and a small stroll around the centre. It’s Australia’s oldest inland settlement (post-colonisation), and some years later became the centre of its first gold mining boom. Even with its long historical importance as as administrative centre, it’s still only got a population in the low 30,000s. Australia is an extremely urbanised country – from multi-million population cities hugging the coast-line, the drop-off to the next tiers is quite dramatic.
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The new king of DubboWe chugged along the road through Orange and Wellington without stopping. These place-names are becoming better known in the city through the presence of local producers at farmers’ markets, but they had no draw for us on this trip.

Late afternoon saw us into Dubbo, where we immediately checked into our motel, about 15-20 minutes’ walk from the town centre. Named either for the local “red earth” or possibly after an aboriginal word for head-covering, it’s the last of the “big” towns you’ll find out this way. Dubbo, Orange and Bathurst are in the same size range, and after this, the populations drop off into the sub-5000 range.

In our motel room, Munson immediately located the closest spot to his bedside hideout at home – an under-shelf gap behind a bed in the corner (see top photo).

The three of us walked into town and found a good feed at a local bar-restaurant. I was more than a little surprised a the high quality of the food, although you do pay extra to get this outside the cities. The economics of food supply mean that it’s harder for regional restaurants to obtain ingredients.

If we were staying longer, I guess a visit to the Taronga Western Plans Zoo would have been in order, but we’re already taking a large beast on an extended safari of sorts.
Munson seduces the locals
Gustav, Dubbo street-style
The next morning we found a great cafe Brigade in an old fire station to get our coffee-digestive systems in order before we hit the road again. A local pronounced Munson, “the most magnificent dog in Dubbo”, a title he would only hold for another thirty minutes.

2014-10-23 ROADTRIP 2 Armidale

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

ROADTRIP North-Eastern NSW

Entire Route
Tomorrow we – Gustav, Munson and myself – are setting off on a nine day roadtrip to the northern part of NSW.  The bare connect-the-dots route is 2067km, which is about the exact distance I travelled driving from the French farm to Gustav’s home in Sweden.

I haven’t been to many of the places on the route since I was a kid. I’ve marked the places I lived before I turned 18 on the map (red X’s). The most distant of the X’s from Sydney is Bourke – which is another four hours’ drive on from Dubbo! I remember the occasional Saturday morning shopping trip to Dubbo – we’d have to leave really early in the morning because there was no afternoon trading in those days. We (my parents) had a shopping window of 9-12 before the interminable drive home on a straight feature-less road.

NSW is not one of Australia’s bigger states, but it’s a huge piece of real-estate. France fits into it with almost enough spare room to squeeze Italy around the edges. Similarly Texas fits with space for Kentucky. 
France on NSW  Texas on NSW
Our route has not been chosen to fit into a space or distance budget, but time. Gustav is starting a new job in two weeks and I want to make sure we’ve got a weekend to decompress at the end. I chose an inland route to show him some of inland Australia. We won’t even get halfway across the state – but the gaps between towns grows so quickly that every stop west comes at the cost of the return journey east.

From our second night, the journey will in fact all be east of Sydney, with our stop in Byron Bay being at mainland  Australia’s most easterly point. We’re having a leisurely weekend with friends up there and a slower return journey along the coast that will allow us to stop in at random beaches as whim and weather dictate.

Finally, this will be quite an experiment in Australian dog travel for me. I travelled around Tasmania with Bondi ten years ago, and we drove 1400km  to Adelaide and back and then to Melbourne and back – all in the space of five months. Our options were extremely limited – often requiring special pleading to obtain pet friendly accommodation.
Bondi @ Mt Wellington, Hobart  Bondi @ Binalong - Bay of Fires

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Canis major vs canis minor

20140802_160804 There are days when Munson is just another dog, because the Great Danes and Leonbergers are out at the park …
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… but most of the time he’s Gulliver in Lilliput, and happy to play…

… and play …

… with perhaps some three-way stick action:

…or hanging out for a ball.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sharkey’s Beach

It’s been a while since we got out of Sydney. Our friend Will from Sydney Park has taken his dog Puck and moved down to one of the beachside suburbs north of Wollongong. It’s a little over an hour from our Sydney home to this particular beach, which is off-leash fulltime.

I don’t think Munson has been in proper surf since we visited Cadiz two years ago, but in water or out he had a splendid time. It was a beautiful clear winter’s day, perfect for us all to walk barefoot along the water’s edge from one of the beach to the other and back, following it up with fish and chips down the road in Thirroul.

I had intended to take Gustav into central Wollongong but we didn’t get very far due to bad traffic, and cut the day short. If dogs were allowed on trains on Australia, I’d be down to these beaches much more often. Unfortunately Australia doesn’t do public transport very well and almost no pet-friendly transport. This journey would be like jumping on a London train down to Brighton for the day, albeit with much much much better beaches.
20140810_124711 Puck and Munson
20140810_121620Gustav shell-hunting20140810_122951

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Life with dogs

Michael, Paul and Lucky-Bourke~1971
I had a lucky start with dogs. Actually I had a Lucky start with dogs. Lucky was the kelpie-basset cross my family adopted when I was about seven years old. The photos above show him with me at that time, and my younger brother. They’re the only photos I have from the terribly brief four years he was with us. He was lucky enough to survive a van crash when our furniture was being moved to a second town (he was riding with the drivers), but not lucky enough to pull through a painful calcification of the spine in a third town that lead to him being put to sleep when he was only about five. It was my first experience of deep loss and grief.

Twenty five years passed between Lucky and dog number two. Bondi. He was worth waiting a quarter-century. Just now I had Google+ throw up this sample of fifteen years of photos out of more than fifty thousand stored and uploaded in that period. In the only two without Bondi or Munson in the foreground, I know I had Bondi at my side. I’m also cheered that this selection also features Dougal, Legend and Tosca, all missed. The ratio of me to dog-hair is pretty accurate too.
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Not a bad way to fill a life.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Munson’s Big Adventure

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This is the story appearing in that’s life! (Australia) today, on pp58-59. I’ll update the image here with a higher resolution (ie legible) version when this issue is replaced next Thursday. [Done!]

The photos used in the story (clockwise from top left) are taken from the following posts :

  1. Ferry to Isle of Wight: March 2013
  2. Munson’s Cafe (unposted pic): March 2013
  3. Monastre de Grande Chartreuse: December 2010
  4. Mirador del Estrecho: September 2012
  5. Enmore Park: December 2013
  6. Rock of Gibraltar: September 2012
  7. Amsterdam: June 2012
  8. North Wales: October 2010
  9. Cologne Cathedral: July 2011
  10. French farm: December 2010

Flickr slideshow