Big Question Marks

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Going Outback Pt I: Many Miles in NSW

After leaving the Gold Coast, we paid a visit to our old home of two months last year, Stanthorpe. Everything pretty much looked the same as before, and it was just great to catch up with old friends from our previous year cherry-picking! Unfortunately it's been an even rainier year than last and the weather destroyed a lot of Cherry Park's cherries again. But the ones we did see/taste were just great. We caught up with the Minifies (who own Cherry Park) for an evening and had many laughs and a drink or two... Adrian even had a SingStar contest with the kids, that is, until they somehow broke the PlayStation with their lovely singing! The next night we took a walk down memory lane and stayed in the caravan park we stayed at for nearly six weeks last year, but this time, as tourists (what a great feeling to not have to be up at 5am!). It was still quite a nice place to stay. We met up with our fellow pickers Debbie & Katrina (and the husbands) at the local pub who cracked us up every day while picking, and they filled us in on the rest of the gossip and gave us some tips for our Outback travelling.... good times!

And the next morning it was into the unknown--we started inland on December 14 and only then truly realized how big each state is! New South Wales runs more than 1000 km from east to west, so it took ages to reach true Outback. And then suddenly it was there, all that red sand, scrubby bushes, and wild goats grazing at the roadside. It was only after about a day and a half driving south and west from Queensland, we were just starting to wonder where the Outback really begins-- Was it when we spotted a tumbleweed crossing the road? A dust devil crossing a field? When we really met no cars along the way? And then a sign appeared at the flat, dusty roadside:

Naturally, we hopped out of the car immediately and ran through thorny dried plants to pose in front of it (who wouldn't?!)... and it was about 100m past that when another sign said, "Welcome to Outback New South Wales". Aha! We had lunch in the first town we found in Bogan Shire, a nice little place called Nyngan which seemed very un-Bogan at first, until we spotted a group (family?) with two teenage girls and their babies, a brother and sister holding hands (we think), long hair and rattails on the boys and two-tone hair (think contrast: white-blonde on top and black on the bottom, or something like that), and the mom/young grandma in a really tiny denim miniskirt. The unfortunate thing about Bogan moments like this is we are usually so enraptured by the scene we usually forget to take pics (this happened on the Gold Coast with the most Bogan family we've ever encountered... too many rattails to count. We were absolutely tongue-tied). Next time, we promise!

Our first night spent in the Outback was incredible. Town were getting fewer and further between, and about every 100km there would be a rest area. It was getting close to sunset (which means kangaroos jumping out in front of the car... we'd already spotted a few emus running about, too) and we were still on the 282km expanse between towns, so we just chose a rest area and set up camp. It wasn't far off the Barrier Highway, the major route to South Australia, but we barely heard a vehicle all night. The landscape was extremely flat, and reddish with a few scrub plants and a couple of trees providing shade from the scorching sun. We thought we had the place to ourselves when a solo man in a pickup truck pulled in and just hung out in his truck. We were making dinner when we thought we saw him sharpening hedge trimmers... ("oh no, it's going to be Wolf Creek...") we thought as it got darker and we got our axe and a kitchen knife handy just in case. (Have we watched too many horror movies or what?) We spied on the guy, who was sitting in his truck, chatting on a mobile phone, and willed him to leave our camp spot. We were super relieved when a man on a motorcycle pulled up and cruised around the rest stop until he found a good place to pitch a tent. (A witness! We're safe now!) We were eating our meal when the friendly biker strolled over to have a chat with the scary truck guy... and to our further relief they were laughing and having a good conversation (Social skills, hooray!). Not long after that, truck guy pulls off onto the highway again and the biker comes by our camp to say hello... Norm was a retired NSW farmer with a craving for the open road-- he'd just been to Perth and back on his motorcycle, just for the hell of it. He told us about the scary truck guy-- a 'roo shooter, a local dude who shoots kangaroos and sells them to places like Europe where apparently kangaroo fetches a high price in restaurants! A bit more of a relief...

Norm also suggested some places to check out and planted the seed for some adventure-- we'd heard of the famous Outback "Tracks" that run up the middle of the country from South Australia, but we'd always assumed it was four-wheel drive only. Norm has taken the Oodnadatta Track not long before and said it was much more interesting that taking the paved, monotonous Stuart Highway. Daisy was probably shuddering already, but a new idea for our route was taking shape...

But what really topped off the night, after we quizzed Norm on the constellations (his wife is an astronomer at a nearby planetarium) and kept trying to spot the Southern Cross, was a very different kind of visitor. We were admiring the stars from our little table when we heard a faint noise nearby. Adrian switched on the flashlight and caught a dingo, quietly sniffing around the rest area. It was actually really small, nearly silent, and pretty cute. It slinked off into the darkness nearby soon after it was caught, but we were thrilled to have spotted yet another Aussie creature in the wild!

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