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From Lake Macquarie to Port Macquarie and many side trips to Sydney

Posted on April 17, 2012 at 10:41 AM

The great family Ironside Australia touring adventure has rapidly morphed into a minor tootle around South Eastern NSW. In the nearly two and half weeks since we got the caravan we had managed a trip to Maitland in the Hunter Valley to visit friends and a side trip to Lake Macquarie, plus two or perhaps three trips back to Sydney. That’s a bit like spending a round Britain expedition shuttling backwards and forwards between Ipswich and Colchester Zoo. The reason? I was waiting on a package that had been sent by ship to Sydney. What was in the package had become something of a causecélèbre for Vera. Almost daily she asked me if I had heard from “that bloody ship” and when it was likely to arrive. Unhappily, I had to reply, “Yes my love, I have heard from the shipping agent and he says there has been a further delay in docking or unloading or something.” It dragged on for two weeks longer than I had anticipated. Of course when I packed my golf clubs I imagined I was being extremely foxy schlau. Rather than pay A$45 a time to hire some outmoded bag of any old iron, I would be able to use my own trusty clubs and be quids in. Well, by the time I had made my last visit to Sydney Port to pick up the offending box and totted up the costs I was in for an almighty shock. What with the customs and quarantine inspection fees (A.K.A. a government shakedown); the shipping agency handling fee (outrageously like estate agency commissions i.e. an exorbitant price for sod all in return); the port inspection facilitation fee (a polite mugging) and the original shipping fee (looked good in June of this year) all plus 10% GST, I could have bid for Tiger Woods’ old clubs on Ebay and still come out ahead. (Of course, Vera was not totally au fait with all the shipping ins and outs, so as a precaution this particular blog will self destruct in ten seconds once it’s been read.) Once I had collected the golf clubs, we were free to wander as we liked. Vera, who had harboured a 3 week old desire to get off the first page of the NSW roadmap said, “North, away from Sydney.... please.” We were looking for adventure, and we found a version of it the very next day. It all started beautifully. Things felt right. The caravan was pulling like a nicely turned out racehorse, both sprightly and sure footed; the Pajero recently serviced, had two brand new tyres and was raring to go somewhere dirty. So on the morning of our escape from Sydney for hopefully the last time this year we headed up through the Hunter Valley. It was lunchtime. So we looked on the map for a suitable picnic spot. Vera found a nice little site in the middle of a State forest off the Old Maitland road, in the Upper Hunter. It was a graded untarmaced road in and it gave us and the caravan a good rattling and we did worry if when we opened the door of the caravan all we'd see was an interior that looked like it had been through a blender. It was only on the journey out of the forest that we truly made our mistake. “Turn left in 50 metres,” said the metallic lady sitting in the Tomtom. So we duly turned left, and within 10 seconds realised what a daft decision that was. We had stumbled (or more correctly, invited by our lady in the GPS machine) to drive along an old logging road. The ruts, oh the ruts. A road is a generous description of what faced us. There were ruts in the track big enough for a car mechanic to get down and feel at home. I was dead scared any deviation from the raised parts of road would see the truck and then the caravan crash to a grinding halt. More worrisome was the dreaded call I would have to make to the National Parks office to get us winched out. We tried to go backwards only for the caravan to pop off the tow bar with a horrible clanking sound. Going on through a kilometre of lunarscape was our only option. By this time the kids were becoming contrary. “You cuddle Fraser and give Emma a drink”, I shouted to Vera as I ran ahead to see if it was feasible to get all the way to the lovely dirt road we had stupidly left. It was only when I got back that I realised the storm clouds were gathering on the horizon. We had to go quickly or face what was left of the raised track becoming a treacherous mudbath. So, having set the 4 wheels in sync we eased our way down the road at a snails pace, turning occasionally to each other and willing the caravan to survive the vicious wobbling from side to side. After what felt like a long overdue visit to the dentist we finally emerged onto the beautifully smooth dirt road. We stopped the car immediately and both let out two of the biggest sighs of our married lives. “Never, ever, listen to that stupid women in the Tomtom again,” was all Vera had to say on the matter.

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