T+60 – Back in the Air: Queenstown to Wellington

We made a short hop on Air New Zealand from Queenstown to Wellington, New Zealand.  The flight was quick (about an hour) and easy, no need to drive back north to take a ferry across to the North Island – much simpler, less expensive, and faster to fly up and rent another car.  It didn’t take us long to gather our baggage, pack it in our rental car and get to our motel, the Apollo Lodge Motel, in the heart of town.  It was a pleasant place tucked just off the main drag, with restaurants and a supermarket in easy walking distance.


We were out and about looking for dinner at 5 p.m. since we missed lunch and only had a snack on the plane.  We went first to the Bangalore Polo Club for drinks.  It’s celebrates a fictional polo team, with eclectic Victorian-themed decor.  A small pitcher of gin and tonic was only $7 (cheap).  Beer was also reasonable, and the bar offered a good selection on tap.  Our bartender was familiar with the Washington, DC, area, and was a generous chap. 300988-13729-14

Next, we set out to find something more substantial to fill our stomachs.  Dwayne and Carla opted for beef pot pies with mashed potatoes and a pitcher of beer at one of the many pubs which lined the street.  Later they walked about, seeing the historic cricket stadium, founded in 1866 to fill a swamp, that has hosted many “important” sporting events over the years.  The home team Wellington Firebirds go back to 1876…and the Green Bay Packers are only celebrating their 100th season this year! 9398732

Janet and I went for Mongolian BBQ at the Genghis Khan restaurant further down the street.  The food was substantial and the selection wonderful…real meat in copious quantities…all one could eat!  The wait for the cook to “BBQ” your fixin’s on the giant “shield” was never long.  Needless to say, we left happy campers.heromongolianbbqwellington-900x244


T+59 Days – Milford Sound

(Apologies are in order…for the delay in completing this account.  No long explanation, just to say life occasionally interferes with the best of intentions.)

There are few places I’ve been that live up to the travelogue hype.   In some cases it’s just that visitors have overrun the site to detract from enjoyment of its glories, or time has taken a toll to diminish things.  Milford Sound did not fail to impress.

We left the Lodge at 0600, long before sunrise with the thermometer at 31 degrees (F), which led to iced-over windows and no scraper.  Being a northern boy, I reached into my wallet to take my Rome public transport card and clean off the windows.  Credit cards do more than cost money – and risking the Rome card was no risk whatever to damage the strip or chip.  Meanwhile, the others loaded the car in the near total darkness, and away we went, retracing our earlier drive and going further to the Sound to catch a 10 o’clock boat tour.

Once we passed the 45th parallel we were beginning to see new country as the sun began to rise, still remaining below the mountains that lined both sides of the Eglinton Valley as we approached the tunnel ahead that finally allowed road traffic to reach the Sound.

Once at Milford Sound we bought our tickets for the morning scenic cruise.  I also had a much needed cup of coffee.  Even from the visitor center, one could see the Sound’s beauty.  It was a perfectly still day, and the water was indeed serving as a mirror.

Milford Sound Harbour

We walked to the dock and eventually boarded the boat, which started down the sound.  From the very beginning one marveled at the natural beauty and serenity of the place.  It had rained quite a bit recently, so we were treated to endless waterfalls cascading down the steep cliffs.

The boat pulled over so that we could put out a cup to catch some of the fresh falling water.  Of course, it generally meant a drenching in the process.

Janet goes for her cup of waterfall refreshment.

We sailed out to where the sound meets the Tasman Sea, and one could immediately feel the churn.  There we turned around for the return, stopping at the underwater viewing platform.

From Milford we returned to Queenstown, where we had a cute little cottage at the Settlers Cottage Motel outside the city for our overnight before leaving for the North Island and Wellington.



T+57 and T+ 58 Days – Onward to Milford Sound

(An apology is in order.  It has been awhile since I last posted here.  My only excuse is that life goes on, conflicting commitments occasionally interfering with getting things done.  I also had some difficulties getting organized after we arrived home.  Nonetheless, here we go again…sorry about all that.)

We departed Queenstown at our usual 10 a.m. for the 200 kilometer (120 mile) trip to Fiordland National Park Lodge where we would spend the night before heading on to Milford Sound – one of my most anticipated destinations on this trip. Our beautiful weather continued with temperatures in the high 60s and partly cloudy skies. We drove out of Q’town along the eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu to the Lodge on pristine Lake Te Anau with the sun shining and mountain scenery surrounding us. 

(Rant warning!) The drive was actually pretty easy, but one thing got under my skin a bit.  Speed traps.  No, I didn’t get a ticket, but I heeded earlier advice and kept my car at or under the limit to avoid post-trip hassle (and added expense) from the car rental company.  But what the hell are the cops doing with their radar and cameras on sparsely traveled highways on a weekday afternoon? Nothing better to do?  When does the “Big Brother” stuff finally collide in the minds of reasonable people with the notions of essential personal liberty, i.e. living outside of perpetual police surveillance?  I’m not advocating law breaking or wild 170 KPH rides.  What I am also not advocating is the deployment of unblinking “eyes” with, so I am told, exceptionally low tolerances to catch on film people essentially doing nothing dangerous or threatening to society.  While the cameras I saw were at least attached to the police cars, many others are hidden along the way, or so I was told.  Their only point is to “terrorize” good-enough drivers into shrinking boxes while extracting a few dollars from them, and perhaps otherwise adding minor misery to their lives…for what?  To me, ranking New Zealand (or Australia) ahead of the US in freedom rankings is nonsense – although I can see the day Americans will accept the same tyranny, as well as further lowering blood-alcohol levels to near zero.  (Off rant.)

With daylight remaining after checking in at the Lodge, we drove further to scout the route to Milford Sound.  Along the way we stopped at various points of interest – or, so the brochure said.  The road opened up as we entered the Eglinton Valley, which is a huge, green plain between mountains with a river flowing through it.  Like something out of a movie.

Eglinton Valley

At Mirror Lake a slight breeze blowing created ripples on the water ruining the mirror effect.  And so it goes.  Further up the road we came to the sign demarking the 45th parallel south. 

Mirror Lake…not much reflection…imagine those mountains reflected by still water.

The 45th parallel north runs about where Green Bay, Wisconsin, is located, and 45 degrees is halfway between the Equator and the respective Pole.  We couldn’t do any better than that, so it was time to turn around and head back.P1060416

On our way back to the lodge we watched a shepherd and his dogs push a flock of sheep to another pasture. It was amazing how the shepherd controlled his dogs with different whistled signals. Within a few minutes, hundreds of sheep were circled up and moved through a gate into the other pasture. It was cool to see how the flock and the dogs worked to create the flow.

One of several huge sheep farms.

The night at the Lodge was pleasant.  I went down to the shore of Lake Wakatipu and took some sunset pictures.  The changing golden light was interesting on the hills and mountains in the distance.  The lake itself was nearly deserted by humans.  That really struck me as odd, such a recreational resource with such little use – even at peak there was seemingly nothing on the lake but the waterfowl.

Sunset at Lake Wakatipu


T+55 and T+56 Days…Down New Zealand’s West Coast, Through Glacier Country and the Southern Alps

We drove down Highway 6 from Greymouth to the Franz Josef Glacier along the Tasman Sea. One of the fun things about driving in rural NZ is that in rural areas one lane bridges are the norm, some built in the first years of the highway (early ’60s) and needing some maintenance. The trip down was mostly under gray, drizzly skies.  It is hard to believe, but some places here get over 20 feet of rain per year! While we have seen rain some every day here, the rain has not interfered with our sightseeing, usually stopping when we were out and about. The drive to the glaciers was short, only about 125 miles, leaving us time for sightseeing.  Waterfalls were around every corner.  (Could we not litter the natural landscape with “cairns”?)

Among the major south island attractions are the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers.  They are the products of humid air off the Tasman Sea climbing the mountains and hitting cold winter air at altitude to produce snow at the tops.  The collected snow then compresses over many years, becoming that beautiful “blue ice” underneath the gray upper layers, and being pushed downhill in sun-protected channels created over eons.  In comparison with others I’ve seen, they weren’t particularly impressive, according to photos significantly smaller than 50 years ago.  That’s not to say they weren’t worth a visit.  The area around them is scenic, and one appreciates the power of glaciers, even as they retreat, leaving behind their till fields and altered terrain.

We spent the night at the Montrose Hostel in Franz Josef.  For us old folks, this was our first experience with a hostel, or “backpacker” as known down there.  My cousin Donna suggested using these as a budget measure, and it proved an excellent suggestion.  The facilities were modern, certainly not rustic.  The clientele was all ages, although early-20s females seemed to predominate.  In our instances, we each had private twin-bedded rooms with showers.  (There are also dormitory rooms with as many as eight sleeping in bunk beds among “strangers.”)  The prices for our rooms were about half a hotel room rate.  If you just wanted a dorm bed, the prices were about US$20-25 per night.  Hostel management was very friendly and helpful.  They even put out a large kettle of fresh vegetable soup to enjoy at night.  There were three separate buildings to this hostel, and each provided multiple areas to congregate or just “hide away”.  Kitchen was fully equipped and very useful, especially considering the price of restaurant meals.  We bought a few delicious meat pies at the nearby grocery, along with breakfast fixings, and watched a bit of telly before off to bed.

T+57 Days – Through the Mountains to Queenstown

We drove 200 miles today.  That’s not a long drive in the States but here, with the roads twisting and turning through the mountains you might travel at 40 miles per hour – usually less. The crazy part is that the speed limit is 100 KPH (62 MPH)!  And these roads don’t have much to keep you up the mountain if you go off the edge. The lanes are narrow, shoulders non-existent.  And these are better roads than Australia under similar circumstances.  Toss in that left-side driving…it’s close to harrowing in spots.

The weather was gray, but still “dry” as we drove along, still along Highway 6 through the “Southern Alps.”  We stopped for lunch with our fixings – bread, ham and cheese – and to view the scenery. At Fantail Falls the water took on a distinctive aqua marine color.  It was not the glacial blue or chalky; this color came from minerals leached during its runoff from snowfall and rainfall high in the mountains.  Later we saw lakes filled with this same water.  Beautiful!

There were spots of snow in the mountains that survived summer, December through February.  These are not the Rockies.  The highest mountains run about 9,000 feet, although Mt. Cook, the highest, rises 12,218 ft – way short of those “14ers” in Colorado.  We passed several equipment shops and signs for several ski resorts, but saw no ski runs from the highway.

Queenstown is New Zealand’s ski center, an attractive city busiest in winter and summer. Boating and fishing are popular summertime activities on Lake Wakatipu, which runs 50 miles and is New Zealand’s longest lake.  (It is also over 1300 feet deep in spots!)  Queensland only has about 15,000 population (37,000 if you count the entire region) .  That said, it is tightly packed in to a narrow band along the lake.  Housing there is very expensive – much costing in excess of a million US dollars.

We stayed at an apartment within walking distance of downtown, which included a large grocery.  One of the best bargains in New Zealand is a store-roasted chicken. They are uniformly delicious, with crispy browned skin.  Not like so many of the American rotis birds.  For about US$10 you can feed four well.  Or, you can get a burger for one.  (One thing we could not find down under was “instant” potatoes.  I could find all sorts of other such stuff, but not those.  I wonder why.)

After dinner, we wandered through town. A Scottish Pipe and Drum band was playing on the pedestrian main drag, complete with dancers. Apparently they do this for “practice”, and to make a few bucks with the hat out for contributions.  Queenstown was otherwise a typical tourist destination with people dining outside, lots of lights and shops open.  My brother was reminded of ski towns out in Colorado, like Vail or Aspen.  The waterfront was nice, offering wild speedboat rides and such during the day.  Along the boardwalk were more restaurants and souvenir joints.  Even a few folks looking to camp on the beach.  It was pleasant enough, but not enough to hold me there for long.

The whole thing down here is scenery and nature – the mountains and waterways, from mountain streams to fjords.  It’s well worth the trip.  And some of the best is supposedly yet to come.

T+53 and T+54 Days…Christchurch to Greymouth New Zealand

We were up at 0430 to get to the Sydney airport in time for our 0845 flight to New Zealand, taking the earliest airport shuttle from the hotel to the airport. Checking in was quick and easy since few people were at the airport so early. Thanks to our Priority Pass membership, we had a huge breakfast at the airport before boarding our giant, double-deck Emirates Airbus A380.Emirates350

People don’t realize that the distance between Australia and New Zealand is significant – about 1350 miles across “The Ditch”. The flight to Christchurch took about 4 hours, and crossed two time zones. The Christchurch airport was small compared to others we’ve encountered. We picked up our rental car, a Toyota Corolla, and drove a a few miles to our “Sweet and Cozy” B&B, which was very well located for both our evening there and getting out of town the next morning.  Like so many others, we were provided a bed, but breakfast (beyond coffee) was on us.  The apartment was above a garage and very comfortable.  The landlady was Chinese and her two sons active boys about 12 and 9.  She was very helpful.  She also warned us that the New Zealand police closely enforced the speed limit.  Unless traveling in a pack, it was best to not even exceed the limit by a smidgen.

We all agreed that Australia was expensive, but New Zealand even worse at first blush. We ate dinner at the Lone Star Restaurant – no, not the US chain. Dwayne and I both had the pork spare ribs; Janet a small sirloin steak. The food was fine; however, the prices were outrageous. The bill came to more than NZ$100!! (US$75) How people go out for a simple family dinner is a mystery to me.  Even burgers and fries were priced at least 50 percent higher than comparable in the States.

After we ate we picked up some breakfast foods, milk, and snacks at the supermarket before heading back to our rooms.We saved quite a bit by doing this, and by using the kitchens and barbecues at our hostels down the road.

T+54 Days – Greymouth and POW!!!

We departed Christchurch at 10 heading west to Greymouth on the New Zealand West Coast. We drove through Alpine National Park via Allen’s Gap. The total distance we covered today was about 250 kilometers (150 miles). We started out across the flat plain of the Waimakariri River Valley where sheep and cattle graze and fruits and vegetables are grown. As the hills grew, grazing became the primary farming activity. We saw some logging on the heavily forested hills and mountains.


It was much like driving in the American West. The western side of the mountains were different; the increased rainfall there creates a much greener and lush landscape.  Despite the gray weather, it was a great day for a run to Greymouth where we met the Tasman Sea. Our motel was just over the dune from the beach, where we were told one could find jade washed up by the waves.



We drove into Greymouth to buy groceries.  Among other goodies we bought steaks for grilling – four nice ones for just NZ$17 (US$12.50).

We drove back to the motel just out of town.  As we approached our place there was a painted “island” on the road.  I stayed to the left and slowed from about 45 mph, with my directional on. As I made the turn and heard a heavy “BAM!” behind us.  Seems a fellow in truck rear-ended the guy who had been following us.  Figuring there was nothing I could do, and honestly having no desire to get involved, I continued on to our room.  Shortly some fellow came and accused me of causing his accident.  Of course, he was the fellow who rammed the car from behind.  He was carrying on about a three-second rule for one’s directional, how my brake lights came on before the directionals. and how he had told his boy traveling with him that “that guy” is going to cause an accident.  My initial response was, “Nonsense.”  I asked him what the purpose of brake lights were – perhaps to warn following drivers the car in front is slowing or stopping.  Said whether the brake lights or directionals came on first was immaterial.  And that if my driving indicated I was to cause an accident, asked why didn’t he exercise greater caution while following…he walked away. 

Of course, I was visited by the police shortly thereafter.  I explained what had happened, and it apparently fit what the “victim” told them.  The police said there were frequently accidents at the site – that drivers were beginning to speed up as the limit rose right after the spot. We conversed awhile and they said not to worry – wasn’t my fault.  So. I got on with grilling the steaks. 

That night the skies opened up and rain poured.  We had been lucky with the weather, and overnight rain sure beat rain during the day.  The next morning was gray, but that’s the common state on Tasman coast.  Think Pacific Northwest.


T+51, T+52 and T+53 Days – Canberra and Sydney

While planning this stage of the trip it became evident that my preferred route from Mongans Bridge to the east was just not going to work.  So, for one night only, we were going to work on a tightrope.  The route necessarily included some motorway driving, which I tried to avoid whenever possible.

I digress for a moment.  Planning a route is a bit more than pointing to places on a  map and connecting the dots to get there.  In my opinion, if you really don’t care about the journey, that part where you witness the mundane as part of the adventure, then jump on the motorways and drive like hell.  What’s the difference?  But touring requires balances, especially the amount of time spent in the car.  Personally. I like to muse over the ordinary while driving (or sitting on a bus). 

We left Mongans Bridge about 10 AM and headed north to avoid another day of laborious mountain driving.  Mr. Google said it was to be 252 miles to Canberra.  My brother lives in Leavenworth, Kansas, the sister city to Wagga Wagga, and he wanted to visit to get a picture of the “sign” commemorating the relationship for the folks back home.  Now that would have added but 25 miles to our trip, but somewhere around Gerogery we got involved in a detour that lead to nowhere anyone could figure.  Oddly, in Australia they mark detours with colored squares – white in this case.  We never saw another detour direction sign.  Eventually we found our way to Wagga Wagga…where we discovered there is no apparent sign nor any other public display commemorating that Leavenworth, Kansas, and Wagga Wagga are sister cities. We finished our run to Canberra, Australia’s capital city, via motorway.

Not a total waste…we ran into this giant Merino sheep.

Driving in Canberra is quite a challenge. The city’s main street, Northbourne Avenue, is torn up for subway construction. Side streets are closed willy-nilly. We ended up at Regatta Point Park on the Molonglo River overlooking the Government”complex”.  We got our bearings and got turned around out of town up Northbourne Avenue looking for a place to eat and find wi-fi.  We found a shopping area and parked.  A woman there suggested the Ibis budget hotel nearby for an overnight.  We went to a McDonald’s and made the room reservations on-line from there. 

After I booked the two rooms and dinner at McD’s (or Maccas, as the Aussies say) we drove over.  It was Motel 6 stuff.  Small rooms.  Paper thin walls.  Sketchy clientele.  AU$68.  It was a long, tiring day.  The least fun of all to date.

I was ready to blow Canberra early.  I did not relish driving through a city whose plan struck me as confusing before being torn up driving on the “wrong side”.  Instead the others wanted to see Australia’s capital city.  There was a tour bus that would take us on the sightseeing loop for $10. 

Our Canberra Tour Bus

It started at the Regatta Point Park, so we knew the directions to get there and out.  Arriving early, we hung around the visitors center until time to meet the bus.  It arrived looking to me like a retired city transit bus. 

We boarded and went for the ride – over the bridge, past the National Library and Archives, Treasury, and various gardens before we turned toward the New Parliament Building, and around back to the old Parliament Building, around the embassy neighborhood, down the War Memorial boulevard…and then for a stop downtown for a 30 minute layover.  Canberra very much reminded me of Columbia, Maryland, a planned city where Janet and I live, with many parallel features.  Back on the bus, we made our way back to the park and departed in our rental car for Sydney. 

The drive was largely uneventful until we drew nearer Sydney.  Then we hit a tollway.  Mel at the rental company, Ace, told us that the charges would simply be added to the credit card, no service charge.  So, we followed the signs to the airport and our Ibis Budget hotel just outside SYD.

There was extensive construction around the airport which made it challenging to get to the terminals.  Traffic cones were everywhere, and it was hurry and wait as we drew nearer.  When we reached the entry to the airport there was a jumble of lane markings, orange cones, cops directing traffic…rendering our Google Maps “GPS” useless.  The access road to our hotel was blocked off.  We figured we could make a turn further up.  Wrong! 

The road did not allow a right turn into the access road.  Stuck on the road we were about to enter the toll-motorway with no idea how we would get turned around.  We were at an intersection.  There was no sign prohibiting a U-turn.  After we conferred and concurred, I made the turn on green, waiting for traffic to clear before merging into the lane.  Immediately, the blue lights of a police car came on…BUSTED! 

In Maryland what I did was entirely legal.  I found a place to pull off the road and the officer approached.  We had a short conversation, begun with he had my turn on film, where I explained what I did and why.  He took my license and returned to his car.  Honestly, I expected the usual stern safety “reminder” and a drive-away.  The officer returned with this orange thing in his hand, which he shoved in my face.  Between traffic noise and his Aussie accent, I had trouble understanding his instructions.  I asked if he wanted me to blow into the end…turned out I was to count to five aloud.  Somehow this thing checks for alcohol…and not having had a drop…he asked for my “address in Australia” and my email address.  He left and returned.  He told he was issuing me a citation. Really?  How much is the fine?  AU$257 (US$205)!!  They don’t give you anything to commemorate the pinch – they send you an email, which he said should already be in my inbox.  I told hi I fully expected him to have exercised his discretion to not issue given the circumstances.  “If I were in the States, wouldn’t I be expected to know the traffic laws?”, was his reply.  I should have pulled into the neighborhood to make my turn.  The newspapers made a big deal out of the messed up traffic at the entry.  A traffic management supervisor told me that they were prohibited from putting up directional signs to help motorists get to the hotels and other businesses on the access road.  The police admitted it was a traffic meltdown – it also happened at the beginning of their Labor Day three-day weekend.

Two police officers I spoke to said, leaving the country, they would just ignore the ticket.  Yeah, and then I get hit with a huge service charge by the car rental company when the cops suspend the car’s registration, etc.  Truly, everyone there hates the cops when it comes to their overzealous traffic enforcement – including the cops themselves.  The fines are excessive for nothing offenses.  Honestly, I wonder whether the cops have any discretion down there.  Forgive my minor rant, but Australia (and New Zealand) are traffic camera happy. We were told that if the limit is 100 kph, driving 101 kph could get you a camera speeding ticket.  The game is apparently to hide the cameras to catch the unwary.  Then they drop speed limits from 100 kph (62 mph) to 30 kph  (18 mph) for “construction zones”  in short order.  Unless one stands on the brakes, it is likely the vehicle will exceed 30 when it hits the sign.  (Often there is no actual construction.)  In other cases they run up to 100 leaving town, and immediately thereafter hit a construction zone 30.  I tried hard to comply…but I wouldn’t be surprised if I get some cheap photo citation.  This is Big Brother’s Robocop police force – and it’s likely coming to America in the name of “traffic safety.”

The Ibis Budget at SYD typifies the type of hotel I hate dealing with.  Increasingly, these places are becoming like airlines, nickel and diming customers for what ought to be included or complimentary.  Parking…$25.  Airport shuttle…$7.   One guy was at the desk complaining that his air conditioning was out.  They “rented” him an electric fan.  Bottles of water were $2.  Just vacuuming the clients’ dough.

ibis Budget Hotel, Sydney Airport

Dinner that night was at KFC, which was actually pretty good. 

The next day we headed into Sydney via a motorbus that gave us a good idea of the environs.  Arriving downtown at the main rail station stop, we discovered the area ripped up and under construction.  The poor bus attendant on duty to direct people through the mess was befuddled, apparently not knowing the area well.  Eventually we waled through the station and found the #1 Hop-on/off bus stop.

After paying our fares we took seats on the upper deck for the long ride to see all the sights.  Of course we saw the Opera House and Harbour Bridge, icons of Sydney.  Lunch was at the purportedly oldest pub in Sydney, the Fortunes of War just beyond the Circular Quay in The Rocks district, which opened in 1828.  Food was burgers and shepherd’s pie.  Beer was cold.  What more can one ask? 

The Babes of Bondi Beach!
Enjoying the sun on the top deck of the Hop-on/off bus
Nothing better than a kangaroo steak and beer.

We then took the second bus down to Bondi Beach, Australia’s answer to Venice Beach near Los Angeles.  All the bronzed people were there to see and be seen.  A few surfers…very much the beach scene.  It was running late and we caught the last bus making the circuit back to the train station – catching a glimpse of the city skyline and harbour from one of Sydney’s most desirable neighborhoods.  There, despite the befuddled bus attendant, we found our bus stop and headed home to prepare for our next leg…New Zealand.







T+50 – Wine Country and Alpine Shire

We left Cowes and decided to take the easier route eastward to Canberra and Sydney. Driving through the mountains is a taxing task here. The bends and turns come fast and furious, sometimes with no or misleading warnings. There are often no shoulders on the road, just a narrow, maybe a foot-wide, strip of stones and edge trimmings. Frankly, I’d had enough of that for awhile. So we took the valley road as far as possible before heading into the mountains again.

We drove through the Yarra Valley, the heart of Australian winemaking. Its relatively cool climate makes it suited to the production of chardonnay and pinot noir. About four million people visit this area annually, making it the Napa Valley of Australia. All the vineyards are open on weekends, and most closed weekdays. We were there on Australia’s Labor Day weekend. Since we left Cowes early, we passed through the region without stopping.

One problem the lack of internet connection created was a lack of navigational help. The maps here are uniformly bad-to-awful. Towns appear and disappear between maps – and not just some small ville, some are “major” crossroads. Road signs are also a bit problematic because the towns they reference may or may not be on a map. Highway numbers change along the route. Toss in detours, and it’s not an easy drive to navigate.

Our next overnight was at Mongans Bridge. It was not on any map, and Mr. Google couldn’t help. (Free internet is not all that prevalent, and there’s no McDonald’s on every street corner or highway exit, either. What the Aussies have is a great network of information “offices”. We stopped at one in Yea (that’s right, Yea) to get our bearings, and for open wineries.

The two ladies manning the desk pulled up Mr. Google on their 20-inch monitors and couldn’t find it. As one said, some of these places only have a house or two. The other thought it was somewhere around “Yack”, local abbreviation for Yackandandah. (Look it up…) After expanding the map as far as possible and following various clues, we finally found Mongan’s Bridge, and noted its purported location, about 30 miles south of Yack through those mountainous roads.

When asked about a winery on our way one of the ladies, Adele, recommended Brown Brothers. She was so enthusiastic, we had to visit Brown Brothers in Miliwa…sounded too much like Milwaukee.

We arrived at Brown Brothers with an hour to spare for tasting. It is a large winery, producing three lines of wines, with many wines within each line. The company is one of Australia’s “First Families of Wine”, founded in 1885. The young lady manning the pouring table was very generous, pouring whatever we requested. The wines were all very good to excellent by my tasting, but not exported to the USA. They once were, but we were told the state-by-state laws are too complex and hard to follow. Too bad.

Mongan’s Bridge is in Alpine Shire – guess how it got that name. It is reportedly the skiing center of Australia. There were plenty of gear shops and “chalets” to back that claim. We faithfully followed directions until…there it was, complete with a sign proving it…Mongans Bridge, a one lane job which crossed some local stream. No town, but there was a road that ran along the creek. Some mailboxes even had numbers. So we followed them down. Eventually, after turning around once, we found the Bay Creek Guest House – a sheep ranch behind trees, a fence and a cattle guard, and some high grass along the road. It looked like the Clampetts had left for Beverly Hills already.

There were two houses on the property, the front one apparently the guest house. There was a note from our host in the door: “Get yourself settled, I’ll be back about 8:30.”  We went into “town”…one restaurant was open.  I had fish and chips…their special with a “pot” of beer.   A pot is an 8 oz “farmer beer” that costs 25 cents at any up north tavern.  The meal cost AU$15.  It was okay, but I don’t care for the fish here – the texture is odd and the taste too fishy for my palate.

We returned to our guesthouse and met the landlord.  Pleasant fellow named Mark, a writer of poetry and a mumbler of words.  Carla looked through his books, which were on sale.  Actually, the place inside was very nice, and the refrigerator stocked with fruit and vegetables from the farm.  Even complimentary preserves to take.  We didn’t as we have about run out of weight and space in our luggage.  We watched a movie “Ned Kelly” about the Aussie Jessie James, starring Kurt Kobain.  I fell asleep before the end.

The sheep were out and the day was off and running…Sheep are big business in Australia and New Zealand.  We passed by the giant Merino sheep one day – had to get a picture.  I’ve been wearing merino wool shits and sweaters throughout the trip.  They are recommended by backpackers because “they don’t stink”.  And they wash and dry easily.  Use shampoo to keep the wool hydrated…I love them.  Anyway, I digress.  The next morning dawned bright and sunny.  We’ve been lucky with weather throughout the trip.  Very few rainy or even wet days.