I don’t have photos of the drive down from Thredbo, because it was the nastiest drive we did in Mist the campervan, and perhaps the nastiest drive in Australia. The map of the road to Tom Groggin looks like Fiona’s drawings at age 2. From there to Khancoban, maybe when she would throw spaghetti on the table. Twists, turns, 10% grades, 15 km/h advisory speed limits… We followed another RV all the way down the road; I figured he knew what he was doing because he owned his rig, and if I matched speeds neither of us would die. We were a little concerned because we had no food and the one general store in town ostensibly closed at 4pm on Sundays. Google Maps had us getting there at 3:52, then 3:54, then 3:58…
We pulled into the parking lot of the Pickled Parrot Provedore at about five past four, damp with flop sweat. The owners were still there, doing inventory, and after having a chat it was clear that closing time was more of a closing time range. We picked up chicken and broccoli and had a very mellow dinner at the campervan park in town, followed by a phenomenal breakfast at the Parrot. If you’re in town, stop by.
Bright was next, and was the only semi-crowded place we encountered on this leg of the trip. If you’ve been to Sonoma or Paso Robles, it would look familiar, except they’re weirdly obsessed with autumn.
Wine, agriculture, cheese, bicycles everywhere. Our caravan park was nearly full with a reunion group, and we got the last powered site in the place, and it was just OK. We hung out for a couple of days, going on a walk about town on the first day, and a flat-and-easy bike ride on the second day on the Bright Rail Trail, a dedicated bike path that goes for a long way on both sides of town. “Dedicated” means separated completely from the road, and are you listening, American wine regions? Build these.
Flat and easy for adults, that is. Fiona set her distance record (16 km!) on a bicycle that day, mainly because when we got to the Rail Trail Cafe in Porepunkah, we didn’t feel like we were done and it was a short ride to the Ringer Reef Winery, so… we went for it. At first glance it was a good call, involving very good wine and an absolutely phenomenal cheese plate.
But then we headed back. Everyone knows that the trip back is always the worst, and this one was. The temperature had soared to HOT AS HELL, Fiona stopped to complain every few minutes, and there was no shade. Eventually we got her to ride with the promise of ice cream at the end, and we were that group of three weirdos chanting “Mint Chocolate Chip! Ice Cream Cone!” for four miles.
One ice cream cone and frolic in a freezing water park later, she was just fine.
I went for a lovely run the next morning (there’s a post somewhere on running in Australia that maybe three people will care about) on a great trail that followed a river to an old bridge, and we headed to our last stop, after borrowing a wrench from the local hardware store to deal with a recalcitrant propane bottle.
Whitfield is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it place, with a general store/post office/gas station, pub, cute-stuff-shop, and Dal Zotto Wines. We went on a recommendation, and what a recommendation. Italian waiter recommending fresh tomatoes from the garden with basil and burrata? An operating pizza oven? All at the winery that started prosecco in Australia? Sign us up.
We walked there from our caravan park and basically crawled back. There was nothing to do, no activities to be had, and we were exhausted. I got a little downtime, and if you remember Julie’s vanlife post, you’ll note that this is the first time I’ve written the word. It was really the first downtime for me on the whole stretch in the van.
We were up early and had another great breakfast at the Oven at Cheshunt, a town even smaller than Whitfield, and hit the road for the long drive to Melbourne. My dear friend Anna met us at the Maui office, and our time in the campervan was done.
I don’t have much in the way of Deep #vanlife Thoughts, honestly. Julie covered most of the basics earlier, and there were definitely times that I thought “I’d rather be backpacking and cooking mac and cheese every night with a white gas stove – it’s less work.” And with the van rental cost plus the caravan park fees…it’s not that much less expensive than just renting a car and staying in cabins along the way. But I’m glad we tried it out nonetheless.
On to Melbourne we went! Spoiler alert: we love Melbourne.