Next stop Narrandera for a night to visit a Koala regeneration reserve. It was all going well until just 8kms from town when the van started to shudder, there was a bang and we ground to a halt. The rear offside wheel was down to the metal. Ooops! We managed to trundle on a bit to get the van off the highway and called RACV. Rodney couldn’t fix it and put the spare on. The whole process was very efficient and we were on our way in less than an hour. If you look at the picture you will see the state it was in which was politely termed as ‘totalled’ by the tyre repair centre in Narrandera where we got a replacement….Neil had another word for it!
Excitement over for the day we arrived at yet another good campsite by the side of Lake Talbot and set off for a long walk to the Koala reserve in search of the critters. Unfortunately for us they were being shy unlike the kangaroos that seemed very interested in us, to a point, and so 3 hours later we gave up the koala hunt and returned to the campsite for another BBQ and a great sunset.
Moving on again next morning we headed for Echuca which has a great history as it was once Australia’s largest inland port transporting timber and other goods down the Murray River to the sea ports. It’s all been ‘prettified’ but it did give you a good insight into what it might have been like 150 years ago when the original wharf was almost 800m long. Old paddle steamers ply the river giving very expensive rides up and down which were pleasant to watch from the bank.
It was here that we just about finished our crazy shopping spree………yes, shopping and that includes Neil who announced that ‘today was such a cracking successful shopping day’. Yes, it’s strange for Neil to enjoy shopping but we’ve been buying shorts, T-shirts and polo shirts in the Autumn sales. How about a T-shirt made of cotton for £1.50, a polo shirt made of cotton for £3 and linen mix shorts for £5? We’ve never experienced such prices even in India and the quality seems to be pretty good. The reason that Neil was really excited was that since we decided to get married Cheryl has been looking for clothes to get married in. It was beginning to look very difficult and Cheryl was getting a little downhearted until she found 2 items on the same day on the same street…….ace…..job done!
Next day we moved onto Bendigo to exchange vans. Almost as we arrived in Oz we decided to extend our rental for a week but we couldn’t keep the original van as it was already booked out but Phil the rental man was happy to give us an upgrade to a proper motorhome instead. The upgrade was even better than we thought as Phil asked us to return to him a week early so he could get the campervan ready for its second rental. Our new home feels huge in comparison to the campervan as it has a fixed bed, much larger shower and toilet and a proper dining area. The engine is a Fiat which has taken a bit of getting used to as it drives very differently from the Mercedes Sprinter which was the base for the campervan. It’s definitely a huge step up from the campervan and is more like the space we have in our caravan back home in England. Did we mention that ‘Lucky’ is Neil’s middle name?
We were happy to head back to Bendigo over Easter as they have a massive fair all weekend including processions. There is a very large Chinese community here which goes back to when Bendigo was a gold mining town so a lot of the things we saw came from the Chinese influence on the town. All the campsites in town were booked up months ago so Phil invited us to stay on the forecourt for free, gave us a BBQ to use and access to the toilet and shower………..fantastic, it worked well and it saved us at least $80.
Bendigo is a large and affluent town with many heritage buildings as well as parks and green spaces. It’s wealth all comes from the Goldrush days and its still a buzzing place today with many stylish boutiques, bars, cafes and restaurants. The town was packed for Easter and there were a number of events all over town including ‘waking the dragon’ ceremonies as well as the torchlight procession which we went along to. In one of his chats with Phil, Neil was given a hint that there would be a lot of firemen in the procession. That sounds promising thought Cheryl. We took a taxi into town and quickly found a good spot to view near to where the parade would start. After twenty minutes of watching small groups of variously shaped (i.e. not young and hunky looking as Cheryl had anticipated!) local fire volunteers from what seemed to be every outlying town waving very small flaming torches and riding in their trucks we were thinking it was so lame that it was actually giving us the giggles. There were a couple of marching bands of bagpipes and drums, and some other local community groups which did break the monotony. Finally we started to see some proper floats with music and costumes and dancing – hurrah! And then it got better when the Chinese dragons arrived and they were just so spectacular.