6&7/4/16. We woke to the sound of rain drumming on the tent and a much colder morning – which made us grateful to be in a warm, dry car rather than out in the elements on bikes!
We carried on northwards heading for the NSW-Victoria border which follows the Murray River – hence why it is wiggly and not a straight line like many state boundaries. We drove 150 km to Echuca which was a major port for the timber industry on the river in Victorian times and is now a tourist attraction with many hotels and 5 or 6 paddle steamers offering cruises. The port area has been rebuilt to how it would have appeared in its heyday, including Victoria’s only licensed brothel (sadly no longer in operation!) we had a very pleasant time wandering around as the rain had just about stopped in between online sessions in Echuca’s impressive new library. (Australia, like NZ, has a fine network of public libraries that appear to be are well used by both to locals and tourists – the latter availing themselves of the free wifi.)
In early afternoon we crossed over the river into NSW to a small town called Mathoura a further 40 km on attracted by the reviews and low cost of its campsite. And it was a little gem! It was on the banks of a small river called Gulpas Creek, well away from the main road. It lacked a kitchen but made up for tjis with a very friendly manager and a cost of only $15 (about £8).
The clouds cleared overnight so the temperature dropped sharply which meant that there was a heavy dew and a lot of condensation on the inside of the outer tent. While the tent dried in the sun we went for a walk along a bush trail by the creek. It was glorious! And made even better by close encounters with two large groups of kangaroos. (What is the collective noun for kangaroos? A leap? A jump? A bounce?) This was the best view we have had of these animals, apart from the dead (and usually very smelly) ones beside the roads.
We were reluctant to leave but we had a long drive of 300 km to our destination of Wagga Wagga (another place they named twice!). The map showed an area very different to northern Victoria with far fewer roads and towns but criss-crossed with many creeks and seasonal rivers. It was pan flat and yellowy-brown apart from trees along the banks of the creeks glimpsed in the distance. This was a real taste of how we imagined the interior would be, although it probably gets even more remote, rugged and sparsely populated in the ”real” centre.
Eventually we reached Wagga Wagga, a place we had both heard of. The name conjured up visions of a one horse town for us but nothing could be further from the truth. It was the biggest place we have seen in Australia apart from Sydney, Melbourne and Wollongong. On reflection this was not really surprising if we had heard of it.
As we had arrived in town not long before it got dark, we went for a look around on Friday morning. We wandered along the main street and, seeing a couple of op shops (Australian for charity shops), we decided to see if we could buy our formal dinner wear here rather than wait until we got to Sydney. Success! A mid calf black dress and a pair of gold strappy shoes for $13 meant that Stephen is sorted while a hardly worn dinner suit for $20 will do nicely for Christine. (Or is it the other way round?!)
It was about 11 o’clock before we got on the road again. The countryside had started to change as we approached Wagga Wagga the previous evening and now the undulations became real hills while the Sturt Highway turned into motorway. We were approaching civilisation again as we neared our destination of the nation’s capital, Canberra.