Back to Backpacking

May: winter is definitely on it’s way, the soaring days are few and far between, I’ve quit my brewery job, and the hostel is closing up so Greg and Leanne can have a holiday in a few weeks. It’s time to ease myself back into backpacking, but it’s been so long, I’ve had the same bed in the same room, with the same cosy lounge, kitchen and verandah for so long that Bright really feels like home. It’s Saturday, 1st May and I’ve already pushed back my departure date from Wednesday to Friday, then upon hearing today would be a good flying day and that Kieran Schultz was coming down, finally Saturday.

We head up to Mystic, I’ve had 2 runs up this hill committed to thinking they would be my last, but I can’t quite get away. The wind is strong, almost too strong, but that’s fine: it’ll be a slightly more demanding flight than what I’m used to, and I’ll get to practise my reverse-launch technique again. In the air, the ridge-lift is good and I manage to float down towards the paddock then crawl right back over launch a couple of times until, just before an hour’s airtime, I can’t maintain height any longer and finish off what might, again, be my last flight in Bright, taking a moment to sit back and soak in the beauty of the Wandiligong valley from the air one last time. We end up hanging around with Ted and Bret as they take this month’s would-be pilot out to Reeds for their first bit of ground-handling, and it seems like a good idea to get as much practice at my forward launches as possible as they’ve been a bit shakey. Once the wind has died down we get one last sled run from Mystic – this one spent not trying to fly, just sitting back, hands stretched out, taking in every last second of the smooth glide down to the paddock, and then it was done: I was really finished flying in Bright.

Bright is the first place in Australia that’s made me sad to leave as I’ve made a few friends here who I honestly hope I’ll see again, not that I’m forgetting some people from before Bright who I plan to meet up with back in Europe too. So after running round town saying farewell to a few folks, I was really, really, leaving Bright, heading to Kieran’s parents’ place for tea and a night’s sleep. Originally, I was going to try to be in Sydney on Sunday but then opted for an overnight train, getting me there on Monday morning, giving us time to check out a flying site near Gundowring in the Kiewa Valley and Kieran’s local team playing in Albury.

The train to Sydney stopped a lot more often than I expected for an overnight service, but then it wasn’t a sleeper and only one of two trains through that day so I guess it had to. Anyway, 8 sleep-deprived hours later (partly my own fault for now having a laptop with wireless internet) I was back in Sydney, and being familiar with the trains and buses made getting to Bondi a breeze. A couple of days of doing basically nothing followed, and I was pretty much OK with that. With 3 months left in Australia, and 46 days work to knock off before being eligible I was starting to feel a bit more pressure to get a farm job so I idly checked out the government website, noticing a tractor driving job: just the kind of job I’d been wanting all year, seeing as I’m not just lazy but can actually drive a tractor.

Even though the job had only been posted that day, I didn’t fancy my chances as I called the recruitment agency, but they told me to send over a CV so I enthusiastically obliged. Next morning, having heard nothing (I had sent the CV not long before COB though) I called to check up on the job and was told to expect a call from the farmer: great. Daryl, the farmer, called back and checked what experience I had and, although I was lacking in the way of mechanical or welding experience, he seemed happy to take me on.

So here I am, finally blogging in the present, on a train to Moree, having, partly out of hunger, but mainly out of boredom, already eaten a steak pie and roast-pork dinner only 2 ½ hours into an 8 ½ hour journey watching my first taste of new Australian countryside rush past my window for the first time in 3 months. Really this title is a bit misdirecting: if this job works out I’ll have moved from one long-term location to another with only a few days in between where I’ve been ‘backpacking’.

Checking out Gundowring

May 2, 2010, with a free day before I headed to Sydney, Kieran Schultz and I headed to a flying site that William Oates had told Kieran about, knowing only that it was somewhere near Gundowring. A quick bit of google-ing while driving through the Kiewa Valley gave us a location, and some helpful directions, apparently written by the kind owner of the property where the site was located. A directory of flying sites hinted that the road was suitable for 2wd vehicles, but I wouldn’t take a car I cared about the condition of up the hill: rain has cut some deep channels into the steep and winding road, making it almost, but not quite beyond the reach of Kieran’s car.

At the top there is plenty space to park and some bits of astro-turf-style matting dotted around the west-facing slope. The launch is a small bowl-shape, seemingly making it suitable for launching into a range of NNW-SSW winds, although, without further exploration of the site, I’d say it’s better suited for the north-end of that spectrum of wind directions. For Kieran, on his restricted licence, and I, just on my intermediate rating, it was our first time at a site without any instructors, and our first time at a site that we’d received no briefing on, so it was quite cool to be there, assessing the conditions, hazards, landing options, and launch options ourselves. After a while of observing the wind, which was a fairly consistent 4 knots with steady but very light cycles coming through, I was happy to launch, but then I wasn’t the one launching, and didn’t have the adrenaline, invoked by the prospect of jumping off into the unknown, running through me.

There are a couple of trees down the slope from launch that, if it were quite sinky, might need avoiding, and we mulled over the possibility of that happening for a while, deciding that the steady wind up the face should afford a fairly bouyant launch. A rough flight plan was discussed on your first launch without an instructor present I think being absolutely sure that you’ll launch ok and just have a good glide is way more important than getting big ideas of ridge-soaring down the valley or soaring in your head, so Kieran wasn’t too bothered about making plans other than to land in a flat paddock near the road where we’d entered the property.

Opting for a forward launch from just below the top lip of the bowl, Kieran was off, although he had to take a few extra light steps before the slope of the hill was enough to fall away from his feet. The glide out from launch was so buoyant the trees below launch paled into insignificance and I wondered if he’d find any lift before taking his car back down the hill. Not finding anything significant, Kieran glided down to one of the paddocks south of the road entering the property, making a last minute turn as a nice looking field suddenly sharpened up to reveal a carpet of thistles.

With some more wind there’s probably some ridge-soaring potential on the range that extends north of the launch. We noticed cumulus over the range across the valley to the west of us, but not a lot over the range we’d flown off.

Tasmania Day 4: St Helens & Binalong Bay

Driving Tassie

Parked up in a campground, in a forest, miles from anywhere, the last thing we wanted to wake up to was a flat tyre and an empty radiator. It turned out to be more of a setback than a disaster though, as our spare tyre was good and Kevin had a tube of radiator putty and bottle of fluid. Soon we were heading for the east coast town of St Helens and Binalong Bay, in a perfect sunny day, giving way to rain and then, to our amazement, hail.

Through the curtain of falling ice, Binalong Bay looked like another one of Tassie’s typically beautiful beaches and, having not showered for a couple of days, I thought it would be an epic show of manly-ness to don the swimming shorts and do some body-boarding in it. I think it took 2 seconds – and that could be an exaggeration – for us to start shivering after stepping out of the car in shorts and flip-flops and embracing the arctic weather but, with either of us unwilling to back down from the challenge, we charged on towards the beach with our body-boards. To stack the odds further against us, there was a river of what looked like torquise liquid ice flowing between us and the beach-proper and that almost made me turn back. Compared to the sharp hail cutting our skin the, marginally less cool waters were bliss and subdued the shivering for a few minutes.

Lost in Tassie

The cauldron that was the sea, bubbling from the impacts of millions of frozen bullets, was probably the coldest water I’ve ever been in: I never did get over the initial blast of cold when I jumped in and after about 10 minutes of catching waves I was shivering so much I couldn’t hold the camera still enough to take a video of Kevin riding the surf. If feeling like I was minutes away from full-blown hypothermia wasn’t enough to get us back to the car, the forks of lightning that started striking just behind the beach compelled us to beat a pretty quick retreat from a day of body-boarding I’ll never forget.

Starting our descent down the east coast, we made Lagoon’s Beach our target rest area for the night. The rain never did ease up though, and we really couldn’t be bothered trying to pitch a tent in the rain, so the night was spent trying to sleep in the driver’s seat of the car.

Finding My Flying Feet and Learning to Soar

Balancing Act

After what was nothing short of an amazing introduction to paragliding on Saturday, we quickly got into the routine of driving up hills and running off them. Sunday morning was spent at the Pines – a site near Myrtleford that was good when the wind turned southerly – and for the afternoon, and all of Monday, we had the legendary ‘Old’ Bill deliver the course theory to us. Bill – who is, in fact, old enough to justify his name – falls into the category of one of the best teachers I’ve ever had, sitting alongside legends such as Mr Anderson, my history teacher. With a history of captaining ships in the merchant navy to flying sail-planes, he backed up almost every piece of theory with a comical anecdote that made digesting the fairly dry aviation theory so much easier.


Tuesday saw us back at the Pines, where I was still having trouble running out my launches, converting the last metre of descent into forward motion to save my now quite sore feet, which was a worry. Also bad habits were creeping into my launch technique, resulting in me launching my wing into a tree, luckily with no harm to the wing or me. We made a return to Mystic on Wednesday – after the very short descent from the top of the hill at pines, the flagship launch site felt perilously high again – and on my third flight, I finally got up the courage to land myself.

Up until this point, as I came in on my final approach the instructor on the ground would tell me exactly when to flare – or pull my brakes as hard as could in other words – the glider, so it would pitch back and land as softly as possible, but it’s very hard, even as a skilled observer, to judge exactly when to call the flare over the radio, as not only do you not experience the landing air conditions first hand, but also have to judge how long the pupil will take to respond to your call, so my landings tended to be harder than they needed to be. All these hard landings and sore feet had me genuinely worried that I might be doing some damage and had me doubting whether I’d be able to keep up with the sport if I couldn’t land safely, but as soon as I started judging the flare myself, my landings turned into something of an art and I finally felt comfortable with the sport.

Ground Handling

It’s quite scary to think that, up until this point, I was committed to an intensive and costly course based on having enjoyed flying a sail-plane a few times and admiring the photography of a para-motor pilot from Inverness, so it was more than a minor relief to finally, confidently say I was loving what I was doing.


At lunch that day, the other Bill (Bright has a serious problem with everyone having the same name) took me for a tandem flight which turned into my first ever thermalling experience, and took the course to a whole new level of amazement. Just a minute off the launch, Bill steered us into the first thermal that took us hundreds of metres above launch, just far enough for me to be thankful that he’d told me to wear a coat, and for the next forty minutes we cruised above Mystic, the Wandiligong Valley, and Reliance Ridge. It was also my first time taking a camera with me – I wasn’t quite bold enough to take my 50d this time, but still, my 350d doesn’t exactly fall into the dispensable category, especially with a 10-20mm lens bolted to the front of it – so most of the flight was spend glued to it, savouring my first experience of unrestricted aerial photography.

Got my head (and feet) in the clouds

Thursday saw me really getting into the flying, emulating yesterday’s tandem flight with a 40 minute solo flight of my own: my first time above launch on my own. I’d spent most of the day before that, seething as I watched my unfortunate flight timing miss all the thermals that were then so clearly marked out by the other students circling and rocketing skywards in. Friday, although not as unstable as Thursday, saw me starting to feel the lift and maintain height in thermals on my own. Saturday was bitter-sweet: our last day of flying and I didn’t catch any good thermals, but I did get to see Al (short for Albania, as none of us could pronounce his real name), a rather big guy who seemed to sink out of the sky on every flight, finally catch a thermal and experience what we’d been raving about for days: the smile on his face was priceless.


Sunday was exam day: multiple choice can only be so hard, unless the questions are worded stupidly, so even though I got 98% I still contested the 2 frustratingly vague questions that cost me my geeky ace-crown. Then it was time to say goodbye to Kieran, Kieren, Brad and Al and say goodbye to paragliding for a while to deal with the pressures of the real world. But wait, I’m a backpacker with no job, nor schedule, so for me it was only the beginning of my flying career in Bright…

Today, I Learn to Fly

Saturday, 13th February 2010

Above it all

This was it: the day I was going to learn how to throw myself off a hill and soar into the clouds. Ted picked me up in time for the 8.30 start at the school and we met the other 4 guys who were also in for 9 days of awesomeness. Before we could get down to the serious business of matching the right size wings to the right pupils, there was the small issue of sorting out what we would each be called, seeing as 3 of the 5 of us were called Kieran. For once in my life I didn’t bother promoting my nickname, so I got to keep my real name, or to keep things clear(ish) when talking on the radios, I was ‘Kieran-that-is-Kieran’. After doing the usual signing our lives away to the school and the HGFA, we hit the road, heading to the Reeds training slope.

First Impressions

The training hill is sloped just enough to let us charge down it, as we are launching, but without dropping away from us so much that we end up suspended in the air high enough that we could do much harm if we pulled a control too hard. Bill, one of the instructors, showed us the forward launch technique then we got hooked into harnesses and tried it ourselves. Forward launching is the easiest way to launch: basically just run forward and the wing that’s attached behind you is thrust into the air and flies forward above your head, much like what a kite would do if you faced away from it and ran forward. The trick then is to balance running speed and brake pressure on the wing to keep it from overtaking you, or falling back down behind you. My first attempt looked good: wing up above me nicely, running down the hill, then for some reason I stopped running so fast and the wing mercilessly overtook me, leaving nothing for me to do but nose-dive into the ground with such determination that I became an instant contender for the bloopers video compilation.

CommittedAfter lunch it was time to fly, thankfully not solo just yet though. Up at Mystic launch, Adam – the instructor who was going to take me for my tandem flight – unpacked the wing we were about to fly the 400m down to the landing paddock, while I took measure of fairly sizeable drop in front of me and felt excitement give way to adrenaline and nerves. Even though my part in the launch was simple – when told to run, run, and don’t stop, not even when you think you’re in the air, until told to – I was still weighing up the chance of me not running right, tripping us both up and rolling down the rock-strewn hill-side. Now strapped into the harness which was in turn attached to the paraglider and my instructor’s harness, I was standing on launch, looking straight out over Bright below, eyes fixed on my target, waiting for the call…and go! Leaning forward into a run, I took one step, two steps, maybe a third, then I was just running in the air, and before I knew it Adam was telling me to get comfortable in the seat of the harness. It had taken 5 seconds to go from standing like a turkey on launch to floating through the air, wind blowing past my ears, totally at ease with the fact my instructor and I were suspended from a glorified piece of tent by a few dozen bits of string each about a millimetre thick.
Rock & Roll

The conditions were calm and stable, meaning we had roughly 5 minutes in the air as we glided along the ridge extending towards the landing area. Adam passed the controls over and let me steer the wing, bringing it over the paddock and flying a figure-of-eight formation to loose height over the downwind end of the field, before we came down, fairly gently, in the middle of the paddock. Before any of us had time to reflect on what we’d just done, Ted came over and coyly asked ‘now do you want to do that on your own?!’, and in a moment of blind courage we all said ‘hell yeah!’.

Base viewBack up at launch, the fact that I’d just successfully flown down from here did nothing to calm my nerves, as this time it was all on me: nobody to launch, and nobody to fall back if it went wrong. Glider unpacked, rolled out, lines untangled and checked, harness strapped in, checked and re-checked, harness attached to glider, brakes and risers in hand, and I was ready, watching the wind streamers down the slope, waiting for the wind to blow steadily up the face of the launch, and then Ted came across the radio Run! And I was off. Leaning forward I felt the wing rising up behind me, a little crooked but I could still hear Ted repeatedly saying run so I kept going, then run, run, release and I released the risers, but now the wing felt as though it was overtaking me – not a good scenario – Ted was now a little more insistent RUN!, but I could feel the wing struggling to stay aloft now that I’d let it get ahead of me, and I hesitated to run further down the slope, although I already felt that at this point I was in for a rough tumble down the hill if the wing didn’t fly. Ted, seeing that things were past the point of a safe first-take off came through the radio ok, ok, abort, pull down hard on both brakes, but I was now at the edge of the astro-turf launch and entering the steeper, rough part of the slope. Doing as I was told, I pulled the brakes down past my waist – theoretically stalling the glider so it would fall behind me – but instead of stopping, the glider filled with life, lifting me just off my feet so only my toes could vainly try to gain some purchase on the ground that was fast falling away from me. For a second, I looked at the ground, down the rough slope, over the hundreds of pine trees that I was heading for, dangling in suspense, not falling, but not quite flying, as I was still choking the wing’s desire to fly with the brakes. Ted called through brakes up, and then I was flying, not struggling down the hill with a half inflated balloon tied to my back, but actually flying.
On FinalIt took a few seconds to digest what had just happened, as I dangled in the running position in my harness, watching the ground now steadily falling away from me and the air beginning to rush past my face. After that I was a robot, Ted may as well have been holding a radio-controlled joystick as I followed each of his commands – get comfortable in your harness, a little more brakes, turn right 40 degrees, keep that heading – but after a minute, I was flying out over the spur of Emily ridge, taking a few seconds to enjoy the view – Wandiligong valley to the right; Bright to the left – now being guided down by Adam in the landing paddock. The rest was fairly simple, although coming in to land, the nerves edged up a little, and I found myself not running out the landing and having quite sore feet because of it.

The timings of the troop-carrier’s runs up the hill meant that Kip and I got the chance of a second solo flight before the light faded, and thankfully that launch went a lot more smoothly than the first, although the landing was just as heavy as the first. The 3 Kierans all ended up staying at the hostel, and high from our day’s achievements, we headed to the Bright Brewery for a celebratory pint.

Chasing the Dream


Finally, the day was here: I was leaving Melbourne and heading back to the alpine region, to Bright, where I’d finally realise what I’d been dreaming about doing for the last 12 months. Travelling anywhere new, or at least less visited, almost always excites me, usually resulting in me being ready for the journey way earlier than I need to be. Up at 6, I was a bit early for the free breakfast that the International Hostel on Elizabeth Street puts on, but the guy looking after the reception was nice enough to drag the breakfast set out early for me so I didn’t have to endure a few hours of my stomach screaming at me. The train wasn’t due to leave till 8.15 but, partly due to my airport-conditioning to always be early, and partly due to getting to use the trams for free as part of my train ticket, I was in the station not long after 7.30 and so begun my day of unnecessary waiting.

About 30 minutes on the train, I was getting settled in as the train slowed down – presumably for the first station – thinking that $27 was pretty good for the distance I was going compared to the prices back home, especially since it covered trams in the Melbourne as well as a train and a bus to get to Bright. A minute later, the train was now clearly not slowing down but just coasting to a stand-still, although the engines were still running. Two hours later, still sitting on the train that the driver and a few engineers now admitted wasn’t just blocking most trains north-bound from Melbourne, but was also completely broken down, we finally got to jump off and switch to a bus that would complete the leg of the journey that the train so miserably failed to over. 4 hours and a comically expensive taxi fare later (comical, as it cost more than what all the people on it would have paid V-Line for their tickets), I was in Bright.

Bright SquareBigger than I expected, Bright, with its clock-tower and war memorial dominating the town square, was the closest thing to a British village I’d yet seen in Australia. Being set in rolling forested hills that also could have been somewhere in the UK, it felt like the kind of place I could happily settle down in for a while. Walking into the Bright Hikers hostel, I was met with a closed reception and the quietest accommodation I’ve ever set foot in. Luckily Davide, who turned out to have just finished last month’s paragliding licence course, and his girlfriend, Aiste, were kicking about and were fairly sure what dorm I’d be sleeping in so I got settled in and, in the healthiest form of lazy comfort eating I could think of in Bright, I headed to Subway.
Balance and Control

In the evening, as people came back from flying and working, I met a few of the more long-term residents of the hostel, namely Steve, who was also finishing off his paragliding licence course, and Steve, who was working for the local fire service. Next day I cycled to the landing paddocks with Davide and met Ted, owner of Alpine Paragliding, before we drove to the top of Mystic – a hill overlooking Bright which offers consistently good thermalling, and the place where most flights take place on – to watch Davide launching into the air. The view from the launch at Mystic’s peak is stunning, and watching Davide pulling the wing into the air, then so fluently stepping off the hill and floating into the vista was awe-inspiring, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t for a second doubt that I could pull off such a stunt in two days.

Friday was spent wandering round town, which really was quite beautiful, even before the autumn colours came on and turned it into what it looked like in all the postcards. There are so many parks and, in keeping with one of my favourite Australian traditions, each one had numerous bbqs as well as plenty space to chill out and contemplate, in ever increasing excitement, that tomorrow, I was going to learn to fly.

Tasmania Day 3: Ben Lomond

Low Head

Waking up in Beechworth felt like waking up in a small coastal village in the Scottish Highlands: the weather and landscape fitted almost perfectly. We headed back – this time along the main road instead of hammering along a dirt track again – to Georgetown for food, a look around, and to stage a photo. Georgetown was settled by the British to fend off the French from staking a claim on the north coast so it seemed almost a crime – as a British guy travelling with a French guy – not to pay homage to the history of the town. In the end, we went to the supermarket and got distracted by ‘Aussie burgers’ (they’re cut in the shape of Australia; we were a bit disappointed they didn’t chuck in a lump of mince off the south coast to represent Tassie) and forgot all about the photo. We did fit in a look at the light-house at Low Head, and found it odd that the number of performers on the street (I almost forgot, there was a festival on in town) embarrassingly outnumbered the visitors.

A fleeting moment

Back in free-shower-locating-mode, we headed towards Lilydale, stopping on the way at Hollybank Forest Reserve to eat our Aussie burgers, play some shithead, and drink some bubbly with a rather nice local who passed through while we were there. The showers at Lilydale weren’t free, and there was a wedding being held, so we looked a little out of place. We checked out the Lilydale falls but, in the dry season, they weren’t up to much, then headed on to an area of the island with a special interest to me. In the north-east of Tasmania there is a hill of the same height and name as Ben Nevis in Scotland so naturally I thought it would be cool to climb it, especially since I’ve never conquered the Scottish peak. Driving out of Launceston into Ben Lomond National Park, the scenery started to gain height and turn more like that of the drive towards Aviemore from Dufftown and the dull day had cleared up into something that lit up the landscape brilliantly. We had the not so helpful combination of a map that marked the peak of Ben Nevis, but not the roads around it, and Google Maps on my phone, which marked tracks way beyond the capability of our vehicle but didn’t say exactly where Ben Nevis was, so we never did find the peak, but my gps was playing that afternoon so when I checked the log later it showed we were circling the right hill.

Ben Lomond

After another few hours of driving some fun forest tracks in the middle of nowhere and never quite knowing where we were, we hit the out fringe of civilisation at the Mathinna campground. By this time the sun was setting and we were past the point of caring about getting a shower today, and were more glad that we knew where we were again. For being so far from anything, we were amazed to find possibly the most organised 21st birthday weekend ever cranking up: about 20 people had turned up with maybe a dozen cars, a few trail bikes, a generator, floodlights, a massive tarp hung from a few trees, full size cooking stoves, and a chain-saw create the fuel for the respectable bonfire that sucked everyone in as the temperature dropped. We didn’t expect to meet many people in Tassie, least not out here, so it was nice to kick back with a few beers for an evening under the stars with a few locals.

Tasmania Day 2: Tamar Valley

Mt Roland

Waking up to the sun shining the tent and warming up the stunning landscape, that we’d not fully appreciated in the fading light of the drive in, was awesome, made only better by how similar to Scotland it was. Trying to keep planning minimal we settled on a rough clockwise circle of the island and started it by heading east from the campground, past Sheffield – with the view of Mt Roland dominating the view to the south for a while – and through the rolling cropland that led to the West Tamar valley. As soon as I started running my GPS logger off the car’s power inverter, it started playing up so, annoyingly, I don’t have a good record of exactly where we drove on the island and, more annoyingly, I’ve got to try to remember where I took most of the 1300 photos I have from the state. Based on that, I think we hit the Tamar valley at Exeter then headed up the coast to Green’s Beach.

Green's Beach

Still high from our day of body-boarding at Torquay we had to try out the Tassie waters, which turned out be not nearly as cold as expected. There was no surf, but it was still a nice spot to chill out in and wade out in the waters that only reached head-height a few hundred metres away from the shore. Tassie was defined by a few recurring experiences, starting with washing in public places for want of anywhere better. Green’s Beach has a beach shower across the main street from the shop, so we brushed shame aside, got out the shower cream and lathered up, and damn it felt good to be clean, if not slightly cold for a minutes.

Batman Bridge

Doubling back down the valley coast and across the Batman bridge, we hit Georgetown – the 3rd oldest settlement in Australia – but it was a bit short on free camping and an abundance of locals who liked to stare at people who weren’t from around these parts so we moved along and checked out a beach on the north coast a few km away. That didn’t work but, after what almost turned into an hour of bush-bashing on unmarked tracks in the hope of an ok wild-camping spot, we ended up in Beechford, a quaint village which, for being tucked away at the end of a coastal road, surprised us with a fairly decent camping area sheltered by the dunes. We got a decent bonfire going to keep us warm in the cold, damp wind for a while before the weather got the better of the fire, and us.

21 Days of Tasmania: Day 1

What's the rush?

Two days after our snap-decision to spend a few weeks in Tasmania, Kevin and I were on The Spirit of Tasmania I, backing away from Melbourne pier, watching in awe at the hundreds of big jelly fish being thrown about in the swell of the ship’s bow thrusters. Even up to this point this journey had been a bit more hard work than planned: the night before we’d taken ourselves, and a bottle of Jagermeister, to Ekin’s place, ultimately leading to us getting home about 2 hours before I wanted to be up and getting ready to drive to the port. Even with an abundance of alcohol and a chronic lack of sleep I stayed up to finish packing and making food for the sailing, passing on the joy of navigating Melbourne to Kevin when I eventually got him awake again. The night before was really part of a masterplan to make us so tired for the sailing that we’d sleep right through the 9 hours, avoiding any boredom, and it worked pretty well: most of my memories of the trip are waking up in the cinema to find it was a different film or, at the end, someone giving a presentation about Tasmanian Devils.

Sobering up

As Lonely Planet had hinted, Devenport somewhat lacked interest to us so I scoped out the nearest interesting – and crucially, free – campground and, after stockpiling enough Mi Goreng noodles to last us through a nuclear winter, we headed off into the Tasmanian countryside. In the fading evening light I had the perfect introduction to Tasmania: beautiful rolling hills and farmland much like Scotland was bliss to drive through after the monotony of the Hume highway.

Hello Beautiful..

Kentish Park campground, tucked into the side of a valley overlooking Lake Barrington, 30 minutes south-west of Devenport, turned out to be one of the best uneducated guesses for place to sleep we had on the island. The campground was huge, and divided by hedges and trees into what were still large fields: we found one of the higher fields which someone how managed to tick all the boxes – flat(ish), quiet, sheltered and had a great view – and got the tent set up. Once darkness fell, all I could do was gawk at a night sky clearer than any I’d seen since I was in the Northern Territory and it didn’t take long to get tempted into trying a long exposure.

It also didn’t take long to get close to some of the island’s wildlife – there were so many noises coming from the patch of forest that we were tucked into a corner of and sometimes when we’d shine a torch in the direction of the noise we’d see a pair of beady and distinctly creepy looking eyes shining back.

Hello Melbourne and the Sunny South Coast

Jan Juc Beach

On the advice of the genuinely helpful mechanic at the Tallangatta garage, I did the immensely boring 4-hour drive to Melbourne and, after an unintentional detour into a graveyard (this time not the fault of the Australian roads: I just needed somewhere to park to work out where I was), caught up with Kevin and Antoinne again. It was awesome to see them: we’d first met in Kununurra, but only really got to know each other through landing at the same mango picking farm in Mataranka and seemed to keep bumping into each other in different corners of the country

My arrival in Melbourne marked the beginning of a time where everyone’s plans changed quickly, unpredictably, but in the end, in ways that worked out great for everyone. Kevin decided that his job at a shisha cafe wasn’t as fun as dragging everyone out in Melbourne and so packed it in a few hours after I arrived. In a few days Antoinne was on a plane back to Darwin to witness the wet season in all its glory – something I must do myself sometime – and David had headed off cycle Tasmania. Sometime in the first week I got time to put out adverts for my car, but didn’t have much luck seeing as most backpackers were annoyingly more savvy with car-hunting than I was, and so I quickly resigned to the fact I wasn’t going to make a quick turnaround in Melbourne and be in Bright for the January paragliding course.

Jan Juc

Since we were relatively close to the start of the Great Ocean Road, Ekin, Kevin and I did an overnight trip to Torquay, stumbling across Bells Beach which, although seemingly in the middle of nowhere when found in the dark, was fairly popular with backpackers regardless of the usual ‘no camping’ warnings. We followed suit and, in what was the most uncomfortable sleep ever in my car, slept in the boot of the car. Sleeping 3 people in the boot of any car is never going to be luxury but we made the fatal mistake of playing shithead for ages, with the lights and doors open, so by the time we went to sleep the car was infested with mossies, who proceeded to feed on us, all night.

Next day we headed back towards Torquay and found the gem that is Jan Juc beach. Jan Juc beach, a few minutes out of Torquay, is probably the best beach I’ve ever been to: the slope of the sand is so gentle that I could wade out for 50m and still touch the ground, and it creates great breakers for body boarding as well as some alright ones for surfing too. We spent the whole day at the beach – we’d hit nirvana and there was no need to explore anywhere else – only realising at the end of the day that the lavish amount of sun cream we’d put on wasn’t nearly enough and we all looked like lobsters. Back in Melbourne the news was reporting that it was looking like the hottest day on record and, sure enough, at midnight the temperature had only dropped to 38C!

Now with an empty schedule for January, we hatched a fantastic plan: take Kevin’s car on the ferry to Tassie and spend a few weeks there, getting back to Melbourne in time for my birthday, incidentally giving me a few days to find my way to Bright in time the start of the February paragliding course. Somehow a week after having all my plans blown into the sky, everything was falling into place and working out even better than the original plan. After 4 months I was finally learning that I’d been planning to fail and that embracing the spontaneous things that backpacking threw up was the way forward..