Friday, 24 May 2013

New Wheels

In this 60th anniversary of Volkswagen in Australia, it was appropriate to go for a cruise in one.

No.  Boring.  Start again...

Doortje and I took delivery of our new car today.  It's a Skoda and we're very pleased with it. (click on photos to enlarge)

 Woops! It's not a Skoda Felicia, it's a Skoda Octavia;  ours has a roof.

 And it's not this 1963 Octavia, fifty years old this year.  But it is red!

 Here's the new beast in front of our place.  It was built in 2007 but was compliance-plated in 2009, don't ask me why.  It has a Skoda body and interior built on the VW Golf/Jetta/Audi "platform" and has a 2 litre VW turbo-diesel motor and 6-speed DSG gearbox.  It's done 59,000km.

 The Skoda sedan looks like a sedan but has a huge hatch opening and lots of storage space.  This is the "bells and whistles" Elegance model with everything electric, cruise control, etc.  The wipers are rain-sensitive and the headlights light-sensitive.  Or you can operate them manually!  Oh, and like all the other VWs I've had, the indicator stalk is on the left.  I tried to indicate a left hand turn today with the windscreen wipers, but only once.

 Doortje wants me to mention that it's "corrida red", corrida being Spanish for running, as in corrida de toros, running the bulls = bullfight.  (The Honda has been relegated to the outside weather until it finds a new home).

Our car has two connections to the world of international cycling.  Red Octavias are always used by the race officials in the big stage races like the tour de France and the giro d'Italia (which is on at the moment); and Barloworld VW, where we bought our car, were sponsors of a pro tour team until a few years back, competing in two French tours.

I could bore you silly with lots of detail but one snippet will do.  When we picked the car up the trip computer said we had 1,000km until fuel should be added.  When we got home, 30km later, it said we had 1,060km left, and that's after stop-start driving down Nepean Highway.

Anyway, I think we'll be doing lots more driving in the coming months on our new wheels, and let's hope it's all safe with no mishaps.

Sunday, 19 May 2013


   In the last week, Doortje and I spent four nights at Gariwerd (aka the Grampians) in western Victoria.  Our accommodation was at the Pinnacle Holiday Lodge right in the heart of Hall's Gap.  

(click on pictures to enlarge them)
   Our unit was behind the hedge in front of the car,  so only a few metres from the heated indoor pool which Doortje used every day, and three cafe/restaurants which we also used regularly were in the block to the left.  The setting was very beautiful with the mountains in two directions and lots of bush and big trees.  There were umpteen kangaroos on every patch of green when we arrived, including in front of the unit.

   On Tuesday morning we started the day with breakfast at the Livefast cafe, a few metres from our unit.  The ingredients were all top drawer organic including sourdough toast.

   The weather was not great but we headed optimistically out of town and up the Mt Difficult road to Boroka Lookout.  Visibility was almost nil because of the low cloud but at least it was not raining.

   We back-tracked and went south on the Silverband Road to the Lakeview Lookout which was lower down and below the cloud.  There was a great view of Hall's Gap to the north-east and Lake Bellfield to the south-east.

The walk to the lookout included some great bush and rocky formations like this one.  While we were driving up the hills the car engine got a bit hot and our plans for the day were disrupted (or would have been if we had real plans); we headed back to Hall's Gap and then on to Stawell to get a new radiator cap.  Doortje was not too pooped when we got back to have a swim (but I was!).

   On Wednesday, the weather was again ordinary; we decided to follow the range south from Hall's Gap, cut through the hills into the Victoria Valley and then drive down to Dunkeld.  The road through the valley was quiet and there were massive gums in the paddocks and lining the roads.

   We were impressed by these two houses in Dunkeld.  The architect has even replicated the concept of the addition tacked onto the back with skillion roof.  We had lunch in a cafe nearby and avoided most of the rain.

   Back in Hall's Gap we visited Brambuk, the Aboriginal cultural centre.  The building and its contents have won several awards and we could easily relate to a lot of the displays.  The building represents Gariwerd, the cockatoo - the wings and tail are obvious.

   On Thursday, the weather improved and we tried again to visit lookouts.   This photo is taken from Reed Lookout, only a few metres from the car park, looking south-west into the Victoria Valley.  There were also views to the east, so this is a high point.

   Further on, we next went on the 2km walk to the Mackenzie Falls lookout, where the view was spectacular.  There were steps all the way to the bottom but we declined the opportunity, content to enjoy the vistas from the top.

   Walking back to the car park we passed through beautiful country with dappled light through the trees illuminating the young xanthorrhoea leaves.  The tree trunks were black from a fire which had probably also germinated the xanthorrhoea seeds.

   We headed north from Mackenzie Falls on the Horsham road, through Wartook and Laharum, and turned off onto Plantation Road to visit Ngamadjidj, the home of these rock paintings, which we were impressed by.  It turned out that the "plantation" referred to was the oldest olive grove in Victoria, with trees planted in 1943.  We visited Toscana Olives and, being the only visitors, were treated royally with tastings and coffee by a young bloke who was very friendly.  Needless to say we bought a heap of olive products.
   Back south to Wartook and then we took the Rose's Gap Road east through the Mt Difficult Range.  This was a beautiful drive with no other traffic.  When we got to Rose's Gap we turned south on the road which follows the range back to Hall's Gap.  The sign said "Gravel road. Next 10kms" which we thought was OK.  After 12km, without a break in the gravel, another sign said "Gravel road. Next 10kms".  We didn't think this was OK!  Sucked in!  Of course it bucketed down with rain and it was a bit nervy, and mud splashed all over the car.

   Back in Hall's Gap we checked out the pub, and the barman told us about the Mt Langi Ghiran winery just out of town, so we went to look.  There were not only kangaroos, but also emus, among the vines!  Again, we had the place to ourselves and had a nice chat, tasted some shiraz, and devoured a plate of goat cheese, olives, dukkah, etc, for a (very) late lunch.  We bought some very nice 2008 (a dry year) shiraz, grapes from the paddock out in front of us.  The shiraz from there was "The Gap". 

   Here we are in the afterglow of a much-needed feed and some nice red wine.  Thursday was a beaut day with much to remember.

   On Friday morning, all too soon it was time to depart.  The kangaroos were still enjoying the green pick and the weather at last was less intense.  We were extremely lucky in the things we could do, given the weather, but as any Victorian might tell you, if you put off doing something because of the weather you'll never do anything!  And I'll add - when you do do it, you'll have the place to yourself!!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Carrera Cruise

   In this 50th anniversary of the birth of the Porsche 911, it was appropriate to go for a cruise in one.
Dong!  Boring!  Start again!  OK...

   Wowsers!!! and wowsers again!!!  What an experience!

   Doortje and I have been planning this trip since our kids (and their families) gave me 24 hours with a Porsche as a birthday present back in March.  We've had a lot of fun anticipating the experience and working out what to do to maximise it.  (I even went so far as, once we'd decided on an itinerary, to prepare a 66-page PDF document with google maps and directions to put on my darling navigator's tablet computer, so that the trip would be hassle-free.  We weren't sure if a Melways directory would fit in a Porsche!).  We decided to drive on roads we were unfamiliar with and roads that offered some challenge.

   Yesterday afternoon at 1.30pm, we started the trip at Richmond, the home of Sports Car Rentals,  when we picked up a shiny black Porsche 911 Carrera S, a 2005 model otherwise known as a 997, valued at $240,000 when it was new and now about $120,000.  We headed north out of the city to Whittlesea, on the edge of suburbia.  There were a few "nice" moments in the suburban traffic when the wannabes in their white tradie utes wanted to take us on.  I was only tempted once, when I needed to merge right from a lane that was ending...(the throttle is slow to respond, possibly to avoid tailending the car in front (!) but when you hit the sweet spot, it goes!)

   From Whittlesea, we went to Kinglake West and then followed the winding roads through the hills to Flowerdale and the village of Strath Creek, and west on to Broadford, the sort of route that motorbike enthusiasts probably take on Sundays except we had no traffic to speak of.  From Broadford we went north-west on the Sugarloaf Creek road and ended up in Seymour.  The weather had been great but then it rained in the late afternoon so we had no photo stops.  The last leg was on the Goulburn Valley highway and we stopped at a motel in Nagambie.

   Here's Doortje's photo (with cloud and sky) of the beast at the motel with Lake Nagambie in the background.

   Meanwhile I'm wondering if we'll get it fast enough to activate the automatic spoiler.  A Carrera S has the larger motor, 3.8 litre flat-six with lots of oomph, so no reason why not!

   Next morning (today!) and ready to head off again.  Doortje is holding flowers to celebrate our 42nd wedding anniversary (also today!!).

   Meanwhile, I'm loading our luggage into the boot, a space slightly larger than the spare wheel well in a VW beetle.  (I have no idea if the Porsche had a spare wheel or where it might be!).

   A quick stop at the Nagambie post office shows either that Doortje has grown or the Porsche is not that big.  In fact, we were both delighted with the size of the car.  It really is a sports car, still sharing DNA with cars like the Triumph TR3 (the last sports car I was in back in 1963 - the year of the first Porsche 911!! Spooky!)
   Did someone mention "black"?  On the outskirts of Nagambie, this is one of the entrances to Gilgai Farm, the birthplace of Black Caviar, recently famous for her 25th win on the trot (but unlike Porsche, she never won at Le Mans).

   From Nagambie, we drove to Heathcote, 53km of good but unused road.  Nice bush, sweeping bends, undulations, crests, and good driving.  The low profile tyres plus sports car suspension meant the handling was harsh and heavy at low speeds but a revelation at higher speeds.  A bend signposted at 70kmph, which I might take at 85kmph in the Honda, could be driven comfortably at 100kmph in the Porsche - no deviation, no body roll, just the feeling of side forces, all contained by shaped leather seats.

   This is the driver's view of life in a 911 Carrera S.  The info says I was in 5th gear auto (as opposed to Tiptronic manual, paddle changes on the steering wheel), 2000rpm, 81kmph, 10.6 litres per 100km and 106km until empty.  Shortly after this photo, we got to 166kmph and only noticed the difference because the road wasn't smooth!  (No, I wasn't still holding the camera!)

   It drinks a bit more fuel than the Honda!  In Heathcote we put in 40 litres of premium unleaded ($1.55 or 11c more than standard) which I reckon is about the amount we used on the trip.

   From Heathcote, we drove through Mia Mia, Redesdale and Kyneton, and then via Cobb and Co Road to Woodend where we had brunch.

   There were lots of nice vibes associated with our wedding anniversary, including the tulips.  Meanwhile, 24 hours wasn't long enough to work out how to get my left knee past the steering wheel when entering.  The seat adjustments were almost infinite but maybe the steering wheel adjusted too?
   From Woodend, we took back roads to Mt Macedon, the Macedon town, Riddell's Creek and Sunbury.  Opportunities to try out the car still came with overtaking manoeuvres.  I was surprised to find that my maximum speed after overtaking was much less than in the Honda because the acceleration was hugely better; in fact it was great fun, the things that could be done legally!

   All too soon we were on the Tulla freeway and into the city.  Here we are back in Green St with a clean bill of health for the car (phew!) and an anniversary photo to boot.

   The trip to Nagambie was 167km, the trip back 215km; we didn't make one navigational error (although the Porsche response was tested when I switched lanes in Hoddle St avoiding a concrete lane divider at the last second) and the whole trip was a huge buzz.

   Thanks to Jac, Daniel, Andrew and Helmy, their partners and kids, for their generosity and great insight (with no input from me) into what Dad would like.  Wouldn't be dead for quids!!

   My final assessment of the car for what it's worth.  To be honest, I don't have a lot to compare it with, which is why I mentioned Pete Elsegood's Triumph TR3 from 1963.  The ride is incredibly harsh and the tyres offer no suspension at all, but despite this it sticks to the road like glue and there is absolutely no body movement in relation to the chassis.  A Ford Falcon will feel softer but the movement of the driver (up, sideways, fore and aft) will be much greater on undulating bitumen.  In the meantime, this is a little car, with huge power and great fat tyres and provides great amounts of fun.  The DNA of the 1963 Porsche 911 can't have been much different.

Monday, 6 May 2013

An Eventful Trip

Went to Bairnsdale on Friday for Jumbo Pierce's funeral.  Jumbo was a friend from our Bairnsdale days, husband of Marion who was one of Doortje's work mates and still a close friend.  The funeral and wake went a lot longer than we imagined and it was after dark when we left Bairnsdale, after deciding we'd spend the night in Sale on our way home.
We were almost to Stratford when a truck coming in the opposite direction dropped a couple of star pickets on the road and one of them got caught under our car.  As it was dark, we didn't know what was happening. Except that I saw sparks on the middle of the road as the star picket bounced along.
The steel post, about 1.5m long, was thrown up into the left hand front wheel arch, where it gouged a 30cm gash in the tyre and wrecked the mudguard panel.  It made a tremendous noise as one end dragged along the road.
We were travelling at 100kmph and it took some effort to control the car and pull up on the side of the road.  We found that the star picket was bent ninety degrees and jammed under the car, with one end on the ground and the other into the front of the wheel arch.
It turned out that the vehicle in front of us had also been hit, in the grille and headlight, probably by another post, the one I saw sparking along the road.  Anyway, that driver stopped too, unsure what had happened, and very surprised at our damage.  He helped us jack up the car, remove the tangled picket and change the wheel.

Amazingly, there seemed to be no damage to any structures under the car, and it could be driven normally!  The axle, torsion arms, suspension, sump, etc, were completely untouched and we were able to proceed to Sale.
Thanks to Charles of Gippsland Amusements in Morwell, who stayed to help us get back on the road, and get over the shock of it all.  We're so glad that we are still alive!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

April Report

   I won't wait for you to ask what I've been up to in April.  I'll tell you any way.

   The month began with the Easter camp and I've told you about that already.  Before the end of the school holidays Harvey and Theo came to stay and the big news is that Harvey is now a keen chess enthusiast!  (Sully is too but he tends to make up his own rules and vary them as we go along).  Harvey used his pocket money to buy a set of pieces with a folded plastic sheet playing board from our local $2 shop and was soon into the rudiments such that he was able to beat me with a bit of assistance.  (Sully beats me too but doesn't need any help!).  Needless to say, we had fun!  (Theo loves his Lego and is very inventive). 

    Once the Vic school holidays were over, Jan and Ebony came over from Adelaide and we had a few beaut days swanning about the Peninsula, visiting the beach, playgrounds and other assorted places of interest.  At McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park, Ebony and Doortje raced on ahead along the sculpture trails and saw heaps of interesting stuff while Jan and I followed on sedately behind.  Ebony and Doortje belted off along the beach at Flinders and saw wrens frolicking at their feet and collected shells and cuttlefish while Jan and I stood on the jetty and tried to work out the history of the place.  More good fun!

   Doortje and I spend quiet days at home and then bust out and do something!  Today was a very nice autumn day with no wind, sun for the first half, and so we went to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Cranbourne, 20kms to the east.  There's nothing "royal" about it - it's quintessentially Aussie and I'm sure if you google it you'll see pictures of the Red Sand Garden which is pure central desert.  There's a huge variety of habitat and plantings and they've got an amazing selection of plants from all over Australia.  Today we were lucky enough to see a family of what I think may have been yellow-faced honeyeaters (Lichenostomus chrysops), and a large snake with a blackbird trying to divert it from its nest in a bush.  I'm reasonably sure now that it was a tiger snake about 1.2 to 1.5m long, looking just like this:-

   We then had fish for lunch at the visitor centre restaurant and came home for a quick nap - no we didn't, we watched a DVD!

   Our local DVD shop has recently become extinct, but before it happened we accepted their offer, called in, perused the "art house" shelves and bought some cheap DVDs.  We don't normally watch many, but recently have seen, among our purchases, Peter Greenaway's "The Draughtman's Contract", Ivan Sen's "Beneath Clouds" (Australian indigenous road movie) and Richard Eyre's "Notes on a Scandal" with nice performances by Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett.  We'd seen the Australian movie before but not the others.  I recommend all three if you haven't seen them.

   Musically in April, I've been listening to Castlecomer, the group of singing brothers from Sydney, and their EP Danny's Den, plus other tracks available on YouTube.  Their songwriting is quirky and their harmonies are just what siblings can do.  It may be pop music, but not run-of-the-mill.  Also lately, I've been listening to flamenco, some of the masters such as Sabicas, and jazz of the Jimmy Guiffre Trio, all recorded decaded ago.  But in the present, I've been impressed by Claude Hay, also from Sydney, and his album Deep Fried Satisfied.  He plays blues guitar, but in fact plays everything on this album (recorded in the bedroom?) and manages to sound like John Butler and others.

 I've now got a copy of Danny's Den, signed by all the "boys", courtesy of Rose and Ian, who saw them perform at the National Folk Festival at Easter.
   With reading, I've fallen into the trap of collecting books instead of reading them, but now I'm aware of the problem, I'm trying to correct it.  I've been reading Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind which is a crazy story, set in Franco's Spain, of a novelist who wrote "The Shadow of the Wind".

    Also on the go are essays by Oscar Wilde, Essays and Lectures, and Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus etc.

Here's a quote from Camus:

 There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest—

whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.

   I also read Christopher Hitchens' Mortality, a collection of his writings from the twelve months or so between his cancer diagnosis and death.  I was able to relate to his experiences during treatment.

   I'm really looking forward to May.  Stay tuned!

02/05/13  Bonus picture.   Gemma surprised us by playing postman and delivering in person Alan and Kim's birthday presents for me, a beaut bike made in Bali, and a wooden Beetle.