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Winding West to Wagga Wagga

Above:  For some reason, Burger Kings in Australia are called "Hungry Jacks."  I haven't figured out why, yet.  This one's in Wagga Wagga.

I left Canberra on a cloudy Sunday afternoon and drove up into the Snowy Mountains, the source of the Snowy River.  That site was immortalized a hundred years ago in a famous poem called "The Man From Snowy River," which was written by an Aussie named Banjo Patterson (no foolin' that really was his name).  Then in 1982, his poem was made into a movie that I never saw, but hope to after I get back to the U.S.  This Banjo fellow, by the way, would go on to write a little ditty called, "Waltzing Matilda," which you may have heard.


Although it was during the middle of summer, the snow started to fall as I crossed over the pass in the Snowy Mountains.  If it were a thousand feet higher, I probably would've needed chains.  I dropped down the west flank of the Snowy Mountains through a thick forest of eucalypts and around dusk emerged onto a beautiful valley, where I saw a dozen kangaroos hopping around, the first roos that I've ever seen.  Well, actually the first kangaroo that I saw was a few hours earlier on the side of the highway, but it was road kill.


As I discovered, the area west of the Great Dividing Range, Australia's main mountain range, is absolutely beautiful.  I figured that once I got west of the Dividing Range, I'd plunge instantly into the desolate Outback, but not so.  I spent three days driving through towns with funny names like Wagga Wagga, Tumbarumba, and Cootamundra and thought I was back in northern California or southern Oregon as I drove past countless orchards, rolling wheat fields, and scattered groves of trees.  Considering the abundance of sunny weather, as well as the fruit orchards and wheat fields, the area around Wagga Wagga reminded me a lot of the like-sounding city of Walla Walla, in eastern Washington.


It was pretty hot but I loved it here.  If I ever move to Australia, I think this is where I'll live though I'm not sure if I could tell my friends back in America that I lived in a place called "Wagga Wagga" without cracking a smile.



Above left:  This is west of the Great Dividing Range, near Wagga Wagga.  With all the rolling farmlands, orchards, streams and kangaroos   I was surprised by how beautiful this area was.

Above center:  A cherry orchard near Young, the self-proclaimed "Stonefruit Capital of Australia."

Above right:  This is the site of a former Japanese Prisoner of War camp at Cowra, during World War II.  One night in 1944, over a thousand Japanese prisoners stormed the fences here and faced withering machine gun fire.  More than 200 Japanese were killed during the escape, many taking their own lives.  It was the largest attempted POW breakout in modern history, but no one escaped. 



Above left:  This is the Japanese war cemetery in Australia near the POW camp, where those who died during the breakout are buried.  It's the only place in Australia where Japanese who fought in WWII are interred.  The attempted Japanese breakout at Cowra is a tragic story, and the futility of it greatly saddened me.

Above center:  Since the war, both sides have reached out to each other in this community.  These are the beautiful Japanese Gardens in Cowra.  Thousands of Japanese visit Cowra each year, paying their respects to those who died in the breakout attempt.

Above right:  Bridalveil Falls in the beautiful Blue Mountains near Sydney.



Above left:  The Blue Mountains are a bit like the Grand Canyon if you could imagine the Grand Canyon covered with eucalyptus trees.

Above center: The Blue Mountains are also covered with tourists, like here at Echo Point.  There are a lot of places in the Blue Mountains, though, where you can find total solitude.

Above right: The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains.  There are three mountains in central Oregon with the same name.

Hertz So Bad

After spending a night in Tumbarumba (and watching more Winter Olympics, of course), the next night in Cowra, and then a few days in Bathurst, a pleasant city of 30,000 surrounded by the rolling wheat fields of the central tablelands, I drove a few hours east through the Blue Mountains and back into bustling Sydney.  After I'd spent the previous week meandering through the bucolic countryside, Sydney was major culture shock for me.  Nevertheless, the boxes of camping gear that I had mailed to myself while in Auckland had finally arrived, so I picked them up at a Post Office and then drove back to the Sydney Airport, where I turned in my Avis rental car and picked up my two-month rental car from Hertz.  


Above:  At the Sydney Airport, exchanging my one-week rental car (right) for my two-month rental car (left).

I'm really starting to hate Hertz and I wonder why I keep patronizing them.  A few months earlier in Los Angeles, they ripped me off but I didn't notice it until too late, so this time I was on my toes.  When I got to the desk at the Sydney Airport, the Hertz agent, a woman in her mid-20s, was going to charge me US$25 a day for a car that I'd reserved via Hertz's website at US$17 a day.  That difference of $8 a day carried over two months worked out to about $500, so I was pretty ticked off. 


Fortunately, when I had made the reservation the previous week, I had copied the Hertz confirmation webpage into Microsoft Word, so after bickering with the woman about my reservation, I dragged out my laptop, opened the file, and showed it to her.  After a few calls to the manager, the Hertz agents were adamant:  "We can't rent it at $17 a day," they told me.  "We can't make a profit at that rate."  Of course, I was thinking, "Who cares if you make a profit?  A deal is a deal."


I was polite but firm and so after another hour, I finally got my car.  Even better was that Hertz didn't have any more compact cars available, so I got a free upgrade to a Toyota Camry, which will be my home for the next two months.  Not a bad deal, I figured:  a brand-new 30-mpg Toyota Camry with air conditioning and a good stereo system for only $17 a day.  Both Hertz and I hope the Camry comes back in one piece.


With that taken care of, I left Sydney and headed south along Highway 1, thus starting my two-month trip around Australia.



Above left:  Murray Beach at Booderee National Park.

Above right: The Botanical Gardens at Booderee National Park.



Above left:  Jervis Bay, south of Sydney.

Above center: Bateman's Bay, a pleasant resort town a few hours south of Sydney.

Above right: The beautiful Bega Valley in southern New South Wales, where I'm writing this update.



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