21-23 February: Heading up to the riverland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Murray River, South Australia

The Murray River is the longest navigable river in Australia and despite owning kayaks for 22 years, it is one area we have never paddled, and indeed spent very little time in. A big chunk of the river goes through northern South Australia, so we decided to spend a few weeks exploring it. Watching the weather forecast we saw that the heatwave was breaking on Sunday, and so after a final morning of shopping and washing, our caravan groaning under the weight of fresh eggs, tomatoes and the unusual zucchini tromboncino, we bid farewell to Kim and Mike, and were on our way.

We wound our way up through the hills, and within two hours had our first sighting of water as we took a ferry over the Murray. From there we drove up on top of the cliffs that line parts of the waterway to Len Crohen’s lookout near Walker Flat. We parked up there for the night, a peaceful spot with great views and no other campers.

Our site for the night
Looking down at the mighty Murray
Princess Tassie enjoyed a short exploration
Dawn brings a few light showers

We moved on the following morning, heading for Waikerie, our destination for the next couple of nights. We’d read about a free camp just outside of town, and were fortunate to find ourselves a prime location beside a boat ramp with wonderful outlook over the River Murray.

Our view for a couple of nights

Accompanying comfortable temperatures in the mid 20s was a strong southerly breeze (not ideal for paddling), so we decided to pull on our hiking boots and go for an explore on foot. We picked our way along the river bank as far as possible, then followed the road until we reached a wetland area known as Hart Lagoon.

Following what looks like a trail along the river
The familiar sight of Little Corellas in the gum trees

Hart Lagoon is an important ecosystem and home to many birds, The walking trail surrounding it was created by a number of local groups, including the primary school. We couldn’t help but admire the initiative – Waikerie feels like a town that is really trying to improve itself and attract visitors, as well as encourage the next generations to value the Murray ecosystem.

Like much of the area around the Murray River, dead trees are a feature, often home to birds which nest in the hollow trunks and branches. What were once were mighty red river gums are now just skeletons dotting the landscape like giant bleached sculptures. Many of these are casualties of the decades of water use up and down the river, farms taking the water for irrigation and as a result preventing the floodwaters the trees rely on to survive. Due to the reduced water replenishment, the salt content of the water has increased, further putting stress on the trees that rely on its nutrients to survive. It’s that familiar battle we see regularly – livelihoods at the expense of nature

Remnants of trees from the past
Very little shade on this part of the walk
Glossy Ibis find a perfect roosting spot in the top of a dead tree

The return loop of the walk provided welcome shade for at least some of it, appreciated on this 12km hike (map), and further evidence of days gone by, when the nearest tip was too far to reach and a wetland was ideal to abandon an old vehicle.

I wonder when this ute found its final resting place…
Citrus fruits are a key source of income for Waikerie locals, the river providing much needed water for these mandarin oranges

The breeze was determined to continue to be too strong for kayaking . That’s just how it works when you are keen to do something! So the following morning we decided that pedal power would be our transport mode, and we spent the day exploring the region around Waikerie and Ramco Lagoon.

A fine spot to enjoy the sunrise over the river

Waikerie is on the Silo Art Trail, a route which takes travellers throughout regional Australia to see huge murals painted on silos, water towers and walls. The trail encourages people to visit some of the lesser known inland parts of the country, each telling a story or promoting local flora, fauna or history. The trail was the brainwave of some fellow travellers from Western Australia in 2018, who wanted to plot the locations of the already painted silos and those planned.

Beautifully painted silos promoting the endangered Regent Parrot which lives along the Murray RIver. Spot Mr A dwarfed by the structures.
We cycled part of the Cliff Walk with lovely views over the river
Riding off along the cliff walk
Our local lagoon, Ramco Lagoon

Mr A had a near miss as we were cycling back to camp. I spotted an Eastern Brown Snake crossing the path in front of us and shouted at him to stop. He blundered on through, riding right over the poor thing. I say ‘poor thing’ as I am sure it wasn’t feeling too well after Mr A’s giant bike had cycled over it, but we were also very lucky it didn’t rise up and strike him, given it‘s the second most venomous snake in the world! We seem to be seeing more snakes than usual on this trip.

The four types of snake most likely seen along the Murray waterways

We had a great couple of nights here – finding it peaceful and picturesque. It’s a shame we didn’t get out on the kayak, but we are sure there will be other opportunities. Princess Tassie enjoyed her explorations too (and yes, always accompanied by an eagle-eyed servant to ensure there were no slithery creatures nearby to cause trouble!

Adventure cat
Moon rising over the river
With virtually no light pollution, the stars are fabulous here

14-21 February: Adelaide Heats Up..

Author: Mr A

Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide

With temperatures forecast to be in the mid to late thirties, it was looking challenging to be off in the caravan, so our friends offered us an extended stay with them. Hard to refuse when they are such great company, and live in a lovely leafy suburb up in the hills south of the city of Adelaide with a fab garden with heaps of shade.

The evening sun lighting up the eucalypts at the bottom of the garden. No koalas this visit, but they were there when we stayed three years ago.

They have two thirds of an acre intensively planted producing the most scrummy fruit and vegetables, and chickens consuming the meagre left overs and producing fresh eggs. A closed loop system!

A fine integration of flowers with fruit and vegetables
Handsome Cooper rules this roost with his partner in crime, Rikki

A highlight for me was being invited by Mike to go out on his tinny off the main beach in Adelaide for a fish with his mate Joc (more on him later). After 24 years in Australia this was a first. I know…shouldn’t have given me citizenship. So before dawn we were hitching up the boat and driving down to launch just as the sun was starting to make its presence felt on what would be another 36 degree (in the shade) day.

Serene waters in the dawn half-light

The slight  breeze on the water was welcome, and that suddenly increased to a roar has Mike opened her up and we shot out to sea. Crab pots were lowered, lines were cast, as I watched on in bewilderment at the frenzy of activity.  I had always written fishing off as a bit dull, remembering seeing blokes sitting by smelly brooks in England staring at apparently nothing for hours. Well this was chalk and cheese. It was frenetic, with garfish queuing up to get on their lines, and blue swimmer crabs jostling to get entangled in the pots. But interestingly there was never more than three at a time. Apparently they are so feisty there’s no room in the pot for the lucky onlookers. 

The first catch of the day as the sun rises – squid followed by garfish and crab

We were soon approaching our quota of crabs and garfish, with a couple of small mackerel and a couple of squid for good measure, and the talk turned to dinner recipes, and indigenous archeology. Strange bedfellows I know, but Mike’s mate Joc turns out to have been one of Australia’s leading lights in the field, not of fishy gastronomy, but early Australian history. I was so excited to have met him and have the privilege of listening to his tales of locating art sites deep in the Kimberley that no Europeans had gazed on before.

Joc’s involvement in indigenous Australian tourism over many years and support for the development of Aboriginal businesses was so inspiring to listen to. Now this is a bloke I’d love to be trapped on a desert island with. This has been a growing interest of mine, fuelled by reading everything I can find on what’s known (and often argued about) in the human history of Australia. Joc and Mike both have a strong respect for our First Australian culture, and this is so refreshing, as so many folk we have met on our travels have been ignorant, derisory or downright racist.

With a happy heart and a heavy esky, we headed back to the beach. As I was holding the boat ready for the trailer, a couple of sting rays wandered up to me and had a good nose round my legs. Its such a shame that one terrible accident can so blight these beautiful creatures’ brand. Steve Urwin, of Crocodile Hunter fame, had a tangle with the tail of one and it sadly ended with him having a heart attack after being pierced in the chest by the barb that tail carries. A sad loss. But these guys were just cruising, I assume they have been humanised by being fed, showing none of the usual aversion to hanging around swimmers they usually have. 

Stingray passing by
Garfish displayed in a bag
Garfish
Blue is the colour….these Blue Swimmer Crabs turn salmon-pink when they are cooked

Well let me tell you that the feast that night was incredible. We kicked off with Coffin Bay oysters that we had picked up from the shops, salt and pepper squid, dipped in flour and flash fried with a dose of fresh lemon from the garden. Then a massive bowl of crabs, with a tamarind curry sauce Catherine had whipped up. Local wines flowed. I can see the understand the satisfaction Mike and Kim get from growing and catching this food themselves. Lots of work, but the rewards are clearly enormous, mentally and physically.

Another hot day loomed on the forecast, but Catherine and I were getting a bit stir crazy sheltering in the van, so took ourselves off before first light to head down to the nearest river paddle we could find. The Onkaparinga River (map) winds its way down from the Adelaide Hills, ending up in an estuary full of water birds , eventually emerging out to sea surrounded by red sandstone cliffs. It was pretty windy, but we pressed on and glad we did. As the fiery sun rose it beat us down though and we headed back to the car before sun stroke was on the cards! 

It’s still dark when we first arrive, but a warm 28 degrees already
Dawn breaking
As the sun pops over the horizon we are ready for the off
An adult Australian Pelican with its’ glossy black wings
A pair of juvenile Australian Pelicans
Black Swans
Where the river emerges into St Vincent Gulf near Port Noarlunga

Talking about the car, we had a couple of days worth of work done on the Landcruiser. A service that showed that at our 150,000km service there will be a few more costs to budget for, with a water pump starting to leak and brakes nearly ready for a refresh. But that’s not bad going given in the 12 years of ownership these will be the first expenses other than the routine service’s and two sets of tyres. The only problems we have had are all minor and related to the accessories we had mounted. the workmanship was pretty shoddy, and it was time to get the work redone. I hit gold with the firm we found called Clisby Auto-electrics. Just delightful guys and as far as I can see, did a thorough job for a good price. Thank you. 

We finished up our stay by joining Kim and Mike on a trip up to Lobethal, meeting up with Ali and Andy to go and watch a bit of music as part of the Strum and Stroll festival. There wasn’t too much strolling, and the strumming wasn’t as guitar based as we had hoped but it was a lovely evening nevertheless.

We took a picnic up to Lobethal to enjoy an evening of entertainment as part of their Strum and Stroll music festival
Two of the evening’s bands. No dancing allowed due to the pandemic…unless your’e a child of course!

It was very kind of Kim and Mike to have us cluttering up their drive for so long. They both produced such amazing dinners every night, including one evening of pizzas on the BBQ. Again creating another first for me – I rolled a pizza base. Yes, I’ve had a deprived life. Now it’s time to give them their time back and head off for another trip.

11-14 February: Touching upon the western Yorke Peninsula

Author: Mrs A

Location: Gleeson’s Landing and Port Victoria, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

Packing up and leaving our spectacular camp at Coffin Beach was a challenge, as was farewelling our wonderful camp companions, Kim and Mike. They were off back to Adelaide, while we continued on our way. We topped up our water tanks in nearby Marion Bay, and crossed the peninsula to a council campsite on the other side known as Gleeson’s Landing.

Emus strolling along the road in Marion Bay – this adult male is babysitting the chicks

You cannot reserve sites here – it is literally first come, first served, but there are a lot of water’s edge areas to camp. Ideally suited to self contained caravans, there are a few long-drop toilets dotted around, but they are not necessarily well maintained. We found ourselves a recently vacated area on top of a small cliff overlooking the water, setting up moments before the weather changed.

What started as a hot and humid morning, changed as though by a switch of a button, the wind picking up, swinging around to bring a strong, cool southerly storm, accompanied by showers.

We watch the radar show as the weather changes dramatically
We get set up just in time before the first fat heavy rain drops fall
The calm before the storm – mirror-like stillness on the water in front of our site

The storm soon passes, leaving us with a spectacular evening about 10 degrees cooler with an incredible sunset.

The sun disappearing behind the headland
As the tide retreats it makes a great platform to reflect the wonderful colours in the sky
Looking up the coast, a double rainbow in the remaining storm clouds
And the last splashes of colour to complete our day

The following morning was cool with a fresh breeze, but it didn’t prevent our adventurous Burmese Princess from venturing out for an explore on the cliffs and dunes.

Tassie exploring

At this point we had been without any internet or phone access for five days, which may sound like heaven to some people, but when you are living full time on the road managing your affairs (and an online global support group) completely in the cloud, meant we were getting a bit nervous. Having most of our family living in the UK also meant we felt a little out of touch, hoping everyone was doing ok and keeping well.

We decided to find ourselves a town to settle down in for a couple of nights, and selected a random settlement half way up the west coast, with camping on the show ground having a full mobile phone signal. We packed up and drove to Port Victoria.

We got settled in and had a relaxing afternoon catching up on news and downloading books to read, before deciding to go out to dinner at the local pub.

Well that was a disappointment. Given it was Friday night, perhaps we should have expected it to be a little rowdy, but I guess we are out of practice with these things. It was unfortunate that a group of 20 or so men were dining there, having spent a good couple of hours downing beers as an appetiser. The atmosphere was not very relaxing. We had no other dining options, so little choice other than to eat our fresh fish and salad quickly and leave! It was probably the fastest meal out we have ever had!

We had a look around town (a tiny settlement with a population of just under 350 people), learning it was once a huge and thriving port. Windjammers were huge multi masted sailing ships which docked here at the jetty to collect grain to be transported to Falmouth (in Cornwall, where we spent Mr A’s birthday, last year) in the UK, and Queenstown in New Zealand.

The scale of these ships is almost unfathomable- the masts towered at twice the height of the tallest pine trees in the town (image was commissioned for a postage stamp – source)
The jetty still has been maintained, though is mostly used for crabbing and fishing from these days
We suspect little has changed since the last of the ships sailed into here in the 1940s

There’s a coastal walk/cycle which leads several kilometres to an Aboriginal reserve,

Lichen covered rocks along the coast

Other than a short walk, we did very little on Saturday, spending the day with Tassie, reading and drinking numerous cups of tea. A great opportunity to recharge the batteries before heading back to Adelaide for a few days.

A good ebook, a cool shady spot, a cold drink, and the company of Miss Tassie – what more could one want?

7-11 February: Rugged coastline, perfect beaches and turquoise waters – the best campsite ever?

 Author: Mr A

Location: Hillocks Drive, Marion Bay, Yorke Peninsula 

Our caravanning friends, Kim and Mike, had told us about this pretty special place that they had been coming to for years with their family, at the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula. Well they certainly have sent us to a little slice of paradise!

As we pulled up in the van, even with grey skies, the view was just breathtaking. We had travelled 70km down a dirt road off the highway, then through a locked gate at the entrance to the private property called Hillocks Drive that stretched for miles along this remote bit of coastline. 

Can you spot our Zone up on the dunes overlooking Coffin Beach?
We arrived to an untouched beach….just the oystercatchers had stepped on this fine sand
Tiny white shells mark the path of the retreating tide
Quiet rock pools deep enough for a refreshing dip safe from the waves

We chose our spot with a sea view, got set up and waited for Kim and Mike who were driving out from Adelaide (around a 4 hour drive). Tassie immediately took herself off for an explore, always a good sign we are somewhere bushy.

We watched the sun go down and light up the red cliffs as Catherine served a cashew nut chicken dish and Mike produced a lovely old Shiraz. We have shared many dinners with these guys now and it’s never an ounce of effort to keep finding new points of conversation.  Perfect companions for four days off the grid!

A break in the clouds at sunset makes for a magical sky
And the sun on the granite rocks lights them up in a fire-like glow

The days just flowed, with Mike putting a rod in early in the mornings, and us wandering along the cliff top walks with their dogs.

Blooming succulents adorn the dunes
Crumbling cliffs lead to spectacular views
Looking out for osprey which frequent this coastline
Kim clambers down the cliff
Laughter as Cooper the Golden Retriever shakes himself over Catherine and Kim – “What?” his face asks!
Not too crowded! Our private campground at Coffin Beach

Dinners were amazing. Mike and Kim are super BBQers, and produced a full lamb roast with all the veg and then meatballs on the last night.

Roast lamb with potatoes and veggies was an absolute hit

We also had a pizza bake off, which they won hands down as I messed up with how I had installed a new fancy Weber ambient temperature probe, finally realising my error too late to save the pizza. Ah well…a valuable learning experience. All the gear and no idea! Next time I’ll be ready. 

Dinner was rudely interrupted one night by spotting a Peninsula Brown Snake curled up a couple of metres away from our camp. Given they are one of the more venomous in the world (although quite passive by the standards of other brown snakes) it was moved on with the assistance of Mike’s fishing rod. Never a dull moment in the great Australian outdoors.

Peninsula brown snake – endemic to South Australia (and the eastern tip of Western Australia)
And another fine sunset to complete a great day

I took myself off for a ride one day along the old coast road, overgrown, rocky and sandy, perfect for my big old tyres. I could feel this view along Salmon Beach lodging itself in my memeory, ready to be hauled out and revisited on  the next trip to the dentist’s chair.  A moment to treasure, and not another soul seen on the ride.

High on the cliffs above Salmon Beach

I wondered (as I often do) how many other people had sat at this very spot over thousands of years and what was in their minds. I regularly try and find out something about the traditional owners of the land, by that I mean the First Australians to live here, and regularly come up empty handed. All I can tell you about this spot is that the Nharangga people lived all around the Yorke Peninsula for thousands of years before they spied a tall ship sailing past their coast in 1802, and their thoughts would have been irrevocably changed. This will be the subject of another post dedicated to trying to explain why this part of our history is so often glassed over, or given a politically correct mention at best.

This coast is rather good at sunrise as well!

Another day, Kim and Mike kindly offered to keep on eye on our (no doubt sleeping) Burmese cat while we headed out for a day trip to a national park. Tassie is closed in the caravan when we leave her, with plenty of ventilation, water bowls, litter tray and food…but…peace of mind, especially for this anxious soul. So off we drove to the Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, right at the tip of the Yorke Peninsula.

It is a rugged park of pristine white beaches, framed by the bluest ocean we’ve ever seen. This was nature at its most awe inspiring, and so quintessentially Australian with its harsh, scrubby landscape that gives you a scratch on the legs almost every time we walk through it. I call it the Australian tickle, to go with the Australian wave (swatting away a fly). Rugged beauty at its best. We followed a couple of the walks detailed on the park leaflet, some more rewarding than others. The climb to the top of a short hill to the lighthouse gave us the most inspiring views though.

Beautiful views over Investigator Straight and the offshore islands from the Stenhouse Bay lookout walk
This ‘high energy’ coast is adorned by perfect white sand beaches, often extremely hard to access
The stainless steel operational lighthouse at the end of West Cape
The lighthouse
Looking out over the Wedge and Althorpe Islands
Looking over the perfection that is the long stretch of sand at Pondalowie Beach
We have to pinch ourselves to believe this stunning view before our eyes, with hardly another person around
A rather boring and hot walk leads to this spectacular lookout at Royston Head, and its beach protected by North Island
The views from here are exquisite

Just as we were about to head back to camp we had a message from Australia Post to say the parcel I had confirmed was being diverted to Adelaide (because it was delayed), had failed to have been diverted after all and instead just been delivered to a post office up the road! Bless Australia Post. It was the new double deck cover for our inflatable kayak. This now enables us to convert our double sit-on-top kayak to a single or a double open-water fully enclosed boat. I have really been impressed with this kayak so far.

On our final day we enjoyed cooling off in the rock pools on ‘our’ Coffin Beach.

The water temperature in the bay is just over 20 degrees centigrade….
…but the shallow water in the rock pools would be nearer 30 degrees….
This pool is a fish nursery – Catherine’s toes are tickled by fingerlings (baby fish) as they hunt for snacks

Later, Catherine joined Kim, Mike and the dogs for a walk along the aforementioned Salmon Beach, while I enjoyed some quality time out of the sun with Tassie and a good book!

Salmon Beach – no footprints on it yet today
It takes a bit of scrabbling to climb down the cliff and dunes to the beach
The dogs appear to levitate themselves into the water for a swim, however!
Mike sets up a couple of fishing rods, hoping to catch tomorrow night’s dinner
The dogs are put on leads when we are near this pair of hooded plovers, an endangered species
More water time for the pups
And Mike is successful in getting a couple of fish

Well, what a campsite this has been. Catherine and I just love spots like this where you can spread out without worrying about the neighbours. The sound of the surf at night. The brightness of the stars. Trailing our feet in bath warm rock pools as fish inspected madams red toenails. Memories burnt into our heads.

We know how lucky we are to be experiencing this when so many of our friends are in lockdown. We could so easily have stayed in Victoria and now been stuck there. South Australia has so much to offer, especially when the weather is unseasonably temperate as it is right now. That means its not in the 30’s!

Even Princess Tassie gave it her purr of approval
…even a bit of sunbathing on the sand!

5-7 February: Off to the Yorke Peninsula

Author: Mrs A 

Location: Price, Ardrossan and Coobowie, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

Leaving Adelaide, we drove to the Yorke Peninsula. Within an hour of Adelaide’s CBD life is so different, a flat, sparsely populated agricultural landscape, lined by salt marshes and sleepy seaside towns stretching out down a long boot shaped peninsula.

The Yorke Peninsula sits to the west of Adelaide

Europeans started to exploit it in the 1800s, mining salt, copper and gypsum, and clearing the land for agriculture. As we drove down on a grey Friday morning, the wind was whistling unencumbered across the flat landscape, making for quite a bleak yet beautiful environment. These days tourism is a big part of the region’s income, with 99% of visitors being from Australia, and 88% of these being from South Australia.

The tiny settlement of Price was our destination for the night. It sits a couple of kilometres from the coast, separated by samphire covered tidal flats. Samphire is a green succulent plant which lives in the salty water, and tastes a little like asparagus but with salty and spicy undertones. It’s apparently quite popular with top chefs around the world who are keen to integrate unique flavours in their dishes. I doubt it was on the menu at the local pub though, with strong smells of chips wafting down the street as we walked past…that plus the fact it is protected in Australia.

The Wheatsheaf Hotel est 1884 – we didn’t go in but heard the locals cackling at the end of the night!
The samphire tidal flats
A paperbark tree at the edge of the samphire flats

Price sits on the Walk the Yorke pathway, a 500km hike/cycleway which follows the peninsula coast, so we decided to stretch our legs along a nearby section.

Looking pretty stormy, but the worst of the weather is further north now
The tidal flats
Tough trees in these parts

The following morning we continued our journey south, stopping for a tea break and stroll at the next town of Ardrossan. Named after a settlement of the same name in the west of Scotland, the weather was somewhat Scottish, with blustery rain showers and strong wind. It did not take away from the beautiful palette of the scenery, with the coppery red clay cliffs, creamy yellow grasses and turquoise waters inspiring future paint colours.

Ardrossan
Stripes of colour in Ardrossan

We continued on our way, setting up in a busy campground at the interestingly named settlement of Coobowie. Meaning ‘wild fowl water’, the town is described by the tourism website as a water bird haven, a mecca for birdwatchers. We kept our eyes peeled as we did a windy walk around the coastline, spotting just the usual suspects of pelicans, black swans, seagulls, oystercatchers and lapwings. We walked along another section of the Walk the Yorke trail, but we’d suggest this segment was more suited to cycling, with somewhat uninspiring flat, straight trails. 

A shallow harbour – this boat was going nowhere
A Singing Honeyeater captures our attention
The tides go out a long way here
Feeling windblown on the beach

It was a lovely peaceful stopover. The following morning, Sunday, we packed up and continued down the coast to Hillocks Drive, a private property offering bush camping just north of Marion Bay, where we were to be joined by our friends Kim and Mike for a few days.

1-4 February: Adelaide and the Coromandel Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide has been a city where we have had some great times on various visits to friends over the years. This visit has certainly continued that pattern!

Amongst other things, it is a city that boasts a pristine white sand beach and bath-warm shallow waters that are fabulous for a spot of kayaking. Well that was one afternoon outing for me anyway, testing out the new top deck I had zippered on to the kayak that makes it a full-on open water boat.

Launching at Seacliff Beach – not another soul about!

I had dropped Catherine off for her next lot of injections in her throat to keep this persistent narrowing of her airway at bay. Then she had organised to meet up for lunch with a group of ladies who are members of the support group she manages for that disease. It’s always so great for her to meet others in person and judge how her considerable labours in administering it are valued.

A lovely catch up with Adelaide ladies with iSGS

She was buzzing with enthusiasm when I picked her up, and I felt so proud once again of what she has accomplished. The lovely doctor she met for the first time who gave her the injections greeted her by calling her “the visiting celebrity” much to her amusement. 

We had been invited to stay with a couple of friends who live up in the hills to the south of the city centre. It’s been such an interesting visit, as we share many passions that involve getting out and about in the great Australian outdoors. They have two thirds of an acre that‘s heavily planted with all manner of vegetables and fruits, with chickens clucking away and laying the most gorgeous rich yellow yoked eggs.

Mike and Kim and their loyal pooches
A 7km walk around the neighbourhood with the dogs, Cooper and Rikki
A babbling creek that runs close to their house has a new walkway alongside it
Princess Tassie enjoyed exploring the garden while the dogs were away but stealthily ignored the chickens 🐓

One dinner in particular will always stick in our minds as they had taken their tinny (small metal tin boat with an outboard motor) down to the city beach and just a few hundred metres offshore sunk a line and some crabbing pots. Apparently the sea there is rich in blue swimmer crabs, almost at plague proportions at the moment. Lovely to hear that something is thriving so well in these climatically challenged times. Well, they were absolutely delicious, together with some small garfish and herring they also caught. A salad picked fresh from the garden, and washed down with a local chardy. Then peaches straight off their tree. What an absolute feast of fresh bounty!

Look at this absolute feast!

Another couple of friends had agreed to join us for a paddle and they suggested a local spot that was a dolphin sanctuary. We crossed our fingers and sure enough up shows a small pod pottering round us having a fish. The weather was just perfect, not too hot considering the time of year. Adelaide can have some scorching weather but we are currently delighting in La Nina dominating, bringing some fresher temperatures and the odd shower or two. 

Peter the dolphin whisperer
Nicky snaps an obliging dolphin on her phone
And a flippered friend passes us by
Missile or dolphin?
Loving the freedom this inflatable boat provides
Longtime friends, musicians and dolphin whisperers, Pete and Nicky

As well as activities, eating and drinking, it has also been a busy few days getting jobs done while we are in a city, like haircuts, and shopping.

We have had some issues with our Land Cruiser’s 12 volt accessories, a legacy of some poor workmanship back when we initially had the vehicle fitted out in Sydney. A visit to Toyota ensued, and they also told me after running an engine scan that I should have a “trans wash”. I clearly looked a bit bewildered, and somewhat nervous. The young lad then hastily clarified, a transmission wash out. I briefed an audible sigh of relief and booked that in.

I also found a local auto electrician, who after examining our vehicle for a few minutes asked me if it was a Prado. Now that may not seem like a red flag unless you are familiar with the Australian car scene, but let me tell you it did not inspire confidence. He was all we could find at short notice, and added zero value but still charged me his call-out fee! Not happy…. now we have a booking in ten days time at a business specialising in the area we need. It just means a shorter trip to the Yorke Peninsula than we had planned – no great hardship. So let‘s keep our fingers crossed the electrics behave themselves while we away. 

Happy haircut and a bruise on the neck from injections!

28-31 January: Back to the Adelaide Hills

Author: Mrs A

Location: Lobethal, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

After our cycle ride through the Barossa we farewelled Lindsay and Phil and drove across country to the small town of Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills. We parked up on a reserve beside the house of our friends Ali and Andy.

Lobethal went through a terrible experience in December 2019 when a catastrophic bush fire swept through the region surrounding the town. Many properties, vehicles, livestock and pets were destroyed in the event, but fortunately there was only one human life lost, a credit to the fire fighters’ efforts. That period is now known as the Black Summer.

Our friends were thankfully some of the lucky ones, and despite the flames reaching land just 150 metres away, their house remained undamaged. I am certain the memories of the flames and smoke billowing at all too close a distance will be with them for a while yet. After a couple of nights staying here we noticed a light dusting of very fine black ash sprinkled around our white Zone caravan surfaces, a constant reminder that is whipped up with the slightest breeze.

During our stay we noted that much of the surrounding forest is gradually recovering, with many of the trees covered in epicormic growth – new leaf cover and branches emerging from buds set deep within the tree’s bark. Bushland Park sits on the outskirts of Lobethal and was pretty hard hit by the fires. Not all the trees were able to rejuvenate, but many are covered in green 13 months later. We spotted a kestrel soaring above us, rosellas, honey eaters and wrens in the trees, it is clear that life is starting to return.

The new growth, where it happens, occurs up the length of the trunks and branches
Patches of surviving trees are surrounded by those that were engulfed by the flames
It was originally thought these leaves were too toxic for surviving koalas to eat, but apparently they can cope quite well eating this. We saw no koalas on our visit.
A couple of kangaroos watch us, totally still and well hidden in the undergrowth
Mr A walks down a path where the trees did not survive the flames – perhaps too young to cope with the heat and damage they sustained

The Adelaide Hills district is full of award winning wineries, but we decided to miss out on the wine tasting this time. Instead we were treated to several outstanding wines from Ali’s workplace in the Barossa Valley, Schild Estate. Rated by wine critic James Halliday as five stars, the drops she shared from here were spectacular…of course we have placed an order!

A small selection of our tastings

The temperatures had cooled to the mid 20s so it’s perfect hiking weather. Ali took us off to explore some local favourites. Mount Crawford Forest, a sustainable pine plantation intermingled with native gum trees was just 15 minutes drive away, offering picturesque and fairly flat walking with many native birds and a few nervous wallabies.

Ali, Mark and dogs Harry and Harvey stroll up a shady avenue between the trees.
Crispy, dry grass and gumtrees on the border of the plantation
Amazing colours of a river red gum tree’s bark, almost like a painting
I used to babysit this young lady! We’ve known one another for about 37 years now…

Hale Conservation Reserve was the location for another short walk, which packed a punch with it’s multitude of viewing points across the South Para Valley.

Hardy bushland flowers survive here despite little rainfall and poor soils
Hiking up a dry dusty path
Watch your head! The trees have plans of their own
A perfect rock to enjoy the quintessential Australian bushland view – glimpses of scorched earth amongst the scrub and eucalyptus trees
It’s a short walk (just over 4km) but we find a few opportunities to sit down and enjoy the landscape

It was a great walk – only spoilt at the end for me by an angry bee which chased me around the carpark trying to sting my face, eventually getting me on the wrist – ouch!

We enjoyed one night out at the local bierhaus for some beer tasting and delicious food. If you’re nearby, pop in for a plate of their hot wings – incredibly moorish!

Beer tasting flights are on offer here

Friendship, fine wine, fresh food and walking in the crisp clean air. All in all a lovely stay with a great family.

Seeing friends and family around the world still locked down and unable to spend time with their loved ones certainly makes us feel all the more grateful for being able to travel and enjoy a meal and drinks with friends.

South Australia has no current community cases of COVID-19 but we are all too aware of how this can quickly change. We will continue to make the most of the freedom Australia’s strict quarantine has afforded us and hopefully those trapped at home can travel vicariously with us….we hope you enjoy the journey!

22-27 January: The Barossa Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Tanunda, Barossa Valley, South Australia

When Australians talk about wine brands they love, it’s pretty much guaranteed that one or more they mention will be grown in the Barossa Valley, where we just spent the last five days. We have a friend there who invited us to come and park up on her driveway in the small town of Tanunda, which is nestled pretty much bang in the middle of the winemaking action.

Our generous hosts, Phil and Lindsay

The area we now called the Barossa has been home to the Peramangk, Ngadjuri and Kaurna people for thousands of years, and when South Australia was formed as a state in 1834, it was the only one who recognised the prior occupants of the land as having a right to occupy it. However, this document was subsequently ignored by the those who followed and the First Australians were dispossessed of land by the waves of European settlers who followed. Decimated by small pox and other diseases, there is little historical record of these first peoples thereafter.

As Australia Day fell while we were in the Barossa, it was a timely reminder of how the various factions in Australian society are still trying to agree on the part Europeans played in the crippling of the world‘s longest continuous culture, in what are called the “history wars”. We watched on the news protestors who think the day should be moved, and those who think we should just “move on”. It‘s a complicated topic, but Catherine and I continue to be shocked at the level of racism that we still witness here in Australia, and in fact seems to have been given legitimate expression by the election of a President of the US who throughout his presidency displayed the behaviour and spoke the words of a racist. Let’s hope those voices are now stilled a little with the regime change there.

We were taken out on a couple of brilliant wine tastings, but also sampled some of the fantastic produce that is coming from the area. Even the local pub in town served amazing food!

Wagyu Beef schnitzel was huge and melt in the mouth at The Clubhouse
Delicious wines at Langmeil Winery, home to the oldest Shiraz Vineyard

Then we had dinner at a place called Harvest Kitchen, famous for its “Eat Like a Barossan” option on the menu. Of course we did! Wow..such great food.

Harvest Kitchen is set in beautiful surrounds

The family we were staying with was a big blended family by today’s measure, six kids and two parents, and what a reminder it was of how tough our grandparents must have had it when such a size was often the norm. It was brilliant seeing how they all worked together to keep the home running, with rosters posted on the fridge for everything.

Family roster and weekly menu plan
We cooked a chicken Penang curry one night – loved the lively dinner table discussions
Bertie the blue eyed rag doll cat, Prince the Eclectus Parrot (friend to Rosie, not pictured) and Tikka the wine loving parrot all add colour to this eclectic household

There was a real team spirit in the house, and we felt privileged to have been welcomed into this family. Australia Day was also the 7th birthday of one of the kids, and the 10th birthday of a cousin, and of course they were celebrated in style. I didn’t hear a cross word all day between the kids! Amazing.

Clockwise: Bertie the rag doll cat, birthday boy cousin Lewis, Elija looking suave, birthday boy Matthew bouncing on his trampoline, Lindsay and Phil, super parents
Clockwise: Grandpa Pete and Evan, Mrs A, Lindsay and Ali, and again with Phil’s friend Matthew, and finally Mrs A and Pete

Unfortunately we were beaten back inside by the heat on a few days, it was over 40 degrees on one of them, so it was relief when the mercury dropped and we could get out on our bikes to explore. We followed the Barossa Trail, a way-marked tarmac path winding its way around though many of the wineries, and had a great lunch before heading back. The path was a little like a roller coaster with around 440 metres of climbing (Strava link), and ours legs were feeling pretty wobbly by the time we got back. There’s a lot of work to do to get us back bike fit!

Mrs A whizzing down a welcome descent
We started the day dressed for the cool but soon stripped off the layers
A beautiful avenue of eucalyptus trees
Of course there was a wine sculpture
A dead tree that could almost be a sculpture itself

Well, it was time to move on, so we packed up and once again said our goodbyes, although we are relieved to know our return visit to Adelaide is scheduled in our future, as Catherine will need to be back for some more medical treatment in early March. In fact she managed a quick catch up with one of the people in the support group she runs who lived locally. Another life made a bit easier by Catherine’s tireless work in helping out those who suffer from the same rare disease as her.

Catherine and Sam

21-22 January: South Australia hots up

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wellington, South Australia

We have had it really easy since we arrived back in Australia – temperate days, cool nights, fine weather for whatever activity we choose – cycling, hiking, kayaking…but today all that has changed.

We left our free camp on the edge of Lake Alexandrina, seeing the upcoming weather forecast. Temperatures up to 38°C today, going up into the mid 40s over the weekend mean that none of our favourite activities would be possible without heatstroke, and we couldn’t leave Miss Tassie in a hot caravan without air conditioning. So we drove 1.5 hours up the lake and parked up with power in a tiny village called Wellington on the banks of the River Murray, plugged in and set the aircon for a comfortable 25 degrees.

Travelling full time means we have to accept there will be days like this. In the UK, it was two days confined to our motorhome on top of a cliff in Wales, while gale force winds and rain lashed us, here it is the extreme temperatures and high fire risk.

By 5pm the wind was strong enough to add a little cooling, so we did a short walk around the three or four streets that make up the town, finishing our exploration at The Wellington – the local pub, affectionately known as ‘The Welly’.

Away from the river the landscape is incredibly dry – the combined effect of the sun and wind whipping away any moisture
The trees around Wellington are full of Little Corellas – acrobatic and noisy birds
As we walked they were swooping around the streets, starting to find somewhere to roost
Apparently the local council did a cull of the birds last year. They can cause damage to trees and property as well as being quite disruptive with their loud calls and squarks en mass..

Overlooking the free car-ferry across the Murray River, the pub has an extensive outdoor area, lush and green. We found a bench with a water view and ordered two portions of garfish and chips, washed down with a bottle of Clare Valley Chardonnay.

The entrance to The Welly
Water access
Definitely a day for a cold drink
Cheers!

We had a lovely peaceful night before departing this morning, heading towards Tanunda in the Barossa Valley. We’re pitching up at a friend’s house on their driveway for the upcoming long weekend, where the temperatures are threatening to be even hotter. More cold drinks could be on the agenda!

19-20 January: The Coorong

Author: Mr A

Location: Narrung, Coorong Country, South Australia

Despite living in Australia for nearly 25 years, Catherine and I keep stumbling across fragments of iconic history that we have missed. For instance, if you grew up in Australia then apparently there’s a good chance you would have read the book by Colin Thiele “The Storm Boy”, and/or seen the original movie when it came out in the 70’s, or at least watched the recent remake with Geoffrey Rush. All news to us. Must have been in Europe when the remake came out and just missed it, because we would have definitely wanted to watch it.

The story is set in the globally unique wilderness of the salt water lagoon eco-system of the Coorong in South Australia. We drove through in a rush in 2012 after hearing that my father was seriously ill and we needed to head back to Sydney. So this time we took the chance this time to meander up this remarkable bit of coastline. Home for thousands of years to the Ngarrindjeri people, Coorong in their language means “narrow neck”, referring to the geographical shape of the narrow lagoon system that runs for 140km down this wild coast.

Pelicans abound on this wild coastline
The Granites – rock formations emerge from the beach at the southern end of the Coorong
Princess Tassie has an explore in the sand dunes, taking it all in her stride

We drove from the southern part of the park and rounded a corner to be hit in the eyes with a vast white expanse of salt lake that shimmered and blazed. We pulled up for lunch beside one of these “hyper saline” geographical oddities. The wind whipped at the sparse vegetation. We really have to see what the movie makers did with this scenery, and they filmed in winter!

This dry, salty landscape is home to hardy vegetation
The plant life has to be very drought hardy, and succulents abound
A wonderful array of colours
Shallow lakes dry up leaving salt encrusted mud
A pair of emus dash away after spotting us
Bleached bones and shells remind us of the challenging environment

Home for the night is a free camp right beside the little ferry that runs across the narrow strip of water that separates the enormous freshwater Lake Alexandrina and the smaller Lake Albert.

A water’s edge location for a couple of nights will suit us fine!

Wandering up the ferry just to have a look, we were beckoned on board by the driver (captain?), and made the 5 minute trip, for free. Thank you South Australia! A short walk up to the lighthouse (a first for us, a lighthouse on a lake!) and we were rewarded by a view across this massive expanse of water (649 sq kilometres, or 13 times the size of Sydney Harbour). It’s fed by a number of rivers, but by far the biggest contributor being the longest river in Australia, the Murray.

The lighthouse – only 3 metres above the lake, still served its purpose in its time. Today preserved by the National Trust
If you zoom in, you might be able to spot our car and caravan on the other side of the lake

Its sobering to think this area was once a bustling hive of activity, with settlements all around the lake and all manner of shipping plying across it. Now, not so much. With relief we note the complete absence of power boats and jetskis, in fact all we have seen is a few kayaks getting blown around. Wonderful. The only sound other than the twittering reed warblers is the intermittent clank of the ferry plying back and forwards.

The morning dawned with a bright blue sky and we were out on the water before the wind picked up too much. Plenty of pelicans around, I look at them with a new found interest after hearing how they responded to training in the Storm Boy movie and bonded with the actors, rubbing up against their legs when they came to film every morning. Pretty smart birds.

Paddling off from camp through the reeds
The reeds are also a great resting place for the swallows that constantly swoop over the water catching insects
Looking out for the next meal
More pelicans take off across the lake

The site is starting to fill up as we approach the long weekend, so we’ll be moving on tomorrow. This free stay has reinforced for us that there is little correlation between spending money and having a good time.

It’s only when you check the news, particularly from the UK, that we are reminded how privileged we are to be in Australia right now.

A final sunset view from our kitchen window brings an end to this stay on the lake