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

16-18 January: Getting civilised in Robe

Author: Mrs A

Location: Robe, South Australia

We have just spent three nights in a fishing town called Robe.

Broadly speaking, Australian town names are inspired by one of three things – somewhere in the UK that the original settlers harked over (think Clovelly, Hastings, Rye), the Aboriginal word for an area (or the European interpretation of it), or surnames of the pioneer governors, important politicians or their wives. In this situation, Robe was named after a South Australian Governor, Frederick Holt Robe back in 1846.

In the mid 1800s it was an important port, sending out wool from the South Australian farms. It also became a dropping off point for thousands of Chinese miners heading to the Victorian goldfields to try their luck and finding some of the rare metal. The Victorian government had a £10 landing tax (about $10,000 in today’s money) so they jumped off in Robe free of charge and tackled the 600 mile hike on foot, often finding low paid work on their journey. The cellar door at Bellwether (115km away) in the Coonawarra was built by transient Chinese workers who had walked from Robe, originally as a shearing shed. Many fortunes were made in Robe serving these migrant workers, something that is recognised in a Chinese memorial along the waterfront.

In recognition of the thousands of Chinese who passed through Robe before heading on their journey

After a period of decline in the late 1800s and early 1900s, lobster fishing took off, and coupled with the town reinventing as a holiday destination, Robe’s prosperity returned. Now tourism is a big part of the town’s success, with more than 9.4 million visitors per year, primarily Australians, and the seasonal lobster fishing remains big business.

Guichen Bay with its lovely turquoise waters
Boats emerging from the harbour off fishing

We first visited on a Christmas holiday trip back in 2012, and had always remembered our time fondly. One of the biggest changes we noticed since our last visit is the emergence of a stronger wine industry in the area. Eight years ago there was a tasting room showcasing the wines of the Coonawarra, this time there were more independent representatives of the emerging Limestone Coast region wineries.

We decided to check out one located on the outskirts of town after reading a glowing review in an online magazine, and jumped on our bikes.

Aunt Alice is a truly tiny boutique winery, with only four wines produced, two of which they were already sold out of when we arrived. Alice’s school teacher and artist husband was manning the cellar door and record player, and welcomed us in and offered us a tasting of their Pinot Noir and Shiraz.

We are a tough audience when it comes to Pinot Noir, preferring the barnyard complexity of wines from Central Otago in New Zealand to the lighter wines generally served in Australia. There are of course exceptions and we were surprised to find that this was one. We are out of space for buying more wine in our caravan cellar, but we found time to buy a glass and savour it in the afternoon sunshine. Well done Alice Baker, superb wine. We also tasted a very approachable Shiraz.

Aunt Alice Winery cellar door – an eclectic location with chickens roaming around and a large collection of cacti
Aunt Alice Pinot Noir – a lovely drop

Later that same day we found ourselves sampling more wine, this time from Woodsoak Wines on Robe’s high street. We caught a taxi into town and were dropped beside an outdoor tasting room hosted by Sonia and Will. The grapes are grown on Will’s family farm and until about 10 years ago were predominantly sold to other wineries. Their own wines are delicious – a sparkling white worthy of some of the bubbles we tasted in Champagne two years ago and many more tasty drops. It turned out that Alice Baker of Aunt Alice made some of their wine, as did Sue Bell of Coonawarra’s Bellwether Wines – it is such a small world!

There was nothing we did not like…if only our cellar was not so full! Fortunately they do sell online and deliver Australia-wide – so we’re storing that in the mind-bank for future reference.

A brilliant tasting experience with Sonia and Will – we will be future customers!

There are several lobster fishing boats in the marina which are busy in season (October to May). We were determined to try some, so booked a table at a local restaurant, Sails, and pre-ordered one for dinner.

The lobster fishing boats in the marina
Sails Restaurant

We were not disappointed. We enjoyed a light entree before our chargrilled lobster was presented – an absolutely delicious, melt in the mouth treat. This camping lark is not too shabby!

Our feast is served – garlic butter on the side for Mr A

After all that wining and dining, we thought it best that we do a little exercise, and so Sunday morning saw us up bright and early to do a short paddle on the nearby lakes. Robe is quite a windy location, so not always ideal for kayaking, but fortunately we stumbled upon a calm day.

Our new kayak inflated and ready to go
A stunningly calm morning on the network of lakes on the outskirts of Robe (paddle map)
Pelicans, spoonbills and gulls in the shallows

We travelled as far as we could, before the retreating tide in the lakes meant there was more walking than paddling and we decided to turn back. After lunch we decided to have a go at kayaking in the bay.

The water temperature in Robe’s Guichen Bay is about 17°C (only 2 degrees warmer than the chilly summer water in Cornwall, England) and the famous south-easterly breeze was blowing as well, which kept the temperatures right down. There were not too many people getting wet in the water down there when we launched.

Regardless of the wind, the kayak paddled really well, nothing like our inflatable packrafts, which are great in calm conditions, but are a struggle to manage in a stiff breeze. We powered across the bay towards the jetty, and enjoyed an easy ride back with the wind behind us (paddle map).

A sheltered corner of the beach to launch from
Amazing water colour here – looking a little wind blown
Paddling under the jetty
A few folk fishing here

A successful day’s kayaking ticked off.

Our final day was cloudy and cool, so we spent a morning doing sheet and towel washing (always a joy) and drove up to the next little village of Cape Jaffa for a look around. Not much to see there – more fishing, more four wheel driving on the beach, and very quiet. We had a quick look around before returning for the evening.

The jetty at Port Jaffa

We move on tomorrow, making our way towards the Barossa Valley for the weekend. I sense more wine in our future! 🍷

14-15 January: A dalliance with the Coonawarra wine region in South Australia

Author: Mr A

Location: Penola, South East South Australia

We cruised into the Coonawarra wine region with some excitement, it was the only wine region in Australia we are aware of that we haven’t visited. Fortified with a brunch stop just outside of the small town of Penola, we decided to have a look at Balnaves Winery as I had remembered drinking a number of their high end Cab Savs. Checking first they had enough space for us to bring the caravan in, we found ourselves parked up next to a fabulous rose garden, that of course our little Burmese princess had to explore.

The lovely rose gardens at Balnaves Cellar Door

We really enjoyed the wines, although found the person providing the tasting woefully lacking in any knowledge of them. She basically told us what was on the label.

A Chardonnay, Cabernet/Petit Verdo,/Merlot blend and Shiraz

Never mind, we bought a three pack and headed off to our next tasting at Bellwether Winery just up the road. This was also to be our home for the night, as they offered campsites for caravans as well as glamping in their fixed tents. This was a paid-for wine tasting, $20 a head, and we were told that would include “all 14 of our wines, the full experience”, so we were pretty excited. Sue Bell, the winemaker, has built herself a great reputation over the years as the magic sauce at a few different large wineries. She then left that corporate world to do her own thing, buying an old woolshed and converting it to receive the fruits of many different vineyards around Australia, and apply her savvy to produce great wines.

A drop of 2015 Cabernet – rather nice

We loved many of her wines, whites and reds, but left feeling very disappointed once again with the tasting presenter. Her explanation of how and what we were going to taste was lacking any passion, structure or insightful content. Several times the four of us at the table were left confused about what we were drinking, what characteristics we were looking for, and what made the wine, in her opinion, special. She didn’t even know information that I had read on the winery’s web site. We have been to hundreds of similar presentations, and this would fall not at the bottom, but no more than half way up the list, which is a shame for the winemaker. We still bought half a case, although when I looked at the bill realised we had been over charged and had to go back and sort that out. Interestingly that was done with Sue herself, who didn’t ask what we thought to the tasting. We only saw the staff get animated when they were talking with each other, laughing and joking, as we mere customers were left sitting there, excluded.

So two wineries producing great wine, but so do thousands of others in Australia. The tasting for us is an opportunity to differentiate themselves, and embed their products in our memory. When I think back to the places we keep buying from repeatedly, it’s places like Ross Hill and Philip Shaw in Orange, Stanton and Killeen in Rutherglen, or Pizzini in the King Valley, all who made sure we remembered their wines with fondness by delivering an educative and passionate tasting experience.

We camped in a paddock behind Bellweather Cellar Door for the night, shared with a flock of sheep
Miss Tassie enjoyed exploring around our camp
As the sun goes low she enjoys the last rays of sun
Camouflaged cat

We were going to do some more tastings the next day but had lost the motivation, so headed out to a wetlands (currently dry) nature reserve way out in the sticks – Bool Lagoon. Check out this wall of “tumbleweed” being blown up in the strong winds.

We discover this is called ‘hairy panic’ and this phenomenon only happens in the right conditions!
Walking through it and not being able to see snakes was a little unnerving! Big knife was at the ready 🙂
There are a couple of boardwalks over the ‘wetlands’ with bird hides
Despite an abundance of reeds there is little water just now
Hundreds of thousands of seed heads piled up in sheltered areas more than a metre deep
Trees covered in seed heads

Catherine cooked up a new recipe for lunch – creamed corn and sardine fritters. Now don’t pull that face, they were in fact delicious. Only caravanning would allow us to have such a great lunch in such an isolated spot with the cold wind whipping round (its a “feels like” 7 degrees day) and intermittent heavy rain squalls. A nice cold sparkling water from our on board Soda Stream, chilled from the fridge and as many pots of tea as we can be bothered to brew from our gas stove. If we want to crash on the bed, it‘s there looking all inviting with the odd pool of sunlight coming and going though our panoramic windows. I can certainly understand why caravanning is so popular in Australia. The nearest place to find a decent feed would be around 150km away in Robe, our next destination.

We pull up at a free camp by Lucindale – this paddock was our view for the evening

We were so grateful for this isolated spot before heading once again to the more populated coast. A free camp for the night with cows that came and had a good peer at Tassie completed the idyll. Tassie was not quite so impressed.

Tassie giving the cows a brave evil eye through the window

12-13 January: Crossing the border in to eastern SA

Author: Mrs A

Location: Mount Gambier and Millicent, South Australia

We would have stayed in Nelson another night or two, but there was no availability. So on Tuesday morning, we packed up camp, consumed the last of our fruit (South Australia has restrictions on which fruit and vegetables you can bring in from Victoria) and crossed over the state line, heading for Mount Gambier.

Mount Gambier is classified as a city, but in most of the world would be seen as an average sized town. It is the service centre for most of the surrounding area, including those back across the border in Victoria, providing a choice of supermarkets and a range of stores.

The town’s water source is a large crater lake which has a vivid turquoise colour during the warmer months, attracting many tourists to the lookouts and surrounding walking track. The water is incredibly clean, having been naturally filtered through a limestone aquifer, removing much of the particles and staining seen in other lakes. During the months of November to March is when its colour is at its most intense. There are two factors contributing to this phenomenon; firstly, the sun is higher in the sky, shining through this clear water and reflecting the blue light spectrum. Secondly, the warming water surface causes crystals of calcite to fall to the cooler water at the bottom, further cleaning particles from the surface combining to give the lake its incredible colour. As is so typical in Australian naming convention, you say it as you see it – the reservoir is called ‘The Blue Lake’.

The Blue Lake

Mark and I had decided not to stay in Mount Gambier, but called in to do a quick shop, and to meet up with some locals. Fay is an active member of the online support community I run for the rare disease I have, and we have often chatted online. It was great to catch up in person. She and her husband Bruce met us in town and gave us a whistle stop tour of the main sights. Such a kind thing to do, and we both really valued the local insight.

Catherine and Fay overlooking the Blue Lake

After our tour, we farewelled them and headed off to the nearby settlement of Millicent, where we had booked into a quiet campground for a couple of nights. After our cramped camping at Nelson, it was a real relief to us all to have the space and landscaped grounds of this site. It was peaceful with no dogs, so Tassie took it upon herself to free-range a little around the grounds, lapping up the new smells and sights around her.

Tassie strolls off, always keeping an eye on where the Zone is in case a fast retreat is required
One very chilled out cat with the sunshine on her back in her cat-tunnel

After Tassie had enjoyed some outdoor time, we decided it was our turn, and jumped on our bikes to explore. We’d seen Lake McIntyre on the map, and read it was a rejuvenated sandstone quarry, managed predominantly by volunteers since the mid 1990s. We rode through town to this green haven, home to many bird species. It’s been set up with hides and a boardwalk to allow visitors to enjoy the area.

A path winds around the wetlands for 1.5km
From one of the bird hides we spot a large flock of ibis – both sacred ibis and straw-necked ibis, as well as a great egret fishing in the shallows

The area is very flat, so not too challenging to cycle.

You can see the curvature of the earth out here

Despite being Tuesday evening, we decided to give the local curry house a try, given it had rave reviews. It was nice to have a break from cooking, but the service was very slow, and the curry not the best we have sampled. We’ll just have to keep on trying!

The following day we jumped in the car and drove half an hour down to the coast, parking up at a small village called Southend. It is nothing like the Southend in the UK. Its current name is relatively recent, having changed in 1971 from Grey. Grey it is not.

Southend sits on the shores of Rivoli Bay
Southend Jetty

Southend is surrounded by national parks, and it was Canunda National Park that we were there to visit. The National Park is accessible only by foot or four-wheel-drive, and thankfully there were few people driving on our visit. The coastal area is made up of predominantly sand dunes, with an incredibly high density and diversity of flora and fauna. Everywhere we walked there was evidence of the nomadic Bungandidj first nation communities in the form of shell middens (essentially discarded shells from meals) which have been dated back 10,000 years.

Parking at Rainbow Rocks, we followed the ‘Seaview Track’ – a stunning 7.7km return hike along the coast. Despite not being a particularly long walk, it was tough on the legs, with the sand making every step count for two – it certainly felt as though we had explored 15km on our return!

Hiking up a sandy 4WD track
Some of the dune flora including: Dune Fan Flower and Yellow Top,
Another breathtaking view along the coast
Eddy Bay is accessible by climbing down the cliff using a knotted rope!
Not a single footprint on Eddy Bay beach
Climbing one of the many dunes – wooden steps have been affixed to help up the steepest parts
The waters of the Great Australian Bight
Walking across one of the shell middens
More incredible views
Mounce and Battye Rocks
Perfectly smooth sand

We’re definitely put this walk up there with our most scenic hikes ever, and despite it being the peak of the summer break here, we only saw two other people all afternoon, so it is not too busy. Everyone raves about the Great Ocean Road in Victoria – well consider this the Great Ocean Walk in South Australia – equally as spectacular but on a smaller scale and none of the crowds! Find the walk here.

Wattle Range Council owns the Southend Caravan Park, which has now been closed for renovations. Apparently it was pretty run down and tired, full of permanent old caravans, which were all removed last year. When the new improved park opens, it will be a fabulous location to base yourself to explore this stunning area. Meanwhile, if you’re after a peaceful green retreat that is within easy reach, we’d definitely recommend Millicent. We’ve had a lovely time here, but it’s time to move on. We’ve spotted the Coonawarra wine region just up the road, and just cannot resist a quick visit!

8-11 January: Down to the border…

Author: Mr A

Location: Nelson, Victoria, Australia

“Full timing” is what the Brits call folk like us who are travelling for extended periods in their home on wheels. Its been a lifestyle choice for us for three years and the last few weeks have just reminded us of all the up sides of doing that in Australia. Our UK trip last year, and Europe the year before, was fantastic, but our time last year in Australia was marred by the bushfires., then we got sick, then had a couple of accidents whilst towing. It was challenging.

This trip since we left Sydney in early December has just reset the dial. The weather has been kind, not too hot, (although that has just changed), El Nina blessed us in the southern states with some much needed rain in manageable doses (unlike in Northern NSW and Queensland where it has been floods). The campsites have not been too crowded, perhaps a fall out from the uncertainty of border openings with the virus outbreak in South Australia then NSW. The car and the van have been mostly behaving themselves, with only a fly screen failing so far. The roads have been pretty empty once leaving the crowded coast. Its been absolutely delightful. Just like the lifestyle ads for caravans would have you believe! .

So our home for the last four days has been right on the border between the States of Victoria and South Australia, where the tiny settlement of Nelson sits nestled at the mouth of the Glenelg River. We had visited this area briefly in 2012 when we were both working, and had marked it as one we wanted to explore further when we had more time, and now we do!

The Glenelg River is really the main draw card, winding as it does for over 100km though sandstone and limestone gorge country. A long distance footpath, the Great South West Walk (GSWW) also follows the river for much of its distance. We have got our new inflatable kayak wet a number of times as well as explored a little of the path. It’s an area that we would thouroughly recommend. Enough off the beaten track with 350km separating it from Melbourne and 400km from Adelaide, it still preserves that quintessential Australian coastal charm, with pristine (largely deserted) white sand beaches, with eucalyptus and melaleuca forest stretching down to azure blue waters.

We had quite a job getting into our pitch on the campsite, described by one of the rather abrasive camps site managers as “one of our biggest sites”. Fifteen minutes later and her husband was still trying to get us squeezed in, winding around another caravan’s tow bar with about two centimetres to spare. He apologetically brought a couple of cold beers round after he had! We had amazing views over the mouth of the river, and were treated to several amazing sunrises and ets. A top spot.

Our brilliant (little) campsite with a great view of the estuary
Glenelg River at dawn
Glorious colours of sunset over the local farmland
Sun set over the estuary
Roosting water birds at sunset – spot the spoonbill…
Glenelg River at dusk – can you see the paddle boarder?
Glenelg River at night

The new kayak is proving to be a great purchase, and we have had it out on the water for several trips. One trip (paddling map) across the estuary gave us top bird spotting opportunities with the range of water birds present. These included spoonbills, pelicans, nankeen night herons, white faced herons, black swans, musk ducks, sandpipers, terns, kingfishers and many more.

First human footprints (of the day) near the river mouth
Our new tangerine transport
A pelican takes off as we approach
Sandpipers at the water’s edge
An Azure Kingfisher hunting for baitfish at the water’s edge

That afternoon we thought we had better give our legs a turn at exercise rather than the arms, so headed out to have a look at the long distance path mentioned above that runs through Nelson (walk map).

Some of the prettier parts of the walk
A view point over the river – speedboats and waterskiing is permitted in this area
Bottom: A tour boat takes visitors up to Margaret Rose Caves – currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. Top: the mesmerising fronds of a grass tree
We even crossed the border into South Australia without a permit…and back…

The GSWW follows a circular route (unusually) of over 260km along both the Southern Ocean and the Glenelg River, with 14 bush camps provided en route. We didn’t find the first section we did that inspiring to be honest, trudging along a four wheel drive track, with the odd vehicle skidding round sandy corners forcing us to jump into the bushes. Given the size of this country, to have a walking path share space with vehicles just seems downright mean.

The next day, we took ourselves back on the water for another paddle, launching a short way up in the Lower Glenelg National Park.

A dangerously venomous Tiger Snake crossed our path on the way to our boat launching spot….we stayed well clear…
The perfectly still waters at Sandy Waterholes…not much sand to be seen though

We soon had the kayak pumped up. Each time we learn something new and it gets a bit easier and quicker.

From bag to boat with only a few pumps of air

A short way along the river we soon saw to our delight a kingfisher darting amongst the trees. These little guys don’t stay still long and don’t come close, so Catherine found it a challenge to catch one in focus.

Mrs A points out a kingfisher in the trees
This is a Sacred Kingfisher – she was feeding a chick up in the trees – mostly with insects rather than fish

The heat soon forced us though to retreat back to the car, as it was 33 degrees with no shade on the river. We had really left it too late to get out, as it was nearly 11am before we launched. With boiling brains we headed back to camp and a few cold drinks.

Our final day at Nelson was even hotter at 38 degrees with 40kph winds making it feel like you were constantly having a hair dryer pointed at you. The washing didn‘t take long to dry though!

The southerly arrived finally to cool us down
Just in time to give us a farewell sunset

5-7 January – A taster of country Victoria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Gellibrand and Dartmoor, Victoria, Australia

We pulled out of Owen’s driveway on Tuesday morning, pointing our noses west. Our intention was to get quickly close to the South Australian state border, in case they decide to close to Victorians. Yes, our travels are forever driven by this evil virus! Fortunately the premier has remained calm so far, and with the latest news that there are no further positive cases in the state makes us optimistic there won’t be any hasty decisions.

As long as there is sunshine, solar cat Tassie is very happy

Our destination for the night was a little village called Gellibrand, located in the Otway Ranges. With a caravan park, no shops and little over 200 residents, we were initially unable to learn much about the area.

The campsite website boasted it was close to the walks and waterfalls of the Otways, but after five hours of travelling, we were not keen to do another 40 minute drive to the nearest falls. Then Mark spotted something intriguing on the map written in tiny writing: ‘Old Beechy Rail Trail’. We investigated further, discovering it is a 45km trail, 30km of which follows a former railway track . Asking at the campsite office we found the path went right through the grounds of where we were staying. We decided to tackle some of it on foot.

Setting off on the trail
The scent of the eucalyptus forest after the day’s light rain was incredible

What a great path (walk map)! The trail wound its way up along undulating hills, through spectacular old eucalyptus forests packed with bird life. At every turn there were yellow robins, crimson rosellas and fly catchers swooping across our track. We passed through farmland and forestry area, the views opening up the higher we climbed. After about 6km we decided we should turn around and begin walking back to camp, seeing our first person in nearly two hours, a solo mountain biker exploring the area.

The clouds hang low over the surrounding area, just light drizzle occasionally falling
I know you have missed our bovine photographs! The winter brought plenty of rain so the grass is incredibly tall.
Woodland wild flowers
Parts of the old railway slowly rotting into the surrounding forest. This was built in the early 1900s.
Gleaming gum tree trunks
A quiet walk, just us and the birds
Misty views across the valley
Mr A walks past a new eucalyptus plantation

After our walk we had a lovely peaceful night in Gellibrand, and decided to book in for a second night.

The following day was showery, so we got down to doing some jobs – Mr ‘handy’ A fitting a tyre monitoring system, filling the airbags in the back of the car and other long forgotten tasks. We rewarded ourselves with dinner around a campfire – the first one of those we have had in a long while.

Mr A proving you can enjoy an open fire without wine – we’re sticking to water for a few days off the alcohol!

We moved on our way on Thursday morning, stocking up with our last supplies for. a while in the nearby town of Colac and driving through sparsely populated agricultural land.

Long straight roads are the order of the day, and not a Roman in sight
Not too many hills in these parts

Our destination was the tiny village of Dartmoor. Despite bearing absolutely no resemblance, the town was named after the wild and misty moor of the same name in Devon in the UK. It was settled after some of Australia’s founding explorers set up camp here, with the original settlers arriving in the mid 1800s. Today, it has a general store, a pub, an ‘op-shop’ (charity shop) and a post office. The sleepy community has generously provided a stunning waterside park area for campers and caravanners to stay gratis, with toilets provided. This was our destination.

A fine camp site for the evening

We found a quiet spot with a great view across the park towards the Glenelg River. Despite being a free camp, there were no barking dogs, loud music or chainsaws to be heard! Just the squark of cockatoos, warbling of magpies and laughter of kookaburras echoing across the valley. We went for an explore (walk map).

Miss Tassie was very happy with our choice of camp which gave her the chance to explore relatively freely (supervised for her protection – at her age she’s no threat to the wildlife!)
The view from our window

This part of the Glenelg River is not considered navigable, with fairly shallow waters and plenty of trees and submerged branches to be seen. Like all too many of Australia’s rivers, it has been colonised by introduced European Carp, which turn rivers that usually are clean, clear and pristine into cloudy, muddy waterways, having a negative impact on native aquatic life – both flora and fauna.

There is a swimming hole near the camp, with steps and a wooden jetty allowing access, but its muddy waters didn’t tempt us in. As we approached, Mr A gasped as he spotted a shy black wallaby having a drink down by the water. It didn’t hang around. The wallaby eyed us with suspicion before bounding off to the safety of the woodland.

A shy Black Wallaby eyes us suspiciously before hopping off into the undergrowth
A little piece of calm on the Glenelg River

We found a path winding off alongside the river, so went for an explore. The grass was so tall, it swamped even Mark – perfect snake territory, we mused. Indeed, it was only a few minutes after mentioning this that I jumped as I saw a large red-bellied black snake slithering off the path and into the undergrowth. While venomous, these snakes are quite shy, and there have been no recorded deaths from their bites, but it’s still a shock to encounter one, nevertheless!

We’re going on a koala hunt… (they’re well hidden!)
Mark disappears into the tall grass
Riverside scenery

We returned to camp for a delicious spaghetti marinara, and drifted off to sleep to the sound of the bizarre mating calls of the koalas which had remained well hidden during the day.

We’re moving camps in the morning, but remaining beside the Glenelg River, so hopefully will get another chance to spot them in the coming days.

23 December-4 January 2021: A Christmas and New Year on the Mornington Peninusala

Author: Mr A

Location: Rye, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

We left our friends near Lakes Entrance wondering in these uncertain times when we would see them again. That’s one of the hidden costs of the pandemic, the lack of control felt by most of us over our lives, with movement regularly restricted at short notice. But we had a plan for Christmas and New Year at least. We had been generously invited by a friend from my working days to come and spend the period with him and his family.

For those unfamiliar with the Mornington Peninsula, it sits about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne’s CBD around the huge foreshore of Port Philip Bay. The bay itself is just under 2,000 square kilometres, and mostly shallow, ideal for water sports and swimming, framed by beautiful beaches. We were heading for one of the regions that has become a mecca for Victorians as a holiday destination. Its climate, beaches, world class wineries and restaurants, and currently zero community transmissions of COVID-19, made for a compelling place to hang out.

We had only ever been on a day trip to the Mornington Peninsula once early last year, joining our friend Owen for a walk and beer tasting.

Due to the virus kicking off again in NSW, Owen had some extra visitors, namely his daughter, son-in-law and their beautifully natured golden retriever, who could no longer travel up to Sydney. His son and partner also joined us for a few days, so we had a lovely family friendship gathering we could enjoy. It did reinforce how we would love to spend this season with our own families one year. Lets see…

Owen drives us to see the sun set over the ocean side of the peninsula on our first day – just stunning and wild
A Christmas Eve beach walk blows the cobwebs away
The national park is just stunning, even on an overcast day

Fabulous food was purchased, prepared and consumed at very regular intervals. Amazing wines sampled, music played, and wit and repartee abounded. Unfortunately for us the property opposite the drive where we were camped out in our caravan, had been rented out by a group of people who decided they would continue their loud celebrations to the early hours of the morning for four days on the trot. Catherine mostly slept thought it, I didn’t, and just don’t function well on a few hours of broken sleep. They finally cleared out after six days. An unfortunate down side of being in a stunning area – lots of other people want to come.

Owen, Tim and Mark – Christmas Day martinis all round and lots of fun and laughter all day long
Boxing Day cycle around the beaches – it also happened to be Tim’s birthday
An evening birthday celebration for Tim at The Baths, a local waterside venue
Beautiful views on a warm evening
The evening concluded with home baked chocolate birthday mud cake and a dangerously large game of Jenga!

The population of the peninsula almost doubles over this period, traffic is heavy, although we did manage to find a car spot right opposite a great beach to head off for a short kayak. Owen had a new Stand Up Paddle Board to get the hang of. Many smiles ensued, mostly from us! Of course the Mrs Co-ordinated-Well-Balanced-Anderson gets straight up and heads off into the blue without getting her ankles wet. I tried and immediately took a fully submersed nose dive. And there you have in a microcosm our respective sporting abilities 🙂

We headed out for several walks along the coast, which has been left undeveloped in a narrow strip along the cliff tops, making for some fabulous views.

On Koonya Ocean Beach headland
Koonya Ocean Beach
The Ti trees look like sculptures, with their twisted trunks
Diamond Bay
Looking out for seals and dolphins at Diamond Bay. None to be seen today
The diversity of the dune flora is wonderful – a veritable palate of colours and textures
Top left: a singing honeyeater Top right & bottom left: rugged bays along the coastal walk Bottom right: dune grasses
Hungry seagulls descending on a berry filled bush in the dune heathland to gorge themselves
LIke the Coast Path through Cornwall in the UK, five minutes from the. car parks and the crowds dissipate
Pristine beaches and wild and rocky coast
Mark and Owen ride along the coast to Rosebud and back
Another post-pub dinner sunset treat

New Year’s eve rolled around, and as with many millions around the world we reflected on the challenges of 2020 and what their legacy would mean for the coming year. We had a wonderful evening, having been invited round to join Owen’s friends at their house nearby, and were treated to fabulous food and wine.

Covid-safe Owen plays waiter accompanied by Leonie with our delicious double thick porterhouse steak, medium rare – delicious

They also arranged a couple of wineries for a visit a couple of days later. Such a privilege to be able to do things like this when so much of the rest of the world is not.

Main Ridge Estate cellar door our first stop
Archie the wine dog
Wine tasting at Crittenden Estate followed by lunch at Stillwater Restaurant
Mark, Leonie, Peter, Scott, Leigh, Owen
Cheers!

Our New Year present to ourselves was a new kayak. Our current fibreglass and kevlar one is a massive beast at 7.3 metres long, and limits the type of terrain we can travel across, restricting us to tarmac or smooth gravel roads. Anything rougher and its likely we would damage it. So we bought an inflatable one that we can store inside our truck.

We trial the kayak on a 7km paddle along the coast in Port Philip Bay – it passes the test

You may already know we have inflatable packrafts (left in the UK) but they just dont paddle in a straight line very well. The packrafts are great to carry when space is really tight, but we wanted something we could cover some ground in. I had been researching for a while and came up with what looked to be a good solution. It’s an inflatable that has aluminium rails inserted at the bow and read to improve its speed and tracking. There was only one left for sale in Australia, and it happened to be available an hour’s drive down the road. We picked it up and test paddled it. Wow – what a great boat – it cut though the water almost as well as our hard shell boat, but was a lot lighter to carry down to the water, and just fitted in our Landcruiser’s rear cargo area. It was meant to be. I’ll write up about it some more in a separate blog for those interested.

How perfect is this water?

It has been a Christmas and New Year packed with activities,, and we’ve been able to explore a whole new (to us) area of Victoria. Owen has been kind to have us here and share his gorgeous home.

But now it is time to pull up stumps and head off. There’s a high level of uncertainty in our travel plans given the fresh outbreak of coronavirus that kicked off in NSW which has now spread to Victoria, but we have come to accept that we are not in control, so off we go with the flow of restrictions….

18-23 December: Chased down the coast into Victoria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Genoa, Nowa Nowa and Metung, Victoria, Australia

Of course the unimaginable has happened – there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 in the northern beaches of Sydney, just before Christmas. Given we were more than 200km away at the time of the outbreak, we hoped we would be safe from being forbidden entry into the next state of Victoria, our planned destination for Christmas.

It could certainly be worse, but Australia re emerges into the Covid cases chart…very subtly so far….

But as the morning in Delaney wore on, the NSW state premier announced another 28 cases and potential at risk venues in greater Sydney. We decided to pack up camp a night early, skip over our next camp in Eden, and head straight to Victoria.

Friday night we parked up at a lovely bushy community-run camp just across the border near the Victorian settlement of Genoa, where we breathed a sigh of relief that we’d crossed states with no issues.

Setting up camp under the watchful eye of a sulphur crested cockatoo

Saturday morning saw us pulling up at the tiny East Gippsland village of Nowa Nowa and a quiet bird-filled caravan park on the side of Nowa Nowa Gorge. Not far from Lakes Entrance and on the East Gippsland Rail Trail , its an ideal location if you want to base yourself at a peaceful country location away from the crowds.

A peaceful location

Not long after we had set up, our friends Diane and Mark Bates (hereafter known as Mr B for ease of distinction) arrived to visit us with their grandson Fletcher. Cups of tea, lively conversation and a drawing of Tassie emerged…

We took a short walk up to a lookout with a leafy view down Nowa Nowa Gorge the attractively named Boggy Creek far beneath us.

Splashes of summer flowers along our walk – the yellow flowers are known as ‘Wooly Buttons’ – their petals feel like paper.
Team photo at the lookout – Mr & Mrs A, Mr B, Fletcher and Diane
The new caravan park owner is a collector of quirky sculptures from around Australia

We had a peaceful night’s sleep at Nowa Nowa before packing up and driving a short way to Diane and Mr B’s house near Metung. We reversed up their driveway and set up there for three nights of fun.

It was a good opportunity to get ourselves sorted out and get some help with a few minor repairs (Mr B is very handy, Mr A good at finding jobs for him 😉). We joined them and Fletcher for a stroll around their beautiful bushy neighbourhood on the shores of the Gippsland Lakes.

Fletcher shows us a blotched hyacinth orchid by the side of the road
Nungurner sights on our peaceful walk

Mr and Mrs B live about 400 metres from Nungurner Jetty so the following morning we launched our kayaks into the Gippsland Lakes. There are multiple locations to launch a boat into the lakes which stretch for an unbelievably huge 354 square kilometres – that’s larger than the island of Malta and slightly smaller than Barbados!

While the options for exploring this area on the water are endless, you are somewhat restricted by the wind, which tends to blow up in the afternoon and has scuppered many a kayaking trip, and even sunk sailing boats which have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s such a great way to see an area, quiet and subtle, enjoying the black swans, cormorants, pelicans and even a rarely seen nankeen night heron that we accidentally disturbed as we cruised on up the calm waters of a quiet inlet. Mr B cast a line from his single kayak, lamenting that fish are so much harder to catch than 30 years ago. Like so many bodies of water, the lakes have been over fished by commercial fishing companies, removing tonnes of black bream unsustainably. It seems the locals are petitioning for this to change, however, so hopefully a more balanced approach will resume in future years.

A perfect paddling morning…less good for catching the elusive fish
A sleepy inlet, safe haven for some of the sailing boats

The final day of our visit revealed more stormy weather, so we stuck to tasks closer to home. Tassie enjoyed some exploration around the property, loving the dog-free environment and the opportunity to stretch her legs. At 16 1/2 she’s a lot less frisky than she used to be and has to be helped down some of the bigger jumps, but no less adventurous. And like most of us, the more she moves around, the easier it becomes.

A glimpse of sunshine is all Princess Tassie needs to be encouraged outside for a short stroll
Not really up to catching skinks (little lizards) these days, but she still likes to try

Fletcher went off to stay with his other grandparents in the morning, so the four of us decided to book in for lunch at a local garden centre. From the road it looks rather ordinary, concentrating on landscaping materials, pots and garden ornaments, but the restaurant, with its deck overlooking rolling countryside and interesting menu was anything but. A couple of local sparkling wines for Diane and I and locally brewed beers for Mr A and Mr B, and all was good.

Dramatic skies contrast with a splash of sunshine as we enjoy our view.

After lunch, we paid a brief visit to Nyerimilang Heritage Park, the location of a 19th century homestead with some interesting exhibitions and extensive grounds overlooking the Gippsland Lakes. A short walk took us to one of the lookouts over the Gippsland Lakes, our hosts pointing out Flannagans and McAuliffs Islands. Before long we felt the first fat drops of rain, sending us scurrying back to the shelter of the car.

The Lakes are eerily still on this stormy afternoon

The afternoon was topped off with a fabulous thunderstorm, just perfect for book reading and relaxing.

11-18 December: Down the New South Wales coast we go

Author: Mr A

Locations: Berry, Jervis Bay and Dalmeny, NSW, Australia

Sydney disappeared in the rear view mirror as we headed south a few hours down the coast to where our caravan has been stored for the last ten months. It was all washed and waiting for us to hitch up and go. Now mental and muscle memory had to take over and remind me of all the road craft I had amassed from previous years towing. No dainty little motorhome any more, I had just under 8 metres of caravan ready to cut in at roundabouts, clip road side signs if I didn’t account for the extra width, and attempt to run away from me down the hills with all the extra weight. I also had to remember I was driving back in the land where fatalities from road accidents are twice those of the UK, my driving location for almost all of the past year. Gone are all those courteous behaviours that had made touring on the roads in the UK so much less stressful, it was back to every driver for themselves and the liberal use of horns and fist shaking. I actually found Italian roads a less daunting prospect to safely navigate than our own testosterone fuelled highways.

So it was with a sigh of unscathed relief we pulled up at our friends property on the outskirts of Berry, a small village 3 hours south of Sydney with a main street packed with deli’s, art and craft shops, classy cafe’s and all things civilised. Their property sits in an enviable position, a kilometre from a nearly 13km long stretch of pristine sand called….Seven Mile Beach (how do they think of such names?) once used as the runway for the first passenger flight between Australia and our Kiwi vowel dropping cousins in New Zealand. For us it made the perfect stretch of hard sand for a beach ride.

Mrs A sky riding on Seven Mile Beach
A picturesque location
Omar, Mr A and Barb plus their loyal steeds

Our friends have created this oasis of a sustainable paradise producing enough fruit and veg to meet all their needs and half the neighbours. They recently won a prize at the very competitive Berry garden show for the way they had planted and arranged the garden in keeping with our often fickle climate with periods of drought, extreme heat and soil stripping winds.

Miss Tassie broke her 9 months of sedentary lifestyle for an hour long explore of their garden
A delicious meal out at a great Indian restaurant in nearby Gerringong

They are the most interesting couple and as always we were sad to have to say goodbye after sharing a couple of fascinating dinners with them. But we have a deadline to work to – we need to be in Melbourne 1300km away by Christmas.

So we headed to our next campsite down the coast just outside the small coastal town of Huskinsson in the Jervis Bay National Park, with its world renowned beaches. We managed to get the kayak wet with a short paddle the river before the winds picked up. Then we had a couple of days of rain that allowed us to spend time inside getting cleared up and organised without feeling guilty we were missing out.

Curranbene Creek
How much do we love kayaking in this boat? A lot!
The beast moored up outside of Huskisson
Paddling back to camp before the headwinds get too strong
Looking out for sting rays in the shallows on our return route
A Percy of pelicans?

Unfortunately our lovely stay was a little tarnished by a very thoughtless family arriving in the cabin next door at gone midnight who then spent the next hour banging car doors time and time again, shouting to each other and their children . I went outside and asked them to please keep the noise down and was greeted with a tirade of “we’ve driven hours to get here and show some respect for others”. The irony was completely lost on this selfish family.

With heavy eyes from a disturbed night we continued our journey southwards to our next camp at the tiny coastal settlement of Dalmeny, and one of the best views from our site we’ve ever had.

A room with a view…

A wander down the beach in the late afternoon sunshine was called for. At 5.30pm it was still a balmy 28 degrees. This is what Australia does best, pristine, empty miles of sand, with nature in abundance. A massive sea eagle lifted up from a tree in front of us and just lumbered out to sea like a B52 heading on a mission to who knows where. Little pied oyster catchers (they don’t as far as I know) skittered around in the sand. We just sat and soaked up the roar of the surf and felt the sun on our backs.

Crossing over Lake Mummuga on the way to the beach
The stunning beach is part of Eurobodalla National Park
Pied oystercatcher foraging at the water’s edge
The water’s quite rough, the result of storms further up the coast. We can see the mist drifting over the beach
The next bay around – not a footstep on the sand

Returning to camp it was time to try out our new BBQ. The old Weber had finally gasped its last after over 10 years of faithful service. This new model delivered a magnificent feast of roast veggies and pork medallions. What is a man without his BBQ? OK so its a bit shiny still, it needs working in, but I’m sure it will get that!

A pristine BBQ cooking up roast veggies and pork medallions – yum!