27-28 March: Stocking up and loving the space

Author: Mr A

Location: West Bagborough, Somerset, UK

Yesterday we had to go out into the big bad world, Truffy needed his MOT. If its due April 1st or beyond you are now given a pass for a while. Ours ran out two days before that so we found ourselves a lovely little garage and took a walk around the village while he was being examined. We saw this signpost for two villages that made us chuckle! Sounds like heaven.

Too far apart for drinks then dinner?

Thankfully Truffy sailed through the MOT so we then decided as we were out on “essential travel” to tackle a supermarket shop. Innocently wandering up to the entrance with our trolley we saw a few people strong out along the front of the store, so tried to find the end of the queue, walked around the next corner, and the next!

Thank goodness for never ending sunny days – imagine doing this in the pouring rain?

OK it was British queuing at its weirdest with everyone leaving massive 3 metre gaps between each other and glancing around nervously. When we finally got to the entrance we were told only one person per trolley, so off I scuttled back to Truff while Mrs A negotiated the one way system around the store.

More queues inside the store for each of the vegetable aisles

We were relieved to get home with our plunder, having managed to get most things we needed, even toilet rolls. Just as we pulled up, Jenny our landlady and saviour was delivering some fresh produce from the local farm shop. The day before the lovely folk at Wines Direct had managed to get 18 bottles delivered. They aren’t the cheapest at £10 a bottle, but wine beggars can’t be choosers. The supermarkets have bugger all left.

So things were really looking up! We have a full fridge and freezer and some wines to wash our home cooked dinners down with. We are loving catching up with everyone on FaceTime, and this morning had our first experience with Zoom. What a great success that was, thanks to Australian friends who had set up the meeting for us. He is in the data centre training business and now moved his training courses to the Zoom delivery platform. One of the participants had a birthday, so what a great way to share the moment in our physical isolation. We just have to make the best of what we can do. The time difference between here and Australia meant they were tucked into the champers and we were in bed supping our first pot of herbal tea of the day! We are going to have to arrange the next gathering in our evening…

We headed out for another walk, determined to explore this stunning area while we are in it. We meandered along footpaths covered in carpets of wild flowers, the wind blew but the sun shone once again, and we felt privileged to be here.

Following our noses and instincts as we spot signed footpaths and explore
The sheep are our main companions, and a long way away
Woodpiles
Exploring along a track marked on the OS map which used to lead to a grand mansion, long gone now
A dead tree lit up by the sunlight like an ornate sculpture in the field
Cheerful daffodils line every lane

We met a few locals outside their houses and said ”hi”, but not one other walker, so we didn’t feel we were breaking any UK government guidelines. We had walked from our front door and not got within two metres of another person, and no doubt boosted our immune system with the fresh air, sunshine and exercise.

Our local village is bright with the first tulips, cherry blossom, clematis and woodland forget-me-nots
Our local pub, tantalisingly close yet closed

Mid afternoon and we headed back to start dinner prep. It’s Saturday night and a chicken curry was on the menu. It feels lovely to have our own big kitchen to wander around in, then a comfy lounge to retire to. We could get used to this. Connected plumbing, hot water on demand, space to spread out in. We have been living in our caravan and motorhome now on and off for three years. Admittedly with time in friends houses, and our house sit at Christmas, but the latter was made so uncomfortable with the smoke and the heat. We are absolutely loving sleeping through the cold nights snuggled up. We only have to hope that our friends and family stay well and we will get through this.

Another fine sunset to end the day

15-23 March: Modifying Truffy, getting evicted and finding a new home

Author: Mr A

Location: Doncaster (Yorkshire), Harby (Nottinghamshire), Kettering (Northamptonshire), Brighton (East Sussex), West Bagborough (Somerset), UK

In my dotage, which is looming ever closer, I hope to be able to say that we, and all those we hold dear, survived these scary times, came out the other end having learned new things about what’s important to us and the planet we call home.

It has been a roller coaster week of intense highs and lows. It started with me heading north to Doncaster for a couple of days to get some major modifications to Truffy. We had decided to get a levelling system fitted as every time we set up camp we have to drive him up on massive ramps. Not always in good weather, and not always leading to good marital relations as Catherine tries to direct me up the various levels without driving over the top of them. Yes I did that once. So we now have four hydraulic legs that lower down with the press of a button and get the Truff all nicely level.

To be frank, Doncaster isn’t somewhere I’m going to be rushing back to, but I did discover an awesome cycle route just outside of town that none of the web sites I searched even mentioned.

The Trans Penine Trail, running coast to coast is one of the great cycling infrastructure assets of the UK with over 200 miles of signed path on mostly dedicated cycle way or quiet roads. What a fabulous opportunity to “socially distance” myself and ride its quiet paths.

The Trans Pennine Trail
A beautiful spring day to be out cycling
The Stainforth and Keadby canal – connects the River Donn and River Trent

I would prefer the term “physically distance” ourselves as being more precise. We need to continue to socialise, to support each other and keep ourselves mentally healthy, just not by physical socialising.

I then rejoined Catherine in my old home town stomping ground of Kettering, and once again experienced the generosity and thoughtfulness of our friends, with whom we had a cracking evening filled with gin, red wine, Indian takeaway and much laughter, then a hangover breakfast and a escorted shopping trip to try and stock up an empty Truffy larder.

Cheers! Lots of laughs…

We had booked on to a campsite in Brighton for a week. By now we had accepted that camp sites were likely to close and we would have to find a rental place. That proved harder than we thought with landlords returning to their holiday homes, and press articles appearing from rural communities saying they didn’t want incoming travellers escaping the cities and overloading their health services. Fair enough, but where were people like us with their homes rented out going to go? Some friends near Lincoln had offered co-habitation in their fabulous place, but we didn’t know how long this would have to be for so felt we really needed our own front door and not have to impose on friends in their sanctuary.

Brighton Pier only available for careful takeaway
Blue skies hide the chilly north-easterly wind that was blowing

Catherine managed a couple of brief catch ups with her sister and family, and also a friend from Sydney who had travelled over for her mum’s 100th birthday, only to be told on landing that the care home she was in had just been placed on lockdown.

Catherine and Wendy maintaining distance while catching up on news

There are so many stories like this around the world are making this a hugely stressful time as we try and adjust our lives and expectations.

Sisters can’t be torn apart
A couple of elves in the park

Then on the second day into our week‘s booking we were told we had to vacate the camp as they were closing, with immediate effect. We were stunned. We had nowhere to go. There had been some bad press about people streaming down to the coast to caravan parks and I think the government put pressure on the parks to close. But with zero notice we were in a difficult position.

After some calling around we found another site that was still open, booked that and were ready to head off when they rang and said they had changed their mind. Then we found another that was still open. We called in on Catherine‘s mum in Hastings, to pick up some parcels and deliver Mother’s Day flowers and card. These were passed across the threshold of her door, no hugs or kisses today. So hard for all of us. But we must behave responsibly.

It was a stressful night, made suddenly better by another kind gesture from friends who offered us a spot on the driveway of their new house. Power and water and electric hook up. We got up in the morning all ready to head to Essex.

The very much non-glamorous side of Truffy travels – heading out to the shower block in 2°C !

Then another offer came through from friends we made way back over 15 years ago in Sydney. They had a cottage available in Somerset. The property we were offered was a 16th century farmhouse set in an area of outstanding natural beauty in the Quantock Hills. We were both on the edge of tears with relief. Our own front door, in an area we had wanted to visit anyway.

Off we shot down some very quiet motorways and arrived as the late afternoon sun set over the hills. We sipped a gin, held hands, and gave thanks to the kindness of friends.

4-8 March: This year‘s Europe adventure begins…in Vienna

Author: Mr A

Location: Vienna, Austria

We decided to go ahead with our Vienna trip even though the medical conference that Catherine had been invited to speak at had been postponed . Covid -19 cases are pretty much non existent in Austria so far, and life continues with a degree of normality that has been comforting. Toilet rolls and hand sanitiser are on the shelves of supermarkets, and there’s hardly a mask to be seen. The streets are still vibrant with locals catching up over coffee and those wonderful Viennese pastries. The tourist hordes are missing, and of course that’s fabulous.

An oat milk hot chocolate for Mrs A – stark contrast to the rest of dairy-Austria

On our walk round the city we started to see the beauty in the architecture here. Voted the world’s most liveable city ten years on the trot, we wandered past the Sigmund Freud museum, as the father of psychoanalysis lived and worked here for much of his life. Countless grand buildings house the concert halls, palaces and universities that dominate this classy, urbane and clearly prosperous city.

St Stephen’s Cathedral is a striking landmark
Is there a light on? No, the late afternoon sun catches the window as we pass
A magnificent interior

In three days we haven’t seen anyone begging on the streets, or people sleeping rough. The locals dress with style, chic scarves tossed over shoulders draped in smart winter jackets. Trams whiz along broad streets lined with an eclectic range of up market shops. This is a city with panache, and we love it.

Walking past the magnificent Hofburg – a baroque palace filled with museums

The first night we met three of the senior cardio thoracic surgeons who had driven the establishment of the conference. They had invited us out to meet and greet, very kind given their punishing workloads. As usual I had that swelling of admiration for Catherine as she has positioned herself to help so many women suffering from the same disease as her self through the Facebook support group she established. Now with over 4,000 members it is literally a lifeline of knowledge and emotional support for them, and recognised as such by the world leading medical practitioners who work in the field.

The next day (Mrs A’s birthday) dawned with blue skies and crisp temperatures. What a pleasure for walking around. First stop was to see if we could get tickets for the opera at the main state theatre on Saturday, and we did. Opera in Vienna, a bucket list item for us. A plethora of restaurants and cafes line the pavements. We chose one on the river Danube that dissects the city. A lovely lunch of chicken soup (Catherine is fighting a cold) and a glass of the local white wine for which Austria is famous, Gruner Vetliner. It has really become a favourite of ours with its smooth elegant bouquet. In fact Vienna is the only city in the world that grows significant quantities of grapes within its city boundaries, housing around 350 vineyards. This is our kind of town! Great food, quality wine, and a relaxed vibe. There always seems to be time for the locals to have a coffee!

Horses and carriages outside the Hofburg
A horse and carriage trots past us as we stroll through the streets
We have just purchased tickets to the opera!
Inside the Hofburg
Everyone dresses like they are out of an advertisement, with a backdrop of stunning architecture in every direction
Every open doorway reveals another magnificently decorated courtyard

Catherine’s birthday dinner had been venue had been recommended by her key contact here. Dr Tom’s a super busy in demand doctor, but he finds the time to even book it for us, and what a superb choice it was. Croatian seafood was the focus, and after a melt in the mouth octopus entree we had talbot and succulent veggies baked in a big casserole type dish swimming with juices that cried out for bread to mo it up. I obliged…several times. We are definitely leaning towards being pescatarians these days, with an ever decreasing amount of meat finding its way onto our plates in the eating choices we make.

Cheers! A nice bottle of Gruner Vetliner accompanies our fish perfectly
A delicious birthday feast at Konoba Restaurant

We were a little nervous about the bill, as the fish prices were by the kilo and we hadn’t worked it out, but pleasantly surprised with a total of just shy of €90 (150 AUD), and this included aperitifs and a bottle of wine. Good value indeed. Budget worries are likely to feature in our plans given we are watching our investment portfolio, the returns from which fund our travel, get wiped by the market drops due to the virus. Ah well let’s see. It’s out of our control.

Mrs A is tempted by an exhibition at the Albertina museum
Mrs A spends a couple of indulgent hours enjoying the art in the Albertina while I entertain myself in nearby coffee shops

We wandered these city streets for four days, clocking up according to our iPhones over 43 kilometres of walking. It’s been an absolute delight with no real agenda we just leave our hotel and wander where our fancy takes us.

Some early signs of spring as we walk about the city
The Danube looking swollen and fast moving….we had little rain, and a brief sprinkling of sleet, but generally it was dry, despite the foreboding skies
The Scottish winter gear is appreciated!

Then it‘s our last night here and time to enjoy the opera at the main state concert hall. The Wiener Staatsoper is a massively grandiose affair and we felt so privileged to be there, dwarfed by the 1,709 seat renaissance building. The opera was Manon, not one we had seen before or knew anything about, but that didn’t stop us immersing ourselves in the pageantry and incredible musical artistry.

Pre opera dinner at Glasweise Währingerstraße, another recommendation from Dr Tom
Another fine meal recommendation – and popular with the opera crowd
Built in 1869, the Wiener Staatsoper is steeped in history and looks magnificent at night
The exterior architecture pales in contrast to the opulent interior
The incredible entrance hall
Every surface is covered in frescoes, tapestries, carved wood, marble and tiles – it feels palatial
Getting settled in our box with a fabulous view of the stage – €65 a ticket, last minute
The final bow from the cast of Manon – incredible voices

We leave with unfinished business here, always a good sign, there was so much we still wanted to do. Cycle down the Danube, visit some wineries, listen to classical music on a summers evening in the square sipping an Aperol spritz. Let’s see…

6-20 February: Hunter Valley, Newcastle and into our final weeks in Sydney before the next European adventure.

Author: Mr A

Location: Hunter Valley, Newcastle and Sydney, NSW, Australia

Well the climate gods have certainly had an amusing time throwing the whole fires and floods at Australia this summer! After years of drought, the worst fires on record (yes that’s a factual statement), many areas in NSW are now flood, receiving more rain in the last two weeks than for several years. What a welcome relief to hear the restorative power of those raindrops lashing on the roof.

We first saw the miracle of what solid rain could do when staying with friends in the Hunter after leaving the coast on our trip down to Sydney. Over the course of under 24 hours we watched their paddock go from brown to green. Unfortunately the rain will not save this years vintage. The Hunter valley usually produces some outstanding wines. Not this year. Apparently 80% of the wine growers will not be able to produce anything because of the tainting from the bush fire smoke that will only grow stronger as the wine sits in the bottle. Just another industry that is under stress from our changing climate.

Our friends took us wine tasting to Ben Ean, a relatively new business that has established itself in the old Lindemans winery. They were showcasing some excellent local wines, with a great mediterranean focused restaurant, and a small shop with local products for sale.

Into Ben Ean, now owned by two of the Hunter’s oldest wine making families, McGuigan and Peterson

I throughly recommend you check it out, together with the Gundog Estate winery next door. We picked up some fabulous wines here to take for our last few weeks in Sydney before we leave for 9 months, and the various dinners that would involve!

Picking up some outstanding drops in Gundog Estate, helped by the lovely Cathy

We also called in on another friend in the Hunter living on a vineyard, He has an amazing cellar and another case was procured to see us through the weeks ahead. Some really interesting wines in this little selection.

Please go and support these businesses up in the Hunter, they will really need us this year if we are to continue to enjoy a thriving wine industry in Australia.

Our next stop was Newcastle, up the coast from Sydney a couple of hours. This city is also becoming a real hub for good food and wine. Is that why our friends moved there? Well we had a cracking weekend finding out, with visits to excellent bars, restaurants and cafes, and some walks between showers to burn off the calories.

The rain held off for a coastal stroll
The surf is really rolling in with the storms
A sudden downpour calls for beer and negronis

Spending quality time with friends, breaking bread, shooting the breeze, sharing dreams and memories, this is so important to us. It had been a friend‘s birthday a few days before and her hubby had organised for six surprise guests to arrive for a night. Well the extreme weather and ensuing accidents on the roads put paid to Plan A, and then Plan B, finally Plan C worked and she was delighted to see not just the four of us for dinner but ten smiling faces round the table. Nothing better…

Pre dinner drinks at Bar Petite
Then the big surprise at Rustica restaurant
The surprise dinner

We luckily had a storm free run down with the caravan to Sydney and dropped it for repairs after my little accident in January. If you are the driver of white ute who careered round a corner in Nowra on the 2nd of January and forced a Land Cruiser towing a caravan to veer out of the way and hit a street sign…I hope you were rushing to something important enough to risk others peoples‘ life and limbs (and property).

Caravan-free, we made it to Matraville in Sydney’s south eastern suburbs , where our dear friends Jenny and David live. This is where our fur child is well cared for while we are away. These are always happy times, sharing meals and laughs with these guys and other Sydney based friends, tinged with a little sadness knowing it will be a long time before we see them all again. We leave on March the 1st and are not back until mid November. But what tales we will all have to share by then?

Looking back at La Perouse
Stopping on our ride around Yarra Bay for a cup of tea on the rocks
A golden orb spider
A red gum
Looking out across Botany Bay
Sunday morning hiking gang
A lovely catch up with friend Rachel at Japanese restaurant Izakaya Fujiyama
We cycled over to Maroubra for a cup of tea with friend Twiggy, visiting from Brisbane

We have managed to get out on our bikes for some rides, the last one being an absolute cracker along 18 km of almost continuous car-free cycleway along the southern beach suburbs of Sydney from Kyeemagh (just south of Sydney airport) to Cronulla.

Calm waters at Kyeemagh Beach Baths as we set off
Cook Park
Some welcome shade as we ride along through Ramsgate, looking out into Botany Bay
Lunch at Zimzala Restaurant in Cronulla

It’s so great to see some investment going into upgrading parts of this popular route. If we use this infrastructure then hopefully our councils will see the demand is there and continue to invest.

So now we settle into the last 10 days of our time in Australia, with much to still organise, and our excitement building as flight day approaches.

28 January- 2 February: Northern NSW coasting, and Yamba casts a spell…

Author: Mr A

Location: Tweed Heads and Yamba, New South Wales, Australia

We left our friends in Noosa with heavy hearts. This roaming lifestyle means we have no clue when we will see them again. Good friendships survive distance, but are renewed with proximity. It has been a fantastic week but now we its time to head south towards Sydney.

Firstly though we needed to collect our home away from home from the manufacturer, Zone RV in Coolum, where they had serviced it. It was all ready and waiting for us, well, until they noticed our solar power wasn’t working. They immediately threw a sparky at the problem, found the fault, fixed it, and we were on our way. Great service from Zone RV. It’s a good feeling to see a company that has worked so hard to bring innovation into this traditional industry survive the ups and downs of a highly competitive and crowded market.

Our destination for the night was a riverside camping park at the small town of Tweed Heads. We really didn’t see much of it. By the time we had unpacked all of our gear from a week‘s stay, cleaned and reorganised the van it was late afternoon, and, as we found out when we went for a walk along the river bank, mosquito o’clock!

A pair of rainbow lorikeets nesting in a tree hollow beside the river

We returned indoors to relish our first air conditioned sleep since before Christmas. Lovely…

Our next stop was the coastal settlement of Yamba, famous for its prawns, delivered to the docks almost daily by the local trawlers. We arrived in time for lunch and followed the advice of a friend who grew up here and headed to Beechwood Cafe, just around the corner from our campsite.

Chilli Yamba Prawn salad and fresh sardines

Local sardines and prawns were accompanied by super fresh salad sourced from Grafton. Expensive for lunch, we felt, at $65 for the two of us, but it was great quality.

Enjoying the shade and fresh breeze at this little Turkish cafe

Times will be tough for businesses like these, with bookings to Australia from international visitors already down 10% on last year as a direct result of the bushfires. That’s an estimated $4.5bn loss to tourism related businesses. Even the local oyster farmer had suffered financially from the fires, his oyster beds having been damaged by burnt trees falling and sweeping his beds away. Small businesses like these need our support – and we we’re happy to oblige with an order for two dozen!

Two dozen oysters coming up….

We loved Yamba so much our planned two night stay turned into five! There’s so much to do here, with stunning surf beaches, meandering, sheltered waterways for boating, great cycling paths, and…the Best-Fish-and-Chips-in-Australia. I know…not a big call given the mediocre standard of most, but these from Yamba’s Fisho (suitably Australian name) were truly sensational. Washed down with a new favourite white grape of ours, Alvarinho, from a winery we visited in Rutherglen (Stanton and Colleen). We have found it to be a perfect partner for seafood.

At the end of the Yamba Breakwall
Sitting on the rocks watching the Terns diving for fish
Looking back towards the town along the break wall
Turners Beach, quiet at the end of the day
Walking over Clarence Head
Yamba Lighthouse (also called the Clarence River Light) built 1955
Admiring the estuary from Pilot Hill
The view across Yamba Beach from the Pacific Hotel
Mrs & Mr A outside the pub post Friday afternoon beverage

Unfortunately we have both caught colds, again, that’s right – just after we’ve recovered from the flu. It’s been a bit of an ordinary trip this time from a catching-every-virus-going perspective. Anyway, after some restful days with short walks in the relative cool of the later afternoon (anything less than 30°C is a bonus it seems nowadays!), we decided to venture out on the water for a paddle. What a great day we had.

Seeking out the shallow, quiet waters away from the jet skis and fishing boats
Beautiful reflections in the still waters alongside Sleeper Island
Finding a private beach for lunch on Freeburn Island

While the Clarence river stretches for a bend short of 400km, we managed to cover 4% of those..so many more to explore one of these days. We saw several sea eagles and kites cruising what seem to be a healthy waterway, judging by their success rate at finding fish snacks.

When we took a ferry over to the small settlement of Iluka on the other side of the river mouth, dolphins were doing their jumpy thing right alongside the boat, busy hunting fish of their own.

A bottle nose dolphin dives for dinner right beside us
Another pair chasing their lunch
Riding through the Iluka Nature Reserve – a protected area of native rainforest
Rushing to outrun the hungry mosquitoes
The pristine perfection of Bluff Beach
Waves crashing over Iluka Bluff

We stayeded in Iluka for a few hours, riding though some rain forest, chased by mossies, then emerging on this fabulous beach. It would be hard to run out of things to do here over a holiday. But Sydney calls and we must finally drag ourselves away from this watery paradise.

Awaiting our ferry home
Our ferry approaching…and off back to Yamba….and on to pastures new…

1-17 January 2020: Goodbye Sydney…for a few weeks

Author: Mr A

Location: Mosman, Sydney, Australia

I’m sitting in the our caravan waiting for Catherine to come back from yet another doctors appt. She never complains, just gets on with it. This morning is another set of steroid injections in her neck. Not a pleasant exercise, but seems to be keeping her breathing well, so for her worth the discomfort.

We are all packed up and ready to leave our house-sit in Mosman and head north up to Noosa over the weekend, via our friends in Newcastle.

Reflecting on our six weeks here in Sydney, we have missed breathing clean air, missed feeling well (we’ve both had the flu and lingering coughs), and both felt extremely anxious for friends around the country whose properties have been at risk from the fires. On the plus side we have had some great catch ups. Friendships can be maintained on line, but there’s nothing like sharing a glass and breaking bread, mostly a naan with a curry!

Friend Richard cooks up a storm on the only BBQ meal we have eaten on our trip back to Australia (so far!)
A delicious lunch with Rosemary and Richard at their house-sit in Clontarf
Sydney Red Gums frame a view over Middle Harbour

We have watched the bush fires rage around the country, and felt the affects of the smoke here in the middle of its largest city. Australia is going to be at the pointy end of climate change and likely will continue it seems to wrestle with balancing the economic dependence it has on fossil fuels, the lack of climate strategy a succession of our governments has failed to deliver, and being the hottest, driest continent on the planet. I will say no more because I’m not qualified to speak on the science of climate change, although that doesn’t seem to stop some people.

I have read all that I can absorb and have come to what I believe is an informed conclusion. I would encourage you to do the same. The most data rich (rather than “opinion rich”) source I have found is The Conversation, a network of not for profit web media outlets that publish content written by academics and researchers. Also NASA’s web site has some great global content as well. So who would you rather trust, the politician or the scientist? The news reader paid by Robert Murdoch, or someone who actually has some expertise? Sorting through the lies and distortion that hurtle at us from everywhere is going to be the key challenge I think for this decade. We are privileged to live in a democracy, a political system that is always under threat when the worst in humanity is stirred by those who appeal to our fears.

While based in Mosman we have dashed out on a few walks when the air has not been too toxic, and out on the water for some paddles. We have walked along a harbour side path numerous times, and hardly seen another soul.

Mrs A walking on a path around the Harbour – you can hardly believe we’re in the middle of a city of more than 5 million people
Looking out over the Spit
Eastern Water Dragons are plentiful on the Harbourside walks
A magnificent beast
Another fearless Dragon poses by the path

Sydney is such a city of contrasts. The bustling CBD, and then these quiet paths through our green spaces.

The Spit Bridge opens to allow sailing boats across
The serene waters on a lovely clean-air day

It’s one of the things we have always loved about the place we have called home for over 20 years. I really hope those who have stewardship of its future, state and city politicians, provide the strategic thinking it will need to continue to flourish.

16-24 December: Easing into a Sydney Christmas

Author: Mr A

Location: Sydney, Australia

We have had a couple of weeks already of our house sitting, based in Sydney’s lower north shore, catching up with friends, and getting out on the harbour in our kayak when the smoke haze allows.

We set off from Rose Bay for a paddle on a rare blue sky day
So happy to be out on the water
We paddled out to Shark Island, an island in the middle of Sydney Harbour, landing on a small sandy beach and enjoyed a picnic lunch with commanding views
We paddled back via some of Vaucluse’s grander houses
The water is a great place to be on a day like this

It has been great to spread out in a home once again, unpack and re-group. We have lived mostly in our caravan and motorhome for the last two and a half years., which has been an incredible adventure, but every so so often we have realised we need this stability. A series of doctors and dentists appointments for instance, are only enabled if you are in the same place long enough.

A glimmer of sunshine encourages us out for a walk around the coastal path nearby
The dragons are so still and blend in to their surroundings, you often don’t spot them at first
The boats and yachts sit calm in the turquoise waters of Middle Harbour
One of the Eastern Water Dragons we share the neighbourhood with, surveying his domain from the stairway up to the property we are staying in

Catherine has struggled with the smoke from the fires, aggravating a sinusitis response. It’s been difficult to watch so much of our country go up in flames, while our government stands by frozen in inaction.

We are safe from the flames here but the smoke is a problem. The view from our balcony frequently disappears behind choking smoke which hangs around all day long until the wind changes
The smoke lifts a little but still provides a constant filter over the sun, casting an eerie brown-orange light

Seeing friends and rekindling our relationships here has just been the absolute best way to spend this Christmas period. It makes you realise that geography nowadays has been relegated in the list of essential requirements in a relationships.

Christmas bubbles with friends Jenny and Karen
Joined by Tim, Chris and David
Not quite a full team photo, but a good bunch of friends
A morning-after recovery breakfast in Mosman
A Christmas catch up with friends Thomas, Asha and their budding photographer cutie daughter Tamara
A morning breakfast in Balmoral, Sydney

Of course its easier if you are co-located, but our digital channels now mean we can keep up with peoples lives and when we meet concentrate on understanding more than the banal catching up on the everyday events we would have otherwise missed. The “where are you working, how’re your kids doing, and where did you go on holiday” bit is already done for those who allow their friends to see that piece. What isn’t done is to understand their hopes and dreams for the future. This is where we can now spend our limited time together, and it has been so rewarding for us.

So with Christmas Eve upon us, we want to wish you all a wonderful time with your friends and family. We thank you for taking the time to read this blog, it gives us a lot of pleasure to know it enables you to keep in touch with us as we explore this increasingly fragile planet earth.

30 November-7 December: Wallaga Lake and up to hazy Sydney

Author: Mr A

Location: Wallaga Lake, Bermagui, Berry and Sydney NSW

Saturday-Monday: As we moved north with a deadline to get to Sydney, we stopped for what would be our final camping spot of 2019 at the serene Wallaga Lake – well, serene when the water ski boats finally stopped thundering up and down!

Two dozen freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters from Broadwater Oysters in Pambula – we cannot drive past this place with making a purchase
Another room with a view location, lakeside at Wallaga
Pelicans looking hopeful for lunch

A few kilometres outside of the small resort down of Bermagui, Wallaga Lake was a great place for us to just collect ourselves and work out what we would be storing in the van and what we needed to take up to Sydney. A day of cleaning and sorting and we felt a lot more organised. One of the less fun parts of this nomadic life, where we rent a house out and have no base other than two mobile homes in two continents, is working out what we need to take where. Anyway, a quality problem to have, we think.

We would stop one more night at our friends in Berry before storing the caravan in Nowra. Our friends Barb and Omar recently opened their garden for the Berry Gardens Festival, and had around 1700 visitors through! So we were keen to see what had been the drawcards since our last visit in February.

A creative way of hiding an unattractive garage wall and creating a cooler surface
A flowerbed full of natives still looks healthy and vibrant
A thirsty skink welcomes one of the many dishes of water Barb fills up for them around the property

Sadly the drying westerly winds and lack of rain had made it tough to keep some of the highlights alive, but still they have changed a lot of minds about the use of insecticides and the merits of permaculture. Our visits to these guys are always a fascinating insight into this subject I know so little about. I just taste the produce that comes out of their garden and groan in delight, including once again the smoked trout that comes from the swimming pool they convert to a fish farm over the winter. Amazing inspiring people.

Tuesday: Well, we dropped off the caravan and had one very stuffed Landcruiser chugging up to Sydney. We had been invited to house sit a property in the rather exclusive suburb of Mosman on Sydney’s north shore. We have been here now a few days and are settling in. Our fur child is especially pleased to once again have a large house to romp around, and has adopted one of the rooms as her special domain.

Tassie decides that cerise is her colour
A short walk from where we are staying takes us down to the water’s edge
An Eastern Water Dragon looking magnificent, with its camouflage blending nicely in with the environment
A young Grey Butcherbird hunting for insects
Spots and stripes are all the fashion when you’re a dragon
This little chap is pretty safe living here – we can only contrast that with the awful bushfire affected areas surrounding Sydney

We immediately commenced our usual “back in Sydney” program of catch ups with friends, but the joy we would normally experience is missing. It’s so sad to see Sydney bathed in smog from the bushfires that surround this usually beautiful city, the pollution levels ranging from an equivalent of smoking between 10 and 30 cigarettes a day.

The view from our balcony disappears as the smoke rolls in, coating everything in ash and poisoning the air we breathe

It’s hard not to keep thinking about what this means for our future. Add living in the hottest, driest continent to global warming, and we are unlikely to get a happy outcome. I met up with some friends for lunch and the three of us all felt a background level of anxiety that is increasingly affecting the pride and pleasure we have always had to call ourselves Australian. We should be setting an example in this big brown land as to how to tackle these climate change challenges. But we’re not, and that’s depressing.

We see no one competent taking a leadership role in Australia, and we’re not unique in that regard, I do appreciate. The impact on Australia’s wildlife and ecosystems had been already cataclysmic. The pictures emerging of animals burning to death is heartbreaking. People losing everything in bushfires, their homes and livelihoods, where will this end for us? But what as individuals should we be doing to affect change? Is there anyone we trust to think about the country, not their own thirst for power, and just take some brave decisions for the long term?

25-26 November: Exploring Wilsons Promontory

Author: Mr A

Location: Yanakie and Tidal River, Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, Australia

Monday: There’s a decent amount of research that points to being near water as having a calming effect on the brain. Blue Mind science they call it. Being in sight of water has certainly brought much joy to Mrs A and I, and these last few days have been a reminder to us of that.

Gazing out over the ever changing seascape that surrounds the ancient granite mass of Wilsons Promontory has been food for our souls. I reckon our fur child is intrigued by the view as well, spending time, like us, looking out across the bay, watching pelicans land like B52s, as seagulls dog fight for fish scraps around them.

We have stayed at this campsite at Yanakie Bay before. It’s just outside the National Park which comprises most of the surrounding coastline, so we can take Tassie, our adventure cat. It has some “premium” sites metres from the beach. Best of all, at this time of year there has only been a couple of vans here in the two days we have soaked up the serenity.

A flock of sulphur crested cockatoos lift off from this rocky outcrop as we approach by kayak

We headed out in the kayak, batting across the mill-pond like surface of the bay (Corner Inlet for those in the know) heading for a sliver of beach in the distance.

A glorious morning to be on the water, a slight layer of mist just above the surface as we set off
Paddling towards the outer reaches of what is known as ‘The Big Drift’ a huge sand dune just inside the park
It doesn’t get much calmer than this – the clouds reflecting across a mirror-still surface

We later learned it is in fact a great white shark nursery, and we did in fact spot this little fellow (officially called a shark pup) struggling along.

This shark pup doesn’t look too well – the wind is too strong for us to get any closer though to see if we can help…it’s still swimming though…

As we reached the shore, almost immediately a freshening wind blew up, it was a tough paddle back into it, but we hugged the mangrove covered shoreline (the most southerly in Australia) and avoided the worst of the gusts.

Mrs A enjoys a cup of herbal tea in front of our craft
Hugging the shore we see more bird life and shelter from the wind gusts
A flock of gulls and masked lapwings shriek as they spot us and abandon their beach
Three Great Egrets keep flying to the next mangrove bush ahead of us, only to be shocked when our path passes them yet again
Relishing a break in the breeze for a cruise in the shallows, watching stingrays whizz about beneath us
Spot the third sooty oyster catcher on this rock
Cruising on back home – not too far back to the Zone anyhow!
Woken from her nap, Tassie takes Catherine out for a walk

Tuesday: The weather has sure kept us reaching for layers, then shedding them as quickly, in turn Victorian fashion. A few days ago it was 40 degrees, now… a wind chill of minus minus 3.5! Crazy…

Today we headed into the national park by car. Wilsons Prom (Australians have an insatiable need to shorten everything), is a popular destination as local readers will know, for bush walkers, boaters and anyone who loves a bit of a wilderness experience. The last time we tried to come here it was closed because of bushfires, but seems to have recovered well.

Looking out to Norman Island, an important bird breeding sanctuary
Looking south – these islands used to be full of seals – the fur and oil (from blubber) trade drove them almost to extinction and they are yet to recover their numbers
Looking rich and green

We did a couple of short walks, spotting a number of kangaroos sheltering from the gale force winds. A wedge tailed eagle (sorry no photo evidence) was even struggling to stay on track with its massive powerful wings. Smaller birds has given up the ghost and were bunkered down.

Our first walk took us through the wetland area around Tidal River – dressed up against the wind
The racing clouds create some great shadows on the surrounding mountains
Glimmers of sunshine spotlight the grasses, highlighting their colours
The Tidal RIver footbridge
Sunshine completely changes the landscape, however briefly

We called into the visitor‘s centre and had a read up on the Prom. All very well presented, other than a blank space for anything before European settlement! I quizzed the young girl behind the counter, who said they had been struggling to get the two tribes who laid claim to the area to agree, and yet the centre has been there for 30 years! She also confidently told me the area had been inhabited for “hundreds of thousands of years”. Actually it has been inhabited for around 6,000 years and the ‘real’ name of the Prom is Wamoom or Wamoon, a name used nowhere in the centre that I could see. Surely Victorian Parks could do a better job than this of educating visitors on the First Australian history of the park?

Our second walk, through the banksia woodland down to Corner Inlet
Spring flowers abound
Beautiful banksia
The southern-most stand of mangroves in the world, apparently
Beautiful coloured granite at Millers Landing
Hello there! Or should I say, g’day?

We have loved our time here in this beautiful, wild and undeveloped coastline. Tomorrow we will turn back north and retrace our steps up the cost of Australia into NSW, with indelible memories in our heads. This is the best of caravanning. To be able to place yourself in such a fabulous place, the gateway to explore a unique environment, then have everything you need in your cosy little space when you head back indoors, that‘s pretty amazing.

18-20 November: A trip over Australia’s highest road and into the water wonderland of East Gippsland

Author: Mr A

Location: Mount Hotham, Metung, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale, Victoria, Australia

Monday: There are only two ways to get from where we had camped in Beechworth and over to the east coast of Victoria, head south west nearly all the way into Melbourne, or head up over the Australian Alps and down into East Gippsland. We chose the latter, and set off with our friends also towing the same caravan as us, and using the same tow vehicle, a 200 Series Toyota LandCruiser, which was the same colour!

Diane and Mark in their carbon copy rig head up the mountain

Our very well matched, colour co-ordinated mini convoy set off, with me a little nervous about dragging over 3 tons of van over the highest bitumen road in Australia. Our friends who had grown up in the area, were faintly amused at me, and the “nervous Nellie” phrase was bandied around at one stage over the radio link we were were using. Australian humour at its best, it‘s almost British, and our friends Mark and Diane were super helpful with advice on how to drive to get safely over the mountain.

It’s a road to be treated with respect, climbing to a pass at 1862 metres (just over 6,000 feet), even on a day with such perfect road conditions as we had. Blue skies stretched on forever over the forests of eucalyptus trees, which later changed to hardy snow gums as we toiled our way up the mountain.

Fabulous views across the range from Mount Hotham
Is this the first cat to pay her respects to this mountain legend?
Look closely and you will see there is snow up here…

By global standards these aren’t high mountains, but in the largely flat landscape of Australia, they stand proud. We eventually reached the highest point at the ski resort of Mount Hotham, now, like so many alpine resorts in the summer, focused on offering wild mountain biking trails down the slopes, and a helping hand up in the form of a chair lift.

Our fur child seemed to be as engaged in admiring the unfolding scenery as us!

Miss Tassie enjoys the views as we climb up the mountain
Just when you think you are at the top, the road winds up even further – spot our fellow Zoners ahead of us

We started the somewhat gentler drive down the eastern side of the mountains, and thanks to local knowledge from our friends, stopped at a perfect lunch spot for a break and a calming cuppa.

Mark, Diane and Catherine at our lunch spot

It was a glorious run down into East Gippsland, which covers over 31,000 square kilometres. Belgium for comparison is only 30,000 square kilometres, with a population though of over 11.4 million, compared to East Gippsland’s 80,000. That‘s right, it’s not a busy part of the world. This immediately made itself apparent as we went for mile after mile with hardly another car on the road.

We were nearing our friends house, perched a few hundred metres from the extensive interconnected lake system, which has made this area the haunt of those who love messing about in boats, fishing or bird watching, With over 350 square kilometres of generally calm water protected by one of the longest stretches of sand in the world, Ninety Mile Beach (over 100km). For comparison (yes you’re at the statistical part of this blog) the Gippsland Lakes are over eight times larger than Sydney Harbour. Now thats a lot of quiet boating, and we wasted no time the next morning in getting out amongst it in our sea kayak.

Tuesday: Our first foray on water, thanks to a lively wind forecast, was on the protected waters of one of the three rivers that flows into the lakes, the Tambo River. It just sounds so quintessentially Australian doesn’t it? …And yet I wonder how many fellow Aussies have heard of it? Our friends came with us in their single kayaks, and we set off down river into a fairly stiff head wind. When they had paddled enough and decided to turn around, they kindly offered to drive our car down to another pull out point so we could do a one way trip.

The peaceful Tambo River
Diane and Mark in their singles
A tree hangs on at the top of a sandstone cliff

We had done very little paddling, or any other arm or core related exercise over the last few years, so certainly noticed the effort needed to propel even our sleek beast through the water. We spotted a nankeen kestrel cruising the water for lunch, and a kingfisher lurking along the river bank, given away by his azure wings and peach tummy feathers.

Curious calves watch in amazement as we pass by
Black and white to hide a sore red nose!

After some whining from me about my kayak seat, which seems to have shrunk whilst in storage for 7 months (but I love French croissants), we finally reached the boat launch where we were met by our friends.

A rather gentler afternoon followed, with Miss T loving exploring their house and garden. This is such an idyllic spot, with whip birds calling to one another in the surrounding peppermint gums, and the tiny hornbills that were flitting around their oasis of a courtyard.

Feeling safe in the courtyard
Hunting lizards in the garden beds
A crimson rosella flies in to have a drink of water

I did though get some welcome advice from Mark (yes not only do we have the same caravan and car, but share a name!) Which involved peering under the Zone as stuff that has always mystified me. Mark has a lovely way of simplifying things so even the likes of me can comprehend.

Mr A and Mr B underneath the Zone

Wednesday: The next day the wind forecast was kinder for more open water kayaking, so we set out across the lake to circle around one of the islands in it. Paddling through this stunning waterscape was made the more poignant by its contrast to the European seascape we had equally admired. There were no soaring castles perched on the edge of the lake, or flotillas of yachts (we saw 4 boats in 4 hours). This was nature unadorned by human. Apparently 1% of the world‘s black swan population call this area home, and they made a majestic vista as we gazed across these pristine waters. A pair of sea eagles then decided to glide over and check us out. This is Australia at its unspoilt best.

A beautiful calm morning for a paddle
Nungurner Jetty
Mark B tries his hand at catching us some fish for lunch
McAuliff’s Island, home to a private holiday retreat and covered in Glaucous Pigface (the pink flowers!)

We then had a good reminder how forecasts are not always accurate, and gradually the wind built until we were experiencing gusts that made paddling even in our long stable kayak interesting. Our friends in their shorter boats were getting an increasingly wet and bumpy ride.

The wind was behind us, so up came the sail and we cruised on back along the coast
Passing a picturesque bay with a private jetty
Mr & Mrs A…including sore nose…

Luckily the wind built to a crescendo just as we bobbed back into the jetty. A salutary reminder that even sheltered waters need to be treated with respect.

We all felt like we had earned a decent dinner, “tea” as its still called in these parts, and off we went to the nearest big (relatively) town of Bairnsdale. Well what a superb dining experience we were given at The Loft.

Tasteful design and lighting are key to enhancing the atmosphere at The Loft, located in some old converted stables dating back to the 1800s

Gerry, the chef and owner, and his team of two, provided us with food and wine that was absolutely up there with any big city dining experience. A superb selection of mostly locally sourced produce, with beef, lamb and pork dishes coming cooked to perfection and accompanied by fresh local veggies. My bouillabaisse was a match for any I had in France, with the seafood having travelled a lot fewer kilometres before it hit my plate, and a nice edge of spice that I so missed in much French cuisine. If you’re in the area please support this top quality spot.

Dinner accompanied by a delicious Shiraz from Lightfoot & Sons, local winemakers
Chef Gerard DeBoer – Gerry – is clearly passionate about producing excellent quality meals