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 15 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! 🍷

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!

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.

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.

22 November-11 December: A whirlwind three weeks in Sydney

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, NSW, Australia

With our final Covid-19 tests proving negative, we finally escaped from Howard Springs Quarantine Facility on Sunday 22 November!

The coach to the airport finally leaves the quarantine compound – such a relief to escape!

We flew out of Darwin and back over to Sydney, arriving at a very quiet Sydney airport, and into the waiting arms of our friend Jenny. She whisked us back to her apartment to our lovely abandoned Burmese cat, Princess Tassie. Jenny had generously prepared plates of freshly shucked Coffin Bay oysters and delicious juicy king prawns for us – a first meal back that kept us going through the those final days of captivity. Such a warm and wonderful return.

A purring Tassie, champagne, oysters and prawns – what a wonderful welcome back

The normality of life in Sydney is just amazing. Hardly a mask is to be seen, and although there are signs everywhere encouraging social distancing, with zero community transmitted C19 cases in the whole of New South Wales (2.5 times the size of the British Isles, with about a third of the population) there is no policing of this. While we still are invited to use hand sanitiser in the shops, there is nobody barking at you to insist you do it, and changing rooms are open for trying on clothes.

People are moving back into normality, with hugs given, families reuniting, and as of this weekend, dancing allowed again in pubs and night clubs. To be catapulted into this life of Covid-freeness after our strict mask-wearing two weeks at Howard Springs and the preceding months in the UK, was somewhat surreal, and we absolutely respect the hard lines drawn to enable this to happen.

Our diaries were packed full almost immediately, with catch ups with friends, neighbours and colleagues the perfect antidote to the necessities of dentist, doctor and specialist visits.

Our friends Clive and Aisha cook up a wonderful storm at their Darlinghurst apartment
Step-brother Dan and his fiancée Bec treat us to wine, cheese and nibbles on a hot Sunday evening
Our ferry ride home rewards us with some magnificent sunset skies
Another evening brings us a great catch up with some of Mark’s old CBA friends
Amazing we can eat in restaurants as though there is no pandemic at all!
Our friends Karen and Chris come down for a night from their home in Newcastle…of course there are more bubbles….there’s a lot to celebrate!
A delicious brunch with friends Jenny and David, Chris and Karen
Great food, wine and laughs with more friends – Bill and Olga, David and Michelle, Clive and Aisha at King Street Wharf

Special thanks go to our friends Donna and Andy, and separately Rosemary and Richard who prepared delicious meals for us at their homes – we feel so blessed to have such generous friends who are also fabulous cooks!

In addition to wining and dining with friends, we made the most of the fine weather with some walks around the Harbour and coast. After our two weeks of incarceration, the freedom to roam was simply wonderful, the air clean and clear with no fires so far this season.

Our first walk was a decent 20km hike, part of the 80km Bondi to Manly walk, which we started from Rose Bay (walk map).

A brief tea break in the shade to admire the wonderful view across Sydney Harbour
It’s hard to beat the Harbour beaches on a stunning late spring morning
Sydney’s distinctive city skyline
Lunch was fish and chips at Doyles at Watsons Bay, after which we kept following the coast
More rewarding views
Rainbow lorikeets accompany us on our cliff edge walk
We concluded our long walk with a refreshing paddle in the water at a busy Bondi Beach…it’s good to be back!

We’ve also enjoyed some beautiful scenery around the less well frequented Botany Bay National Park, loving the early summer flora, much of which is unique to this area.

A short walk to Maroubra beach with friend ,Karen
David joins us for an explore around the rocky shores of Malabar Headland
Our friend Bill takes us on a tour around his favourite parts of Neutral Bay and Cremorne, joined by Tilly the dog

We learned that there is a coastal walk that goes from Maroubra around to Coogee Beach. From there you could follow the coast all the way round to Manly, making for quite an impressive long distance walk. We drove the 5 minutes down to the beach from Jenny and David’s apartment and set off – walking one way to Coogee and catching the bus back to the car after brunch in a beachside cafe. Very civilised!

Spectacular scenery on the little known Maroubra to Coogee coast walk…can you spot the kookaburra?

At the other end of Maroubra Beach is Maroubra Headland, with a stunning circuit walk through native bush land, simply teeming with birds. New Holland honeyeaters, fairy wrens, fire tails, wattle birds and nankeen kestrels fill the air with their flitting, swooping and hovering. The walk is not always open, and in fact often at the weekend you cannot even attempt it due to a shooting range located there. Given the luxury of time, we walked it mid-week (walk map).

The sparkling waters and soft sands of a deserted Maroubra Beach make for a great starting point
The vibrant golden banksia flowers make a stark contrast to the deep blue of the ocean

We finished off our time in Sydney with a hike around Henry Head. The walking paths of this circuit hike have only been finished in the past couple of years, starting from La Perouse on the shores of Botany Bay (walk map).

The pristine waters of Botany Bay – it’s hard to believe these were the colour of tea this time last year, stained by the burning bush land
And breathe…the greens and blues of tranquility
A tea break down at Browns Rock, a picturesque fishing location
The 1800s fort up at Henry Head is now used by street artists – some with more talent than others
Cape Banks – the Westpac Rescue Helicopter is off on a training mission
Concluding our walk at Little Congwong Beach – described as one of the most beautiful beach oases in Sydney

As we reached the end of our time in Sydney we treated Jenny to an oyster appetiser for our final night with her, surprising her on her return from a full on day at work with a glass of wine.

Thank you again Jenny and David, for caring for Tassie while we travelled and your never ending generosity 💛

And then we were off, back on the road heading south to Nowra to collect our caravan, kayak and bikes. Tassie has to get used to having a few hours less sleep a day and an ever changing scene outside the window. We get the feeling she doesn’t mind that much!

Adventure cat is back on the road….farewell Sydney – we’ll see you again in January!

16-22 November: Survival learnings for Howard Springs: We’re released!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Block D1, Donga 6A, Howard Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

And so we have finally reached the end of our two week sentence, and are about to board a flight to Sydney. woo-hoo!

Time during this second week seemed to crawl by in contrast to the first, Sunday seeming never to arrive. We can hardly imagine how the poor people in South Australian quarantine felt last weekend when, upon reaching their final day were told a staff member had tested positive for Covid-19 and they therefore had to quarantine for another two weeks in another hotel! No wonder one of the ‘inmates’ had a severe panic attack and ended up in hospital! The deadline of our flight is all that has got us through this period.

We had our final Covid-19 tests on Thursday morning, the rather unpleasant stick down the throat and up the nose. Give we have heard nothing about those results, we are told that ‘no news is good news‘, so can assume we are negative for the virus. I’d be rather worried if we tested positive, given we’ve not been anywhere for two weeks!

Early morning pilates is interrupted for a C19 test

So as we prepare to depart this facility, I have been thinking about what advice I would share for someone coming to serve time here at Howard Springs resort in the coming months. I share some tips under the following categories:

  • Exercise
  • Mealtimes and food
  • Laundry and cleaning
  • Social contact
  • Entertainment

Exercise – given the revised instructions that you cannot leave your deck (unless you’re going to the laundry or the rubbish bin), it’s pretty hard to get much exercise done, but it is possible. When the internet is working, it is possible to stream classes online (I have done a couple this way, also using my phone as a hotspot), but I wouldn’t rely on this. Primarily we have played pre-recorded classes which do not rely on being online or do our own thing.

You’re allowed to order goods from BigW and KMart, which will be collected by workers from Howard Springs and delivered to your room – we ordered two yoga mats ($10 each), giving us a clean space to exercise on outside. There are regularly bush fires around the area, and the deck is always covered in a thin layer of brown ash. You’ll notice that in no time when you look at the soles of your bare feet – you’ll be pleased to have an easily cleaned rubber mat as a safe haven to stand on!

Mealtimes and food: 24-hours worth of food is delivered in bags at around 6pm – that is a hot meal for the evening, breakfast and lunch for the following day. The food here is not too bad considering they are catering for around 1,000 people, workers included. They manage quite well with dietary needs (I am dairy-free), though the food choices are not necessarily what I would eat. Monday night is chicken parmigiana for the ‘normal’ people, so I get the vegan version – polenta with vegan cheese. I have honestly never eaten anything so unpleasant! The lunches are usually some kind of salad, and unfortunately the leaves do not survive the night, and by the following day are limp and unappetising. Thursday night is chicken and prawn laksa night – everyone’s favourite!

Top left:Food delivered to your doorstep around 6pm Top right: Mr A’s Wednesday night pasta night Bottom: Tuesday night’s delivered meals for the next 24 hours – barramundi curry for dinner

I recommend supplementing with your own food. You’re allowed to order deliveries from Coles supermarket with a minimum order of $50. Given it is an alcohol-free facility, endless cups of tea (black tea bags and instant coffee is provided, we brought our own herbal teas) and plain cold water get a little tiring, so we ordered sparkling water, fresh lemon and a couple of bottles of Diet Coke to add some variety. Food wise, we bought some fresh mangos, avocado and a bag of ‘superfood coleslaw’ (chopped beetroot, kale, cabbage, carrot and others), plus some chilli sauce and mayonnaise to add some flavour – each room has its own fridge. Of course there were a couple of packets of crisps and the odd bar of chocolate too, but we didn’t go too crazy on the junk food!

A good mix of healthy and unhealthy food purchases for our stay

Plates and cutlery: reading in advance we saw that all the food comes in takeaway containers with biodegradable cutlery. We decided that as food is such an important part of the day while here, we would bring our own cutlery (knife, fork and spoon each) and plastic plates and bowls. These add a little more normality to our eating. We use our Stanley mugs for water rather than the paper cups. They keep cold drinks ice cold for a long while. Mr A has his new Leatherman wave multi-tool so we have a knife, and we brought along a light. flexible chopping board for preparing those juicy mangos. Apparently you are not allowed to buy knives in your shopping once you are here.

Not fancy or expensive but do the trick and give us a little smile each meal time

Laundry and cleaning: Over the two weeks, we were allocated four days where we could do our washing. Mark and I made sure we took advantage of them all, just for the exercise – though some of our neighbours just washed items in their bathroom sink and dried items draped over their balcony rail. There are plenty of washing machines and dryers, plus a rotary washing line. Washing powder is provided in your welcome pack.

There are no clothes pegs provided, so we brought our own. We also brought a pegless washing line from our camping kit to stretch out over the deck to dry underwear, towels and so on.

Top: an approaching storm hastens the bringing in of washing off the line Bottom left: the washing-drying machine bank – tip – put powder into the barrel rather than the powder tray Bottom right: bring pegs for the washing line

Cleaning: On arrival you are provided with a welcome pack with antibacterial surface spray, plenty of disposable cloths, bin bags, soap and other toiletries, plus bucket and dustpan and brush. What is not provided is anything for dish washing. We brought a little pot of dishwashing liquid, a sponge and a tea towel.

Social contact: When the internet is working, it’s great to be able to chat with friends to pass the time, even if they are making you jealous with their freedom to roam! While we cannot move around our courtyard and socialise with neighbours, we do make sure to have a chat where possible. Mark’s totted up hours of conversation with Lloyd in the donga opposite me discussing topics as diverse as music, archaeology, travel and history.

We’ve set up a messenger chat group with two girls also in our block, Claire a super smart doctor, expecting her first child, and Bridie who has been quite unwell while here with ulcerative colitis which has resulted in her spending a few days in the Royal Darwin Hospital. Being able to remotely check up on each other has been great, keeping spirits high and sharing stories. We’ve even played a version of online Pictionary (Gartic.io) which has given us a few laughs.

We’ve suggested to the quarantine director that they set up an official Facebook group for new arrivals, and they have now confirmed this has been done for future quarantinees. This should help the right information get out there in advance and offer a moderated platform for asking questions and sharing information.

Entertainment: Each room comes with a TV with all the free-to-air terrestrial channels including digital radio. There are HDMI and USB ports, so if you have a Chromecast device to stream to, you can use that. What you can’t use is the quarantine internet for streaming – not only is it not reliable enough, but it requires a log in via browser, which is not possible on the Chromecast. The only way you can stream to your TV is using your own mifi device. We brought ours over from the UK which has a Vodafone sim with roaming enabled. Unfortunately the signal is also very weak, so it’s just not been good enough to use. The signal works between two rooms (when it is working).

I recommend just downloading content to your tablet or laptop whenever the internet is working, and watch via that.

Bose Speaker – we have a Spotify subscription and music has been our saviour from isolation. We take it in turns to use it in our room.

Don’t forget to bring your Australian charging plugs or a plug that converts your international plug to Aussie – it’s amazing how many people do forget, and it’s not possible to share items or buy any once you are here. We have plugs with multiple USB ports as well.

Another fine Northern Territory sunset

Routine helped us get through the day – starting with our pilates, followed by showers, lunch, then an afternoon of reading, researching or writing, before dinner arrives, sunset enjoyed and an evening of downloaded entertainment, inter dispersed with chats with friends and family around the world.

For me, especially, the nights seemed so long. I write with blurry eyes having had two weeks of jet lag, of insomnia and broken sleep, never achieving more than four hours on the trot, despite resisting the temptation to nap during the day. That has been my greatest challenge, and something I hope stops once I am back in Sydney. Mark tells me his conscience is clear, allowing him to settle into his usual sleep patterns really quickly!

Perhaps wine is the answer? I shall discover tonight!

WE ARE RELEASED!

Woo-hoo! We are released!!!

10-12 November: …When you’re excited about a trip to the laundry…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Howard Springs Quarantine Centre, Howard Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

We have just finished day 5 of quarantine and it’s incredible how the time has flown.

Our first couple of days were consumed with calls to and from the IT team here, trying to get us fixed up with internet. Being online in a situation like this is second only to having water, electricity and food. Fortunately we didn’t have to move rooms, and have a working connection now.

Then we had the excitement of our yoga mats being delivered from our BigW online order. Now we have added an early morning pilates class to our routine and intermittent bouts of press ups, yoga and stretches throughout the day.

 « Please let me get some sleep tonight »

Nine am we either have a face-to-face visit from a team of medicos in full PPE (combat trousers, hiking shoes, long sleeve shirt, blue latex gloves, apron, orange masks that look like Donald Duck beaks and clear visors) or a phone call to check on our overall health, looking particularly for COVID symptoms and to record our temperatures.

There are a lot of staff here. Our cabins are two cyclone fences away from where the Australia Medical Assistance Team (AUSMAT) nurses, doctors, army personnel and NT police are all staying. We get to spot them on their breaks as they mingle in the ‘green-zone’ (we are in the ‘red-zone’) mask-free, laughing about the football results and getting to know one another.

Must be a shift change for the AUSMAT team….

Although we are treated a bit like criminals by most of the police, the AUSMAT workers are all quite friendly and chatty (from a safe distance,) and we learn that most volunteered for this job and hail from all parts of Australia. Many also had to endure quarantine before starting their jobs here, so are sympathetic to our predicament.

Mr A feeling relaxed, as evidenced by his armband monitoring health app

I have really struggled with jet lag. Normally I reboot into the right time zone quite quickly by getting out for fresh air and exercise during the day, following my usual habits to familiarise my brain with the new time zone. In quarantine that hasn’t been possible. Outdoor time is limited to the deck outside our cabins – at least we have two of those, but due to the high temperatures (36 degrees most days, with a ‘feels like’ temperature of up to 42 degrees!) we’re not out that frequently or for too long. Last night I finally managed 9 hours of intermittent sleep – much needed after four consecutive nights of three or less hours. Hopefully have broken the back of it now – the pilates seems to help. Mr A usually struggles with jet lag, but seems to be back to his normal sleep rhythms already.

Six pm is the exciting time when our food for the next 24 hours is delivered in paper bags to the steps outside our cabin. A hot evening dinner, designed to cater for required dietary needs, plus a cold breakfast and lunch for the following day. It’s a frenzy of activity, getting the cold foods into the fridge before dashing back out to the table to eat dinner before it loses the last remnants of heat. The food is not exactly what we would usually consume, but it fills a hole. I don’t think we will be gaining any weight here!

Our evening food bag delivery is on its way…
No date-books here, and what on earth is plum powder? I didn’t find out…
We’re allowed masks off to eat! Tonight was a laksa – not too bad! We’re pleased we bought our plastic Christmas plates and bowls plus metal knives, forks and spoons so we don’t have to eat out of the takeaway containers with disposable cutlery.

The food is ‘ok’. I don’t think I have finished a whole meal yet, with last night’s tagliatelle with some sort of mince and tomatoey-pesto sauce being the tastiest so far, but still with way too much pasta which became sticky and gluggy after a while. It must be hard to cater for 300+ people with all different needs though, and given those constraints they’re doing fine. We’re certainly not starving, and there is often an accompanying vegan and gluten free dessert to fill up on if dinner is not to your taste, plus plenty of fruit.

Today, day 5, was our allocated day to visit the laundry, a whole 20 metres away. We had almost forgotten how to walk! It felt amazing to stretch out the legs on the way up there, and hanging out our clothes and towels allowed us to see something new of the area we are in. We felt so guilty as we stepped off our cabin steps and walked up the building…almost expecting one of the overzealous police to come and tackle us to the ground…though given we are seen as potentially harbouring an unwanted viral visitor, perhaps it would be a cattle prod instead!

Escaped the cell! Washing day has never been so exciting….

Either way, our washing machine visit went without incidence and resulted in clean and very quickly dried clothes. Our memories of struggling to dry our washing in Truffy on those wet autumn days in the UK are already fading in the hot Australian sun.

This afternoon it was the excitement of a tropical thunderstorm. We saw the sky darkening as we took our crispy washing off the line, and it wasn’t long before we heard the first deep tones of thunder and thick, heavy drops of rain falling on the tin roof. It wasn’t as torrential or long-lasting as the weather forecast had warned, but cooled the temperatures down slightly and gave the novel aroma of hot summer rain to our environment.

The weather warning sounded much more exciting than the actual storm!
Hurrah! The rain is here!

The Northern Territory is famed for its wildlife, which on past visits up this way we have greatly enjoyed. From our 6×2 metre combined decks we crane our necks to spot anything we can. Morning is when we are most likely to see a pair of black kites circling the nearby highway, looking out for roadkill from the previous night. During the day we hear (but are yet to see) rainbow bee-eaters hunting for insects, and sunset is when we spot families of noisy white cockatoos squawking across the sky, more graceful black cockatoos calling as they pass overhead, large flocks of ibis and fluttering pairs of lorikeets and rosellas chattering their way to roost for the night. All very exciting. No snakes, spiders or anything furry so far.

Ibis (top) and cockatoos fly home for the night as the sun sets

We’re getting lots of reading done, loving our chance to have long video-calls with friends and even had a great Zoom call with our book club yesterday, with members present from the UK, France, and the east-coast of Australia. What initially seemed like a long and daunting two week prison sentence is not going to be so bad after all. We’ll do our time, and before we know it will be out and back on our next flight across to Sydney.

Another fine NT sunset
No parties on D-block
The sky is on fire

7 November: And we are off!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Heathrow Airport, London, UK

After a very disturbed night’s sleep, we were up and off to the airport on the Heathrow Express. As seems to be our experience these past few days, the train was virtually empty, with no flights departing from Terminal 3 and only a handful of planes leaving from Terminal 2, our destination.

Off we go…our first step….

Check in went very smoothly, the Qantas agent confiding that there was no weighing of luggage on this flight, we could have brought the kitchen sink if we had wanted! There’s nothing we have left behind that we think we would need in Australia however, and we were soon off through security.

Final use of the NHS covid app…

Heathrow is eerily quiet. None of the usual constant flight announcements echoing throughout the terminal, hardly any food outlets open, and then only for takeaway. Many of the seats have signs on them encouraging people to keep their distance, and there is hand sanitiser on every corner.

Even the internet is super fast with hardly any users allowing some final farewells with friends and family.

Final chat with mum, sister, nephew and niece

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to follow our adventures, and for all of the well wishes for our journey, it’s wonderful to know you’re out there and we are not just writing for ourselves!

Heathrow as we have never seen it before

Our next post will be from a very hot Darwin quarantine centre on the other side of the world….hard to imagine! The adventure continues….

1-5 November: More farewells and another lockdown commences

Author: Mrs A

Location: Portsmouth, Hampshire, Honiton, Devon and London, UK

We left Brighton and made our way along the coast to Portsmouth, arriving in time to tune in our little TV and listen to Boris’s Saturday afternoon address of the nation. Except the 4pm address was delayed to 5pm….then the 5pm to 6pm….and the 6pm to…who knows when, because by then we were sipping our first gin and tonics with my sister Elle and brother in law John! They prepared a delicious spaghetti bolognaise and which we enjoyed with the usual sprinkling of funny stories, laughter and some rather delicious red wine.

After dinner we heard confirmation of the announcement – the UK is to go into a countrywide ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown as of Thursday the 5th November. All non-essential shops are to close, and foreign travel is banned. Thankfully the Australian Embassy in London countered that to confirm that the repatriation flight we’re on is still going to leave on Saturday, and that we are exempt from that rule.

Catherine, nearly one Iris and Elle
Auntie Catherine with William and Edward

All too soon it was Sunday morning and we said farewell, pointing Truffy’s nose westwards to a campsite just outside Honiton in Devon.

It was our final chance to use the services, clean out the toilet thoroughly and basically get Truffy ready for storage.

On Monday we were welcomed to our friends’ Karen and Dan house, where we tackled the final washing requirements and they were very conveniently having a new part of their loft boarded…just in time for us to avail ourselves of a small portion of space for Truffy’s soft furnishings and a few bits and pieces we aren’t taking back to Australia. We are so grateful to these generous friends for their welcome help – conveniently located just 15 minutes drive from where we are storing our motorhome.

I join Karen for a stroll with a dog she occasionally walks…or should I say occasionally walks her!

Over the next three days, we prepared Truffy for winter – draining out the tanks, blowing out all the water from the pipes, and after our last storage experience, setting up some mouse bait stations in the hope we can save some of our wiring from nibbling teeth!

Finally it was time to store Truffy. We awoke to a crisp, clear morning and a fabulous view over the frosty white rooftops of Honiton and to the fields beyond. The perfect farewell memory for this stunning part of the UK. The autumn trees were positively glowing as we drove along empty roads to the storage place and parked Truffy up for the last time.

A frosty Thursday morning
Love these autumn colours…
Everything is sparkling

We both felt rather sad driving away. Although this year didn’t bring us the travel adventures we initially expected, we have had some incredible times these past few months, reconnecting with our homeland, watching the seasons change and relishing all the weathers and temperatures that come hand in hand with them.

While we don’t know when we will be able to return we do at least feel comfortable that Truffy’s in safe hands and will hopefully not be in too bad a shape when we eventually return.

Stepping onto an empty train platform at Honiton, followed by a nearly empty train to London, we were reminded that these are strange times, with more to come. This is the first day of the UK’s second Covid-19 lockdown.

Honiton Station is rather lonely
The carriage is quiet too – not many folks travelling up to London with government orders not to travel without good reason
And we’re all alone at Waterloo Station

Our first step along the way to getting back to Australia was to get a Covid-19 test done. This was included in the price of our ticket with the results being sent simultaneously back to us as well as Qantas sometime in the next 48 hours. Getting a negative result means we can board the plane on Saturday morning…hopefully sooner than that given our flight leaves in a little more than 36 hours’ time!

We caught a taxi to Fenchurch Street where the testing centre was located. It was all very casual and ramshackle, nothing like the NHS centre I had attended for a test two weeks ago. We were called in to be tested one by one, sat in a chair in a tiny cupboard-like office, beside a bin overflowing with cardboard boxes and used tissues. Definitely not the most hygienic testing facility – we both left feeling slightly violated and with the distinct impression we had been placed in more danger of being exposed to the virus than we have in any of our previous weeks of travel.

The Covid-19 testing centre and my test kit

We left and caught a very quiet tube train from the city to Paddington Station where we checked into the Hilton Hotel for the next couple of nights. Thanks to the lockdown, there is no eating out at a restaurant tonight – just an UberEats delivery in our room.

We have one final day left in the UK before we fly, and with few shops open and nothing left to do or prepare, there’s a lovely sense of freedom about the day ahead. A chance to just breathe and enjoy London for its outdoor spaces and cool temperatures before our upcoming time in Darwin’s 34°C quarantine.

The Circle Line at 4pm is usually standing room only…not today
Even Paddington Bear sports a face mask in the Hilton Hotel lobby
Where are all the people? Certainly not at this hotel!