We have had it really easy since we arrived back in Australia – temperate days, cool nights, fine weather for whatever activity we choose – cycling, hiking, kayaking…but today all that has changed.
We left our free camp on the edge of Lake Alexandrina, seeing the upcoming weather forecast. Temperatures up to 38°C today, going up into the mid 40s over the weekend mean that none of our favourite activities would be possible without heatstroke, and we couldn’t leave Miss Tassie in a hot caravan without air conditioning. So we drove 1.5 hours up the lake and parked up with power in a tiny village called Wellington on the banks of the River Murray, plugged in and set the aircon for a comfortable 25 degrees.
Travelling full time means we have to accept there will be days like this. In the UK, it was two days confined to our motorhome on top of a cliff in Wales, while gale force winds and rain lashed us, here it is the extreme temperatures and high fire risk.
By 5pm the wind was strong enough to add a little cooling, so we did a short walk around the three or four streets that make up the town, finishing our exploration at The Wellington – the local pub, affectionately known as ‘The Welly’.
Overlooking the free car-ferry across the Murray River, the pub has an extensive outdoor area, lush and green. We found a bench with a water view and ordered two portions of garfish and chips, washed down with a bottle of Clare Valley Chardonnay.
We had a lovely peaceful night before departing this morning, heading towards Tanunda in the Barossa Valley. We’re pitching up at a friend’s house on their driveway for the upcoming long weekend, where the temperatures are threatening to be even hotter. More cold drinks could be on the agenda!
Location: Narrung, Coorong Country, South Australia
Despite living in Australia for nearly 25 years, Catherine and I keep stumbling across fragments of iconic history that we have missed. For instance, if you grew up in Australia then apparently there’s a good chance you would have read the book by Colin Thiele “The Storm Boy”, and/or seen the original movie when it came out in the 70’s, or at least watched the recent remake with Geoffrey Rush. All news to us. Must have been in Europe when the remake came out and just missed it, because we would have definitely wanted to watch it.
The story is set in the globally unique wilderness of the salt water lagoon eco-system of the Coorong in South Australia. We drove through in a rush in 2012 after hearing that my father was seriously ill and we needed to head back to Sydney. So this time we took the chance this time to meander up this remarkable bit of coastline. Home for thousands of years to the Ngarrindjeri people, Coorong in their language means “narrow neck”, referring to the geographical shape of the narrow lagoon system that runs for 140km down this wild coast.
We drove from the southern part of the park and rounded a corner to be hit in the eyes with a vast white expanse of salt lake that shimmered and blazed. We pulled up for lunch beside one of these “hyper saline” geographical oddities. The wind whipped at the sparse vegetation. We really have to see what the movie makers did with this scenery, and they filmed in winter!
Home for the night is a free camp right beside the little ferry that runs across the narrow strip of water that separates the enormous freshwater Lake Alexandrina and the smaller Lake Albert.
Wandering up the ferry just to have a look, we were beckoned on board by the driver (captain?), and made the 5 minute trip, for free. Thank you South Australia! A short walk up to the lighthouse (a first for us, a lighthouse on a lake!) and we were rewarded by a view across this massive expanse of water (649 sq kilometres, or 13 times the size of Sydney Harbour). It’s fed by a number of rivers, but by far the biggest contributor being the longest river in Australia, the Murray.
Its sobering to think this area was once a bustling hive of activity, with settlements all around the lake and all manner of shipping plying across it. Now, not so much. With relief we note the complete absence of power boats and jetskis, in fact all we have seen is a few kayaks getting blown around. Wonderful. The only sound other than the twittering reed warblers is the intermittent clank of the ferry plying back and forwards.
The morning dawned with a bright blue sky and we were out on the water before the wind picked up too much. Plenty of pelicans around, I look at them with a new found interest after hearing how they responded to training in the Storm Boy movie and bonded with the actors, rubbing up against their legs when they came to film every morning. Pretty smart birds.
The site is starting to fill up as we approach the long weekend, so we’ll be moving on tomorrow. This free stay has reinforced for us that there is little correlation between spending money and having a good time.
It’s only when you check the news, particularly from the UK, that we are reminded how privileged we are to be in Australia right now.
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.
After a period of decline in the late 1800s and early 1900s, lobster fishing took off, and coupled with the town reinventing as a holiday destination, Robe’s prosperity returned. Now tourism is a big part of the town’s success, with more than 9.4 million visitors per year, primarily Australians, and the seasonal lobster fishing remains big business.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
We move on tomorrow, making our way towards the Barossa Valley for the weekend. I sense more wine in our future! 🍷
“Full timing” is what the Brits call folk like us who are travelling for extended periods in their home on wheels. Its been a lifestyle choice for us for three years and the last few weeks have just reminded us of all the up sides of doing that in Australia. Our UK trip last year, and Europe the year before, was fantastic, but our time last year in Australia was marred by the bushfires., then we got sick, then had a couple of accidents whilst towing. It was challenging.
This trip since we left Sydney in early December has just reset the dial. The weather has been kind, not too hot, (although that has just changed), El Nina blessed us in the southern states with some much needed rain in manageable doses (unlike in Northern NSW and Queensland where it has been floods). The campsites have not been too crowded, perhaps a fall out from the uncertainty of border openings with the virus outbreak in South Australia then NSW. The car and the van have been mostly behaving themselves, with only a fly screen failing so far. The roads have been pretty empty once leaving the crowded coast. Its been absolutely delightful. Just like the lifestyle ads for caravans would have you believe! .
So our home for the last four days has been right on the border between the States of Victoria and South Australia, where the tiny settlement of Nelson sits nestled at the mouth of the Glenelg River. We had visited this area briefly in 2012 when we were both working, and had marked it as one we wanted to explore further when we had more time, and now we do!
The Glenelg River is really the main draw card, winding as it does for over 100km though sandstone and limestone gorge country. A long distance footpath, the Great South West Walk (GSWW) also follows the river for much of its distance. We have got our new inflatable kayak wet a number of times as well as explored a little of the path. It’s an area that we would thouroughly recommend. Enough off the beaten track with 350km separating it from Melbourne and 400km from Adelaide, it still preserves that quintessential Australian coastal charm, with pristine (largely deserted) white sand beaches, with eucalyptus and melaleuca forest stretching down to azure blue waters.
We had quite a job getting into our pitch on the campsite, described by one of the rather abrasive camps site managers as “one of our biggest sites”. Fifteen minutes later and her husband was still trying to get us squeezed in, winding around another caravan’s tow bar with about two centimetres to spare. He apologetically brought a couple of cold beers round after he had! We had amazing views over the mouth of the river, and were treated to several amazing sunrises and ets. A top spot.
The new kayak is proving to be a great purchase, and we have had it out on the water for several trips. One trip (paddling map) across the estuary gave us top bird spotting opportunities with the range of water birds present. These included spoonbills, pelicans, nankeen night herons, white faced herons, black swans, musk ducks, sandpipers, terns, kingfishers and many more.
That afternoon we thought we had better give our legs a turn at exercise rather than the arms, so headed out to have a look at the long distance path mentioned above that runs through Nelson (walk map).
The GSWW follows a circular route (unusually) of over 260km along both the Southern Ocean and the Glenelg River, with 14 bush camps provided en route. We didn’t find the first section we did that inspiring to be honest, trudging along a four wheel drive track, with the odd vehicle skidding round sandy corners forcing us to jump into the bushes. Given the size of this country, to have a walking path share space with vehicles just seems downright mean.
The next day, we took ourselves back on the water for another paddle, launching a short way up in the Lower Glenelg National Park.
We soon had the kayak pumped up. Each time we learn something new and it gets a bit easier and quicker.
A short way along the river we soon saw to our delight a kingfisher darting amongst the trees. These little guys don’t stay still long and don’t come close, so Catherine found it a challenge to catch one in focus.
The heat soon forced us though to retreat back to the car, as it was 33 degrees with no shade on the river. We had really left it too late to get out, as it was nearly 11am before we launched. With boiling brains we headed back to camp and a few cold drinks.
Our final day at Nelson was even hotter at 38 degrees with 40kph winds making it feel like you were constantly having a hair dryer pointed at you. The washing didn‘t take long to dry though!
Monday: It was a hot day when we departed from Yamba, with temperatures climbing up in to the late 30s. We enjoyed the air conditioning in the car as we travelled, and we soon abandoned thoughts of breaking the trip down to Forster with a bush camp, choosing instead to call ahead and book an extra night at the campground.
We’d only been settled in about half an hour when the ‘southerly-buster’ hit. This change in the wind direction brought a dramatic thunder storm, some brief but heavy rain, and all importantly, a massive drop in temperature down to more comfortable early 20s. We slept the best in weeks!
Tuesday: The cooler temperatures hung around for the next morning, so we carried our kayak down the water for a paddle.
Our new location is a campground on the estuary of the Wollamba River, near where it meets up with the Coolongolock River and the waters of Wallis Lake. It’s the northern most end of the Great Lakes council area. The waters around here are absolutely riddled with oyster farms, the crystal clear water ideal for growing Sydney rock oysters. Wallis Island is one of many islands around the area and is home to an exclusive château worth $20 million, but now on sale for a mere $5 million if you’re interested? You’ll need a boat and perhaps a helicopter too though… Bargain…
Later on, we jumped on our bikes to cycle into Forster-Tuncurry. These small twin towns are adjacent sides of a bridge and the estuary. Forster was named after the secretary for lands in the late 1860s, while Tuncurry is said to mean ‘plenty of fish’ in the local Aboriginal dialect. The area is popular with fisher people, so the interpretation of the name appears to be right.
After ticking off a few tasks we continued our ride out to a trading estate on the edge of town. There we pulled up at a rather closed looking factory. Within seconds a roller door opened and a gentleman with a light Durham accent (town in the north of England) invited us in.
On checking into the campground I had spotted a flyer for a local micro-brewery, The Coastal Brewing Company. Generally only open Friday to Sunday, Mr A had emailed to ask whether we could try a tasting – the prompt response letting us know we were welcome.
We opted to share a $10 tasting paddle of four of the beers on tap, with a couple of bonus tastings thrown in for good measure.
The brewery is still in its first year of operation and is a labour of love for David and his wife Helen. David had a longtime career with international accounting firm Deloitte in Sydney, but decided to turn his hobby and passion for beer making into a business. At least there are no fears in ensuring the numbers add up, but it sounds like they are both learning a lot as they go. As for the beer? All delicious – I’m not a major beer drinker, but my sips were very agreeable and Mr A was very positive about the ones he tried. We returned later with the car to purchase some selections to share with friends later on in the week. Coastal Brewing sell through bottle shops around NSW, so if you enjoy a good craft beer, I’d check out their website to find a stockist near you.
Our cycle back to camp took us past a large oyster shed, so of course we had to call in and pick up a dozen for a late afternoon snack.
Wednesday: We are finding ourselves switching into our transition mindset as we enjoy our last few days in the caravan until our next return to Australia in mid November. Food stocks are being run down and clothes organised to ensure we know what we need to take back for a rather wintry March in Europe.
After a morning of washing and organising, we decided we ought to get out to stretch the legs, so drove over to Cape Hawke Lookout in Booti Booti National Park. The fly catchers were out in abundance, and we soon realised why – the mosquito population is rather healthy out here! We drowned ourselves in repellant, but it seemed to only serve to alert the little bugs as to where we were, and our climb up to the top of the hill and the tower on top was accompanied by the constant high pitch whine of little wings as they jostled for a drink of our blood.
Our stay at the top of the lookout was rather brief, before we bounded back down the hill to the safety of the car and drove off.
More rain is expected from midnight tonight and, with the highest possible water restrictions in force here, everyone is hoping it arrives. We’re anticipating a wet pack up in the morning as we up-sticks and head to the Hunter Valley for tomorrow night, hopefully bringing the rain with us to the vineyards.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: Sydney, Newcastle and New Italy, NSW to Noosa, Queensland
Our last post left off while I was having more steroid injections in my neck. Regular followers may recall I had some bad news 6 weeks previously, with my airway closing by about 40%. Well, the good news from this appointment was abundant. Not only had the injections worked to reverse the scarring, but my airway was about 90% open. Even my doctor could hardly believe the results. We drove away from Sydney in torrential rain literally breathing a sigh of relief knowing we could enjoy the next few weeks touring without worrying.
Our first stop was Newcastle, a couple of hours north of Sydney, where we spent a fun evening catching up over beers, wine and curry with our friends Chris and Karen in their new-to-them home. Saturday morning saw us pull away early and start heading north, a roadside rest area in a tiny settlement called New Italy our destination for the night.
The rain brought with it some slightly cooler temperatures, and we enjoyed a peaceful night’s sleep in our comfortable Zone, sheltered from the weather and all outside.
We continued our journey up into Queensland, switching our watches back an hour as we crossed the border and headed to Twin Waters where we pulled up outside the home of some fellow Zone owners, Peter and Mary. They kindly invited the three of us into their air conditioned home – Tassie wasted no time settling in and after a tour around the premises looking for geckos relaxed for a nap on their bed.
Monday morning we dropped off the caravan at the Zone factory for a service in Coolum, and continued in the car up to Noosaville to stay with our friends Wendy and Ray.
Our friends are about to trade in their waterfront apartment for one with broader sweeping views of lake, river and bush, so we made the most of the Noosa River views for the last time. Their landlord has put the apartment up for sale in all its original 1970s glory. It needs substantial renovations and upgrading – the owner wants a couple of million dollars for it, if you have some spare cash…
We were treated to a fabulous sunset on our first night…
And on our second night a very dramatic storm which we watched roll in from the west:
During the days, Mark and I made use of being surrounded by water to get out on the kayak, exploring the river and lake, investigating some of the sand islands and inlets in the Noosa River mouth. The water really is the best place to be at this time of year, with the humidity at 70% and upwards with days over 30 degrees centigrade.
We saw giant sea eagles and a pair of curious chestnut winged brahminy kites hunting along the waterways, stingrays and spotted leopard rays cruising along the shallow waters looking for food.
A showery morning saw us heading out to the national park for a walk, the rain quite refreshing as we hiked through 12km of beautiful scenery.
We enjoyed many delicious meals at home with the multi million dollar view, but also went out one evening to Parkridge, near Ray and Wendy’s soon to be new home, at a restaurant called Fish. We had great seafood accompanied by a very tasty riesling.
On Saturday evening Mark and I were met at the private jetty by our friends Brian and Caroline (former Sydneysiders who moved up here several years ago), who wizzed us out via motorboat to their houseboat on the river. There we enjoyed a glass of wine and a BBQ as the sun went down across the water. Life’s not too bad, is it?
We finished off our week with Ray and Wendy, enjoying a fine Australia Day with a visit to Noosa farmer’s markets in the morning, a jump in the surf at Sunshine Beach, delicious lunch and a sunset dinner on the balcony.
What an incredible few days we have had. We feel so privileged by the kindness shown to us – not only by longtime friends, but by generous strangers who welcomed us into their home simply because we made the same choice of caravan. It must be something in the Zoner water.
It’s been hot and humid in Queensland, which was as we expected, but not completely unbearable (as long as you can escape into some air conditioning!). We’ve still had an amazing time, explored on foot and by water, seen some wonderful sunsets, birds and wildlife. It’s one hard area to leave, but now it’s time to start heading south, back towards Sydney. Goodbye Noosaville, I’m sure we’ll be back.
The past week has been full of friends, colour and laughter, starting with a Christmas day feast, lunch catch up in the city, and finishing the year with a bollywood inspired new year’s eve fancy dress party.
Coming to the end of the year, it’s a great time to reflect on all the amazing things we have seen and done – even we pinch ourselves when we recall all the adventures we have had.
The year started in New Zealand, spending time in Omokoroa, a stunning quiet harbour side area in the North Island near Tauranga. We did some incredible walks, met up with lovely friends and spent some quality time with my dad and his wife Sue.
From there, we returned to Australia and spent a couple of months touring Victoria, catching up with friends new and old, a little wine tasting, paddling and cycling thrown in for good measure.
At the end of March it was time for our long awaited Europe adventure. We flew to the UK, arriving on what should have theoretically been Brexit Day. Of course it didnt happen, which suited us fine, allowing us free reign to explore Europe without deadlines. We picked up a new-to-us motorhome, which we named Truffy (all motorhomes have a name apparently!), and set about making him comfortable while we caught up with friends and family, Mr A becoming expert in piloting a left-hand-drive vehicle.
In May we set off for France, taking a ferry across the channel. We joined friends at a gite in the Champagne region and learned a lot about sparkly bubbles. In Provence, there were more friends to see, beautiful scenery and amazing weather.
Leaving there, we headed off to the Italian Riviera and Tuscany, falling in love with the beautiful towns, friendly people and delicious food and wine.
We travelled across the middle of Italy over to Le Marche, where we spent a week with more friends, touring the stunning villages, vineyards and mountains of the area.
Croatia was our next stop, with some time in Dubrovnic before a cycle-cruise with friends up through the islands. Sparkling clear waters, peaceful sleepy villages and friendly smiles on the islands, a little edgier on the mainland, busy with tourists flocking to the pebbly beaches for the summer. From there we worked our way up through the country to Slovenia.
Slovenia, we really loved. From spectacular art, delicious wine, amazing cycling opportunities, safe, friendly cities and the most beautiful lakes of Bled and Bohinj. To say nothing of enjoying the novelty of cycling into Italy and back, just because we could.
We drove through the Karawanks Alpine Range to Austria next, a country chock full of stunning views, colourful houses, and a cyclist’s dream with hundreds of kilometers of paths away from traffic or through quiet villages.
A brief interlude with Bavaria in Germany caught us up with some old friends while visiting lakes, waterfalls, castles and more cycle adventures.
Our 10th country of the year was Switzerland, where a pulled pork sandwich is a cool $42 at the airport. Mr A spent some time by bike exploring Zurich while I flew to the UK for a hospital visit, and once I was back we moved on to cheaper regions back in France.
We spent a few weeks in France, did some big day walks, explored Brittany and Normandy and wallowed in the Anglo-French history, learning lots about everything from medieval times through to the second world war. We did some cycling and wine tasting the Loire Valley, and decided we were not so keen on French oysters when we parked for the night on a farm.
Back in the UK we spent some time with family and explored areas we had not seen much of before. We visited Derbyshire, Yorkshire, County Durham and the Lake District, but the absolute highlight was Scotland. After a few days in Edinburgh, we set off for the Outer Hebrides, visiting Skye, Harris and Lewis, and the highlands. Being off peak, the weather was rather fresh, but the scenery spectacular and unlike anything else.
We finished off our time in the UK with visits with friends in Chester and Nottinghamshire, before putting Truffy into storage for a few months and jetting off on what should have been the next Brexit Day (but wasn’t) to the warmth of Australia.
Back in Australia we had a brief catch up with friends in Sydney, before picking up our Zone (caravan) and heading south. We went back into Victoria, exploring some more wine regions and attending a Zone-muster.
We were fortunate to be invited to house sit for a good friend for six weeks over the Christmas period – a time we generally try to avoid travelling due to the busy school summer holidays. It has really made us appreciate being settled in a home for a few weeks, a chance to unpack, take stock and enjoy the city life from a location that is quiet and bushy.
Many of the areas we visited in November have now been burnt beyond recognition, the tarmac melted and warped, trees down across roads, properties and lives lost. It is so sad, but we feel privileged to have visited the regions in safety before all this happened.
There is enough in the press about the fires through Australia so I won’t dwell on that, only that like the rest of the country we are hoping for relief sooner than later – sadly no rain forecast at least until the end of January. Mark and I have donated to the Salvation Army Bushfire Appeal – please click on the link if you’re able to help too – any sum of money is appreciated to help those families who have lost everything.
Thank you to everyone who was a part of our year and helped make it so special. The kindness of friends and strangers (who became friends!) has really made our travels so memorable.
Thank you too to everyone who regularly follows our posts, we really appreciate it! If you’re not yet a subscriber and would like to make sure you don’t miss an update from us, you can subscribe here. We have an exciting year ahead planned, with more travel in Australia, Singapore, the UK, Austria, Spain, France and Scandinavia.
We would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy, healthy and safe year ahead, may 2020 bring you adventures and maybe we’ll meet you on the road somewhere?
Keep in touch, we LOVE hearing from you!
PS If you were part of our year and we’ve not included a photo of you in our montages its only because we are so limited in how many to include – I am certain there is likely a photo of you on this blog somewhere! Thank you!
A week last Friday I had heard disappointing news about my airway. A visit to my local ENT surgeon found the scar tissue has returned again, closing my trachea by about 40%. Definitely not news I wanted to hear. He injected some steroids into my neck, a treatment aimed at shrinking the tissue – regular readers will know I have had a few of these procedures now, so I was hopeful it might work. Well, I don’t want to talk too soon, but so far so good – even in spite of the continued smoke, I am breathing much easier. Our fingers are crossed it stays that way over the coming weeks.
One of the main reasons for staying in Sydney is to be able to catch up with friends here, and breathing is always useful for that!
We had a great week full of lovely smiling faces of friends we haven’t seen for several months, with a couple of dinners out as well as hosting here in our house-sit, pleased to be able to repay others’ generosity while we have not had a home to entertain in.
I also joined a friend at the Art Gallery of NSW, always a haven of tranquility, colour and inspiration nestled at the edge of Sydney’s Botanical Gardens and the Domain. At present there is an exhibition of work by Ben Quilty, an artist who uses art to spur debate and discussion on various issues. I first noticed his work back in 2011 when he won the Archibald Prize for portraiture, an oil painting of a fellow artist, Margaret Olly.
After one of the worst smoke days we have seen, we awoke to cool temperatures and drizzle on Wednesday morning, the haze clearing over the water. Mark and I decided to take advantage of it and drove to nearby Tunks Park and launched our kayak.
We just love how you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city by getting out on the water, with no cars or buses to disturb the gentle lapping of the water on the boat’s hull.
We also launched our kayak on Saturday morning from the beach at Clontarf, paddling over to Balmoral for lunch and back. If only we could easily pack this beast in our luggage and take it over to Europe, what fun we would have exploring there!
We’re really enjoying staying in Mosman too, in the this little nook of Sydney we haven’t previously explored. We’re surrounded by tall gum trees, woken each morning by a raucous dawn chorus of birds. Bush turkeys strut their stuff around the streets, kicking up gum leaves, and flying up in to the trees to roost at night. Owls, tawny frogmouths and possums take up the night shift, chatters and calls joining the sound of cicadas in the evening warmth. It’s a fairly peaceful little haven, belying the fact it is only a 20 minute bus ride from central Sydney.
We joined a few of the neighbours for Jingle & Mingle, a Sunday evening seasonal catch up in the local park, taking along wine and nibbles. It was great to meet such a friendly bunch of people, with accents from around the world. We’re happy to make this area our home for the next few weeks.
Location: Orbost, Victoria & Wonboyn Lake, New South Wales, Australia
It was hard to tear ourselves away from our fabulous beachside view at Yanakie, but we needed to start pointing our noses back towards Sydney. On Wednesday we drove for a few hours, stopping for the night in Orbost. Orbost is a sweet little village with friendly, welcoming locals. We even considered staying another day there once we read about the East Gippsland rail trail that starts there, but on waking Thursday morning with the area shrouded in bushfire smoke decided it would be better to move on.
So Thursday saw us driving up the highway and crossing the border in to New South Wales. This part of north-eastern Victoria/south-eastern NSW is really stunning, with tall gum trees lining the road, lush with sub-tropical palms, climbing creepers, tree-ferns and colourful parrots streaking across the road in flocks, screeching. This is the Nadgee Nature Reserve (in NSW)/Croajingolong Wilderness area (in Victoria), together forming one of the twelve World Biosphere Reserves in Australia. These areas are internationally designated to be protected and demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature – much like already existed before Europeans landed in Australia. Looking at the map you can see this region is very undeveloped and the few tracks through the reserves largely follow paths forged by the first Australians over several thousands of years visiting this region.
Before long we were pulling off the highway towards Wonboyn Lake, a sleepy little settlement with an old campground on the side of the hillside.
Reading the reviews, it sounded like the camp was on the shore of the lake and within walking distance of the beach, but on arrival we found this wasn’t the case. We soon found it was a drive or cycle to get to any of the beaches, and the lake was at the bottom of a steep hill.
The campground has recently been sold to a young couple from Cootamundra, seeking an escape from the rat-race and wanting somewhere nice to bring up their three (soon to be four) young children. They have their work cut out, with the site looking like it has been some time since anyone invested any funds in it. It certainly has some good points though.
Wonboyn Lake is famous for its oysters, with at least one producer having won awards in Sydney for its tasty mollusks. We bought a couple of dozen small unopened ones from the reception as we checked in, and borrowed a shucking knife to make a first attempt at opening them. I tried one and gave up after the shell broke off, handing the task over to Mr A. He did an amazing job – successfully shucking 23 oysters with all ten digits intact at the end and no damage to anything in the Zone – always a bonus!
We jumped on our bikes for a ride, finding the area much hillier than expected. I gave up on seeing a third steep hill, my breathing has not been great since my cold, and I wasn’t keen to keep struggling. Mr A continued on while I checked out the lake and returned to camp.
One of the great things about the campground is its proximity to the national park. This means the wildlife is literally on your doorstep, and actively encouraged by the camp hosts who handed us a brown paper bag full of birdseed when we checked in. I sprinkled some on the ground outside the Zone. Within moments we had dozens of rainbow lorikeets noisily flying down from all directions to feed.
They were later joined by the more nervous little birds – scrub wrens, superb fairy wrens, ducks and white-headed pigeons, with the occasional bower bird swooping in and out for a bite. A cat-like cry overhead alerted us to a pair of giant wedge-tailed eagles flying past, cruising for a feed – not so interested in the seed, but more so the creatures feeding on it.
Later in the afternoon, wallabies and kangaroos came into the campground to graze on the grass there, sticking to the tree line ready to hop off if they detected danger. Apparently wombats are often seen here too, but they were not out to play when we visited.
Friday morning we awoke to what is sadly becoming a familiar scene, our surroundings bathed in bushfire smoke. We quickly looked on Google to check it wasn’t close by, and found there were a couple of reported ‘under control’ fires by the highway, about 9km inland from where we were. A northerly breeze picked up and the smoke started to clear somewhat, so we decided to chance it and go for another cycle.
Mr A had discovered yesterday that the downhill I had given up my ride on had been the last hill, so I decided to give mountain biking another go. I was so pleased I did. The steepest climb had been what I had already managed yesterday, after that it was all downhill into the Nadgee Nature Reserve, along fire trails towards the coast.
We had a great afternoon cycling and only saw five other people the whole time – a real benefit of travelling off-peak.
The two beaches we rode to were particularly spectacular. Greenglades Beach is overlooked by rich red cliffs, in the sunlight glowing in contrast to the white sand and turquoise waters.
We had ridden carrying our swimming costumes, but on meeting a couple hiking out of the nature reserve who told us they had spotted sharks cruising the coast just off shore, we decided just to get our toes wet on this occasion!
We rode through the bush along to the other end of the beach where we spotted a couple of people fishing, the strong warm north wind was whipping up the sand and giving them a blasting. We decided not to stick around.
Another visit then to the upper reaches of the lake reassured us we had made the right decision to not go kayaking today – unless we wanted to go in one direction really fast!
It was a fabulous 20km cycle, and well worth the hills back to the campground (ok, we walked up one of them!). A beautiful location and a great time of year to visit – we imagine it would be crazy at Christmas and during the school holidays.
We’re guessing that not many people ride bikes around here. One of the locals approached Mark and asked him what he was doing. When he explained he was going for a ride, the bloke responded “That all sounds a bit hard work!”. It’s such a shame more people don’t get the beauty of riding this way – the fresh air, the smells and sounds of the bush, hearing the rustles of lizards in the leaf litter and the rush of wings as birds fly by. You miss all that from behind the windscreen in your car. But hey, if everyone did it, then places like this might be busy and we wouldn’t get them all to ourselves…