15-18 September: Preparing to sell our beloved Zone RV caravan – another migration milestone coming up

Author: Mr A

Location: Diddillibah, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

As we prepare to sell our lovely luxury apartment on wheels, the Zone RV caravan, a service was required. Off down the coast we went, saying goodbye (for now) to Noosa and the friends who live there. We had booked a couple of nights at a new caravan park on the Sunshine coast, at somewhere fairly challenging to pronounce called Diddillilbah, which we soon morphed into Diddely-squat, which was a bit unfair as it was quite a decent site with large pitches and a nice restaurant in the park itself. But not really our cup of tea, purely functional, we prefer being out in the bush more. But our caravan service was scheduled just round the corner with the marvellous Suncoast Caravan Service. Our friends who used to work at our caravan manufacturer, Zone RV, both work there now. The power couple of the Sunshine Coast Caravan Industry, Marsha and Rhys Gehrke.

Its a serious business getting a van serviced 🙂

Our home was handed our home over to these capable hands, and we spent the day based at our caravan site in our Oztent Screen-house (wonderful bit of kit!). Tassie is not a fan though, I think she senses we want her to settle in there so with perfect feline logic does the opposite. Instead she based herself on her sheep’s wool futon in the car with the windows open! We took it in turns to head out for bike rides and food.

We picked our van up that night, with new bearings and other stuff I have no idea of the function of, all fixed up and ready for a lucky owner to snap up when it is advertised.

Our luxury ‘Surry Hills apartment’ on wheels

The caravan park was a good base to cycle from, with a mostly traffic free route along the Maroochy River.

Boats on the Maroochy River
Maroochy River
Ancestors (Cash & Davis, 2016) – a tribute to local timber workers, when the river was a conduit for the industry intertwined with a recognition of the local Aboriginal history.
Chambers Island – a conservation reserve linked to the land by a footbridge
Walking over to Chambers Island – and no I’m not scratching my bottom!
They like their brightly coloured boats on this river!

The next morning we had a catch up with friends we knew from Sydney who had moved up to the Sunnshine Coast a few years ago (Peter and Valerie). Always a pleasure with these guys, and what a breakfast spot! It was interesting to hear about how they had gone about integrating into a new community, something we are working out how we will do when we move.

Concluding a fine breakfast at Mykies by the Bay

That night was another catch up with Rhys and Marsha and their family. That was a cracking dinner at the campsite restaurant I have to say. Rhys and Marsha are going to be selling our van for us (all enquires to Marsha please via: Marsha.gehrke AT gmail.com). I just didn’t think there was much point towing a van that was built on the Sunny Coast, is registered there as well, and has a specialist like Rhys who knows this brand inside out on hand to do any upgrades a customer might like. Whereas Sydney is still locked down, so a harder environment to sell it in. So let’s see how it goes. It means we will be emptying and cleaning the van at our friends’ house up here next week, then shipping the contents back to Sydney.

Of course no plan will necessarily survive contact with the enemy, in this case lockdowns, so we are keeping our fingers crossed that the border with NSW just holds the virus back another two weeks. Catherine has an important medical procedure at a Brisbane hospital on the 5th of October, which is likely to be cancelled should lockdowns come.

Talking about lockdowns, and lockouts in the case of people trying to return home across Australian state or international borders, there’s something I feel very strongly about I want to air to anyone who is willing to read on while I mount my soap box.

I am appalled at the lack of compassion being shown to Australian citizens who are trying get permission to return to their home state, when celebrities and the well heeled seem to be able to come and go as they please. Every week I read of another case where someone has been denied permission to go home, and it’s always the poor and powerless, it would seem. This story documents two contrasting examples of how are travel rules are being so differently applied, and turned my stomach over once again.

This is an Australia that I am increasingly not recognising as the one I fell in love with and pledged my citizenship vows to. The country that was proud to say they looked after each other, with a hearty dose of egalitarian mateship. Yet around our friends I see nothing but kindness and compassion for others, and usually amongst those we meet around the campsites. So is it just some of our politicians, driven by what they think will make them popular amongst their voters on the next morning’s news cycle, who give so little weight to those in need? Or is the lack of humanity within our the leadership of our institutions who have to implement their policies, and who seem to encourage so little discretionary compassion from their staff? I don’t know. But it doesn’t make me proud to be Australian when I read these tales of suffering, and then read about another celebrity given an apparent free pass to roam at will. And don’t get me started on our treatment of refugees! Not much evidence of compassion there either.

Soapbox dismounted, but if you feel as I do, why not let your MP know (you can find out who and how best to contact them, here), if you are an Australian citizen. I have regularly communicated with our Federal member, and her office has encouraged me to keep feedback coming. Mind you, she is an independent! And a compassionate voice in our parliament.

If we just keep quiet, our political leaders will think they have a free pass.

Zali Steggall: Federal Member for Warringah (our home base on the Northern Beaches of Sydney)

Thank you for reading. Soapbox dismounted.

13-20 July: Loitering on the Whitsunday Coast

Author: Mr A

Location: Mackay, Midge Point, Queensland, Australia

One of the tricker bits of planning when you are of “no fixed abode” travelling long term like we currently are, is managing to get health care. Getting an appointment with a GP can be hard enough, let alone seeing a specialist. It takes some forward planning given how busy most of them are, but you also have to take what you can get. This drove our trip into Mackay, plus a service for the Landcruiser.

Poor Mackay, it really doesn’t have much that is drawing tourists in, so the travellers keep charging up the Bruce Highway. We stayed in a small caravan park outside of Mackay, and drove into town to get our jobs done. Service on the 200 Series Landcruiser, a big one, the 160,000, and not a single issue once again. What a great car this has been. Toyota have sure got reliability nailed. Our day livened up when unbeknown to us some friends we had met through our common Zone RV ownership (a recurring theme!) had seen from our blog that we were heading their way, and we caught up for lunch. One of the unintended benefits of writing a blog! We do miss being physically separated from our friends, so a meet up like this is a big bonus for us. If you see us coming your way give us a shout.

Unfortunately my two medical appts, one for an ear problem and the other for my long term issue with complications from glaucoma , weren’t as joyful. I have to now see an ENT specialist somehow for my ear problem, and start taking additional eye drops to calm my interocular pressure readings. Glaucoma affects nearly 2% of the population, and can lead to blindness if not treated, so make sure you get those pressures checked regularly. I lost around 30% of my vision in one eye over a period of ten days during a particularly bad episode years ago. There is some anecdotal evidence that eye pressures can spike when you have heightened levels of anxiety. Its one of the reasons I left my sales career early. I had a stent fitted and they have been good since – until now. What’s changed? Well, we have some major life decisions to make over the next few months, and this has been giving me some sleepless nights. I am a bit of a “worrier”.

Out of any problem comes a learning opportunity, or so the mantra goes. I did “phone a friend” who has been into meditation, and we have certainly seen some profound and positive changes in him as he returned to the discipline, so ‘Why not give that a go?’, I thought. It was a really great conversation, and at nearly 65 I’ve just spent the first 20 minutes of my life attempting to meditate! Jeez its not easy is it? Mind wandering all over the place, which will come as no surprise to many friends. There’s work to do. Progress updates forthcoming.

Our home for the last few days has been in the most wonderful little campsite at the unfortunately named locality called Midge Point! We will refer to it as the Whitsunday Coast 🙂

A room with a view – we loved waiting up to the colour green each morning

We acknowledge the traditional owners of this area being the Yuwibara tribe. They and half a dozen or so First Peoples have formed a Traditional Owners Reference Group (TORG), which has developed a long term (to 2027) strategy plan to preserve and improve the area. A great initiative, the Great Barrier Reef needing all the help it can get, currently being reviewed by the World Heritage organisation as wether it should be added to their “in danger list”. It will be interesting to see (now the US is taking a much more proactive stance on climate strategy, and has formed a strong alliance with the UK on their approach), whether our government will be shaken into action. Australia is rapidly becoming an outlier amongst the G20 reference group.

Now how about this for a fabulous spot. Our caravan site is right on the edge of this gorgeous rainforest, with tropical birdsong our constant music track. Its once of the best locations we’ve had. The Travellers Rest Caravan and Camping Park (note no mention of Midge Point in that name!) is such a great place to chill out. If you’re down this way please try it out.

Wallabies come and check us out every so often, and behind our screen tent (midge proof) mesh we feel like we are the animals in a cage for a change. An important feeling to ponder.

Some very cute little wallabies linger on the edge of the forest in the afternoons, eating the grass
Yard Creek, running near to our campground almost looks appealing to kayak in….until you see the ‘possible crocodile’ signs! 🐊

A 200 metre wander along the edge of the forest takes us down to this almost deserted beach, just the odd fisherman gazing wistfully into the blue water.

Glistening blue water, a horizon dotted with islands, lined by a white sand beach – not a bad location
The sea goes out a long way here!
Looking south down the coast towards Mackay

The water’s edge was dotted with a variety of birds, like this little Gull-billed Tern resting from a fishing expedition.

Gull-billed Tern
Tiny little Red-capped Plover on the shore – they rarely stop moving!
Various Terns resting along the shoreline between meals
Gull-billed Terns join Great Terns
A Striated Heron flying along the creek beside the beach
Rainbow Bee-eaters find plenty to eat around here

We’ve spent several very pleasant afternoons pottering along with camera, bins and spotting scope. My aforementioned mediation friend, made a great point, that watching these birds gives such a great insight into how far we have come from “being in the moment”. He was so right. We feel an intense sense of calm when we are doing this spotting, no sudden movements, quietly waiting for the birds to adjust to our presence and go back to their business. It is so restful, and yet there is the thrill of discovery when we make a new-to-us species sighting.

Australasian Figbird – male at the top, female bottom – they have the most amazing song
A Spangled Drongo
A Helmeted Friarbird – they are a big honeyeater – not the prettiest of birds, with their red eye, bare black skin face and horned beak, but they do like a good rainforest flower

We even had a better than average (for regional Australia) pub meal up the road at the local “Point Tavern”. There was more than the usual “red or white mate?” wine choice, and although the menu was entirely predictable (in fairness, like many of France’s country cafés!) the food was well cooked and Catherine didn’t get food poisoning! That’s how low our measure has gone after our Eyre Peninsula experience, I’m not sure she will ever eat a beef burger again…

Most importantly of course, Princess Tasmania, as she is affectionately known to us (well, a cat that enjoys filtered and chilled water with her lightly cooked salmon and mashed pumpkin has got to expect some stick) does so like it here. A twice a day stroll, and by stroll I do mean….stroll…its like a meditative experience all of its own. Five minutes of extensive sniffing of one bush not uncommon. But every so often this 17 year old shows us the kitten lurking underneath those stiff joints and bursts in a, well a sort of sideways fast shuffle. Check this out, and I dare you to keep a straight face.

Tail held high – this is definitely a joyful gallop!

So the days pass, we tune in further to the birdsong, and have the delight of another lunch with our Zoner friends Wendy and Frank who drive up from Mackay. Such a pleasure.

We end our stay here with another day of Catherine wandering around with her big zoom and capturing some more amazing shots. Meanwhile I’m stuck on the phone trying to sort an ENT specialist appt in Townsville, and get one finally locked in for a couple of weeks time. So at least now we can now plan a little more loitering along the coast.

Laughing Kookaburras are resident in the park
Blue-WInged Kookaburra – these do not laugh at all unlike the Laughing Kookaburra
A Rufous-whistler – hard to see these birds as they flit high up in the tree’s canopy – you can often hear their song, however
One of several Bush Stone-curlews which live in the forest fringes around the edge of the park
A Forest Kingfisher
A Grey Fly-catcher
A juvenile Brush Cuckoo with a tasty morsel
A tiny Welcome Swallow singing on a telephone wire
Some of the many many butterflies seen here on a daily basis
This is a juvenile male Olive-backed Sunbird – the first time we have spotted one of these. Hoping to see an adult one of these days – their colours are spectacular – vibrant yellow and blue.

The campsites are pretty busy, even with NSW locked down, but I manage to get us our next two bookings after some fast phone work.

We had such a lovely few days here, it was hard to tear ourselves away. But away we must, on to adventures new, and edging ourselves slowly northwards towards Townsville.

A final beach walk to conclude our visit

21-28 June: Testing times in Tannum Sands

Author: Mr A

Location: Tannum Sands, Queensland, Australia

On some weeks life just doesn’t quite work out as planned. We were looking forward to a relaxing week exploring a new area (and our first sight of the coast since we left South Australia), and in 6 days managed one bike ride and a short walk! We had a whole list of things we thought we would get to do, but thanks to some unexpected incidents those plans were sidetracked.

Tannum Sands is a small coastal community with a few shops and a couple of takeaways, quite different to the “gourmet dining scene” the brochures had promised. But we are used to that and expectations were appropriately kept in check. Whoever writes these tourist brochures for regional Australia should be awarded literary prizes for fiction 🙂

Our campsite was right across from the beach, and the first day we arrived was the only time we had a chance to set foot on it in the early evening.

Right opposite our campsite

The bike ride was great, a dedicated cycle path winding up the coast along these beautiful beaches and the river.

Contemplating if my tyres would keep me afloat 🙂

We made it round a headland to the Boyne River, all very picturesque. So where do these people who live here eat out I wondered pointlessly.

Low tide

Usually cycling and birding aren’t easy bedfellows, but this ride was to prove the exception. Catherine spotted a kingfisher down by the river bank, and we later discovered it was a type we hadn’t seen before, a Torresian Kingfisher that you only find living around mangroves.

A Torresian Kingfisher

Her sharp eyes then spotted a lace monitor soaking up the sun.

A lace monitor chilling out

Fairy wrens were abundant, flitting everywhere around the vegetation. Queensland has had some decent rain this year so maybe the bird life is flourishing from this?

A Red-backed Fairy-wren flirting with his future girlfriend

Another day we took a short walk along the coastal path, and had an almost bird free time of it until this handsome fellah turns up. Now here’s a name to conjure with – he (or maybe she they look very similar) is a Spangled Drongo! Curl your tongue round that one. Feels good doesn’t it?

A Spangled Drongo, looking as splendid as their name suggests

And that’s about it for the fun stuff. Another day was consumed with 5 hours driving to Bundaberg and back as Catherine’s iPad was failing to charge, and that was the nearest repair centre. Despite having just one pin broken on the charging port it was a whole new iPad (out of warranty by 6 months of course!). I would love to know what happens to them. I hope some business is repairing them even if Apple won’t, and on-selling so tech like this doesn’t just end up in landfill.

While we were there we also managed to get a new car tyre to replace our punctured one, sort out charging for our remote solar panel, get Catherine’s bike tyre and gears fixed and pick up prescriptions and other medical supplies. So a productive day all in all.

A rueful smile as a perfectly good iPad is wiped clean and we hand over money for a replacement…

Then the nightmare started. We had noticed signs of mice being in our car after camping at Carnarvon Gorge. We had left an apple in a rucksack, and just thought that was a one off. The next day there was even more damage inside with lots of shredding of our possessions in the vehicle, and a very unwholesome smell of what we assumed was mice urine. Well it seems they liked our car so much they decided to settle in long term.

We emptied out everything from the car, a feat in itself as we are carrying a lot gear given we are full time travellers. Everything was cleaned and washed. We tried to get mice traps, and the supermarkets had sold out as Queensland has had a mice plague this winter. We only found poison-bait, and put this down. The next morning this was scattered all over the vehicle, but no sign of the mice, except scurrying noises every so often in the ceiling cavity.

Now, given we have a cat you’d think she would be of some use in this situation. Oh no…she has been completely oblivious to them, our little princess. The car has been emptied again and again and cleaned, but to no avail. We’ve tried cotton wool soaked in peppermint oil stuck into the air vent system, the car smells like a Polo-mint factory, but despite what Google Scholar says, the mice seem to be immune. Perhaps they are breathing easier though their little noses, but disappear they haven’t. We’ve tried driving the car to quiet spots and leaning on the horn for ages, another recommendation. Other than giving us both a headache and reminders of driving in Italy, it seemed to have no impact on the mice.

So we have managed to find one dodgy looking mousetrap from a “two dollar” shop. I have low expectations. We have called around every hardware store between Tannum Sands and Rockhampton today with no success in procuring more traps. The danger is the mice will start eating into the insulation around the wiring, as happened in our motorhome in the UK, then all sorts of bad things will happen. The other scenario is that they die somewhere we cannot reach and we need to live with the smell of decaying rodent for a few weeks!

Just when we thought we had seen our fair share of issues this week, the car has developed leaks through the roof. After 12 years of faithful service from our 200 Series Landcruiser, this is really the first issue we’ve had. I managed to persuade a Toyota dealer to have a quick look tomorrow, as it is hopefully just some perished washers around the roof racks, or the internal gutters blocked with all the dust. Let’s see..

These things are sent to test us. It’s really to be expected that there will be issues to deal with when you’re travelling like this. But against this we put the fact that we had lovely neighbours on our campsite this week. Rarely have we met new people like that on campsites and ended up having drinks together, but these guys were just delightful. If they are reading this then thanks Annie and Wayne for brightening up the week and sharing our life briefly. As I’ve said previously, the downside of this nomadic life is the lack of physical connection into a community. Moments like this help alleviate that, and we’re grateful.

26-29 April: Streaky Bay – Part 1

Author: Mr A

Location: Streaky Bay, South Australia

Leaving the east coast of the Eyre peninsula for now we decided we had unfinished business with the west coast, and headed off on what turned into a longish drive from Tumby Bay to the small coastal settlement of Streaky Bay. We had briefly visited here before on a previous “lap” of Australia, but hadn’t had time to explore.

Streaky Bay was home to the Wiringu people for “thousands of years”….I hate being forced to use that generalisation, but with almost no archeological research I could find having been done in the area, it has to suffice. So we acknowledge the Wiringu people as the traditional custodians of the land that we now call Streaky Bay. In their oral history they record what is thought to be their first contact with white people, when the Dutch sailing ship Golden Zeepard moored up in the harbour in 1727. After the “Waterloo Bay massacre” that happened in 1849, which is not far away, the Streaky Bay area become a no go area for those First Australians who had up until then survived dispossession of their lands and denial of access to their traditional water holes.

Today Streaky Bay grows as a tourist destination for, amongst other groups, caravaners like us, as well as a small fishing industry and wheat growing inland. The draw for many tourists is getting a line out in the bay, where the delicious king george whiting and garfish lurk. We have sampled both and from the local shop, and they are indeed quite outstanding. The local pacific oysters are also top class, the clean waters of the bay no doubt driving their quality.

We booked for a couple of nights at the Streaky Bay Islands Caravan park, a few kilometers out of town, and yes you can guess why they called it that. Well two nights turned into ten! We found it a really comfortable park to settle in. Clean, spacious sites, nice and quiet at night, it ticked all our boxes. With no town water to draw on, they have even built their own desalination plant!

The view from Streaky Bay Islands caravan park…

Not being into fishing, we find ourselves in a small minority of folk here, so we have to be creative about finding stuff to do. There are a few nice coastal drives to take with photo opportunities. We took one to a place called Whistling Rocks. – where the blow holes createsmore of a thundering than a whistling.

A footpath through the dunes
The high energy coastline
Mrs A at the lookout at Whistling Rocks
A calmer bay just around the corner

An evening walk from the campsite through the dunes rewarded us with an amazing sunset. These are big, big skies.

Signs of a fine sunset to come as we clamber through the dunes
The tide conveniently went out at the same time, giving some perfect reflections in the rock pools
The last rays of sunshine before it dips below the horizon to the west

Another day saw us cycling into town, on the well graded shared path. Of course despite hundreds of people staying at the caravan park, we were the only cyclists we saw all day! Eagle Eye Catherine then spotted a sea lion cruising around off the jetty, looking (successfully) for lunch.

The jetty at Streaky Bay – Catherine spotted something looking like a dolphin or seal to the right of this and we rushed over to look
We find an Australian Sea Lion diving for fish
And she is successful (females have white tummies) – clearly worth the 40km swim round from the colony then!
Those yellow teeth look like they need to see a dentist!
And after a few minutes, she’s off, hunting elsewhere

After being hunted in Australian waters in the 19th century, they are like many other of our flora and fauna, listed as endangered. This means they’re declining at greater than 50% over three generations. Commercial fishing, marine pollution and climate change, all are now contributory factors to a continually declining population. as well as an infection that every pup gets called hookworm. You can now find Sea Lions in only 80 breeding colonies along the coast of South (80%) and Western Australia. If you have grandkids, they are likely to read about their extinction in the wild unless something drastic is done now to prevent it. Which, given current initiatives and priorities of budget spending, looks unlikely. Some projects are underway, such as the University of Sydney’s with a vaccine for hookworm on Kangaroo Island, but it’s not looking good. It is all rather depressing I know, but not much point sugar coating it and just sharing the nice pictures?

We continued our mission to find shorebird sites, and with the help of a guy from the Department of the Environment, we did. The last part of the trip took us down a sandy narrow track, and after the Landcruiser nudged its way though one to many tight, prickly spots, we abandoned it and walked. It was a hot dusty slog, but we were rewarded with some awesome sightings as we found the spot where the little creek met the ocean. Plenty of fishing going on here. Check out the great egret sequence – I just keep looking at the grace and beauty of this bird that Catherine has captured so beautifully. And these Singing Honeyeaters are everywhere, their song piercing the silence of the bush.

Memories to cherish.

A pair of White-faced Herons fly past
Pelicans and cormorants sheltering on a sandbank at high tide
Great Egret taking flight
Great Egret
Singing Honeyeater

16-19 April: Back to Sheringa Beach

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sheringa Beach, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

We had decided to move on from Elliston, but that was before I woke early on Friday morning feeling somewhat unwell. Food poisoning. Either from the meal at the pub or the spoonful of ‘past its use-by date’ coconut yoghurt and fresh raspberries I had on my return, either way, I was not in a good state, and unable to stray more than a metre or two from a toilet. Mark tried his best to persuade the caravan park to let us stay another day, but they already had someone coming into our site and were fully booked.

Mark did all the packing up and we drove the longest 30 minutes ever down to Sheringa Beach, where we had stayed the previous weekend, found the same site we were on then and settled down for the long haul. I will not go into detail, but the following three days were pretty awful for me, and worse for Mark who was thankfully feeling well but was amazing, looking after me with kindness and patience.

Mark managed to escape on a few occasions to explore by himself, rinding in to the sand dunes and to ‘Round Lake’ which sits behind the dunes and beach.

Dune buggies and four-wheel-drives frequent these sand hills…as well as the odd Surly!
Reaching the lake shore
Climbing up into the dunes, the lake in the background

Perhaps most importantly, the 17th was Tassie’s 17th birthday, which was a sunny occasion filled with sunbathing and exploring the dunes – just as she would like! She’s such an amazing and adaptable cat – not many felines can boast having visited every capital city in Australia, climbed sand hills overlooking Uluru, slapped dogs in Cooktown and sunbathed beside a crocodile infested lake near Darwin…but Tassie can. The only state she hasn’t visited is, ironically, her namesake, Tasmania. Maybe in the spring…?

Princess Tassie turns 17

I didnt stray much further than the caravan for the first two days, and on day three managed a short walk for an hour to see the dunes.

A stormy morning – Mr A looking like he’s hiking through snowfields
Amazing textures and patterns in the sand
Looking across the swirling sands to a storm approaching out to sea
Dwarfed by sand, I walk along the top of a ridge
Jelly legs

On day four, I managed another walk in the morning. We saw our first ever flock of Rock Parrots, beautiful green birds which nest in the cliffs and spend days in the dunes behind the beach feeding on nuts, berries and seeds. There were several shore birds feeding on the sandy water’s edge, enjoying the natural bounties this coast has to offer.

The next bay around from Sheringa Beach
Sanderlings run behind the waves, pecking and chasing, darting up the beach as each wave breaks
A Sanderling racing behind an incoming wave
A Sanderling takes flight, moving along the beach to another foraging location
Silver Gulls being a little wind blown on the shore
Young Silver Gulls strut along the shore – adults have white eyes and pure red beaks – this youngster has a black eye and beak tip
The huge Pacific Gulls are common down here – around half a metre in size
Looking up a deserted coast after a short walk on the beach

I managed a few roasted vegetables for lunch without incident and we went on our way, heading for Coffin Bay. After four days without food or water, my head is pounding and body aching and weak, but hopefully finally on the mend. Food poisoning officially is something I never want to experience again!

I feel somewhat cheated that I didn’t get to enjoy this spectacular area more, but ultimately feel privileged I was able to see it at all. We offer our thanks and recognition to the traditional owners, the Wirangu, Nauo and Kokatha people for their careful custodianship over the past thousands of years, preserving the integrity and enabling us to spend time in this pristine place.

21-23 February: Heading up to the riverland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Murray River, South Australia

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

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

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

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

Our view for a couple of nights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fine spot to enjoy the sunrise over the river

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Author: Mr A

Location: Hillocks Drive, Marion Bay, Yorke Peninsula 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roast lamb with potatoes and veggies was an absolute hit

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

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

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

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

High on the cliffs above Salmon Beach

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

This coast is rather good at sunrise as well!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5-7 February: Off to the Yorke Peninsula

Author: Mrs A 

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

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

The Yorke Peninsula sits to the west of Adelaide

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ardrossan
Stripes of colour in Ardrossan

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

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

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

22-27 January: The Barossa Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Tanunda, Barossa Valley, South Australia

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

Our generous hosts, Phil and Lindsay

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

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

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

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

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

Harvest Kitchen is set in beautiful surrounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine and Sam

16-18 January: Getting civilised in Robe

Author: Mrs A

Location: Robe, South Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lobster fishing boats in the marina
Sails Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A successful day’s kayaking ticked off.

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

The jetty at Port Jaffa

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