Wednesday 28th March: Biking and paddling around Wooli

Author: Mr A

Location: Wooli, NSW

It really is a dreamy sort of place, well when the fishermen are not bombing past our caravan trying to shave seconds of their entry to the water time. Other than that very peaceful. Looking forward to getting off the grid a bit more in a few weeks time when we are up in Queensland.

Tassie decided with the sun shining she was inspired to take some outdoor time, her tunnel providing the necessary hidey hole.We headed out for a paddle this morning, unfortunately just as the wind picked up so it was a pretty short one. We headed across the Wooli Wooli river (so good they named it twice?) right from our caravan, then headed along the opposite shore towards the ocean. Beautiful paperbarks and mangroves lined the edge, twisted into incredible shapes.Massive sand dunes towered over us, framing a beautiful contrast with the blue water. Love these little packrafts to enable us to get out here on the water.

Miss T again decided she would grasp some fresh air, she seems to really like the artificial grass we have on our site, don’t blame her so do we! Looks like grass, feels like carpet, doesn’t need watering or weeding. Her exploration didn’t last long as a flock of noisy minor birds spotted her and descended to squark and dive bomb her – more than enough to send a shy blue Burmese back into hiding!

The afternoon saw us out on the bikes for a quick spin along some of the same trails as yesterday, and they were equally gorgeous. We attempted to ride back along the beach but the incoming tide and soft sand defeated that plan. So it was a quick rest stop at the Wooli Hotel for cold one before retuning to the Zone, just 11km under our belts. A happy hour was spent trying to get our plumbing sorted, with limited success, so we have a pretty measly dribble of water unfortunately. Hoping this will get sorted at Zone when we go for the service in a couple of weeks.

A pre-dinner drink was called for, and I dug deep in the Zone cellar and produced this beauty that we have carried round for a while.

It was given to us by a friend (Steve Shipley) who was moving abroad and having a bit of clear out. This bottle is from the vineyard he lives on in the Hunter. It really demonstrates its 13 year old age in that deep burgundy colour that a classic Hunter Shiraz should show. Also note the Weber all prepped and ready for action – it’s chicken fajitas tonight. The chillis we were given from a farm stay near Eden are absolute rip snorters (technical culinary term) and really fire up the dish…that’s the sunset below, not the result of the spicy dish!

Monday 26 March: Exploring Wooli

Author: Mr A

Location: Wooli, NSW

We said some fond farewells this morning to our fellow Zoners and headed up the coast to the small settlement of Wooli, nestled between the vast coastal stretch of the Yuraygir National Park and Australia’s first marine park, the Solitary Island Marine Reserve.

The 500 or so permanent residents of Wooli live on a narrow isthmus, with the river on one side and ocean on the other. The houses were all impressively well kept, many advertising holiday rentals as the town swells to many thousands in the school holidays.Our caravan park wasn’t anything to rave about, we are about a metre from a road, albeit not a busy one, but once the privacy screens were up it felt a little better. Sadly we then got the news that our friends have had to say goodbye to their cat today. We knew it was coming but still it will be a tough time for them. We have so enjoyed sharing the joy with them that our respective feline fur children have brought us. Happiness is fragile.

So off we went for our usual bike based exploration of our new surrounds. We headed down to the end of the conveniently located cycle path running by our park and there we saw where the river met the ocean. It was magnificent, and we were so grateful for the tip to come here from our friends Rosemary and Richard. We road back through town and out into the national park along a sandy track. The bird life was prolific, a black shouldered kite soared overhead and a noisy friarbird made…well noisy noises.

We rode past an oyster farm shop, sadly closed but we will be back in the morning, in fact I am likely be clawing at the door pretty early – it has been a while.

Unfortunately this evenings’ showers were a dismal affair as our water system seems to be playing up again providing us with very poor pressure…last time we fixed it with a new water filter, but that was only a few weeks ago. I doubt it is that causing the problem. Mrs A’s dinner was a real hit though, zucchini spaghetti with a spicy vegetable sauce. Very few calories and absolutely delicious.

Thursday 22 March: It’s a Zone Off!

Author: Mr A

Location: Moonee Beach Caravan Park

Months ago we sent out an invite via Facebook to fellow owners of Zone caravans like ours (Zoners we call ourselves) to join us camping just north of Coffs at the beautiful Moonee Beach Caravan Park. Well, the regular bouts of pouring rain did nothing to dampen down the enthusiasm with which we were greeted by several Zoners already there when we arrived! We quickly got parked up and started getting to know them, helped along with drinks in one of the best camp kitchens we’ve seen, with a fabulous view over the beach.Our catch up was made possible by the hard work of fellow Zoner Ash Cook, who set up and administers a Facebook group so Zone owners, and those considering buying, can exchange stories of their travels and experiences with the caravans. It’s been a fantastic resource for us all.

Already we feel we have made some new friends from around Australia, with several couples here already having traveled down from Brisbane, another couple coming up from Lake Macquarie, and one van from WA on its way back! What a rich source of ideas about how to get the best out of the Zone, hidden gems of camping spots, and the odd essential kitchen gadget! It was a great evening, and looking forward to even more Zones heading in for the meet over the weekend.

We did take time out before drinks to do our usual explore around on the bikes, heading up along the Solitary Islands walking track, no surprise what the view was of. I love Australia’s naming conventions and how they keep you guessing! It was a fabulous view, massive rollers coming in after the recent wild weather and pounding the coast. Looking forward to exploring a bit further afield tomorrow.

Tuesday 20 March: Edging up the NSW coast

Author: Mrs A

Location: Port Macquarie, NSW

It was just a 90 minute drive from Bulahdelah up to Port Macquarie, so we were pulling into our campsite by lunchtime. We’d decided to head for a caravan park because the washing mountain was building up, plus there are a few days of wet weather forecast.

We were last in Port about 5 years ago, that time in our Ultimate camper trailer with the kayak and two eBikes. As we drove into town, familiar sights gradually reminded us of our last visit and the Hastings River oysters we had enjoyed. Ah yes, the oysters! Sadly none found today – something to save for tomorrow!

After a couple of loads of washing were done (remember our washing machine only takes 2kg!) and lunch consumed, we jumped on the mountain bikes for an explore. We are parked about 20 metres from part of the Macquarie coastline shared pathway, and so followed our noses for a while, eventually arriving at the Settlement Point river ferry. Checking Google Maps I could see we could cross the river and continue our cycle on the other side, potentially crossing back over via another ferry. Mark checked with a nearby local who confirmed the other ferry was indeed running, and off we went.The other side of the river was much quieter, with hardly a car on the road. We passed more oyster farms and beautiful white gum trees, before reaching the next ferry about 6km later.While the afternoon was bright and sunny, we noticed that the sky to the west was looking very dark. A quick look at the weather forecast listed a whole load of warnings, including for severe thunder storms, large hail and strong winds…we whizzed back to the campground to make sure windows were closed and the awning was secured. Of course, no inclement weather eventuated, just a hot cloudy humid evening. Still it was a good 18km ride, and got the blood moving after a few days of not much activity.

I’m actually hoping we get some rain tomorrow. Our lovely friends Donna and Andy (expert sourdough chefs) will be pleased to learn we are intending to try baking another loaf. Everything is prepared, and kneading hands are at the ready…wish us luck!

Saturday 3 March: Using all the toys in Eden

Author: Mrs A

Location: Eden, NSW

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny so we decided to launch our kayak in Curalo Lagoon, beside the campground. Our friends from Canberra, Catherine and Dave also had kayaks so joined us for an explore. The lagoon is very shallow, so we only paddled about 4km all up, and predominantly just floating on the glasslike surface. Not a bad way to start the day, however!After a fabulous team BBQ brunch, a group of us decided to try burning off some of the calories with a bike ride into town. Eden is famous for its incredible coastline with spectacular views. This means of course hills so we really did burn a calorie or two, but the views are worth it.We rode down to the wharf where a large cruise ship had just arrived, and enjoyed coffees down there before heading back to camp.

John, Eveliene, Mr A and I decided to go for a stroll along Aslings Beach, hoping for a return visit of the dolphins we saw the night before. None showed themselves, but it was a lovely walk nevertheless.After showers it was most certainly beer o’clock and the evening began. A delicious Ward spag bol was concocted followed by a very tasty dairy free chocolate birthday cake from Jenny. Much fun and laughter and a lovely birthday eve eve had.

Thursday & Friday 1-2 March: Off to the garden of Eden

Author: Mr A

Location: Bega River, Tathra & Eden

After picking the brains of the caravan park manager we found a great spot to launch the kayak, although a couple of locals asked us “Who told you about this spot then?”, and said they would pay him a visit for sharing their secret. It really was a top location, but thank goodness for Google Maps enabling our navigation through the twists and turns of what was called Blackfellows Lake and into the Bega River.

We finally emerged onto the main waterway of the Bega River, and decided to explore upstream.

Minimal breeze meant mirror calm water, perfect paddling, with a few observers from the shore.

A quick ‘comfort stop’ and we headed back to our launch point, being carefully tracked by nosy roos and 13km under our belts.

It was time to move on again and make the short drive down to Eden, stopping en route at the beautiful little town of Perimbula for some supplies.We set up camp and shortly after, the gang arrived from Sydney. It was great to see them all after the emotional events of the last week. Nothing like old friends to help you get perspective.So let the good times roll, after a short ride along the beach then back for some afternoon nibbles and drinks. We made everyone dinner and then some more friends from Canberra arrived. We had a full team.

Tuesday & Wednesday 27-28 Feb: Ups and downs of Tathra

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tathra Beach, Tathra & Kalaru

Tuesday Morning saw Mr A head into Bega without me, his destination a dentist to see about some slight pain he had in his upper jaw. Meanwhile, I had to work on a Facebook Community Fellowship submission so sat on the laptop, working for the day. Mr A returned around midday, his face numb from the first of what looks to be several root canal therapy sessions – not ideal while travelling, I can tell you! A few painkillers and a soft lunch later and we popped out to Tathra to have a look around.

There are some nice views from the wharf, and we picked up some fresh oysters from a fisherman’s house, before heading back to continue my work, and Mr A have a lie down with more painkillers.Around 6pm we decided to head out to the Tathra Hotel for dinner. It had been recommended as a spot to go to, and we could see it was a nicely painted heritage building from the outside. As we entered, I expected the usual stinky sticky carpets and dark dingy walls of the typical Australian pub, but was nicely surprised. The interior has been freshly renovated, with a lot of money spent and some great interior architecture and design in place. It looked fantastic, with high ceilings, and huge windows making the most of the views across the ocean. We settled onto a table with an ocean view and ordered our food. We accompanied this with a craft beer for Mr A and a local winery Tempranillo for me – just delicious. The food was great too – my curry a little mild for my liking, but still tasty.Wednesday morning saw us packing up and driving to a MUCH nicer campsite just 5km away in Kalaru. Lots of space, birds, wallabies, unspoilt bushland and close to the Bega River for potential kayaking opportunities. We set up early and relaxed with brunch to make plans for April, realising we have the Easter period quickly approaching when every decent campground is likely to be fully booked and full of children. We made bookings, including a couple with friends who have kindly offered us places to stay at the busiest times, and now feel a lot more in control.We then jumped on our mountain bikes to head off on a ride. We had only made it about 500 metres when a phone call came which shook our world. We had the horrible news that a good friend back in Sydney had lost his battle with depression. Just awful, we feel there must have been something we could have done to prevent this happening…how could we have fun while a friend was in so much pain? We spent a tearful hour or so calling other friends to let them know the bad news, and considered heading back to the caravan to reflect.

Instead, we decided try to clear our heads and took off on a short ride down some quiet local roads to see where we might launch the kayak tomorrow. The scenery around here is quite lovely, we rode through a sheep farm, only turning around when a farm worker tracked us down to tell us Google Maps was wrong, and we were on private land. We wondered whether this was actually true, but left regardless. Our ride was just 7km all up, we decided we were just not in the mood to go any further and returned to camp.Tonight is not to be an alcohol free night. Barbecued lamb chops on a pumpkin hummus will be accompanied by spinach with toasted walnuts and a lemon and lime dressing. We will toast our friend and hope he is in a happier place tonight. There will certainly be more tears from us before the day is out…

Tassie is happy here:

Sunday & Monday 25-26 Feb: Rain slows down outdoor play

Author: Mr A

Location: Wallaga Lake and Tathra Beach, NSW

Yesterday was a real washout, it absolutely poured all day, so it was bunker down and zone out in the Zone. Never a problem given the comforts we have! With weather like that it reaffirms our decision to leave behind the canvas of our camper trailer and go caravanning. This morning though I had the dubious pleasure of packing up camp in the continuing drizzly rain, while Mrs A does the indoor stuff. Our division of labour to remind readers is as follows: Mrs A: chief cook and head of travel research. Mr A: dirty, tall and unskilled labouring. It seems to work for us.

We were very early at our next camp – Tathra Beachside Holiday Park. What a disappointment. The park is right on the road and our van is as close to the tarmac as you can get without actually getting a parking ticket. Small sites jammed next to one another and no almost no green in sight. I negotiated an early exit strategy and got a refund – we will only stay tonight and tomorrow. Its certainly not going to be one of Tassie’s favourites either given the density of people, dogs and cars.

Things perked up when we headed out on the bikes. We stumbled upon a lovely ride along the foreshore, spotting an Eastern Great Egret and White Faced herons fishing, then a pair of white bellied sea eagles put in brief star appearance high overhead in the increasingly blue skies.We climbed up into a forest of spotted gums, the smell after the rain was just amazing. A very quick run back down the hill and we had made a great little loop ride (15km). I’m absolutely loving the new gears on my bike. A twist grip rather than levers which were so painful to use with my dodgy hand (touch of osteo). Mrs A struggled to breathe a bit on the hills but with her usual can do attitude just got on with it. She’s determined to not let this illness hold her back if she can overcome with the power of her mind.