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! 🍷

23 December-4 January 2021: A Christmas and New Year on the Mornington Peninusala

Author: Mr A

Location: Rye, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

We left our friends near Lakes Entrance wondering in these uncertain times when we would see them again. That’s one of the hidden costs of the pandemic, the lack of control felt by most of us over our lives, with movement regularly restricted at short notice. But we had a plan for Christmas and New Year at least. We had been generously invited by a friend from my working days to come and spend the period with him and his family.

For those unfamiliar with the Mornington Peninsula, it sits about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne’s CBD around the huge foreshore of Port Philip Bay. The bay itself is just under 2,000 square kilometres, and mostly shallow, ideal for water sports and swimming, framed by beautiful beaches. We were heading for one of the regions that has become a mecca for Victorians as a holiday destination. Its climate, beaches, world class wineries and restaurants, and currently zero community transmissions of COVID-19, made for a compelling place to hang out.

We had only ever been on a day trip to the Mornington Peninsula once early last year, joining our friend Owen for a walk and beer tasting.

Due to the virus kicking off again in NSW, Owen had some extra visitors, namely his daughter, son-in-law and their beautifully natured golden retriever, who could no longer travel up to Sydney. His son and partner also joined us for a few days, so we had a lovely family friendship gathering we could enjoy. It did reinforce how we would love to spend this season with our own families one year. Lets see…

Owen drives us to see the sun set over the ocean side of the peninsula on our first day – just stunning and wild
A Christmas Eve beach walk blows the cobwebs away
The national park is just stunning, even on an overcast day

Fabulous food was purchased, prepared and consumed at very regular intervals. Amazing wines sampled, music played, and wit and repartee abounded. Unfortunately for us the property opposite the drive where we were camped out in our caravan, had been rented out by a group of people who decided they would continue their loud celebrations to the early hours of the morning for four days on the trot. Catherine mostly slept thought it, I didn’t, and just don’t function well on a few hours of broken sleep. They finally cleared out after six days. An unfortunate down side of being in a stunning area – lots of other people want to come.

Owen, Tim and Mark – Christmas Day martinis all round and lots of fun and laughter all day long
Boxing Day cycle around the beaches – it also happened to be Tim’s birthday
An evening birthday celebration for Tim at The Baths, a local waterside venue
Beautiful views on a warm evening
The evening concluded with home baked chocolate birthday mud cake and a dangerously large game of Jenga!

The population of the peninsula almost doubles over this period, traffic is heavy, although we did manage to find a car spot right opposite a great beach to head off for a short kayak. Owen had a new Stand Up Paddle Board to get the hang of. Many smiles ensued, mostly from us! Of course the Mrs Co-ordinated-Well-Balanced-Anderson gets straight up and heads off into the blue without getting her ankles wet. I tried and immediately took a fully submersed nose dive. And there you have in a microcosm our respective sporting abilities 🙂

We headed out for several walks along the coast, which has been left undeveloped in a narrow strip along the cliff tops, making for some fabulous views.

On Koonya Ocean Beach headland
Koonya Ocean Beach
The Ti trees look like sculptures, with their twisted trunks
Diamond Bay
Looking out for seals and dolphins at Diamond Bay. None to be seen today
The diversity of the dune flora is wonderful – a veritable palate of colours and textures
Top left: a singing honeyeater Top right & bottom left: rugged bays along the coastal walk Bottom right: dune grasses
Hungry seagulls descending on a berry filled bush in the dune heathland to gorge themselves
LIke the Coast Path through Cornwall in the UK, five minutes from the. car parks and the crowds dissipate
Pristine beaches and wild and rocky coast
Mark and Owen ride along the coast to Rosebud and back
Another post-pub dinner sunset treat

New Year’s eve rolled around, and as with many millions around the world we reflected on the challenges of 2020 and what their legacy would mean for the coming year. We had a wonderful evening, having been invited round to join Owen’s friends at their house nearby, and were treated to fabulous food and wine.

Covid-safe Owen plays waiter accompanied by Leonie with our delicious double thick porterhouse steak, medium rare – delicious

They also arranged a couple of wineries for a visit a couple of days later. Such a privilege to be able to do things like this when so much of the rest of the world is not.

Main Ridge Estate cellar door our first stop
Archie the wine dog
Wine tasting at Crittenden Estate followed by lunch at Stillwater Restaurant
Mark, Leonie, Peter, Scott, Leigh, Owen
Cheers!

Our New Year present to ourselves was a new kayak. Our current fibreglass and kevlar one is a massive beast at 7.3 metres long, and limits the type of terrain we can travel across, restricting us to tarmac or smooth gravel roads. Anything rougher and its likely we would damage it. So we bought an inflatable one that we can store inside our truck.

We trial the kayak on a 7km paddle along the coast in Port Philip Bay – it passes the test

You may already know we have inflatable packrafts (left in the UK) but they just dont paddle in a straight line very well. The packrafts are great to carry when space is really tight, but we wanted something we could cover some ground in. I had been researching for a while and came up with what looked to be a good solution. It’s an inflatable that has aluminium rails inserted at the bow and read to improve its speed and tracking. There was only one left for sale in Australia, and it happened to be available an hour’s drive down the road. We picked it up and test paddled it. Wow – what a great boat – it cut though the water almost as well as our hard shell boat, but was a lot lighter to carry down to the water, and just fitted in our Landcruiser’s rear cargo area. It was meant to be. I’ll write up about it some more in a separate blog for those interested.

How perfect is this water?

It has been a Christmas and New Year packed with activities,, and we’ve been able to explore a whole new (to us) area of Victoria. Owen has been kind to have us here and share his gorgeous home.

But now it is time to pull up stumps and head off. There’s a high level of uncertainty in our travel plans given the fresh outbreak of coronavirus that kicked off in NSW which has now spread to Victoria, but we have come to accept that we are not in control, so off we go with the flow of restrictions….

24-29 August: Storm Francis mucks things up

Author: Mr A

Location: Holsworthy, Devon

Last week was Storm Ellen, this week was Storm Francis’s turn to bugger things up. We had it all planned. Catherine’s sister and family were coming to camp with us for the week, and their childhood friend Karen and her family also joining us for a couple of days.

Fun was had while the tent was up…

Well, Helen and family lasted one night before their tent was shredded by gale force winds, and holiday spirits drowned by rain squalls lashing; the field turned into a mud pit. Karen and her family sensibly decided to abort completely.

Putting on a brave face after a pole had snapped and the tent ripped, Elliot and Isabel enjoying a ride in Truffy

We just felt so sorry for them. This has been a super tough year for all of these folk for many reasons. They were so looking forward to a chance to get escape to somewhere different and hang out with each other. But nothing could be done. Their tent just buckled under the wind. It was pitched well, it just couldn’t stand up to the 52mph gusts that were buffeting us on Monday night. This was only the third night of use for this brand new tent. Poor show Outwell, and we’ve told them so, even posted a number of pictures on their Facebook site showing the broken poles. Not even an acknowledgment. It did make us realise how so much more robust, and good value, our Australian camping equipment is.

So that was that. We were back on our own. The wind subsided to a fresh breeze, and it stopped raining briefly, so we jumped on our bikes and rode into the local town of Holsworthy for a pub lunch. It was the last day of the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme the UK government has been running to help the pub and restaurant industry by providing £10 a head subsidy at participating restaurants a few days each week in August. We’ve not managed to use it before, so was nice to get a cheap feed.

The riding around here, as I’ve said before, is just magnificent. Several long distance cycle routes come through the area, often following old railways lines, and we headed out a short way on one towards Bude. We joined for a while two touring cyclists who were heading from land End to John O’Groats,. They worked for Sustrans, the national cycle body that has been the driver behind so much of the program of work that has transformed cycling in the UK. I envied them the ride.

Thank goodness our ride takes us to Pyworthy – I enjoyed the pie-of-the-day at the pub

With another forecast of rain, wind and more rain, we decided to drive over to the picturesque village of Clovelly, backdrop to so many films, including one of our favourites, The Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie Society. You have to park outside the village entrance, and then pay a small fee for entry before you are able to walk down the pedestrianised high street (we like that!) that descends precipitously 120 metres to the little harbour.

We are one of the first visitors on this rainy morning…it’s not too busy!
It is hard to see where the sky ends and the sea begins on this wet August morning
A historical fisherman’s cottage restored to show the rooms as they would have been in the 1800s

It’s while in the fisherman’s museum that we learn the link to Sydney’s expensive eastern suburb of Clovelly A Plymouth born pastoralist with links to this village of Clovelly in Devon sailed to Australia in the early 1800s. His name was Hannibal Hawkins Macarthur. He purchased a house in Watson’s bay which he named Clovelly after this village. Later, when Sydney’s Council was trying to name the suburb, they considered Eastbourne, but picked Clovelly instead, influenced by the name of his house.

Continuing down the cobbled streets – this settlement dates to before the Battle of Hastings in 1066, but many of the buildings have been more recently renovated in the past two to three hundred years….
Little alleyways offer glimpses of view
A commanding spot for this home with views along the coast
Despite the rain, there is no wind, and the fishing fleet still has to go to work
This is still a working fishing village, with herring, mackerel, lobster and crab the primary catches
Looking back up at the village from the harbour wall

With the rain lashing down it was a slippery walk on the cobbles, but the views were just tremendous. The sense of history once again was palpable. Its easy to see why a number of famous writers and artists have taken their inspiration from living here.

The weather certainly wasn’t suiting the feline population, with several practically knocking on windows and doors to be let in out of the cold and wet. We however braved it down to the harbour, and sheltered while we sipped our hot tea and contemplated what life would have been like heading out on a fishing boat. In 1838 twelve boats set out and only one returned, a storm hitting them and taking twenty six lives that day. We however, fortified by a Devon pasty, and educated by the shop owner about the difference between a Devon and a Cornish one (its all in the pastry folding apparently) and we headed back to Truffy somewhat bedraggled.

Being pedestrianised means it is also cat friendly….this little lady didn’t think much of being left out in the rain

After another day of rain…we finally saw a window in the forecast, fortuitously for when we had booked a wine tasting. Yes…English wine….So off we went on the bikes, the winery (Torview Wines) conveniently being located on the same cycle route we had headed out on previously, when we visited Black Torrington and the delicious pub lunch last weekend.. Happy to repeat that stunning ride, off we pedalled with a freezing north wind causing us to wrap up warm. And yes… it is August.

We now appreciate why the land is so green and lush around these parts
The ruby red cattle this region is named after (Ruby Country)
Endless tunnels of green to cycle down
An old cottage with a working water wheel

Tim and his wife are the owners of the winery, and the only employees. Run as a family business they feel they can better control the inputs and outputs. We really enjoyed our visit here. Tim really did a great job of giving an overview of viticulture in this neck of the woods. They acquired the property from one of the many farmers whose cattle had been hit by foot and mouth.

Tim has been involved in the wine industry all his life, and felt he wanted to do things a little differently in his winery, based on what he felt would work best. For instance, the weeds are allowed to grow between the vines. The nettles were thigh high and it didn’t make for a pretty picture, but Tim is adamant it helps the wine because you are not running up and down the soil with vehicles compacting and damaging it, and the added stress on the vines ensures they produce fewer leaves and more fruit. With two pairs of barn owls living on the property, the longer grass also provides them with ample hunting ground.

A fine view of some of the tors of Dartmoor across the vines – not the usually trimmed and neat rows of vines we are used to seeing

He also has a novel way of sourcing his pickers for the harvest. He approached several local charities and offered to donate £30 a day for any volunteers they could find him. What a neat idea.

We tasted a number of his wines, with three main varieties, two we had never tried before. In this climate they need to be pretty robust! Climate change is having its impact here like everywhere else. Earlier springs for instance, which becomes an issue when there is a frost, which led to some varieties being decimated this year. Interestingly this is another business that sees its market as being almost exclusively local, with stock for instance going to bed and breakfasts for their welcome packs, and regional farmers markets. We left understanding a lot more than the zero knowledge we had. That counts as a good day.

Eleven tasters on this Saturday afternoon

This is our last day of the nearly a fortnight we have spent at Headon Farm. We have been made so welcome by the owners, Linda and Richard. They epitomise what we’d love every campsite owner to be like. Everything is so well kept and clean, and local knowledge always forthcoming. I wish we could store our Truffy here, they have a gold standard facility, and know they would be such good carers, but having to get back to Heathrow. with all of our luggage…tricky.

For the people who drive here in cars and come back year after year, what a fantastic base to explore Devon and Cornwall. The weather hasn’t been kind, but we can’t control that. We have still enjoyed our time here, just wish we could have shared more of it with friends and family as we planned. It wasn’t to be.

13-19 July: Charging around…

Author: Mr A

Location: Bristol, Worcester (Gloucestershire), Gunthorpe (Nottinghamshire), Swinethorpe (Lincolnshire), Harby (Nottinghamshire), Kettering (Northamptonshire) and Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire)!

Yup..a lot of charging around the last couple of weeks, after so many months going nowhere!

Caroline and Ian cooked us a tasty chilli-con-carne at their home near Bristol

We left Bristol early, fortified with last night’s delicious chilli-con-carne served up by Catherine’s cousin Ian and wife Caroline, and dashed up to Worcester where our e-bikes were booked in for a service.

These guys at On-Bike have been an absolute delight to deal with both in the sales process and now with their excellent after sales service. They are so busy at the moment they have had to shut the shop to the public three days a week to give themselves a chance to build up more bikes ready to be shipped around the country to eager customers. It’s great to see them doing so well after years of hard work building the business up.

While the bikes were being given some remedial work, so was I, in the form of a much needed haircut! Catherine had been trying to keep me presentable, but it was time for a barber’s shop.

Most of the shops were open, and it was our first chance to have a wander around anything order than a supermarket since Vienna in early March. We found the experience a little daunting, not being able to try clothes on for instance, but I ended up with a pair of hiking trousers from my favourite clothes store, Rohan.

Worcester has rejuvenated in recent years with investment in pedestrianised areas

Worcester has put a lot of effort and money into its town centre over the last few years, and yet retained these beautiful facades.

The Hop Market Hotel – dates to the turn of the 20th century

That same afternoon we drove up to Nottinghamshire as we had booked our motorhome in for some work the next morning… or so I thought. We called in to drop off our old batteries, to find I had messed up the dates and we were due Thursday not Wednesday! I had organised our whole program as soon as lockdown was lifted in a frantic morning of phone calls to campsites and friends, and just got it wrong. So we had a day up our sleeve

We had decided to stay in the car park of a pub just over the road from them, the Unicorn at Gunthorpe, set in a lovely position by the river Trent. Unfortunately that‘s where the loveliness ended. We had a very sub standard meal, barely edible. The entrance we had come in by was deserted when we were trying to leave it, not a soul in sight, but the young lady on the door made us walk all the way round the pub, squeezing past tables of diners, to go out the “designated exit”. The next day I asked if there was anyone who was interested in our feedback and was told to fill out an on-line form. I asked again if there was anyone locally who had cooked the meal last night or who managed the pub who would like to hear, and was told again, fill out the on line survey. So I guess not. There are many pubs that no doubt that won’t survive this pandemic, Some it will be sad to see go, others not so much.

We took ourselves off for a walk along the river. What a tranquil escape from the network of busy roads that surround it. I am currently reading a history of the canal network in the UK, and now look at these river roads in a new light. For so many years they were the arteries that pumped the trade of heavy goods and raw materials around the country.

The Trent is England’s third longest river, and enabled goods produced in the industrial heartland of the Midlands to be transported down to the sea ports on the Humber estuary. The UK has over 2,000 miles of navigable waterway, and there are some future adventures right there me thinks.

Fabulous light at sunset
We spotted a curry house with great reviews along here , noted for future visits….
Truffy’s pub stay behind the Unicorn – those levelling legs are coming in handy
The path alongside the river goes for miles

In the late afternoon sun we drove over to see our friends up the road on the border of Lincolnshire, having booked at a campsite we had seen modestly signposted near their village many times but never actually visited. Well, we were in for a treat! What a hidden gem this was.

Camper UK Leisure Park had superb facilities (which were actually open, most are not). These guys had recently built a whole load of lovely wooden chalets and just opened them only for the very next day forced to close them under lockdown, so it was great to see the park busy once again. It should be a good season for campsites in the UK with most people staycationing. Hopefully they can recoup the losses from the spring and early summer to stay in business.

It was another early for us (before 7am) start, especially with a few too many wines under our belt from drinks with our friends the night before, and back to Gunthorpe and our motorhome dealer, Fuller Leisure. They had a loan car waiting for us, a spirited little Mini which I really enjoyed driving after the not so nimble Truffy. We had been suggested a visit to Belvoir Castle to fill our day while they worked on our vehicle. Off we went and had a decent enough wander round the country surrounding this impressive pile.

Many glimpses of the castle as we walked around, looming over the treetops
No steep hills on this hike
A view across the countryside to the village of Belvoir – pronounced ’beever’…

Looking at its history it was no surprise to see that what you see today is not really a castle, but a copy of one, rebuilt in “Gothic Romantic Revival” style, that for me just screams fake and cashed up, from one of the richest landowners in England the Dukes of Rutland.

We collected Truffy, hoping his warped bathroom door had now been fixed. Next we headed down to Northamptonshire (our third county that day!) and my hometown of Kettering.

Its a bit of ritual when visiting our friends there to head out for a curry, and what a feast this was. The Royal Bengal is an example of how well a dining experience can still be delivered under the current restraints. Superb food, attentive and friendly service, working espcially hard to make sure Catherine‘s dairy intolerance was catered for.

Dinner at The Royal Bengal in Kettering with Stuart and Karen Bonham

The following morning we enjoyed a much needed hangover breakfast in the garden, joined bymy great friend and second cousin Derry. His family own and run the care home that both my parents were so well looked after in. It has been a super stressful time for all of them as they navigate this pandemic. What heroic work has been done in this industry, and so poorly supported by, what sounds like, an incompetent county council. The people who work in these care homes, and their residents, deserve better.

Then we were off to Milton Keynes for a weekend with my daughters and grandies. This was the first time I had been able to see them since leaving the UK last year. What a brilliant weekend we had. Dinner Friday night at a lovely pub, excellent food and service once again, and a really good catch up with these two young chips off the very old block

Delicious pub dinner in Milton Keynes with the girls, including vegan cheese cake for Mrs A!

Then we had a short post dinner drive out to our campsite for the weekend near Buckingham. A field basically, with fresh water and a toilet dump point. No power, but with our new batteries the whole 12v system is now working really well. A bit of sunshine into the solar panels and we left with more power in the batteries than we arrived with. At £20 accomodation cost for two nights, we were happy!

Saturday morning saw Hayley (daughter number two) arrive with her boys Luke and James. Kites were flown, chases were had around the field, just perfect.

Hayley had acquired a new member of the family just before lockdown, the very photogenic Belle, a bichon frise puppy, and she enjoyed the new sights and smells of this farmland retreat.

Hayley had also spotted there was a winery not far away, so carted the boys back to MIlton Keynes, collected her sister and dashed back (she’s a dynamo!). Well this was my first sampling of English wine, Catherine has beaten me to it on a previous trip and was very positive. The winery had some good reviews (Chafor Estate) and we constructed our own tasting, sampling four of their wines. It was just lovely to do something like this with my daughters, especially since for Zoe it was her first opportunity to do some wine tasting.

A rosé, two whites and a red coming up… 3/4 got our vote….
Clover lined vineyards
Outdoor tasting room amongst the vines

The next morning we packed up and headed back into Milton Keynes and Zoe kindly hosted us for brunch. She takes after us in being a doting feline servant, to the stunningly coloured Simba. Then it was off to the park. Zoe lives right next to one of the many beautiful green corridors that wind their way through Milton Keynes. We saw red kites soaring overhead, and admired the way this new town has so matured since it was home to me 30 years ago.

So with the whole family in tow now, there was more chasing around and eventually…I wore them out!

Young ginger tabby, Simba, feeling proud it is a two mouse day…so far….
A red kite soars over the park behind Zoe and Mark’s home
Granddad Mark is required to play endless hours of robot tag with Luke and Jacob

It has been a hectic week, with more to come, but the joy of finally being able to reconnect with family and friends just so rewarding. It‘s hard to know how we divide our time up between our families, but it is definitely Catherine’s turn next!

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

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 December – 1 January: Oh what a year! Reflecting on 2019 as we enter a new decade

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

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.

Christmas and new year’s fun with friends in Sydney, Australia

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.

January 2019 in New Zealand

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.

February-March 2019 – Victoria, Australia

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.

Our first month with Truffy, touring friends and family

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.

Champagne and Provence, France

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.

The stunning Italian Riviera

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.

Fun with friends in Le Marche, Italy

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.

Amazing sunsets and turquoise waters greeted us in Croatia

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.

Picturesque Slovenia

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.

Awestruck in Austria

A brief interlude with Bavaria in Germany caught us up with some old friends while visiting lakes, waterfalls, castles and more cycle adventures.

Beers and bikes in Bavaria, Germany

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.

Cycling and river swimming in Swizerland

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.

A final jaunt across France

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.

Previously unexplored corners of the UK

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.

A final fling visiting friends and family before we jet off around the world

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.

Beautiful Victoria before the fires

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!

21-24 November: Feeling the burn on the Great Southern Rail Trail

Author: Mrs A

Location: Foster and Yanakie, Victoria, Australia

Thursday: Hot temperatures blew into Victoria, taking our pleasant days in the early 20°Cs up to a very steamy high of 41°C (that’s an increase from about 70 to 106 in fahrenheit for those working in old measurements). This was coupled by strong winds which whipped up the dry earth and covered everything in a thin layer of orange dust. Definitely not a day to be outdoors. We were very grateful for the ability to hibernate in Mark and Diane’s house with its refreshing air conditioning, Tassie in particular pleased to have a run about in a house.

One happy and very spoilt Burmese cat, Miss Tassie

Friday: We farewelled our friends and headed south, aiming for the town of Foster, inland from Wilsons Promontory, south east of Melbourne.

Our route this trip – down to Foster in Victoria

We settled in to our small campsite mid afternoon, relishing the quietness at this time of year, having the pick of sites in the park. An hour or so later our friend Owen arrived from Melbourne, checking into a cabin on the campground. Last time we saw Owen in person was in Split, Croatia, just before he headed off for more adventures around Europe, so it was good to catch up.

My first attempt at Chicken Basque with roast potatoes
Dinner, good music, fine wine and company – all you need

Saturday: We had chosen Foster as a destination due to its position on the Great Southern Rail Trail, deciding to cycle three sections of the track, making up a just over 60km (38 miles) return ride. It was a stunning morning, with blue skies and a gentle breeze, and we set off on the trail to our first stop, the village of Toora.

Views out to the hills
Setting off down a wooded part of the track

The scenery was quite lovely as the trail took us through woodland, past wetlands and fields of cattle, all framed by rolling green hills. Rosellas, galahs, lorikeets, honeyeaters and wrens were among the multitude of birds accompanying us on our ride.After a morning tea break in Toora, we continued on to Welshpool and from there down to Port Welshpool. Locally caught fish and chips was our reward for lunch.

Feeling empowered after coffee and a croissant
Amazing skies at Port Welshpool

We had a ride around Port Welshpool, which is a very sleepy settlement, on this particular day busy with people fishing for the heaviest snapper as part of a competition.

Welshpool has a long jetty stretching 850 metres out to sea (the third longest wooden jetty in Australia apparently). It has been restored and improved in the past 12 months, reopened just before Christmas last year. We rode out to the end of the jetty, once out there fully able to appreciate the gale force winds that had picked up as the day progressed. It didn’t bode well for our return cycle, with the full strength coming from the direction we were headed. Where are our eBikes when we need them?!

Bracing against the wind at the end of the jetty
Looking out towards Wilsons Prom
The Welshpool Jetty
Looking out towards Little Snake Island and Sand Island in Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park
Owen rides off along the quiet waterfront pathway

It was a very hard slog back into winds blowing 30km/h with gusts of up to 45km/h which could almost blow you to a standstill or certainly across the pathway. Our thighs were burning by the time we finally reached Foster and our camp…in its favour, the wind did see off the flies which were out in force on our outward cycle!

A little echidna strolls along a quiet street in Foster

Feeling in need of refreshment, Mark and Owen decided to head out to Gurney’s Cidery, local brewers of apple and pear cider, tastings and fine views. A tasting paddle and some cheeses later, they returned with some goodies to try at a later date.

A selection of local cheeses and a paddle of ciders
Fine views from the tasting rooms

Later that evening the three of us headed out to Promontory Restaurant & Winery. Incredible views were our reward for driving up into the hills for this venue which only opened in February this year.

Ready for a feed – outside the restaurant

A lovely venue with an eagle’s-eye view was accompanied by a brilliant menu featuring locally produced meats, fish and vegetable and Victorian wines. As a new winery the vines are not yet producing enough grapes to produce a vintage, but the wine list did not disappoint.

A glass of bubbles to start for me, a local Chardonnay for Mark and Owen

The food was outstanding and served with a twist – fresh scallops with lentils, whitebait with a garlic aioli, bbq pork spare ribs and a seafood laksa made up our selections. A 2015 Cambrian Rock Shiraz from Heathcote topped off the choices for the evening, enjoyed as the sun set over the magnificent view.

Sunset is quite wonderful with the whispy windswept cloud – looking over the restaurant
Looking down towards Wilsons Prom National Park
The young vineyard under a fiery sky

Sunday: We were all amazed we were able to walk after yesterday’s cycling efforts, and after breakfast packed and and moved on our way. Owen accompanied us to our next destination, Yanakie, near to Wilsons Prom. Regular readers may recall we stayed here earlier in the year, but were not able to enter the national park due to fires – we are hoping we will have more favourable conditions on this visit.

A site with a view – absolute water frontage
As long as there is sunshine, Miss T is happy with this spot
Looking back at the Feline Zone from the beach
Our view for the next few days, looking up towards Wilsons Promontory National Park

The three of us went to nearby Fish Creek for a look around and lunch. Its a quirky little village, with art galleries, local jewellers and a handful of cafes – reminding us of Nimbin in the Byron Bay hinterland. We had some lunch before returning to the Zone. Owen bid us farewell and took himself back to Melbourne.

Fish Creek, founded in 1884

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

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark, Diane and Catherine at our lunch spot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr A and Mr B underneath the Zone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14-17 November: Reconnecting with the Zoners

Author: Mrs A

Location: Beechworth, Victoria, Australia

Thursday: We are extremely fortunate that on our travels around Australia, and especially since owning a Zone RV caravan, we have met some wonderful people. So we were quite excited to learn (while sheltering from wind and rain back in Scotland a month or so ago), that there was to be a Zone Owners Muster to be held in Beechworth, Victoria just after we were back in Australia, and some of our friends would be attending.

We drove south from Rutherglen, arriving in Beechworth mid morning. Beechworth is an old gold mining town, originally settled in the mid 1880s. It was in 1852 that gold was discovered in the region, transforming a sleepy rural area by 8,000 people. The gold rush didn’t last long, but fortunately a forward thinking council at the time invested in infrastructure including a hospital and gaol which lasted until the late 1990s, ensuring the continued life of the centre.

The Zone muster was held at Sambell Lake, at a caravan site there. The lake used to be an open cut gold mine in the 1800s, and during the 1920s was regenerated to create a nature reserve. As we drove in, a koala bounded across the road in front of us and swiftly clambered up a tree beside us. We then spotted our friends Diane and Mark waving enthusiastically in a crowd of other Zoners, and drove off to park up before joining them and saying hello to the others.

The late afternoon Zone catch up getting kicked off

It wasn’t a late night – I had a shocking sore throat, fighting a virus.

Sunset over the lake

Friday: Our friends Diane and Mark hired bikes at the caravan park, and the four of us set off on the Murray to the Mountains cycle trail which starts at the park. My battle against the virus had been lost in the night and I woke with a horrible head cold that gradually got worse throughout the day.

Diane, Mark, Mr A, Mrs A – ready to explore

We rode a short way along the trail, stopping when a steep downhill faced us. Already having a narrow airway and now blocked nose and swollen sore throat, I wasn’t up to cycling uphill again without a motor! Pennyweight Winery located beside the path saved the day and we called in for a tasting.

Downhill from Beechworth….
After only 5km we find the Pennyweight Winery – most of us are happy for a taste – Mark less keen as he’s more of a beer drinker…
Some tasty drops at this boutique winery

Several delicious whites, reds and fortified drops later, we bought a couple of bottles and rode back into Beechworth for lunch and some beer tasting at the Bridge Road Brewers (to make Mark happy!).

The Bridge Road Brewers

Saturday: I woke up with the full force of the cold hitting, constantly sneezing and generally feeling awful, head pounding and working my way through several boxes of Aloe Vera tissues. Mr A and Mark took off on our bikes for another ride.

My day was very subdued, while Mr A was more social and did some sorting out of our bits and pieces in the car, reacquainting himself with what we have here in Australia. Its the challenge with maintaining two mobile homes on different sides of the planet – you think you have something, only to remember its in the other hemisphere! Ah, first world problems…!

Miss Tassie enjoyed having me around to keep her company
Miss T demonstrates the best way to recover from a cold in the afternoon sunshine

I was persuaded to leave the caravan mid afternoon and have a stroll around Beechworth, Diane and Mark bravely allowing me and my germs into their car. We browsed the gold centre (plenty of gold for sale) and Mr A’s favourite type of gold, a huge traditional sweet shop.

A fabulous scrap metal sculpture of a gold panner outside the Gold centre
Mr A with a look on his face that strongly reminds me of one of his grandsons….! (Luke!)

I concluded the day with an early night, while Mr A joined the Zoners for dinner at back at the Bridge Road Brewery.

Sunday: Another fine day in Beechworth, and a turning point in my cold. I felt a little more energetic and so we jumped in the car and drove a short way out of town to the Mount Pilot Lookout – a sandstone outcrop surrounded by eucalyptus forest. We climbed up and were rewarded with magnificent 360 degrees views across the region.

You can see for miles from up here
We imagine people have climbed up to this point for hundreds of years
Taking a moment to enjoy the view
A beautiful Sunday morning
Blowing my nose for ten millionth time on the hike down!

The flies were out in force, with giant horseflies landings hungrily on our bare legs, so we didn’t hang around at the top.

We moved on to check out Woolshed Falls, once the centre of the goldfields with thousands of prospectors camped along Spring Creek. Again the flies were there to greet us, so we didn’t hang around to entertain them.

Woolshed Falls…there is still gold here for those prospectors who have time and skill to find it…
Tassie took me for a very short walk around the campground on our return

In the afternoon, Mr A, Mark, Diane and I joined another group of Zoners at Beechworth’s second brewery, Billson’s.

This brewery was quite different from the first. They are very friendly and immediately welcomed us and invited us to taste the cordial selection, while giving us a run down of the history and work they are putting into the business. We tried shots of the gin as well. Downstairs in the basement, a speakeasy bar complete with leather chesterfield sofas offered beer tasting and sales.

Who are these clowns?
Doing a little cordial and sparkling water tasting
Mark, Mark – dog with cleft lip…Apparently a Mark joke (heard this often…yawn)
Enjoying a gin with Diane and one of the other Zone owners…don’t look too closely at my sore pink eyes and nose!

Mr A also concluded he preferred the beer at this brewery, having hit a winner on his first try, compared with trying 6 different beers at the other place and not being that keen on any. He is sure to keep researching though!

We had a couple of wines around the campfire with the Zoners before another quiet and early night back in the van. We are wild things!

It’s such a shame a virus killed my energy and ability to be more social this weekend – Zone owners always tend to have so many great tips for travel and frequently have many years of travel experience to share as well. Fortunately Mr A felt well enough to be more sociable than me and has come away having learned a few things, and our existing friendship with Mark and Diane strengthened as well. All in all a great weekend, and a new virus added to my immune system!

11-13 November: Back in the Zone and off to Victoria!

Author: Mr A

Location: Nowra, Braidwood & Woomargama NSW, Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia

Monday: It was time to bid goodbye to Sydney for a few weeks and hit the road. We picked an interesting time to travel with 70kmh winds, dust storms and clouds of flies that reminded us that the great Australian outdoors has many facets, and not all of them make it to the tourist brochures.

We had stored our caravan south of Sydney in Nowra and found it all cleaned and ready to go. A big thanks to Mark Daley of Caravan Cover Up for the great service. He had helped us organise some much needed body and paint work to be carried out on the Landcruiser, and also taken our bikes for service. If you need storage he’s a great option south of Sydney. He even picked us up from the station! So we found everything in working order, batteries charged and fridge on ready for supplies to be loaded.

We headed inland to Braidwood and stayed there for the night at the showground, sheltering from the fierce wind and dust storms. It was cosy though in the van and it was lovely to spend the evening with Tassie all snuggled up with us.

Miss Tassie getting back in the swing of adventuring by Zone RV

Tuesday: The next day we did a big drive down to just north of Albury on the border with Vicotoria, finding a great spot for the night in a rest area at a small settlement called Woomargama. Clean toilets and a peaceful night, that was all we needed.

The little settlement of Woomargama, home to the endangered Squirrel Glider
Our home for the night – quiet and level near clean toilets
Woomargama is nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling hills
An early evening stroll through the sleepy back streets
Towering gum trees
Shadows stretch across the fields
Lovely views framed by eucalyptus

Wednesday: We were keen to get back on our bike saddles, so had seen there was a rail trail leading from Rutherglen, which was also the centre of small wine region in northern eastern Victoria. That ticked two boxes for us, so we settled in to a camp site right on the edge of town by lunch time.

Miss T sunbathed in a camp chair while we got the bikes ready for a ride

Reading the Rutherglen web sites on the way down we were filled with high expectations.

…”Keep your baskets & bags empty as you will be picking up delicious treats and treasure along the way….”
….”outstanding restaurants and cafes……a perfect cycling holiday destination….”

We should have been a little more cautious in our optimism given our previous experience with these tourism pages and the reality of what often we found on the ground. We headed to the tourist information centre on our bikes, and joked as we went in that there was no cycle stands which seemed odd in this “cycling Mecca”. We were asked where we had read that it was…we said…on your web site. Looks were exchanged, and one of the ladies said she had hand drawn a map of the where the rail trail was and shared that!

We asked if any of the wineries on the trail (we had read there were “numerous world class wineries” on it) that she could recommend for lunch . She said…well actually none of them are on the trail…and as it was 2pm they would have stopped serving. We started to get an uneasy feeling of déjà-vu. We asked where in town we might eat. The second place she mentioned was a pie shop and the first turned out to be closed. She said, “well we have a great cafe here”. We had seen the sign outside “gourmet lunches served 12-3pm”, so we went though and settled ourselves down at a table. Eventually a young lady came out and when we asked for menus said “Oh we’ve stopped serving food now”…at 2.15pm.

We rode through town, and other than the pub found the pie shop the only place open. One soggy sausage roll and a pie the meat content of which a vegan would be proud of, and we left Rutherglen really disappointed.

We started riding down the rail trail, even that was a bit of let down. A long straight bit of gravel though uninspiring scenery again didn’t square with the hype from the tourist web site claims.

Ploughing into a strong headwind along the rail trail – missing our little eBike motors

We persevered into a head wind, and decided to take pot luck on a winery signed off the trail..3.5kms. We rang ahead to confirm it was open and a very cheery fellow said yes they were open and he’d love to offer us a tasting. Things were looking up, and just got better and better!

142 years of winemaking has taken place here

Stanton and Killeen winery turned out to be a real find. We worked our way though an extensive tasting list, ranging from a white variety we had never heard of (Alvarinho) to a sparkling tempranillo. They also had classic Rutherglen shiraz and both straight and blended Durif. Interestingly they had consciously moved away from growing some of the varieties that need function best in moist cool climates (like Rieslings) and instead focused on these Iberian varietals from Spain and Portugal that would be more robust in our changing climate.

Upon spotting Catherine’s camera, Rob offered us a peek around their “back stage” and we jumped at the chance. They had massive 120 year old well seasoned barrels for their many and varied fortified wines, as well as new French oak ones

Years of history can be seen from the cobbles on the floor to the old barrels
Rob shares stories of the fermenting vats
Stacks of barrels all chalked up
Some rather large barrels
A new tasting area where group visits are invited to make their own blend of fortified wine
Love the smell of these old barrels
Especially this one which contains muscat

We were then into tasting the fortified wines for which this region is globally famous. They had a luscious white port that is designed to be served chilled as an aperitif, then the smooth Tokays and muscats that make it onto fine dining menus the world over. It was also refreshing to hear that the winery was having success in the Chinese market, given how challenging others had described it to be.

We decided to pick these up in the morning rather than cycle the 10km back with them!

Despite being a little tight for space in the Zone we thought we could squeeze in a few bottles…

Rode back via the old Rutherglen Distillery ruins which date back to the 1890s
Mr A rides back to Rutherglen along the rail trail

Stanton and Killeen, you saved Rutherglen’s brand, in our minds at least, and then the next morning another gem of a find, the local butchers. There is nothing quite like a quality country town butchers. The Rutherglen Meat Co Butchery was a delight to shop in. From my years in sales, and keeping up with the research into what makes people buy, I can only encourage people who want to sell things to be as enthusiastic and sincere as this lady is about her products. She asked questions, built rapport, and offered suggestions about things to do unrelated to buying her product. Brilliant. We packed up the Zone and moved on south towards Beechworth via the winery to pick up our goodies…