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…

1-10 November: A very warm welcome on our return to Australia

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia (including La Perouse, Maroubra, Malabar, Centennial Park, Coogee and Matraville)

We landed safely in Sydney on Saturday morning, an hour earlier than expected due to favourable winds from Singapore (nothing to do with Mr A and curry eating for once!), met by our lovely friend Jenny.

Jenny and David have again kindly invited us to stay with them for the week in their apartment, while we get ourselves settled in and tasks done in Sydney.

We spent the day getting reacquainted with Miss Tassie who quickly forgave us for leaving her, given we had appointed such caring foster parents in our absence, and later on cracked open our last bottle of Champagne from our trip to Epernay in France, carefully saved and transported back around the world. We enjoyed it with some Sydney Rock Oysters – definitely some of the most flavoursome oysters we have tasted, and high on the list of things we have missed from Australia.

Cheers! Our last bottle of boutique champagne from Jacquinot & Fils, Epernay. This retails for $75 a bottle in Australia – $34 at the cellar door in France

Sunday saw the four of us strolling down to La Perouse for brunch at the Boatshed, a beachside restaurant. La Perouse is situated at the northern end of Botany Bay, named after a French navigator who landed here in 1788.

The Boatshed restaurant behind us, busy on a warm Sunday morning
Pied cormorants having a clean on the bayside rocks
Bare Island – a fort on here was built in 1885 to protect Sydney’s ‘back door’ from Russian invasion – these days you can book a tour on Sunday afternoons
Compared to what we have seen in Europe, this bridge seems relatively modern, at just 130 years old
Crossing over the bridge to Bare Island
Sydney Sandstone – the bedrock that Sydney and surrounds is built on, used to be an ancient river. It is a very durable rock, and quite distinctive for the ripples of sand and deposits that are visible in the rock. Apparently it is possible to find gold in these rocks.

Jet lag plagued us for most of the week, allowing us to see some fabulous sunrises (sadly, much of Australia’s east coast bush land is on fire, smoke streaking the skies), and try to resist afternoon naps!

Good morning Monday…5am looked like this if you slept through!
Tassie gave us some yoga tips on how to stretch out after our long flight – this manoeuvre is called ‘downward cat’…

On Tuesday morning Mr A had his eyes checked using the best equipment in Australia, again getting the all clear that his pressures remain stable. It’s always a relief to know that his eyesight has been maintained, and one less worry for us health wise.

A half hour walk from Jenny and David’s apartment on Wednesday took us down to Malabar, a beachside suburb we have never visited before. It’s a real haven away from the traffic and very picturesque, reminding us just how quickly you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city in these parts.

Clearly fishing is a favoured activity by the locals here with plenty of vessels waiting to be launched at the boat ramp
Only the thick skinned were braving the cool temperatures in the sea-pool
A reminder we are back in Australia with a snake warning
Calm waters at Malabar beach and some early morning sunbathers

There were even people swimming in the ocean there – though at 17 degrees slightly too nippy for us softies!

After a haircut later in the day, we met up with friends Clive and Aisha for cocktails and dinner at Fei Jai, a Cantonese restaurant in Potts Point.

We had a literal feast, having ordered a banquet menu, and rolled out into an Uber back home at the end of the evening, having laughed lots and had a great catch up.

Lots of smiles with our friends

Thursday morning started with a dentist visit, followed by a much anticipated appointment with our trusted financial advisor, Paul Brady, to check we could still continue to live our life of world travels. We discussed a few thoughts for the future and got some great advice from Paul. Most importantly our nomadic lifestyle can continue!

Friday saw us travelling down to Nowra, south of Sydney, to where our car and caravan are stored. We caught a train and enjoyed the 4 hour journey down the sparkling coastline. Everything appears to be all in good order, and after Truffy, the Zone looks huge! We collected the car and drove back up to Sydney.

Later that day we bussed into the city and joined our friends John and Eveliene for drinks and dinner. Again it was so lovely to catch up on all their news over some tasty food and wine.

Australian-Thai fusion at Long Chim

Feeling thoroughly spoilt by all the love from our friends, we were treated yet again on Saturday. We began the day joining Jenny as she walked a friend’s dog, Jaffa, in Sydney’s Centennial Park. Sydney reminded us that it is still spring, with cool 15 degrees temperatures and a chilly breeze – stark contrast to temperatures in the early 30s when we landed last weekend.

Mr A hugging himself to keep warm while tough kiwi Jenny stands there in short sleeves. Jaffa just loves being out for a walk
Located just 3km from Sydney’s CBD, the 360 hectares of Centennial Park are a quiet haven from the city
A peaceful grove of paperbark gums – Over the past 130 + years the park has been used as a testing ground for growing native species
A huge Morton Bay Fig tree stretches its arms, providing shelter for a whole range of species

Mr A and I have lived in Sydney for more than two decades, but still love seeing places through new eyes. We haven’t been into Centennial Park for years, and it was a great reminder of what a wonderful resource this is for Sydney’s residents.

Our friends Karen and Chris live a couple of hours’ drive north of Sydney, but as Chris was flying into the airport on Saturday morning, returning from a trip to Hong Kong, Karen caught the train down and joined us at Jenny and David’s apartment.

The six of us went for lunch back at the Boatshed, Barramundi burgers all round satisfying our hunger.

David, Karen and Chris lapping up the sunshine
Mr & Mrs A with Jenny

Later on that evening we all travelled to beachside suburb Coogee (named after an aboriginal word for ‘smelly place’ after the rotting seaweed on the beach – not so smelly these days!), for a delicious Asian meal at Sugarcane.

Feeling replete after a consistently delicious array of dishes

Sunday was our final day in Sydney for a while as from tomorrow we are going to pick up the Zone and commence a new Australian adventure, so much of the day was spent getting ourselves packed up and final washing done. We made sure we found time for a walk, and took ourselves on a 6.5km circuit through the National Park down to Maroubra Beach and looping back around via Malabar Headland.

Maroubra Beach – not seen sand like this in a long while
Walking around the headland, a couple of scuba divers in the water behind me
A Peregrine Falcon soars above us on our walk
Malabar Headland, looking south

It was a gorgeous walk, the sun shining and much warmer than anticipated. The birds were out, with a peregrine falcon soaring overhead, also joined by a white breasted sea eagle. In the undergrowth the trilling song of superb fairy wrens entertained us, just lovely.

We concluded our weekend with a meal out with our other surrogate family, Rosemary and Richard, a treat for them plus David and Jenny for all their help in looking after Miss Tassie this year and for enabling us to undertake this wonderful lifestyle. Without them, we’d still probably be working and taking that commuter bus into the city every day. We are so grateful for having precious people like these in our lives.

Special times – Din Tai Fung in Chatswood – Taiwanese food to cap off the week

25-30 March: Ticking off our final days in Australia

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

We’ve had a busy week getting our final tasks completed in Sydney and saying a few farewells to our lovely friends.

Monday night saw us treated to an absolute gastronomic feast, delicious wine and food prepared by friends Cathy and Scott and hosted by Donna and Andy – we were incredibly spoilt, and it was so great to see them.

Tuesday was a little dusty after the excesses of the night before, but I headed off early to see my Gastroenterologist in St Leonards to hopefully be signed off to continue travelling. Thankfully I got the tick of approval, and Dr Smith also organised for all my notes to be sent across for me to take to the UK, should anything go awry.

In the afternoon, I had a bouncy blow dry to add that little bit of glamour before we headed to drinks with friends at King Street Wharf. Despite it being a Tuesday night we had a great turnout with about 17 friends joining us.

A little bit of bounce….

Wednesday was a great day to pack – we both are currently Qantas Frequent Flyer Silver – probably for the last time ever, so have plenty of luggage allowance – 42kg each! Still it was a good practice to get it organised and bags weighed in advance to settle any nerves.

In the evening we met up with more friends, Clive, Aisha, John and Eveliene for dinner and drinks in Circular Quay.

Thursday was the birthday of one of our kind hosts, Jenny, who is currently working her socks off closing down one of her framing shops, and upgrading another. She came home to a well deserved glass of champagne before we all jumped in an Uber and headed to a fabulous Asian restaurant in Coogee Beach, Sugarcane. Highly recommended if you’re looking for somewhere new to eat and are in the area.

After a crazy week, Friday was much quieter. Mr A and I went into the city for a few final tasks (Mark’s shaver broke, but thankfully within warranty and exchanged swiftly) and I had my final medical procedure – steroid injections into my airway. They’ve been working really well, and my Otolaryngologist (ENT, head and neck surgeon) showed me he was delighted with how the scar tissue is drawing back and opening out my trachea. We just hope it keeps on working. Again, he has given me notes and videos to take with me to the UK.

We had a quiet night with Jenny and David, all of us exhausted for our own reasons after a busy week.

Saturday morning finally arrived, and after a walk around the neighbourhood we packed up for real and did a final weigh in – thankfully all within our allowance still, despite a total of eleven bags.

Our Uber XL arrived on time and we loaded up the boot….

All piled up outside Jenny and David’s apartment block

We are finally off!

Enjoying the final breaths of Sydney air for a while

We have checked in seven bags, and are hoping we will see seven again at the other end. We have a kind friend who is driving through the early hours of Sunday morning in the UK to pick us up…not sure we are prepared for the 2 degrees centigrade forecast for our arrival though!

This will be the first time in 20 years we will spend more time in Europe than here!

Farewell Australia!

22-24 March: Meanwhile…in Bris-Vegas….

Author: Mrs A

Location: Brisbane, Australia

While Mr A was off on his explorations on two wheels, I was off to Brisbane. Regular followers of our adventures might recall that I met with a couple of otolaryngologists (ear, nose, throat, head and neck doctors) last September as we passed through Brisbane on our journey back to Sydney. They invited me to talk at their conference this year and had found sponsorship for my flights and accomodation from a pharmaceutical company, Smiths Medical.

This was the weekend of the event. I flew up to Brisbane, took the train into the city and over to my hotel at North Quay. Checking in, the clerk proudly announced I had a room upgrade to a river view. And indeed I did. A fine view from my window, should I be hanging around to look.

Brisbane knows how to do a good sunset!

I had a quiet Friday night, opting for a laksa in a local food court before returning to my room for some final tweaks on my presentation.

Saturday morning was a bright and early one. I woke regularly throughout the night having panics that I had slept through my presentation, and finally got up about 5.30am. The conference centre was on the other side of the Brisbane River, so I headed over in the hope of attending some interesting sounding sessions starting at 7am. I met up with Dr Liz Hodge and Dr Hannah Burns, relieved to see some friendly faces, and Dr Daniel Novakovic, my surgeon in Sydney was opening the morning’s session with the first presentation.

My venue for the day

The conference

Throughout the day I chatted with a few doctors and a number of industry providers – it was really interesting to understand more about their world. Before long it was time to present.

I was part of the ‘Adult and Paediatric Airway Stenosis’ session, with five other presenters. Third one up, I was the only non-doctor on stage. I was really pleased with the turn out with standing room only in the auditorium. Feedback suggests it went well, with several doctors following up with me afterwards to ask more questions and thank me for the presentation.

As the doctors disappeared to their AGM and gala dinner, I headed back to the hotel to shower and change. Libby and Phil (friends we made this time last year through our common ownership of Zone caravans), had invited me to join them for dinner. They collected me and we headed up to Brisbane’s highest point, Mount Coot-tha. It’s a popular location for its lookout and walks, and it was busy with people admiring the night view of Brisbane, a bushy haven just 7km from the CBD. Mr A and I visited last Easter, barely able to see the city through the torrential rain! It was much drier and clearer this evening.

We were joined by more Zoners, Greg and Therese, and Darryl and Natalie. We had a lovely evening – predominantly the company – the restaurant seemed to be having some issues cooking, and our food arrived 90 minutes after we ordered it! The views were spectacular, and we took a moment before heading home to pick out the sights we could recognise.

L-R: Phil, Libby, Catherine, Therese, Darryl, Natalie, Greg

The Brisbane city skyline sparking under a nearly full moon

After a good night’s sleep I awoke on Sunday to another fine day. I packed up my case and left it with reception while I headed over to the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. A 34 degrees centigrade day, it was ideal for escaping the heat, a beautiful building with some inspirational exhibits.

Love the vibrancy of these landscapes by Aboriginal artists

Before long it was time to head to lunch. I had booked a table at Chu The Phat, an Asian restaurant, for a meeting of Queensland ladies who, like me, suffer from idiopathic subglottic stenosis. Dr Burns and Dr Hodge joined us for half an hour before they headed to a networking lunch, and then we enjoyed a fun couple of hours sharing our stories and chatting over food. I cannot emphasise how good it is to meet with people who understand what you’re going through, particularly when it’s a rare disease. I was particularly excited to meet Joanne, with whom I have exchanged messages with for around 10 years and never met – she was one of the first members in my now 3,300+ people strong support group.

L-R: Lana, Dr Hannah Burns, Dr Liz Hodges – listening to our stories

L-R: Rosemary and Tammy

L-R: Kerry, Lana, Tammy, Catherine, Christine, Rosemary and Joanne

I flew back to Sydney later that evening – the flight leaving late plus the hour’s time difference meaning I finally crawled into bed around midnight. A great weekend!

18-24 March: Nomadic life has its moments…

Author: Mr A

Location(s): Nowra, Berry, Sydney, Morton National Park, Orange

Let’s set the scene here. We have our worldly goods scattered around various locations in Sydney and surrounds. Our house contents are stored in two big cages in a warehouse in western Sydney. Our caravan and kayak had been stored nearly 6 hours drive west of Sydney. Various other bits and pieces are with friends in Matraville and Forestville. Life was getting complicated. It was time to rationalise the logistics!

We have found a storage business in Nowra that will take our caravan, car, kayak and bikes, and it was all under cover, with access to top up solar power. Oh and the guy who runs it said if we want work doing on the car (we do) or caravan (we hope not) then he can drop off and help organise. Perfect!

We headed for Berry last week after our Jervis Bay jaunt, and spent a few days parked up next to our friends’ property, and loved being welcome recipients of their delicious home grown produce!. They are such good company, always up to something interesting in that lively community down there.

Then it was back down to Nowra to drop the caravan at its new storage home before we loaded all our gear for the next 7 months of our UK/Europe trip into the car and hightailed it to Matraville. I had my bi-annual eye health check and Catherine was off to talk at a medical conference in Brisbane.

Sometimes this lugging around gear gets a bit tiresome, then we think “all in a good cause!”.

Tassie immediately settled back into ‘city pad’ mode.

Solar cat recharging on the balcony

She has three sets of fur parents who love her dearly. She’s a lucky lady.

I dashed into the city and was relieved of $500 plus dollars and got the good news of no further deterioration in my eyesight. Medical expenses between the two of us are crazy and mostly not covered by Medicare or our private health insurance. No wonder there is such a strong correlation here between income and health. Still, we are glad we live in Australia not the US.

Our next task on the storage juggle list was to visit our stored house contents in western Sydney. We figured we needed to access the winter clothes bag having checked the temperature in England (a top temperature of 11 degrees centigrade anticipated for our arrival!) – we fly this coming Saturday, straight into the Brexit Storm!

Next job – collect the kayak and other bits was had left out at our friends property out at Canowindra. A 5-6 hr drive out into western NSW. I devised a cunning plan though, after reading about a overnight bike trip some people had done in the national park inland from Nowra. Mrs A was up in Brisbane at a conference, so I headed down to Nowra collected the bike, dusted off the bikepacking gear, and headed for the hills. Well, I couldn’t actually see the hills through the driving rain and fog. Was this a smart idea? I consulted with my more optimistic half. Mrs A said “the forecast looks like it’s better further inland”, so I applied the right foot and started winding my up into the very wet high country.

I parked up at a pub close to the start of the ride (handy hey?), and got the camping gear loaded on my beast of a bike.

Ready to head off…and the sun is shining!

I love that bike, and still smile every time I throw a leg over the saddle. I didn’t get away until mid afternoon, but the rain had held up so was feeling pretty perky. Well until I remembered I had forgotten one of the most essential items of gear…my tea mug! Oh no! I had snuck in some Tim Tams (yummy Aussie chocolate biscuits) for my favourite ritual on these solo trips of getting the tent pitched somewhere gorgeous and getting a brew on. Still I pressed on regardless and was thrilled that the maps app and routing a friend had sent me was working a treat.

One happy bike-packer!

The route traverses into the Morton National Park which stretches for just under 200,000 hectares through sandstone plateau country crisscrossed by gorges. I had been reading about a 5-day ride through it called ‘Attack of the Buns‘, but only had time for two half days. I’d picked the section that several people had commented was through especially stunning and wild country. They weren’t wrong.

I started dropping down towards a small stream I had read about in the trip write up. Well the small stream was now a grown up river after all the rain. I paused, checked the time and decided to camp just before it and see what the morning brought weather wise. My reading of the forecast was they had no clue. Weather up in the hills here is notoriously unpredictable.

The tent was soon up and the issue of the lack of mug solved – use my empty Pringle container! Yes it is all health foods on these trips without the conscience on my shoulder of the lovely Mrs A. Now I can definitely say, do not pour boiling hot liquid into a cardboard Pringle container. It all went horribly wrong and the much better Plan B of drinking out of my food bowl was implemented.

Norman no-mates tent

I rose in the pre-dawn darkness and checked the river. I was going to have wet shoes for the rest of the trip but so what. I packed the gear and set off when it was just light enough to see where I was treading. It was up to the hubs but I pushed through, and I’m so glad I did. The riding from here was stunning.

Stream? A full blown river more like!

Made it!

Friends ask me why I always do these trips solo. My response – I can go at my own slow pace, and when I see country like this I’m so glad I can take my time to just stop and look. Silver cobwebs were hanging across the scrub. Mist was hanging over the cliffs. Not a person to be seen. The stillness is just something else. No other voices to break the spell.

Magical morning mist, birds, wallabies and not another person…

Dew coated spider webs sparkling in the morning light

I rode the somewhat soggy track but it was pretty easy going and eventually reached a point mid morning where I reluctantly had to turn round.

So tempting to keep on going…

A stream or my pathway ahead? Thank goodness for fat tyres

Perhaps to some people it would have seemed a lot of effort to get the bike all loaded up for one night. But not for me. I love the chance to ride and reflect, listen, smell and feel the bush. I’m going to miss it in the UK and Europe, but it will be replaced with country so different to this, country shaped and filled by human endeavour.

It was a long drive to Canowindra and I was running out of daylight. You really don’t want to be on these country roads at dusk with kamikaze kangaroos about. My eyes are also not good for night driving. So kayak collected, I headed over to Orange, where a friend had recently moved back to from Manly. It was her birthday so a great excuse for a catch up. We had a lovely time, wine tasting and eating at a brilliant restaurant called Mr Lim. Check it out if you’re in town.

Pre dinner drink at the very fancy local RSL in Orange

All too quickly it was time to point the car back to Nowra and store it there until early November. It’s really happening…we’re off for a whole new adventure.

14-17 March: Dodging the rain in Jervis Bay

Author: Mr A

Location: Huskisson, Jervis Bay, NSW, Australia

Thursday: It was a novelty at first hearing rain crashing onto the roof of the caravan. An excuse to brew endless cups of tea, finalise our trip plans for Europe, and snuggle down with Miss Tasmania!

An attempt at an evening walk is cut short by our first rain drops

Jervis Bay looking dramatic as the horizon disappears under torrential rain heading our way

Friday: We managed a short 13km cycle along Jervis Bay’s shoreline shared path, with a hot chocolate reward for our minor efforts:

Half way along our ride the grey skies part to allow fingers of sunlight to beam down onto the bay

Nice to wrap up warm and enjoy a hot drink

The late afternoon cleared allow for a fabulous sunset:

The last sunbeams catch a turquoise wave as it breaks on the shore

Grid-like rock pools at the water’s edge reflecting the sunlight

A copse of gum trees catching the last of the light

We’ve not seen the sun all day, but still it goes down

Sunset

Time to go back to the Zone for dinner!

Saturday: After a couple of days of little activity we were getting a bit van crazy, so drove into Booderee National Park to tackle one of the longer circuit walks. Booderee translates as “Bay of Plenty” in the local language of the Koori people, who have now been handed back this land to continue with over 20,000 recorded years of custodianship.

Well, didn’t we get lucky with the weather. The park was looking fabulous, all glistening and shiny with the foliage recently washed clean.

Setting off from Steamers Beach Car Park

Walking down towards Steamers Beach

The ferns gleaming in the sunlight after their wash in the rain last night

A Jacky Lizard also seems pleased to see the sunlight, and wasn’t keen to move off the step to let us pass

Mrs A on the walk down to Steamers Beach – with another 10km left to hike we decided against going all the way down and back again

There wasnt a heap of birdlife, but plenty of wallabies bounding around. The flora certainly looks like it has recovered pretty well with the lush cover back after the devastating fires of Christmas 2001. We drove back from Tasmania through the area a few weeks after those fires and both shed tears for all the animals burned to death in the inferno that took 400 firefighters to get under control.

In 2017 fire once again ravaged the park. You can still some some of the impact, but it once again is looking mostly healthy. As for species lost, then it is not such a happy story. Since 2004 a monitoring program has been in place and sadly has seen local extinction of some glider species and the “common” ringtail possum. Inexplicably mammals in both fire affected and non-affected areas seem to have suffered. Researchers are at a loss. My uninformed view – this is a pattern we are seeing all over Australia as climate events become more extreme and humans continue to encroach on habitat at a shocking pace. You may have seen the more alarmist articles that are predicting complete ecosystem collapse as insect numbers fall drastically.

On that cheery note check out some of these fab photos from the ever talented Mrs A!

Mr & Mrs at the lookout

The beautiful Blacks Harbour – named for the aboriginal residents

Apple time at Blacks Harbour

Such a picturesque location

Would be great snorkelling here

Calm waters with Caves Beach just around the headland, popular with surfers

Could spend hours checking out these rock pools, full of little fish

Another bay, further around – the water looking amazing through the trees

We always love visiting this area – this was where I proposed to Mrs A back in September 2000 after all – and we will definitely be back again. We just love how we are still able to find something new in the region every time we come, whatever the weather.

10-13 March: Back into New South Wales

Author: Mrs A

Location: Boydtown & Tuross Head, NSW

Sunday: Driving north from Lakes Entrance it wasn’t long before we were back in southern New South Wales, pulling into Boydtown for the night. Boydtown was the original settlement in Twofold Bay, settled by Benjamin Boyd in the mid 1800s.

This is the area where Thaua aboriginal people had developed a special relationship with killer whales, which would herd humpback whales towards their spears. The first Europeans learned of this and recruited the Thaua people to help them with their whaling activities, There are still the remains of whaling stations and a whale spotting tower in the area.

Today, the settlement is home to the beautifully refurbished Seahorse Inn and a growing community as land is sold off around the pub. There is also a 40 acre campground at reasonable prices and beach access.

Not crammed in at Boydtown Camping Ground

Miss Tassie wondering where her Victorian haven has gone!

As we pulled into the camping area we saw market stall holders packing up outside the hotel, and several coaches parked up on the lawns nearby. Apparently the hotel had just hosted a couple of hundred people on a P&O cruise calling in at nearby Eden for afternoon refreshments. All very nice but sadly no oysters left for the likes of us!

We set up camp in the spacious grounds, and headed off for a walk on the beach. The cloud was rolling in, threatening rain, but very little fell after all.

Beautiful views across the ranges

Prancing along the water’s edge

We had a special sunset however.

Best sunset in ages

A fabulous sky show you just can’t stop watching

Monday: From Boydtown we called into Eden to complete a few tasks at the post office, before heading to Pambula Lake to the fabulous Broadwater Oyster shack there. We last visited about 12 months ago, and our memories of the delicious shucked oysters were still fresh. We were not disappointed – a dozen each and two dozen to take away. Fabulous and well worth the wait!

Our destination for the day was Tuross Head. We last stayed there about 2 years ago, having had to smuggle Miss Tassie ‘the wallaby’ in, as pets were not allowed. This time she was fully permitted, and enjoyed a bit of an exploration around the grounds (full of rabbit smells!).

Cat walking does not burn many calories…

Tassie proving to be a poor hunter – didn’t even notice the skink in front of her nose!

Tuesday: Tuross Head is a lovely settlement – not really much there in terms of entertainment, with a handful of small shops, a Chinese restaurant and a combination Thai and fish and chip shop.

But that doesn’t matter – it is surrounded by white sand beaches, sparkling turquoise waters and a shared pathway which explores the coastline. It’s perfect for those who enjoy peace and quiet as well as outdoors activities like kayaking, cycling and fishing.

After a lot of car time the past couple of days we were determined to get out and explore under our own power, and did a 13km cycle around the coast, following the pathway around to Coila Creek and back.

Mr A peddling off along the quiet cycle ways

Coils Bar behind me – the border between ocean and lake

Riding alongside Coila Creek which is currently a lagoon, closed to the ocean

Still perfection – Coila Creek behind the dunes
Dead tree provides a sculpture alongside the creek

Mr A enjoying the day!

Our afternoon stroll took us in the other direction, to a lookout overlooking the Tuross River and Horse Island. There are so many opportunities to explore this area by boat, we are certain to return again with our big kayak and a longer booking at the campground.

Looking out the tumultuous mouth of the Tuross River

Hold onto your hats! The wind picking up in lieu of a change in the weather

Enjoying the view from the lookout

Beautiful tree-lined streets

We’d been able to nab ourselves a beachside campsite, having booked in just after a long weekend, the perfect location to set up our chairs and enjoy our take away oysters with a glass of Chardonnay.

,

A home with a view…couldn’t get much closer to the sand

Wednesday: We moved on again, initially planning to visit Ulladulla, but finding the campgrounds either ridiculously expensive ($50 a night) or allowing dogs but not cats – even mostly indoor ones which come out only accompanied on a lead. We bypassed the town completely and moved on to Milton, camped up on the showground.

The blue sky has left us for a few days, with the coast expected to receive some very welcome rain. It was much cooler today with heavy overcast skies. We took the opportunity to start our packing for our next adventure – in 17 days we leave Australia and head back to the UK to begin travelling there and in Europe. We continue up the coast tomorrow to Huskisson on Jervis Bay…we’re expecting to use our rain coats!

5-9 March: Admiring East Gippsland

Author: Mr A

Location: Seaspray and Nungurner, Victoria, Australia

Tuesday: Mrs A woke on her birthday to another stunning morning overlooking Wilsons Prom. Sadly it was the closest we were going to get on this trip as we needed to be on our way. We had booked into a park at the small settlement of Seaspray, in Victoria’s glorious East Gippsland region. As soon as we arrived, we pretty much unhitched and headed straight off into the nearby town of Sale, as I had found out about a pub with a particularly good reputation for dinner.

Birthday girl with her new necklace from Melbourne

I had been given great advice – this place was tremendous. If you find yourself that way the Criterion Hotel deserves your patronage. As so many reviewers said before me “why isn’t my local pub like this?”. And really there’s no practical reason it couldn’t be in most of Australia that has a climate that supports the growing of local produce.

The chef was a local lad, the produce from all around the area, the funding to invest in the pub was all coming (I was told by the manager) from reinvested profits since they managed to fill the place most nights. How? By offering a very different menu to the usual unimaginative fare of chips with some combination of “parmy (chicken in breadcrumbs), steak, or meat pie. We had delicious Asian influenced starters and duck with various berries and oh so fresh veggies for main.

Happy customers outside the renovated Criterion Hotel

Wednesday: Sadly the next day it was blowing a hoolie, so we were confined to quarters most of the time, only briefly venturing down onto the sand blasting beach.

There’s drama on the horizon – 90-mile beach at Seaspray

Being sand blasted on the beach, trying to imagine what it’s like on a calm sunny day

The wind is shifting the sand dunes like snow drifts

We didn’t see much of Seaspray other than the sea spray. Sorry but couldn’t resist that!

Thursday: The next day we had been generously invited to stay with fellow Zone owners Di and Mark, who live in the small settlement of Nungerner, about a 10 minute drive out of Lakes Entrance. What a little slice of heaven their home and its surrounds has been. Every direction there seems to be miles and miles of tranquil lakes and rivers, bursting with birds, wildlife and views at every turn.

Mark and Di have a resident echidna – quite used to people by all accounts!

The Gippsland Lakes are Australia’s largest area off enclosed water at 103 kilometres long. We have really enjoyed it here and only scratched the surface after 3 days.

Our first night saw us meeting up with some more Zoners, Jo and Scott, who wanted to try out our packrafts at the nearby settlement of Metung.

Zoners catch up at the Metung Hotel

The Metung Hotel

Looking out into the lake

This bustling little village has a pub set in an idyllic lakeside location with 180 degree views up and down the channel.

Friday: We couldn’t wait to get on the water, so in the morning wandered down with our little boats in our backpacks to the jetty that is a few hundred metres from Di and Mark’s place.

The still morning water – smoke haze from the bush fires hanging over the water

Perfect reflections

There used to be a cormorant on every post!

Enjoying this a lot!

Heading off to explore a commercial fishing boat

Someone with a little imagination has built little houses on their beachfront

Mrs A looking quite relaxed

Onwards to the next little bay – you could explore here for weeks

Arriving at the Metung Yacht Club

We paddled around the edge of the lake and ended up back at the pub at Metung…again…this time resisiting a cold beer and heading back to the serenity of Mark and Di’s home and its leafy courtyard.

Mark kindly sorted out some plumbing issues on our Zone. That was his main trade before retiring but now seems to have a mastery of almost every trade there is! A useful set of skills when caravans seem to need so much ongoing maintenance. Di was a kindergarten teacher and tour guide for the local caves at Buchanan, and they both share our passion for walking and the great outdoors. Time therefore slipped away so easily chatting about our respective adventures. Memories being relived and shared, a wonderful thing.

Our fur child is equally enraptured by their home and strolls around with her flag of a tail held high in pleasure. Its brilliant for us to see her so happy, especially knowing in a few short weeks we will be bidding her goodbye for 7 months! Thank goodness we are lucky enough to have two sets of foster parents who are equally crazy about this gorgeous natured little bundle of loveliness.

Stalking skinks in the flower beds

Princess Tassie has explored every corner of Di and Mark’s garden

Investigating secret pathways

Content in the sunny courtyard

Happy cat mode with the tail held high

And relaxing in the sunshine

Saturday: On Saturday Metung held a small market which was especially bustling as it is a long weekend for Victoria.

Eggplant and tomatoes purchased…no garlic….

Plenty of choice in this little market

Fresh veggies purchased it was off to the popular tourist destination of Lakes Entrance.

Before dropping down into the town we stopped at a lookout which really explained the naming of the town!

Amazing views from the lookout

We can see the strength of the current from up here

We had a date with the best fish and chip shop in town for lunch. Sadly no mushy peas or pickled eggs on the menu, I’ll have to wait another few weeks for those in England, but still a not bad effort for Aussie friers!

The Ferryman – delicious fresh fish

More happy punters!

It was our last night here with Di and Mark, so we gathered in the courtyard for drinks and nibbles and whiled away another lovely evening planning how to turn our respective travel dreams into memories.

Final night’s drinks and nibbles with Mark and Di

1-4 March: Wilsons Promontory National Park…almost…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Yanakie, Victoria (just outside Wilsons Promontory)

With a forecast of 39 degrees centigrade on Friday we decided to head away from Marysville and drive to the coast, Wilsons Promontory National Park our ultimate destination for some hiking amongst spectacular scenery. As we are travelling with Miss Tassie we were unable to camp in the park itself, but we checked in to a caravan park in Yanakie, just 30 minutes drive away. The temperature was much cooler beside the water, a great relief.

Saturday morning dawned clear and blue, with the mercury climbing early. We moved into a site right beside the beach with uninterrupted views over to the Prom.

Amazing sunrise over the water

A Zone with a view…

As the water was so still, we decided to take advantage and inflated our pack rafts for a paddle, planning to head for a walk in the national park in the afternoon.

Mirror-like perfection on the bay

The water is quite shallow in Corner Inlet Marine & Coastal Park

It was while we were out paddling in these serene waters that we suddenly both received messaged on our mobile phones:

Bushfire Advice from Parks Victoria. Wilsons Promontory and surrounding areas. Stay informed re park closure. Check local radio or www.emergency.vic.gov.au

I checked the website. It turned out the whole national park was being evacuated due to an out of control fire…so no walking for us. The evacuation included all campers – so it was fortunate we were not staying in there after all.

Yanakie sits on the edge of the Corner Inlet Marine National Park, part of Bass Straight, the waterway between mainland Australia and Tasmania. It’s a critical waterway for migratory birds and has been designated a wetland of international significance under the Ramsar Convention.

After lunch we took a walk along the beach to see what birds were about.

Strolling along the beach, dead trees standing out like sculptures

Literally dozens of black swans and ibis fed on the sea grass at low tide

Copper grasses blowing in the afternoon breeze on the dunes

Wispy clouds crossing the sky

Black backed gulls, silver gulls, black swans, ibis, egrets and herons were the main bird life, enjoying the mudflats at low tide. It reminded us of our time in Omokoroa in New Zealand, the peace and quiet, punctuated by the occasional bird call.

Nature’s artwork

After a couple of kilometres we came across this twisted wood, standing up out of the sand like a marker for something….we had a look and behind it was a footpath. We followed it for another couple of kilometres and wound up right back at the campground. Perfect!

Heading off down the mystery path

As we turned back, we could see the bushfire smoke spreading across the hills, the afternoon wind fanning the flames and increasing its impact.

By wine-o’clock the fire was quite large and easily visible from where we were camped (at a safe distance).

Sunset starting to reflect on the smoke haze

Sunday morning’s sunrise was quite dramatic as a result, with the air quite obviously smoky. Despite the fact I am breathing quite well at the moment, my throat began to feel the effects of inhaling the ashy polluted air, burning and sore.

Sunrise provides a dramatic start to the day with the absolutely still water

A juvenile gull floats on the still water

Lake or ocean? I bet most people wouldn’t guess this was Bass Straight!

We decided to drive over to the other side of the peninsular where there was some breeze, meaning cleaner air.

We checked out Waratah Bay which looked like it had not changed in about 50 years, the main landmark on Google Maps being the Telstra Payphone! It had a lovely beginners surf beach and plenty of sand which stretched on for miles.

From there we had a look at Shallow Inlet, where the tide was going out and kite surfers enjoyed catching the breeze across the water.

We returned for another stroll around ‘our’ beach and then to enjoy the sun set as the wind changed direction and cleared all the smoke.

A little drama as the weather changed during the afternoon, bringing a few meagre drops of rain but not enough to douse the fires

The sun setting behind us reflected on the clouds over the water giving us a lovely show

We checked the Parks Victoria emergency site as soon as we woke on Monday morning, and found the fire was still raging and the park would be closed for the foreseeable future. So, as our last day here we decided to get the pack-rafts out again and explore another part of Corner Inlet.

We rolled our boats up into our backpacks, and hiked a couple of kilometres down the beach before we inflated them.

Can you believe there is a boat in here?

At not much more than 2kg our boats and paddles are easy to carry

We then paddled down further into the bay, a very picturesque area full of old boat sheds and unofficial camping sites. There were plenty of birds down here too, mostly not used to seeing people paddling. I imagine most people who visit here stick to visiting Wilsons Prom and rarely make it in to the bay here – I know we probably would not have explored it this thoroughly had the national park been open.

Inflated and ready to paddle!

Looking at some of the old boat sheds on the edge of the water

Our crafts awaiting captains

Mr A on very calm waters

Heading back to camp, not wanting the adventure to end

Nervous terns on the beach

After 7km paddling we are both aching tonight – we are definitely not paddle-fit, and the pack rafts are not as streamlined as our fibreglass double kayak we’d have loved to have brought with us. But we’re so pleased we had these little boats to give us the option to explore the water, their weight and portability giving them a unique benefit.

Our visit to Wilsons Promontory has not quite been the one we planned, but nevertheless has been surprisingly gorgeous. We have really enjoyed the peace and quiet of this location, which has probably been exacerbated by the fires, keeping other visitors away.

We definitely plan to put this area on our wish list to return to in the future (hopefully fire-free next time!), and would recommend Yanakie as a base to explore from, especially if you appreciate bird life and the serenity of the water. Off to pastures new tomorrow…