1-17 January 2020: Goodbye Sydney…for a few weeks

Author: Mr A

Location: Mosman, Sydney, Australia

I’m sitting in the our caravan waiting for Catherine to come back from yet another doctors appt. She never complains, just gets on with it. This morning is another set of steroid injections in her neck. Not a pleasant exercise, but seems to be keeping her breathing well, so for her worth the discomfort.

We are all packed up and ready to leave our house-sit in Mosman and head north up to Noosa over the weekend, via our friends in Newcastle.

Reflecting on our six weeks here in Sydney, we have missed breathing clean air, missed feeling well (we’ve both had the flu and lingering coughs), and both felt extremely anxious for friends around the country whose properties have been at risk from the fires. On the plus side we have had some great catch ups. Friendships can be maintained on line, but there’s nothing like sharing a glass and breaking bread, mostly a naan with a curry!

Friend Richard cooks up a storm on the only BBQ meal we have eaten on our trip back to Australia (so far!)
A delicious lunch with Rosemary and Richard at their house-sit in Clontarf
Sydney Red Gums frame a view over Middle Harbour

We have watched the bush fires rage around the country, and felt the affects of the smoke here in the middle of its largest city. Australia is going to be at the pointy end of climate change and likely will continue it seems to wrestle with balancing the economic dependence it has on fossil fuels, the lack of climate strategy a succession of our governments has failed to deliver, and being the hottest, driest continent on the planet. I will say no more because I’m not qualified to speak on the science of climate change, although that doesn’t seem to stop some people.

I have read all that I can absorb and have come to what I believe is an informed conclusion. I would encourage you to do the same. The most data rich (rather than “opinion rich”) source I have found is The Conversation, a network of not for profit web media outlets that publish content written by academics and researchers. Also NASA’s web site has some great global content as well. So who would you rather trust, the politician or the scientist? The news reader paid by Robert Murdoch, or someone who actually has some expertise? Sorting through the lies and distortion that hurtle at us from everywhere is going to be the key challenge I think for this decade. We are privileged to live in a democracy, a political system that is always under threat when the worst in humanity is stirred by those who appeal to our fears.

While based in Mosman we have dashed out on a few walks when the air has not been too toxic, and out on the water for some paddles. We have walked along a harbour side path numerous times, and hardly seen another soul.

Mrs A walking on a path around the Harbour – you can hardly believe we’re in the middle of a city of more than 5 million people
Looking out over the Spit
Eastern Water Dragons are plentiful on the Harbourside walks
A magnificent beast
Another fearless Dragon poses by the path

Sydney is such a city of contrasts. The bustling CBD, and then these quiet paths through our green spaces.

The Spit Bridge opens to allow sailing boats across
The serene waters on a lovely clean-air day

It’s one of the things we have always loved about the place we have called home for over 20 years. I really hope those who have stewardship of its future, state and city politicians, provide the strategic thinking it will need to continue to flourish.

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!

16-24 December: Easing into a Sydney Christmas

Author: Mr A

Location: Sydney, Australia

We have had a couple of weeks already of our house sitting, based in Sydney’s lower north shore, catching up with friends, and getting out on the harbour in our kayak when the smoke haze allows.

We set off from Rose Bay for a paddle on a rare blue sky day
So happy to be out on the water
We paddled out to Shark Island, an island in the middle of Sydney Harbour, landing on a small sandy beach and enjoyed a picnic lunch with commanding views
We paddled back via some of Vaucluse’s grander houses
The water is a great place to be on a day like this

It has been great to spread out in a home once again, unpack and re-group. We have lived mostly in our caravan and motorhome for the last two and a half years., which has been an incredible adventure, but every so so often we have realised we need this stability. A series of doctors and dentists appointments for instance, are only enabled if you are in the same place long enough.

A glimmer of sunshine encourages us out for a walk around the coastal path nearby
The dragons are so still and blend in to their surroundings, you often don’t spot them at first
The boats and yachts sit calm in the turquoise waters of Middle Harbour
One of the Eastern Water Dragons we share the neighbourhood with, surveying his domain from the stairway up to the property we are staying in

Catherine has struggled with the smoke from the fires, aggravating a sinusitis response. It’s been difficult to watch so much of our country go up in flames, while our government stands by frozen in inaction.

We are safe from the flames here but the smoke is a problem. The view from our balcony frequently disappears behind choking smoke which hangs around all day long until the wind changes
The smoke lifts a little but still provides a constant filter over the sun, casting an eerie brown-orange light

Seeing friends and rekindling our relationships here has just been the absolute best way to spend this Christmas period. It makes you realise that geography nowadays has been relegated in the list of essential requirements in a relationships.

Christmas bubbles with friends Jenny and Karen
Joined by Tim, Chris and David
Not quite a full team photo, but a good bunch of friends
A morning-after recovery breakfast in Mosman
A Christmas catch up with friends Thomas, Asha and their budding photographer cutie daughter Tamara
A morning breakfast in Balmoral, Sydney

Of course its easier if you are co-located, but our digital channels now mean we can keep up with peoples lives and when we meet concentrate on understanding more than the banal catching up on the everyday events we would have otherwise missed. The “where are you working, how’re your kids doing, and where did you go on holiday” bit is already done for those who allow their friends to see that piece. What isn’t done is to understand their hopes and dreams for the future. This is where we can now spend our limited time together, and it has been so rewarding for us.

So with Christmas Eve upon us, we want to wish you all a wonderful time with your friends and family. We thank you for taking the time to read this blog, it gives us a lot of pleasure to know it enables you to keep in touch with us as we explore this increasingly fragile planet earth.

8-15 December: Culture, kayaking and conviviality

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney, Australia

A week last Friday I had heard disappointing news about my airway. A visit to my local ENT surgeon found the scar tissue has returned again, closing my trachea by about 40%. Definitely not news I wanted to hear. He injected some steroids into my neck, a treatment aimed at shrinking the tissue – regular readers will know I have had a few of these procedures now, so I was hopeful it might work. Well, I don’t want to talk too soon, but so far so good – even in spite of the continued smoke, I am breathing much easier. Our fingers are crossed it stays that way over the coming weeks.

When it comes to breathing, higher numbers are better…

One of the main reasons for staying in Sydney is to be able to catch up with friends here, and breathing is always useful for that!

We had a great week full of lovely smiling faces of friends we haven’t seen for several months, with a couple of dinners out as well as hosting here in our house-sit, pleased to be able to repay others’ generosity while we have not had a home to entertain in.

There had to be a curry night with our friends John and Eveliene
And we found a local dumpling house to treat Rosemary and Richard to a Christmas lunch with a difference
A Friday night catch up with friends at the Opera Bar
L-R: Miles, Throshni, Mrs A, Owen, Mr A, Eric

I also joined a friend at the Art Gallery of NSW, always a haven of tranquility, colour and inspiration nestled at the edge of Sydney’s Botanical Gardens and the Domain. At present there is an exhibition of work by Ben Quilty, an artist who uses art to spur debate and discussion on various issues. I first noticed his work back in 2011 when he won the Archibald Prize for portraiture, an oil painting of a fellow artist, Margaret Olly.

Delicious smears of thick oil paint make up the features of Margaret’s face in this larger than life canvas artwork
Using a Rorschach technique (painting one side and squashing it on another canvas to make a mirror image) this artwork is a response to an 1880 painting of Myall Creek in Victoria, where a terrible massacre of Aboriginals occurred. The woman on the riverside visible on the right, has all but disappeared on the left in Quilty’s version of the picture ‘Evening Shadows’. Quite moving to see it in person.
Another Rorschach technique painting, Fairy Bower, depicts another beautiful location which is associated with sadness and grief

After one of the worst smoke days we have seen, we awoke to cool temperatures and drizzle on Wednesday morning, the haze clearing over the water. Mark and I decided to take advantage of it and drove to nearby Tunks Park and launched our kayak.

Wrapped up warm in our rain jackets we could hardly believe the day before had been 36°C

We just love how you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city by getting out on the water, with no cars or buses to disturb the gentle lapping of the water on the boat’s hull.

Peaceful paddling past the multi million dollar homes on the water’s edge
The boat launching nearest to where we are staying

We also launched our kayak on Saturday morning from the beach at Clontarf, paddling over to Balmoral for lunch and back. If only we could easily pack this beast in our luggage and take it over to Europe, what fun we would have exploring there!

At 7 metres 30cm it’s a bit beyond our luggage allowance, and actually longer than Truffy, our motorhome!
Launching from the calm turquoise waters at Clontarf
Sated post lunch in Balmoral, ready for bit more of an explore…Noticing my dirty neck? It’s actually the remnants of a big bruise from my injections last week!

We’re really enjoying staying in Mosman too, in the this little nook of Sydney we haven’t previously explored. We’re surrounded by tall gum trees, woken each morning by a raucous dawn chorus of birds. Bush turkeys strut their stuff around the streets, kicking up gum leaves, and flying up in to the trees to roost at night. Owls, tawny frogmouths and possums take up the night shift, chatters and calls joining the sound of cicadas in the evening warmth. It’s a fairly peaceful little haven, belying the fact it is only a 20 minute bus ride from central Sydney.

We joined a few of the neighbours for Jingle & Mingle, a Sunday evening seasonal catch up in the local park, taking along wine and nibbles. It was great to meet such a friendly bunch of people, with accents from around the world. We’re happy to make this area our home for the next few weeks.

30 November-7 December: Wallaga Lake and up to hazy Sydney

Author: Mr A

Location: Wallaga Lake, Bermagui, Berry and Sydney NSW

Saturday-Monday: As we moved north with a deadline to get to Sydney, we stopped for what would be our final camping spot of 2019 at the serene Wallaga Lake – well, serene when the water ski boats finally stopped thundering up and down!

Two dozen freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters from Broadwater Oysters in Pambula – we cannot drive past this place with making a purchase
Another room with a view location, lakeside at Wallaga
Pelicans looking hopeful for lunch

A few kilometres outside of the small resort down of Bermagui, Wallaga Lake was a great place for us to just collect ourselves and work out what we would be storing in the van and what we needed to take up to Sydney. A day of cleaning and sorting and we felt a lot more organised. One of the less fun parts of this nomadic life, where we rent a house out and have no base other than two mobile homes in two continents, is working out what we need to take where. Anyway, a quality problem to have, we think.

We would stop one more night at our friends in Berry before storing the caravan in Nowra. Our friends Barb and Omar recently opened their garden for the Berry Gardens Festival, and had around 1700 visitors through! So we were keen to see what had been the drawcards since our last visit in February.

A creative way of hiding an unattractive garage wall and creating a cooler surface
A flowerbed full of natives still looks healthy and vibrant
A thirsty skink welcomes one of the many dishes of water Barb fills up for them around the property

Sadly the drying westerly winds and lack of rain had made it tough to keep some of the highlights alive, but still they have changed a lot of minds about the use of insecticides and the merits of permaculture. Our visits to these guys are always a fascinating insight into this subject I know so little about. I just taste the produce that comes out of their garden and groan in delight, including once again the smoked trout that comes from the swimming pool they convert to a fish farm over the winter. Amazing inspiring people.

Tuesday: Well, we dropped off the caravan and had one very stuffed Landcruiser chugging up to Sydney. We had been invited to house sit a property in the rather exclusive suburb of Mosman on Sydney’s north shore. We have been here now a few days and are settling in. Our fur child is especially pleased to once again have a large house to romp around, and has adopted one of the rooms as her special domain.

Tassie decides that cerise is her colour
A short walk from where we are staying takes us down to the water’s edge
An Eastern Water Dragon looking magnificent, with its camouflage blending nicely in with the environment
A young Grey Butcherbird hunting for insects
Spots and stripes are all the fashion when you’re a dragon
This little chap is pretty safe living here – we can only contrast that with the awful bushfire affected areas surrounding Sydney

We immediately commenced our usual “back in Sydney” program of catch ups with friends, but the joy we would normally experience is missing. It’s so sad to see Sydney bathed in smog from the bushfires that surround this usually beautiful city, the pollution levels ranging from an equivalent of smoking between 10 and 30 cigarettes a day.

The view from our balcony disappears as the smoke rolls in, coating everything in ash and poisoning the air we breathe

It’s hard not to keep thinking about what this means for our future. Add living in the hottest, driest continent to global warming, and we are unlikely to get a happy outcome. I met up with some friends for lunch and the three of us all felt a background level of anxiety that is increasingly affecting the pride and pleasure we have always had to call ourselves Australian. We should be setting an example in this big brown land as to how to tackle these climate change challenges. But we’re not, and that’s depressing.

We see no one competent taking a leadership role in Australia, and we’re not unique in that regard, I do appreciate. The impact on Australia’s wildlife and ecosystems had been already cataclysmic. The pictures emerging of animals burning to death is heartbreaking. People losing everything in bushfires, their homes and livelihoods, where will this end for us? But what as individuals should we be doing to affect change? Is there anyone we trust to think about the country, not their own thirst for power, and just take some brave decisions for the long term?

27-29 November: Edging back into New South Wales

Author: Mrs A

Location: Orbost, Victoria & Wonboyn Lake, New South Wales, Australia

It was hard to tear ourselves away from our fabulous beachside view at Yanakie, but we needed to start pointing our noses back towards Sydney. On Wednesday we drove for a few hours, stopping for the night in Orbost. Orbost is a sweet little village with friendly, welcoming locals. We even considered staying another day there once we read about the East Gippsland rail trail that starts there, but on waking Thursday morning with the area shrouded in bushfire smoke decided it would be better to move on.

So Thursday saw us driving up the highway and crossing the border in to New South Wales. This part of north-eastern Victoria/south-eastern NSW is really stunning, with tall gum trees lining the road, lush with sub-tropical palms, climbing creepers, tree-ferns and colourful parrots streaking across the road in flocks, screeching. This is the Nadgee Nature Reserve (in NSW)/Croajingolong Wilderness area (in Victoria), together forming one of the twelve World Biosphere Reserves in Australia. These areas are internationally designated to be protected and demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature – much like already existed before Europeans landed in Australia. Looking at the map you can see this region is very undeveloped and the few tracks through the reserves largely follow paths forged by the first Australians over several thousands of years visiting this region.

This region is rich in flora and fauna

Before long we were pulling off the highway towards Wonboyn Lake, a sleepy little settlement with an old campground on the side of the hillside.

Reading the reviews, it sounded like the camp was on the shore of the lake and within walking distance of the beach, but on arrival we found this wasn’t the case. We soon found it was a drive or cycle to get to any of the beaches, and the lake was at the bottom of a steep hill.

The campground has recently been sold to a young couple from Cootamundra, seeking an escape from the rat-race and wanting somewhere nice to bring up their three (soon to be four) young children. They have their work cut out, with the site looking like it has been some time since anyone invested any funds in it. It certainly has some good points though.

Wonboyn Lake is famous for its oysters, with at least one producer having won awards in Sydney for its tasty mollusks. We bought a couple of dozen small unopened ones from the reception as we checked in, and borrowed a shucking knife to make a first attempt at opening them. I tried one and gave up after the shell broke off, handing the task over to Mr A. He did an amazing job – successfully shucking 23 oysters with all ten digits intact at the end and no damage to anything in the Zone – always a bonus!

Just $16 bought us 26 unopened oysters – three of which we couldn’t open…small but perfectly delicious!
This is where the oysters were from – we imagine the cream of the crop head up to Sydney’s restaurants to be served for $4+ each

We jumped on our bikes for a ride, finding the area much hillier than expected. I gave up on seeing a third steep hill, my breathing has not been great since my cold, and I wasn’t keen to keep struggling. Mr A continued on while I checked out the lake and returned to camp.

Serenity down at Wonboyn Lake
Patricia Pelican and her little friend
I sat and watched an azure kingfisher swooping in amongst the mangroves here, catching lunch

One of the great things about the campground is its proximity to the national park. This means the wildlife is literally on your doorstep, and actively encouraged by the camp hosts who handed us a brown paper bag full of birdseed when we checked in. I sprinkled some on the ground outside the Zone. Within moments we had dozens of rainbow lorikeets noisily flying down from all directions to feed.

A couple of juvenile lorikeets watch from the trees above
Clearly one of those loud squarks was the signal for the feeding frenzy to commence, and the flock descends
What do you mean I have to wait until later for my next feed?

They were later joined by the more nervous little birds – scrub wrens, superb fairy wrens, ducks and white-headed pigeons, with the occasional bower bird swooping in and out for a bite. A cat-like cry overhead alerted us to a pair of giant wedge-tailed eagles flying past, cruising for a feed – not so interested in the seed, but more so the creatures feeding on it.

A little scrub wren flies down to collect the seeds left behind in the dirt

Later in the afternoon, wallabies and kangaroos came into the campground to graze on the grass there, sticking to the tree line ready to hop off if they detected danger. Apparently wombats are often seen here too, but they were not out to play when we visited.

A mob of kangaroos pauses their evening grazing to watch us walk past…the young joey isn’t too concerned and keeps drinking its milk

Friday morning we awoke to what is sadly becoming a familiar scene, our surroundings bathed in bushfire smoke. We quickly looked on Google to check it wasn’t close by, and found there were a couple of reported ‘under control’ fires by the highway, about 9km inland from where we were. A northerly breeze picked up and the smoke started to clear somewhat, so we decided to chance it and go for another cycle.

Mr A had discovered yesterday that the downhill I had given up my ride on had been the last hill, so I decided to give mountain biking another go. I was so pleased I did. The steepest climb had been what I had already managed yesterday, after that it was all downhill into the Nadgee Nature Reserve, along fire trails towards the coast.

Lovely quiet fire trails

We had a great afternoon cycling and only saw five other people the whole time – a real benefit of travelling off-peak.

The two beaches we rode to were particularly spectacular. Greenglades Beach is overlooked by rich red cliffs, in the sunlight glowing in contrast to the white sand and turquoise waters.

Greenglades with the red cliffs

We had ridden carrying our swimming costumes, but on meeting a couple hiking out of the nature reserve who told us they had spotted sharks cruising the coast just off shore, we decided just to get our toes wet on this occasion!

Such stunning scenery
It is all ours!
The empty beach stretches on for about 6km in total
No sharks for us, just this little lizard lounging on a rock

We rode through the bush along to the other end of the beach where we spotted a couple of people fishing, the strong warm north wind was whipping up the sand and giving them a blasting. We decided not to stick around.

Baycliff Beach and its windswept sand dunes
Looking south towards Greenglades – the end of the slither of sand is where we had paddled in the water

Another visit then to the upper reaches of the lake reassured us we had made the right decision to not go kayaking today – unless we wanted to go in one direction really fast!

Strong northerly winds send waves rushing across the shallow Wonboyn Lake

It was a fabulous 20km cycle, and well worth the hills back to the campground (ok, we walked up one of them!). A beautiful location and a great time of year to visit – we imagine it would be crazy at Christmas and during the school holidays.

We’re guessing that not many people ride bikes around here. One of the locals approached Mark and asked him what he was doing. When he explained he was going for a ride, the bloke responded “That all sounds a bit hard work!”. It’s such a shame more people don’t get the beauty of riding this way – the fresh air, the smells and sounds of the bush, hearing the rustles of lizards in the leaf litter and the rush of wings as birds fly by. You miss all that from behind the windscreen in your car. But hey, if everyone did it, then places like this might be busy and we wouldn’t get them all to ourselves…

25-26 November: Exploring Wilsons Promontory

Author: Mr A

Location: Yanakie and Tidal River, Wilsons Promontory, Victoria, Australia

Monday: There’s a decent amount of research that points to being near water as having a calming effect on the brain. Blue Mind science they call it. Being in sight of water has certainly brought much joy to Mrs A and I, and these last few days have been a reminder to us of that.

Gazing out over the ever changing seascape that surrounds the ancient granite mass of Wilsons Promontory has been food for our souls. I reckon our fur child is intrigued by the view as well, spending time, like us, looking out across the bay, watching pelicans land like B52s, as seagulls dog fight for fish scraps around them.

We have stayed at this campsite at Yanakie Bay before. It’s just outside the National Park which comprises most of the surrounding coastline, so we can take Tassie, our adventure cat. It has some “premium” sites metres from the beach. Best of all, at this time of year there has only been a couple of vans here in the two days we have soaked up the serenity.

A flock of sulphur crested cockatoos lift off from this rocky outcrop as we approach by kayak

We headed out in the kayak, batting across the mill-pond like surface of the bay (Corner Inlet for those in the know) heading for a sliver of beach in the distance.

A glorious morning to be on the water, a slight layer of mist just above the surface as we set off
Paddling towards the outer reaches of what is known as ‘The Big Drift’ a huge sand dune just inside the park
It doesn’t get much calmer than this – the clouds reflecting across a mirror-still surface

We later learned it is in fact a great white shark nursery, and we did in fact spot this little fellow (officially called a shark pup) struggling along.

This shark pup doesn’t look too well – the wind is too strong for us to get any closer though to see if we can help…it’s still swimming though…

As we reached the shore, almost immediately a freshening wind blew up, it was a tough paddle back into it, but we hugged the mangrove covered shoreline (the most southerly in Australia) and avoided the worst of the gusts.

Mrs A enjoys a cup of herbal tea in front of our craft
Hugging the shore we see more bird life and shelter from the wind gusts
A flock of gulls and masked lapwings shriek as they spot us and abandon their beach
Three Great Egrets keep flying to the next mangrove bush ahead of us, only to be shocked when our path passes them yet again
Relishing a break in the breeze for a cruise in the shallows, watching stingrays whizz about beneath us
Spot the third sooty oyster catcher on this rock
Cruising on back home – not too far back to the Zone anyhow!
Woken from her nap, Tassie takes Catherine out for a walk

Tuesday: The weather has sure kept us reaching for layers, then shedding them as quickly, in turn Victorian fashion. A few days ago it was 40 degrees, now… a wind chill of minus minus 3.5! Crazy…

Today we headed into the national park by car. Wilsons Prom (Australians have an insatiable need to shorten everything), is a popular destination as local readers will know, for bush walkers, boaters and anyone who loves a bit of a wilderness experience. The last time we tried to come here it was closed because of bushfires, but seems to have recovered well.

Looking out to Norman Island, an important bird breeding sanctuary
Looking south – these islands used to be full of seals – the fur and oil (from blubber) trade drove them almost to extinction and they are yet to recover their numbers
Looking rich and green

We did a couple of short walks, spotting a number of kangaroos sheltering from the gale force winds. A wedge tailed eagle (sorry no photo evidence) was even struggling to stay on track with its massive powerful wings. Smaller birds has given up the ghost and were bunkered down.

Our first walk took us through the wetland area around Tidal River – dressed up against the wind
The racing clouds create some great shadows on the surrounding mountains
Glimmers of sunshine spotlight the grasses, highlighting their colours
The Tidal RIver footbridge
Sunshine completely changes the landscape, however briefly

We called into the visitor‘s centre and had a read up on the Prom. All very well presented, other than a blank space for anything before European settlement! I quizzed the young girl behind the counter, who said they had been struggling to get the two tribes who laid claim to the area to agree, and yet the centre has been there for 30 years! She also confidently told me the area had been inhabited for “hundreds of thousands of years”. Actually it has been inhabited for around 6,000 years and the ‘real’ name of the Prom is Wamoom or Wamoon, a name used nowhere in the centre that I could see. Surely Victorian Parks could do a better job than this of educating visitors on the First Australian history of the park?

Our second walk, through the banksia woodland down to Corner Inlet
Spring flowers abound
Beautiful banksia
The southern-most stand of mangroves in the world, apparently
Beautiful coloured granite at Millers Landing
Hello there! Or should I say, g’day?

We have loved our time here in this beautiful, wild and undeveloped coastline. Tomorrow we will turn back north and retrace our steps up the cost of Australia into NSW, with indelible memories in our heads. This is the best of caravanning. To be able to place yourself in such a fabulous place, the gateway to explore a unique environment, then have everything you need in your cosy little space when you head back indoors, that‘s pretty amazing.

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!