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…

26-28 February: Marysville – recovery and regeneration

Author: Mr A

Location: Marysville, Victoria

We returned to collect our caravan from its temporary home in Marysville and decided to stay a couple of days and have a look around this little town nestled in the foothills of the Victorian High Country.

One of the resident King Parrots – they find plenty of food in the trees around the property

For our international readers, and a reminder to locals, I need to explain that this town was almost totally destroyed by bushfires 10 years ago, on a hot and windy February day known as Black Saturday. The summary would be that 173 people lost their lives as a massive firestorm engulfed this town and several others in this heavily forested area. I can’t and won’t describe the horror that ensued, enough has been said and our impression was after 10 years the residents of this town want to move on and look forwards not backwards.

A very moving memorial

Over $400 million was donated from public and private funds. The town has been almost completely rebuilt. Children’s laughter once again fills the streets as they walk to their newly built school…although chillingly I heard one child impersonating the bushfire siren that regularly is tested in the town, too young to know the potential disaster that alarm could signify.

The new architect designed police station

It is a fabulous little community from what we experienced. Everyone was super friendly and keen to promote the town and what it offers. Surrounded by hills, every direction you look is just so picturesque. We picked up a walks leaflet and were off on one of the many trails that start right in the town centre. This one led up to a waterfall that is one of the highest in Victoria.

Admiring Steavenson Falls – five cascades with a total descent of 122 metres
The final cascade of Steavenson Falls drops more than 21 metres
Mr & Mrs A

We also explored some tracks on our bikes, following the Tree Fern Gully Trail up to Yellow Dog Road and back, providing us with some gorgeous dawn views of the mountain ash and gum forests.

The sun just peeps over the hills to light up the bush – looking quite sculptural with the bleached dead trees rising above the new green growth
Early morning shadows
Surprisingly fresh first thing in the morning!

Another hike took us out to Keppel Falls, also picturesque

We followed the Taggerty River upstream to reach these falls
The evening sun lighting up the bush behind Mrs A
Driving off back to the Zone, the forest lit up by the setting sun

We could have easily spent a few weeks here and just scratched the surface. There’s a pub serving great food, a bakery, multiple cafes, a small supermarket, everything the visitor would need.

Come and spend some money here and support this community who have faced so much and have rebuilt a vibrant new town.

24-26 February: Our Melburnian adventures continue

Author: Mrs A

Location: Melbourne & Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Sunday began with a visit to South Melbourne Market to gather supplies for the evening’s dinner. If you’ve been following our adventures for a while you will know Mr A and I love a good market, and this was no exception. So much choice available, and soon we had the ingredients for a feast.

Seafood and sausages ready for the evening’s BBQ

We dropped off our supplies at the apartment and then headed off on our next adventure. This time we were headed out of town to the Mornington Peninsula to Point Leo to do a bit of coastal walking.

It was just over an hour’s driving, amazing us how quickly the buildings of the city disappeared, replaced by farmland and forest. Point Leo Beach was quiet and full of bird life, with views out to Phillip Island and beyond that (out of sight) towards Tasmania.

Mark and Owen strolling along the waterfront
One of many white faced herons fishing in the low tide rock pools
Boat launching at Point Leo
Restricted ourselves to apples for lunch in anticipation of our evening feast!

After walking about 9km we called into one of the many breweries that have popped up on the peninsula for a cold beverage (apple juice for me at least!) and then drove over the other side of the peninsula to admire the view back towards Melbourne.

Arthur’s Seat where cable cars offer an eagle’s eye view of the coast
Looking south down the peninsula towards Portsea

From here, we returned to Melbourne for our feast of oysters, BBQ tuna, sausages, roasted sweet potato and a choice of salads. Just delicious. What a great day out.

Monday again was bright and sunny, and with temperatures predicted to soar into the mid to late 30s we decided to make the most of the cooler morning and head off for a cycle. Owen had to go to work, so we borrowed a couple of bikes. Unfortunately the brakes seized on the bike Mark borrowed, so we delivered it to a repair shop and hired one instead.

Mr A’s seat is feeling a little hard at this point!
The city’s skyscrapers behind me seem incongruous to our surroundings

First of all, we cycled down to Acland Street to catch up with an old colleague of Mark’s for a cup of tea. From there we rode down to the waterfront and followed the cycle path along. I just love being by the coast – the sense of space afforded by the water is so calming, and the freedom of riding on dedicated paths away from traffic is second to none.

We clocked up about 20km all up, much faster in one direction with the wind at our backs! Our destination was the Brighton Beach Bathing Boxes – wooden changing huts that have been here since the 1900s.One of these huts (which have no power or running water) sold last year for almost $340,000, and they attract an annual fee of nearly $900 plus council rates. Crazy!

Our day concluded with dumplings from a local restaurant and admiring the night view one last time from the rooftop.

Owen’s apartment block has fabulous views over to the city
The lake in Albert Park offers some fabulous reflections

Tuesday was a cooler day and we decided to jump back on the bikes and explore in the opposite direction.

We rode down to the port where cruise ships come in and the jumping on/off point for the Spirit of Tasmania. In our ever changing plans, we are thinking that maybe later on this year we will be boarding this ship to head over to explore Tasmania over Christmas.From here, we cycled down to Princes Pier, restored and renovated in recent years.This is the second largest timber pier in Australia, and the 380 metres of turpentine piles left at the end of the pier represent the extent of the original structure, making for a unique sculptural view.From here we rode back through Albert Park and off to find somewhere for lunch.

Being dairy-intolerant I was excited to try my first dairy-free Magnum – delicious!

Before long it was time to pack up all our things and head back out to Marysville.

We’re so grateful to Owen for driving four hours after a long day at work on two occasions within a week to escort us to and from Marysville and for being such a gracious host. The past five days in Melbourne have given us a real taste of what it’s like to live here. The eclectic mix of people, shops, bars and cafes in St Kilda offer a variety of entertainment options alongside the safe cycle network and easy escape from the city.

Melbourne, we’ve had a fabulous visit and hope one day we will return…back to the slower country life now!

21-23 February: Mooching around Marvellous Melbourne

Author: Mrs A

Location: Marysville and Melbourne, Victoria

Thursday morning saw us pack up and head off on our way south through Victoria. Beautiful scenery guided us along our way, and soon we were feeling peckish.

Anyone who has ever watched the Australian cult film ‘The Castle’ will have heard of Bonnie Doon, a village on the banks of Lake Eildon. ‘How’s the serenity?’ Mr A couldn’t resist asking as we pulled up for lunch.Soon we were off on the road again, heading towards Marysville. Marysville is literally a town which has risen from the ashes, and as we drove through spectacular woodland you could not believe the horrors of the fires that shot through here a decade ago. Over 90% of the town’s buildings were destroyed and 45 people killed. I can remember sobbing as I watched the news and saw the devastation to human and wildlife habitats and lives.

Today Marysville looks vibrant and modern, particularly the architect designed home of our hosts Terry and Sharen at Dalyrymples Guest Cottages, fellow Zone caravan owners who had invited us to park up at their property for a few days while we head into Melbourne. They welcomed us into their home for a cup of tea once we were parked up, and told us the story of how the community had stuck together and revitalised the town post the fires. We’re looking forward to exploring the area further when we return from Melbourne.

Our friend Owen drove up the two hours from Melbourne after he had finished work, and after a delicious meal in the local pub, loaded the three of us into his car, and drove us back to his apartment in St Kilda.

Friday saw Mr A and I negotiate the tram into the city, a fairly painless experience. There we did a little shopping before lunch, Mr A buying a new sling bag from his favourite luggage store, Crumpler, and I found some sandals that are both pretty and comfortable for strolling around all day in at The Walking Company.

We had a great afternoon exploring, then returned to St Kilda, and Miss Tassie, the most adaptable cat in the world. She was enjoying her new Melbourne pad, welcoming the sunshine and comfortable balcony.Owen returned from work early evening, and took us for a spin around the Albert Park Grand Prix track in his Mercedes AMG GT R (correct me if I’m wrong!) – a great ride…

Dinner that night was at a local Japanese Misuzu’s in Albert Park – absolutely delicious food and not a grain of rice to be seen. Highly recommended. Mr A and Owen continued the evening with cheese and wine at a local bar…I still am in need of my early nights post op and retired to the apartment.

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, and after the boys had consumed their recovery egg and bacon rolls we set off to explore the delights of St Kilda. First along the waterfront of Port Phillip Bay……and then up into the bustling Acland Street. What a great atmosphere – plenty of interesting boutique shops and an eclectic variety of eateries and bars. Simply people watching over a cup of tea or coffee would be a great way to spend an hour here.

I then left Mark and Owen to head to a pub to meet up with an old friend, Dirk, while I went back to the waterfront to meet up with three strangers who belong to the idiopathic subglottic stenosis support group I run. Allison, Jo and Leanne turned out to be lovely ladies and it was fabulous as always to compare experiences and meet rare people who have gone through similar things to me.

Saturday night, Owen had a pre-booked (six months in advance!) dinner with some friends at one of the world’s top restaurants, Attica, leaving Mark and I to our own devices. We had dinner at a local Indian restaurant, Babu Ji. The food was delicious (Pani Puri, Aloo Baingan and Fish Moilee) but it was a shame about the ambience of the restaurant. With concrete floors, walls and ceiling, the sound was deafening and we could hardly hear one another talk!

We returned to the apartment to watch the sun set from the rooftop pool before heading to bed. Melbourne is certainly putting on the fabulous weather for us!