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

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3-5 February: Finding cooler temperatures amongst the Great Lakes

Author: Mrs A

Location: Forster-Tuncurry, NSW, Australia

Monday: It was a hot day when we departed from Yamba, with temperatures climbing up in to the late 30s. We enjoyed the air conditioning in the car as we travelled, and we soon abandoned thoughts of breaking the trip down to Forster with a bush camp, choosing instead to call ahead and book an extra night at the campground.

We’d only been settled in about half an hour when the ‘southerly-buster’ hit. This change in the wind direction brought a dramatic thunder storm, some brief but heavy rain, and all importantly, a massive drop in temperature down to more comfortable early 20s. We slept the best in weeks!

Tuesday: The cooler temperatures hung around for the next morning, so we carried our kayak down the water for a paddle.

Our new location is a campground on the estuary of the Wollamba River, near where it meets up with the Coolongolock River and the waters of Wallis Lake. It’s the northern most end of the Great Lakes council area. The waters around here are absolutely riddled with oyster farms, the crystal clear water ideal for growing Sydney rock oysters. Wallis Island is one of many islands around the area and is home to an exclusive château worth $20 million, but now on sale for a mere $5 million if you’re interested? You’ll need a boat and perhaps a helicopter too though… Bargain…

Pelicans hang around the campground in anticipation of fish scraps
Stormy skies over some of the less expensive waterside properties in the area
Enjoying the cooler temperatures on this grey morning with a cup of tea
Oyster farms dot the shallow waters – to our right a farmer’s workplace

Later on, we jumped on our bikes to cycle into Forster-Tuncurry. These small twin towns are adjacent sides of a bridge and the estuary. Forster was named after the secretary for lands in the late 1860s, while Tuncurry is said to mean ‘plenty of fish’ in the local Aboriginal dialect. The area is popular with fisher people, so the interpretation of the name appears to be right.

After ticking off a few tasks we continued our ride out to a trading estate on the edge of town. There we pulled up at a rather closed looking factory. Within seconds a roller door opened and a gentleman with a light Durham accent (town in the north of England) invited us in.

On checking into the campground I had spotted a flyer for a local micro-brewery, The Coastal Brewing Company. Generally only open Friday to Sunday, Mr A had emailed to ask whether we could try a tasting – the prompt response letting us know we were welcome.

We opted to share a $10 tasting paddle of four of the beers on tap, with a couple of bonus tastings thrown in for good measure.

David pulls another tasting

The brewery is still in its first year of operation and is a labour of love for David and his wife Helen. David had a longtime career with international accounting firm Deloitte in Sydney, but decided to turn his hobby and passion for beer making into a business. At least there are no fears in ensuring the numbers add up, but it sounds like they are both learning a lot as they go. As for the beer? All delicious – I’m not a major beer drinker, but my sips were very agreeable and Mr A was very positive about the ones he tried. We returned later with the car to purchase some selections to share with friends later on in the week. Coastal Brewing sell through bottle shops around NSW, so if you enjoy a good craft beer, I’d check out their website to find a stockist near you.

Our cycle back to camp took us past a large oyster shed, so of course we had to call in and pick up a dozen for a late afternoon snack.

Fresh from Wallis Lake – delicious!
Percival Pelican looks disappointed in our lack of fish

Wednesday: We are finding ourselves switching into our transition mindset as we enjoy our last few days in the caravan until our next return to Australia in mid November. Food stocks are being run down and clothes organised to ensure we know what we need to take back for a rather wintry March in Europe.

After a morning of washing and organising, we decided we ought to get out to stretch the legs, so drove over to Cape Hawke Lookout in Booti Booti National Park. The fly catchers were out in abundance, and we soon realised why – the mosquito population is rather healthy out here! We drowned ourselves in repellant, but it seemed to only serve to alert the little bugs as to where we were, and our climb up to the top of the hill and the tower on top was accompanied by the constant high pitch whine of little wings as they jostled for a drink of our blood.

‘Give blood’ they urge….oh, we did…!

Our stay at the top of the lookout was rather brief, before we bounded back down the hill to the safety of the car and drove off.

Looking out to the nearly 12km of Tuncurry Beach in the distance

More rain is expected from midnight tonight and, with the highest possible water restrictions in force here, everyone is hoping it arrives. We’re anticipating a wet pack up in the morning as we up-sticks and head to the Hunter Valley for tomorrow night, hopefully bringing the rain with us to the vineyards.

28 January- 2 February: Northern NSW coasting, and Yamba casts a spell…

Author: Mr A

Location: Tweed Heads and Yamba, New South Wales, Australia

We left our friends in Noosa with heavy hearts. This roaming lifestyle means we have no clue when we will see them again. Good friendships survive distance, but are renewed with proximity. It has been a fantastic week but now we its time to head south towards Sydney.

Firstly though we needed to collect our home away from home from the manufacturer, Zone RV in Coolum, where they had serviced it. It was all ready and waiting for us, well, until they noticed our solar power wasn’t working. They immediately threw a sparky at the problem, found the fault, fixed it, and we were on our way. Great service from Zone RV. It’s a good feeling to see a company that has worked so hard to bring innovation into this traditional industry survive the ups and downs of a highly competitive and crowded market.

Our destination for the night was a riverside camping park at the small town of Tweed Heads. We really didn’t see much of it. By the time we had unpacked all of our gear from a week‘s stay, cleaned and reorganised the van it was late afternoon, and, as we found out when we went for a walk along the river bank, mosquito o’clock!

A pair of rainbow lorikeets nesting in a tree hollow beside the river

We returned indoors to relish our first air conditioned sleep since before Christmas. Lovely…

Our next stop was the coastal settlement of Yamba, famous for its prawns, delivered to the docks almost daily by the local trawlers. We arrived in time for lunch and followed the advice of a friend who grew up here and headed to Beechwood Cafe, just around the corner from our campsite.

Chilli Yamba Prawn salad and fresh sardines

Local sardines and prawns were accompanied by super fresh salad sourced from Grafton. Expensive for lunch, we felt, at $65 for the two of us, but it was great quality.

Enjoying the shade and fresh breeze at this little Turkish cafe

Times will be tough for businesses like these, with bookings to Australia from international visitors already down 10% on last year as a direct result of the bushfires. That’s an estimated $4.5bn loss to tourism related businesses. Even the local oyster farmer had suffered financially from the fires, his oyster beds having been damaged by burnt trees falling and sweeping his beds away. Small businesses like these need our support – and we we’re happy to oblige with an order for two dozen!

Two dozen oysters coming up….

We loved Yamba so much our planned two night stay turned into five! There’s so much to do here, with stunning surf beaches, meandering, sheltered waterways for boating, great cycling paths, and…the Best-Fish-and-Chips-in-Australia. I know…not a big call given the mediocre standard of most, but these from Yamba’s Fisho (suitably Australian name) were truly sensational. Washed down with a new favourite white grape of ours, Alvarinho, from a winery we visited in Rutherglen (Stanton and Colleen). We have found it to be a perfect partner for seafood.

At the end of the Yamba Breakwall
Sitting on the rocks watching the Terns diving for fish
Looking back towards the town along the break wall
Turners Beach, quiet at the end of the day
Walking over Clarence Head
Yamba Lighthouse (also called the Clarence River Light) built 1955
Admiring the estuary from Pilot Hill
The view across Yamba Beach from the Pacific Hotel
Mrs & Mr A outside the pub post Friday afternoon beverage

Unfortunately we have both caught colds, again, that’s right – just after we’ve recovered from the flu. It’s been a bit of an ordinary trip this time from a catching-every-virus-going perspective. Anyway, after some restful days with short walks in the relative cool of the later afternoon (anything less than 30°C is a bonus it seems nowadays!), we decided to venture out on the water for a paddle. What a great day we had.

Seeking out the shallow, quiet waters away from the jet skis and fishing boats
Beautiful reflections in the still waters alongside Sleeper Island
Finding a private beach for lunch on Freeburn Island

While the Clarence river stretches for a bend short of 400km, we managed to cover 4% of those..so many more to explore one of these days. We saw several sea eagles and kites cruising what seem to be a healthy waterway, judging by their success rate at finding fish snacks.

When we took a ferry over to the small settlement of Iluka on the other side of the river mouth, dolphins were doing their jumpy thing right alongside the boat, busy hunting fish of their own.

A bottle nose dolphin dives for dinner right beside us
Another pair chasing their lunch
Riding through the Iluka Nature Reserve – a protected area of native rainforest
Rushing to outrun the hungry mosquitoes
The pristine perfection of Bluff Beach
Waves crashing over Iluka Bluff

We stayeded in Iluka for a few hours, riding though some rain forest, chased by mossies, then emerging on this fabulous beach. It would be hard to run out of things to do here over a holiday. But Sydney calls and we must finally drag ourselves away from this watery paradise.

Awaiting our ferry home
Our ferry approaching…and off back to Yamba….and on to pastures new…

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…

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

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

142 years of winemaking has taken place here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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