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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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…
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.
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.
We had a special sunset however.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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!
Wednesday morning saw us packing up and heading north, just a half hour drive this time to the lake and ocean side town of Merimbula. As usual we checked into the caravan site and unloaded our bikes, ready for a cycle to the oyster farm that the receptionist said ‘is right next door’. Turns out that wasn’t quite true, and the route to the farm was via the extremely busy and narrow Pacific Highway, huge road trains thundering past just metres from us – not ideal. Somehow, Google maps found an alternative route via an old disused track which wound alongside aforementioned road and we bush-bashed our way up the hill. Upon reaching the top, we saw the sign ‘Oyster shack – closed’. And so ended our cycling oyster experience.
Frustrated, we returned to get the car and headed off to find oysters elsewhere. Merimbula is full of oyster farms, the lakes’ mixture of tidal fresh and salty water ideal for their growth. We ordered a dozen oysters from a seafood store and sat down to enjoy them. Just delicious. We took another dozen to eat back at the mobile apartment.
We had a few tasks to undertake in town so wandered around the shops. Merimbula seems to be a mix of quite nice boutiques alongside two dollar shops. It doesn’t seem to be one thing or another. Mr A treated himself to an ice cream, then around the corner I found a shop selling hand made chocolates and ice cream – including my favourite, dairy-free dark chocolate sorbet! What a treat!
We awoke Thursday morning to absolutely no wind, perfect paddling weather. Needing to burn off the decadence of yesterday we decided to head off in the kayak. We launched into the Pambula River from a beach beside another oyster farm and shop, and took off for an explore. It was a stunning morning, remaining still and mirror-like for most of our paddle. We toured down the river, stopping just before it went into Merimbula Bay, close to where we had been hiking last Sunday.
Just over twelve kilometres later we were back at our start point munching on a dozen oysters each. Well deserved this time!
We returned to camp via Pambula’s bakery, a loaf of sourdough, a slice of dairy free cake for me and a piece of cheesecake for Mr A. Highly recommended if you are passing this way.
Upon reaching the caravan we discovered there had been some heavy digging going on in the park, which had caused huge dust clouds of mud to coat absolutely everything! What a nightmare – we had left the windows open for Tassie, and every surface was covered in a layer of brown dust, and poor Tassie’s eyes were streaming. I had some work to catch up on the laptop and Mr A relaxed with a book in the sunshine before we tackled the seemingly endless task of cleaning the caravan. I suspect we will be finding mud dust for days to come. Mr A complained to the park management who refunded our night’s fee by way of an apology. It’s nice to have park owners who care about their reputation, but a shame they didn’t have the foresight to warn their guests to close windows and use air conditioning today.
We were determined today to get some paddling done, as the river running past the front of our caravan was the reason I had selected this camp. We headed downstream towards the river mouth, immediately immersing ourselves in the sounds of bell and whipbirds, pied oyster catchers were quietly hunting for morsels and a sea eagle soared overhead. We love paddling for this reason, its so easy to drift quietly along and not scare away the wildlife.There were a few abandoned camps along the river but we didn’t see a soul until we were back at our launch point three hours and 13km later. A couple of fishermen were staring longingly into the water hoping for a bite. The river was really beautiful, winding its way between sandy banks, very little breeze disturbed the mirror like surface.I had read trip reports from people who had been paddling with a kayak guide who runs tours along this stretch, and from those was hoping to see kingfishers. Finally, on the home stretch we saw one. Our waterproof camera sadly doesn’t have a great telephoto so he escaped our lens. trust me he was a beauty, all peachy belly and deep blue back. Not a startling blue one like some we had seen down this coast, but still a lovely sight through my ever present binoculars. My eyesight is shocking, so without them I wouldn’t be seeing much at all!.
Back at camp the lack of people around allowed us let Tas out without her lead, and blimey she was off like a shot, always with a look over her shoulder though to make sure “mum” was close. She even climbed up a couple of trees, not bad for a nearly 14 year old!It really made us smile to see her so happy. It’s so nice to be away from crowded caravan parks, for all of us. We had been a bit tied to them running our car fridge on freezer mode, but gave that up today and switched it back to a fridge so we don’t worry about needing to be on electricity to feed the power hungry battery.
Catherine had some work to do on her Facebook submission so I headed off for quick blast on the bike. Looking at the map the only feasible route I could see avoiding the highway was along somewhere ominously called “The Snake Track”. It turned out to be snake free, but a tough ride up into the hills behind Eden. As it was a fasting day I soon decided it was time to head back to camp as the legs were running out of puff.
Farewells were our first order of the day as friends Jenny and David, John and Eveliene packed up and headed back north to the rain and Sydney. We were moving on too, South to Kiah, a locality just past Boydtown. We’d read about this bush camp on a property alongside the Towamba River with soft sandy beaches and easy boat launching and thought it would be ideal for a post weekend relax.
We arrived early to find we were the only people there, having the pick of the 10 acre grassland.The water looked perfect for paddling on, being shallow and not too fast moving, but there was a strong southerly breeze which makes it a challenge. We decided to save paddling for tomorrow.All this blog writing had made my iPad keyboard battery run out…or so I thought, so we popped out to the nearest shop for a new one (I later found that it is not the battery, but the Bluetooth capability which has stopped working. Ugh – seems a new keyboard might be required unless any readers know an easy fix?). On the way back we called into Boydtown for a look around.
Boydtown was originally built by Benjamin Boyd in the nineteenth century to act as a service centre for his whaling station. Apparently it was not too successful and eventually cost Ben Boyd his demise as his assets were liquidated to try to pay for it. All that remains today is the Seahorse Inn, now an expensively renovated tavern with landscaped gardens and apparently delicious food. We had a look around before returning to camp.
As the afternoon drew to a close we were invited to join our host as he fed the property’s animals. We hand fed Marino sheep, alpacas, geese, ducks and chickens, I even collected a couple of eggs.We finished off with feeding the peacocks, peahens and a chick before heading back for dinner, armed with the eggs and a bag of fresh spinach from the veggie patch.
We were alcohol free for the evening (think we’ve celebrated enough over the weekend!) but I was allowed the last piece of birthday cake! Thanks for all the kind wishes!
It was a marginal call in the morning whether it would be too windy for kayaking, but we erred on the adventurous side and went anyway. Our friends had singles and launched first headed onto Twofold Bay. Wow, this is a pretty amazing stretch of water framed by beautiful hills in the distance. Soon the wind was picking up though and it was time to hoist the sail.
The rock formations were amazing creating some amazing backdrops for the paddle.In the afternoon we headed off in cars to start a short walk up the coast though coastal forecast in Ben Boyd National Park. The roos were plentiful, the very lawn like grass indicative of a sizeable mob enjoying this grazing. Dolphins even obliged by appearing on cue, as well as an echidna and bush wallabies. A sea eagle soared overhead, while crested terns dived for fish in the bay.This area of coast is one of our favourite spots in Australia. It does get busier every time we come, but there is still leaves plenty of space. We would only have seen half a dozen people on the entire walk.Spending time outdoors in this serene and largely pristine environment is so good for our souls. It’s especially welcome as we mourn the loss of our friend. He’s on my mind a lot of the time, processing thoughts that move from angry to sad in a heartbeat. Our friends provide a welcome distraction, reminding me of the criticality of these relationships to our overall wellbeing.
As our friends were headed off on Monday we celebrated Mrs A’s birthday on Sunday night, with bubbly at the camp and pressures, then off into Eden’s little gem of a restaurant called Drift. Cocktails and craft beers were closely followed by some of the finest oysters we’ve ever eaten, actually harvested right were we had hiked earlier. Mains were pretty good, but the long churro’s and chocolate dipping sauce for desert was eaten in spectacular style, especially by Jenny. However, the video to accompany her licking the sauce off the end of them will not be posted as deemed XXX!
It was brilliant way to end the weekend, good food and wine and lots of laughs with close friends, it doesn’t get better than that.
Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny so we decided to launch our kayak in Curalo Lagoon, beside the campground. Our friends from Canberra, Catherine and Dave also had kayaks so joined us for an explore. The lagoon is very shallow, so we only paddled about 4km all up, and predominantly just floating on the glasslike surface. Not a bad way to start the day, however!After a fabulous team BBQ brunch, a group of us decided to try burning off some of the calories with a bike ride into town. Eden is famous for its incredible coastline with spectacular views. This means of course hills so we really did burn a calorie or two, but the views are worth it.We rode down to the wharf where a large cruise ship had just arrived, and enjoyed coffees down there before heading back to camp.
John, Eveliene, Mr A and I decided to go for a stroll along Aslings Beach, hoping for a return visit of the dolphins we saw the night before. None showed themselves, but it was a lovely walk nevertheless.After showers it was most certainly beer o’clock and the evening began. A delicious Ward spag bol was concocted followed by a very tasty dairy free chocolate birthday cake from Jenny. Much fun and laughter and a lovely birthday eve eve had.
Tuesday Morning saw Mr A head into Bega without me, his destination a dentist to see about some slight pain he had in his upper jaw. Meanwhile, I had to work on a Facebook Community Fellowship submission so sat on the laptop, working for the day. Mr A returned around midday, his face numb from the first of what looks to be several root canal therapy sessions – not ideal while travelling, I can tell you! A few painkillers and a soft lunch later and we popped out to Tathra to have a look around.
There are some nice views from the wharf, and we picked up some fresh oysters from a fisherman’s house, before heading back to continue my work, and Mr A have a lie down with more painkillers.Around 6pm we decided to head out to the Tathra Hotel for dinner. It had been recommended as a spot to go to, and we could see it was a nicely painted heritage building from the outside. As we entered, I expected the usual stinky sticky carpets and dark dingy walls of the typical Australian pub, but was nicely surprised. The interior has been freshly renovated, with a lot of money spent and some great interior architecture and design in place. It looked fantastic, with high ceilings, and huge windows making the most of the views across the ocean. We settled onto a table with an ocean view and ordered our food. We accompanied this with a craft beer for Mr A and a local winery Tempranillo for me – just delicious. The food was great too – my curry a little mild for my liking, but still tasty.Wednesday morning saw us packing up and driving to a MUCH nicer campsite just 5km away in Kalaru. Lots of space, birds, wallabies, unspoilt bushland and close to the Bega River for potential kayaking opportunities. We set up early and relaxed with brunch to make plans for April, realising we have the Easter period quickly approaching when every decent campground is likely to be fully booked and full of children. We made bookings, including a couple with friends who have kindly offered us places to stay at the busiest times, and now feel a lot more in control.We then jumped on our mountain bikes to head off on a ride. We had only made it about 500 metres when a phone call came which shook our world. We had the horrible news that a good friend back in Sydney had lost his battle with depression. Just awful, we feel there must have been something we could have done to prevent this happening…how could we have fun while a friend was in so much pain? We spent a tearful hour or so calling other friends to let them know the bad news, and considered heading back to the caravan to reflect.
Instead, we decided try to clear our heads and took off on a short ride down some quiet local roads to see where we might launch the kayak tomorrow. The scenery around here is quite lovely, we rode through a sheep farm, only turning around when a farm worker tracked us down to tell us Google Maps was wrong, and we were on private land. We wondered whether this was actually true, but left regardless. Our ride was just 7km all up, we decided we were just not in the mood to go any further and returned to camp.Tonight is not to be an alcohol free night. Barbecued lamb chops on a pumpkin hummus will be accompanied by spinach with toasted walnuts and a lemon and lime dressing. We will toast our friend and hope he is in a happier place tonight. There will certainly be more tears from us before the day is out…
Yesterday was a real washout, it absolutely poured all day, so it was bunker down and zone out in the Zone. Never a problem given the comforts we have! With weather like that it reaffirms our decision to leave behind the canvas of our camper trailer and go caravanning. This morning though I had the dubious pleasure of packing up camp in the continuing drizzly rain, while Mrs A does the indoor stuff. Our division of labour to remind readers is as follows: Mrs A: chief cook and head of travel research. Mr A: dirty, tall and unskilled labouring. It seems to work for us.
We were very early at our next camp – Tathra Beachside Holiday Park. What a disappointment. The park is right on the road and our van is as close to the tarmac as you can get without actually getting a parking ticket. Small sites jammed next to one another and no almost no green in sight. I negotiated an early exit strategy and got a refund – we will only stay tonight and tomorrow. Its certainly not going to be one of Tassie’s favourites either given the density of people, dogs and cars.
Things perked up when we headed out on the bikes. We stumbled upon a lovely ride along the foreshore, spotting an Eastern Great Egret and White Faced herons fishing, then a pair of white bellied sea eagles put in brief star appearance high overhead in the increasingly blue skies.We climbed up into a forest of spotted gums, the smell after the rain was just amazing. A very quick run back down the hill and we had made a great little loop ride (15km). I’m absolutely loving the new gears on my bike. A twist grip rather than levers which were so painful to use with my dodgy hand (touch of osteo). Mrs A struggled to breathe a bit on the hills but with her usual can do attitude just got on with it. She’s determined to not let this illness hold her back if she can overcome with the power of her mind.