8-11 January: Down to the border…

Author: Mr A

Location: Nelson, Victoria, Australia

“Full timing” is what the Brits call folk like us who are travelling for extended periods in their home on wheels. Its been a lifestyle choice for us for three years and the last few weeks have just reminded us of all the up sides of doing that in Australia. Our UK trip last year, and Europe the year before, was fantastic, but our time last year in Australia was marred by the bushfires., then we got sick, then had a couple of accidents whilst towing. It was challenging.

This trip since we left Sydney in early December has just reset the dial. The weather has been kind, not too hot, (although that has just changed), El Nina blessed us in the southern states with some much needed rain in manageable doses (unlike in Northern NSW and Queensland where it has been floods). The campsites have not been too crowded, perhaps a fall out from the uncertainty of border openings with the virus outbreak in South Australia then NSW. The car and the van have been mostly behaving themselves, with only a fly screen failing so far. The roads have been pretty empty once leaving the crowded coast. Its been absolutely delightful. Just like the lifestyle ads for caravans would have you believe! .

So our home for the last four days has been right on the border between the States of Victoria and South Australia, where the tiny settlement of Nelson sits nestled at the mouth of the Glenelg River. We had visited this area briefly in 2012 when we were both working, and had marked it as one we wanted to explore further when we had more time, and now we do!

The Glenelg River is really the main draw card, winding as it does for over 100km though sandstone and limestone gorge country. A long distance footpath, the Great South West Walk (GSWW) also follows the river for much of its distance. We have got our new inflatable kayak wet a number of times as well as explored a little of the path. It’s an area that we would thouroughly recommend. Enough off the beaten track with 350km separating it from Melbourne and 400km from Adelaide, it still preserves that quintessential Australian coastal charm, with pristine (largely deserted) white sand beaches, with eucalyptus and melaleuca forest stretching down to azure blue waters.

We had quite a job getting into our pitch on the campsite, described by one of the rather abrasive camps site managers as “one of our biggest sites”. Fifteen minutes later and her husband was still trying to get us squeezed in, winding around another caravan’s tow bar with about two centimetres to spare. He apologetically brought a couple of cold beers round after he had! We had amazing views over the mouth of the river, and were treated to several amazing sunrises and ets. A top spot.

Our brilliant (little) campsite with a great view of the estuary
Glenelg River at dawn
Glorious colours of sunset over the local farmland
Sun set over the estuary
Roosting water birds at sunset – spot the spoonbill…
Glenelg River at dusk – can you see the paddle boarder?
Glenelg River at night

The new kayak is proving to be a great purchase, and we have had it out on the water for several trips. One trip (paddling map) across the estuary gave us top bird spotting opportunities with the range of water birds present. These included spoonbills, pelicans, nankeen night herons, white faced herons, black swans, musk ducks, sandpipers, terns, kingfishers and many more.

First human footprints (of the day) near the river mouth
Our new tangerine transport
A pelican takes off as we approach
Sandpipers at the water’s edge
An Azure Kingfisher hunting for baitfish at the water’s edge

That afternoon we thought we had better give our legs a turn at exercise rather than the arms, so headed out to have a look at the long distance path mentioned above that runs through Nelson (walk map).

Some of the prettier parts of the walk
A view point over the river – speedboats and waterskiing is permitted in this area
Bottom: A tour boat takes visitors up to Margaret Rose Caves – currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions. Top: the mesmerising fronds of a grass tree
We even crossed the border into South Australia without a permit…and back…

The GSWW follows a circular route (unusually) of over 260km along both the Southern Ocean and the Glenelg River, with 14 bush camps provided en route. We didn’t find the first section we did that inspiring to be honest, trudging along a four wheel drive track, with the odd vehicle skidding round sandy corners forcing us to jump into the bushes. Given the size of this country, to have a walking path share space with vehicles just seems downright mean.

The next day, we took ourselves back on the water for another paddle, launching a short way up in the Lower Glenelg National Park.

A dangerously venomous Tiger Snake crossed our path on the way to our boat launching spot….we stayed well clear…
The perfectly still waters at Sandy Waterholes…not much sand to be seen though

We soon had the kayak pumped up. Each time we learn something new and it gets a bit easier and quicker.

From bag to boat with only a few pumps of air

A short way along the river we soon saw to our delight a kingfisher darting amongst the trees. These little guys don’t stay still long and don’t come close, so Catherine found it a challenge to catch one in focus.

Mrs A points out a kingfisher in the trees
This is a Sacred Kingfisher – she was feeding a chick up in the trees – mostly with insects rather than fish

The heat soon forced us though to retreat back to the car, as it was 33 degrees with no shade on the river. We had really left it too late to get out, as it was nearly 11am before we launched. With boiling brains we headed back to camp and a few cold drinks.

Our final day at Nelson was even hotter at 38 degrees with 40kph winds making it feel like you were constantly having a hair dryer pointed at you. The washing didn‘t take long to dry though!

The southerly arrived finally to cool us down
Just in time to give us a farewell sunset

5-7 January – A taster of country Victoria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Gellibrand and Dartmoor, Victoria, Australia

We pulled out of Owen’s driveway on Tuesday morning, pointing our noses west. Our intention was to get quickly close to the South Australian state border, in case they decide to close to Victorians. Yes, our travels are forever driven by this evil virus! Fortunately the premier has remained calm so far, and with the latest news that there are no further positive cases in the state makes us optimistic there won’t be any hasty decisions.

As long as there is sunshine, solar cat Tassie is very happy

Our destination for the night was a little village called Gellibrand, located in the Otway Ranges. With a caravan park, no shops and little over 200 residents, we were initially unable to learn much about the area.

The campsite website boasted it was close to the walks and waterfalls of the Otways, but after five hours of travelling, we were not keen to do another 40 minute drive to the nearest falls. Then Mark spotted something intriguing on the map written in tiny writing: ‘Old Beechy Rail Trail’. We investigated further, discovering it is a 45km trail, 30km of which follows a former railway track . Asking at the campsite office we found the path went right through the grounds of where we were staying. We decided to tackle some of it on foot.

Setting off on the trail
The scent of the eucalyptus forest after the day’s light rain was incredible

What a great path (walk map)! The trail wound its way up along undulating hills, through spectacular old eucalyptus forests packed with bird life. At every turn there were yellow robins, crimson rosellas and fly catchers swooping across our track. We passed through farmland and forestry area, the views opening up the higher we climbed. After about 6km we decided we should turn around and begin walking back to camp, seeing our first person in nearly two hours, a solo mountain biker exploring the area.

The clouds hang low over the surrounding area, just light drizzle occasionally falling
I know you have missed our bovine photographs! The winter brought plenty of rain so the grass is incredibly tall.
Woodland wild flowers
Parts of the old railway slowly rotting into the surrounding forest. This was built in the early 1900s.
Gleaming gum tree trunks
A quiet walk, just us and the birds
Misty views across the valley
Mr A walks past a new eucalyptus plantation

After our walk we had a lovely peaceful night in Gellibrand, and decided to book in for a second night.

The following day was showery, so we got down to doing some jobs – Mr ‘handy’ A fitting a tyre monitoring system, filling the airbags in the back of the car and other long forgotten tasks. We rewarded ourselves with dinner around a campfire – the first one of those we have had in a long while.

Mr A proving you can enjoy an open fire without wine – we’re sticking to water for a few days off the alcohol!

We moved on our way on Thursday morning, stocking up with our last supplies for. a while in the nearby town of Colac and driving through sparsely populated agricultural land.

Long straight roads are the order of the day, and not a Roman in sight
Not too many hills in these parts

Our destination was the tiny village of Dartmoor. Despite bearing absolutely no resemblance, the town was named after the wild and misty moor of the same name in Devon in the UK. It was settled after some of Australia’s founding explorers set up camp here, with the original settlers arriving in the mid 1800s. Today, it has a general store, a pub, an ‘op-shop’ (charity shop) and a post office. The sleepy community has generously provided a stunning waterside park area for campers and caravanners to stay gratis, with toilets provided. This was our destination.

A fine camp site for the evening

We found a quiet spot with a great view across the park towards the Glenelg River. Despite being a free camp, there were no barking dogs, loud music or chainsaws to be heard! Just the squark of cockatoos, warbling of magpies and laughter of kookaburras echoing across the valley. We went for an explore (walk map).

Miss Tassie was very happy with our choice of camp which gave her the chance to explore relatively freely (supervised for her protection – at her age she’s no threat to the wildlife!)
The view from our window

This part of the Glenelg River is not considered navigable, with fairly shallow waters and plenty of trees and submerged branches to be seen. Like all too many of Australia’s rivers, it has been colonised by introduced European Carp, which turn rivers that usually are clean, clear and pristine into cloudy, muddy waterways, having a negative impact on native aquatic life – both flora and fauna.

There is a swimming hole near the camp, with steps and a wooden jetty allowing access, but its muddy waters didn’t tempt us in. As we approached, Mr A gasped as he spotted a shy black wallaby having a drink down by the water. It didn’t hang around. The wallaby eyed us with suspicion before bounding off to the safety of the woodland.

A shy Black Wallaby eyes us suspiciously before hopping off into the undergrowth
A little piece of calm on the Glenelg River

We found a path winding off alongside the river, so went for an explore. The grass was so tall, it swamped even Mark – perfect snake territory, we mused. Indeed, it was only a few minutes after mentioning this that I jumped as I saw a large red-bellied black snake slithering off the path and into the undergrowth. While venomous, these snakes are quite shy, and there have been no recorded deaths from their bites, but it’s still a shock to encounter one, nevertheless!

We’re going on a koala hunt… (they’re well hidden!)
Mark disappears into the tall grass
Riverside scenery

We returned to camp for a delicious spaghetti marinara, and drifted off to sleep to the sound of the bizarre mating calls of the koalas which had remained well hidden during the day.

We’re moving camps in the morning, but remaining beside the Glenelg River, so hopefully will get another chance to spot them in the coming days.

23 December-4 January 2021: A Christmas and New Year on the Mornington Peninusala

Author: Mr A

Location: Rye, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

We left our friends near Lakes Entrance wondering in these uncertain times when we would see them again. That’s one of the hidden costs of the pandemic, the lack of control felt by most of us over our lives, with movement regularly restricted at short notice. But we had a plan for Christmas and New Year at least. We had been generously invited by a friend from my working days to come and spend the period with him and his family.

For those unfamiliar with the Mornington Peninsula, it sits about a 90 minute drive from Melbourne’s CBD around the huge foreshore of Port Philip Bay. The bay itself is just under 2,000 square kilometres, and mostly shallow, ideal for water sports and swimming, framed by beautiful beaches. We were heading for one of the regions that has become a mecca for Victorians as a holiday destination. Its climate, beaches, world class wineries and restaurants, and currently zero community transmissions of COVID-19, made for a compelling place to hang out.

We had only ever been on a day trip to the Mornington Peninsula once early last year, joining our friend Owen for a walk and beer tasting.

Due to the virus kicking off again in NSW, Owen had some extra visitors, namely his daughter, son-in-law and their beautifully natured golden retriever, who could no longer travel up to Sydney. His son and partner also joined us for a few days, so we had a lovely family friendship gathering we could enjoy. It did reinforce how we would love to spend this season with our own families one year. Lets see…

Owen drives us to see the sun set over the ocean side of the peninsula on our first day – just stunning and wild
A Christmas Eve beach walk blows the cobwebs away
The national park is just stunning, even on an overcast day

Fabulous food was purchased, prepared and consumed at very regular intervals. Amazing wines sampled, music played, and wit and repartee abounded. Unfortunately for us the property opposite the drive where we were camped out in our caravan, had been rented out by a group of people who decided they would continue their loud celebrations to the early hours of the morning for four days on the trot. Catherine mostly slept thought it, I didn’t, and just don’t function well on a few hours of broken sleep. They finally cleared out after six days. An unfortunate down side of being in a stunning area – lots of other people want to come.

Owen, Tim and Mark – Christmas Day martinis all round and lots of fun and laughter all day long
Boxing Day cycle around the beaches – it also happened to be Tim’s birthday
An evening birthday celebration for Tim at The Baths, a local waterside venue
Beautiful views on a warm evening
The evening concluded with home baked chocolate birthday mud cake and a dangerously large game of Jenga!

The population of the peninsula almost doubles over this period, traffic is heavy, although we did manage to find a car spot right opposite a great beach to head off for a short kayak. Owen had a new Stand Up Paddle Board to get the hang of. Many smiles ensued, mostly from us! Of course the Mrs Co-ordinated-Well-Balanced-Anderson gets straight up and heads off into the blue without getting her ankles wet. I tried and immediately took a fully submersed nose dive. And there you have in a microcosm our respective sporting abilities 🙂

We headed out for several walks along the coast, which has been left undeveloped in a narrow strip along the cliff tops, making for some fabulous views.

On Koonya Ocean Beach headland
Koonya Ocean Beach
The Ti trees look like sculptures, with their twisted trunks
Diamond Bay
Looking out for seals and dolphins at Diamond Bay. None to be seen today
The diversity of the dune flora is wonderful – a veritable palate of colours and textures
Top left: a singing honeyeater Top right & bottom left: rugged bays along the coastal walk Bottom right: dune grasses
Hungry seagulls descending on a berry filled bush in the dune heathland to gorge themselves
LIke the Coast Path through Cornwall in the UK, five minutes from the. car parks and the crowds dissipate
Pristine beaches and wild and rocky coast
Mark and Owen ride along the coast to Rosebud and back
Another post-pub dinner sunset treat

New Year’s eve rolled around, and as with many millions around the world we reflected on the challenges of 2020 and what their legacy would mean for the coming year. We had a wonderful evening, having been invited round to join Owen’s friends at their house nearby, and were treated to fabulous food and wine.

Covid-safe Owen plays waiter accompanied by Leonie with our delicious double thick porterhouse steak, medium rare – delicious

They also arranged a couple of wineries for a visit a couple of days later. Such a privilege to be able to do things like this when so much of the rest of the world is not.

Main Ridge Estate cellar door our first stop
Archie the wine dog
Wine tasting at Crittenden Estate followed by lunch at Stillwater Restaurant
Mark, Leonie, Peter, Scott, Leigh, Owen
Cheers!

Our New Year present to ourselves was a new kayak. Our current fibreglass and kevlar one is a massive beast at 7.3 metres long, and limits the type of terrain we can travel across, restricting us to tarmac or smooth gravel roads. Anything rougher and its likely we would damage it. So we bought an inflatable one that we can store inside our truck.

We trial the kayak on a 7km paddle along the coast in Port Philip Bay – it passes the test

You may already know we have inflatable packrafts (left in the UK) but they just dont paddle in a straight line very well. The packrafts are great to carry when space is really tight, but we wanted something we could cover some ground in. I had been researching for a while and came up with what looked to be a good solution. It’s an inflatable that has aluminium rails inserted at the bow and read to improve its speed and tracking. There was only one left for sale in Australia, and it happened to be available an hour’s drive down the road. We picked it up and test paddled it. Wow – what a great boat – it cut though the water almost as well as our hard shell boat, but was a lot lighter to carry down to the water, and just fitted in our Landcruiser’s rear cargo area. It was meant to be. I’ll write up about it some more in a separate blog for those interested.

How perfect is this water?

It has been a Christmas and New Year packed with activities,, and we’ve been able to explore a whole new (to us) area of Victoria. Owen has been kind to have us here and share his gorgeous home.

But now it is time to pull up stumps and head off. There’s a high level of uncertainty in our travel plans given the fresh outbreak of coronavirus that kicked off in NSW which has now spread to Victoria, but we have come to accept that we are not in control, so off we go with the flow of restrictions….

18-23 December: Chased down the coast into Victoria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Genoa, Nowa Nowa and Metung, Victoria, Australia

Of course the unimaginable has happened – there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 in the northern beaches of Sydney, just before Christmas. Given we were more than 200km away at the time of the outbreak, we hoped we would be safe from being forbidden entry into the next state of Victoria, our planned destination for Christmas.

It could certainly be worse, but Australia re emerges into the Covid cases chart…very subtly so far….

But as the morning in Delaney wore on, the NSW state premier announced another 28 cases and potential at risk venues in greater Sydney. We decided to pack up camp a night early, skip over our next camp in Eden, and head straight to Victoria.

Friday night we parked up at a lovely bushy community-run camp just across the border near the Victorian settlement of Genoa, where we breathed a sigh of relief that we’d crossed states with no issues.

Setting up camp under the watchful eye of a sulphur crested cockatoo

Saturday morning saw us pulling up at the tiny East Gippsland village of Nowa Nowa and a quiet bird-filled caravan park on the side of Nowa Nowa Gorge. Not far from Lakes Entrance and on the East Gippsland Rail Trail , its an ideal location if you want to base yourself at a peaceful country location away from the crowds.

A peaceful location

Not long after we had set up, our friends Diane and Mark Bates (hereafter known as Mr B for ease of distinction) arrived to visit us with their grandson Fletcher. Cups of tea, lively conversation and a drawing of Tassie emerged…

We took a short walk up to a lookout with a leafy view down Nowa Nowa Gorge the attractively named Boggy Creek far beneath us.

Splashes of summer flowers along our walk – the yellow flowers are known as ‘Wooly Buttons’ – their petals feel like paper.
Team photo at the lookout – Mr & Mrs A, Mr B, Fletcher and Diane
The new caravan park owner is a collector of quirky sculptures from around Australia

We had a peaceful night’s sleep at Nowa Nowa before packing up and driving a short way to Diane and Mr B’s house near Metung. We reversed up their driveway and set up there for three nights of fun.

It was a good opportunity to get ourselves sorted out and get some help with a few minor repairs (Mr B is very handy, Mr A good at finding jobs for him 😉). We joined them and Fletcher for a stroll around their beautiful bushy neighbourhood on the shores of the Gippsland Lakes.

Fletcher shows us a blotched hyacinth orchid by the side of the road
Nungurner sights on our peaceful walk

Mr and Mrs B live about 400 metres from Nungurner Jetty so the following morning we launched our kayaks into the Gippsland Lakes. There are multiple locations to launch a boat into the lakes which stretch for an unbelievably huge 354 square kilometres – that’s larger than the island of Malta and slightly smaller than Barbados!

While the options for exploring this area on the water are endless, you are somewhat restricted by the wind, which tends to blow up in the afternoon and has scuppered many a kayaking trip, and even sunk sailing boats which have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s such a great way to see an area, quiet and subtle, enjoying the black swans, cormorants, pelicans and even a rarely seen nankeen night heron that we accidentally disturbed as we cruised on up the calm waters of a quiet inlet. Mr B cast a line from his single kayak, lamenting that fish are so much harder to catch than 30 years ago. Like so many bodies of water, the lakes have been over fished by commercial fishing companies, removing tonnes of black bream unsustainably. It seems the locals are petitioning for this to change, however, so hopefully a more balanced approach will resume in future years.

A perfect paddling morning…less good for catching the elusive fish
A sleepy inlet, safe haven for some of the sailing boats

The final day of our visit revealed more stormy weather, so we stuck to tasks closer to home. Tassie enjoyed some exploration around the property, loving the dog-free environment and the opportunity to stretch her legs. At 16 1/2 she’s a lot less frisky than she used to be and has to be helped down some of the bigger jumps, but no less adventurous. And like most of us, the more she moves around, the easier it becomes.

A glimpse of sunshine is all Princess Tassie needs to be encouraged outside for a short stroll
Not really up to catching skinks (little lizards) these days, but she still likes to try

Fletcher went off to stay with his other grandparents in the morning, so the four of us decided to book in for lunch at a local garden centre. From the road it looks rather ordinary, concentrating on landscaping materials, pots and garden ornaments, but the restaurant, with its deck overlooking rolling countryside and interesting menu was anything but. A couple of local sparkling wines for Diane and I and locally brewed beers for Mr A and Mr B, and all was good.

Dramatic skies contrast with a splash of sunshine as we enjoy our view.

After lunch, we paid a brief visit to Nyerimilang Heritage Park, the location of a 19th century homestead with some interesting exhibitions and extensive grounds overlooking the Gippsland Lakes. A short walk took us to one of the lookouts over the Gippsland Lakes, our hosts pointing out Flannagans and McAuliffs Islands. Before long we felt the first fat drops of rain, sending us scurrying back to the shelter of the car.

The Lakes are eerily still on this stormy afternoon

The afternoon was topped off with a fabulous thunderstorm, just perfect for book reading and relaxing.

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!

25-26 November: Exploring Wilsons Promontory

Author: Mr A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21-24 November: Feeling the burn on the Great Southern Rail Trail

Author: Mrs A

Location: Foster and Yanakie, Victoria, Australia

Thursday: Hot temperatures blew into Victoria, taking our pleasant days in the early 20°Cs up to a very steamy high of 41°C (that’s an increase from about 70 to 106 in fahrenheit for those working in old measurements). This was coupled by strong winds which whipped up the dry earth and covered everything in a thin layer of orange dust. Definitely not a day to be outdoors. We were very grateful for the ability to hibernate in Mark and Diane’s house with its refreshing air conditioning, Tassie in particular pleased to have a run about in a house.

One happy and very spoilt Burmese cat, Miss Tassie

Friday: We farewelled our friends and headed south, aiming for the town of Foster, inland from Wilsons Promontory, south east of Melbourne.

Our route this trip – down to Foster in Victoria

We settled in to our small campsite mid afternoon, relishing the quietness at this time of year, having the pick of sites in the park. An hour or so later our friend Owen arrived from Melbourne, checking into a cabin on the campground. Last time we saw Owen in person was in Split, Croatia, just before he headed off for more adventures around Europe, so it was good to catch up.

My first attempt at Chicken Basque with roast potatoes
Dinner, good music, fine wine and company – all you need

Saturday: We had chosen Foster as a destination due to its position on the Great Southern Rail Trail, deciding to cycle three sections of the track, making up a just over 60km (38 miles) return ride. It was a stunning morning, with blue skies and a gentle breeze, and we set off on the trail to our first stop, the village of Toora.

Views out to the hills
Setting off down a wooded part of the track

The scenery was quite lovely as the trail took us through woodland, past wetlands and fields of cattle, all framed by rolling green hills. Rosellas, galahs, lorikeets, honeyeaters and wrens were among the multitude of birds accompanying us on our ride.After a morning tea break in Toora, we continued on to Welshpool and from there down to Port Welshpool. Locally caught fish and chips was our reward for lunch.

Feeling empowered after coffee and a croissant
Amazing skies at Port Welshpool

We had a ride around Port Welshpool, which is a very sleepy settlement, on this particular day busy with people fishing for the heaviest snapper as part of a competition.

Welshpool has a long jetty stretching 850 metres out to sea (the third longest wooden jetty in Australia apparently). It has been restored and improved in the past 12 months, reopened just before Christmas last year. We rode out to the end of the jetty, once out there fully able to appreciate the gale force winds that had picked up as the day progressed. It didn’t bode well for our return cycle, with the full strength coming from the direction we were headed. Where are our eBikes when we need them?!

Bracing against the wind at the end of the jetty
Looking out towards Wilsons Prom
The Welshpool Jetty
Looking out towards Little Snake Island and Sand Island in Nooramunga Marine and Coastal Park
Owen rides off along the quiet waterfront pathway

It was a very hard slog back into winds blowing 30km/h with gusts of up to 45km/h which could almost blow you to a standstill or certainly across the pathway. Our thighs were burning by the time we finally reached Foster and our camp…in its favour, the wind did see off the flies which were out in force on our outward cycle!

A little echidna strolls along a quiet street in Foster

Feeling in need of refreshment, Mark and Owen decided to head out to Gurney’s Cidery, local brewers of apple and pear cider, tastings and fine views. A tasting paddle and some cheeses later, they returned with some goodies to try at a later date.

A selection of local cheeses and a paddle of ciders
Fine views from the tasting rooms

Later that evening the three of us headed out to Promontory Restaurant & Winery. Incredible views were our reward for driving up into the hills for this venue which only opened in February this year.

Ready for a feed – outside the restaurant

A lovely venue with an eagle’s-eye view was accompanied by a brilliant menu featuring locally produced meats, fish and vegetable and Victorian wines. As a new winery the vines are not yet producing enough grapes to produce a vintage, but the wine list did not disappoint.

A glass of bubbles to start for me, a local Chardonnay for Mark and Owen

The food was outstanding and served with a twist – fresh scallops with lentils, whitebait with a garlic aioli, bbq pork spare ribs and a seafood laksa made up our selections. A 2015 Cambrian Rock Shiraz from Heathcote topped off the choices for the evening, enjoyed as the sun set over the magnificent view.

Sunset is quite wonderful with the whispy windswept cloud – looking over the restaurant
Looking down towards Wilsons Prom National Park
The young vineyard under a fiery sky

Sunday: We were all amazed we were able to walk after yesterday’s cycling efforts, and after breakfast packed and and moved on our way. Owen accompanied us to our next destination, Yanakie, near to Wilsons Prom. Regular readers may recall we stayed here earlier in the year, but were not able to enter the national park due to fires – we are hoping we will have more favourable conditions on this visit.

A site with a view – absolute water frontage
As long as there is sunshine, Miss T is happy with this spot
Looking back at the Feline Zone from the beach
Our view for the next few days, looking up towards Wilsons Promontory National Park

The three of us went to nearby Fish Creek for a look around and lunch. Its a quirky little village, with art galleries, local jewellers and a handful of cafes – reminding us of Nimbin in the Byron Bay hinterland. We had some lunch before returning to the Zone. Owen bid us farewell and took himself back to Melbourne.

Fish Creek, founded in 1884

18-20 November: A trip over Australia’s highest road and into the water wonderland of East Gippsland

Author: Mr A

Location: Mount Hotham, Metung, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale, Victoria, Australia

Monday: There are only two ways to get from where we had camped in Beechworth and over to the east coast of Victoria, head south west nearly all the way into Melbourne, or head up over the Australian Alps and down into East Gippsland. We chose the latter, and set off with our friends also towing the same caravan as us, and using the same tow vehicle, a 200 Series Toyota LandCruiser, which was the same colour!

Diane and Mark in their carbon copy rig head up the mountain

Our very well matched, colour co-ordinated mini convoy set off, with me a little nervous about dragging over 3 tons of van over the highest bitumen road in Australia. Our friends who had grown up in the area, were faintly amused at me, and the “nervous Nellie” phrase was bandied around at one stage over the radio link we were were using. Australian humour at its best, it‘s almost British, and our friends Mark and Diane were super helpful with advice on how to drive to get safely over the mountain.

It’s a road to be treated with respect, climbing to a pass at 1862 metres (just over 6,000 feet), even on a day with such perfect road conditions as we had. Blue skies stretched on forever over the forests of eucalyptus trees, which later changed to hardy snow gums as we toiled our way up the mountain.

Fabulous views across the range from Mount Hotham
Is this the first cat to pay her respects to this mountain legend?
Look closely and you will see there is snow up here…

By global standards these aren’t high mountains, but in the largely flat landscape of Australia, they stand proud. We eventually reached the highest point at the ski resort of Mount Hotham, now, like so many alpine resorts in the summer, focused on offering wild mountain biking trails down the slopes, and a helping hand up in the form of a chair lift.

Our fur child seemed to be as engaged in admiring the unfolding scenery as us!

Miss Tassie enjoys the views as we climb up the mountain
Just when you think you are at the top, the road winds up even further – spot our fellow Zoners ahead of us

We started the somewhat gentler drive down the eastern side of the mountains, and thanks to local knowledge from our friends, stopped at a perfect lunch spot for a break and a calming cuppa.

Mark, Diane and Catherine at our lunch spot

It was a glorious run down into East Gippsland, which covers over 31,000 square kilometres. Belgium for comparison is only 30,000 square kilometres, with a population though of over 11.4 million, compared to East Gippsland’s 80,000. That‘s right, it’s not a busy part of the world. This immediately made itself apparent as we went for mile after mile with hardly another car on the road.

We were nearing our friends house, perched a few hundred metres from the extensive interconnected lake system, which has made this area the haunt of those who love messing about in boats, fishing or bird watching, With over 350 square kilometres of generally calm water protected by one of the longest stretches of sand in the world, Ninety Mile Beach (over 100km). For comparison (yes you’re at the statistical part of this blog) the Gippsland Lakes are over eight times larger than Sydney Harbour. Now thats a lot of quiet boating, and we wasted no time the next morning in getting out amongst it in our sea kayak.

Tuesday: Our first foray on water, thanks to a lively wind forecast, was on the protected waters of one of the three rivers that flows into the lakes, the Tambo River. It just sounds so quintessentially Australian doesn’t it? …And yet I wonder how many fellow Aussies have heard of it? Our friends came with us in their single kayaks, and we set off down river into a fairly stiff head wind. When they had paddled enough and decided to turn around, they kindly offered to drive our car down to another pull out point so we could do a one way trip.

The peaceful Tambo River
Diane and Mark in their singles
A tree hangs on at the top of a sandstone cliff

We had done very little paddling, or any other arm or core related exercise over the last few years, so certainly noticed the effort needed to propel even our sleek beast through the water. We spotted a nankeen kestrel cruising the water for lunch, and a kingfisher lurking along the river bank, given away by his azure wings and peach tummy feathers.

Curious calves watch in amazement as we pass by
Black and white to hide a sore red nose!

After some whining from me about my kayak seat, which seems to have shrunk whilst in storage for 7 months (but I love French croissants), we finally reached the boat launch where we were met by our friends.

A rather gentler afternoon followed, with Miss T loving exploring their house and garden. This is such an idyllic spot, with whip birds calling to one another in the surrounding peppermint gums, and the tiny hornbills that were flitting around their oasis of a courtyard.

Feeling safe in the courtyard
Hunting lizards in the garden beds
A crimson rosella flies in to have a drink of water

I did though get some welcome advice from Mark (yes not only do we have the same caravan and car, but share a name!) Which involved peering under the Zone as stuff that has always mystified me. Mark has a lovely way of simplifying things so even the likes of me can comprehend.

Mr A and Mr B underneath the Zone

Wednesday: The next day the wind forecast was kinder for more open water kayaking, so we set out across the lake to circle around one of the islands in it. Paddling through this stunning waterscape was made the more poignant by its contrast to the European seascape we had equally admired. There were no soaring castles perched on the edge of the lake, or flotillas of yachts (we saw 4 boats in 4 hours). This was nature unadorned by human. Apparently 1% of the world‘s black swan population call this area home, and they made a majestic vista as we gazed across these pristine waters. A pair of sea eagles then decided to glide over and check us out. This is Australia at its unspoilt best.

A beautiful calm morning for a paddle
Nungurner Jetty
Mark B tries his hand at catching us some fish for lunch
McAuliff’s Island, home to a private holiday retreat and covered in Glaucous Pigface (the pink flowers!)

We then had a good reminder how forecasts are not always accurate, and gradually the wind built until we were experiencing gusts that made paddling even in our long stable kayak interesting. Our friends in their shorter boats were getting an increasingly wet and bumpy ride.

The wind was behind us, so up came the sail and we cruised on back along the coast
Passing a picturesque bay with a private jetty
Mr & Mrs A…including sore nose…

Luckily the wind built to a crescendo just as we bobbed back into the jetty. A salutary reminder that even sheltered waters need to be treated with respect.

We all felt like we had earned a decent dinner, “tea” as its still called in these parts, and off we went to the nearest big (relatively) town of Bairnsdale. Well what a superb dining experience we were given at The Loft.

Tasteful design and lighting are key to enhancing the atmosphere at The Loft, located in some old converted stables dating back to the 1800s

Gerry, the chef and owner, and his team of two, provided us with food and wine that was absolutely up there with any big city dining experience. A superb selection of mostly locally sourced produce, with beef, lamb and pork dishes coming cooked to perfection and accompanied by fresh local veggies. My bouillabaisse was a match for any I had in France, with the seafood having travelled a lot fewer kilometres before it hit my plate, and a nice edge of spice that I so missed in much French cuisine. If you’re in the area please support this top quality spot.

Dinner accompanied by a delicious Shiraz from Lightfoot & Sons, local winemakers
Chef Gerard DeBoer – Gerry – is clearly passionate about producing excellent quality meals

14-17 November: Reconnecting with the Zoners

Author: Mrs A

Location: Beechworth, Victoria, Australia

Thursday: We are extremely fortunate that on our travels around Australia, and especially since owning a Zone RV caravan, we have met some wonderful people. So we were quite excited to learn (while sheltering from wind and rain back in Scotland a month or so ago), that there was to be a Zone Owners Muster to be held in Beechworth, Victoria just after we were back in Australia, and some of our friends would be attending.

We drove south from Rutherglen, arriving in Beechworth mid morning. Beechworth is an old gold mining town, originally settled in the mid 1880s. It was in 1852 that gold was discovered in the region, transforming a sleepy rural area by 8,000 people. The gold rush didn’t last long, but fortunately a forward thinking council at the time invested in infrastructure including a hospital and gaol which lasted until the late 1990s, ensuring the continued life of the centre.

The Zone muster was held at Sambell Lake, at a caravan site there. The lake used to be an open cut gold mine in the 1800s, and during the 1920s was regenerated to create a nature reserve. As we drove in, a koala bounded across the road in front of us and swiftly clambered up a tree beside us. We then spotted our friends Diane and Mark waving enthusiastically in a crowd of other Zoners, and drove off to park up before joining them and saying hello to the others.

The late afternoon Zone catch up getting kicked off

It wasn’t a late night – I had a shocking sore throat, fighting a virus.

Sunset over the lake

Friday: Our friends Diane and Mark hired bikes at the caravan park, and the four of us set off on the Murray to the Mountains cycle trail which starts at the park. My battle against the virus had been lost in the night and I woke with a horrible head cold that gradually got worse throughout the day.

Diane, Mark, Mr A, Mrs A – ready to explore

We rode a short way along the trail, stopping when a steep downhill faced us. Already having a narrow airway and now blocked nose and swollen sore throat, I wasn’t up to cycling uphill again without a motor! Pennyweight Winery located beside the path saved the day and we called in for a tasting.

Downhill from Beechworth….
After only 5km we find the Pennyweight Winery – most of us are happy for a taste – Mark less keen as he’s more of a beer drinker…
Some tasty drops at this boutique winery

Several delicious whites, reds and fortified drops later, we bought a couple of bottles and rode back into Beechworth for lunch and some beer tasting at the Bridge Road Brewers (to make Mark happy!).

The Bridge Road Brewers

Saturday: I woke up with the full force of the cold hitting, constantly sneezing and generally feeling awful, head pounding and working my way through several boxes of Aloe Vera tissues. Mr A and Mark took off on our bikes for another ride.

My day was very subdued, while Mr A was more social and did some sorting out of our bits and pieces in the car, reacquainting himself with what we have here in Australia. Its the challenge with maintaining two mobile homes on different sides of the planet – you think you have something, only to remember its in the other hemisphere! Ah, first world problems…!

Miss Tassie enjoyed having me around to keep her company
Miss T demonstrates the best way to recover from a cold in the afternoon sunshine

I was persuaded to leave the caravan mid afternoon and have a stroll around Beechworth, Diane and Mark bravely allowing me and my germs into their car. We browsed the gold centre (plenty of gold for sale) and Mr A’s favourite type of gold, a huge traditional sweet shop.

A fabulous scrap metal sculpture of a gold panner outside the Gold centre
Mr A with a look on his face that strongly reminds me of one of his grandsons….! (Luke!)

I concluded the day with an early night, while Mr A joined the Zoners for dinner at back at the Bridge Road Brewery.

Sunday: Another fine day in Beechworth, and a turning point in my cold. I felt a little more energetic and so we jumped in the car and drove a short way out of town to the Mount Pilot Lookout – a sandstone outcrop surrounded by eucalyptus forest. We climbed up and were rewarded with magnificent 360 degrees views across the region.

You can see for miles from up here
We imagine people have climbed up to this point for hundreds of years
Taking a moment to enjoy the view
A beautiful Sunday morning
Blowing my nose for ten millionth time on the hike down!

The flies were out in force, with giant horseflies landings hungrily on our bare legs, so we didn’t hang around at the top.

We moved on to check out Woolshed Falls, once the centre of the goldfields with thousands of prospectors camped along Spring Creek. Again the flies were there to greet us, so we didn’t hang around to entertain them.

Woolshed Falls…there is still gold here for those prospectors who have time and skill to find it…
Tassie took me for a very short walk around the campground on our return

In the afternoon, Mr A, Mark, Diane and I joined another group of Zoners at Beechworth’s second brewery, Billson’s.

This brewery was quite different from the first. They are very friendly and immediately welcomed us and invited us to taste the cordial selection, while giving us a run down of the history and work they are putting into the business. We tried shots of the gin as well. Downstairs in the basement, a speakeasy bar complete with leather chesterfield sofas offered beer tasting and sales.

Who are these clowns?
Doing a little cordial and sparkling water tasting
Mark, Mark – dog with cleft lip…Apparently a Mark joke (heard this often…yawn)
Enjoying a gin with Diane and one of the other Zone owners…don’t look too closely at my sore pink eyes and nose!

Mr A also concluded he preferred the beer at this brewery, having hit a winner on his first try, compared with trying 6 different beers at the other place and not being that keen on any. He is sure to keep researching though!

We had a couple of wines around the campfire with the Zoners before another quiet and early night back in the van. We are wild things!

It’s such a shame a virus killed my energy and ability to be more social this weekend – Zone owners always tend to have so many great tips for travel and frequently have many years of travel experience to share as well. Fortunately Mr A felt well enough to be more sociable than me and has come away having learned a few things, and our existing friendship with Mark and Diane strengthened as well. All in all a great weekend, and a new virus added to my immune system!

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…