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…

5-9 March: Admiring East Gippsland

Author: Mr A

Location: Seaspray and Nungurner, Victoria, Australia

Tuesday: Mrs A woke on her birthday to another stunning morning overlooking Wilsons Prom. Sadly it was the closest we were going to get on this trip as we needed to be on our way. We had booked into a park at the small settlement of Seaspray, in Victoria’s glorious East Gippsland region. As soon as we arrived, we pretty much unhitched and headed straight off into the nearby town of Sale, as I had found out about a pub with a particularly good reputation for dinner.

Birthday girl with her new necklace from Melbourne

I had been given great advice – this place was tremendous. If you find yourself that way the Criterion Hotel deserves your patronage. As so many reviewers said before me “why isn’t my local pub like this?”. And really there’s no practical reason it couldn’t be in most of Australia that has a climate that supports the growing of local produce.

The chef was a local lad, the produce from all around the area, the funding to invest in the pub was all coming (I was told by the manager) from reinvested profits since they managed to fill the place most nights. How? By offering a very different menu to the usual unimaginative fare of chips with some combination of “parmy (chicken in breadcrumbs), steak, or meat pie. We had delicious Asian influenced starters and duck with various berries and oh so fresh veggies for main.

Happy customers outside the renovated Criterion Hotel

Wednesday: Sadly the next day it was blowing a hoolie, so we were confined to quarters most of the time, only briefly venturing down onto the sand blasting beach.

There’s drama on the horizon – 90-mile beach at Seaspray

Being sand blasted on the beach, trying to imagine what it’s like on a calm sunny day

The wind is shifting the sand dunes like snow drifts

We didn’t see much of Seaspray other than the sea spray. Sorry but couldn’t resist that!

Thursday: The next day we had been generously invited to stay with fellow Zone owners Di and Mark, who live in the small settlement of Nungerner, about a 10 minute drive out of Lakes Entrance. What a little slice of heaven their home and its surrounds has been. Every direction there seems to be miles and miles of tranquil lakes and rivers, bursting with birds, wildlife and views at every turn.

Mark and Di have a resident echidna – quite used to people by all accounts!

The Gippsland Lakes are Australia’s largest area off enclosed water at 103 kilometres long. We have really enjoyed it here and only scratched the surface after 3 days.

Our first night saw us meeting up with some more Zoners, Jo and Scott, who wanted to try out our packrafts at the nearby settlement of Metung.

Zoners catch up at the Metung Hotel

The Metung Hotel

Looking out into the lake

This bustling little village has a pub set in an idyllic lakeside location with 180 degree views up and down the channel.

Friday: We couldn’t wait to get on the water, so in the morning wandered down with our little boats in our backpacks to the jetty that is a few hundred metres from Di and Mark’s place.

The still morning water – smoke haze from the bush fires hanging over the water

Perfect reflections

There used to be a cormorant on every post!

Enjoying this a lot!

Heading off to explore a commercial fishing boat

Someone with a little imagination has built little houses on their beachfront

Mrs A looking quite relaxed

Onwards to the next little bay – you could explore here for weeks

Arriving at the Metung Yacht Club

We paddled around the edge of the lake and ended up back at the pub at Metung…again…this time resisiting a cold beer and heading back to the serenity of Mark and Di’s home and its leafy courtyard.

Mark kindly sorted out some plumbing issues on our Zone. That was his main trade before retiring but now seems to have a mastery of almost every trade there is! A useful set of skills when caravans seem to need so much ongoing maintenance. Di was a kindergarten teacher and tour guide for the local caves at Buchanan, and they both share our passion for walking and the great outdoors. Time therefore slipped away so easily chatting about our respective adventures. Memories being relived and shared, a wonderful thing.

Our fur child is equally enraptured by their home and strolls around with her flag of a tail held high in pleasure. Its brilliant for us to see her so happy, especially knowing in a few short weeks we will be bidding her goodbye for 7 months! Thank goodness we are lucky enough to have two sets of foster parents who are equally crazy about this gorgeous natured little bundle of loveliness.

Stalking skinks in the flower beds

Princess Tassie has explored every corner of Di and Mark’s garden

Investigating secret pathways

Content in the sunny courtyard

Happy cat mode with the tail held high

And relaxing in the sunshine

Saturday: On Saturday Metung held a small market which was especially bustling as it is a long weekend for Victoria.

Eggplant and tomatoes purchased…no garlic….

Plenty of choice in this little market

Fresh veggies purchased it was off to the popular tourist destination of Lakes Entrance.

Before dropping down into the town we stopped at a lookout which really explained the naming of the town!

Amazing views from the lookout

We can see the strength of the current from up here

We had a date with the best fish and chip shop in town for lunch. Sadly no mushy peas or pickled eggs on the menu, I’ll have to wait another few weeks for those in England, but still a not bad effort for Aussie friers!

The Ferryman – delicious fresh fish

More happy punters!

It was our last night here with Di and Mark, so we gathered in the courtyard for drinks and nibbles and whiled away another lovely evening planning how to turn our respective travel dreams into memories.

Final night’s drinks and nibbles with Mark and Di

1-4 March: Wilsons Promontory National Park…almost…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Yanakie, Victoria (just outside Wilsons Promontory)

With a forecast of 39 degrees centigrade on Friday we decided to head away from Marysville and drive to the coast, Wilsons Promontory National Park our ultimate destination for some hiking amongst spectacular scenery. As we are travelling with Miss Tassie we were unable to camp in the park itself, but we checked in to a caravan park in Yanakie, just 30 minutes drive away. The temperature was much cooler beside the water, a great relief.

Saturday morning dawned clear and blue, with the mercury climbing early. We moved into a site right beside the beach with uninterrupted views over to the Prom.

Amazing sunrise over the water

A Zone with a view…

As the water was so still, we decided to take advantage and inflated our pack rafts for a paddle, planning to head for a walk in the national park in the afternoon.

Mirror-like perfection on the bay

The water is quite shallow in Corner Inlet Marine & Coastal Park

It was while we were out paddling in these serene waters that we suddenly both received messaged on our mobile phones:

Bushfire Advice from Parks Victoria. Wilsons Promontory and surrounding areas. Stay informed re park closure. Check local radio or www.emergency.vic.gov.au

I checked the website. It turned out the whole national park was being evacuated due to an out of control fire…so no walking for us. The evacuation included all campers – so it was fortunate we were not staying in there after all.

Yanakie sits on the edge of the Corner Inlet Marine National Park, part of Bass Straight, the waterway between mainland Australia and Tasmania. It’s a critical waterway for migratory birds and has been designated a wetland of international significance under the Ramsar Convention.

After lunch we took a walk along the beach to see what birds were about.

Strolling along the beach, dead trees standing out like sculptures

Literally dozens of black swans and ibis fed on the sea grass at low tide

Copper grasses blowing in the afternoon breeze on the dunes

Wispy clouds crossing the sky

Black backed gulls, silver gulls, black swans, ibis, egrets and herons were the main bird life, enjoying the mudflats at low tide. It reminded us of our time in Omokoroa in New Zealand, the peace and quiet, punctuated by the occasional bird call.

Nature’s artwork

After a couple of kilometres we came across this twisted wood, standing up out of the sand like a marker for something….we had a look and behind it was a footpath. We followed it for another couple of kilometres and wound up right back at the campground. Perfect!

Heading off down the mystery path

As we turned back, we could see the bushfire smoke spreading across the hills, the afternoon wind fanning the flames and increasing its impact.

By wine-o’clock the fire was quite large and easily visible from where we were camped (at a safe distance).

Sunset starting to reflect on the smoke haze

Sunday morning’s sunrise was quite dramatic as a result, with the air quite obviously smoky. Despite the fact I am breathing quite well at the moment, my throat began to feel the effects of inhaling the ashy polluted air, burning and sore.

Sunrise provides a dramatic start to the day with the absolutely still water

A juvenile gull floats on the still water

Lake or ocean? I bet most people wouldn’t guess this was Bass Straight!

We decided to drive over to the other side of the peninsular where there was some breeze, meaning cleaner air.

We checked out Waratah Bay which looked like it had not changed in about 50 years, the main landmark on Google Maps being the Telstra Payphone! It had a lovely beginners surf beach and plenty of sand which stretched on for miles.

From there we had a look at Shallow Inlet, where the tide was going out and kite surfers enjoyed catching the breeze across the water.

We returned for another stroll around ‘our’ beach and then to enjoy the sun set as the wind changed direction and cleared all the smoke.

A little drama as the weather changed during the afternoon, bringing a few meagre drops of rain but not enough to douse the fires

The sun setting behind us reflected on the clouds over the water giving us a lovely show

We checked the Parks Victoria emergency site as soon as we woke on Monday morning, and found the fire was still raging and the park would be closed for the foreseeable future. So, as our last day here we decided to get the pack-rafts out again and explore another part of Corner Inlet.

We rolled our boats up into our backpacks, and hiked a couple of kilometres down the beach before we inflated them.

Can you believe there is a boat in here?

At not much more than 2kg our boats and paddles are easy to carry

We then paddled down further into the bay, a very picturesque area full of old boat sheds and unofficial camping sites. There were plenty of birds down here too, mostly not used to seeing people paddling. I imagine most people who visit here stick to visiting Wilsons Prom and rarely make it in to the bay here – I know we probably would not have explored it this thoroughly had the national park been open.

Inflated and ready to paddle!

Looking at some of the old boat sheds on the edge of the water

Our crafts awaiting captains

Mr A on very calm waters

Heading back to camp, not wanting the adventure to end

Nervous terns on the beach

After 7km paddling we are both aching tonight – we are definitely not paddle-fit, and the pack rafts are not as streamlined as our fibreglass double kayak we’d have loved to have brought with us. But we’re so pleased we had these little boats to give us the option to explore the water, their weight and portability giving them a unique benefit.

Our visit to Wilsons Promontory has not quite been the one we planned, but nevertheless has been surprisingly gorgeous. We have really enjoyed the peace and quiet of this location, which has probably been exacerbated by the fires, keeping other visitors away.

We definitely plan to put this area on our wish list to return to in the future (hopefully fire-free next time!), and would recommend Yanakie as a base to explore from, especially if you appreciate bird life and the serenity of the water. Off to pastures new tomorrow…

26-28 February: Marysville – recovery and regeneration

Author: Mr A

Location: Marysville, Victoria

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

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

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

A very moving memorial

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

The new architect designed police station

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

Admiring Steavenson Falls – five cascades with a total descent of 122 metres

The final cascade of Steavenson Falls drops more than 21 metres

Mr & Mrs A

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

The sun just peeps over the hills to light up the bush – looking quite sculptural with the bleached dead trees rising above the new green growth

Early morning shadows

Surprisingly fresh first thing in the morning!

Another hike took us out to Keppel Falls, also picturesque

We followed the Taggerty River upstream to reach these falls

The evening sun lighting up the bush behind Mrs A

Driving off back to the Zone, the forest lit up by the setting sun

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

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

24-26 February: Our Melburnian adventures continue

Author: Mrs A

Location: Melbourne & Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

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

Seafood and sausages ready for the evening’s BBQ

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

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

Mark and Owen strolling along the waterfront

One of many white faced herons fishing in the low tide rock pools

Boat launching at Point Leo

Restricted ourselves to apples for lunch in anticipation of our evening feast!

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

Arthur’s Seat where cable cars offer an eagle’s eye view of the coast

Looking south down the peninsula towards Portsea

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

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

Mr A’s seat is feeling a little hard at this point!

The city’s skyscrapers behind me seem incongruous to our surroundings

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

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

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

Owen’s apartment block has fabulous views over to the city

The lake in Albert Park offers some fabulous reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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