9-12 April: Four dozen oysters and some magical scenery

Author: Mrs A

Location: Coffin Bay, Mount Dutton Bay and Sheringa Beach

Our final morning in Port Lincoln gave us a pretty special sunrise

With a new set of steps installed on the caravan, we pulled away from Port Lincoln and drove about an hour to an olive grove in Mount Dutton, just north of Coffin Bay.

We are now securely in oyster territory, the clear waters around these parts contributing to succulent creamy molluscs which are famous throughout Australia and restaurants in China and Singapore. Coffin Bay oysters are actually Pacific Oysters, native to Japan, which were first farmed here in the late 1980s. They feed on plankton, which due to the nature of the bay is plentiful here and the oysters grow faster than they would elsewhere. We managed to work our way through two dozen each over our two day visit here!

Our campsite for the following two nights was nestled on the edge of Mount Dutton Bay, twenty minutes drive from Coffin Bay in the grounds of an olive farm. As we pulled in the owners were busy trimming the trees, and there was freshly bottled olive oil for sale. We paid our $10 a night to stay there and of course purchased a bottle of oil.

The olive grove was home to many birds, most notably Port Lincoln Ring Necked Parrots – lovely green and blue parrots with bright yellow tummies and a yellow ring around the back of their necks. With very little natural fresh water in the peninsula, they got much of their moisture from dew, rainwater where possible, and their food if able – and woke us up one morning drinking the moisture from our skylight.

Port Lincoln Ring Neck Parrot
One legged perching
Emus are also a regular visitor to the grove and its neighbouring fields

We were also delighted to see Singing Honeyeaters here, their trilling voices often turning to something more sinister when they saw Tassie exploring. She loved this camp and, for her, walked a long way accompanied by her bodyguards, and even disappeared into a cat-sized underground limestone cave for a few minutes which gave us a fright!

Singing Honeyeater on top of an olive tree
Singing Honeyeater

We explored the bay from the camp, following a path which looked like it had been walked for hundreds of years, way beyond the handful of campers at the grove. It reminded us to thank and acknowledge the Nauo and Barngarla people, who were custodians of this region for many thousands of years before white settlement. They made use of a wide variety of fish, inland mammals, reptiles and plants and cared for this land.

The limestone is tough for most plants to grow on, so salt tolerant and air plants grow along the waterline. We thought this looked like a colourful garden
Salt tolerant plants
Hundreds of tiny shells make up a beach we walked over and a salt-tolerant spider in limestone colours
Stripes of seaweed on the shore – colours reminiscent of the Scottish highlands
A farewell double rainbow to see us on our way

After two nights here we made our way up the coast towards the small village of Elliston where we had booked in to a campsite for a few nights. We had a spare night up our sleeve en route and picked out a random campsite on the coast called Sheringa Beach, again costing a princely sum of $10 a night to stay there.

It was a real surprise to arrive to the spectacular location. Elliston District Council has invested in the area, creating high quality level fenced camping areas amongst the dunes, providing bins and even a new flushing toilet to service visitors. We wish more councils would do something like this.

Can you spot Tassie? Another site gets the paw of approval

Tucked in behind the dunes, we could hear the sound of the surf on the other side, and followed a sandy path to explore. Wow! A spectacular 4km long white sand beach stretched along the coast to the next headland. We decided to head off for an explore (map).

Walking along the beach

As usual, once we had left the immediate entrance to the beach we didn’t see anyone. Apparently there is four-wheel-drive access to this beach, but it doesnt look like anyone has used it for a long while. The beach is pristine, not a single scrap of rubbish anywhere, and it is clear from all the shore birds present that they appreciate it.

Red Capped Plovers, Sooty Oystercatchers and Hooded Plovers race along the the shoreline hunting for morsels
Turbulent seas – at 18 degrees we weren’t up for a dip
Looking down the beach you can see the sea spray, misting the view
A pacific gull soars over the waves

Sitting up behind the beach are huge sand dunes, looking like towering snow capped hills stretching along the coast.

Hiking up into the dunes
Beautiful patterns in the sand drifts
Sand as far as the eye can see
Looking out over the bay

Apparently it is not unusual to see dolphins swimming off the coast here, but they were not playing on our visit. Before we moved on the following morning we hiked up to the headland to see along the coast. The waves were wild and wind blown, the rocks sculpted by the constant force.

A single sediment creates a bridge between these two rocks
Off shore wind blowing the wave – see the dunes out the back

It was a beautiful night’s stay and we’re certain to return. We packed up camp, Tassie had a final explore through the dunes, and we went on out way up the coast to Elliston.

24-30 March: Wildlife spotting in Adelaide

Author: Mrs A

Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide Hills and Adelaide, South Australia

After the dust storms and dry environment of the Riverland it was a relief to pull up at our friends’ house in the Adelaide foothills, appreciating all the more the lush grass, and tenderly cared for fruit and vegetables. Leaving Berri, we had a big day’s driving across country.

Kim and Mike live in the Coromandel Valley. The valley was named after a ship (The Coromandel) from which a number of the crew deserted in 1837. The deserters hiked up into the hills, climbed a tree and watched until the ship left port, after which they surrendered to the local Governor and became free settlers.

Prior to the arrival of and subsequent settlement by these sailors, the area was home to the Kaurna people. They lived along the creeks and rivers, actively farming – fishing, hunting animals and harvesting native seeds, vegetables and fruits. We acknowledge and pay our respects to the Kaurna people, the traditional custodians whose ancestral lands we spent time on. We acknowledge the deep feelings of attachment and relationship of the Kaurna people to country and we respect and value their past, present and ongoing connection to the land and cultural beliefs.

A Red Wattlebird perches in the tree overlooking Kim and Mike’s garden

Not far from Coromandel Valley is Belair National Park. The Kaurna people called it Piradi, which means baldness. This was the description of the area when seen from the plains – the location where the city of Adelaide now sits. The Aboriginal population used to actively farm this area, a practice known as ‘fire-stick burning’ – clearing the vegetation to encourage grazing animals, making them easier to hunt. It also spurred the growth of understory plants such as bush potatoes and grasses which were harvested and used in cooking and flour making.

It was declared a National Park in 1892 and is South Australia’s oldest park. Since the 1920s, only native plantings have been allowed, resulting in a valuable haven for native birds and wildlife. Mr A and I were anxious to get out walking, and Kim kindly obliged us by guiding us on one of her favourite circuits in the park. Unlike many Australian national parks, dogs are allowed here, as long as they are kept on a lead, so we were joined by furry friends, Cooper and Rikki.

The rest of my birthday present had been delivered to our friends here – a monopod (used to stabilise the long lens when you’re trying to keep ultra still when photographing) and a fancy sounding MonoGimbal which connects the monopod to the camera. I also had a camouflage coat for my lens – to make it blend into the bush a little better.

Nothing to see here! Photographing a koala and birds, the monopod takes the weight and allows me to concentrate on framing and focusing!

Our 6km walk was the perfect opportunity for me to practice putting it on and I had some great subjects to practice on, with a few birds about in the cool morning, and the first koala we’ve seen since getting back to Australia turning up on cue!

Crimson Rosella coming out of its nesting hole in a hollow branch
A Red Wattlebird showing off its acrobatic prowess – these honeyeaters love flower nectar but also supplement their diet with insects
This koala has been tagged
Gorgeous – koalas are not bears, but more closely related to wombats
Another tree holds a nest site for a pair of beautiful pink and grey galahs

I took every opportunity over our visit to practice my photography, not too hard given the number of interesting walks and bushy areas around.

A New Holland Honeyeater – these little birds breed whenever there are nectar producing flowers in bloom, so despite being Autumn, they were busy flitting around courting and too preoccupied to notice me spying!
A Laughing Kookaburra – these are actually Australia’s largest kingfisher. We’ve seen them eat fish quite frequently (including goldfish from our pond) but they are also partial to frogs, mice and even snakes.
Galahs mostly eat seeds, but they like to chew on wood to keep their beaks sharp – usually close to a nesting hollow to indicate it is occupied.
Red Browed Finches flitting through the reeds beside the river
More honeyeaters
May I share your perch?

One particularly memorable walk took us in a circuit along the Sturt River valley and climbed up through the hills. It was a beautifully cool day and a novelty to wrap up warm. Known as Warri Parri in the native language (windy place by the river), the river valley was traditionally used as a travel corridor by the Kair a people linking the hills with the sea. The population would spend the cooler months on the plains, before heading up via this route in the hotter summer months to spend time in the hills. The riverside path we tracked along followed some of this route.

A beautiful sense of calm and serenity alongside this river
Feet have trodden this path for thousands of years
Cooper and Rikki probably ran three times the distance as us on this hike!
The water quality is being actively managed – there is far less water than in the past

Sturt Gorge Recreation Park is the second biggest park around Adelaide after Belair National Park. How fortunate for our friends to have both locations literally on their doorstep.

Our friend and Kim’s daughter, Ali came to stay on Saturday night with one of her sons, Lewis. The following morning I joined Ali, Lewis and another friend, Nicky (Ali’s not-at-all-wicked stepmother!) at an Adventure Room. We were handcuffed to bars in a locked room and spent an hour solving puzzles and unlocking padlocks. Much fun was had and we made it out with 40 seconds to spare!

The crack detective team

Later, I joined Mr A as we caught up for drinks and nibbles with Nicky’s husband, and long time friend (and amazing musician and film maker) Pete. A perfect Sunday!

Our time in the city concluded with another set of tracheal injections for me, followed by a lunch catch up with some local patients who sadly share the same airway disease as me and who are members of the support group I run. As always it was an absolute delight to meet these lovely ladies, an opportunity to share stories and our experiences along our journey.

L-R: Heather, Julie, Fay, Catherine and Carmen

It was a great chance to shake out the dust from our lives, reset and do all those things that only a large town or city can provide, but we were soon ready to be on our way. The many walks, laughs, fine wines and dinners shared with Kim and Mike greatly enjoyed and appreciated, we said our farewells, not knowing when or indeed if we will ever pass this way again.

15-18 March: Kayaking in Charming Chowilla

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wentworth, NSW and Chowilla Game Reserve, South Australia

For this post, we recognise the Barkindji , Maraura and Ngarrindjeri people, throughout whose land we travelled the past few days, and thank them for their custodianship over many thousands of years.

We left the Menindee Lakes, taking a road through the national park which led to the Silver City Highway. The description of highway makes this road sound far grander than it really is – a two way tarmac covered road – though in its defence, it is a long one – over 600km linking South Australia with Queensland via Broken Hill. From here we headed south, making it to a carpark in the little town of Wentworth, located where the River Darling and River Murray meet.

Our route – Wentworth sits at point A

Wentworth was an important settlement because of its riverside location and at one stage was New South Wales’ busiest inland port. It even made it on to a short list to be considered as location for Australia’s capital city! Today it’s a small, neat town with a sleepy feeling. We enjoyed dinner at the local pub.

A restored ‘Fergie’ tractor in the pub helps tell the story of how these little ‘workhorses’ saved the town of Wentworth in the 1956 floods – the downside of being located on the convergence of two major rivers

The following morning we moved a few kilometres down the road to a rustic camp called Fort Courage. Apparently named after a brewery which once stood here, it is now mostly a sprawling collection of fishing enthusiasts’ caravans on the banks of the River Murray.

With no drinking water, but filtered river water to shower in, it was a good spot to stop and clear some of the dust out. We were dying for a walk, but there was nowhere to explore – a few metres from the river and you were back into dry, semi-arid landscape, the plants thorny and scratchy, not conducive to picking your way through them.

We decided to go for a paddle instead. We inflated the kayak and launched below our site, immediately appreciating the cooler breeze blowing off the water. Much of the bird life we saw was familiar, but as we drifted silently along we managed to get really close to some more unusual feathered creatures which were not frightened off.

It was with some despair Mark engaged in a chat with a fellow camper who had been coming there for 40 years. He told us about the ‘hawks’ he fed the carp to when he managed to hook one on his fishing trips. He pointed out one of the Whistling Kites soaring past – ‘there’s one’. ‘Oh a Whistling Kite?’ we asked ‘Huh?’ he responded. How someone can not have any curiosity about the species of creature they come across, I don’t know…but vive la difference. Sadly it is attitudes like these that accept extinctions and destruction of habitat as just matter of fact.

Whistling Kites
More Whistling Kites…getting used to using the high shutter speed to capture them in flight
Australian Wood Ducks
More Pelicans…
A beautiful Nankeen Night Heron juvenile picks its way up a tree
A Blue-faced Honeyeater

While we were out paddling we spotted two guys on a boat dredging the water and then taking note of what they caught, before releasing them back into the river. They didn’t seem like typical fishermen so we enquired what they were up to. They told us they were scientists, looking at the health of the river ecosystem. They told us they had mostly found carp and a few small golden perch. Not much else. Not to harp on about carp too much, but a story has since been released that reveals that carp now make up 97% of the fish in our waterways – it sounds pretty consistent with what they were telling us. How depressing…and how important that this problem is solved

Another stunning sunset concluded our stay.

Another riverside outback sunset

We moved on the following day, heading towards Chowilla Game Reserve, back across the border in South Australia. Before we got there, we first made a stop at Lake Victoria, still in NSW. It is a reservoir managed by Water South Australia.

After prolonged drought, there is little water in the lake

In 1994 when the lake level was lowered for maintenance, a wealth of Aboriginal history was discovered. Artefacts such as camp sites, stone tools, grindstones, shell middens and hearths along with extensive aboriginal burial sites were uncovered. It was estimated that up to four thousand individual graves existed in the burial grounds. The Maraura people have been resident in this area for up to 45,000 years. Today, South Australia Water manages the site, along with local Aboriginal communities to help preserve the site.

A plaque at the lake recognises the Aboriginal people killed here in 1841 at the Rufus River massacre. While official records suggest 30 people were killed here, it is suggested the actual number is likely to be double this. For once, historical information presented seemed to be quite balanced, with copies of records from people present at the massacre as well as stories shared by survivors and passed down through the generations. As is often the case, history is written by the victors, but at least here there is some attempt to tell it from both sides of the story, a refreshing change.

We stopped for lunch, before making our way to Chowilla Game Reserve. This was a location our friends in Adelaide had recommended as one of South Australia’s premier kayaking locations. It’s a network of creeks and inlets which all feed into the River Murray, the hard to reach and remote location meaning it was likely to be quiet and definitely no water-skiers!

The road in was sandy and soft in places, but with our tyres already deflated to a lower pressure it was not too hard a journey to the park, although finding the entrance was a challenge in itself, with very limited signposts and a call to the Renmark information centre eliciting no help either – they couldn’t even tell us whether there was an entrance from the NSW side!

Where do we go from here? After following a sandy track for several kilometres we came across a gate with no signpost.

Our first landmark was a cairn marking the border between New South Wales and South Australia. It had been plotted and built by one of the founding European explorers in Australia, Charles Todd, in 1868 using astronomy. The border has been remeasured with modern appliances, and is now about 100 metres away, but the obelisk remains.

Todd’s Obelisk – the marker of the province boundary

Despite there being no signs, we drove through a gate into what we believed was Chowilla Game Reserve, winding our way through some pretty narrow and rough roads. Occasionally we would spot a signpost directing to camp sites, each numbered, but they were not consistent, and we often had to take a guess at a road junction, only to spy another sign through the binoculars directing us another way. It was very slow going, taking about an hour to navigate about three or four kilometres between scratchy tree branches and find our site by the river. Whoever suggested the sites were suitable for caravan access had not driven these tracks lately!

It was a relief to find our spot and park up for the night – a G&T was definitely in order as the sun went down after that journey!

Our haven by the water
Our kayak all ready to launch in the morning

The following day we got up at sunrise and launched into the creek in the hope of seeing some birds. Chowilla Game Reserve is recognised as a Riverland Wetland of International Importance declared under the Ramsar Convention, and one of the six ‘The Living Murray’ (TLM) icon sites in the Murray-Darling Basin. This means it is an area that is actively managed to maintain the health of the floodplain, using artificial means where lack of water (due to agricultural and other human activity usage) means flooding is no longer available naturally.

Our first impression was quite eerie – usually dawn brings a plethora of bird life, but not here – there was barely a tweet. Do the birds not realise this is an important wetland? Perhaps it is the ‘Game Reserve’ bit of the name? We had been dismayed to learn that five species of Australian duck are permitted to be hunted from Saturday 20 March until late June…maybe the ducks had looked at their diaries and decided to exit stage left given this was just three days before that start date? We continued on regardless…

We gently paddle down stream

With great stealth, we silently explored the watery lanes, watching for any movement. We were eventually rewarded with some sightings…

An Australian Reed-warbler
Grey Kangaroo
Beautiful bark of a RIver red gum tree
An Australian Hobby

And yes, you’re probably getting bored of seeing Whistling Kites, but we had an incredible front row seat for this courageous Little Crow which chased the kite a kilometre across the sky to deter it from its nest.

Crow versus Whistling Kite
Masked Woodswallow

Having redeemed itself, we had a relaxing afternoon and enjoyed a marvellous sunset over the water.

A perfect sunset sky
Mirror-like perfection on the water

The following morning we braced ourselves for the journey out, heading towards Renmark. Fortunately, other than one water crossing which we managed to divert around, the journey went smoothly, and we covered ground much faster than on the way in.

As we departed we were able to see some of the ‘The Living Murray’ work in progress. The flood plane relies on water for at least three months once every five years to survive. As the water levels very rarely ever reach flood level this is now artificially pumped. Six huge pumps were running 24 hours a day to supply this water up into this area. The contrast between this flooded area and those left dry was dramatic.

Flooding in progress

We saw just one other vehicle in our time in Chowilla, testament to how remote the park is. Again, our breath is taken away by the huge open spaces and unique landscapes Australia has to offer, and we so appreciate the opportunity life has given us to be able to travel them.

On the ‘main road’ out towards Renmark

9-11 March – Leaving civilisation and heading to the NSW outback

Author: Mrs A

Location: Mungo National Park and Pooncarie, NSW, Australia

We farewelled Jenny who took off early into town to get her windscreen replaced, and did a final shop before making our way out of town. We had a couple of hours’ driving ahead of us on dusty and corrugated single track roads, and there were not going to any shops in our immediate future.

A willie-willie approaching us on the dusty road…this is a dust whirlwind….

It’s been a while since we have travelled on such surfaces, and when we stopped for lunch we were reminded of the impact of the dust. Our Zone caravan is predominantly dust proof, but a week earlier we had discovered a catch on our front door was missing, meaning we couldnt securely close the outer glass. We’d forgotten to tape it closed on departing, and so everything was covered in orange dust. Ugh. A good 15 minutes of cleaning later and at least the kitchen was usable. We remembered the tape before we set off again.

The landscape is dry and flat, with a surprisingly large number of drought tolerant bushes, grasses and shrubs across it. In a ‘I-wouldnt-like-to-live-here’ way it is extremely beautiful, and you have to admire the multitude of creatures that survive in this harsh environment.

It has become standard practice in Australia to use what is called ‘An Acknowledgment of Country” when speaking about a place, and we have decided to include this in our posts from now on. For our non-Australian readers who may be unfamiliar with this phrase, it is a way to recognise the traditional owners and custodians of this country, and their long and continuing relationship with the land.

So why haven’t we being doing it to date? Often when we see this acknowledgment written or hear it spoken, it appears to be an insincere tick of a box, with the following material displaying no further recognition, understanding or respect for the culture and achievements of the people who have made this land home for thousands of years. Mr A has taken a particular interest in researching and learning about this history since we started travelling around Australia, so we feel we have something to say that would make an Acknowledgment of Country more meaningful, and not just being politically correct. 

We also think it would be a useful reminder to our readers that Australia has a long and rich history before Europeans started showing up in the early part of the 18th century, and the British first unloaded their convicts in January 1788. For 60,000 years Australia had already been settled, farmed, irrigated, mapped, its resources carefully managed and many world firsts achieved in the process. The world’s first known example of open ocean navigation, the first bakers, the first aquaculture, and the list goes on as we learn more about our Australia’s First Peoples.

We respectfully acknowledge, in hindsight, all the First People of Australia whose country has given us such a wonderful home , so many adventures, and still so many surprises as we learn about the achievements of its traditional owners. 

Our destination on this occasion was Mungo National Park. We would like to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land we visited- the Barkandji/Paakantyi, Mutthi Mutthi and Ngiyampaa people. We would also like to pay our respects to Elders past and present.

The national park is famous for its huge dry lake bed, alongside which in the 1970s were found the ancient Aboriginal remains of Mungo Man and Mungo Woman, buried there an estimated 42,000 years ago – during the last Ice Age.

This location represented a game-changer in understanding of the human occupation of Australia – at the time of its discovery, this was some of the earliest evidence of humans outside of Africa and some of the most powerful evidence of continuous occupation of a region by a population – more than 2,000 generations. Mungo lady represents the oldest known ritual cremation of a human…though what is being learned changes all the time.

The next find was relatively recent. In 2003, fossilised human footprints from Willandra people made 20,000 years ago were uncovered under shifting sands. This was equally as important, representing the only Pleistocene footprints in Australia and the most numerous yet found anywhere in the world. They show an adult and child walking barefoot around the edge of the lake. The actual prints are not accessible to the public, but there are 3D replicas of the footprints in concrete in a display area on the lake. You can literally walk in and on the footsteps of Aboriginal ancestors.

We set up at Main Camp, a bushy setting with widely spaced sites surrounded by shady trees, birds flitting everywhere and kangaroos lazily glancing up from the shade. A perfect place to start really trying out my new camera lens.

Our nearest neighbours
Possibly a young Grey Butcherbird? Happy to be corrected!
One very chilled out Grey Kangaroo

Mark and I had visited this area about 18 years ago, spending a night here as the only campers in our tent on a dusty site. It was a lot more civilised this time in our caravan, and also much busier with several other people staying.

We had a great afternoon exploring the nature walks and lookouts, opting to not go on the nearby lodge’s sunset tour which for $110 would involve a tag-along drive to the other side of the lake with a talk covering the pastoral history. Apparently the National Parks Ranger organises an Aboriginal tour ‘most days’ which sounded much more interesting, but sadly it wasn’t on during our visit.

Grazing animals were released into this region in the 1880s, and those combined with the introduction of rabbits (wasn’t that a great plan – what could possibly go wrong?) followed by foxes (another bright plan that didnt work so well) contributed to the extinction of at least 10 small mammals in the area and an unknown but huge number of plants and grasses. The land was designated a World Heritage Site in the 1970s after the archaeological finds, but the land still has not recovered and it is suspected never will.

Remnants of the pastoral history of the area

The lake is a vast and desolate area, stretching away to the horizon. The total size is 200,000 square kilometres, and it last had reliable but salty water in it around 18,000 years ago. As we stood together at the lookout admiring the unique landscape, it wasn’t hard to understand why this is such a sacred area to the Aboriginal communities.

A lone tree overlooks the lake
The sun casts a mysterious light over the dry lake as it dips low in the sky
Beautiful colours
Casinova reads poetry to his beau
A Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeater flits musically through the trees hunting for insects
Sunset over Mungo National Park

After the activity and sleepless nights of Mildura, it was absolute bliss to enjoy the peace and dark of Mungo. The stars stretched on forever. I’ve not yet got the hang of star photography with my new lens so there’s none of that to share, but I did get a good shot of the moon.

Can you spot the craters?

The following morning we departed, driving across more huge dry lake beds, bizarrely showing up as blue on Google Maps, heading to the tiny settlement of Pooncarie, home to 40 people.

Long straight dusty empty roads common on our journey

Pooncarie is tiny now, but in the mid 1800s was an important river port, settled on the banks of the Darling River and serving all the sheep and cattle stations in the region. There is still a wharf there, with a cafe and craft shop. Somehow the village is also able to sustain a pub, where we called in and paid our $10 to camp for the night in a serviced riverside area. The Pooncarie area is inhabited by the Barkandji Aboriginal people who have been in the area for at least 40,000 years.

The Pooncarie Hotel
The bar is dedicated largely to fishing memorabilia

What a beautiful spot – an absolute haven after several hours of driving dusty, straight and corrugated roads. It was a hot afternoon, easily reaching the early 30s in the shade, and unbearable in the sun, but with a breeze blowing off the water it was lovely. We set out our chairs and enjoyed the ambience.

Our home for the night beside the Darling River, Pooncarie
One chair for Mr A and one chair for Princess Tassie…seems to be something missing here…
One happy cat

It was not only us that enjoyed this relatively cool riverside shade, there were plenty of birds who were obliging enough to occasionally stop still and land in unobstructed locations for a photo.

White-plumed Honeyeater
Red-rumped Parrot
Female Flame Robin
Willie Wagtail
White-plumed Honeyeater

We also saw a family of goats picking their way alongside the river. These are strictly speaking feral – generations of these have been born and grown up in the wild, descended from goats that have escaped from un-fenced farms in the 1800s. They do a lot of damage to the plants, munching up young seedlings and changing the landscape with their hooves. But, it seems, they have now been accepted as a source of potential money, with Australia now being the world’s largest exporter of goat meat – mostly to the USA. Of course they don’t call them feral goats in their marketing – these are known as ‘rangeland goat meat’. There have even been thoroughbred Bauer goats released into the wild to help improve the meat quality through inter-breeding.

’Rangeland’ goats pick their way along the river bank

It was a lovely overnight stay, and Tassie enjoyed a final explore around the area before we took off the next morning, again farewelling the life giving river and travelling the red dusty roads towards Menindie.

Our sunrise view across the river

21-23 February: Heading up to the riverland

Author: Mrs A

Location: Murray River, South Australia

The Murray River is the longest navigable river in Australia and despite owning kayaks for 22 years, it is one area we have never paddled, and indeed spent very little time in. A big chunk of the river goes through northern South Australia, so we decided to spend a few weeks exploring it. Watching the weather forecast we saw that the heatwave was breaking on Sunday, and so after a final morning of shopping and washing, our caravan groaning under the weight of fresh eggs, tomatoes and the unusual zucchini tromboncino, we bid farewell to Kim and Mike, and were on our way.

We wound our way up through the hills, and within two hours had our first sighting of water as we took a ferry over the Murray. From there we drove up on top of the cliffs that line parts of the waterway to Len Crohen’s lookout near Walker Flat. We parked up there for the night, a peaceful spot with great views and no other campers.

Our site for the night
Looking down at the mighty Murray
Princess Tassie enjoyed a short exploration
Dawn brings a few light showers

We moved on the following morning, heading for Waikerie, our destination for the next couple of nights. We’d read about a free camp just outside of town, and were fortunate to find ourselves a prime location beside a boat ramp with wonderful outlook over the River Murray.

Our view for a couple of nights

Accompanying comfortable temperatures in the mid 20s was a strong southerly breeze (not ideal for paddling), so we decided to pull on our hiking boots and go for an explore on foot. We picked our way along the river bank as far as possible, then followed the road until we reached a wetland area known as Hart Lagoon.

Following what looks like a trail along the river
The familiar sight of Little Corellas in the gum trees

Hart Lagoon is an important ecosystem and home to many birds, The walking trail surrounding it was created by a number of local groups, including the primary school. We couldn’t help but admire the initiative – Waikerie feels like a town that is really trying to improve itself and attract visitors, as well as encourage the next generations to value the Murray ecosystem.

Like much of the area around the Murray River, dead trees are a feature, often home to birds which nest in the hollow trunks and branches. What were once were mighty red river gums are now just skeletons dotting the landscape like giant bleached sculptures. Many of these are casualties of the decades of water use up and down the river, farms taking the water for irrigation and as a result preventing the floodwaters the trees rely on to survive. Due to the reduced water replenishment, the salt content of the water has increased, further putting stress on the trees that rely on its nutrients to survive. It’s that familiar battle we see regularly – livelihoods at the expense of nature

Remnants of trees from the past
Very little shade on this part of the walk
Glossy Ibis find a perfect roosting spot in the top of a dead tree

The return loop of the walk provided welcome shade for at least some of it, appreciated on this 12km hike (map), and further evidence of days gone by, when the nearest tip was too far to reach and a wetland was ideal to abandon an old vehicle.

I wonder when this ute found its final resting place…
Citrus fruits are a key source of income for Waikerie locals, the river providing much needed water for these mandarin oranges

The breeze was determined to continue to be too strong for kayaking . That’s just how it works when you are keen to do something! So the following morning we decided that pedal power would be our transport mode, and we spent the day exploring the region around Waikerie and Ramco Lagoon.

A fine spot to enjoy the sunrise over the river

Waikerie is on the Silo Art Trail, a route which takes travellers throughout regional Australia to see huge murals painted on silos, water towers and walls. The trail encourages people to visit some of the lesser known inland parts of the country, each telling a story or promoting local flora, fauna or history. The trail was the brainwave of some fellow travellers from Western Australia in 2018, who wanted to plot the locations of the already painted silos and those planned.

Beautifully painted silos promoting the endangered Regent Parrot which lives along the Murray RIver. Spot Mr A dwarfed by the structures.
We cycled part of the Cliff Walk with lovely views over the river
Riding off along the cliff walk
Our local lagoon, Ramco Lagoon

Mr A had a near miss as we were cycling back to camp. I spotted an Eastern Brown Snake crossing the path in front of us and shouted at him to stop. He blundered on through, riding right over the poor thing. I say ‘poor thing’ as I am sure it wasn’t feeling too well after Mr A’s giant bike had cycled over it, but we were also very lucky it didn’t rise up and strike him, given it‘s the second most venomous snake in the world! We seem to be seeing more snakes than usual on this trip.

The four types of snake most likely seen along the Murray waterways

We had a great couple of nights here – finding it peaceful and picturesque. It’s a shame we didn’t get out on the kayak, but we are sure there will be other opportunities. Princess Tassie enjoyed her explorations too (and yes, always accompanied by an eagle-eyed servant to ensure there were no slithery creatures nearby to cause trouble!

Adventure cat
Moon rising over the river
With virtually no light pollution, the stars are fabulous here

11-14 February: Touching upon the western Yorke Peninsula

Author: Mrs A

Location: Gleeson’s Landing and Port Victoria, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

Packing up and leaving our spectacular camp at Coffin Beach was a challenge, as was farewelling our wonderful camp companions, Kim and Mike. They were off back to Adelaide, while we continued on our way. We topped up our water tanks in nearby Marion Bay, and crossed the peninsula to a council campsite on the other side known as Gleeson’s Landing.

Emus strolling along the road in Marion Bay – this adult male is babysitting the chicks

You cannot reserve sites here – it is literally first come, first served, but there are a lot of water’s edge areas to camp. Ideally suited to self contained caravans, there are a few long-drop toilets dotted around, but they are not necessarily well maintained. We found ourselves a recently vacated area on top of a small cliff overlooking the water, setting up moments before the weather changed.

What started as a hot and humid morning, changed as though by a switch of a button, the wind picking up, swinging around to bring a strong, cool southerly storm, accompanied by showers.

We watch the radar show as the weather changes dramatically
We get set up just in time before the first fat heavy rain drops fall
The calm before the storm – mirror-like stillness on the water in front of our site

The storm soon passes, leaving us with a spectacular evening about 10 degrees cooler with an incredible sunset.

The sun disappearing behind the headland
As the tide retreats it makes a great platform to reflect the wonderful colours in the sky
Looking up the coast, a double rainbow in the remaining storm clouds
And the last splashes of colour to complete our day

The following morning was cool with a fresh breeze, but it didn’t prevent our adventurous Burmese Princess from venturing out for an explore on the cliffs and dunes.

Tassie exploring

At this point we had been without any internet or phone access for five days, which may sound like heaven to some people, but when you are living full time on the road managing your affairs (and an online global support group) completely in the cloud, meant we were getting a bit nervous. Having most of our family living in the UK also meant we felt a little out of touch, hoping everyone was doing ok and keeping well.

We decided to find ourselves a town to settle down in for a couple of nights, and selected a random settlement half way up the west coast, with camping on the show ground having a full mobile phone signal. We packed up and drove to Port Victoria.

We got settled in and had a relaxing afternoon catching up on news and downloading books to read, before deciding to go out to dinner at the local pub.

Well that was a disappointment. Given it was Friday night, perhaps we should have expected it to be a little rowdy, but I guess we are out of practice with these things. It was unfortunate that a group of 20 or so men were dining there, having spent a good couple of hours downing beers as an appetiser. The atmosphere was not very relaxing. We had no other dining options, so little choice other than to eat our fresh fish and salad quickly and leave! It was probably the fastest meal out we have ever had!

We had a look around town (a tiny settlement with a population of just under 350 people), learning it was once a huge and thriving port. Windjammers were huge multi masted sailing ships which docked here at the jetty to collect grain to be transported to Falmouth (in Cornwall, where we spent Mr A’s birthday, last year) in the UK, and Queenstown in New Zealand.

The scale of these ships is almost unfathomable- the masts towered at twice the height of the tallest pine trees in the town (image was commissioned for a postage stamp – source)
The jetty still has been maintained, though is mostly used for crabbing and fishing from these days
We suspect little has changed since the last of the ships sailed into here in the 1940s

There’s a coastal walk/cycle which leads several kilometres to an Aboriginal reserve,

Lichen covered rocks along the coast

Other than a short walk, we did very little on Saturday, spending the day with Tassie, reading and drinking numerous cups of tea. A great opportunity to recharge the batteries before heading back to Adelaide for a few days.

A good ebook, a cool shady spot, a cold drink, and the company of Miss Tassie – what more could one want?

5-7 February: Off to the Yorke Peninsula

Author: Mrs A 

Location: Price, Ardrossan and Coobowie, Yorke Peninsula, South Australia

Leaving Adelaide, we drove to the Yorke Peninsula. Within an hour of Adelaide’s CBD life is so different, a flat, sparsely populated agricultural landscape, lined by salt marshes and sleepy seaside towns stretching out down a long boot shaped peninsula.

The Yorke Peninsula sits to the west of Adelaide

Europeans started to exploit it in the 1800s, mining salt, copper and gypsum, and clearing the land for agriculture. As we drove down on a grey Friday morning, the wind was whistling unencumbered across the flat landscape, making for quite a bleak yet beautiful environment. These days tourism is a big part of the region’s income, with 99% of visitors being from Australia, and 88% of these being from South Australia.

The tiny settlement of Price was our destination for the night. It sits a couple of kilometres from the coast, separated by samphire covered tidal flats. Samphire is a green succulent plant which lives in the salty water, and tastes a little like asparagus but with salty and spicy undertones. It’s apparently quite popular with top chefs around the world who are keen to integrate unique flavours in their dishes. I doubt it was on the menu at the local pub though, with strong smells of chips wafting down the street as we walked past…that plus the fact it is protected in Australia.

The Wheatsheaf Hotel est 1884 – we didn’t go in but heard the locals cackling at the end of the night!
The samphire tidal flats
A paperbark tree at the edge of the samphire flats

Price sits on the Walk the Yorke pathway, a 500km hike/cycleway which follows the peninsula coast, so we decided to stretch our legs along a nearby section.

Looking pretty stormy, but the worst of the weather is further north now
The tidal flats
Tough trees in these parts

The following morning we continued our journey south, stopping for a tea break and stroll at the next town of Ardrossan. Named after a settlement of the same name in the west of Scotland, the weather was somewhat Scottish, with blustery rain showers and strong wind. It did not take away from the beautiful palette of the scenery, with the coppery red clay cliffs, creamy yellow grasses and turquoise waters inspiring future paint colours.

Ardrossan
Stripes of colour in Ardrossan

We continued on our way, setting up in a busy campground at the interestingly named settlement of Coobowie. Meaning ‘wild fowl water’, the town is described by the tourism website as a water bird haven, a mecca for birdwatchers. We kept our eyes peeled as we did a windy walk around the coastline, spotting just the usual suspects of pelicans, black swans, seagulls, oystercatchers and lapwings. We walked along another section of the Walk the Yorke trail, but we’d suggest this segment was more suited to cycling, with somewhat uninspiring flat, straight trails. 

A shallow harbour – this boat was going nowhere
A Singing Honeyeater captures our attention
The tides go out a long way here
Feeling windblown on the beach

It was a lovely peaceful stopover. The following morning, Sunday, we packed up and continued down the coast to Hillocks Drive, a private property offering bush camping just north of Marion Bay, where we were to be joined by our friends Kim and Mike for a few days.

28-31 January: Back to the Adelaide Hills

Author: Mrs A

Location: Lobethal, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

After our cycle ride through the Barossa we farewelled Lindsay and Phil and drove across country to the small town of Lobethal in the Adelaide Hills. We parked up on a reserve beside the house of our friends Ali and Andy.

Lobethal went through a terrible experience in December 2019 when a catastrophic bush fire swept through the region surrounding the town. Many properties, vehicles, livestock and pets were destroyed in the event, but fortunately there was only one human life lost, a credit to the fire fighters’ efforts. That period is now known as the Black Summer.

Our friends were thankfully some of the lucky ones, and despite the flames reaching land just 150 metres away, their house remained undamaged. I am certain the memories of the flames and smoke billowing at all too close a distance will be with them for a while yet. After a couple of nights staying here we noticed a light dusting of very fine black ash sprinkled around our white Zone caravan surfaces, a constant reminder that is whipped up with the slightest breeze.

During our stay we noted that much of the surrounding forest is gradually recovering, with many of the trees covered in epicormic growth – new leaf cover and branches emerging from buds set deep within the tree’s bark. Bushland Park sits on the outskirts of Lobethal and was pretty hard hit by the fires. Not all the trees were able to rejuvenate, but many are covered in green 13 months later. We spotted a kestrel soaring above us, rosellas, honey eaters and wrens in the trees, it is clear that life is starting to return.

The new growth, where it happens, occurs up the length of the trunks and branches
Patches of surviving trees are surrounded by those that were engulfed by the flames
It was originally thought these leaves were too toxic for surviving koalas to eat, but apparently they can cope quite well eating this. We saw no koalas on our visit.
A couple of kangaroos watch us, totally still and well hidden in the undergrowth
Mr A walks down a path where the trees did not survive the flames – perhaps too young to cope with the heat and damage they sustained

The Adelaide Hills district is full of award winning wineries, but we decided to miss out on the wine tasting this time. Instead we were treated to several outstanding wines from Ali’s workplace in the Barossa Valley, Schild Estate. Rated by wine critic James Halliday as five stars, the drops she shared from here were spectacular…of course we have placed an order!

A small selection of our tastings

The temperatures had cooled to the mid 20s so it’s perfect hiking weather. Ali took us off to explore some local favourites. Mount Crawford Forest, a sustainable pine plantation intermingled with native gum trees was just 15 minutes drive away, offering picturesque and fairly flat walking with many native birds and a few nervous wallabies.

Ali, Mark and dogs Harry and Harvey stroll up a shady avenue between the trees.
Crispy, dry grass and gumtrees on the border of the plantation
Amazing colours of a river red gum tree’s bark, almost like a painting
I used to babysit this young lady! We’ve known one another for about 37 years now…

Hale Conservation Reserve was the location for another short walk, which packed a punch with it’s multitude of viewing points across the South Para Valley.

Hardy bushland flowers survive here despite little rainfall and poor soils
Hiking up a dry dusty path
Watch your head! The trees have plans of their own
A perfect rock to enjoy the quintessential Australian bushland view – glimpses of scorched earth amongst the scrub and eucalyptus trees
It’s a short walk (just over 4km) but we find a few opportunities to sit down and enjoy the landscape

It was a great walk – only spoilt at the end for me by an angry bee which chased me around the carpark trying to sting my face, eventually getting me on the wrist – ouch!

We enjoyed one night out at the local bierhaus for some beer tasting and delicious food. If you’re nearby, pop in for a plate of their hot wings – incredibly moorish!

Beer tasting flights are on offer here

Friendship, fine wine, fresh food and walking in the crisp clean air. All in all a lovely stay with a great family.

Seeing friends and family around the world still locked down and unable to spend time with their loved ones certainly makes us feel all the more grateful for being able to travel and enjoy a meal and drinks with friends.

South Australia has no current community cases of COVID-19 but we are all too aware of how this can quickly change. We will continue to make the most of the freedom Australia’s strict quarantine has afforded us and hopefully those trapped at home can travel vicariously with us….we hope you enjoy the journey!

21-22 January: South Australia hots up

Author: Mrs A

Location: Wellington, South Australia

We have had it really easy since we arrived back in Australia – temperate days, cool nights, fine weather for whatever activity we choose – cycling, hiking, kayaking…but today all that has changed.

We left our free camp on the edge of Lake Alexandrina, seeing the upcoming weather forecast. Temperatures up to 38°C today, going up into the mid 40s over the weekend mean that none of our favourite activities would be possible without heatstroke, and we couldn’t leave Miss Tassie in a hot caravan without air conditioning. So we drove 1.5 hours up the lake and parked up with power in a tiny village called Wellington on the banks of the River Murray, plugged in and set the aircon for a comfortable 25 degrees.

Travelling full time means we have to accept there will be days like this. In the UK, it was two days confined to our motorhome on top of a cliff in Wales, while gale force winds and rain lashed us, here it is the extreme temperatures and high fire risk.

By 5pm the wind was strong enough to add a little cooling, so we did a short walk around the three or four streets that make up the town, finishing our exploration at The Wellington – the local pub, affectionately known as ‘The Welly’.

Away from the river the landscape is incredibly dry – the combined effect of the sun and wind whipping away any moisture
The trees around Wellington are full of Little Corellas – acrobatic and noisy birds
As we walked they were swooping around the streets, starting to find somewhere to roost
Apparently the local council did a cull of the birds last year. They can cause damage to trees and property as well as being quite disruptive with their loud calls and squarks en mass..

Overlooking the free car-ferry across the Murray River, the pub has an extensive outdoor area, lush and green. We found a bench with a water view and ordered two portions of garfish and chips, washed down with a bottle of Clare Valley Chardonnay.

The entrance to The Welly
Water access
Definitely a day for a cold drink
Cheers!

We had a lovely peaceful night before departing this morning, heading towards Tanunda in the Barossa Valley. We’re pitching up at a friend’s house on their driveway for the upcoming long weekend, where the temperatures are threatening to be even hotter. More cold drinks could be on the agenda!

16-18 January: Getting civilised in Robe

Author: Mrs A

Location: Robe, South Australia

We have just spent three nights in a fishing town called Robe.

Broadly speaking, Australian town names are inspired by one of three things – somewhere in the UK that the original settlers harked over (think Clovelly, Hastings, Rye), the Aboriginal word for an area (or the European interpretation of it), or surnames of the pioneer governors, important politicians or their wives. In this situation, Robe was named after a South Australian Governor, Frederick Holt Robe back in 1846.

In the mid 1800s it was an important port, sending out wool from the South Australian farms. It also became a dropping off point for thousands of Chinese miners heading to the Victorian goldfields to try their luck and finding some of the rare metal. The Victorian government had a £10 landing tax (about $10,000 in today’s money) so they jumped off in Robe free of charge and tackled the 600 mile hike on foot, often finding low paid work on their journey. The cellar door at Bellwether (115km away) in the Coonawarra was built by transient Chinese workers who had walked from Robe, originally as a shearing shed. Many fortunes were made in Robe serving these migrant workers, something that is recognised in a Chinese memorial along the waterfront.

In recognition of the thousands of Chinese who passed through Robe before heading on their journey

After a period of decline in the late 1800s and early 1900s, lobster fishing took off, and coupled with the town reinventing as a holiday destination, Robe’s prosperity returned. Now tourism is a big part of the town’s success, with more than 9.4 million visitors per year, primarily Australians, and the seasonal lobster fishing remains big business.

Guichen Bay with its lovely turquoise waters
Boats emerging from the harbour off fishing

We first visited on a Christmas holiday trip back in 2012, and had always remembered our time fondly. One of the biggest changes we noticed since our last visit is the emergence of a stronger wine industry in the area. Eight years ago there was a tasting room showcasing the wines of the Coonawarra, this time there were more independent representatives of the emerging Limestone Coast region wineries.

We decided to check out one located on the outskirts of town after reading a glowing review in an online magazine, and jumped on our bikes.

Aunt Alice is a truly tiny boutique winery, with only four wines produced, two of which they were already sold out of when we arrived. Alice’s school teacher and artist husband was manning the cellar door and record player, and welcomed us in and offered us a tasting of their Pinot Noir and Shiraz.

We are a tough audience when it comes to Pinot Noir, preferring the barnyard complexity of wines from Central Otago in New Zealand to the lighter wines generally served in Australia. There are of course exceptions and we were surprised to find that this was one. We are out of space for buying more wine in our caravan cellar, but we found time to buy a glass and savour it in the afternoon sunshine. Well done Alice Baker, superb wine. We also tasted a very approachable Shiraz.

Aunt Alice Winery cellar door – an eclectic location with chickens roaming around and a large collection of cacti
Aunt Alice Pinot Noir – a lovely drop

Later that same day we found ourselves sampling more wine, this time from Woodsoak Wines on Robe’s high street. We caught a taxi into town and were dropped beside an outdoor tasting room hosted by Sonia and Will. The grapes are grown on Will’s family farm and until about 10 years ago were predominantly sold to other wineries. Their own wines are delicious – a sparkling white worthy of some of the bubbles we tasted in Champagne two years ago and many more tasty drops. It turned out that Alice Baker of Aunt Alice made some of their wine, as did Sue Bell of Coonawarra’s Bellwether Wines – it is such a small world!

There was nothing we did not like…if only our cellar was not so full! Fortunately they do sell online and deliver Australia-wide – so we’re storing that in the mind-bank for future reference.

A brilliant tasting experience with Sonia and Will – we will be future customers!

There are several lobster fishing boats in the marina which are busy in season (October to May). We were determined to try some, so booked a table at a local restaurant, Sails, and pre-ordered one for dinner.

The lobster fishing boats in the marina
Sails Restaurant

We were not disappointed. We enjoyed a light entree before our chargrilled lobster was presented – an absolutely delicious, melt in the mouth treat. This camping lark is not too shabby!

Our feast is served – garlic butter on the side for Mr A

After all that wining and dining, we thought it best that we do a little exercise, and so Sunday morning saw us up bright and early to do a short paddle on the nearby lakes. Robe is quite a windy location, so not always ideal for kayaking, but fortunately we stumbled upon a calm day.

Our new kayak inflated and ready to go
A stunningly calm morning on the network of lakes on the outskirts of Robe (paddle map)
Pelicans, spoonbills and gulls in the shallows

We travelled as far as we could, before the retreating tide in the lakes meant there was more walking than paddling and we decided to turn back. After lunch we decided to have a go at kayaking in the bay.

The water temperature in Robe’s Guichen Bay is about 17°C (only 2 degrees warmer than the chilly summer water in Cornwall, England) and the famous south-easterly breeze was blowing as well, which kept the temperatures right down. There were not too many people getting wet in the water down there when we launched.

Regardless of the wind, the kayak paddled really well, nothing like our inflatable packrafts, which are great in calm conditions, but are a struggle to manage in a stiff breeze. We powered across the bay towards the jetty, and enjoyed an easy ride back with the wind behind us (paddle map).

A sheltered corner of the beach to launch from
Amazing water colour here – looking a little wind blown
Paddling under the jetty
A few folk fishing here

A successful day’s kayaking ticked off.

Our final day was cloudy and cool, so we spent a morning doing sheet and towel washing (always a joy) and drove up to the next little village of Cape Jaffa for a look around. Not much to see there – more fishing, more four wheel driving on the beach, and very quiet. We had a quick look around before returning for the evening.

The jetty at Port Jaffa

We move on tomorrow, making our way towards the Barossa Valley for the weekend. I sense more wine in our future! 🍷