30 April-5 May: Streaky Bay – part 2

Author: Mrs A

Location: Streaky Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

As our regular readers will know, it is quite rare for us to spend much longer than three or four nights in one place, but on this trip we are making a habit of slowing right down, and with few hard deadlines to meet, we are following our guts. Streaky Bay has been a perfect location to stop and pause at. Not only a great camp site, but lots to see and do in the area.

We had visited the Department for Environment and Water to ask where the the best areas for seeing birds were, and one area highlighted was Sceale (pronounced scale) Bay Conservation Park, in particular a saltwater lagoon which lay behind the dunes. We drove over for a look.

We found quite dramatic scenery with the wind whistling across the water, a shallow lake edged with salt encrusted mud, but not a single bird in sight, not even footprints on the water’s edge. We had a short look around and decided to continue down to the coast and Sceale Bay itself.

Sceale Bay Conservation Park – a bird-free zone

We found yet another stunning beach stretching along towards some small shacks and houses which make up the settlement, and just two people on the beach. It is just incredible how few people there are everywhere, and we are just lapping up the isolation.

Sceale Bay Beach – stunning turquoise waters with a clean surf break

We returned to the Zone to get ready for dinner. Yes, after my nasty food poisoning episode, we had decided to brave it for a night out in town.

We had chosen a small cafe with water views called Drift. They had an interesting menu, with ingredients sourced from local areas, so we had great expectations.

Sadly, we were disappointed. While the shared plate of steamed dumplings were tasty, they seemed no different from the frozen ones we occasionally have in the caravan. We both chose a seafood marinara for our main dish, only to find all the prawn, calamari and scallop flavours completely swamped with bucket-loads of an incredibly sickly sweet tomato sauce. So disappointing.

The wine we chose was nice, but tainted by the young lady serving us snapping that we couldn’t take unfinished wine home, and therefore she wouldn’t give us the cap! Responsible service of alcohol regulations anyone? In their favour, neither of us ended up sick, so that was good. Overall, it was such a shame. We so wanted to support this small business.

A fine view for dinner, even if the food was disappointing

Saturday dawned overcast, so we followed part of the Westal Way loop drive (one of three loop drives from Streaky Bay which take visitors to several natural attractions) and made our way to Tractor Beach, just 20 minutes south. There’s council camping in a site by the beach and they provide free wifi and solar power charging at the beach shelter.

Charge up and get online by the beach shelter.

The sign at the beach was our first and only sighting of any mention of the local Aboriginal Wirangu communities which previously made this coast their home. We recognise their connection with this country and thank them for their custodianship over the past thousands of years.

We were the only two people exploring the beach of course, which stretched along to an ever-decreasing headland, slowly being worn away by the sea. Another picturesque afternoon’s outing, but still no sight of the sea-eagles or osprey which apparently call this coast their home.

A picturesque beach, particularly as the sun breaks through and shines across the bay
WIth tinges of pink on the skyline it almost looks like sunset – an eerie afternoon light

Our surprise sighting of a female Sea-lion last week had left us wanting more, so we took a drive out to Point Labatt, about a 50 minute journey south of Streaky Bay. The drive took us along the stunning Baird Bay, a relatively calm but expansive area of water surrounded by sand dunes and not a boat in sight. We are constantly amazed by the spectacular beauty we find here, with so little human impact to spoil it.

Finally at the point, we found ourselves at a viewing platform above one of Australia’s last remaining Sea-lion colonies. As mentioned in our last post, it is heart wrenching to think that these beautiful creatures could be extinct in the next 40 years unless something is done to change their demise now.

It was incredibly windy at the lookout, and we had to wrap up warm to stand there and watch the goings on below us. Both Australian and New Zealand fur-seals and Australian sea-lions make this location their home, protected from their main predators, the Great White sharks, by a reef out at sea.

Sea-lion paparazzi disguised as a cloud!

Female Sea Lions carry their pups for just under 18 months before they give birth, and then are pretty much ready to mate again within a week. Sadly only 3 out of every 10 pups will reach maturity.

A Sea Lion Pup feeding from mum on the beach
Sometimes mum is just good for a warm chin rest

Sea Lions differ from seals in that they have external ear flaps, and rather than flopping along on their bellies, they can walk on land using all four flippers. All females are light grey with yellow-cream chests and bellies, while the males are much darker and up to four times larger.

You can almost imagine a storyline here – the young pup having a whinge to mum and then hanging her head in shame as she’s told off by dad….
A couple of females facing off
It all gets a little more serious….
The battle is taken to the rock pools where they can move faster….there is a lot of splashing and others join in…is this mating ritual perhaps?
Still seem to be a few issues, some time later….
Later, there is a relationship counseling session which helps sort things out…they appear to kiss and make up
Another young pup wandering around the rocks calling out
An adult Sea Lion fresh from the ocean, having run the shark gauntlet and now relishing the feel of the sun
Sunbathing on the rocks – Sea Lions sharing their safe haven with Fur Seals (you can see one towards the back of the rocks, much darker and furrier than the Sea Lions) , gulls cormorants and terns

On Sunday we kept things more close to home, and took a walk up the coast from the campsite. We saw one person all afternoon, and he was stood at the shore fishing, just four metres from his car! We have the feeling that not too many people pick their way along this shoreline.

The coast is pretty rocky right to the water
A pair of Sooty Oystercatchers fly along the rocks

On Monday we drove south to Speeds Point. Speeds Point was the location of Australia’s first ever big-wave surf competition in 2009. It was certainly wild – what they call a high energy coast, with several collapses on the cliffs evident. Apparently scenic flight operators along this coast notice cliff collapses every day…something to bear in mind when standing near the edge capturing another spectacular scene.

Arriving at Speeds Point – you can see the huge waves in the background and the calm waters below
Speeds Point – relatively calm water on the right with wild surf on the left
A White-faced Heron and several Pied Cormorants rest on the rocks between fishing expeditions

From there we followed the Westall Way touring loop around, visiting Smooth Pool (an area of rock pools – it was busy with four wheel drives literally everywhere, so we didnt stop), Point Westall, and The Granites.

Mr A admiring Point Westall

The Granites was incredible. It’s a popular surf beach with some pretty big waves, especially off the point. We spent some time on top of the cliff watching the exhilaration of the surfers as they rode the breakers.

Woo hoo! This looked like fun…
Even bigger waves off the point – this surfer looks like an ant, but he’s actually over 6 foot tall!

Our final day in Streaky Bay has been spent doing final jobs and stocking up at the small supermarket in anticipation of not having any shops for the upcoming week. I encouraged Mark to join me on the historical tour of the town – it took us around the old hospitals, shepherd’s hut, monuments and official buildings. It was a nice opportunity to stretch our legs without getting sandy or dusty, or having to watch our step walking over rocks. We also got our flu vaccines – given we cannot get our Covid vaccines here yet (and it is extremely unlikely we are going to catch it anyway) we thought we should be protected from something!

Our time finished off with another fine sunset. I made sure to take advantage of seeing it set over the water. It’s likely to be a while before we get to enjoy such sights again.

Sunset over Streaky Bay

26-29 April: Streaky Bay – Part 1

Author: Mr A

Location: Streaky Bay, South Australia

Leaving the east coast of the Eyre peninsula for now we decided we had unfinished business with the west coast, and headed off on what turned into a longish drive from Tumby Bay to the small coastal settlement of Streaky Bay. We had briefly visited here before on a previous “lap” of Australia, but hadn’t had time to explore.

Streaky Bay was home to the Wiringu people for “thousands of years”….I hate being forced to use that generalisation, but with almost no archeological research I could find having been done in the area, it has to suffice. So we acknowledge the Wiringu people as the traditional custodians of the land that we now call Streaky Bay. In their oral history they record what is thought to be their first contact with white people, when the Dutch sailing ship Golden Zeepard moored up in the harbour in 1727. After the “Waterloo Bay massacre” that happened in 1849, which is not far away, the Streaky Bay area become a no go area for those First Australians who had up until then survived dispossession of their lands and denial of access to their traditional water holes.

Today Streaky Bay grows as a tourist destination for, amongst other groups, caravaners like us, as well as a small fishing industry and wheat growing inland. The draw for many tourists is getting a line out in the bay, where the delicious king george whiting and garfish lurk. We have sampled both and from the local shop, and they are indeed quite outstanding. The local pacific oysters are also top class, the clean waters of the bay no doubt driving their quality.

We booked for a couple of nights at the Streaky Bay Islands Caravan park, a few kilometers out of town, and yes you can guess why they called it that. Well two nights turned into ten! We found it a really comfortable park to settle in. Clean, spacious sites, nice and quiet at night, it ticked all our boxes. With no town water to draw on, they have even built their own desalination plant!

The view from Streaky Bay Islands caravan park…

Not being into fishing, we find ourselves in a small minority of folk here, so we have to be creative about finding stuff to do. There are a few nice coastal drives to take with photo opportunities. We took one to a place called Whistling Rocks. – where the blow holes createsmore of a thundering than a whistling.

A footpath through the dunes
The high energy coastline
Mrs A at the lookout at Whistling Rocks
A calmer bay just around the corner

An evening walk from the campsite through the dunes rewarded us with an amazing sunset. These are big, big skies.

Signs of a fine sunset to come as we clamber through the dunes
The tide conveniently went out at the same time, giving some perfect reflections in the rock pools
The last rays of sunshine before it dips below the horizon to the west

Another day saw us cycling into town, on the well graded shared path. Of course despite hundreds of people staying at the caravan park, we were the only cyclists we saw all day! Eagle Eye Catherine then spotted a sea lion cruising around off the jetty, looking (successfully) for lunch.

The jetty at Streaky Bay – Catherine spotted something looking like a dolphin or seal to the right of this and we rushed over to look
We find an Australian Sea Lion diving for fish
And she is successful (females have white tummies) – clearly worth the 40km swim round from the colony then!
Those yellow teeth look like they need to see a dentist!
And after a few minutes, she’s off, hunting elsewhere

After being hunted in Australian waters in the 19th century, they are like many other of our flora and fauna, listed as endangered. This means they’re declining at greater than 50% over three generations. Commercial fishing, marine pollution and climate change, all are now contributory factors to a continually declining population. as well as an infection that every pup gets called hookworm. You can now find Sea Lions in only 80 breeding colonies along the coast of South (80%) and Western Australia. If you have grandkids, they are likely to read about their extinction in the wild unless something drastic is done now to prevent it. Which, given current initiatives and priorities of budget spending, looks unlikely. Some projects are underway, such as the University of Sydney’s with a vaccine for hookworm on Kangaroo Island, but it’s not looking good. It is all rather depressing I know, but not much point sugar coating it and just sharing the nice pictures?

We continued our mission to find shorebird sites, and with the help of a guy from the Department of the Environment, we did. The last part of the trip took us down a sandy narrow track, and after the Landcruiser nudged its way though one to many tight, prickly spots, we abandoned it and walked. It was a hot dusty slog, but we were rewarded with some awesome sightings as we found the spot where the little creek met the ocean. Plenty of fishing going on here. Check out the great egret sequence – I just keep looking at the grace and beauty of this bird that Catherine has captured so beautifully. And these Singing Honeyeaters are everywhere, their song piercing the silence of the bush.

Memories to cherish.

A pair of White-faced Herons fly past
Pelicans and cormorants sheltering on a sandbank at high tide
Great Egret taking flight
Great Egret
Singing Honeyeater

22-26 April: Reuniting with old friends in Tumby Bay

Author: Mrs A

Location: Port Lincoln and Tumby Bay, South Australia

Despite being the same size as England and Wales combined, having such a small population means medical provisions on the Eyre Peninsula are rudimentary at best. Residents (and visitors) requiring specialist tests and scans need to make a several hundred kilometre drive or an hour’s flight to hospital in Adelaide.

Being on the road long-term means Mark and I cannot ignore our health needs, and as such have to fit in tests and checkups as we go. We returned to Port Lincoln for two nights to enable Mr A to pop over to Adelaide for a scan.

Mark took an early flight across to South Australia’s capital, donning a compulsory face mask for the trip, the first time a face covering has been required since we were in a supermarket in Victoria, and arrived in Adelaide right on time about an hour later. He spent much of the day shopping and exploring the city, with some tests at a central hospital mid afternoon.

Mr A in his Darth Vader face mask scaring passengers on the flight to Adelaide

I meanwhile was still recovering from the dreaded food poisoning, my delicate stomach still not happy to receive food and drink. Thankfully with the help of some pills, I was finally able to consume my first nutrition in a week on Friday evening.

I had a very relaxed morning, using the drizzly weather as an excuse to do some washing and reading. It cleared up by lunchtime, so I went for a walk around Boston Bay to see whether I could find any wildlife – particularly hopeful I might find a Nankeen Kestrel we’d spotted on our last visit here.

Well, I couldn’t believe my luck. When I had walked no more than about 50 metres I spotted her sat there on the roof of a Marine Sciences building. She sat there quietly for a few minutes before taking flight. I didn’t see her again that afternoon.

Right on cue, a stunning female Nankeen Kestrel poses for a photo

In the flowering gums and trees along the bayside walk were many New Holland Honeyeaters, often feeding their young, quickly chasing flies and drinking nectar from flowers. They have so much character you could watch them for hours.

A New Holland Honeyeater pauses mid chase
Délicate toes curl around a twig
A green eyed Pied Cormorant on the shore

And returning to camp, the local pelicans were out in force waiting for fishing scraps, including this chap who watched from way up high on a street light, a favourite perch.

Patricia Pelican watching from a favourite perch

Mark arrived home safe and sound by 9pm that night, having had his tests plus enjoyed an afternoon shopping in the big smoke.

The following morning we farewelled Port Lincoln, we think for the last time, and drove just 40 minutes up the coast to the little town of Tumby Bay.

Our farewell sunrise at Port Lincoln

Tumby Bay was our opportunity to catch up with some friends, Phil and Libby who are travelling around South Australia with Phil’s cousins. Usually they live up in Brisbane – it’s been more than two years since we last saw them.

We got chatting about their trip so far, and Libby laughed that both of their caravans’ televisions had sustained some damage on the journey, and Phil had needed to weld a connection back on. Coincidentally, I had noticed just the day before that a connection on the back of OUR television had sheered off this time as well! Phil didnt hesitate to get out his welding gear, unscrew the back of our television and get busy fixing it for us. What super generous people.

Mr A looking a bit nervous handling welding gear
Mr A helping Phil with the TV repair

Libby is also an excellent photographer, so took me off onto the nearby golf course looking for birds. There were plenty there:

A Singing Honeyeater hanging out with a rather hunched over Dusky Woodswallow
Black-faced Woodswallow
Phil and LIbby also own a Zone RV off-road caravan

We had a brilliant evening with the four of them, sharing a delicious roast pork and vegetables cooked on two barbecues, and consumed sat around a cosy fire. We had lots of laughs and a wonderful night, reminding us how much we miss spending time with friends in person.

A roaring fire – Mr A and Phil’s cousin Wayne

Sunday morning was ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day, so Mr A joined Phil and Libby at the dawn memorial service held down at the waterfront. I had not had a good night’s sleep, so took the opportunity for an extra hour in bed, paying my respects later on. Mark said it was a lovely ceremony, with mounted horses marching along the beach and the last post played eerily though the dawn silence.

A beautiful setting for the dawn service

Our friends were heading south to Port Lincoln next, so we said our goodbyes with a final team photo.

Cheese! We hope we meet again some time….maybe later this year?

Mark and I went into Tumby Bay for a proper look around in the daylight. It’s a sleepy little town, very well kept, neat and tidy, with a long jetty just perfect for catching fish from. There are quite a few murals, part of the Tumby Bay Street Art Festival held in 2018.

Such a peaceful morning on the seafront
Some of the street art on the waterfront – an old clock tower depicting historical Tumby Bay and a former art gallery with images representing holiday makers on the beach
The huge grain silos tower over the little town, by far the tallest building around. They have a gorgeous mural depicting two boys jumping in the water
We spotted a couple of dolphins swimming in the bay here

We returned for a relaxing afternoon, and I went for a stroll around the golf course again, spotting more bird life. It’s a great location for seeing our feathered friends.

A flock of noisy Gallahs call this area home
Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil? Three magpies keep watch in the shade
A Willie Wagtail I watched for quite some time as it swooped artfully through the air chasing insects
Tiny little Diamond Firetail – they don’t stop still for long. When they fly you see a great flash of red on their tails. Hard to see when they’re seated.
Diamond Firetails
Radioactive Dusky Woodswallow in the late afternoon sun
A Singing Honeyeater searching for berries on the ground
One of many White-Browed Babblers (often called the ‘Twelve Apostles’ because of the noisy gangs they hang out in!)

It was a lovely couple of nights’ stay before we head back over to the west coast of the peninsula again.

We respectfully thank and acknowledge the Barngarla first nation community for their custodianship of this part of the Eyre Peninsula over the past thousands of years.

18-22 April: Coffin Bay without the oysters

Author: Mr A

Location: Coffin Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australa

Unfortunately Mrs A still hasn’t recovered from her food poising, so no Coffin bay oysters for her, and so I abstained in sympathy. Poor thing, it’s been a bad one.

Anyway she was still keen to get out for a couple of walks, amazingly energetic given all she has consumed for the last 5 days have been two pots of apple purée, a couple of bananas, and dry crackers.

We set off from our campsite in the small town of Coffin Bay and immediately almost bumped into some wallabies, as you do. We had a bit of a eye starring competition, we lost and we moved on. A grey flycatcher came to say hello next, this was looking like a promising walk!

Bush Wallaby
Bush Wallaby
A Grey Flycatcher stopping for a brief rest from chasing insects

The path took us along the side of the bay, and in the late afternoon sunshine it was glorious, with a very brief and distant cameo appearance from a dolphin. They actually have their own species here, first identified in 2015. Only in Australia.

Looking out towards Mount Dutton
We spotted one of Coffin Bay’s rare dolphins from here
Sunset over Coffin Bay
Sunset over Coffin Bay

Once again this was a walk completely devoid of other walkers, other than one guy headphones on marching back to his isolated shack on the edge of the bay.

The following day we took a drive to Coffin Bay National Park and did a 9k circuit from Yangie Bay. We saw one other couple and a family. Positively bustling.

Great views over Mount Dutton and the Marble Range as we drive into the park
View over Yangie Bay Marine Sanctuary Zone – a kayaking paradise
Looking out over the bay

There wasn’t much wildlife about on the walk out to Yangie Island, but after we had quietly sat for a few minutes, Mrs A spotted a small flock of rarely seen Rock Parrots fly down to the samphire salt flats nearby to feed. Out came the big lens, somewhat relieved as I’d carried the thing nearly 5km without a hint of a reason to get it on the camera. It certainly made it worthwhile, we hadn’t knowingly seen this species before. They are quite stunning don’t you think?

Rarely seen Rock Parrots, usually only spotted flying away, if at all. They nest in offshore islets in disused bird burrows or under boulders. The live in this area, and a few discreet regions along the Western Australian coast.
Olive green, blue and yellow, they are very well hidden on the ground. There are always a couple on lookout while the others feed. Like with many species, numbers of these little birds are in decline.

On the way back we realised we were on a wildlife roll when a couple of emus came strutting over the path a few metres in front of us. They are odd looking creatures. Never tire of watching them.

Spot the Emu – they’re very well disguised despite their size

A short while later, we rounded a corner to find a couple of wallabies which were as surprised as us to find each other eye to eye.

Strolling back to Yangie Bay

So a pretty good walk on the bird and animal front, and the views not too shabby either. A nice way to end this trip down the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula.

Tomorrow its “the big smoke” of Port Lincoln and then a bit of a look up the east coast that we dashed down a month ago.

12-16 April: Elliston – A magnificent seascape with a troubled history

Author: Mr A

Location: Elliston, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

The small settlement of Elliston sits on the edge of the grand seascape of Waterloo Bay, along a wild stretch of coast that is otherwise deserted. The massive stretch of the Nullarbor awaits if you are travelling west. The tip of the Eyre Peninsula beckons 200km to the south east. The town itself was unremarkable, as so many of Australia’s small settlements are, but the natural context it sits in was awe inspiring.

The sun catches this wave as it curls into Waterloo Bay

Home to the Wirangu people for thousands of years. and visited by other Aboriginal groups such as the Nauo and Kokatha, we acknowledge their tenure and connection to the land. The Wiragnu were driven from the area by European settlers and lost their traditional fishing and hunting grounds. There was conflict as the Warangu people fought back against this, with casualties on both sides, culminating in a massacre just outside what is now Elliston, in May 1849.

I immersed in this grim story on a wet afternoon, which has put Elliston on the map as a case study in a chapter of what Australia calls “the history wars”. The ongoing debate about what happened during Australia’s colonisation by the British and the impact that had on the Aboriginal population. In this sad chapter in Elliston, on the one side lie the white setters’ records of what happened, written mainly by the police involved, and on the other the oral tradition passed down by the Warangu elders.

The town refused to accept the Wiragnu version of events, that scores of their people had been massacred by driving them off the steep cliffs of Waterloo Bay, until a mayor sympathetic to their version, brought matters to a head by wanting to raise a memorial to the event, and use the word “massacre”. This was fiercely contested by those who felt the more reliable record was of the white fellahs, that only two of the Warangu people had been killed.

Today we now have police body cams and video from bystanders, to get a bit more of a balanced view of events. The Warangu could only pass down their story. In the end the town hired an anthropologist to investigate. His conclusion was that a large group of Witrangu (he thought around 25) had in fact been slaughtered and that within the Wirangu’s oral history “It’s far more likely that there would be a lot of facts in them than in some of the histories written by settlers who had their own events to portray and their own events to hide.”. Did the initiative help with reconciliation as the mayor intented? Looking at some of the vitriol from anonymous people still posting comments about it, I’m not so sure.

The memorial on the headland. It is carefully worded: ‘This monument commemorates an incident referred to by the traditional owners of this land as ‘The Massacre of Waterloo Bay’. A number of Aboriginal people were killed near this site in May 1849 by a party of settlers.’

And there you have it as a case study of how individuals at local level try to heal this country’s hidden wounds, part of the “historical truth telling”, but there’s a long way to go, (good summary if you’re interested to read more) and certainly at the moment other priorities that will take precedence. Like getting the country vaccinated!

If you are interested in reading how Europe, and particularly Germany, has tackled the their historical truth telling, and acknowledging the role they played in the conflict that engulfed the world, I can throughly recommend a book called “Those Who Forget”. The author, born to a German father and French mother, investigates her family’s role in the Second World War and the how it took until the mid 1980s before Germans found a way to talk about their past honestly at a national level. A message in her writing for any county who hasn’t dealt with its past, you will never properly move on.

We spent a few days exploring the area, around Elliston, walking along the cliffs, admiring the power of the waves, and usually we could do so without another soul about. Given it‘s still school holidays and our caravan park is full, its once again a surprise how few people get out of their cars and walk. Lucky for us!

We took our time, watching a White-faced Heron fishing for supper
And it’s got one! Our Heron snaffles a little fish
A huge wave crashes into Little Bay
A Little Tern flies in to land on the beach

We drove a short way up the coast and had a wander around a large wetland area, looking pretty dry at this time of the year, and again saw no one. Not many birds either sadly, but thats your chance. A few sandpipers and lapwings, plus a Nankeen Kestrel as we drove in (minus camera to hand!).

A dry dusty salt pan – not looking likely to be any birds around
A little water where there are springs – towering sand dunes behind the lake
Common Sandpipers
Masked Lapwing

Full timing in a mobile home, with plumbing not really designed to be more than a holiday escape pod, means you will get some issues. This time it was only a blocked shower drain, and the purchase of a plunger and some help from the lovely park owners with their drain cleaning fluid, and our pipes were once again sorted. At least there was no $100 an hour plumber’s bill. Most stuff is fixable, especially with the knowledge base of the group of owners that we tap into through a Facebook site.

We took advantage of being close to a pub and had a couple of hearty dinners there, meeting the new landlord who has (bravely I think) taken on the project of making this place pay. Its a very small town, with two seasonally busy caravan parks on the route to or from Western Australia. We also met a couple of long distance cyclists having a much needed refuel there over dinner, Tara and Sara, who were riding across Australia west to east on push bikes. (https://www.cyclingoz.com). What a heroic pair!

Tara and Sara before they left on their courageous trip

They are raising money for a couple of charities to support their work with those suffering from mental health issues. I can imagine having ridden a few (relatively) long distance rides what a gruelling challenge they have taken on. If you can spare a few dollars, I’m sure they would appreciate it. We lost a friend a few years ago to depression, and it will haunt me forever thinking of what could have been done differently to have him still in our lives. Lifeline was the recipeient of our donation, a charity that deserves our support when so many of their traditional fund raising events have been postponed or cancelled.

We enjoyed out time in this small town (in England it would be called a village), everyone we met made us welcome. We have not once experienced the “bloody tourists” type of vibe that we have sometimes experienced elsewhere. We took time to have some conversations, and get a little insight into their lives, and perhaps there’s a connection?

In the past, we’ve always had an agenda to drive us, one that involves tackling the huge distances there usually are in between spots that are interesting. We don‘t have that sense of urgency on this trip. And that’s wonderful.

In 2002 members of the Elliston community initiated Sculpture on the Cliffs as part of the state-wide Encounter 2002 commemoration, a bicentennial celebration of the meeting of Matthew Flinders’ and Nicholas Baudin’s navigating vessels on the South Australian coastline in 1802.

We took a drive around the Elliston Sculpture Trail – finding gulls, flip flops (‘Thongz’), fish, seahorse, an eagle’s nest and giant heads. Catherine stands beside a Latvian Mara which is meant to represent Mother Earth.
Waterloo Bay
Heading off for an evening stroll along the coast
We spy rain ahead – time to leave!

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.

1-9 April: A week in Port Lincoln

Author: Mr A

Location: Port Lincoln, Eyre Peninsula South Australia

It was time to leave behind Adelaide and put some miles between us and what we expected to be the frenzied crowds escaping the city for the Easter and school holidays. With international travel currently off the agenda for all Australians, we expected everywhere to be heaving. We were wrong. We soon leant that South Australia doesn’t do busy like New South Wales!

We had chosen as our destination the Eyre Peninsula, a 700km road trip to the west of Adelaide, and an area we had visited briefly and liked some years ago. An area slightly smaller than the combined area of England and Wales, the peninsula only has a population of 273,000, as compared to just under 60 million for England and Wales! Yup, social distancing isn’t a big issue here.

The peninsula is the source of much of Australia’s great quality seafood, not just the world famous Coffin Bay oysters, but a smorgasbord of other shellfish and yummy produce from the deep clean water off the coast. Tuna, squid, lobster, sand crab, and the largest commercial fishing fleet in Australia is based in the main town on the peninsula, Port Lincoln. We had booked a couple of nights in a caravan park there anticipating the Easter rush, that never came. Port Lincoln is actually officially designated as a city given it is a regional centre. but I refuse to call it that as it will conjure up the wrong idea in your head. This is a small, small, town. But first, we had to get there.

The Eyre Peninsula by plane is a short hop due west of Adelaide. By road its a 670km slog down some pretty straight and yawn-inducing roads. We broke the journey at a spot flagged as a free camp. No facilities, just a patch of gravel and a heck of a view, with some resident wildlife, including native birds, a skink, and unfortunately, a million flies.

Looking towards the Flinders Ranges – you can see the water pipeline following the road
Masked Woodswallow
Black-faced Woodswallows and flocks of Zebra Finches whizz through the scrub
Zebra Finch
Looking good in stripes – a Leonhard’s Skink hunting for termites, spiders and grasshoppers
Sunset over the Flinders Ranges, a hint of what we would like to visit in the future

Unfortunately our admiration for the scenery was somewhat tainted by the fact that our caravan steps refused to lower! This has happened before and usually a good clean, squirt of silicon spray and a curse or two usually sorts it. Not this time. A help message out to a Facebook group of other Zone owners, and we soon have ideas flowing in of fixes to try. Wonderful thing social media, sometimes. Well we tried everything to no avail so made a dash down to Port Lincoln and called in on spec to a caravan repairer there we had used before, Port Lincoln Caravan Centre.

I thought the Thursday before the Easter Holidays we might be ushered away, but no, they were immediately under the van testing a few things. Great service, and once again demonstrating that South Australia wasn’t as busy as we anticipated. Sadly the upshot was a new set of steps. So we booked in for the following week hoping the parts would arrive on time. Looks like Port Lincoln was going to be our home for a little longer than planned. Well that wasn’t going to be too arduous to bear when we saw the site we had been allocated! No, that’s not a painting of an idyllic bay dotted with islands above Tassie’s head, that is our view!

Site P9 if you’re making a booking! A room with a view

Looks like it was going to be a tough stay, with sea and island views, and a walking/cycling track running right past our front door!

So let’s acknowledge the Barngarla nation as the traditional owners of the land on which this thriving fishing port and service centre now stands. In the Barngarla language Port Lincoln was called Galinyala (meaning “sweet water”). Sadly it took an Israeli to have the interest and commitment to capture the Barngarla language, which by 2012 was at risk of being lost completely. Just like 50% of the other 250 languages spoken by First Australians when Europeans first arrived. Now there’s even an app you can download to learn the language.

Much has changed since the elders of this nation guided European explorers to where they could find those “sweet water” supplies in the early days of contact at the beginning of the 19th century. Now Port Lincoln has to bring in its water by pipeline from aquifers, so having our own patch of green grass on our pitch seemed a luxury. A desalination plant just along the coast has been discussed since 2014, and finally now tenders have gone out.

Port Lincoln sits on the largest natural harbour in Australia, Boston Bay, and is home to the largest commercial fishing fleet in the country, with massive money being made fattening blue fin tuna for the Japanese sashimi market. It’s an interesting coastline with heaps of onshore islands, so we thought we best get ourselves out exploring.

We set off to have a wander down the walking trail along the coast, and spied through the new telephoto a few birds along the way. We particularly love the red wattlebird, Catherine captured him perfectly poised.

Perfectly poised – a Red Wattlebird pauses in the midst of chasing a moth along the Parnkalla Trail
And we have take-off!

The marina we walked to is home to the multi-million dollar mansions these hard working fisherman have now been able to build, courtesy of the Japanese hunger for sashimi from the blue fin tuna.

The marina where the multi-million dollar homes of the tuna fisherman line the entrance

The next day we were up at sunrise and were soon gliding through the clear blue waters, eyes peeled for the ospreys that nest along this coast. We don’t take the risk of having the zoom lens out on the ocean, so you will have to believe us when we tell you through our binoculars we spotted an Eastern Osprey atop this mast surveying for breakfast.

Sunrise promises a fine Good Friday ahead
Dali would be proud of these melting reflections on this still morning
Spot the osprey!
Early morning sun on the untouched harbourside beaches
Very rare we see water this still – not a breath of wind
It doesn’t get more perfect than this
A Sand Crab hastily reversing itself into a hiding place under the sand as we arrive back

Not a breath of wind rustled the silky surface, in our limited experience this is unusual down this coast, so we felt privileged to be out on such a calm morning.

That night I hard reserved us a table at Del Giorno’s, what every web site says is “the best place to eat in Port Lincoln”, and we were expecting a rather upmarket affair. However, when we were seated at our little rickety wooden table, we glanced up to be a little taken aback to see a young guy sitting opposite practically topless with a baggy singlet and armpits and chest on view everywhere. Are we snobs? Probably. It certainly wasn’t what we expected from the the many accolades the place had. I queried the waiter about it and found his reply fascinating as it captured regional Australia, and its culture so precisely. . His reply “In Port Lincoln you never know who has the money, certainly not based on how they dress, as they like to wear what they want, and don’t like to be told what to do”. Fair enough. So Catherine as usual stood out looking classy and simply fabulous! I have to say the seafood was delicious and so it should have been for $100 p/head with a bottle of wine. No nice glasses or tableware, just good food. So we formed our little (snobby) bubble and enjoyed the evening.

Standing out in regional Australia
Mr and Mrs Anderson at sunset

We were based a 15 minute drive from Lincoln National Park, and the next day we set off for what would be the first of several trips to explore this gem of a place. We hiked a loop trail with the zoom lens all ready, but Mrs A quickly changed back to the landscape lens though when we rounded this corner and were confronted with this awesome beach and glittering blue water.

Yachties Beach
Looking out at Carcasse Rock
Yachties Beach

Before you ask, no we didn’t swim…barely 20 degrees for goodness sake 🙂 We did stop though and have a magnificent lunch Mrs A had prepared. Now kale salad with tinned sardines might not have your taste buds watering, but in Catherine’s hands its turned into a gourmet meal with her boxes of herbs, spices. and fresh sauces. And what a spot to eat it in.

Arriving at Yachties Beach

Suitably fortified we tackled the rest of the loop, and with the temperature in the sun reaching over 30 degrees, calories were burnt and thirsts were developed. A few of our feathered friends were spotted through the mallee scrub, but it was a little light on, other than this endangered hooded plover.

A young Hooded Plover picking through the seaweed

When you look at why they are endangered, the main culprit is them being scared away from their nests by cars roaring down the beaches, and dogs and humans getting too close to their nests. Sadly Australia has one of the worst track records of any country in the world for wildlife loss. Since Europeans arrived, over 100 unique flora and fauna have been lost. This article provides a pretty comprehensive summary of all the bad news. I’m not sure if there is a connection, but on the walks we did over three days in the park, we didn’t see one other person walking. The only people we did see were sitting at their campsites or near their car on the beach. That’s quite astonishing, don’t you think, on an Easter holiday weekend? So if there isn’t a love of walking though the bush by the majority, spending the estimated $12.5B it would take to reverse this wildlife loss isn’t going to win any votes. So it won’t happen.

Another short drive took us to an other worldly landscape of a salt lake. These places are just so the opposite of the type of the lush country were spent most of last year in. Fascinating to wander through and just listen to the silence.

Pillie Lake
Interesting scenery at Pillie salt lake
Looking across Lincoln National Park

We then drove round to a lookout, and just ambled along the cliff top, watching the pacific gulls gliding though the thermals. then pointed our binoculars at this rock pinnacle.

The sea stack…through binoculars we spotted a nest, and on top of the nest, an Osprey

Catherine spotted an osprey perched on top as bold as you like. I guess she felt pretty unassailable up there! A few minutes later and we watched a juvenile White-breasted Sea Eagle cruise on past us. Then an aerial dog fight between the eagle and a Pacific gull. Breathtakingly beautiful. What mastery of flight. Finally a bottle nose dolphin briefly popped out for a breath of air, unfortunately when Mrs A didn’t have her zoom lens on.

Wanna Lookout, looking down towards Sleaford Bay
Pacific Gull soaring past
Osprey
Juvenile White-breasted Sea Eagle gliding on the currents
Eagle being chased off by gull
Even a Bottlenose Dolphin showed up (wrong lens on though!)

Another short drive along the coast took us to yet another awesome lookout at Sleaford Bay, a photographers paradise. A white faced heron stood proudly surveying its patch. Sooty Oystercatchers on the shore.

The photographer in action
Sleaford Bay looking towards the dunes and Wanna Lookout
Sleaford Bay looking towards the Whaler’s Way
White-faced Heron on the edge of the cliff, sheltering from the wind. Never seen such magnificent colouring
Sooty Oystercatchers on the beach
Feeling lucky to be alive

Our last trip from Port Lincoln took us to Sleaford Mere, a coastal lake. Yes it makes you want to just shout for joy to see such vibrant colours, and still no Easter holiday hordes!.

The lake sits in a natural limestone depression
Stromatolites are present here along the water’s edge
Feels like we have landed on another planet

Another day, another walk, and another stunning beach. This is such a beautiful part of Australia. And once again, we have the walks completely to ourselves, despite the campsites scattered around all looking full. This really has been a great week, thanks to our broken step! If it wasn’t for that we would have probably just rushed on with our desire to see “what’s round the next corner”. Instead we realised how much just this one corner of the Eyre Peninsula has to offer.

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.

18-23 March: Berri nice…groan

Author: Mr A

Location: Renmark and Berri, The Riverland (Ngarrindjeri), South Australia

We only stayed one night at Renmark, a small town on the banks of the Murray river, and according to a couple of sources, originally home to the Naralte people, about which I confess I can find absolutely nothing.

However, research published last year, led by Flinders University in collaboration with the River Murray and Mallee Aboriginal Corporation (RMMAC), has accurately radiocarbon dated a site near Renmark as having been occupied 29,000 years ago. That’s before the last Ice Age! And yet that news doesn’t even warrant a mention by Renmark town council on their site, or any other related tourism site. This is how ingrained the dismissal of our deep history is in Australia. I just can’t imagine many places in the world that would discover a site of such antiquity and the local people pay such little respect or interest. We hope drawing the attention of our readers goes some way to acknowledging the achievements of our First Peoples. They looked after Millewa, or Yorta, as the Murray is called, for all those thousands of years. Thank you.

Now the Murray around Renmark is home to ski boats who take their baffles out to make the noise on our camp site almost deafening, combine that with the continuous rumble of road trains crossing the bridge at the end of the camp site, and we changed our booking to one night! We did go for a wander in the only marked walking trail in town, which turned out to be also used as a road. Catherine managed to get some good pictures given all of that.

Lock 5 – one of several locks on the River Murray that ensure the river continues to be navigable

Look at that euro (kangaroo), no matter how many we see, they still delight us. That wasp larvae also elicited quite a few “ooh’s” and “ah’s from us as well. Never seen anything like them, and thats one of the joys of Australia, we still keep coming across new to us flora and fauna.

Beautiful paper bark
A Euro in the woods
Crested Pigeons an increasingly common sight, their populations growing with land clearance
Honeyeater
White-plumed Honeyeater
Yellow Rosella
Bizarre SawFly Wasp Lavae – about the length of your little finger and wiggling out of a hole in the ground. Check out our Instagram feed for a video of these guys in action!

We moved a short way down the river and have spent a long weekend at a caravan park on the traditional lands of the Meri (or Meru) tribe, a people who I have also struggled to find out anything about. All I know is that native title was finally recognised for them and and other Murray River First Peoples in 2011, after a 13 year battle. It grants “non-exclusive rights” (so not so much really?) to “access, hunt, fish, camp, gather and use natural resources, undertake cultural activities, conduct ceremonies and meetings, and protect places of cultural and religious significance” in some 47,500 square kilometres along and around the river.

In total 37% of Australia now has a recognised native title interest in it, which is managed by a body corporate. What that really gives in practical benefit and influence, I’m still trying to read about and understand.

Berri

Berri had little to interest us to be honest. Its a small settlement based around the bridge of the Murray. We just needed to have a few days out of the dust of the Mallee country. And what happens on the first night? We have a dust storm 🙂 Another cleaning session in the caravan required! They have a lovely pool, and in the afternoon heat we retired to the cool of the water. The Murray’s muddy brown water, thanks to the carp, didn’t appeal.

This is Wilabalangaloo Reserve, gifted to the community (National Trust) and run by local volunteers. It is a wonderful place to wander in the early morning before the heat drove us back indoors.

Early morning on top of the cliffs that line the Murray River
A great look out – bandage hiding a minor graze that the flies flocked to!
Female Rose Robin
A pair of Red-Rumped Parrots
These parrots flit around in noisy flocks in the morning sun
An ochre quarry – this orange pigment would have been traded with other Aboriginal groups as paint colour

We had a walk round a Martin’s Bend reserve on a couple of mornings, giving Catherine a chance to practice her zooming and catching birds in the act of hiding from her.

A couple of fishermen disturb the stillness of the morning
A couple of really tall people
An unlikely pair of friends – a White-plumed Honeyeater sitting beside a Dusky Woodswallow
Finally a Red-rumped Parrot shows us the red rump!
Wallabies grazing in the early morning cool
A female Superb Fairy-wren catches a fine breakfast
Our Dusky Woodswallow spots a spider and makes short work of it
A Masked-woodswallow surveying the breakfast bar
Our Masked Woodswallow catches a dead leaf for breakfast – not such a tasty morsel. Perhaps it looked like a moth in the breeze?
A Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater joins in the fun
A Yellow Rosella emerging from its nest in the hollow branch
A magnificent sunset brings us out at mosquito o’clock to capture the scene at dusk

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