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?

7-11 February: Rugged coastline, perfect beaches and turquoise waters – the best campsite ever?

 Author: Mr A

Location: Hillocks Drive, Marion Bay, Yorke Peninsula 

Our caravanning friends, Kim and Mike, had told us about this pretty special place that they had been coming to for years with their family, at the bottom of the Yorke Peninsula. Well they certainly have sent us to a little slice of paradise!

As we pulled up in the van, even with grey skies, the view was just breathtaking. We had travelled 70km down a dirt road off the highway, then through a locked gate at the entrance to the private property called Hillocks Drive that stretched for miles along this remote bit of coastline. 

Can you spot our Zone up on the dunes overlooking Coffin Beach?
We arrived to an untouched beach….just the oystercatchers had stepped on this fine sand
Tiny white shells mark the path of the retreating tide
Quiet rock pools deep enough for a refreshing dip safe from the waves

We chose our spot with a sea view, got set up and waited for Kim and Mike who were driving out from Adelaide (around a 4 hour drive). Tassie immediately took herself off for an explore, always a good sign we are somewhere bushy.

We watched the sun go down and light up the red cliffs as Catherine served a cashew nut chicken dish and Mike produced a lovely old Shiraz. We have shared many dinners with these guys now and it’s never an ounce of effort to keep finding new points of conversation.  Perfect companions for four days off the grid!

A break in the clouds at sunset makes for a magical sky
And the sun on the granite rocks lights them up in a fire-like glow

The days just flowed, with Mike putting a rod in early in the mornings, and us wandering along the cliff top walks with their dogs.

Blooming succulents adorn the dunes
Crumbling cliffs lead to spectacular views
Looking out for osprey which frequent this coastline
Kim clambers down the cliff
Laughter as Cooper the Golden Retriever shakes himself over Catherine and Kim – “What?” his face asks!
Not too crowded! Our private campground at Coffin Beach

Dinners were amazing. Mike and Kim are super BBQers, and produced a full lamb roast with all the veg and then meatballs on the last night.

Roast lamb with potatoes and veggies was an absolute hit

We also had a pizza bake off, which they won hands down as I messed up with how I had installed a new fancy Weber ambient temperature probe, finally realising my error too late to save the pizza. Ah well…a valuable learning experience. All the gear and no idea! Next time I’ll be ready. 

Dinner was rudely interrupted one night by spotting a Peninsula Brown Snake curled up a couple of metres away from our camp. Given they are one of the more venomous in the world (although quite passive by the standards of other brown snakes) it was moved on with the assistance of Mike’s fishing rod. Never a dull moment in the great Australian outdoors.

Peninsula brown snake – endemic to South Australia (and the eastern tip of Western Australia)
And another fine sunset to complete a great day

I took myself off for a ride one day along the old coast road, overgrown, rocky and sandy, perfect for my big old tyres. I could feel this view along Salmon Beach lodging itself in my memeory, ready to be hauled out and revisited on  the next trip to the dentist’s chair.  A moment to treasure, and not another soul seen on the ride.

High on the cliffs above Salmon Beach

I wondered (as I often do) how many other people had sat at this very spot over thousands of years and what was in their minds. I regularly try and find out something about the traditional owners of the land, by that I mean the First Australians to live here, and regularly come up empty handed. All I can tell you about this spot is that the Nharangga people lived all around the Yorke Peninsula for thousands of years before they spied a tall ship sailing past their coast in 1802, and their thoughts would have been irrevocably changed. This will be the subject of another post dedicated to trying to explain why this part of our history is so often glassed over, or given a politically correct mention at best.

This coast is rather good at sunrise as well!

Another day, Kim and Mike kindly offered to keep on eye on our (no doubt sleeping) Burmese cat while we headed out for a day trip to a national park. Tassie is closed in the caravan when we leave her, with plenty of ventilation, water bowls, litter tray and food…but…peace of mind, especially for this anxious soul. So off we drove to the Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park, right at the tip of the Yorke Peninsula.

It is a rugged park of pristine white beaches, framed by the bluest ocean we’ve ever seen. This was nature at its most awe inspiring, and so quintessentially Australian with its harsh, scrubby landscape that gives you a scratch on the legs almost every time we walk through it. I call it the Australian tickle, to go with the Australian wave (swatting away a fly). Rugged beauty at its best. We followed a couple of the walks detailed on the park leaflet, some more rewarding than others. The climb to the top of a short hill to the lighthouse gave us the most inspiring views though.

Beautiful views over Investigator Straight and the offshore islands from the Stenhouse Bay lookout walk
This ‘high energy’ coast is adorned by perfect white sand beaches, often extremely hard to access
The stainless steel operational lighthouse at the end of West Cape
The lighthouse
Looking out over the Wedge and Althorpe Islands
Looking over the perfection that is the long stretch of sand at Pondalowie Beach
We have to pinch ourselves to believe this stunning view before our eyes, with hardly another person around
A rather boring and hot walk leads to this spectacular lookout at Royston Head, and its beach protected by North Island
The views from here are exquisite

Just as we were about to head back to camp we had a message from Australia Post to say the parcel I had confirmed was being diverted to Adelaide (because it was delayed), had failed to have been diverted after all and instead just been delivered to a post office up the road! Bless Australia Post. It was the new double deck cover for our inflatable kayak. This now enables us to convert our double sit-on-top kayak to a single or a double open-water fully enclosed boat. I have really been impressed with this kayak so far.

On our final day we enjoyed cooling off in the rock pools on ‘our’ Coffin Beach.

The water temperature in the bay is just over 20 degrees centigrade….
…but the shallow water in the rock pools would be nearer 30 degrees….
This pool is a fish nursery – Catherine’s toes are tickled by fingerlings (baby fish) as they hunt for snacks

Later, Catherine joined Kim, Mike and the dogs for a walk along the aforementioned Salmon Beach, while I enjoyed some quality time out of the sun with Tassie and a good book!

Salmon Beach – no footprints on it yet today
It takes a bit of scrabbling to climb down the cliff and dunes to the beach
The dogs appear to levitate themselves into the water for a swim, however!
Mike sets up a couple of fishing rods, hoping to catch tomorrow night’s dinner
The dogs are put on leads when we are near this pair of hooded plovers, an endangered species
More water time for the pups
And Mike is successful in getting a couple of fish

Well, what a campsite this has been. Catherine and I just love spots like this where you can spread out without worrying about the neighbours. The sound of the surf at night. The brightness of the stars. Trailing our feet in bath warm rock pools as fish inspected madams red toenails. Memories burnt into our heads.

We know how lucky we are to be experiencing this when so many of our friends are in lockdown. We could so easily have stayed in Victoria and now been stuck there. South Australia has so much to offer, especially when the weather is unseasonably temperate as it is right now. That means its not in the 30’s!

Even Princess Tassie gave it her purr of approval
…even a bit of sunbathing on the sand!

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.

1-4 February: Adelaide and the Coromandel Valley

Author: Mr A

Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide has been a city where we have had some great times on various visits to friends over the years. This visit has certainly continued that pattern!

Amongst other things, it is a city that boasts a pristine white sand beach and bath-warm shallow waters that are fabulous for a spot of kayaking. Well that was one afternoon outing for me anyway, testing out the new top deck I had zippered on to the kayak that makes it a full-on open water boat.

Launching at Seacliff Beach – not another soul about!

I had dropped Catherine off for her next lot of injections in her throat to keep this persistent narrowing of her airway at bay. Then she had organised to meet up for lunch with a group of ladies who are members of the support group she manages for that disease. It’s always so great for her to meet others in person and judge how her considerable labours in administering it are valued.

A lovely catch up with Adelaide ladies with iSGS

She was buzzing with enthusiasm when I picked her up, and I felt so proud once again of what she has accomplished. The lovely doctor she met for the first time who gave her the injections greeted her by calling her “the visiting celebrity” much to her amusement. 

We had been invited to stay with a couple of friends who live up in the hills to the south of the city centre. It’s been such an interesting visit, as we share many passions that involve getting out and about in the great Australian outdoors. They have two thirds of an acre that‘s heavily planted with all manner of vegetables and fruits, with chickens clucking away and laying the most gorgeous rich yellow yoked eggs.

Mike and Kim and their loyal pooches
A 7km walk around the neighbourhood with the dogs, Cooper and Rikki
A babbling creek that runs close to their house has a new walkway alongside it
Princess Tassie enjoyed exploring the garden while the dogs were away but stealthily ignored the chickens 🐓

One dinner in particular will always stick in our minds as they had taken their tinny (small metal tin boat with an outboard motor) down to the city beach and just a few hundred metres offshore sunk a line and some crabbing pots. Apparently the sea there is rich in blue swimmer crabs, almost at plague proportions at the moment. Lovely to hear that something is thriving so well in these climatically challenged times. Well, they were absolutely delicious, together with some small garfish and herring they also caught. A salad picked fresh from the garden, and washed down with a local chardy. Then peaches straight off their tree. What an absolute feast of fresh bounty!

Look at this absolute feast!

Another couple of friends had agreed to join us for a paddle and they suggested a local spot that was a dolphin sanctuary. We crossed our fingers and sure enough up shows a small pod pottering round us having a fish. The weather was just perfect, not too hot considering the time of year. Adelaide can have some scorching weather but we are currently delighting in La Nina dominating, bringing some fresher temperatures and the odd shower or two. 

Peter the dolphin whisperer
Nicky snaps an obliging dolphin on her phone
And a flippered friend passes us by
Missile or dolphin?
Loving the freedom this inflatable boat provides
Longtime friends, musicians and dolphin whisperers, Pete and Nicky

As well as activities, eating and drinking, it has also been a busy few days getting jobs done while we are in a city, like haircuts, and shopping.

We have had some issues with our Land Cruiser’s 12 volt accessories, a legacy of some poor workmanship back when we initially had the vehicle fitted out in Sydney. A visit to Toyota ensued, and they also told me after running an engine scan that I should have a “trans wash”. I clearly looked a bit bewildered, and somewhat nervous. The young lad then hastily clarified, a transmission wash out. I briefed an audible sigh of relief and booked that in.

I also found a local auto electrician, who after examining our vehicle for a few minutes asked me if it was a Prado. Now that may not seem like a red flag unless you are familiar with the Australian car scene, but let me tell you it did not inspire confidence. He was all we could find at short notice, and added zero value but still charged me his call-out fee! Not happy…. now we have a booking in ten days time at a business specialising in the area we need. It just means a shorter trip to the Yorke Peninsula than we had planned – no great hardship. So let‘s keep our fingers crossed the electrics behave themselves while we away. 

Happy haircut and a bruise on the neck from injections!

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!

14-15 January: A dalliance with the Coonawarra wine region in South Australia

Author: Mr A

Location: Penola, South East South Australia

We cruised into the Coonawarra wine region with some excitement, it was the only wine region in Australia we are aware of that we haven’t visited. Fortified with a brunch stop just outside of the small town of Penola, we decided to have a look at Balnaves Winery as I had remembered drinking a number of their high end Cab Savs. Checking first they had enough space for us to bring the caravan in, we found ourselves parked up next to a fabulous rose garden, that of course our little Burmese princess had to explore.

The lovely rose gardens at Balnaves Cellar Door

We really enjoyed the wines, although found the person providing the tasting woefully lacking in any knowledge of them. She basically told us what was on the label.

A Chardonnay, Cabernet/Petit Verdo,/Merlot blend and Shiraz

Never mind, we bought a three pack and headed off to our next tasting at Bellwether Winery just up the road. This was also to be our home for the night, as they offered campsites for caravans as well as glamping in their fixed tents. This was a paid-for wine tasting, $20 a head, and we were told that would include “all 14 of our wines, the full experience”, so we were pretty excited. Sue Bell, the winemaker, has built herself a great reputation over the years as the magic sauce at a few different large wineries. She then left that corporate world to do her own thing, buying an old woolshed and converting it to receive the fruits of many different vineyards around Australia, and apply her savvy to produce great wines.

A drop of 2015 Cabernet – rather nice

We loved many of her wines, whites and reds, but left feeling very disappointed once again with the tasting presenter. Her explanation of how and what we were going to taste was lacking any passion, structure or insightful content. Several times the four of us at the table were left confused about what we were drinking, what characteristics we were looking for, and what made the wine, in her opinion, special. She didn’t even know information that I had read on the winery’s web site. We have been to hundreds of similar presentations, and this would fall not at the bottom, but no more than half way up the list, which is a shame for the winemaker. We still bought half a case, although when I looked at the bill realised we had been over charged and had to go back and sort that out. Interestingly that was done with Sue herself, who didn’t ask what we thought to the tasting. We only saw the staff get animated when they were talking with each other, laughing and joking, as we mere customers were left sitting there, excluded.

So two wineries producing great wine, but so do thousands of others in Australia. The tasting for us is an opportunity to differentiate themselves, and embed their products in our memory. When I think back to the places we keep buying from repeatedly, it’s places like Ross Hill and Philip Shaw in Orange, Stanton and Killeen in Rutherglen, or Pizzini in the King Valley, all who made sure we remembered their wines with fondness by delivering an educative and passionate tasting experience.

We camped in a paddock behind Bellweather Cellar Door for the night, shared with a flock of sheep
Miss Tassie enjoyed exploring around our camp
As the sun goes low she enjoys the last rays of sun
Camouflaged cat

We were going to do some more tastings the next day but had lost the motivation, so headed out to a wetlands (currently dry) nature reserve way out in the sticks – Bool Lagoon. Check out this wall of “tumbleweed” being blown up in the strong winds.

We discover this is called ‘hairy panic’ and this phenomenon only happens in the right conditions!
Walking through it and not being able to see snakes was a little unnerving! Big knife was at the ready 🙂
There are a couple of boardwalks over the ‘wetlands’ with bird hides
Despite an abundance of reeds there is little water just now
Hundreds of thousands of seed heads piled up in sheltered areas more than a metre deep
Trees covered in seed heads

Catherine cooked up a new recipe for lunch – creamed corn and sardine fritters. Now don’t pull that face, they were in fact delicious. Only caravanning would allow us to have such a great lunch in such an isolated spot with the cold wind whipping round (its a “feels like” 7 degrees day) and intermittent heavy rain squalls. A nice cold sparkling water from our on board Soda Stream, chilled from the fridge and as many pots of tea as we can be bothered to brew from our gas stove. If we want to crash on the bed, it‘s there looking all inviting with the odd pool of sunlight coming and going though our panoramic windows. I can certainly understand why caravanning is so popular in Australia. The nearest place to find a decent feed would be around 150km away in Robe, our next destination.

We pull up at a free camp by Lucindale – this paddock was our view for the evening

We were so grateful for this isolated spot before heading once again to the more populated coast. A free camp for the night with cows that came and had a good peer at Tassie completed the idyll. Tassie was not quite so impressed.

Tassie giving the cows a brave evil eye through the window

12-13 January: Crossing the border in to eastern SA

Author: Mrs A

Location: Mount Gambier and Millicent, South Australia

We would have stayed in Nelson another night or two, but there was no availability. So on Tuesday morning, we packed up camp, consumed the last of our fruit (South Australia has restrictions on which fruit and vegetables you can bring in from Victoria) and crossed over the state line, heading for Mount Gambier.

Mount Gambier is classified as a city, but in most of the world would be seen as an average sized town. It is the service centre for most of the surrounding area, including those back across the border in Victoria, providing a choice of supermarkets and a range of stores.

The town’s water source is a large crater lake which has a vivid turquoise colour during the warmer months, attracting many tourists to the lookouts and surrounding walking track. The water is incredibly clean, having been naturally filtered through a limestone aquifer, removing much of the particles and staining seen in other lakes. During the months of November to March is when its colour is at its most intense. There are two factors contributing to this phenomenon; firstly, the sun is higher in the sky, shining through this clear water and reflecting the blue light spectrum. Secondly, the warming water surface causes crystals of calcite to fall to the cooler water at the bottom, further cleaning particles from the surface combining to give the lake its incredible colour. As is so typical in Australian naming convention, you say it as you see it – the reservoir is called ‘The Blue Lake’.

The Blue Lake

Mark and I had decided not to stay in Mount Gambier, but called in to do a quick shop, and to meet up with some locals. Fay is an active member of the online support community I run for the rare disease I have, and we have often chatted online. It was great to catch up in person. She and her husband Bruce met us in town and gave us a whistle stop tour of the main sights. Such a kind thing to do, and we both really valued the local insight.

Catherine and Fay overlooking the Blue Lake

After our tour, we farewelled them and headed off to the nearby settlement of Millicent, where we had booked into a quiet campground for a couple of nights. After our cramped camping at Nelson, it was a real relief to us all to have the space and landscaped grounds of this site. It was peaceful with no dogs, so Tassie took it upon herself to free-range a little around the grounds, lapping up the new smells and sights around her.

Tassie strolls off, always keeping an eye on where the Zone is in case a fast retreat is required
One very chilled out cat with the sunshine on her back in her cat-tunnel

After Tassie had enjoyed some outdoor time, we decided it was our turn, and jumped on our bikes to explore. We’d seen Lake McIntyre on the map, and read it was a rejuvenated sandstone quarry, managed predominantly by volunteers since the mid 1990s. We rode through town to this green haven, home to many bird species. It’s been set up with hides and a boardwalk to allow visitors to enjoy the area.

A path winds around the wetlands for 1.5km
From one of the bird hides we spot a large flock of ibis – both sacred ibis and straw-necked ibis, as well as a great egret fishing in the shallows

The area is very flat, so not too challenging to cycle.

You can see the curvature of the earth out here

Despite being Tuesday evening, we decided to give the local curry house a try, given it had rave reviews. It was nice to have a break from cooking, but the service was very slow, and the curry not the best we have sampled. We’ll just have to keep on trying!

The following day we jumped in the car and drove half an hour down to the coast, parking up at a small village called Southend. It is nothing like the Southend in the UK. Its current name is relatively recent, having changed in 1971 from Grey. Grey it is not.

Southend sits on the shores of Rivoli Bay
Southend Jetty

Southend is surrounded by national parks, and it was Canunda National Park that we were there to visit. The National Park is accessible only by foot or four-wheel-drive, and thankfully there were few people driving on our visit. The coastal area is made up of predominantly sand dunes, with an incredibly high density and diversity of flora and fauna. Everywhere we walked there was evidence of the nomadic Bungandidj first nation communities in the form of shell middens (essentially discarded shells from meals) which have been dated back 10,000 years.

Parking at Rainbow Rocks, we followed the ‘Seaview Track’ – a stunning 7.7km return hike along the coast. Despite not being a particularly long walk, it was tough on the legs, with the sand making every step count for two – it certainly felt as though we had explored 15km on our return!

Hiking up a sandy 4WD track
Some of the dune flora including: Dune Fan Flower and Yellow Top,
Another breathtaking view along the coast
Eddy Bay is accessible by climbing down the cliff using a knotted rope!
Not a single footprint on Eddy Bay beach
Climbing one of the many dunes – wooden steps have been affixed to help up the steepest parts
The waters of the Great Australian Bight
Walking across one of the shell middens
More incredible views
Mounce and Battye Rocks
Perfectly smooth sand

We’re definitely put this walk up there with our most scenic hikes ever, and despite it being the peak of the summer break here, we only saw two other people all afternoon, so it is not too busy. Everyone raves about the Great Ocean Road in Victoria – well consider this the Great Ocean Walk in South Australia – equally as spectacular but on a smaller scale and none of the crowds! Find the walk here.

Wattle Range Council owns the Southend Caravan Park, which has now been closed for renovations. Apparently it was pretty run down and tired, full of permanent old caravans, which were all removed last year. When the new improved park opens, it will be a fabulous location to base yourself to explore this stunning area. Meanwhile, if you’re after a peaceful green retreat that is within easy reach, we’d definitely recommend Millicent. We’ve had a lovely time here, but it’s time to move on. We’ve spotted the Coonawarra wine region just up the road, and just cannot resist a quick visit!

8-11 January: Down to the border…

Author: Mr A

Location: Nelson, Victoria, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From bag to boat with only a few pumps of air

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

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

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

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

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

5-7 January – A taster of country Victoria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Gellibrand and Dartmoor, Victoria, Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fine camp site for the evening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Mr A

Location: Rye, Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How perfect is this water?

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

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