Location: Venus Bay, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia
They Eyre Peninsula coastline runs for a staggeringly long 1,726 kilometres, and we have just spent the last five weeks wandering around the majority of it. What a trip segment it has been, so wild and wooly.
It is fitting to finish off by visiting one of the more photogenic places we have ever been to. With both a sheltered bay and a wild surf coast, all within walking distance of our little (very crowded!) caravan park on the foreshore of Venus Bay.
Now, the ancient Italians named the goddess of cultivated fields and gardens Venus, and there sure isn’t anything that civilised here. It‘s nature at its most magnificent, but it is raw, humans haven’t tamed it. There’s not a blade of grass in sight. It‘s all sand, and salt, and wind, and sun. The elements are in charge here. You can see where the sea is winning its millennia old battle against the land, as the limestone cliffs slip, chunk by chunk into the ocean, carving out these magnificent shapes in the rock.
We acknowledge the Wirangu and Nawu peoples as the traditional owners of the land that was then named Venus Bay (after the first sailing boat that explored this coast) by the early European settlers who started arriving after Mathew Flinders had mapped the coast. Early contact was as usual brutal when these First Peoples were denied access to their traditional water sources and fishing grounds by the settlers. Conflict that resulted in murders on both sides, and a public hanging for two aboriginals.
Arriving at lunch time we quickly set up the kayak to take advantage of a calm spell and set off randomly for one of the small islands we could see in the bay, I’d Googled them to try and find out anything, but the last reference was in 2006 in an obscure Department of Environment management plan. From that I learned the islands are (were?) home to some endangered flora and fauna. Well the birds certainly kept well hidden from even Catherine’s long lens. With over 360 offshore islands just in the State of South Australia alone, it gives you an idea of the scale of this country. Unsurprisingly then, there was not a footprint on the beach. We climbed up to the sand dunes and gazed down into the interior and wondered who had last visited. On this crowded planet, this is a special feeling.
On the paddle back we did see some birds, one crested tern having a very bad hair day.
A pied cormorant stood proudly surveying its territory, and other than that the usual pacific gulls and pelicans, certainly not the species range we had been hoping for.
We did a couple of walks from the campsite around the cliffs, and just drank in the unspoilt grandeur of this place. Yes, there are a few new houses being built, but still we managed on our second walk to see not a soul once we had left the campsite. One set of footprints this time, but that was it.
The sunset glorious. very few places in the world can claim to be this unspoilt.
A short drive down the coast took us to a cave we had been recommended, as stretch of coastal sea scape that just had us grinning from ear to ear.
Venus Bay, you’re pretty special. But now its time to head off inland, leave behind the coast, and take in an entirely different landscape. And there you have it. The joy of caravanning.
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.
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!
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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…
With great stealth, we silently explored the watery lanes, watching for any movement. We were eventually rewarded with some sightings…
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.
Having redeemed itself, we had a relaxing afternoon and enjoyed a marvellous sunset over 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.
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.
We acknowledge the Paakantji and Baakantji people as the Traditional Owners of the Minindee Lakes area we visited last week, and who are still active custodians of the land after these 30,000 odd thousand years. In the last 20 years though us white fellahs have pretty much ruined what they had sustainably farmed on land surrounding the lakes and from the water itself.
The Lakes are naturally occurring depressions that fill with fresh water after rains when the river flowing through them (Australia’s longest waterway, so including tributaries) the Darling, is in flood. They were joined together in 1968 by canals and turned into a water source for arid Broken Hill (100km up the road) and for irrigating farmers using the Darling River downstream. Theoretically it also works as a flood management system, although it has been ten years since they have seen one of those and the lakes are currently at 17% capacity.
The draw for us in visiting the area was that these lakes are an Important Bird Habitat (IBH), and with the new telephoto and our kayak, we thought…let’s drive for 120km up that corrugated dusty road to take some photos! My dad would have been especially proud. The son who he couldn’t interest in his passion for birding, now getting all excited about seeing some of the thousands of water birds that call these lakes home. Like everywhere we have visited across the Murray-Darling Basin in the last 6 weeks, there is no good news for the environment. Bird numbers are in sharp decline as the water levels are adjusted to suit the needs of cotton and almond farmers, not the health of the ecosystem.
The town of Minindee seemed to reflect the deterioration in the health of the lakes. The main caravan park in town was an absolute dump, and even the information centre staff said “We DO NOT recommend you stay there”, but instead sent us 15km out of town to another park. We did drop into the local IGA, as we try and spend local if we can, but it was a sad little shop with nothing fresh on the shelves. and a belligerent look from the cashier had me hurriedly scuttling out. We were later to be told by several people that “the town is dying and the council do nothing”. Ten years of drought must have been a tough run for them. Let’s hope some of the deluges falling across most of Australia this week benefit them.
We were camped at a lovely spot right on the edge of one of the lakes called Copi Hollow, home to the Broken Hill speedboat club! Not usually the best mix with kayaking and birding, but on a Thursday afternoon we were lucky and had the lake to ourselves.
We had our first trip out in our kayak with the zoom lens. It wont be the last. Look at some of these shots!
We returned buzzing, and set the alarm for a dawn paddle the next day. We are describing the feeling to each other as “like being on safari”. There’s the thrill of spotting something new, the joy of being outdoors and watching nature unfold around you. In a kayak there’s no noise to frighten the birds, and we soon worked out how best to use the stealth to our advantage, silently drifting along parallel without threatening and forcing them to fly and abandon nests and/or their young.
It was absolutely magical, and we feel a whole new world has just opened up for us in being able to identify birds from their photos that otherwise would have been a fleeting glance in my binoculars. Oh, and its a good workout for me as I’m “the engine room” at the back, while Mrs A cradles the zoom lens between her knees and spots our next photo opportunity :).
We try and cast aside thinking about the dire future this ecosystem has. Very little is being done to help it. The authority that manages the Murray-Darling Basin were told by CSIRO 10 years ago to use their climate change models showing the likely increase in temperatures and extended droughts that were to come, as the basis for their planning. But no, they insisted on using the historical data as it was more economically convenient. An investigation by journalists in 2017 exposed some of the corruption, and this prompted a Senate enquiry in 2018. Even the irrigators are fed up with the incompetent management and are currently taking the authority to court in a class action. And so it goes on.
After lunch, we drove out to nearby Kinchega National Park. The park is set among the flood planes of the Darling River, and as we have seen throughout our travels, is predominantly dry and arid, coming to life around the snaking waters of the Darling. The land has been home to the Baakantji nation people for more than 35,000 years. ’Baaka’ means the Darling River and ’ntji’ means ‘belonging to’. Many of the community descendants are staff at the park, helping to eradicate pests – both flora and fauna, and preserve those that have not been destroyed by white person occupation.
The land was settled by European Australians in the mid 1800s, and a huge sheep station set up, with over 120,000 sheep roaming the area.
Sheep farming did not work well in this area. Initially, there was plenty of food, but soon the sheep trampled and ate all the grass, the ground pounded as hard as concrete by their hooves so that the delicate seeds could not germinate. By the early 1880s, 47,000 sheep had died of starvation, and by the late 1880s a further 45,000 were lost. This led to the collapse of this industry.
Sadly, the damage to the environment was already done. Within 15 years of cattle and sheep being introduced to the area four species of mammal had gone extinct. By the early 1990s, it is recognised that 27 mammals have gone extinct in the area – the highest rate of native animal extinction in Australia. It was designated as a national park in 1967.
Having driven through the dusty arid road, we returned to our oasis in the desert by following the river road, passing huge river red gums many hundreds of years old, and spotting some of the local bird life (ironically near a dry lake known as Emu Lake).
I had seen that there was a boat tour out on one of the lakes surrounded by private land, so otherwise this area was inaccessible, so we had signed us up for that.
It was pretty average to be honest. Nice to be out on the water, but again not a welcoming or friendly smile from the operators. or no attempt to have the dozen people on the boat interact and enjoy themselves. The guide trotted out with little enthusiasm some local stories, and it was nice to see a new bit of the lake system, but not a tour that will burn into our memories,.
Is it a lack of motivation, or a lack of commercial acumen? Surely you’d think it would be a pretty obvious equation that happy customers talk about the trip and more people sign up. We often come across this type of apparent indifference to customer satisfaction in outback Australia. Sometimes we think it’s because there is little competition to drive them. This operator for instance was the only boat going out on the lakes, and most of his trips are full apparently.
So Menindee lakes we loved you, the town and the “vibe”, not so much. They are going to tarmac the road from Broken Hill down to Minindee, so lets hope that breathes new life into this struggling community. We will remember these first few “birding paddle safaris” (as we now call them 🙂 ), as being absolutely magical, and the gateway to something we will enjoy for many years to come.
I hope the Minindee Lakes survive as a place that these beautiful creatures continue to visit and take sustenance from for many years to come, but based on what we are seeing now, our confidence is low.
Location: Cobdogla Station Caravan Park in the Riverland Region of South Australia
Its a name to conjure on the tongue – say it out loud “Cobdogla”. Wonderful. We planned to stop a couple of nights and then booked for a week! Its easy to love, with access to the Murray River from our front door, a nice shaded camp spot and the whole place so well looked after. A short drive and there are wineries in abundance, we just thought…why not stay a while longer.
Cobdogla is word that is derived from a local indigenous phrase meaning “land of plenty”. How apt a description. The Murray winds its way though this arid landscape and brings life to where there would otherwise be desert. The massive irrigation of this area has further enhanced the landscape, making it possible for acres of vineyards on land which was once dry scrub. In the grounds of the caravan park are the remains of a grand chimney, all that’s left of the property that once ruled over 500 kilometres of river front, breeding horses that explorers used to traverse the desert to the north.
It makes such a difference to your whole perception of a place when you are greeted as warmly as our campsite owner Karen did. We set up and I got the kayak all pumped up ready to explore. We launched 100 metres from our van onto a small bay fringed by River Red gums, that provided a lofty perch to Whistling Kites, who had already announced their presence with that oh so idiosyncratic call of theirs. Pied cormorants stretched and wiggled their snake like necks over at us to acknowledge they knew we were intruding on their fishing patch.
A short paddle brought us out into the main channel of the Murray. We turned down river and felt insignificant in that broad reach of water. I imagined the countless generations of First Australians who had called this area home, sustainably sourcing food and water from what were, until Europeans arrived and introduced carp, crystal clear waters. Now the water now is a muddy brown as they suck up the silt, which then blocks the sunlight and kills off the other fish and aquatic plants, contributes to blue/green algae blooms. Other than that…another great environmental move. Check out the ‘With and Without’ Carp photo below from an experiment where carp were removed from a water system.
We soon got used to their ugly mutts sticking their heads up next to our kayak, and we tried to ignore them and keep looking up at the birds. We had a couple of paddles like this from it camp, then another where we launched a bit further in Loch Luna Game Reserve, a maze of back channels that needed a short drive to gain access. Nockburra Creek Canoe Trail was one of the best paddles EVER!
The bird life was just teeming around us. We lost count of the different species, but a new one for us was the Red Rumped parrot. Yes..it did have one.
A few hours of exploring this maze of channels and we were grateful for our Strava app to plot our way back to our launch point! The Advanced Frame inflatable kayak once again proved to be a pleasure to paddle, going swiftly through the water and providing a stable photography platform to capture these shots.
After several mornings of pre-dawn starts to get on the water, it was time for a gentler day. A little wine tasting was organised at a small organic winery producing what to me sounded like some interesting varietals. We worked our way through examples of vermentino, petit manseng, durif, touriga nacional, and ended up taking half case to try and cram under our bed in the caravan with the other supplies.
With temperatures forecast to be in the mid to late thirties, it was looking challenging to be off in the caravan, so our friends offered us an extended stay with them. Hard to refuse when they are such great company, and live in a lovely leafy suburb up in the hills south of the city of Adelaide with a fab garden with heaps of shade.
They have two thirds of an acre intensively planted producing the most scrummy fruit and vegetables, and chickens consuming the meagre left overs and producing fresh eggs. A closed loop system!
A highlight for me was being invited by Mike to go out on his tinny off the main beach in Adelaide for a fish with his mate Joc (more on him later). After 24 years in Australia this was a first. I know…shouldn’t have given me citizenship. So before dawn we were hitching up the boat and driving down to launch just as the sun was starting to make its presence felt on what would be another 36 degree (in the shade) day.
The slight breeze on the water was welcome, and that suddenly increased to a roar has Mike opened her up and we shot out to sea. Crab pots were lowered, lines were cast, as I watched on in bewilderment at the frenzy of activity. I had always written fishing off as a bit dull, remembering seeing blokes sitting by smelly brooks in England staring at apparently nothing for hours. Well this was chalk and cheese. It was frenetic, with garfish queuing up to get on their lines, and blue swimmer crabs jostling to get entangled in the pots. But interestingly there was never more than three at a time. Apparently they are so feisty there’s no room in the pot for the lucky onlookers.
We were soon approaching our quota of crabs and garfish, with a couple of small mackerel and a couple of squid for good measure, and the talk turned to dinner recipes, and indigenous archeology. Strange bedfellows I know, but Mike’s mate Joc turns out to have been one of Australia’s leading lights in the field, not of fishy gastronomy, but early Australian history. I was so excited to have met him and have the privilege of listening to his tales of locating art sites deep in the Kimberley that no Europeans had gazed on before.
Joc’s involvement in indigenous Australian tourism over many years and support for the development of Aboriginal businesses was so inspiring to listen to. Now this is a bloke I’d love to be trapped on a desert island with. This has been a growing interest of mine, fuelled by reading everything I can find on what’s known (and often argued about) in the human history of Australia. Joc and Mike both have a strong respect for our First Australian culture, and this is so refreshing, as so many folk we have met on our travels have been ignorant, derisory or downright racist.
With a happy heart and a heavy esky, we headed back to the beach. As I was holding the boat ready for the trailer, a couple of sting rays wandered up to me and had a good nose round my legs. Its such a shame that one terrible accident can so blight these beautiful creatures’ brand. Steve Urwin, of Crocodile Hunter fame, had a tangle with the tail of one and it sadly ended with him having a heart attack after being pierced in the chest by the barb that tail carries. A sad loss. But these guys were just cruising, I assume they have been humanised by being fed, showing none of the usual aversion to hanging around swimmers they usually have.
Well let me tell you that the feast that night was incredible. We kicked off with Coffin Bay oysters that we had picked up from the shops, salt and pepper squid, dipped in flour and flash fried with a dose of fresh lemon from the garden. Then a massive bowl of crabs, with a tamarind curry sauce Catherine had whipped up. Local wines flowed. I can see the understand the satisfaction Mike and Kim get from growing and catching this food themselves. Lots of work, but the rewards are clearly enormous, mentally and physically.
Another hot day loomed on the forecast, but Catherine and I were getting a bit stir crazy sheltering in the van, so took ourselves off before first light to head down to the nearest river paddle we could find. The Onkaparinga River (map) winds its way down from the Adelaide Hills, ending up in an estuary full of water birds , eventually emerging out to sea surrounded by red sandstone cliffs. It was pretty windy, but we pressed on and glad we did. As the fiery sun rose it beat us down though and we headed back to the car before sun stroke was on the cards!
Talking about the car, we had a couple of days worth of work done on the Landcruiser. A service that showed that at our 150,000km service there will be a few more costs to budget for, with a water pump starting to leak and brakes nearly ready for a refresh. But that’s not bad going given in the 12 years of ownership these will be the first expenses other than the routine service’s and two sets of tyres. The only problems we have had are all minor and related to the accessories we had mounted. the workmanship was pretty shoddy, and it was time to get the work redone. I hit gold with the firm we found called Clisby Auto-electrics. Just delightful guys and as far as I can see, did a thorough job for a good price. Thank you.
We finished up our stay by joining Kim and Mike on a trip up to Lobethal, meeting up with Ali and Andy to go and watch a bit of music as part of the Strum and Stroll festival. There wasn’t too much strolling, and the strumming wasn’t as guitar based as we had hoped but it was a lovely evening nevertheless.
It was very kind of Kim and Mike to have us cluttering up their drive for so long. They both produced such amazing dinners every night, including one evening of pizzas on the BBQ. Again creating another first for me – I rolled a pizza base. Yes, I’ve had a deprived life. Now it’s time to give them their time back and head off for another trip.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Location: Narrung, Coorong Country, South Australia
Despite living in Australia for nearly 25 years, Catherine and I keep stumbling across fragments of iconic history that we have missed. For instance, if you grew up in Australia then apparently there’s a good chance you would have read the book by Colin Thiele “The Storm Boy”, and/or seen the original movie when it came out in the 70’s, or at least watched the recent remake with Geoffrey Rush. All news to us. Must have been in Europe when the remake came out and just missed it, because we would have definitely wanted to watch it.
The story is set in the globally unique wilderness of the salt water lagoon eco-system of the Coorong in South Australia. We drove through in a rush in 2012 after hearing that my father was seriously ill and we needed to head back to Sydney. So this time we took the chance this time to meander up this remarkable bit of coastline. Home for thousands of years to the Ngarrindjeri people, Coorong in their language means “narrow neck”, referring to the geographical shape of the narrow lagoon system that runs for 140km down this wild coast.
We drove from the southern part of the park and rounded a corner to be hit in the eyes with a vast white expanse of salt lake that shimmered and blazed. We pulled up for lunch beside one of these “hyper saline” geographical oddities. The wind whipped at the sparse vegetation. We really have to see what the movie makers did with this scenery, and they filmed in winter!
Home for the night is a free camp right beside the little ferry that runs across the narrow strip of water that separates the enormous freshwater Lake Alexandrina and the smaller Lake Albert.
Wandering up the ferry just to have a look, we were beckoned on board by the driver (captain?), and made the 5 minute trip, for free. Thank you South Australia! A short walk up to the lighthouse (a first for us, a lighthouse on a lake!) and we were rewarded by a view across this massive expanse of water (649 sq kilometres, or 13 times the size of Sydney Harbour). It’s fed by a number of rivers, but by far the biggest contributor being the longest river in Australia, the Murray.
Its sobering to think this area was once a bustling hive of activity, with settlements all around the lake and all manner of shipping plying across it. Now, not so much. With relief we note the complete absence of power boats and jetskis, in fact all we have seen is a few kayaks getting blown around. Wonderful. The only sound other than the twittering reed warblers is the intermittent clank of the ferry plying back and forwards.
The morning dawned with a bright blue sky and we were out on the water before the wind picked up too much. Plenty of pelicans around, I look at them with a new found interest after hearing how they responded to training in the Storm Boy movie and bonded with the actors, rubbing up against their legs when they came to film every morning. Pretty smart birds.
The site is starting to fill up as we approach the long weekend, so we’ll be moving on tomorrow. This free stay has reinforced for us that there is little correlation between spending money and having a good time.
It’s only when you check the news, particularly from the UK, that we are reminded how privileged we are to be in Australia right now.
We have just spent three nights in a fishing town called Robe.
Broadly speaking, Australian town names are inspired by one of three things – somewhere in the UK that the original settlers harked over (think Clovelly, Hastings, Rye), the Aboriginal word for an area (or the European interpretation of it), or surnames of the pioneer governors, important politicians or their wives. In this situation, Robe was named after a South Australian Governor, Frederick Holt Robe back in 1846.
In the mid 1800s it was an important port, sending out wool from the South Australian farms. It also became a dropping off point for thousands of Chinese miners heading to the Victorian goldfields to try their luck and finding some of the rare metal. The Victorian government had a £10 landing tax (about $10,000 in today’s money) so they jumped off in Robe free of charge and tackled the 600 mile hike on foot, often finding low paid work on their journey. The cellar door at Bellwether (115km away) in the Coonawarra was built by transient Chinese workers who had walked from Robe, originally as a shearing shed. Many fortunes were made in Robe serving these migrant workers, something that is recognised in a Chinese memorial along the waterfront.
After a period of decline in the late 1800s and early 1900s, lobster fishing took off, and coupled with the town reinventing as a holiday destination, Robe’s prosperity returned. Now tourism is a big part of the town’s success, with more than 9.4 million visitors per year, primarily Australians, and the seasonal lobster fishing remains big business.
We first visited on a Christmas holiday trip back in 2012, and had always remembered our time fondly. One of the biggest changes we noticed since our last visit is the emergence of a stronger wine industry in the area. Eight years ago there was a tasting room showcasing the wines of the Coonawarra, this time there were more independent representatives of the emerging Limestone Coast region wineries.
We decided to check out one located on the outskirts of town after reading a glowing review in an online magazine, and jumped on our bikes.
Aunt Alice is a truly tiny boutique winery, with only four wines produced, two of which they were already sold out of when we arrived. Alice’s school teacher and artist husband was manning the cellar door and record player, and welcomed us in and offered us a tasting of their Pinot Noir and Shiraz.
We are a tough audience when it comes to Pinot Noir, preferring the barnyard complexity of wines from Central Otago in New Zealand to the lighter wines generally served in Australia. There are of course exceptions and we were surprised to find that this was one. We are out of space for buying more wine in our caravan cellar, but we found time to buy a glass and savour it in the afternoon sunshine. Well done Alice Baker, superb wine. We also tasted a very approachable Shiraz.
Later that same day we found ourselves sampling more wine, this time from Woodsoak Wines on Robe’s high street. We caught a taxi into town and were dropped beside an outdoor tasting room hosted by Sonia and Will. The grapes are grown on Will’s family farm and until about 10 years ago were predominantly sold to other wineries. Their own wines are delicious – a sparkling white worthy of some of the bubbles we tasted in Champagne two years ago and many more tasty drops. It turned out that Alice Baker of Aunt Alice made some of their wine, as did Sue Bell of Coonawarra’s Bellwether Wines – it is such a small world!
There was nothing we did not like…if only our cellar was not so full! Fortunately they do sell online and deliver Australia-wide – so we’re storing that in the mind-bank for future reference.
There are several lobster fishing boats in the marina which are busy in season (October to May). We were determined to try some, so booked a table at a local restaurant, Sails, and pre-ordered one for dinner.
We were not disappointed. We enjoyed a light entree before our chargrilled lobster was presented – an absolutely delicious, melt in the mouth treat. This camping lark is not too shabby!
After all that wining and dining, we thought it best that we do a little exercise, and so Sunday morning saw us up bright and early to do a short paddle on the nearby lakes. Robe is quite a windy location, so not always ideal for kayaking, but fortunately we stumbled upon a calm day.
We travelled as far as we could, before the retreating tide in the lakes meant there was more walking than paddling and we decided to turn back. After lunch we decided to have a go at kayaking in the bay.
The water temperature in Robe’s Guichen Bay is about 17°C (only 2 degrees warmer than the chilly summer water in Cornwall, England) and the famous south-easterly breeze was blowing as well, which kept the temperatures right down. There were not too many people getting wet in the water down there when we launched.
Regardless of the wind, the kayak paddled really well, nothing like our inflatable packrafts, which are great in calm conditions, but are a struggle to manage in a stiff breeze. We powered across the bay towards the jetty, and enjoyed an easy ride back with the wind behind us (paddle map).
A successful day’s kayaking ticked off.
Our final day was cloudy and cool, so we spent a morning doing sheet and towel washing (always a joy) and drove up to the next little village of Cape Jaffa for a look around. Not much to see there – more fishing, more four wheel driving on the beach, and very quiet. We had a quick look around before returning for the evening.
We move on tomorrow, making our way towards the Barossa Valley for the weekend. I sense more wine in our future! 🍷
“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.
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.
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).
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.
We soon had the kayak pumped up. Each time we learn something new and it gets a bit easier and quicker.
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.
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!