1-9 April: A week in Port Lincoln

Author: Mr A

Location: Port Lincoln, Eyre Peninsula South Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing out in regional Australia
Mr and Mrs Anderson at sunset

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

Yachties Beach
Looking out at Carcasse Rock
Yachties Beach

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

Arriving at Yachties Beach

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

A young Hooded Plover picking through the seaweed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15-18 March: Kayaking in Charming Chowilla

Author: Mrs A

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

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

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

Our route – Wentworth sits at point A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another stunning sunset concluded our stay.

Another riverside outback sunset

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

After prolonged drought, there is little water in the lake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd’s Obelisk – the marker of the province boundary

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

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

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

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

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

We gently paddle down stream

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

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

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

Crow versus Whistling Kite
Masked Woodswallow

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

A perfect sunset sky
Mirror-like perfection on the water

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

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

Flooding in progress

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

On the ‘main road’ out towards Renmark

12-15 March: Exploring Paakantji/Baakantji Country around the Menindee Lakes

Author: Mr A

Location: Menindee, south-west NSW, Australia

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.

Image

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.

Shade and water access – perfect

We had our first trip out in our kayak with the zoom lens. It wont be the last. Look at some of these shots!

A female and juvenile Rainbow Bee-eater take a break from swooping after insects
We watched Pelicans fishing
Crested Grebe
Beautiful colours over the lake at sunset
Another fine end to a day

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.

Great Egrets
Beautiful prima ballerinas of the wetlands

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 :).

A Whistling Kite keeps a watchful eye on us as we pass by
A Spiny-Cheeked Honeyeater swoops in to warn off the kite
Seeing double? A pair of Royal Spoonbills
A Yellow-billed Spoonbill hanging out with a Royal Spoonbill
The dead trees are literally dripping in cormorants

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.

A choir of Pied Butcherbirds – one bird sings the song, and all three join in the chorus – it sounds wonderful. Hear an example here on YouTube

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.

A woolshed still stands on the property – an eerie reminder of times past. It still retains the smells of animals, sweat, engine oil and wood, along with nearly 200 years of dust. This is where the sheep were shorn – held in pens on the right then released to be shorn with mechanical shears (up by the ceiling) and then released through the openings on the left in to the next pen. Multiple shearers worked in tandem, paid per fleece.
You can almost hear the thundering of sheep hooves as they are herded up this slope into the shed
Firmly closed against the hot afternoon sun

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).

Australia’s largest bird, and the second tallest bird in the world – the Emu
Emus are about 6 foot tall (180cm) and can run about 50km/h. They weigh an average of 38kg. You don’t want to run into one of these with your car!

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.

The lake tour set off at 6pm
More Yellow Spoonbills perched up in a dead tree
Mirror like perfection – these trees died about 50 years ago when the area was permanently flooded
The ever-present apex predictor, the Whistling Kite
An Emu egg! Eggs are laid by the females and then abandoned, leaving the male Emus to incubate them and raise the young
More feral animals – a family of wild pigs we saw running alongside the waterways

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.

Sunset was pretty amazing

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.

24-27 February: Cobdogla – not easy to say…but easy to stay!

Author: Mr A

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.

Finally out on the River Murray
Whistling Kites are forever our companions
An Australian Darter – a little nervous as she has eggs in her nest (right)
A pied cormorant drying its wings

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!

We didn’t see another human in 3 hours paddling

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 female Red Rumped Parrot – yes, she’s pretty much olive, no red at all
Male Red Rumped Parrot – much more vibrant – bright yellow, green, turquoise and a patch of red on his back
Another male flies in
We spent some time watching these characterful little birds chase around the hollow trees
A kangaroo on an island in the creek munching on reeds
Perfect reflections
A few obstacles on the creek to negotiate

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.

14-21 February: Adelaide Heats Up..

Author: Mr A

Location: Coromandel Valley, Adelaide

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.

The evening sun lighting up the eucalypts at the bottom of the garden. No koalas this visit, but they were there when we stayed three years ago.

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 fine integration of flowers with fruit and vegetables
Handsome Cooper rules this roost with his partner in crime, Rikki

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.

Serene waters in the dawn half-light

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. 

The first catch of the day as the sun rises – squid followed by garfish and crab

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. 

Stingray passing by
Garfish displayed in a bag
Garfish
Blue is the colour….these Blue Swimmer Crabs turn salmon-pink when they are cooked

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! 

It’s still dark when we first arrive, but a warm 28 degrees already
Dawn breaking
As the sun pops over the horizon we are ready for the off
An adult Australian Pelican with its’ glossy black wings
A pair of juvenile Australian Pelicans
Black Swans
Where the river emerges into St Vincent Gulf near Port Noarlunga

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.

We took a picnic up to Lobethal to enjoy an evening of entertainment as part of their Strum and Stroll music festival
Two of the evening’s bands. No dancing allowed due to the pandemic…unless your’e a child of course!

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.

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!

19-20 January: The Coorong

Author: Mr A

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.

Pelicans abound on this wild coastline
The Granites – rock formations emerge from the beach at the southern end of the Coorong
Princess Tassie has an explore in the sand dunes, taking it all in her stride

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!

This dry, salty landscape is home to hardy vegetation
The plant life has to be very drought hardy, and succulents abound
A wonderful array of colours
Shallow lakes dry up leaving salt encrusted mud
A pair of emus dash away after spotting us
Bleached bones and shells remind us of the challenging environment

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.

A water’s edge location for a couple of nights will suit us fine!

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.

The lighthouse – only 3 metres above the lake, still served its purpose in its time. Today preserved by the National Trust
If you zoom in, you might be able to spot our car and caravan on the other side of the lake

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.

Paddling off from camp through the reeds
The reeds are also a great resting place for the swallows that constantly swoop over the water catching insects
Looking out for the next meal
More pelicans take off across the lake

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.

A final sunset view from our kitchen window brings an end to this stay on the lake

16-18 January: Getting civilised in Robe

Author: Mrs A

Location: Robe, South Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The lobster fishing boats in the marina
Sails Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A successful day’s kayaking ticked off.

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

The jetty at Port Jaffa

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

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

18-23 December: Chased down the coast into Victoria

Author: Mrs A

Location: Genoa, Nowa Nowa and Metung, Victoria, Australia

Of course the unimaginable has happened – there has been an outbreak of COVID-19 in the northern beaches of Sydney, just before Christmas. Given we were more than 200km away at the time of the outbreak, we hoped we would be safe from being forbidden entry into the next state of Victoria, our planned destination for Christmas.

It could certainly be worse, but Australia re emerges into the Covid cases chart…very subtly so far….

But as the morning in Delaney wore on, the NSW state premier announced another 28 cases and potential at risk venues in greater Sydney. We decided to pack up camp a night early, skip over our next camp in Eden, and head straight to Victoria.

Friday night we parked up at a lovely bushy community-run camp just across the border near the Victorian settlement of Genoa, where we breathed a sigh of relief that we’d crossed states with no issues.

Setting up camp under the watchful eye of a sulphur crested cockatoo

Saturday morning saw us pulling up at the tiny East Gippsland village of Nowa Nowa and a quiet bird-filled caravan park on the side of Nowa Nowa Gorge. Not far from Lakes Entrance and on the East Gippsland Rail Trail , its an ideal location if you want to base yourself at a peaceful country location away from the crowds.

A peaceful location

Not long after we had set up, our friends Diane and Mark Bates (hereafter known as Mr B for ease of distinction) arrived to visit us with their grandson Fletcher. Cups of tea, lively conversation and a drawing of Tassie emerged…

We took a short walk up to a lookout with a leafy view down Nowa Nowa Gorge the attractively named Boggy Creek far beneath us.

Splashes of summer flowers along our walk – the yellow flowers are known as ‘Wooly Buttons’ – their petals feel like paper.
Team photo at the lookout – Mr & Mrs A, Mr B, Fletcher and Diane
The new caravan park owner is a collector of quirky sculptures from around Australia

We had a peaceful night’s sleep at Nowa Nowa before packing up and driving a short way to Diane and Mr B’s house near Metung. We reversed up their driveway and set up there for three nights of fun.

It was a good opportunity to get ourselves sorted out and get some help with a few minor repairs (Mr B is very handy, Mr A good at finding jobs for him 😉). We joined them and Fletcher for a stroll around their beautiful bushy neighbourhood on the shores of the Gippsland Lakes.

Fletcher shows us a blotched hyacinth orchid by the side of the road
Nungurner sights on our peaceful walk

Mr and Mrs B live about 400 metres from Nungurner Jetty so the following morning we launched our kayaks into the Gippsland Lakes. There are multiple locations to launch a boat into the lakes which stretch for an unbelievably huge 354 square kilometres – that’s larger than the island of Malta and slightly smaller than Barbados!

While the options for exploring this area on the water are endless, you are somewhat restricted by the wind, which tends to blow up in the afternoon and has scuppered many a kayaking trip, and even sunk sailing boats which have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It’s such a great way to see an area, quiet and subtle, enjoying the black swans, cormorants, pelicans and even a rarely seen nankeen night heron that we accidentally disturbed as we cruised on up the calm waters of a quiet inlet. Mr B cast a line from his single kayak, lamenting that fish are so much harder to catch than 30 years ago. Like so many bodies of water, the lakes have been over fished by commercial fishing companies, removing tonnes of black bream unsustainably. It seems the locals are petitioning for this to change, however, so hopefully a more balanced approach will resume in future years.

A perfect paddling morning…less good for catching the elusive fish
A sleepy inlet, safe haven for some of the sailing boats

The final day of our visit revealed more stormy weather, so we stuck to tasks closer to home. Tassie enjoyed some exploration around the property, loving the dog-free environment and the opportunity to stretch her legs. At 16 1/2 she’s a lot less frisky than she used to be and has to be helped down some of the bigger jumps, but no less adventurous. And like most of us, the more she moves around, the easier it becomes.

A glimpse of sunshine is all Princess Tassie needs to be encouraged outside for a short stroll
Not really up to catching skinks (little lizards) these days, but she still likes to try

Fletcher went off to stay with his other grandparents in the morning, so the four of us decided to book in for lunch at a local garden centre. From the road it looks rather ordinary, concentrating on landscaping materials, pots and garden ornaments, but the restaurant, with its deck overlooking rolling countryside and interesting menu was anything but. A couple of local sparkling wines for Diane and I and locally brewed beers for Mr A and Mr B, and all was good.

Dramatic skies contrast with a splash of sunshine as we enjoy our view.

After lunch, we paid a brief visit to Nyerimilang Heritage Park, the location of a 19th century homestead with some interesting exhibitions and extensive grounds overlooking the Gippsland Lakes. A short walk took us to one of the lookouts over the Gippsland Lakes, our hosts pointing out Flannagans and McAuliffs Islands. Before long we felt the first fat drops of rain, sending us scurrying back to the shelter of the car.

The Lakes are eerily still on this stormy afternoon

The afternoon was topped off with a fabulous thunderstorm, just perfect for book reading and relaxing.