18-24 March: Nomadic life has its moments…

Author: Mr A

Location(s): Nowra, Berry, Sydney, Morton National Park, Orange

Let’s set the scene here. We have our worldly goods scattered around various locations in Sydney and surrounds. Our house contents are stored in two big cages in a warehouse in western Sydney. Our caravan and kayak had been stored nearly 6 hours drive west of Sydney. Various other bits and pieces are with friends in Matraville and Forestville. Life was getting complicated. It was time to rationalise the logistics!

We have found a storage business in Nowra that will take our caravan, car, kayak and bikes, and it was all under cover, with access to top up solar power. Oh and the guy who runs it said if we want work doing on the car (we do) or caravan (we hope not) then he can drop off and help organise. Perfect!

We headed for Berry last week after our Jervis Bay jaunt, and spent a few days parked up next to our friends’ property, and loved being welcome recipients of their delicious home grown produce!. They are such good company, always up to something interesting in that lively community down there.

Then it was back down to Nowra to drop the caravan at its new storage home before we loaded all our gear for the next 7 months of our UK/Europe trip into the car and hightailed it to Matraville. I had my bi-annual eye health check and Catherine was off to talk at a medical conference in Brisbane.

Sometimes this lugging around gear gets a bit tiresome, then we think “all in a good cause!”.

Tassie immediately settled back into ‘city pad’ mode.

Solar cat recharging on the balcony

She has three sets of fur parents who love her dearly. She’s a lucky lady.

I dashed into the city and was relieved of $500 plus dollars and got the good news of no further deterioration in my eyesight. Medical expenses between the two of us are crazy and mostly not covered by Medicare or our private health insurance. No wonder there is such a strong correlation here between income and health. Still, we are glad we live in Australia not the US.

Our next task on the storage juggle list was to visit our stored house contents in western Sydney. We figured we needed to access the winter clothes bag having checked the temperature in England (a top temperature of 11 degrees centigrade anticipated for our arrival!) – we fly this coming Saturday, straight into the Brexit Storm!

Next job – collect the kayak and other bits was had left out at our friends property out at Canowindra. A 5-6 hr drive out into western NSW. I devised a cunning plan though, after reading about a overnight bike trip some people had done in the national park inland from Nowra. Mrs A was up in Brisbane at a conference, so I headed down to Nowra collected the bike, dusted off the bikepacking gear, and headed for the hills. Well, I couldn’t actually see the hills through the driving rain and fog. Was this a smart idea? I consulted with my more optimistic half. Mrs A said “the forecast looks like it’s better further inland”, so I applied the right foot and started winding my up into the very wet high country.

I parked up at a pub close to the start of the ride (handy hey?), and got the camping gear loaded on my beast of a bike.

Ready to head off…and the sun is shining!

I love that bike, and still smile every time I throw a leg over the saddle. I didn’t get away until mid afternoon, but the rain had held up so was feeling pretty perky. Well until I remembered I had forgotten one of the most essential items of gear…my tea mug! Oh no! I had snuck in some Tim Tams (yummy Aussie chocolate biscuits) for my favourite ritual on these solo trips of getting the tent pitched somewhere gorgeous and getting a brew on. Still I pressed on regardless and was thrilled that the maps app and routing a friend had sent me was working a treat.

One happy bike-packer!

The route traverses into the Morton National Park which stretches for just under 200,000 hectares through sandstone plateau country crisscrossed by gorges. I had been reading about a 5-day ride through it called ‘Attack of the Buns‘, but only had time for two half days. I’d picked the section that several people had commented was through especially stunning and wild country. They weren’t wrong.

I started dropping down towards a small stream I had read about in the trip write up. Well the small stream was now a grown up river after all the rain. I paused, checked the time and decided to camp just before it and see what the morning brought weather wise. My reading of the forecast was they had no clue. Weather up in the hills here is notoriously unpredictable.

The tent was soon up and the issue of the lack of mug solved – use my empty Pringle container! Yes it is all health foods on these trips without the conscience on my shoulder of the lovely Mrs A. Now I can definitely say, do not pour boiling hot liquid into a cardboard Pringle container. It all went horribly wrong and the much better Plan B of drinking out of my food bowl was implemented.

Norman no-mates tent

I rose in the pre-dawn darkness and checked the river. I was going to have wet shoes for the rest of the trip but so what. I packed the gear and set off when it was just light enough to see where I was treading. It was up to the hubs but I pushed through, and I’m so glad I did. The riding from here was stunning.

Stream? A full blown river more like!
Made it!

Friends ask me why I always do these trips solo. My response – I can go at my own slow pace, and when I see country like this I’m so glad I can take my time to just stop and look. Silver cobwebs were hanging across the scrub. Mist was hanging over the cliffs. Not a person to be seen. The stillness is just something else. No other voices to break the spell.

Magical morning mist, birds, wallabies and not another person…
Dew coated spider webs sparkling in the morning light

I rode the somewhat soggy track but it was pretty easy going and eventually reached a point mid morning where I reluctantly had to turn round.

So tempting to keep on going…
A stream or my pathway ahead? Thank goodness for fat tyres

Perhaps to some people it would have seemed a lot of effort to get the bike all loaded up for one night. But not for me. I love the chance to ride and reflect, listen, smell and feel the bush. I’m going to miss it in the UK and Europe, but it will be replaced with country so different to this, country shaped and filled by human endeavour.

It was a long drive to Canowindra and I was running out of daylight. You really don’t want to be on these country roads at dusk with kamikaze kangaroos about. My eyes are also not good for night driving. So kayak collected, I headed over to Orange, where a friend had recently moved back to from Manly. It was her birthday so a great excuse for a catch up. We had a lovely time, wine tasting and eating at a brilliant restaurant called Mr Lim. Check it out if you’re in town.

Pre dinner drink at the very fancy local RSL in Orange

All too quickly it was time to point the car back to Nowra and store it there until early November. It’s really happening…we’re off for a whole new adventure.

Wednesday 7 February – Exploring Kiama

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kiama, NSW

We had a relaxing slow start to the morning, free from worries about plumbing, gardening or packing. If we haven’t got it now then we’re having to do without it! We decided to put on our walking shoes and investigate the Kiama Coastal Walk. The full walk spans the distance between Kiama and Gerringong, a picturesque 22km following the grassy clifftops.We followed the walk around for about 3km, stopping to watch the Little Blowhole perform its show – a loud ‘whomp’ preceding the gush of water as it follows the old lava dyke under the rocks and up through the gap. We got nicely refreshed by the spray!Not long after here we both had to stop and rest in the shade. Mark’s plantar fasciitis in his heel was causing him pain while walking, and my Morton’s Neuroma was giving me an agonising burning pain in the ball of my right foot too. I guess the cortisone injection I had last week hasn’t made a difference. We are a pair of old crocs! We looked longingly at the gorgeous looking pathway stretching into the distance over the cliff and hobbled back to camp.

As the afternoon progressed we decided to hop on the bikes and ride into Kiama for the farmer’s market. It was busy and bustling, primarily fresh produce from surrounding areas but also some food stalls, a winery and brewery. We tried the wine but it was not to our taste, and neither was the beer. We did find a sheep cheese producer from Robinson – we have tried their cheese before, being one of the few in Australia – and purchased some delicious nectarines from Orange.We took our goodies and rode back to camp for a healthy salad and a glass of rosé.

Day 197: 13 December – Orange redeems itself

Author: Mrs A

Location: Orange, NSW

Another warm day dawned and the promise of vineyards was on our horizon. First we completed some tasks – popping to BCF (Boating, Camping, Fishing) to pick up some new gas bottles. We checked out which vineyards were open on a Wednesday morning – the answer was not many.

Ross Hill Vineyard is not too far out of Orange, and a quick bit of research revealed they are a relatively small boutique vineyard with a great reputation. Wine critic James Halliday has rated them five stars, meaning he considers them an outstanding winery, producing consistently good wine with at least two bottles rated at 92 out of 100 or above. We headed on over.

The cellar door has recently been renovated, and is modern, bright and airy. We were the only visitors and so got a personal tasting. There are some delicious wines there – Mr A was particularly keen on the Pinnacle Chardonnay, and we both loved the cool climate Shiraz. Their light yet spicy Tempranillo was delicious – and would cope with being lightly cooled – perfect for a hot summer’s afternoon.

All that personal service paid off, and we ended up joining the wine club and wheeling off two dozen wines to magically conceal in our caravanAll this wine tasting had worked up an appetite and a very timely text from friend Karen gave us a list of recommendations. We decided to call into Agrestic Grocer. It turned out to be right next door to the Badlands Brewery, the beer Mr A had enjoyed at The Oxley Wine Bar in Cowra, and they offered a tasting paddle from the bar.

The favourite for both of us was the Pale Ale – not too filling, with the right balance of malty-hoppiness. We enjoyed lunch, though the salad could have done with some vinaigrette – they removed the pesto dressing for me but replaced it with nothing. After lunch we picked up some vegetables for tonight (Woolworths ‘the fresh food people’ this time) – again disappointed by the poor quality of fresh produce available – bendy carrots, soft runner beans, under ripe strawberries and nectarines – not what we expected at all.

One of the bottles of Ross Hill Tempranillo was opened with dinner – beef burritos with stir fried vegetables, after which we joined some campground neighbours for drinks and a chat. Gemma and Sweeney are opal miners from Lightning Ridge who met while holidaying in the Philippines. Gemma is from Cambridge in the UK while Sweeney is western Sydney born and bred. What a different life they live, trying to make their fortune hunting for gems underground – Gemma showed us a couple of opals she had been learning to carve – beautiful strikes of colour, and for small stones, quite valuable. As always, it was so interesting learning about another way of life and a lovely evening had.

Day 196: 12 December – Hello Orange

Author: Mr A

From: Cowra

To: Orange

Distance: 101km

We said goodbye to the lovely Keira and Glen, and hit the road. A very hot road….winding through this park-like countryside and coming to our first hills since Adelaide. We drive through the settlements of Milthorpe and Blayney, looking as fab as ever. Then we rolled into Orange and straight past our caravan park entrance. It looked like it had been abandoned, with a scruffy half derelict building lot out the front. Thankfully once you are in the Canobolas Caravan Park the aspect brightens up…a little. We decide to only pay for one night and see what we think.

We unhitch and leave Tas in air conditioned comfort as we swelter in the 32 plus degree heat of mid afternoon. We decide not to cycle and take the car as we need to grocery shop. It is a productive stop at Bunnings (what would a self respecting caravaner do with out the Big B?) and then into the town centre. Now we have this image in our minds of a very picturesque, tranquil Orange. Wow…it has changed. Catherine literally is millimetres from getting knocked over by a car that overtakes the one that has stopped to allow us to cross the road. I shout out and she just pauses as he whistles past in front of her and flies off. We are back in ‘civilisation’. The local Supa IGA is also a disappointment. For an area that’s known for its produce, the fruit and veg is really very ordinary.

We drive back to our park a little disappointed (and shaken), with our first impressions of the Orange we were so looking forward to revisiting. Tomorrow should be better – we’re not fasting – and it definitely wont be an AFD (alcohol free day) that we compell ourselves now to have two days a week…..and we are going wine tasting. Yippee..!