11-18 December: Down the New South Wales coast we go

Author: Mr A

Locations: Berry, Jervis Bay and Dalmeny, NSW, Australia

Sydney disappeared in the rear view mirror as we headed south a few hours down the coast to where our caravan has been stored for the last ten months. It was all washed and waiting for us to hitch up and go. Now mental and muscle memory had to take over and remind me of all the road craft I had amassed from previous years towing. No dainty little motorhome any more, I had just under 8 metres of caravan ready to cut in at roundabouts, clip road side signs if I didn’t account for the extra width, and attempt to run away from me down the hills with all the extra weight. I also had to remember I was driving back in the land where fatalities from road accidents are twice those of the UK, my driving location for almost all of the past year. Gone are all those courteous behaviours that had made touring on the roads in the UK so much less stressful, it was back to every driver for themselves and the liberal use of horns and fist shaking. I actually found Italian roads a less daunting prospect to safely navigate than our own testosterone fuelled highways.

So it was with a sigh of unscathed relief we pulled up at our friends property on the outskirts of Berry, a small village 3 hours south of Sydney with a main street packed with deli’s, art and craft shops, classy cafe’s and all things civilised. Their property sits in an enviable position, a kilometre from a nearly 13km long stretch of pristine sand called….Seven Mile Beach (how do they think of such names?) once used as the runway for the first passenger flight between Australia and our Kiwi vowel dropping cousins in New Zealand. For us it made the perfect stretch of hard sand for a beach ride.

Mrs A sky riding on Seven Mile Beach
A picturesque location
Omar, Mr A and Barb plus their loyal steeds

Our friends have created this oasis of a sustainable paradise producing enough fruit and veg to meet all their needs and half the neighbours. They recently won a prize at the very competitive Berry garden show for the way they had planted and arranged the garden in keeping with our often fickle climate with periods of drought, extreme heat and soil stripping winds.

Miss Tassie broke her 9 months of sedentary lifestyle for an hour long explore of their garden
A delicious meal out at a great Indian restaurant in nearby Gerringong

They are the most interesting couple and as always we were sad to have to say goodbye after sharing a couple of fascinating dinners with them. But we have a deadline to work to – we need to be in Melbourne 1300km away by Christmas.

So we headed to our next campsite down the coast just outside the small coastal town of Huskinsson in the Jervis Bay National Park, with its world renowned beaches. We managed to get the kayak wet with a short paddle the river before the winds picked up. Then we had a couple of days of rain that allowed us to spend time inside getting cleared up and organised without feeling guilty we were missing out.

Curranbene Creek
How much do we love kayaking in this boat? A lot!
The beast moored up outside of Huskisson
Paddling back to camp before the headwinds get too strong
Looking out for sting rays in the shallows on our return route
A Percy of pelicans?

Unfortunately our lovely stay was a little tarnished by a very thoughtless family arriving in the cabin next door at gone midnight who then spent the next hour banging car doors time and time again, shouting to each other and their children . I went outside and asked them to please keep the noise down and was greeted with a tirade of “we’ve driven hours to get here and show some respect for others”. The irony was completely lost on this selfish family.

With heavy eyes from a disturbed night we continued our journey southwards to our next camp at the tiny coastal settlement of Dalmeny, and one of the best views from our site we’ve ever had.

A room with a view…

A wander down the beach in the late afternoon sunshine was called for. At 5.30pm it was still a balmy 28 degrees. This is what Australia does best, pristine, empty miles of sand, with nature in abundance. A massive sea eagle lifted up from a tree in front of us and just lumbered out to sea like a B52 heading on a mission to who knows where. Little pied oyster catchers (they don’t as far as I know) skittered around in the sand. We just sat and soaked up the roar of the surf and felt the sun on our backs.

Crossing over Lake Mummuga on the way to the beach
The stunning beach is part of Eurobodalla National Park
Pied oystercatcher foraging at the water’s edge
The water’s quite rough, the result of storms further up the coast. We can see the mist drifting over the beach
The next bay around – not a footstep on the sand

Returning to camp it was time to try out our new BBQ. The old Weber had finally gasped its last after over 10 years of faithful service. This new model delivered a magnificent feast of roast veggies and pork medallions. What is a man without his BBQ? OK so its a bit shiny still, it needs working in, but I’m sure it will get that!

A pristine BBQ cooking up roast veggies and pork medallions – yum!

30 November-7 December: Wallaga Lake and up to hazy Sydney

Author: Mr A

Location: Wallaga Lake, Bermagui, Berry and Sydney NSW

Saturday-Monday: As we moved north with a deadline to get to Sydney, we stopped for what would be our final camping spot of 2019 at the serene Wallaga Lake – well, serene when the water ski boats finally stopped thundering up and down!

Two dozen freshly shucked Sydney Rock oysters from Broadwater Oysters in Pambula – we cannot drive past this place with making a purchase
Another room with a view location, lakeside at Wallaga
Pelicans looking hopeful for lunch

A few kilometres outside of the small resort down of Bermagui, Wallaga Lake was a great place for us to just collect ourselves and work out what we would be storing in the van and what we needed to take up to Sydney. A day of cleaning and sorting and we felt a lot more organised. One of the less fun parts of this nomadic life, where we rent a house out and have no base other than two mobile homes in two continents, is working out what we need to take where. Anyway, a quality problem to have, we think.

We would stop one more night at our friends in Berry before storing the caravan in Nowra. Our friends Barb and Omar recently opened their garden for the Berry Gardens Festival, and had around 1700 visitors through! So we were keen to see what had been the drawcards since our last visit in February.

A creative way of hiding an unattractive garage wall and creating a cooler surface
A flowerbed full of natives still looks healthy and vibrant
A thirsty skink welcomes one of the many dishes of water Barb fills up for them around the property

Sadly the drying westerly winds and lack of rain had made it tough to keep some of the highlights alive, but still they have changed a lot of minds about the use of insecticides and the merits of permaculture. Our visits to these guys are always a fascinating insight into this subject I know so little about. I just taste the produce that comes out of their garden and groan in delight, including once again the smoked trout that comes from the swimming pool they convert to a fish farm over the winter. Amazing inspiring people.

Tuesday: Well, we dropped off the caravan and had one very stuffed Landcruiser chugging up to Sydney. We had been invited to house sit a property in the rather exclusive suburb of Mosman on Sydney’s north shore. We have been here now a few days and are settling in. Our fur child is especially pleased to once again have a large house to romp around, and has adopted one of the rooms as her special domain.

Tassie decides that cerise is her colour
A short walk from where we are staying takes us down to the water’s edge
An Eastern Water Dragon looking magnificent, with its camouflage blending nicely in with the environment
A young Grey Butcherbird hunting for insects
Spots and stripes are all the fashion when you’re a dragon
This little chap is pretty safe living here – we can only contrast that with the awful bushfire affected areas surrounding Sydney

We immediately commenced our usual “back in Sydney” program of catch ups with friends, but the joy we would normally experience is missing. It’s so sad to see Sydney bathed in smog from the bushfires that surround this usually beautiful city, the pollution levels ranging from an equivalent of smoking between 10 and 30 cigarettes a day.

The view from our balcony disappears as the smoke rolls in, coating everything in ash and poisoning the air we breathe

It’s hard not to keep thinking about what this means for our future. Add living in the hottest, driest continent to global warming, and we are unlikely to get a happy outcome. I met up with some friends for lunch and the three of us all felt a background level of anxiety that is increasingly affecting the pride and pleasure we have always had to call ourselves Australian. We should be setting an example in this big brown land as to how to tackle these climate change challenges. But we’re not, and that’s depressing.

We see no one competent taking a leadership role in Australia, and we’re not unique in that regard, I do appreciate. The impact on Australia’s wildlife and ecosystems had been already cataclysmic. The pictures emerging of animals burning to death is heartbreaking. People losing everything in bushfires, their homes and livelihoods, where will this end for us? But what as individuals should we be doing to affect change? Is there anyone we trust to think about the country, not their own thirst for power, and just take some brave decisions for the long term?

Wednesday & Thursday 7-8 March: Oysters galore in Merimbula

Author: Mrs A

Location: Merimbula and Pembula, NSW

Wednesday morning saw us packing up and heading north, just a half hour drive this time to the lake and ocean side town of Merimbula. As usual we checked into the caravan site and unloaded our bikes, ready for a cycle to the oyster farm that the receptionist said ‘is right next door’. Turns out that wasn’t quite true, and the route to the farm was via the extremely busy and narrow Pacific Highway, huge road trains thundering past just metres from us – not ideal. Somehow, Google maps found an alternative route via an old disused track which wound alongside aforementioned road and we bush-bashed our way up the hill. Upon reaching the top, we saw the sign ‘Oyster shack – closed’. And so ended our cycling oyster experience.

Frustrated, we returned to get the car and headed off to find oysters elsewhere. Merimbula is full of oyster farms, the lakes’ mixture of tidal fresh and salty water ideal for their growth. We ordered a dozen oysters from a seafood store and sat down to enjoy them. Just delicious. We took another dozen to eat back at the mobile apartment.

We had a few tasks to undertake in town so wandered around the shops. Merimbula seems to be a mix of quite nice boutiques alongside two dollar shops. It doesn’t seem to be one thing or another. Mr A treated himself to an ice cream, then around the corner I found a shop selling hand made chocolates and ice cream – including my favourite, dairy-free dark chocolate sorbet! What a treat!

We awoke Thursday morning to absolutely no wind, perfect paddling weather. Needing to burn off the decadence of yesterday we decided to head off in the kayak. We launched into the Pambula River from a beach beside another oyster farm and shop, and took off for an explore. It was a stunning morning, remaining still and mirror-like for most of our paddle. We toured down the river, stopping just before it went into Merimbula Bay, close to where we had been hiking last Sunday.

Just over twelve kilometres later we were back at our start point munching on a dozen oysters each. Well deserved this time!

We returned to camp via Pambula’s bakery, a loaf of sourdough, a slice of dairy free cake for me and a piece of cheesecake for Mr A. Highly recommended if you are passing this way.

Upon reaching the caravan we discovered there had been some heavy digging going on in the park, which had caused huge dust clouds of mud to coat absolutely everything! What a nightmare – we had left the windows open for Tassie, and every surface was covered in a layer of brown dust, and poor Tassie’s eyes were streaming. I had some work to catch up on the laptop and Mr A relaxed with a book in the sunshine before we tackled the seemingly endless task of cleaning the caravan. I suspect we will be finding mud dust for days to come. Mr A complained to the park management who refunded our night’s fee by way of an apology. It’s nice to have park owners who care about their reputation, but a shame they didn’t have the foresight to warn their guests to close windows and use air conditioning today.

Tuesday March 6: Another day, another river

Author: Mr A

Location: Kiah & Towamba River

We were determined today to get some paddling done, as the river running past the front of our caravan was the reason I had selected this camp. We headed downstream towards the river mouth, immediately immersing ourselves in the sounds of bell and whipbirds, pied oyster catchers were quietly hunting for morsels and a sea eagle soared overhead. We love paddling for this reason, its so easy to drift quietly along and not scare away the wildlife.There were a few abandoned camps along the river but we didn’t see a soul until we were back at our launch point three hours and 13km later. A couple of fishermen were staring longingly into the water hoping for a bite. The river was really beautiful, winding its way between sandy banks, very little breeze disturbed the mirror like surface.I had read trip reports from people who had been paddling with a kayak guide who runs tours along this stretch, and from those was hoping to see kingfishers. Finally, on the home stretch we saw one. Our waterproof camera sadly doesn’t have a great telephoto so he escaped our lens. trust me he was a beauty, all peachy belly and deep blue back. Not a startling blue one like some we had seen down this coast, but still a lovely sight through my ever present binoculars. My eyesight is shocking, so without them I wouldn’t be seeing much at all!.

Back at camp the lack of people around allowed us let Tas out without her lead, and blimey she was off like a shot, always with a look over her shoulder though to make sure “mum” was close. She even climbed up a couple of trees, not bad for a nearly 14 year old!It really made us smile to see her so happy. It’s so nice to be away from crowded caravan parks, for all of us. We had been a bit tied to them running our car fridge on freezer mode, but gave that up today and switched it back to a fridge so we don’t worry about needing to be on electricity to feed the power hungry battery.

Catherine had some work to do on her Facebook submission so I headed off for quick blast on the bike. Looking at the map the only feasible route I could see avoiding the highway was along somewhere ominously called “The Snake Track”. It turned out to be snake free, but a tough ride up into the hills behind Eden. As it was a fasting day I soon decided it was time to head back to camp as the legs were running out of puff.

Monday 5 March: A birthday by the river

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kiah, NSW

Farewells were our first order of the day as friends Jenny and David, John and Eveliene packed up and headed back north to the rain and Sydney. We were moving on too, South to Kiah, a locality just past Boydtown. We’d read about this bush camp on a property alongside the Towamba River with soft sandy beaches and easy boat launching and thought it would be ideal for a post weekend relax.

We arrived early to find we were the only people there, having the pick of the 10 acre grassland.The water looked perfect for paddling on, being shallow and not too fast moving, but there was a strong southerly breeze which makes it a challenge. We decided to save paddling for tomorrow.All this blog writing had made my iPad keyboard battery run out…or so I thought, so we popped out to the nearest shop for a new one (I later found that it is not the battery, but the Bluetooth capability which has stopped working. Ugh – seems a new keyboard might be required unless any readers know an easy fix?). On the way back we called into Boydtown for a look around.

Boydtown was originally built by Benjamin Boyd in the nineteenth century to act as a service centre for his whaling station. Apparently it was not too successful and eventually cost Ben Boyd his demise as his assets were liquidated to try to pay for it. All that remains today is the Seahorse Inn, now an expensively renovated tavern with landscaped gardens and apparently delicious food. We had a look around before returning to camp.

As the afternoon drew to a close we were invited to join our host as he fed the property’s animals. We hand fed Marino sheep, alpacas, geese, ducks and chickens, I even collected a couple of eggs.We finished off with feeding the peacocks, peahens and a chick before heading back for dinner, armed with the eggs and a bag of fresh spinach from the veggie patch.

We were alcohol free for the evening (think we’ve celebrated enough over the weekend!) but I was allowed the last piece of birthday cake! Thanks for all the kind wishes!

Sunday 4 March: Paddling and hiking around Eden

Author: Mr A

Location: Eden & Ben Boyd National Park

It was a marginal call in the morning whether it would be too windy for kayaking, but we erred on the adventurous side and went anyway. Our friends had singles and launched first headed onto Twofold Bay. Wow, this is a pretty amazing stretch of water framed by beautiful hills in the distance. Soon the wind was picking up though and it was time to hoist the sail.

The rock formations were amazing creating some amazing backdrops for the paddle.In the afternoon we headed off in cars to start a short walk up the coast though coastal forecast in Ben Boyd National Park. The roos were plentiful, the very lawn like grass indicative of a sizeable mob enjoying this grazing. Dolphins even obliged by appearing on cue, as well as an echidna and bush wallabies. A sea eagle soared overhead, while crested terns dived for fish in the bay.This area of coast is one of our favourite spots in Australia. It does get busier every time we come, but there is still leaves plenty of space. We would only have seen half a dozen people on the entire walk.Spending time outdoors in this serene and largely pristine environment is so good for our souls. It’s especially welcome as we mourn the loss of our friend. He’s on my mind a lot of the time, processing thoughts that move from angry to sad in a heartbeat. Our friends provide a welcome distraction, reminding me of the criticality of these relationships to our overall wellbeing.

As our friends were headed off on Monday we celebrated Mrs A’s birthday on Sunday night, with bubbly at the camp and pressures, then off into Eden’s little gem of a restaurant called Drift. Cocktails and craft beers were closely followed by some of the finest oysters we’ve ever eaten, actually harvested right were we had hiked earlier. Mains were pretty good, but the long churro’s and chocolate dipping sauce for desert was eaten in spectacular style, especially by Jenny. However, the video to accompany her licking the sauce off the end of them will not be posted as deemed XXX!

It was brilliant way to end the weekend, good food and wine and lots of laughs with close friends, it doesn’t get better than that.

Saturday 3 March: Using all the toys in Eden

Author: Mrs A

Location: Eden, NSW

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny so we decided to launch our kayak in Curalo Lagoon, beside the campground. Our friends from Canberra, Catherine and Dave also had kayaks so joined us for an explore. The lagoon is very shallow, so we only paddled about 4km all up, and predominantly just floating on the glasslike surface. Not a bad way to start the day, however!After a fabulous team BBQ brunch, a group of us decided to try burning off some of the calories with a bike ride into town. Eden is famous for its incredible coastline with spectacular views. This means of course hills so we really did burn a calorie or two, but the views are worth it.We rode down to the wharf where a large cruise ship had just arrived, and enjoyed coffees down there before heading back to camp.

John, Eveliene, Mr A and I decided to go for a stroll along Aslings Beach, hoping for a return visit of the dolphins we saw the night before. None showed themselves, but it was a lovely walk nevertheless.After showers it was most certainly beer o’clock and the evening began. A delicious Ward spag bol was concocted followed by a very tasty dairy free chocolate birthday cake from Jenny. Much fun and laughter and a lovely birthday eve eve had.

Thursday & Friday 1-2 March: Off to the garden of Eden

Author: Mr A

Location: Bega River, Tathra & Eden

After picking the brains of the caravan park manager we found a great spot to launch the kayak, although a couple of locals asked us “Who told you about this spot then?”, and said they would pay him a visit for sharing their secret. It really was a top location, but thank goodness for Google Maps enabling our navigation through the twists and turns of what was called Blackfellows Lake and into the Bega River.

We finally emerged onto the main waterway of the Bega River, and decided to explore upstream.

Minimal breeze meant mirror calm water, perfect paddling, with a few observers from the shore.

A quick ‘comfort stop’ and we headed back to our launch point, being carefully tracked by nosy roos and 13km under our belts.

It was time to move on again and make the short drive down to Eden, stopping en route at the beautiful little town of Perimbula for some supplies.We set up camp and shortly after, the gang arrived from Sydney. It was great to see them all after the emotional events of the last week. Nothing like old friends to help you get perspective.So let the good times roll, after a short ride along the beach then back for some afternoon nibbles and drinks. We made everyone dinner and then some more friends from Canberra arrived. We had a full team.

Tuesday & Wednesday 27-28 Feb: Ups and downs of Tathra

Author: Mrs A

Location: Tathra Beach, Tathra & Kalaru

Tuesday Morning saw Mr A head into Bega without me, his destination a dentist to see about some slight pain he had in his upper jaw. Meanwhile, I had to work on a Facebook Community Fellowship submission so sat on the laptop, working for the day. Mr A returned around midday, his face numb from the first of what looks to be several root canal therapy sessions – not ideal while travelling, I can tell you! A few painkillers and a soft lunch later and we popped out to Tathra to have a look around.

There are some nice views from the wharf, and we picked up some fresh oysters from a fisherman’s house, before heading back to continue my work, and Mr A have a lie down with more painkillers.Around 6pm we decided to head out to the Tathra Hotel for dinner. It had been recommended as a spot to go to, and we could see it was a nicely painted heritage building from the outside. As we entered, I expected the usual stinky sticky carpets and dark dingy walls of the typical Australian pub, but was nicely surprised. The interior has been freshly renovated, with a lot of money spent and some great interior architecture and design in place. It looked fantastic, with high ceilings, and huge windows making the most of the views across the ocean. We settled onto a table with an ocean view and ordered our food. We accompanied this with a craft beer for Mr A and a local winery Tempranillo for me – just delicious. The food was great too – my curry a little mild for my liking, but still tasty.Wednesday morning saw us packing up and driving to a MUCH nicer campsite just 5km away in Kalaru. Lots of space, birds, wallabies, unspoilt bushland and close to the Bega River for potential kayaking opportunities. We set up early and relaxed with brunch to make plans for April, realising we have the Easter period quickly approaching when every decent campground is likely to be fully booked and full of children. We made bookings, including a couple with friends who have kindly offered us places to stay at the busiest times, and now feel a lot more in control.We then jumped on our mountain bikes to head off on a ride. We had only made it about 500 metres when a phone call came which shook our world. We had the horrible news that a good friend back in Sydney had lost his battle with depression. Just awful, we feel there must have been something we could have done to prevent this happening…how could we have fun while a friend was in so much pain? We spent a tearful hour or so calling other friends to let them know the bad news, and considered heading back to the caravan to reflect.

Instead, we decided try to clear our heads and took off on a short ride down some quiet local roads to see where we might launch the kayak tomorrow. The scenery around here is quite lovely, we rode through a sheep farm, only turning around when a farm worker tracked us down to tell us Google Maps was wrong, and we were on private land. We wondered whether this was actually true, but left regardless. Our ride was just 7km all up, we decided we were just not in the mood to go any further and returned to camp.Tonight is not to be an alcohol free night. Barbecued lamb chops on a pumpkin hummus will be accompanied by spinach with toasted walnuts and a lemon and lime dressing. We will toast our friend and hope he is in a happier place tonight. There will certainly be more tears from us before the day is out…

Tassie is happy here:

Sunday & Monday 25-26 Feb: Rain slows down outdoor play

Author: Mr A

Location: Wallaga Lake and Tathra Beach, NSW

Yesterday was a real washout, it absolutely poured all day, so it was bunker down and zone out in the Zone. Never a problem given the comforts we have! With weather like that it reaffirms our decision to leave behind the canvas of our camper trailer and go caravanning. This morning though I had the dubious pleasure of packing up camp in the continuing drizzly rain, while Mrs A does the indoor stuff. Our division of labour to remind readers is as follows: Mrs A: chief cook and head of travel research. Mr A: dirty, tall and unskilled labouring. It seems to work for us.

We were very early at our next camp – Tathra Beachside Holiday Park. What a disappointment. The park is right on the road and our van is as close to the tarmac as you can get without actually getting a parking ticket. Small sites jammed next to one another and no almost no green in sight. I negotiated an early exit strategy and got a refund – we will only stay tonight and tomorrow. Its certainly not going to be one of Tassie’s favourites either given the density of people, dogs and cars.

Things perked up when we headed out on the bikes. We stumbled upon a lovely ride along the foreshore, spotting an Eastern Great Egret and White Faced herons fishing, then a pair of white bellied sea eagles put in brief star appearance high overhead in the increasingly blue skies.We climbed up into a forest of spotted gums, the smell after the rain was just amazing. A very quick run back down the hill and we had made a great little loop ride (15km). I’m absolutely loving the new gears on my bike. A twist grip rather than levers which were so painful to use with my dodgy hand (touch of osteo). Mrs A struggled to breathe a bit on the hills but with her usual can do attitude just got on with it. She’s determined to not let this illness hold her back if she can overcome with the power of her mind.