11-13 November: Back in the Zone and off to Victoria!

Author: Mr A

Location: Nowra, Braidwood & Woomargama NSW, Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia

Monday: It was time to bid goodbye to Sydney for a few weeks and hit the road. We picked an interesting time to travel with 70kmh winds, dust storms and clouds of flies that reminded us that the great Australian outdoors has many facets, and not all of them make it to the tourist brochures.

We had stored our caravan south of Sydney in Nowra and found it all cleaned and ready to go. A big thanks to Mark Daley of Caravan Cover Up for the great service. He had helped us organise some much needed body and paint work to be carried out on the Landcruiser, and also taken our bikes for service. If you need storage he’s a great option south of Sydney. He even picked us up from the station! So we found everything in working order, batteries charged and fridge on ready for supplies to be loaded.

We headed inland to Braidwood and stayed there for the night at the showground, sheltering from the fierce wind and dust storms. It was cosy though in the van and it was lovely to spend the evening with Tassie all snuggled up with us.

Miss Tassie getting back in the swing of adventuring by Zone RV

Tuesday: The next day we did a big drive down to just north of Albury on the border with Vicotoria, finding a great spot for the night in a rest area at a small settlement called Woomargama. Clean toilets and a peaceful night, that was all we needed.

The little settlement of Woomargama, home to the endangered Squirrel Glider
Our home for the night – quiet and level near clean toilets
Woomargama is nestled in a valley surrounded by rolling hills
An early evening stroll through the sleepy back streets
Towering gum trees
Shadows stretch across the fields
Lovely views framed by eucalyptus

Wednesday: We were keen to get back on our bike saddles, so had seen there was a rail trail leading from Rutherglen, which was also the centre of small wine region in northern eastern Victoria. That ticked two boxes for us, so we settled in to a camp site right on the edge of town by lunch time.

Miss T sunbathed in a camp chair while we got the bikes ready for a ride

Reading the Rutherglen web sites on the way down we were filled with high expectations.

…”Keep your baskets & bags empty as you will be picking up delicious treats and treasure along the way….”
….”outstanding restaurants and cafes……a perfect cycling holiday destination….”

We should have been a little more cautious in our optimism given our previous experience with these tourism pages and the reality of what often we found on the ground. We headed to the tourist information centre on our bikes, and joked as we went in that there was no cycle stands which seemed odd in this “cycling Mecca”. We were asked where we had read that it was…we said…on your web site. Looks were exchanged, and one of the ladies said she had hand drawn a map of the where the rail trail was and shared that!

We asked if any of the wineries on the trail (we had read there were “numerous world class wineries” on it) that she could recommend for lunch . She said…well actually none of them are on the trail…and as it was 2pm they would have stopped serving. We started to get an uneasy feeling of déjà-vu. We asked where in town we might eat. The second place she mentioned was a pie shop and the first turned out to be closed. She said, “well we have a great cafe here”. We had seen the sign outside “gourmet lunches served 12-3pm”, so we went though and settled ourselves down at a table. Eventually a young lady came out and when we asked for menus said “Oh we’ve stopped serving food now”…at 2.15pm.

We rode through town, and other than the pub found the pie shop the only place open. One soggy sausage roll and a pie the meat content of which a vegan would be proud of, and we left Rutherglen really disappointed.

We started riding down the rail trail, even that was a bit of let down. A long straight bit of gravel though uninspiring scenery again didn’t square with the hype from the tourist web site claims.

Ploughing into a strong headwind along the rail trail – missing our little eBike motors

We persevered into a head wind, and decided to take pot luck on a winery signed off the trail..3.5kms. We rang ahead to confirm it was open and a very cheery fellow said yes they were open and he’d love to offer us a tasting. Things were looking up, and just got better and better!

142 years of winemaking has taken place here

Stanton and Killeen winery turned out to be a real find. We worked our way though an extensive tasting list, ranging from a white variety we had never heard of (Alvarinho) to a sparkling tempranillo. They also had classic Rutherglen shiraz and both straight and blended Durif. Interestingly they had consciously moved away from growing some of the varieties that need function best in moist cool climates (like Rieslings) and instead focused on these Iberian varietals from Spain and Portugal that would be more robust in our changing climate.

Upon spotting Catherine’s camera, Rob offered us a peek around their “back stage” and we jumped at the chance. They had massive 120 year old well seasoned barrels for their many and varied fortified wines, as well as new French oak ones

Years of history can be seen from the cobbles on the floor to the old barrels
Rob shares stories of the fermenting vats
Stacks of barrels all chalked up
Some rather large barrels
A new tasting area where group visits are invited to make their own blend of fortified wine
Love the smell of these old barrels
Especially this one which contains muscat

We were then into tasting the fortified wines for which this region is globally famous. They had a luscious white port that is designed to be served chilled as an aperitif, then the smooth Tokays and muscats that make it onto fine dining menus the world over. It was also refreshing to hear that the winery was having success in the Chinese market, given how challenging others had described it to be.

We decided to pick these up in the morning rather than cycle the 10km back with them!

Despite being a little tight for space in the Zone we thought we could squeeze in a few bottles…

Rode back via the old Rutherglen Distillery ruins which date back to the 1890s
Mr A rides back to Rutherglen along the rail trail

Stanton and Killeen, you saved Rutherglen’s brand, in our minds at least, and then the next morning another gem of a find, the local butchers. There is nothing quite like a quality country town butchers. The Rutherglen Meat Co Butchery was a delight to shop in. From my years in sales, and keeping up with the research into what makes people buy, I can only encourage people who want to sell things to be as enthusiastic and sincere as this lady is about her products. She asked questions, built rapport, and offered suggestions about things to do unrelated to buying her product. Brilliant. We packed up the Zone and moved on south towards Beechworth via the winery to pick up our goodies…

5-9 March: Admiring East Gippsland

Author: Mr A

Location: Seaspray and Nungurner, Victoria, Australia

Tuesday: Mrs A woke on her birthday to another stunning morning overlooking Wilsons Prom. Sadly it was the closest we were going to get on this trip as we needed to be on our way. We had booked into a park at the small settlement of Seaspray, in Victoria’s glorious East Gippsland region. As soon as we arrived, we pretty much unhitched and headed straight off into the nearby town of Sale, as I had found out about a pub with a particularly good reputation for dinner.

Birthday girl with her new necklace from Melbourne

I had been given great advice – this place was tremendous. If you find yourself that way the Criterion Hotel deserves your patronage. As so many reviewers said before me “why isn’t my local pub like this?”. And really there’s no practical reason it couldn’t be in most of Australia that has a climate that supports the growing of local produce.

The chef was a local lad, the produce from all around the area, the funding to invest in the pub was all coming (I was told by the manager) from reinvested profits since they managed to fill the place most nights. How? By offering a very different menu to the usual unimaginative fare of chips with some combination of “parmy (chicken in breadcrumbs), steak, or meat pie. We had delicious Asian influenced starters and duck with various berries and oh so fresh veggies for main.

Happy customers outside the renovated Criterion Hotel

Wednesday: Sadly the next day it was blowing a hoolie, so we were confined to quarters most of the time, only briefly venturing down onto the sand blasting beach.

There’s drama on the horizon – 90-mile beach at Seaspray

Being sand blasted on the beach, trying to imagine what it’s like on a calm sunny day

The wind is shifting the sand dunes like snow drifts

We didn’t see much of Seaspray other than the sea spray. Sorry but couldn’t resist that!

Thursday: The next day we had been generously invited to stay with fellow Zone owners Di and Mark, who live in the small settlement of Nungerner, about a 10 minute drive out of Lakes Entrance. What a little slice of heaven their home and its surrounds has been. Every direction there seems to be miles and miles of tranquil lakes and rivers, bursting with birds, wildlife and views at every turn.

Mark and Di have a resident echidna – quite used to people by all accounts!

The Gippsland Lakes are Australia’s largest area off enclosed water at 103 kilometres long. We have really enjoyed it here and only scratched the surface after 3 days.

Our first night saw us meeting up with some more Zoners, Jo and Scott, who wanted to try out our packrafts at the nearby settlement of Metung.

Zoners catch up at the Metung Hotel

The Metung Hotel

Looking out into the lake

This bustling little village has a pub set in an idyllic lakeside location with 180 degree views up and down the channel.

Friday: We couldn’t wait to get on the water, so in the morning wandered down with our little boats in our backpacks to the jetty that is a few hundred metres from Di and Mark’s place.

The still morning water – smoke haze from the bush fires hanging over the water

Perfect reflections

There used to be a cormorant on every post!

Enjoying this a lot!

Heading off to explore a commercial fishing boat

Someone with a little imagination has built little houses on their beachfront

Mrs A looking quite relaxed

Onwards to the next little bay – you could explore here for weeks

Arriving at the Metung Yacht Club

We paddled around the edge of the lake and ended up back at the pub at Metung…again…this time resisiting a cold beer and heading back to the serenity of Mark and Di’s home and its leafy courtyard.

Mark kindly sorted out some plumbing issues on our Zone. That was his main trade before retiring but now seems to have a mastery of almost every trade there is! A useful set of skills when caravans seem to need so much ongoing maintenance. Di was a kindergarten teacher and tour guide for the local caves at Buchanan, and they both share our passion for walking and the great outdoors. Time therefore slipped away so easily chatting about our respective adventures. Memories being relived and shared, a wonderful thing.

Our fur child is equally enraptured by their home and strolls around with her flag of a tail held high in pleasure. Its brilliant for us to see her so happy, especially knowing in a few short weeks we will be bidding her goodbye for 7 months! Thank goodness we are lucky enough to have two sets of foster parents who are equally crazy about this gorgeous natured little bundle of loveliness.

Stalking skinks in the flower beds

Princess Tassie has explored every corner of Di and Mark’s garden

Investigating secret pathways

Content in the sunny courtyard

Happy cat mode with the tail held high

And relaxing in the sunshine

Saturday: On Saturday Metung held a small market which was especially bustling as it is a long weekend for Victoria.

Eggplant and tomatoes purchased…no garlic….

Plenty of choice in this little market

Fresh veggies purchased it was off to the popular tourist destination of Lakes Entrance.

Before dropping down into the town we stopped at a lookout which really explained the naming of the town!

Amazing views from the lookout

We can see the strength of the current from up here

We had a date with the best fish and chip shop in town for lunch. Sadly no mushy peas or pickled eggs on the menu, I’ll have to wait another few weeks for those in England, but still a not bad effort for Aussie friers!

The Ferryman – delicious fresh fish

More happy punters!

It was our last night here with Di and Mark, so we gathered in the courtyard for drinks and nibbles and whiled away another lovely evening planning how to turn our respective travel dreams into memories.

Final night’s drinks and nibbles with Mark and Di

1-4 March: Wilsons Promontory National Park…almost…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Yanakie, Victoria (just outside Wilsons Promontory)

With a forecast of 39 degrees centigrade on Friday we decided to head away from Marysville and drive to the coast, Wilsons Promontory National Park our ultimate destination for some hiking amongst spectacular scenery. As we are travelling with Miss Tassie we were unable to camp in the park itself, but we checked in to a caravan park in Yanakie, just 30 minutes drive away. The temperature was much cooler beside the water, a great relief.

Saturday morning dawned clear and blue, with the mercury climbing early. We moved into a site right beside the beach with uninterrupted views over to the Prom.

Amazing sunrise over the water

A Zone with a view…

As the water was so still, we decided to take advantage and inflated our pack rafts for a paddle, planning to head for a walk in the national park in the afternoon.

Mirror-like perfection on the bay

The water is quite shallow in Corner Inlet Marine & Coastal Park

It was while we were out paddling in these serene waters that we suddenly both received messaged on our mobile phones:

Bushfire Advice from Parks Victoria. Wilsons Promontory and surrounding areas. Stay informed re park closure. Check local radio or www.emergency.vic.gov.au

I checked the website. It turned out the whole national park was being evacuated due to an out of control fire…so no walking for us. The evacuation included all campers – so it was fortunate we were not staying in there after all.

Yanakie sits on the edge of the Corner Inlet Marine National Park, part of Bass Straight, the waterway between mainland Australia and Tasmania. It’s a critical waterway for migratory birds and has been designated a wetland of international significance under the Ramsar Convention.

After lunch we took a walk along the beach to see what birds were about.

Strolling along the beach, dead trees standing out like sculptures

Literally dozens of black swans and ibis fed on the sea grass at low tide

Copper grasses blowing in the afternoon breeze on the dunes

Wispy clouds crossing the sky

Black backed gulls, silver gulls, black swans, ibis, egrets and herons were the main bird life, enjoying the mudflats at low tide. It reminded us of our time in Omokoroa in New Zealand, the peace and quiet, punctuated by the occasional bird call.

Nature’s artwork

After a couple of kilometres we came across this twisted wood, standing up out of the sand like a marker for something….we had a look and behind it was a footpath. We followed it for another couple of kilometres and wound up right back at the campground. Perfect!

Heading off down the mystery path

As we turned back, we could see the bushfire smoke spreading across the hills, the afternoon wind fanning the flames and increasing its impact.

By wine-o’clock the fire was quite large and easily visible from where we were camped (at a safe distance).

Sunset starting to reflect on the smoke haze

Sunday morning’s sunrise was quite dramatic as a result, with the air quite obviously smoky. Despite the fact I am breathing quite well at the moment, my throat began to feel the effects of inhaling the ashy polluted air, burning and sore.

Sunrise provides a dramatic start to the day with the absolutely still water

A juvenile gull floats on the still water

Lake or ocean? I bet most people wouldn’t guess this was Bass Straight!

We decided to drive over to the other side of the peninsular where there was some breeze, meaning cleaner air.

We checked out Waratah Bay which looked like it had not changed in about 50 years, the main landmark on Google Maps being the Telstra Payphone! It had a lovely beginners surf beach and plenty of sand which stretched on for miles.

From there we had a look at Shallow Inlet, where the tide was going out and kite surfers enjoyed catching the breeze across the water.

We returned for another stroll around ‘our’ beach and then to enjoy the sun set as the wind changed direction and cleared all the smoke.

A little drama as the weather changed during the afternoon, bringing a few meagre drops of rain but not enough to douse the fires

The sun setting behind us reflected on the clouds over the water giving us a lovely show

We checked the Parks Victoria emergency site as soon as we woke on Monday morning, and found the fire was still raging and the park would be closed for the foreseeable future. So, as our last day here we decided to get the pack-rafts out again and explore another part of Corner Inlet.

We rolled our boats up into our backpacks, and hiked a couple of kilometres down the beach before we inflated them.

Can you believe there is a boat in here?

At not much more than 2kg our boats and paddles are easy to carry

We then paddled down further into the bay, a very picturesque area full of old boat sheds and unofficial camping sites. There were plenty of birds down here too, mostly not used to seeing people paddling. I imagine most people who visit here stick to visiting Wilsons Prom and rarely make it in to the bay here – I know we probably would not have explored it this thoroughly had the national park been open.

Inflated and ready to paddle!

Looking at some of the old boat sheds on the edge of the water

Our crafts awaiting captains

Mr A on very calm waters

Heading back to camp, not wanting the adventure to end

Nervous terns on the beach

After 7km paddling we are both aching tonight – we are definitely not paddle-fit, and the pack rafts are not as streamlined as our fibreglass double kayak we’d have loved to have brought with us. But we’re so pleased we had these little boats to give us the option to explore the water, their weight and portability giving them a unique benefit.

Our visit to Wilsons Promontory has not quite been the one we planned, but nevertheless has been surprisingly gorgeous. We have really enjoyed the peace and quiet of this location, which has probably been exacerbated by the fires, keeping other visitors away.

We definitely plan to put this area on our wish list to return to in the future (hopefully fire-free next time!), and would recommend Yanakie as a base to explore from, especially if you appreciate bird life and the serenity of the water. Off to pastures new tomorrow…

26-28 February: Marysville – recovery and regeneration

Author: Mr A

Location: Marysville, Victoria

We returned to collect our caravan from its temporary home in Marysville and decided to stay a couple of days and have a look around this little town nestled in the foothills of the Victorian High Country.

One of the resident King Parrots – they find plenty of food in the trees around the property

For our international readers, and a reminder to locals, I need to explain that this town was almost totally destroyed by bushfires 10 years ago, on a hot and windy February day known as Black Saturday. The summary would be that 173 people lost their lives as a massive firestorm engulfed this town and several others in this heavily forested area. I can’t and won’t describe the horror that ensued, enough has been said and our impression was after 10 years the residents of this town want to move on and look forwards not backwards.

A very moving memorial

Over $400 million was donated from public and private funds. The town has been almost completely rebuilt. Children’s laughter once again fills the streets as they walk to their newly built school…although chillingly I heard one child impersonating the bushfire siren that regularly is tested in the town, too young to know the potential disaster that alarm could signify.

The new architect designed police station

It is a fabulous little community from what we experienced. Everyone was super friendly and keen to promote the town and what it offers. Surrounded by hills, every direction you look is just so picturesque. We picked up a walks leaflet and were off on one of the many trails that start right in the town centre. This one led up to a waterfall that is one of the highest in Victoria.

Admiring Steavenson Falls – five cascades with a total descent of 122 metres

The final cascade of Steavenson Falls drops more than 21 metres

Mr & Mrs A

We also explored some tracks on our bikes, following the Tree Fern Gully Trail up to Yellow Dog Road and back, providing us with some gorgeous dawn views of the mountain ash and gum forests.

The sun just peeps over the hills to light up the bush – looking quite sculptural with the bleached dead trees rising above the new green growth

Early morning shadows

Surprisingly fresh first thing in the morning!

Another hike took us out to Keppel Falls, also picturesque

We followed the Taggerty River upstream to reach these falls

The evening sun lighting up the bush behind Mrs A

Driving off back to the Zone, the forest lit up by the setting sun

We could have easily spent a few weeks here and just scratched the surface. There’s a pub serving great food, a bakery, multiple cafes, a small supermarket, everything the visitor would need.

Come and spend some money here and support this community who have faced so much and have rebuilt a vibrant new town.

24-26 February: Our Melburnian adventures continue

Author: Mrs A

Location: Melbourne & Mornington Peninsula, Victoria

Sunday began with a visit to South Melbourne Market to gather supplies for the evening’s dinner. If you’ve been following our adventures for a while you will know Mr A and I love a good market, and this was no exception. So much choice available, and soon we had the ingredients for a feast.

Seafood and sausages ready for the evening’s BBQ

We dropped off our supplies at the apartment and then headed off on our next adventure. This time we were headed out of town to the Mornington Peninsula to Point Leo to do a bit of coastal walking.

It was just over an hour’s driving, amazing us how quickly the buildings of the city disappeared, replaced by farmland and forest. Point Leo Beach was quiet and full of bird life, with views out to Phillip Island and beyond that (out of sight) towards Tasmania.

Mark and Owen strolling along the waterfront

One of many white faced herons fishing in the low tide rock pools

Boat launching at Point Leo

Restricted ourselves to apples for lunch in anticipation of our evening feast!

After walking about 9km we called into one of the many breweries that have popped up on the peninsula for a cold beverage (apple juice for me at least!) and then drove over the other side of the peninsula to admire the view back towards Melbourne.

Arthur’s Seat where cable cars offer an eagle’s eye view of the coast

Looking south down the peninsula towards Portsea

From here, we returned to Melbourne for our feast of oysters, BBQ tuna, sausages, roasted sweet potato and a choice of salads. Just delicious. What a great day out.

Monday again was bright and sunny, and with temperatures predicted to soar into the mid to late 30s we decided to make the most of the cooler morning and head off for a cycle. Owen had to go to work, so we borrowed a couple of bikes. Unfortunately the brakes seized on the bike Mark borrowed, so we delivered it to a repair shop and hired one instead.

Mr A’s seat is feeling a little hard at this point!

The city’s skyscrapers behind me seem incongruous to our surroundings

First of all, we cycled down to Acland Street to catch up with an old colleague of Mark’s for a cup of tea. From there we rode down to the waterfront and followed the cycle path along. I just love being by the coast – the sense of space afforded by the water is so calming, and the freedom of riding on dedicated paths away from traffic is second to none.

We clocked up about 20km all up, much faster in one direction with the wind at our backs! Our destination was the Brighton Beach Bathing Boxes – wooden changing huts that have been here since the 1900s.One of these huts (which have no power or running water) sold last year for almost $340,000, and they attract an annual fee of nearly $900 plus council rates. Crazy!

Our day concluded with dumplings from a local restaurant and admiring the night view one last time from the rooftop.

Owen’s apartment block has fabulous views over to the city

The lake in Albert Park offers some fabulous reflections

Tuesday was a cooler day and we decided to jump back on the bikes and explore in the opposite direction.

We rode down to the port where cruise ships come in and the jumping on/off point for the Spirit of Tasmania. In our ever changing plans, we are thinking that maybe later on this year we will be boarding this ship to head over to explore Tasmania over Christmas.From here, we cycled down to Princes Pier, restored and renovated in recent years.This is the second largest timber pier in Australia, and the 380 metres of turpentine piles left at the end of the pier represent the extent of the original structure, making for a unique sculptural view.From here we rode back through Albert Park and off to find somewhere for lunch.

Being dairy-intolerant I was excited to try my first dairy-free Magnum – delicious!

Before long it was time to pack up all our things and head back out to Marysville.

We’re so grateful to Owen for driving four hours after a long day at work on two occasions within a week to escort us to and from Marysville and for being such a gracious host. The past five days in Melbourne have given us a real taste of what it’s like to live here. The eclectic mix of people, shops, bars and cafes in St Kilda offer a variety of entertainment options alongside the safe cycle network and easy escape from the city.

Melbourne, we’ve had a fabulous visit and hope one day we will return…back to the slower country life now!

21-23 February: Mooching around Marvellous Melbourne

Author: Mrs A

Location: Marysville and Melbourne, Victoria

Thursday morning saw us pack up and head off on our way south through Victoria. Beautiful scenery guided us along our way, and soon we were feeling peckish.

Anyone who has ever watched the Australian cult film ‘The Castle’ will have heard of Bonnie Doon, a village on the banks of Lake Eildon. ‘How’s the serenity?’ Mr A couldn’t resist asking as we pulled up for lunch.Soon we were off on the road again, heading towards Marysville. Marysville is literally a town which has risen from the ashes, and as we drove through spectacular woodland you could not believe the horrors of the fires that shot through here a decade ago. Over 90% of the town’s buildings were destroyed and 45 people killed. I can remember sobbing as I watched the news and saw the devastation to human and wildlife habitats and lives.

Today Marysville looks vibrant and modern, particularly the architect designed home of our hosts Terry and Sharen at Dalyrymples Guest Cottages, fellow Zone caravan owners who had invited us to park up at their property for a few days while we head into Melbourne. They welcomed us into their home for a cup of tea once we were parked up, and told us the story of how the community had stuck together and revitalised the town post the fires. We’re looking forward to exploring the area further when we return from Melbourne.

Our friend Owen drove up the two hours from Melbourne after he had finished work, and after a delicious meal in the local pub, loaded the three of us into his car, and drove us back to his apartment in St Kilda.

Friday saw Mr A and I negotiate the tram into the city, a fairly painless experience. There we did a little shopping before lunch, Mr A buying a new sling bag from his favourite luggage store, Crumpler, and I found some sandals that are both pretty and comfortable for strolling around all day in at The Walking Company.

We had a great afternoon exploring, then returned to St Kilda, and Miss Tassie, the most adaptable cat in the world. She was enjoying her new Melbourne pad, welcoming the sunshine and comfortable balcony.Owen returned from work early evening, and took us for a spin around the Albert Park Grand Prix track in his Mercedes AMG GT R (correct me if I’m wrong!) – a great ride…

Dinner that night was at a local Japanese Misuzu’s in Albert Park – absolutely delicious food and not a grain of rice to be seen. Highly recommended. Mr A and Owen continued the evening with cheese and wine at a local bar…I still am in need of my early nights post op and retired to the apartment.

Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, and after the boys had consumed their recovery egg and bacon rolls we set off to explore the delights of St Kilda. First along the waterfront of Port Phillip Bay……and then up into the bustling Acland Street. What a great atmosphere – plenty of interesting boutique shops and an eclectic variety of eateries and bars. Simply people watching over a cup of tea or coffee would be a great way to spend an hour here.

I then left Mark and Owen to head to a pub to meet up with an old friend, Dirk, while I went back to the waterfront to meet up with three strangers who belong to the idiopathic subglottic stenosis support group I run. Allison, Jo and Leanne turned out to be lovely ladies and it was fabulous as always to compare experiences and meet rare people who have gone through similar things to me.

Saturday night, Owen had a pre-booked (six months in advance!) dinner with some friends at one of the world’s top restaurants, Attica, leaving Mark and I to our own devices. We had dinner at a local Indian restaurant, Babu Ji. The food was delicious (Pani Puri, Aloo Baingan and Fish Moilee) but it was a shame about the ambience of the restaurant. With concrete floors, walls and ceiling, the sound was deafening and we could hardly hear one another talk!

We returned to the apartment to watch the sun set from the rooftop pool before heading to bed. Melbourne is certainly putting on the fabulous weather for us!

19-20 February: King Valley winetasting

Author: Mr A

Location: Whitfield, Victoria

Tuesday morning saw us saunter south from the small settlement of Chilton, just south of Albury, well rested after the best nights sleep in months thanks to the cooler night. The drive took us down through the King Valley in the foothills of the Victorian High Country. We landed at a lovely little campsite in the small village of Whitfield. Tassie, or camping cat, decided she liked the place using pretty much the same criteria as us….there were no dogs yapping or cars racing round. It’s a very laid back little place called Valley View Caravan Park and we’ve loved it.

We took a gentle ride (Catherine’s first since her stomach op two weeks ago) down the road to a winery that friends had recommended called Pizzini Wines. I recognised the logo as their Pino Grigio was our go-to white.

Only 3km each way, this was a very gentle ease back in to cycling!

One of our favourite sign posts!

Pizzini, nestled in the valley, spectacularly peaceful – all about to be shattered as harvest has started here

Well, we were blown away by the rest of their range as well. We both really like cool climate wines, and Italian varietals, so we tucked into this tasting with gusto. Their Barberas, Sangioveses and Nebbiolos we thought we’re exquisite. Just so well balanced, delicate wines. Our lovely host even dropped off our case of purchases at the caravan park!

Wednesday: The first few hours of today were spent trying to make room for more wine and all the extra clothes we have now brought with us because our belongings are all in storage. We have discovered the joys of packing cubes….I know its sad isn’t it but they are sooooo good at keeping things organised in the somewhat restricted space of our caravan and car.

After the frenzy of organising we headed over the road to another winery, Dal Zotto Wines. Not as spectacular, but still three bottles made their way somehow to our under bed storage!

Catherine said she felt up to a longer ride today so we headed out to explore some gravel roads along the King River.

Beautiful gum-tree lined lanes with no traffic – bliss!

Grapes are ready for the picking…

A miniature horse foal – so cute – we also saw deer, sheep and many wombat burrows

A chill out before starting dinner

It was a great ride with the temperatures being in the gentle mid 20s, the vineyards looking ripe for harvest, and apparently at 3am this morning they will start harvesting!

It has been a great start to our travels in Victoria, but off to pastures new tomorrow. Marysville and Melbourne here we come!

4-18 February: Back on the road again

Author: Mrs A

Location: Sydney and Cowra, NSW and Chiltern, Victoria

The first week of February saw me admitted into hospital for surgery on my stomach. Four days at North Shore Private Hospital with a fabulous view, and I was released into the care of Mr A and our friends’ home in Forestville, a leafy suburb near the Northern Beaches area.

Fabulous sunrise crossing Roseville Bridge on the way into hospital

A room with a view…better than most of the hotels we have ever stayed in!

The morning after surgery wearing my XXXL gown! It was soon replaced with a more suitable size…my liquid diet wasn’t much cop!

Forestville’s a lovely quiet location, on the very edge of Garigal National Park. John and Eveliene’s house has gorgeous views across a valley of gumtrees, filled with squawking cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets by day, and the soft calls of the boobook owl at night.

While I slowly healed and learned how to eat food other than clear liquids again, Mr A took himself off on an 8km hiking adventure with additional paddle, taking the pack-raft on his back. He hiked from the house down to Carroll Creek, and from there paddled under the Roseville Bridge. He even found his way home again without too much trouble…

Mr A’s pack – hard to believe there is a boat in here!

A waterfall along the shallower part of the creek

The boat all inflated and ready for further exploration by water

After about a week of good rest and soft food, I felt ready to get back in the caravan, so we farewelled our friends in Forestville and headed off to Matraville to collect Tassie. Our departure was only delayed by dead batteries on the car – the problem with leaving it parked up over Christmas and not charging…ah well, a learning for the future. $650 and two new batteries later, we were finally away, and this time really ready to explore.

We left Matraville and Tassie’s foster parents, Jenny and David, on Saturday morning and headed up to Canowindra to collect the Zone.

Tassie had a great time exploring the barn, but was soon passed out once we reached the van park in Cowra for the night.

Miss T exploring the farm machinery

On to Cowra for a couple of nights

One tired Burmese cat…though she seems happy to be back in the Zone

We stopped in Cowra two nights, an opportunity to get the car and caravan cleaned up and stocked up with food. The van park is lovely and leafy, though we were pleased we had access to electricity (and hence air conditioning) as the temperatures rose up in to the 30s. We even were treated to a surprise visit from Tassie’s other foster parents, Rosemary and Richard, as they passed through Cowra on their way to lunch with friends.

And so this morning we set off, heading on our way south. Our first destination was to be a pub on the outskirts of Albury, but with temperatures reaching the late 30s today we decided to find a caravan park again, and enjoy the comforts of air conditioning.

We crossed the border into the Victorian High Country, and headed for a little village called Chiltern.

We’re camped up tonight beside a water bird filled Lake Anderson…no relative.

Lake Anderson

Despite the warm temperatures we went out for a stroll around this very picturesque little village. It was initially a gold mining town, but now is a service centre for the agriculture providers surrounding. It has a couple of pubs, one apparently serving boutique wine (not on a Monday night though) and the other boasting ‘real Thai food cooked by a Thai chef’…we were almost tempted.

This very closed bar claims to sell boutique wine…

The centre of everywhere you would want to be…apparently

The local mechanic collects old bikes

The village has an enthusiastic historical society and a large museum (also not open on Mondays), several antique shops and the buildings painted in heritage colours and preserving many of their original features. It’s very pretty and inspires authors and artists according to the local tourist literature. The National Trust has a hand in ensuring the preservation of many of the buildings here.

Dow’s Pharmacy boasts original fixtures and fittings from colonial times, including products, records and pharmaceutical equipment

The Chiltern-Mt Pilot National Park is not far from here, though the temperature today hasn’t tempted us to get on the mountain bikes for an explore (and I’m not sure my surgeon would advise that 2 weeks post op!). Maybe we will get there tomorrow – it’s meant to be a bit cooler.

It’s great to have my operation behind me and to be back travelling again. Mr A is doing all of the heavy lifting for this trip as I can’t do any for 6 weeks, but he doesn’t seem to mind the extra exercise. We’re both pleased to be back on the road seeing Australia with our adventurous fur child.

Day 149: 26 October – Travelling east through more wild weather

Author: Mrs A

From: Bremer Bay

To: Hopetoun

Distance driven: 250 km

Distance walked: 2 km

As the crow flies from our camp this morning, tonight’s location was around 100km, but in between us and Hopetoun was the Fitzgerald National Park, and the mountains within it that stretch majestically down to the ocean, more than doubling our travel distance.

It was a blustery journey. The 3 tonnes of car and about the same of caravan were being buffeted around by extremely strong winds the whole way, making it a physical drive for Mr A as he struggled to keep us in a straight line. We were pleased Tassie seems to have got the hint about car travel, and immediately settled down for a long sleep on my lap while we journeyed.

We pulled up at our free RV camp in Hopetoun around 2.30pm, and within 5 minutes of parking up the wind gusts strengthened further still, reaching more than 72km/hour at one point, followed by horizontal torrential rain. We locked ourselves into the mobile apartment and put the kettle on for a herbal tea. When in doubt drink tea.

The rain continued for the rest of the afternoon, only breaking just before sunset, allowing us a brief opportunity to explore.

We’re parked alongside a heritage rail trail which traverses the bushland between Hopetoun and its nearest neighbour, Ravensthorpe for about 49km. Definitely an option for tomorrow’s activity. We strolled a short way along it and then down a pathway traversing a sand dune (made from giant tyres – innovation and recycling for you!) to a stunning white sand beach. Beautiful views awaited us, with the small town of Hopetoun in the distance one way, and beaches stretching away along the coast the other.

Anticrepuscular rays in the sky opposite the setting sun:We counted the other caravans, motorhomes and campers parked up at this free spot – 12…More than the total number of vehicles we have seen on the road all day! I wonder how the Hopetoun residents feel about the town offering this free camping spot. I guess we all bring much needed money in to the area (Mr A is already eyeing up the bakery and pub!), but there is also a private campground here – how busy it is there?

We’re all settled in for a cosy evening – plenty of solar power despite the lack of sunshine today, full water tanks thanks to our last campground, and stocked up with food…and tomorrow’s forecast is sunshine. Much to look forward to!